'To see me?'

“To see me?” Gwynn echoed.

But what she was really thinking was: A young man?

“That’s what he said,” Dunstan agreed. “Asked most particularly for you. Says he would like to ‘further your acquaintance.’”

'That's what he said.'

There was something odd about the smile on her brother’s face. Moreover, Britamund was giggling as if she already knew the joke, even though she had been sitting beside Gwynn this last hour and could not have seen any men of any age arrive. Were they planning a trick, or was it simply that Britamund and Dunstan were perfectly attuned?

Gwynn folded the baby dress she was hemming and got up. “Is Domnall home?” she guessed.

'Is Domnall home?'

And by “furthering their acquaintance” did he mean “finally kiss her”? It was about time.

But Dunstan coughed and said, “Ah, no. That would be awkward, since Finn got here first.”

Britamund burst out laughing, and Lottie planted her fists on her hips and said, “Tell those young men they must make a line out the door to see our Gwynn!”

As for Gwynn, at first she was aghast. Was that horrid boy so obsessed with tormenting her that he would ride all this way, immediately upon returning home…?

As for Gwynn, she was aghast at first.

And then she remembered—the sword!

“Did he even stop to eat or sleep?” Lottie asked.

Britamund said, “He must be here to deliver a message of great import!

Gwynn felt herself blushing hot. She suspected Britamund was teasing her, and she was almost certain Lottie was.

Britamund added suspiciously, “I didn’t think Finn even knew words like ‘acquaintance.’”

“I am certain,” Gwynn said as she strode past the Princess, head high, “that he has matured greatly in these past months. Not to mention improved his English.” She stopped before her brother. “You may tell him I will see him.”

“He’s in my study,” Dunstan said, stepping aside quite as if he intended to escort her there instead of showing him into the great hall to await her visit.

Gwynn’s knees felt weak. He wasn’t going to take her to his study, was he? He wasn’t going to leave her alone in there with that horrid boy, was he?

Gwynn's knees felt weak.

Remember the sword, she reminded herself. Remember the sword.

“Dunstan,” Britamund said airily as Dunstan led Gwynn to the door, “do you henceforth intend to allow young men to further their acquaintance with your sister in your study?”

Dunstan whined, “Brit!”

“For in my experience, it is a room in which acquaintances may profitably be furthered.”


Lottie hooted with laughter. Gwynn blushed as hot as she could stand. She wasn’t sure she understood just quite what the joke was, but she had her suspicions. Certainly her brother looked as red as she felt.

“My hand,” Dunstan warned his wife, “is apt to further its acquaintance with your behind! Finn asked for a word alone with Gwynn, and given some of the ‘words’ he has already had with her in my hearing, I expect there is something he needs to say to her, if he is any kind of gentleman at all. He has certainly had time enough to think it over.”

Dunstan snorted conclusively, just like their father. Then he looked to Gwynn and smiled.

“Besides, I trust you. If you want my advice, I think you should hear him out. It’s not every boy that age who can admit himself in the wrong.”

“Yes,” Britamund advised, “but I don’t think you should forgive him right away. That’s why penance was invented: to make a man properly sorry for his sins.”

“Make him work for it,” Lottie agreed. “Else he’ll never appreciate it.”

Gwynn looked helplessly from face to face. On second thought, she would have been grateful to see Domnall.

Gwynn looked helplessly from face to face.

“But he hasn’t even asked for my forgiveness yet,” she said weakly.

“True indeed,” Dunstan said. He tucked Gwynn’s hand into his elbow and opened the door. “Let’s give him a chance to do it himself instead of doing it for him and sending him a report next Quarter Day.”

They hadn’t far to go. One had to descend the corridor a short ways to the door, but Dunstan’s study was directly across from Britamund’s sitting room. Gwynn felt a little queasy when she realized that Finn had been standing only a few yards away from her while she’d been placidly stitching her hem.

Dunstan stopped her in the dim hallway, just outside the door.

“Just remember,” he said softly, “I do trust you. But if Finn has any… declarations to make, I trust you will remind him he ought to speak to me or to Father first.”

Gwynn’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head. She gasped, “Finn?

Dunstan laughed awkwardly. “Well, he’s had plenty of time to figure out he missed you. Brit always did say she thought he liked you. Some boys tease the girls they like, instead of writing pretty poems.”

Gwynn did not think “tease” sufficed to describe the mockery that Finn reserved for her and her alone. If boys “teased” the girls they liked, then Finn must have been attempting to express undying love. More likely he was simply a bully.

Remember the sword. Remember the sword.

“Anyway,” Dunstan concluded hastily, the door handle already rattling in his hand, “I’m certain he only wants to apologize and start off again on the right foot. But in any event I shall be just across the hall with Brit. If you need me, just shout.”

If she needed him? What did he imagine Finn was likely to do to her? Was his ardor so uncontrollable that he would be bound to sweep her up and cover her with kisses? Of course, he was Egelric’s son…

Oh, why had she ever said she would see him? She hadn’t even had time to dream up any touching reunions between herself and this new sword-​lending, father-​accompanying Finn. She would have to improvise. This was going to be a disaster. She didn’t even know how to kiss.

But Finn was not waiting behind the door to leap upon her. Indeed, he stood all the way across the room behind Dunstan’s writing table. Gwynn saw she would have at least two seconds’ head start if he decided to charge at her. With that thought to cheer her she managed to totter in.

Was this Finn?

How… different he looked. His hair was longer and brushed to the side instead of hanging before his face like a sheepdog’s. He appeared taller, broader in the shoulders, and narrower in the hips where his belt cinched. He was no longer an overgrown boy like Conrad or Domnall, but verily a young man.

Gwynn balled up her hands before her woozy stomach and shuffled closer. He was so dignified as to be almost forbidding, but his lightly tanned face was growing very red, making him seem a little more human.

Gwynn balled up her hands before her woozy stomach and shuffled closer.

She made it to the end of the table, almost creeping up on him as she might have approached an unpredictable dog. Aside from staring at her, he made no greeting. But of course, she told herself, it was always difficult to admit oneself in the wrong. She was gracious enough to help him along.

“Welcome home, Finn,” she said gently, calm and smiling even though one of her hands was crushing the fingers of the other. “My brother said you had something to say to me.”

Finn shuffled backwards until his elbow bumped the shelf and he started. “I am interested,” he said in a stiff staccato, “in furthering our acquaintance.”

'I am interested in furthering our acquaintance.'

How nervous the poor boy was! Gwynn’s heart melted. She would not make him do penance. She would not make him suffer to prove his good faith. It was not in her nature to withhold mercy and forgiveness. She’d forgiven him already.

'She'd forgiven him already.'

“I should like that very much,” she confided.

She expected his tense body to ease a little bit in relief. Instead he flew out at her, startling her into throwing up her hands.

'Furthering our acquaintance!'

Furthering our acquaintance!” he repeated. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Furthering our acquaintance,” he simpered, waving his pinkie finger about and waggling his hips, “now or at any time.


“Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” he cried. “Isn’t that the message you gave to the Captain when he came to call on Connie? Isn’t it?”

Holy Juno, Mother of Mars.

Holy Juno, Mother of Mars.

“Ha!” he said triumphantly. “I knew it! I knew it had to be you! I just talked to Connie, and she never sent no message! She never knew the Captain called on her one time! And she was so sorry, she cried! Cried because she was so rude! But she wasn’t rude, it was you!”

How long ago it seemed. Gwynn had confessed her sin, and her penance was long since done. Finn made her feel like it was yesterday.

“Why did you do it?” he demanded.

'Why did you do it?'

Gwynn swallowed and licked her lips, queasy and faint. What could she tell him? What could she tell Condal? With Father Matthew she had peeled off the visible layers of her sin and at the heart of it discovered an ugly knot of Envy.

Gwynn swallowed and licked her lips.

“I know why!” Finn declared. “Because the Captain isn’t good enough for your friend. Oh, no! Only the best for Lady Gwynn, and everyone she is generous enough to call her friends! I rather be your enemy than your friend! At least I know to never trust you!” He rapped his breast with the side of his fist. “Lucky me, nothing but peasant blood in my veins! I’m safe from you!”

A loud crack startled Gwynn into shrieking and covering her head with her arms, but it wasn’t Finn, it was Dunstan flinging open the door.

“What is going on in here?” he shouted.

'What is going on in here?'

Gwynn lost control and broke down into teary sobs.

Finn was undaunted. He shouted back at Dunstan, “I am telling her, I know what she did last winter!”

“What right have you to tell her anything in such a tone!”

“You don’t know what she did!”

'You don't know what she did!'

“I don’t care what she did, nobody speaks to ladies in that manner in this household!”

“Maybe it is time you start!”

Dunstan whipped back his arm, as if to backhand Finn across the face. Gwynn screamed, “Stop it!” and hurled herself against him.

“If you were a few years older!” Dunstan shouted in a strangled voice, scuffling with Gwynn. “Get out of my house! Out of my house! God help you if I have to see you out!”

“No need!” Finn cried as he stormed past.

'No need!'

He slammed the door to the study, and slammed the door in the stairwell on his way down.

Gwynn clung to the wool of Dunstan’s tunic. His panting breath was shaky; and a bead of sweat rolled down his temple, though the room was cool with mountain air. Gwynn had never seen her brother like this, and it only multiplied her sense of shame.


“Beastly,” he muttered. “I have never witnessed anything so outrageous. And so polite with me! One would have given him the Blessed Sacrament without confession. Decidedly, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Gwynn blubbered, and Dunstan remembered she was there. Gwynn wished herself invisible again.

“Oh, Gwynn! I’m so sorry. I never should have… I didn’t think he…”

'Oh, Gwynn!  I'm so sorry.'

Gwynn took out her handkerchief and wiped her face and nose.

“I failed you,” Dunstan said miserably. “He could have… He didn’t touch you, did he? For if he laid so much as a finger on you…”

Dunstan was getting angry again. Gwynn shook her head and flopped onto the couch. Was this where her brother and Britamund had “furthered their acquaintance?” How stupid she’d been to think she was in any danger of Finn’s kisses. Condal had those, too.

Dunstan sat gingerly on the couch beside her. “I shan’t ask you what he thinks you did. I meant what I said: there is no excuse for a man to speak to a lady in such a manner.”

Dunstan sat gingerly on the couch beside her.

“I did it,” Gwynn said in a voice muffled by a stuffy nose and a curtain of hair. “I deserved it.”

“I beg to differ,” Dunstan huffed. “He could have confronted you with politeness and self-​restraint. If he did not, that is a flaw in his own character, and not due to anything you did or didn’t do.”

Gwynn said nothing. She loved her brother, but she wished he would just go away.

She would have to apologize to Condal. She would have to apologize to Eadred. But these would be the least of her humiliations.

For she could already picture Finn mocking her: waggling his hips, batting his eyelashes, and crooking his little finger in the air. I should like that very much. She knew she would never live it down.

She knew she would never live it down.