Matilda pulled Lady Gwynn to her feet.

Matilda pulled Lady Gwynn to her feet yet again and tried to coax her into taking a step. Gwynn was happy enough to stand, if someone would hold her hands, but when it came to walking, she would just lock her legs into fat pillars and resist any attempts to budge her. Matilda tried pulling her gently off-​​balance, but Gwynn would only be toppled or dragged – there was no getting her to bend her legs.

“Oh, Gwynn,” she sighed. “Your father will simply have to give you a pony, and you shall ride.”

She sighed.

Just then a servant showed in Egelric Wodehead.

“Egelric!” she smiled. “I wanted to see you before you left. But first you must kiss your lady.”

“As my lady commands, though I am not sure His Grace would approve,” he replied gravely.

'I am not sure His Grace would approve.'

She laughed brightly. That was the way she liked him. His dry humor was the very opposite of Alred’s, but it made her life more complete to have the two of them. She was happy that he had overcome his initial awe of her, though he still treated her with a gentlemanly respect that pleased the carefully hidden feminine part of her.

“Kiss your little lady then, if Alred would not approve.”

“But will she?” he asked, smiling down at the little girl. “Last time she was afraid of my beard.”

“Let us try,” she said, picking Gwynn up off the floor and holding her out to be kissed. Gwynn accepted the gesture graciously.

'How is she coming with her walking?'

“How is she coming with her walking?”

“Oh, she still stands like the Colossus of Rhodes watching over the ships coming into harbor. It seems to me that Dunstan and Yware were both pulling themselves up and walking around the furniture by this time.”

'She was born too soon.'

“Your Grace should allow her another month. She was born too soon.”

“I know,” she smiled a little sadly. “She’s still so small.”

“So is His Grace, but he walks and talks.”

“You’re full of mischief today, Squire,” she laughed. “Happy to be returning to your homeland?”

“This valley is my home,” he said, bowing slightly, “but I shall be happy to see my cousins again.”

'I shall be happy to see my cousins again.'

“And take thee a wife from thence?”

“Has His Grace been talking about me?” he said, frowning in annoyance. “Everyone wishes to see me married.”

“Everyone wishes to see you happy, Egelric,” she said gently.

“I don’t recall saying I wasn’t.”

'I don't recall saying I wasn't.'

“I am not certain Alred believes it possible for a man to live happily without a wife.”

“One understands why when one considers his experiences with his wife. They were not mine. I did not live happily with a wife.”

“I am sorry, Egelric. I know. Never mind what I said.”

He shrugged and looked away.

'He shrugged and looked away.'

“Of course, that isn’t why I wanted to speak to you this morning.”

Egelric bowed, waiting.

“I wanted to talk to you about Dunstan. And about Baby. Last night Alred was quite late coming back from the castle, and Dunstan was terrified. It seems that he believes that there is someone called the ‘Dark Lady’ who walks at night and captures men who cross her path.”

“It is a more coherent story than the one about Spackbears,” Egelric smiled.

“You may compliment Baby then, for it seems that it is she who told it him.”

“Baby did? I don’t believe it. She’s not interested in ghosts and monsters.”

'It is what Dunstan told me.'

“It is what Dunstan told me, and it is why he believes it’s true. She told him that her mother told her about the Dark Lady, and how she would see her when she went out at night.”

Egelric shifted uncomfortably.

“She told Baby that the Dark Lady was going to capture you some night when you came home late,” Matilda continued quietly.

Egelric looked miserably at the floor. “I believe she liked to terrorize the child. I believe she was mad. I didn’t know about this, however. Baby never told me.”

'Baby never told me.'

“You don’t think Baby made it up?”

“I think it very likely that Elfleda did tell her such a story to make her fear for me. It does explain a few things she has said to me since, when I have come home after dark. Poor, brave girl,” he murmured, shaking his head. “She never tells me these things, and I always have to learn them second-​​hand! What a dark and terrifying world it must seem to her. And with all my talk of curses!”

“You don’t believe in that any longer, do you, Egelric?” Matilda scolded gently.

He sighed. “I don’t know. My life has been quiet since – since Elfleda went out of it.”

'Quiet is the best you can say of it?'

“Quiet is the best you can say of it?”

He shook his head. “I suppose I am happy – when I don’t think.”

“I still believe it would do you good to fall in love. Let your heart run away with your head for a while, Egelric.”

“Ach! Love! Women think it the solution to all of life’s problems, men think it the cause. Again, I say that it is easy for Your Grace to believe it the key to happiness.”

“It can be, if you find the right key for the door,” she said softly.

“And if you find the right door,” he muttered.

'I apologize again.'

“Oh, Egelric,” she sighed. “I apologize again. Let me simply say to you what were the last words of my father to me, namely: ‘May you have a happy life.’”

“That is a generous wish. Your Grace will note that he did not specify the manner.”

'Nor will I.'

Matilda nodded. “Nor shall I. I shan’t bother you about that again, if it is not what you desire. However, even though I have spoiled your happy mood, I hope you will forgive me and still see me sometimes. I enjoy talking with you.”

“Aye,” he smiled, forgiving her. “As do I.”

He smiled, forgiving her.