'Here it is.'

“Here it is,” Addonwy said, looking smug. “This has to be it. On the Nones of May, back in seventy-​one.” He read, “‘From the hill known as Holly Grove, southwest by a gill called Horse Tail, three hundred yards to an old wall, and thence west across Moss Beck, thirty yards to the stone which Wihtgar put in this place. And Moss Beck is the boundary for three hundred yards unto the gate of Whittle Fold, at a distance of thirty yards, except it be in flood.’”

Eohric said, “Moss Beck’ll be Penny Beck, I wager. And Whittle Fold will be Alder Head Farm. I see the hill they mean, with the holly, and I bet I know the wall.”

“Very well,” Saeward said, “that will be easy enough to verify. Thank you.”

He started to back away, but Addonwy pushed the old register to the middle of the table and leaned back in his chair.

Addonwy pushed the old register away and leaned back in his chair.

“We told you: no farmer’s going to be fool enough to buy a pasture for his cattle with no way of getting said cattle into said pasture. It’s common sense.”

“I understood that,” Saeward said, “but I am not Solomon, and I am not called upon to judge matters on the basis of their wisdom or folly. A fool’s deed is still a deed.”

“Right,” Eohric said behind him, “but you didn’t even have a deed until we found that one for you.”

We, we, we. Saeward and Eohric got along fine when they were alone together, but as soon as a third party was introduced, Saeward was always the odd man out.

'I had a sworn statement.'

“I had a sworn statement,” Saeward said. “And I have never heard of Moss Beck or Whittle Fold before this day.”

“What do you expect?” Eohric asked. “We were just moving into the valley in seventy-​one. We had to think up a name for everything. We can’t help it if some of ’em didn’t stick. It’s only just now that people are starting to farm across the river that we have to remember what the old names were.”

“And I like Penny Beck better than Moss Beck anyway,” Addonwy said, for the sheer fun of disagreeing with Saeward.

“And what do you expect from me?” Saeward asked. “I just moved here, and I have to make sense of it all. ‘Penny Beck used to be called Moss Beck, and Alder Head Farm used to be called Whittle Fold, and I used to be called Jehoshephat, and the river used to run uphill.’”

'And what do you expect from me?'

Addonwy snickered, “Jehoshephat!” and Saeward knew he had just made an error. Within a day or two he would be hearing himself called “Jehoshephat” in whispers everywhere he rode. Some clever soul would pose just the right questions to inspire Father Blecca, and the sermon on some upcoming Sunday would feature events from Jehoshephat’s reign. And God help him when Sigefrith heard.

“Of course,” Saeward added stiffly, “it is no matter to me whether the stone has been moved or not. I only wish to see justice done. Thank you, men, and good day.”

Saeward thought he was going to get away this time, but the door to the court swung open before he lifted a foot. They all blinked into the light.

“Oh, good! Saeward, you’re still here, sir.”

It was some major domo of the Duke’s—the curly-​headed one. Saeward had not yet learned his name, neither current nor circa 1071.

'I was just about to leave, in fact.'

“I was just about to leave, in fact,” Saeward said, hoping to quash any request for a favor with the coldness of his tone. “Does His Majesty require me?”

The steward stumped up the stairs. “His Majesty already left with His Grace, sir. You’re to take the Princess home.”



Eohric and Addonwy tittered.

The steward stopped across the room at a wary distance. “They told me to catch you before you left. She’s just waiting in the hall for her horse. The Queen wants the Princess home in time for dinner, and the King wanted to ride to Dunellen…”

Addonwy asked in a stage whisper, “Need a rope?”

Saeward felt his face growing hot. “Wait—who do you mean: they told you?”

“The King and the Duke, sir. In person to me, sir.”

Eohric confided to Addonwy, “Probably figured the only way to get Princess Emma home before noon was to have her taken into custody.”

'Is this some sort of joke?'

Addonwy nodded sagely. The steward twisted his lips and tried not to laugh.

Saeward asked, “Is this some sort of joke?”

Eohric and Addonwy laughed, but the steward said gravely, “No, sir. I don’t know who would dare make a joke about the King’s orders. I sure wouldn’t.”

“You could arrest a man for that,” Eohric pointed out to Saeward.

'You could arrest a man for that.'

Saeward walked around the table and headed for the door. He kept his gaze locked on the steward’s face for as long as he could.

He said, “I shall keep that in mind.”

Saeward stepped out into the weak sunlight that brightened the court, and headed up towards the hall. His back was stiff, braced for whatever was about to come. He expected anything but Princess Emma dressed to ride.

He expected anything but Princess Emma dressed to ride.

For there was one man who could make jokes of the King’s orders without fear of arrest: the King himself. And Saeward did not think Sigefrith had yet forgiven him for his outburst of the previous morning, in spite of his apparent return to their usual relations and the liberal application of Sigefrith’s favorite insulting nickname.

But nor was Sigefrith known for playing jokes on men he did not like. His pranks tended to be of the most jovially affectionate kind. If Sigefrith Hwala was scheming to punish Saeward for the things he had said and implied, then the punishment was bound to be both subtle and cruel.

Saeward paused before the heavy doors and took a deep breath, straining his coat over his shoulders. Then he went in.

The ill-​lit hall was cold and bare of everything but empty chairs, a few books, and Princess Emma, dressed to ride.

She looked up at him, and after a few blinks asked him, “Is my father ready to leave?”

Saeward recovered enough of his wits to cross the room and bow before her chair. “No, my lady. I believe His Majesty has just left for Dunellen. I am to take you home.”

The Princess’s mouth broadened into a slow grin. “You are? Is my father angry at you, or what?”

'Is my father angry at you, or what?'

“I believe he may be,” Saeward said dryly.

“Don’t worry, I shall go easy on you, since it’s your first time. Did he mention that I always take the shortcut over the downs? He sometimes forgets to mention that.”

Saeward gave her a thin smile and shook his head No.

Emma laughed. “Worth a try. Say, will you arrest me?”

“No, lady.”

“Not even if I’m engaged in smuggling?” Emma grinned wickedly and dangled a fat pouch by its drawstring.

Saeward lifted an eyebrow. “Are those taxable goods?”

'Are those taxable goods?'


She leaned over the arm of her chair and tipped up her face. Her long hair swung away from her breast and trailed down on either side of her square, Sigefrith Hwala jaw. Like auburn curtains they neatly framed the angle through which Saeward’s left hand could whip up and clench tight around her windpipe.

She whispered, “It’s candy!”

Saeward folded his arms and rocked back onto his heels, shaken. Emma slouched back into her chair, grinning in naughty glee.

We made candy this morning. A double batch. We weren’t allowed to, but Hetty’s too big to come down the stairs anymore, so anything goes till the baby comes! Now I have only to smuggle it into my room without Eadie seeing. Or Father Blecca! So, am I under arrest?”

'So, am I under arrest?'

Saeward said, “Eating candy during Lent is not a breach of the King’s Peace, lady. I have no such authority.”

Emma sighed and shrugged. “Anyway, would you like a piece? Then we can be co-​conspirators!”

“No, thank you.”

Emma pulled open the drawstring. “Oh, do have one! I won’t tell. And it’s chewy, gooey candy, so if you have a piece in your mouth you’ll have an excuse not to talk to me, and I can see you’re simply dying for one of those right now.”

She held up the sack and smiled prettily, crinkling her eyes until her face had the cheeky innocence of a toddler.

Saeward looked not at the open pouch but at her: Sigefrith Hwala’s youngest daughter. He would be alone with her on the road. He could kidnap her, rape her, murder her—or all three. He knew where he could hide until nightfall, and he could be out of the valley by dawn. And Sigefrith knew this, too.

Sigefrith Hwala was entrusting him with his youngest daughter. This was what Sigefrith called taking turns.

Sigefrith Hwala was entrusting him with his youngest daughter.

Getting to know Sigefrith was like occasionally venturing out to the edge of a cliff and seeing just how dizzyingly high it was, just how far one had to fall.

“If you suck on it,” Emma added, “you should be able to avoid talking to me till we’re at least halfway home.”

“I—beg your pardon, lady,” Saeward said, hoping his voice did not sound as tinny to her as it did to his own ears. “But no, thank you. I shall take my chances with conversation.”

Emma laughed and yanked on the drawstring. “We have ways of making you talk,” she said wickedly.

'We have ways of making you talk.'

Saeward sighed.

The great door opened, and Saeward believed once again that he was about to be liberated, or at least set on the road to freedom. But it was not a man come to announce that the Princess’s horse awaited Her Highness’s pleasure. It was only a gawky, red-​haired, adolescent servant boy carrying in a basket of wood.

The boy looked panicked to find himself in the presence of both Royalty and the Law, both apparently with nothing better to do than watch him creep into the sitting room with his clunking basket, and creep away again to bow himself awkwardly back out the door.

The boy looked panicked to find himself in the presence of both royalty and the Law.

Saeward was grateful for that minute-​long interval of silence—until Emma observed aloud, “He was cute.”

For a moment, while Saeward still stared at the door and wondered what was keeping her horse, her confidential tone made him imagine Lady Margaret or some other young lady sat beside her, and she was not addressing him.

Then she asked pointedly, “Don’t you think?”

Saeward glanced down at her and saw her looking very much at him.

“Ah… I shall leave that to Your Highness’s judgment.”

“Don’t you like redheads?”

'Don't you like redheads?'

Saeward grew uneasy. The girl’s hair was certainly more red than brown, and he wished neither to insult her nor flatter her.

“I… like redheads as well as any other color. That is, I have no preference.”

“Oh. So you like older men, then?”

“I—now—just one moment!” he spluttered.

Sigefrith Hwala’s daughter! How old was she? Eleven?

“Lady, I fear you have—misunderstood something you overheard, or—a joke, or— You see, I do not like men of any age or color. If that is what you…”

Emma cried sharply, “Oh!”

She did not look mortified in the least, however. Indeed, she looked disappointed.

“I heard you did!”

'I heard you did!'

Saeward’s neck was broiling in his high collar. “Then, my lady, I hope this… misunderstanding will at least serve to teach you not to believe everything you hear.”

“Oh! So you like women, then?”


“So why don’t you have a wife?”

“Do you ask that question of all unmarried members of your father’s court, lady, or only myself?”

“Oh.” She smiled. “Sorry. How rude!”

'Sorry.  How rude!'

She did not look sorry. She looked as if she thought herself very cute. But she did sit still long enough for him to begin to come unruffled.

Then she could not resist asking hopefully, “But it’s not because you don’t like women?”

“No, lady, if I ever decide to fall in love, I assure you, it will be with a woman. You shall be welcome to bear witness at my nuptials.”

She smiled up at him. “Is that a wedding invitation?”

“My hypothetical spouse and I would be honored.”

'My hypothetical spouse and I would be honored.'

To his surprise—not the least because he had not expected her to know what “hypothetical” meant—this mollified her, and she settled into her chair, looking almost harmless and without guile.

Saeward stared at the door. Sigefrith Hwala’s daughter at his wedding? Perhaps he should have accepted that piece of candy.

Then Emma heaved a great sigh, and he looked down at her.

“You don’t know how lucky you are,” she said. “At least you get to choose your own wife. I have to marry Earl Blandwin the Forgettable.”

'I have to marry Earl Blandwin the Forgettable.'

She let her woeful head tip back until it thunked against her chair. Saeward had difficulty keeping his mouth from crooking into a smile. She had expressed his own thoughts about the young Earl with remarkable wit.

“Perhaps my wife will not want to marry me, either,” he said. “That must not be pleasant for a man.”

“I am not denying that Blandwin has the ill luck to be betrothed to Princess Impish the Unbearable.”

“You Lotherians have a confounding habit of renaming things every so often.”

'You Lotherians have a confounding habit of renaming things every so often.'

Emma sat up and laughed. “We girls have a name for everyone. Even though I just made up Princess Impish the Unbearable on the spot. Would you like to know what we call you?”

Saeward stroked his beard. “Goatman?”

“Ha! That’s too obvious. You’re Mysterious Reeve. Or just Mysterious for short. Tomorrow Meggie will say, ‘I heard you were arrested yesterday!’ and I shall say, ‘La, no! Mysterious escorted me home.’ And she will know whom I mean.”

Saeward kept stroking his beard, for it was an excellent means to hide his smile.

“Unless you would be so kind as to arrest me?” Emma asked hopefully.

'No, lady, I am not so kind.'

“No, lady, I am not so kind.”

“Suppose you simply held my horse’s bridle, so it looked like I was under arrest?”

Saeward glanced impatiently at the door. “No, lady.”

Emma sighed and subsided. For a grateful moment she only sat and kicked her crossed leg, and Saeward began to relax.

Then, proving her mind had been busy all the while, she looked up and asked, “Would you shave off your beard if your wife asked you to?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Emma blinked prettily at him. “If you loved her.”

Saeward was dumbfounded. “Why, Princess Emma the Hypothetical!”

'Why, Princess Emma the Hypothetical!'

Emma glowed with delight at her new name. It seemed she did indeed know what the word meant.

“If she loved me,” he added with greater seriousness, “perhaps she would not ask.”

“But supposing she didn’t love you, but you wanted to make her happy.”

“I would not oblige her to marry me if she did not want me. You are right, lady. I have that liberty.”

He was discussing the affections of his hypothetical future wife with Sigefrith Hwala’s eleven-​year-​old daughter. If he could go back in time and suggest this possibility to his year-​ago self, his year-​ago self would lock him in a shed until he sobered up.

“What if she liked your beard at first, but after she married you she found out it tickled?”

'What if she liked your beard at first?'

“I expect I shall kiss her before we wed, lady, so she will know what she’s getting into.”

Emma groaned. “What if she says she loves everything about you but the beard?”

“Then she is not the woman for me.”

“So what you’re saying is: you would rather have a beard than a wife?”

“Lady, I am not even thinking of taking a wife at present. So will you allow me the enjoyment of my beard meanwhile?”

'So will you allow me the enjoyment of my beard meanwhile?'

Emma laughed. Saeward sighed and shook his head. Sigefrith may not have intended to play a trick on him, but Saeward was beginning to fear that Eohric and Addonwy had run to waylay whatever groom was to fetch the Princess’s horse, and leave Saeward stranded in the hall.

After a moment spent stewing over that possibility, he was startled by Emma complaining, “But you don’t even flirt with the women.”


Saeward knew he had spoken too sharply. Emma looked up at him with wide brown eyes whose expression mingled the pained humility of a kicked puppy and the outraged disbelief of a pampered princess who scarcely knew what it was to be scolded.

Emma looked up at him with wide brown eyes.

She was smooth, sleek, and spotless, well-​fed almost to the point of chubbiness, and so accustomed to being fawned over that she believed it every man’s duty to flirt. She was no better than her brother, asking him what bird he preferred to hunt with.

He had wanted to tell her brother that in the real world, men hunted rats with their bare hands or risked their lives poaching hares. And he wanted to tell this girl that in the real world, relationships were a grim business and flirtation a foppish luxury. In the real world a woman could be grateful she might trade sex for shelter.

They were living in the fantasy world Sigefrith Hwala had built for them.

They were living in the fantasy world Sigefrith Hwala had built for them. If Saeward was not careful, he would find himself drawn into it. If he thought about it too hard, or not enough.

“Perhaps I—”

He was about to propose that he return to the office and work until her horse was ready—he could always make his own copy of that record from seventy-​one. But he knew enough of court protocol to remember that when one waited on a princess, one waited on a princess.

Emma held up her bag. “—might have a piece of candy after all? I shall have one if you have one. That way we shall both sit here dumb as mummies until Wulsy comes.”

Saeward sighed and slumped onto the chair beside her. “I would be grateful for a piece of candy, my lady.”

'I would be grateful for a piece of candy, my lady.'

Emma fished into her bag and held a piece out to him. He pinched it from between her fingers and popped it straight into his mouth. It was freshly-​made, still malleable and moist, and the warmth of honey and costly spices melted over his tongue.

When he was her age, he thought—back in sixty-seven—he’d had a different name then—the gift of this single piece of candy would have been the best thing that happened to him all year.

Then he cursed himself for thinking it, because his mouth was full of candy and the tightness in his throat would make it hard to swallow.

“Mysterious Reeve remains Mysterious!” she announced. She added softly, “And Princess Emma the Impudent will shut up now.”

She shoved her own piece into her mouth, and afterwards she was quiet, as promised. Saeward decided to take it as an apology.

Saeward decided to take it as an apology.