Hetty awoke choking.

Hetty awoke choking and rolled over just in time to vomit over the side of the bed. For a moment longer she hung her head and waited, her mouth open, for a second flood that did not come. Finally she flopped shivering back onto the mattress.

It was night. Murky green lamplight faded into the gloom like sunlight at the bottom of a pond. Her retching had not awoken Alred, and she wondered whether she might yet clean up her mess without making a sound.

It was night.

But no, she could not. Her back ached at the very thought of supporting her heavy belly while she grubbed about on hands and knees. She felt sick all over: muzzy-​​headed, thick-​​limbed, and shaking from an inner chill. She could not.

She fell limp and let her head tip onto the pillow. Her cheek settled into a cold spot that smelled of sour wine and bile. She had vomited onto her trailing hair.

She lifted her head in revulsion, but she was too weak; it was all too much for her, and she fell back onto the dampness. It seemed better to lie there until morning than to risk waking her husband. But then he would find her filthy and stinking, with her hair crusted to her face… and her bladder was already nearly full to bursting…

Her mouth opened again in the rictus of nausea, but it was a sob of despair that escaped her.

The mattress rustled, and her maid’s voice called softly, “Hetty?”

Hattie lay beside her, not Alred. Hetty shivered and sobbed again, too relieved to wonder at these arrangements. “I was sick all over the floor…”

Hattie sat up. “Ach, Hetty!”

Hattie sat up.

“And I need to pee…”

“Ach, so!” Hattie flopped the blankets off and bustled out of the bed. “Let’s take care of that first and then get you cleaned up. Come over my side.”

“I cannot…”

“Of course you can. Just roll your big belly over and you’ll be halfway there. Come on, let me help you.”

Hattie helped her wriggle across the mattress and swing her legs over the edge. Hetty sat sniveling while her maid lit a candle and fetched the chamber pot.

“Hattie, I was sick in my hair.”

“Then you shall have a nice, hot bath in the morning.” Hattie took her hands and pulled her to her feet. “But we shall get you cleaned up for now, and into a nice, dry nightgown, and I shall send for someone to clean the floor.”

It took all of Hetty’s concentration to shuffle the short distance to the chamber pot. She could not see past her belly, and her feet felt swollen and clumsy. She was too dizzy even to squat over the pot without clinging to Hattie’s arm.

She could not see past her belly to her feet.

The fire had been left to burn low. The familiar alcove seemed empty and strange so late at night. Flakes of mica glittered like frost over the cold stones.

Hattie wet a towel with icy water from the pitcher and stroked Hetty’s matted hair through the folds.

“It was only a little spot, Hetty, dear. Your baby will spit up more than this when she burps, and you won’t mind at all. Only think of your baby.”

Hetty shuddered back a sob.

Hetty shuddered back a sob. Oh, if only she could have her baby right away! If only she could have her baby to love and to hold! If only she could at least be certain it was a girl, so she could start calling her Lili at once, and whispering to her all the things she had been forced to hold back since her sister had died. Somehow she knew a boy would not be the same.

“Just sit down here,” Hattie said as she shuffled her back to the bed. “I shall just run for someone to clean the floor… You weren’t sick on the bed, were you?”

Hattie shuffled her back to the bed.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, we can always change the sheets.”

Hetty folded her knees and let herself sink. Hattie hastened to aim her at the bed.

Hetty folded her knees and let herself sink.

Hetty whispered, “What’s the matter with me?”

“Ach! You’re just all worn out, Hetty, dear. You need to rest, that’s all.”

“Why was I sick?”

“Ach!” Hattie twisted her hands, then busied them with smoothing Hetty’s hair on either shoulder. “You got a little upset yesterday, that’s all.”

'You got a little upset yesterday, that's all.'

A little upset. She had fought, and she had won nothing. She had lost a little more of what she had.

Hetty ran her hand over the bare wood of the nightstand and patted the lacy mat. She had scarcely seen it since the day she had tied off the last thread. Alred’s pile of books and scraps of parchment were all gone.

At last Hetty wondered why Hattie was sleeping in his place. Then she chanced to look down at the floor before the cabinets.

Then she chanced to look down at the floor before the cabinets.

“Hattie, where are your master’s boots?”

“Ach! So, you see…”

This was why the room looked so barren. The alcove appeared empty because Alred’s towels and combs and razors were gone. The bedside looked empty because his books and boots were gone.

This was why the room looked so barren.

“He moved his things over to one of the rooms in the tower so that you could have some peace and quiet till the baby comes and you’re feeling strong again. And so that I could come sleep with you! Won’t that be cozy?”

Hetty lolled her head to the side and looked around the room. Beyond the dim glow of the candles all was darkness, like a lake bed that sunlight never reached. But in the deeps the massive chest lurked still.

“And his clothes?”

'His clothes?'

“Of course he took those too, so Osric won’t wake you when he comes to get them. But only think, Hetty! He said now you shall have more room for pretty new dresses and robes. I believe that silly man had more clothes in there than you!”

Hetty tipped herself over onto the bed. Her face fell into Alred’s pillow. It still smelled like the spicy oil he wore in his hair. Her own hair was damp and cold against her cheek.

“And do you know what else?” Hattie asked. “Since Osric took a room in the tower, too, that leaves us a nice room right next door with a proper window looking onto the court! We shall have it fitted up in no time, and you may dine in there, and have your children visit you there, and we shall spend our days in there just as snug as can be!”

Hetty heaved up her belly and rolled over, putting the light at her back.

'Shall I no more go down to dine?'

“Shall I no more go down to dine?” she mumbled, though she thought she already knew.

“Why, there’s no more need to trouble yourself for that. Lady Gwynn will be happy to do the honors at table until you’re strong again.”

Hetty could bear no more of her maid’s false glee. She mustered her last fading rays of dignity to issue a command. “Hattie, I wish you would send for someone to clean up the floor.”

“Ach! Right away, dear.”

Hattie fairly sprinted into the shadows.

Hattie fairly sprinted into the shadows, apparently glad to be gone. As she wrapped a cloak around herself she called back, “Can I get you anything from the kitchens?”

She could scarcely have heard Hetty’s “No,” but she hurried off all the same.

“I shall be back in no time at all, Hetty, dear. Please stay put while I’m gone!”

Stay put. It appeared that she would be staying put for weeks. Perhaps – she might as well get used to the idea – forever.

New dresses and robes, a snug room “fitted up” for her use – she could almost see Alred’s suave smile as he imparted his plans to Hattie. She supposed he thought them handsome, too.

Who could help her now?

Who could help her now, if even her own maid conspired with her husband? There was not a soul in this house whom she trusted.

Egelric could help her: her beloved brother-​​in-​​law. Egelric was the one man not in awe of her husband, who could swat away Alred’s polished urbanities like flies. But Egelric might never return. Egelric might already be dead.

Who then? The feeble rays of Hetty’s hope faded into the gloom surrounding her. Ethelwyn? Would he dare defy Alred in anything? Would he even be allowed to visit her in her snug little prison?

For a prison it was. She might as well get used to the idea. No bars could hold more fast against her than the threat of danger to her baby if she did not rest.

She was in prison now, and Alred was free. He did not know that she had smuggled out a key.

He did not know that she had smuggled out a key.