He found her seated cross-legged before the low fire.

Egelric blew out the candle in the kitchen and went back to Iylaine in the other room. He found her seated cross-​​legged before the low fire, stroking the blind white cat that dozed in her lap.

“Tell me a story, Da,” she said drowsily without looking around.

“Baby,” he said quietly, “put the cat out and go get dressed for bed. Then I want to talk to you.”

“Was I bad?”

“I don’t think so, Baby,” he sighed. “I simply want to talk to you.”

A few minutes later the girl returned with her brush and sat down at his feet. “You can brush my hair and talk to me,” she informed him.

'You can brush my hair and talk to me.'

Poor baby girl! How tiny her blonde head was! How slender her neck! How he had failed her!

“Don’t you want to talk to me?” she asked after he had brushed her hair a while in silence.

'Don't you want to talk to me?'

“Why don’t you tell your Da a story, Baby?” he said, his mind returning to his purpose. “Why don’t you tell me the story of the Dark Lady?”

Iylaine sat breathlessly still a moment before whispering, “Do you know about the Dark Lady?”

“I learned about the Dark Lady from Her Grace the Duchess, who learned it from her son. And who do you think told his lordship about the Dark Lady?”

“Me?” she asked after a moment.


“So I have heard. And where did my Baby hear about the Dark Lady?”

“From Mama?”

“Is that true?”

“Aye,” she admitted softly.

“Baby,” he sighed, “your Mama has been gone for two years. How do you remember such things?”

'How do you remember such things?'

“I don’t know. I just ‘member.” Her speech was an adorable mix of his own and Gunnilda’s. But, adorable as it was, he would have to correct her.


“I just re-​​member,” she repeated.

“So, re-​​member this: there is no Dark Lady. The only ladies we know live in castles, and they don’t come out at night, and they don’t hurt any one. There’s your brush.”

“Da, was Mama a liar if she said things that wasn’t true?”

'Was Mama a liar?'

“Things that weren’t true, Baby.” He sighed. “I don’t know, little one. I think that Mama didn’t know the difference between what was true and what wasn’t.”

“But she said she saw her.”

'But she said she saw her.'

“There is no Dark Lady, Iylaine. Never mind what your Mama told you. Your Da is telling you that there is none. Whom do you believe?”


“That’s a good girl. When you see his lordship you will tell him that it was only a story. Now, what about bed?”

Iylaine scrambled to her feet and planted herself between his knees so that he might not stand.

'I want to ask you something.'

“Wait, Da. I want to ask you something.”

“Make it quick.”

“Can’t I come with you? I don’t want to stay with Gunnie.”

“Now, Baby, you’re always begging me to let you stay with Gunnie.”

“But I want to go with you.”

“You’re still too small, baby angel. You don’t see the father birds letting the baby birds out of the nest before they can fly, do you?”

“Sometimes they fall out,” she countered.

“Then the cats eat them – is that what you want to happen to you?”

“No,” she admitted reluctantly.

“I promise I shall take you to Scotland some day when you are a young woman, and old enough to ride fast and far. Perhaps you will like to marry one of your cousins,” he teased.

'Perhaps you will like to marry one of your cousins.'

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said gravely. “Perhaps Gog, but not Magog!”

Egelric laughed. “First, Baby, you must call them Colban and Malcolm.”

“Bertie doesn’t!”

“Bertie is not a young lady. Now, tell me, why not Malcolm?”

“I don’t like Malcolm. Malcolm smiles all the time.”

“That’s a funny thing to say, Baby.” He would be sure to tell Malcolm about this. “Alwy smiles all the time, but you like him, don’t you?”

“Aye, but Alwy smiles because he’s happy.”

“Baby, you say something to astound me every day. Why do you think Malcolm smiles, then?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged after a moment’s thought.

She shrugged after a moment's thought.

“Ah, Baby, Malcolm is still a young man. He doesn’t have the habit of pleasing little girls yet. I probably smiled all the time when I was his age, and had all of the little girls afraid of me, too,” he chuckled.

“Now you are old, you don’t smile enough,” she scolded.


'Alwy says you smile, but your eyes don't.'

“Alwy says you smile, but your eyes don’t. That means it’s not a real smile.”

“Alwy shouldn’t say such things to you.”

“He don’t. He says them to Gunnie.”

Egelric leaned his head back against the wall and sighed. Was even Alwy preoccupied with his supposed unhappiness?

But Iylaine was picking nervously at her nightgown, watching for his reaction. He would have to reassure her, at least.

Egelric leaned back to the girl and hugged her. “Baby, don’t I smile for you all the time?” he asked as he rose, with Iylaine still clinging to his neck.


“Those are real smiles. Now let’s get you to bed.”

'Those are real smiles.'