Morning!” Kuntigern shouted. “Be right with you!”

It’s me!” Wulsy said. “I saw the curtains were open, so I came by.”

Kuntigern wadded up his bit of suede and dropped it onto the tray of burnishing powder. “I wake early today! So!”

Wulsy came in behind him and gasped in mock outrage. “Working on a Sunday?”

'Working on a Sunday?'

Kuntigern stooped below the table to rinse his glittering hands in the water bucket. “This is not working! This is polishing! I sit down any time, I get up any time, so. See?”

He grinned up at Wulsy as he dried his hands on the nearest towel. From below it appeared that Wulsy carried a pie plate; and once he had stood, Kuntigern saw that it contained what appeared to be a pie. By now, however, he knew Frida’s cooking well enough not to trust appearances.

I brought you a pie,” Wulsy said, putting an end to the suspense.

'I brought you a pie.'

The last time Frida had “brought him a pie,” Kuntigern had feared he would break a tooth on the upper crust; and the bottom had been so undercooked that the dough had come out pre-​chewed. He had managed to scrape out the fruit with a spoon, but even that had been tart and runny.

There was a joke in the valley that said Frida had once been the head cook at Nothelm. Even Father Brandt was in on it and solemnly swore. Kuntigern was not that gullible, but he was generous, and liked his friends, so he pretended to be pleased.

A pie! How nice! I have not had breakfast too!”

Made it myself,” Wulsy said. “Grandmother’s recipe.”

'Made it myself.'


Wulsy winked.

Kuntigern laughed. “Ah! Thank you, good man. I like a grandmother’s recipe.”

He took the pie and carried it back to the windowed alcove where he sat to eat.

He took the pie and carried it.

So, do I cut two pieces or one piece? Did you have breakfast yet?”

I have to get going,” Wulsy said. “I just wanted to stop by.”

He spoke absently, but once he had stepped through the curtain he came alive.

Well, bind me with a straw and call me Eleazar! Anson’s here!”

'Anson's here!'


Anson! He’s an old groom of mine. That’s the sorrel he’s breaking for Sir Baldwin. I’ve been meaning to ride out and see that boy. This’ll save me a trip!”

Kuntigern understood what he was talking about only in time to see a flick of flaxen tail as the horse was led out of sight into the stable.

'You know a man by the sight of his horse's ass?'

You know a man by the sight of his horse’s ass?”

Wulsy laughed. “I know every horse’s ass in this valley. I’m surprised you don’t, by now, living right next to the stable. What a view!”

Kuntigern snorted. He was not displeased that his shop was located next to the little village stable where horses were stalled while their owners went to market, for a steady supply of fresh horse piss was of great convenience to a metal-​worker. But although he liked his friends, and was always up for a chat, he could not enter into Wulsy’s passion for everything equine.

I have a nice view,” he said, “here just below street outside. But if I look at asses, so, it is not horses.”

'I have a nice view.'

Can’t say I blame you,” Wulsy said limply. “Say, I have to get going, but I just wanted to… Well, I wanted to tell you something. I figured you’d want to hear it from me.”

Wulsy turned away from him and shuffled towards the fire. Kuntigern stopped smiling.

Kuntigern stopped smiling.

I just wanted to tell you, you shouldn’t be looking for to see your little sweetheart any time soon. Her little girl passed on last night, and she and Sophie and all the kids are going up home to Cyrs-​tun today.”

Kuntigern did not understand. Or rather worse: he feared he understood and hoped he did not.

'Passed... on?'

Passed… on?”

Sorry. That means she died last night.”

Kuntigern became aware of the sound of his own heart: a reverberating thudding, deafening at first, but growing weaker and more distant the longer he stood. He must have dropped his heart down a well.

He heard himself ask, “Which one?”

Ah—the middle one, I guess. I heard she was three.”

Kuntigern whispered, “Finna.”


Wulsy shrugged.

Finna. Little flaxen-​headed Finna, who had recently learned the word behold from “Uncle Father” Aelfden, and went about saying, “Behold, I want a pudding,” “Behold, I wet my bed,” and “Behold, you are the softest Mama in the whole wide world”—a sentiment with which Kuntigern, stroking that soft body beside his fire, had entirely agreed.

If Estrid could get teary-​eyed merely by recounting the pranks of her little daughter, how must she have cried over her death? How must she have been crying at that very moment, far away?

'They said she just had a little ordinary childhood thing.'

They said she just had a little ordinary childhood thing,” Wulsy explained. “Threw up a few times, but mostly acting like herself. And then she just stopped breathing somehow. Estrid was with her, so… there’s that.”

Kuntigern whispered, “She saw?

Would’ve been a lot harder if she hadn’t been there, you see? Maybe doesn’t sound that way to you, young lad, but you can trust old me.”

'You can trust old me.'

Kuntigern nodded, and then shook his head, and then… he did not know what he was doing. “Of course…”

He could not go to her. He could not do anything for her. He did not know whether she would have wanted him at all. Estrid had just met with the first great grief of her life. The time for play was over. Overnight Kuntigern had become as worthless as one of Finna’s dolls.

You all right?” Wulsy asked.

'You all right?'

Aye… I only…” A spasm took hold in the back of his throat, and he had to pause to let it pass, lest he speak with a strange voice. Finally he shook his head and snorted. “So, it’s a hard way to find out you love a woman.”

Reckon it is.”

Wulsy waited a moment more, but Kuntigern could find nothing to say, nor voice to say it with.

Well, friend, I have to get going. Why don’t you come to dinner today? I’ll see if I can get Anson to come. He’s worth meeting.”

'He's worth meeting.'

Kuntigern roused himself enough for a quick smile. It was getting harder with every passing moment. “So I can listen to you two talk about horses all today?”

Well, come for supper then. Or come whenever you want, if you feel like it. Or if not, you always have a pie.”

Kuntigern sniffed. “Thanks for the pie.”

'Thanks for the pie.'