Lady Gwynn blinked her sticky eyes.

Lady Gwynn blinked her sticky eyes. Her room still had the deathly color of winter sunlight shining through green glass. She had not slept through to supper as she had hoped.

Domnall?” she repeated groggily.

Her mind drifted, searching a means to avoid waking entirely. Out of habit it went first to a reckoning of the hour with respect to Hetty’s quiet time, but at a sickening recollection her thoughts scattered and fled. Hetty’s quiet time was henceforth — at least until after the baby came — never to end.

Who could act as hostess in her place? Britamund had sometimes received Nothelm guests, but Dunstan had taken her home only last week, fearing any further delay would make her impossible to move without risk to the baby. And now that they needed her more than ever, it was too late to bring her back!

Ogive, meanwhile, was visiting at the castle for a few weeks before rejoining the Princess at Dunellen. Margaret was at Bernwald and was not expected to return tonight. Lasrua was at Raegiming, and lately Flann must have been spending her days with her sister or else staying home.

Even Princess Irene was gone: she had left that morning in Joseph’s company, after Joseph had made his diagnosis of Hetty.

It seemed that the only other lady in the house was little Brunhilde.

It seemed that the only other lady in the house was little Brunhilde, and Brunhilde was sleeping even more soundly than Gwynn. Nor could Gwynn bear to wake her — and nor could she send a girl of four to greet a guest, to be certain.

Gwynn sighed and sat up.

Her maid asked, “Should I tell him you can’t receive him today?”

No, of course not, Leofgyth, since I can.”

As you wish.”

Gwynn slid off the bed and slowly straightened. Her mouth was dry, and her stomach queasy from too much wine at her lonely dinner in the sewing room, and from too much candy in her bed.

Gwynn slid off the bed and slowly straightened.

Tell him… No, first, please tell Bruni’s nurse to send a girl to watch over her till she wakes. I will not have her awoken.”

Leofgyth curtsied as Gwynn shuffled past, her drooping hair hiding her face like a hood.

Yes, my lady.”

And tell Domnall I shall be with him presently. Bid him wait in the sitting room. We shall not need the hall lit. I daresay he made a mistake.”

Gwynn stopped before her mirror and leaned her hands heavily upon her washstand.

'But do not mention it to him.'

But do not mention it to him,” she instructed her maid, fearing the masculine embarrassment that would ensue if chatty Leofgyth met shy Domnall with full force. “You may go.”

Yes, my lady.” Leofgyth curtsied a last time and went out.

Gwynn stared blearily into the mirror. She was uglier than usual. Her face was puffy like overripe dough, her eyes tinged pink, and her hair lank and limp. She had that deathly look of people who slept during the day — who rose not merely unrefreshed, but exhausted.

She had that deathly look.

She wet the corner of her towel in the pitcher and dabbed at her cheeks and eyes. The cold water was soothing, but signs of sleepiness could not so easily be washed away. And running her brush through her hair only made the strands crackle and fly up.

Fortunately, she thought, it would not much matter, or at least not for long. Shy Domnall might already have fled, having realized his own mistake. With this promising vision to cheer her, she hung up her towel and went down.

She hung up her towel and went down.