Bavay, County of Hainaut

Malcolm nearly splashed past Leofric.

Malcolm nearly splashed past Leofric in his haste to get back out of the rain. The smithy was open to the wind, but it did at least have a roof. Malcolm hurried in and shouldered up next to Leofric beside the forge. At their feet a bedraggled fur-​heap of a dog beat its tail upon the floor.

Malcolm hurried in and shouldered up next to Leofric beside the forge.

“He’s almost done,” Malcolm said. He had taken one of the saddles to the local harness-​maker to be repaired. “I was just coming to find you.”

Leofric grunted.

Malcolm tried to warm himself over the coals, but now that he had stopped walking he was half-​paralyzed with shivering. “The Devil!” He hopped from foot to foot on the cinders and rubbed his arms through his wet sleeves. “What are you doing out here?”

Leofric said, “I’m just—”

A squeal of young laughter sounded through the drizzling rain, dim and distant as an echo.

“—keeping an eye on those runts,” Leofric concluded wearily.

“I do not see any runts.

“They’re over there. Sometimes one can catch a glimpse of Nora’s scarf.”

Leofric pointed across the square to a crumbling, briar-​choked bit of ruin that even the residents of this ramshackle village had not seen fit to build over.

Leofric pointed across the square to a crumbling, briar-choked bit of ruin.

Malcolm groaned. “The Devil take Roman vestiges! I’ve but the one son, and he’s turning into an historian! God help me if I ever take him to Rome!”

Leofric chuckled fondly. “Might pay more attention to his Latin lessons now. Ah! There she goes.”

A bit of crimson flashed past a gap in the wall, too firey, too alive for this ghostly landscape of gray and rain. Laughter followed.

“They certainly have taken to each other,” Leofric said.

Malcolm grudgingly said, “Aye. It’s an odd thing. He never does take to women. Mayhap she seems more like a girl of his own age to him.”

'Mayhap she seems more like a girl of his own age to him.'

“Ah, but she is not quite. Every time I want to spank her I remember she was a mother once.” Leofric reached a hand past Malcolm and turned it palm-​up and palm-​down to warm it over the coals. “She acts like a girl to hide the unhappy woman inside. Adulthood for her has been nothing but disappointment and grief.”

Malcolm snorted. “Is it ever anything else?”

Leofric withdrew his hand.

Leofric withdrew his hand.

A leak in the roof let fall a fat drop at measured intervals, in a rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk that ticked off the seconds through all the plinking, plashing, hissing cacophony of rain.

“It was a joke,” Malcolm said.

Leofric grunted.

“They’re going to catch their death, God forbid,” Malcolm said testily. He whistled for his boy.

The dog lifted its head and added the thump-​thump-​thump of its tail to the drumming of the rain. Somewhere out in the mist Colban shouted, “It’s my father!”

Malcolm watched the ruin until he saw movement, and then he glanced down at the dog. He was seeing dogs everywhere now, as if the Continent had been overrun with a plague of canines since last he went. And Colban never showed particular affection for any of them. Malcolm did not like it. Either a lad loved dogs, or he did not.

He looked up again at a glimpse of red. Colban and Gunnora raced through the rain.

Colban and Gunnora raced through the rain.

Leofric said, “Their bellies are full of hot soup. They’ll be all right. Did you get a bite to eat?”

“Aye, but it wasn’t a hot bite.”

“There’s still soup at the inn.”

“We haven’t time.”

Colban let Gunnora keep up with him, and they came panting up under the eaves of the smithy together. Colban’s hair was blue-​black and plastered to his head with rain.

“Father! We were trying to read the inscriptions! It’s getting too dark, but I read AUREL—that must be Marcus Aurelius, don’t you think?”

Malcolm smiled over his boy’s excitement and swiped a hand over Colban’s dripping hair. Colban ducked out from beneath it and popped back up again.

“Father! Listen!”

'Father!  Listen!'

“If you’re feeling you must absolutely practice your Latin in the pouring rain, lad, why don’t you go read something useful? Why don’t you go see whether you can find our road on the milestone over there?”

Colban and Gunnora craned their heads around to look at the weathered, rain-​wetted pillar of stone behind them. For a thousand years it had kept its solitary guard in the crossroads, pointing out the way to any ghostly legions that might yet come marching by.

“Is that what that is?” Gunnora asked. “Do you want to know what I thought it looked like?”

'Do you want to know what I thought it looked like?'

Leofric said, “No, we don’t.”

“But you know what I think it looks like anyway, don’t you, Uncle?”

Colban apparently did not. “Let’s go see!” he said. “Is Paris on it?”

“Paris!” Malcolm laughed. “Laddie, Paris was nothing more than a ring of mud huts back in those days. This little village was once a capital city, and seven great roads met at that milestone back there. Seven faces is it having. Go find our road, then. Soissons: Augusta Suessionum.”

'Go find our road, then.'

Colban tugged on Gunnora’s elbow and took off running into the rain. “Come on!”

Leofric chuckled. “Augusta Suessionum, if you please, sir. Who did you say was the historian, again?”

“Ach! That’s different,” Malcolm grumbled, prickling at having been caught showing an interest in something unworthy of his reputation. “It’s a wanderer I am, who likes to find his own way. The Romans marked their roads better than modern men.”

“Perhaps they did such a fine job that modern men are relieved of the burden even today.”

Malcolm grunted. “Perhaps.” To Colban he shouted, “Try Saint-​Quentin if you aren’t finding it! Augusta Veromanduorum!” He added sarcastically, “If you please, sir.”

'Try Saint-Quentin if you aren't finding it!'

The old dog lifted its head and drummed its tail.

“We can make it to Saint-​Quentin in two days,” Malcolm said, “if the weather clears and the lad doesn’t get distracted by any damned ruins along the way. Tonight I think we’ll not try to get any farther than Bavisiel. It’s but a couple of miles from here. I know a woman there who will let us a room for the night. Not an inn, mind, which means we’ll be having a clean bed for once.”

Leofric looked over at him, and a brow lifted in surprise was just visible beyond the folds of his hood. “You don’t mean to stay here tonight?”

'You don't mean to stay here tonight?'

“Ach! In Bavay? No.” Malcolm spat into a puddle and watched the bit of froth spin slowly as it faded into the water. “I never sleep in a crossroads town if I can help it. I’ve enough to worry about, with the men I may meet on my own road. I’m not liking to add all the men on all the roads I’m not taking besides.”

“Are you truly in that kind of danger?”

Malcolm snorted. “The less said and seen of me, the better, that’s all. It’s one of my rules.” His gaze returned to his boy, and he laughed. “Looks like a dog sniffing around for a place to piss, doesn’t he?”

'Looks like a dog sniffing around for a place to piss, doesn't he?'

Leofric did not laugh. “I had thought we would stay here tonight…”

“Are you too tired, then?” Malcolm asked, feeling rather pitiless.

“No… it’s just that I thought, Bavay, it seemed like the right place for me to make up my mind about where I want to go.”

“Aye, then, you’ve your choice of roads. But you’re welcome to come along with the lad and me. Safer for one and all, unless we all catch our deaths poking about ruins in the rain. God forbid. Hurry it up, laddie!”

Leofric said, “That depends on what sort of safety you mean. I’ve a lively young lady on my hands, you see, and you are—I am told—a singularly fascinating man.”

'You are--I am told--a singularly fascinating man.'

Malcolm’s face twitched into a scowl, but Leofric did not even need to turn to see it.

“It isn’t you I don’t trust,” he added. “I just don’t want any little hearts to get broken.”

Malcolm shrugged and tapped his hand on his arm. “If you say so. I’m thinking the only man she has eyes for at the moment is your own self. No mere lover could dote on her better than Dear Uncle.

They were interrupted by a shout from the crossroads. “I found it!” Colban cried. “AUG SUESS! That must be Soissons!”

'I found it!'

Gunnora shouted, “Hurrah!” and threw her arms around the pillar, which so amused her naughty mind that she burst into laughter.

“I found it! It’s on this side!” Colban turned and stared off to the southwest in search of the road.

Malcolm knew he would not guess at it. The modern hamlet sprawled haphazardly atop the ancient city like moss draped over noble bones, obscuring the tidy plan.

“The Roman road runs right beneath that barn!” he shouted to Colban. “And it runs a short way through a pasture behind! We’ll pick it up outside of town!”

Colban shrugged and skipped down the slope to splash gleefully through the broad puddle before the smithy. Gunnora lifted her hems and trotted after him.

Colban danced through the doorway and spun on his toe, crunching cinders beneath his boot, until he pulled up short before the dog and shied away.

'How many leagues is it to Soissons?'

“How many leagues is it to Soissons?” he asked Malcolm through chattering teeth. “Most of the numbers are worn off.”

Malcolm tried to wipe his hand over Colban’s hair, and when the boy tried to duck away he grabbed him by the collar.

“A long way to ride if you’re down with a fever. You’re wet through!”

“I am not!” Colban protested, still shivering.

“You’re going inside until the man’s done with my saddle.”

“But it’s still light! I’ll go in when it’s dark. I just need to keep moving till I warm up again!” Colban shook his hips, waved his arms, and danced in wobbling circles around the men. Gunnora laughed.

“I intend to be in Bavisiel when it’s dark,” Malcolm said, “so I want you just moving inside until we leave.”


Gunnora asked, “Aren’t we staying here tonight?”

Malcolm lifted his head. “We aren’t. It seems you and your uncle are.”

Behind Malcolm the crunching of cinders stopped, and he heard only Colban’s shivering breath above the swishing and plunking of the rain.

Behind Malcolm's back the crunching of cinders stopped.

Gunnora asked Leofric, “Aren’t we going to Paris?”

Leofric folded his hands. “Well, Baby, I never said where, exactly, we were going, seeing as I didn’t exactly know. I thought perhaps you might like to go home to Lothere and see your brother and your cousins, and your little nieces and nephews.”

Gunnora turned her pale, wet face to Malcolm, to Colban, and to her uncle again. “But we were only just beginning to have fun!”

Leofric asked her solemnly, “Did you want to go to Paris?”

“I don’t care where we go! I simply want to go!” She slid her arm through her uncle’s and said, “Pick a road! Any road!”

'Pick a road!  Any road!'

Leofric sighed. He glanced up at Malcolm from beneath his brows, like a guilty child, and immediately dropped his gaze. Gunnora, meanwhile, looked just as guilty in a falsely innocent, eyelash-​fluttering way. Malcolm knew Gunnora wanted nothing but to have her uncle to herself for as long as possible. He could not figure out what Leofric wanted.

“I know what we shall do!” Gunnora said. “We shall leave it up to God! Inch’allah! Wasn’t it God who brought you to Halsfield just in time to save me, and helped us find Malcolm and Cubby in Dover? Wasn’t it God who cleared the storm away so we could cross the Channel?”

“Baby, I fear you are being a little blasphemous just now…”

“Wasn’t it God who made my cousin Robert save me from the evil Sir Albert?”

Malcolm, who had heard the tale over a pitcher of wine in Tournai, smiled and said, “I do not believe the Good Lord had much to do with that.”

'I do not believe the Good Lord had much to do with that.'

Gunnora stuck out her tongue at him. “It was certainly God who decided when I made Robert close his eyes and poke his finger down on the map to find me a farm. And I say we should let God decide which road we take, Uncle. And since Robert isn’t here I shall use my own finger, and close my eyes and pick a road on the milestone. If my finger picks the Lothere road then you may take me back.”

Colban perked up at last. “And if it picks the Soissons road, you must come with us to Paris. And if it picks some other road, you must go there. Can’t we do that, too, Father?”

Malcolm said, “No.”

“Well, come on, anyway,” Colban said, dragging Gunnora out into the doorway of the smithy. “I know! We should blindfold you!”

'We should blindfold you!'

They both began to laugh as the fun of their gamble dawned on them. Malcolm felt a twinge of nostalgia as he recalled bygone journeys of his own, when the next day’s direction had been decided by the point of a knife set spinning on a tabletop.

Gunnora seemed to have the same idea, for she cried out, “And spin me around until I’m dizzy!”

She spun around once to demonstrate before pulling out a handkerchief and opening it with a businesslike flick of her wrist. For a moment Malcolm saw the maternal in her and imagined she was about to wipe Colban’s nose for him. He wondered whether Colban would stand for it.

Instead she yanked her scarf back off her head and held the handkerchief out to Colban as a blindfold.

“Don’t make a sound,” Colban warned the men as he tied it on her. “She must lose her bearings, or she’ll pick the road she likes.”

“What will be, will be!” Gunnora said ominously.

Colban spun her around and around in the doorway and led her, swavering drunkenly, through the puddle and up to the milestone.

Colban led her, swavering drunkenly.

Leofric took a step after them and stopped, helplessly holding out his wounded hand.

Malcolm muttered, “You do not have to do it if you aren’t liking it.”

Leofric let his hand fall. The old dog thumped its tail.

Out in the rain Colban shouted, “Count backwards from fifty, and go around and around until you cannot tell where you are!” He clapped Gunnora’s hand against the stone and stepped back. “Go!”

Malcolm noticed that he started her at the southwest side. He was too busy wondering at the meaning of this to notice, before she had gone around a few times, that Colban had chosen her left hand to guide her. As a result she was going around against the direction of the sun.

She was going around against the direction of the sun.

Malcolm did not like it. At home everyone knew that walking nine times widdershins around a fairy ring would put one under the fairies’ power. This was no fairy ring… but perhaps this was worse. Magic was always concentrated at crossroads, and this stone pillar had stood at the crossing of seven roads for over a thousand years.

Malcolm whispered, “Stop her.”

He did not like it—this tall, marble-​white girl amongst the ruins, dressed in a crimson cloak rain-​wetted to the color of blood, and blindfolded like a living Fortuna, ancient goddess of Fate.

How many times had she gone around? He only knew that her countdown had passed twenty.

“This is nonsense,” he growled. “She’s going to catch her death out there without her scarf, God forbid.”

Leofric said softly, “I want to see where she stops.”

“Cannot you make up your own bloody mind?”

“What will be will be.”

'What will be will be.'

“The Devil!” Malcolm swore beneath his breath. He dearly hoped the two of them would not end up on the road to Paris. He could only stand so much of them.

But it appeared they would not. Snatches of Gunnora’s panting “six, five, four” reached him through the drizzling rain, and she was just passing Soissons even then. Colban had stopped his silent gesticulations and stood as still as the stone.

“Three, two, one!” she crowed.

Leofric sucked in his breath.

Gunnora pulled off the blindfold. “Oh!”

Colban left the Soissons side and hurried around to meet her. Malcolm could only see that they stood before an eastern face.

Malcolm could only see that they stood before an eastern face.

“That’ll be Cologne or Trier,” he said. “Hope your German’s up to the mark.”

Malcolm remembered an instant too late that Hetty was a German-​speaker. Was she not from Trier? Malcolm could not recall what Lili had told him.

“It’s getting too dark!” Colban whined. “It’s C—O— COL—”

“Colonia Agrippinensium!” Malcolm shouted triumphantly. “Cologne!”


Gunnora ran down the slope, trailing her crimson scarf behind her, and thumped against her uncle. Leofric staggered and caught her up tightly in his arms, squeezing her as if he had not seen her in twenty years.

Leofric staggered and caught her up tightly in his arms.

Malcolm cringed away from them. Their flamboyant affections exhausted him. At the moment he could scarcely bear to be touched, or even to see two people touching.

“I don’t know where it is,” Gunnora said, “but I cannot wait to go! Inch’allah!”

“It’s—on the Rhine,” Leofric said.

“The Rhine!” Gunnora pulled abruptly away. “Oh! Perhaps we shall see the Rhine Maidens!”


Malcolm could not see behind Leofric’s hood from where he stood, but he could see Gunnora. Her pale, rain-​slicked face softened into the womanly dignity she hid behind all her childish smirks and grimaces. As often in the last weeks, Malcolm asked himself who was truly keeping an eye on whom.

Her pale, rain-slicked face softened.

“But if you’d rather go home, I don’t mind. We’ve already had quite a spree!”

Behind her, the rain fell on ruins and rooftops alike. The gray sky was darkening into night. Malcolm’s grouchy affection for the two of them warmed again, as if the love he read on the young woman’s face gave off a radiant heat; and Colban at last deigned to pet the grateful old dog. Malcolm began to have second thoughts about Bavisiel.

“In that case,” Leofric said in a creaky voice that grew nobler and deeper from word to word, “why stop now?”

'Why stop now?'