'Is that... Dunstan?'

“Is that… Dunstan?” Ogive asked down the long breakfast table at Britamund.

“Dunstan?” Britamund echoed thoughtfully. “He can’t have returned already, can he?”

Then she yelped and smacked her hands down on either side of her porridge.

“Good gravy, girls! The candy!”

“The candy!” Gwynn’s eyes flew wide, staring down at the incriminating bowl between her plate and the Princess’s.

Britamund commanded, “Hide the candy!” and set the example by shoving a piece into her mouth.

Gwynn never did figure out where all that candy went. There must have been ten pieces in the bowl. She crammed two into her mouth while Britamund mumbled around her own mouthful: “Ogive! Lottie! Katla!” as she flung balls of taffy candy around the room like missiles of Greek fire, minus the fire.

“I do not eat candy for breakfast,” Ogive protested, glaring at the lump she had been forced to catch in self defense.

Britamund moaned past her stuck teeth and pointed imperiously from Ogive’s candy to her mouth. Ogive’s loyal handmaiden Lottie let her embroidery slip from her lap and stood up to wave her arms. Grimacing, Ogive threw her piece across the room.

By now Dunstan’s voice could be clearly heard in jovial conversation in the corridor. Still chewing, Britamund reached across the table to hack the end off of one of Gwynn’s spicy breakfast sausages and picked it up between her fingers. She shoved it into her mouth the instant she swallowed her candy.

These were not the most ladylike of proceedings, but a crisis was upon them. Lent was over, of course, but Dunstan didn’t like Britamund eating cakes or candy, or drinking mead or honeyed wine—all things that had made his mother gravely ill during her pregnancies. Britamund, however, was both healthy as a stoat and ravenous for honey, and the wise women told her to heed her cravings. Her body and the baby would tell her what they needed. Moreover, a craving for sweets foretold a sweet-​tempered child.

Thus Gwynn had learned an important lesson about conjugal happiness: when it came to female matters, what husbands didn’t know couldn’t hurt them. Britamund assured her it was equally true for male matters and wives.

Dunstan knocked, as he always did when intruding on the ladies in their sitting room. Gwynn’s mouth was still stuffed with melting candy, but she picked up her knife and tried to look busy with her sausages before Ogive called, “Come in!”

Dunstan opened the door and peeked inside. “Good morning, sleepyheads! Look what I had time to do while some people were still lazing about in bed.”

He stepped all the way inside… bringing Margaret in after him!

He brought Margaret in after him!

“Happy Easter, everyone!” Margaret cried.

Gwynn blurted, “Meggie!”—but with her mouth full of candy, it came out more like “Mmm-​mmm!”

Britamund simply waved, hiding her mouthful of sausage behind a cheeky smile.

“Good morning, and happy Easter,” Ogive said. “What an agreeable surprise.”

Margaret dragged a chair up to the table. “You greet the news of my banishment with right good cheer.”

Gwynn attempted to ask, “Banishment?” but it came out more like “Mmm-​mmm-​hmm?”

Dunstan kissed her forehead as he went by, and stooped to kiss Britamund full on the mouth as soon as she swallowed.

“Mmm! Good morning, Sausages. Tastes like someone is recovering her appetite for spices.” He gave Britamund’s rounded belly an affectionate rub.

Gwynn tried again—“Mmm-mmm-hmm?”—looking between Dunstan and Margaret in hope of elucidation.


But Margaret sneered, “Don’t talk with your mouth full, Gwynn! It isn’t ladylike!”

And Dunstan froze, still stooped over the table. Gwynn panicked. Had they dropped a piece? Surely he could not guess there had been candy simply by looking at the empty bowl!

But Dunstan’s attention had been captured by a different bowl, this one still full. He asked breathlessly, “Good gravy! Is that custard?

'Is that custard?'

“It’s either bad gravy or good custard!” Britamund agreed. Just in case, she moved the empty candy bowl off to the side.

“I entirely forgot Lent was over!” Dunstan said. “I had them send me up a bowl of plain porridge this morning. Is there any left?”

“That’s all there is, my lord, but you’re welcome to it. I’m feeling full already.” Britamund was also feeling saucy enough to wink at Gwynn over Dunstan’s head.

Britamund was also feeling saucy enough to wink at Gwynn over Dunstan's head.

Gwynn finally swallowed with a mighty effort and turned to ask Margaret, “Banishment? What did you do?”

Margaret stared. “Glad to see you, too.”

Gwynn squeezed her sister’s wrist. “Oh, Meggie! Of course I’m glad to see you, whatever you may have done! But really, when you come in here speaking of banishment…

Dunstan sighed, “Margaret…” He nodded subtly towards the two maids as he dragged up a stool with his foot.

Now Gwynn was almost writhing with curiosity. What had Margaret done that was unfit for the servants’ ears? Lottie knew all the best gossip already, and Katla was from the Isle of Man; she barely spoke English at all.

“Lottie?” Britamund said. “Please go below and inform the cook that her lord and Lady Margaret will be here for dinner. And ask her to make up another custard. I expect I shall be hungry for some by then. Katla may go with you. We shan’t need you.”

'Katla may go with you.  We shan't need you.'

Lottie must have known she was being sent out of earshot, but she had been preemptively bribed by candy and curtseyed most graciously. Katla followed her out, looking slightly befuddled but disinterested, just as she always did, the poor lovely dear.

Meanwhile Dunstan grabbed a spoon and shoveled custard into his mouth as if he knew he would be too busy talking to eat it after the maids had gone. It was not terribly gentleman-​like.

Gwynn disregarded him and turned to Margaret. As soon as the door closed she whispered, “What did you do?”

'What did you do?'

“What makes you think I did anything?”

“Then why are you banished?”

“Margaret!” Dunstan sighed. “Nobody is banished.”

“No,” Margaret said, “but somebody is un-​banished, and that’s why I’m here. Don’t act as if it were a coincidence. It’s plain as the nose on somebody’s face.”

'Don't act as if it were a coincidence.'

“Un-​banished?” Gwynn echoed, looking hopefully to her sister when Dunstan only appeared more morose. “Who?”

Oh, if it was Egelric coming home! Sigefrith had lifted the sentence, but even so, Hetty and Ethelwyn feared he would never return. And if he didn’t, he and her father would never be reconciled.

“Egelric came home last night,” Dunstan sighed. “With Ethelwyn and Finn.”

'Egelric came home last night.'

It was he! Gwynn almost shivered with elation, until she remembered the date and nearly swooned with the significance: Egelric had returned on Easter Sunday. It was almost like a resurrection. She almost mentioned it, but decided the notion might seem a little bit blasphemous. Still, she would keep it, and ponder it in her heart.

“Not home,” Dunstan corrected himself after Britamund caught his eye. “Girls,” he said gently, “you know Egelric will no longer live at Sceadwung-​clif. Father means to keep it for the Old Man.”

“Then where will he stay?” Gwynn asked. Oh, the poor soul, thrust from his own home into the bitter cold! For it was only early April, after all, and not quite spring.

“He stayed with Iylaine last night. I don’t know where he means to stay, or whether he means to stay at all.”

He caught Britamund’s eye again, and even clasped her hand atop the table. His tone was beginning to give Gwynn a sick feeling that had nothing to do with the candy and sausage. He spoke in the way one spoke of someone who had tragically died.

“Brit and I intend to offer him land out beyond Bent Creek, if he wishes to live out of the way of everyone for a while.”

“But…” Gwynn’s lip quivered, and she laid down her knife beside her plate. “Won’t he be allowed to come amongst us any more?”

She remembered Margaret’s “banishment” and turned to her sister. Margaret was looking subdued. Even sad.

Margaret was looking subdued.  Even sad.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Dunstan said. “But it will be awkward at first. It won’t be the first time we’ve had to exclude certain people from guest lists when inviting certain others. Some people may never forgive him for what he… for what happened.”

By some people, did he mean Aengus? Or did he mean their father? Gwynn swallowed her tears and took a drink of ale to wash them down.

“And, girls,” Dunstan said briskly to his sisters, “I must inform you that Father does not wish you to see him. Meg, you’re to stay here for at least the next few days while he decides what to do. Ogive, I don’t know what Sigefrith has to say, but in any event, for the time being Egelric is not welcome here. I myself shall meet him away from the castle.”

Gwynn asked, “But… mayn’t we even send him a message?”

The sudden outrage on Dunstan’s face startled her into leaning back towards Margaret.

'What message could you have?'

“What message,” he demanded, “could you have to send to a man whom your father has forbidden you to meet?”

Mortified, Gwynn whispered, “Happy Easter.”

Dunstan froze, and Gwynn watched him turn red to the tips of his ears. He squeezed her hand in a silent, shame-​faced apology.

“I shall wish him a happy Easter on your behalf,” he said. “I shall likely see him tomorrow or Wednesday. But it’s too early for you to start thinking of what you would like to say to him. We don’t even know how he might have changed.”

No, Gwynn thought, on the contrary, it was far too late for him to give her such a warning. She had already imagined many touching reunions. She did not believe Egelric was a monster any more than Hetty or Iylaine did, and what living women knew him better than they? But for now she would hold her peace.

“What about Finn?” Margaret asked.

'What about Finn?'

Dunstan said, “Finn, of course, is welcome wherever he previously was. To my knowledge he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“Neither has Egelric,” Gwynn protested.

“That is not true,” Dunstan said testily, “though it is not your business to know. He did not commit the crimes for which he was banished, and he has served Sigefrith well in a foreign land, at great danger to himself. We are all aware of that. But what he did—or may have done—with Maire—”

Dunstan got himself tangled up in his words, and finally swallowed a spoonful of custard to calm himself.

Gwynn turned her face away and lifted her nose. She did not intend to say any more about it. Loyal to Domnall though she might have been, thinking it over in her bed at night she had developed her own theories. Maire was a passionate woman, verging on hysteria, who hadn’t had relations with her husband in many months. And Egelric was a passionate, magnetic man in the depths of despair. The outcome was almost inevitable, and almost certain to be unlovely. They’d come together not because they needed each other, but because they both needed the same thing. Sadly, it was nothing either of them had to give.

Gwynn turned her face away and lifted her nose.

“Anyway,” Dunstan concluded abruptly, “he insulted our—insulted our family. So regardless of what else he might have done, it remains for him to apologize to Father and me for that. It is up to him to take that step, and until he does, you should not expect Father to even begin to consider allowing him amongst us again. He may visit Hetty and his children, of course, but for now, we Sebrights are not receiving him. Am I understood?”

Gwynn looked at Margaret, and Margaret looked at Gwynn. Conrad still hadn’t revealed what Egelric had said to Dunstan. And Conrad told Margaret everything.

“I am afraid,” Dunstan added, “that Conrad and you girls may not be seeing much of Finn in the meantime. I have nothing against him, but it seems he’s grown quite loyal to his father. He may not wish to go where his father isn’t welcome. I’m sorry.”

Margaret snickered. “Gwynn isn’t.”

'Gwynn isn't.'

“Now, Margaret,” Gwynn said primly, “that is unfair. If he has developed an attachment to his father, then that is…”

“…the first sign of humanity you’ve seen in him yet,” Margaret concluded for her.

Britamund laughed. Dunstan slowly scraped his bowl with his spoon, pensive and silent.

“That is commendable,” Gwynn corrected. “Filial affection cannot come easily when one has lived fourteen years believing one’s father abandoned one.”

Britamund added, “My father says Finn served him well at Ramsaa, too.”

'My father says Finn served him well at Ramsaa, too.'

“Then that is all very good and proper,” Gwynn said. “I for one am perfectly willing to overlook his past misdeeds if he endeavors to behave more graciously henceforth.”

Margaret burst out laughing, and Gwynn turned to her, flushed with offended dignity.

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you tell him that, he’s going to explode and insult you four ways at once. The only thing that annoys him more than your disapproval is your approval.”

“Then I thank you for the warning,” Gwynn said stiffly. “For I can have nothing to do with young men who scorn the good opinion of young ladies.”

Dunstan sighed and let his spoon clatter into his empty bowl. “I think you should give him a chance, girls. I believe he may have grown up since you saw him last.”

Gwynn turned. Her heart melted a tiny bit. Just a trickle.

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” Dunstan continued, “but Sigefrith asked Finn whether he wanted to accompany his father into exile. He gave Finn the choice. Egelric even told Finn to stay behind, so he would at least know Finn was safe and happy. But do you know what Finn said? He said: ‘What about you?’” Dunstan repeated, “What about you?

Gwynn smiled a teeny smile.

Gwynn smiled a teeny smile. She was certain Margaret was looking a little shame-​faced behind her.

Dunstan snorted and smiled ruefully, hunching his shoulders as if to hide his pink ears. “And I definitely shouldn’t tell you this,” he said. “This cannot go beyond the walls of this room, ladies. Do I have your word?”

Gwynn held out her pinkie finger, and Dunstan grinned and crooked his little finger around it, as Sebright children swore. Gwynn reached back to hook the finger of her other hand around Margaret’s. Britamund bespoke Dunstan’s free pinkie, and even Ogive—after a humph and a rolling of her eyes—linked her little finger around Margaret’s.

Once they were all linked into a chain, Gwynn led the chant: “Cross my heart and hope to die, should I ever tell a lie.”

“Now tell us!” Margaret added at the end.

“All right, all right,” Dunstan said, laughing.

'All right, all right.'

In truth, he looked as eager to tell his story as any gossipy housewife. He pushed back his empty bowl and rested his arm on the table, leaning closer to Gwynn and her sister. Britamund sat serenely back in her chair, looking as if she already knew.

“It’s about Finn,” Dunstan said. “He and Egelric were both in the room when the Captain was knighted. You know it was a hasty ceremony.”

Gwynn sat forward and nodded, urging him on. She had a funny feeling in her tummy that had nothing to do with candy or sausages.

“Well, Finn had his sword, because he’d just returned from visiting here. Of course Egelric didn’t have his, because he was… well, because he was a prisoner. So Brede and Malcolm and Father and I were there, with ours, and Sigefrith ordered us to present arms.”

A little of the shine went out of the story then, as Gwynn raced ahead to the logical conclusion: Finn had put himself forward and acted like a knight, lifting his sword. Of course he hadn’t known the rules of men, and perhaps he had looked a little dashing, but it was sadly presumptuous of him.

“And Finn,” Dunstan confided, leaning so close to Gwynn that it was almost as if he were telling the secret to her alone, “put his own sword in his father’s hand and clasped his father’s fingers around it.”

'He clasped his father's fingers around it.'

He paused to let that image sink in. Gwynn’s mouth slowly dropped open.

“It was terribly moving,” Dunstan said, quite unnecessarily. “Father was furious, but even he had to admit that Egelric’s son did him honor. I could not wish for more from my own son, if I am blessed with one.”

He turned to grin stupidly at Britamund and pat her belly, forgetting Gwynn. But that hardly mattered since Gwynn had almost forgotten him. What a funny, dizzy, excited feeling had taken hold of her! Could Finn have been the author of such a noble gesture? It was like something out of a story.

It was like something out of a story.

Practical Margaret asked, “Did Sigefrith let him get away with it?”

“He did,” Dunstan said. “Five knights saw the Captain knighted that day. But, please, don’t mention it to Finn, girls. I shouldn’t have told you about it. And anyway, it will only embarrass him if you fuss over him.”

'And anyway, it will only embarrass him if you fuss over him.'

“It doesn’t embarrass you,” Britamund crooned, reaching out to drag Dunstan closer, pinch his cheeks, and shake his head like a baby’s. Dunstan laughed and turned red as far as the ears, proving his wife wrong. But then again he didn’t move to stop her.

Margaret said, “That’s because Dunstan has no dignity left ever since he fell in looove.”

Gwynn sat back in her chair.

Gwynn sat back in her chair. Dignity. That was the word. That was the mysterious property that made Egelric seem handsome in spite of his ugliness. That was what made his lapses in manners and his gruff replies seem perfectly gentlemanlike on him; and why one wanted to be mild with him and not make a fuss over him, whether to praise or to scold.

Could it be that Finn had inherited some share of his father’s dignity along with his nose? Could he be honorable and brave when there were no excitable young ladies around to exasperate or to impress?

Gwynn, for one, was determined to find out. She would forgive his past misdeeds. She would try not to be so easily exasperated. Henceforth, whenever Finn was ungentlemanly or even annoyingly incorrect, she would treat him the way she would have treated Egelric. And she would see what happened then.

And she would see what happened then.