Maud strolled dreamily in her garden with her baby son.

Maud strolled dreamily in her garden with her baby son. The golden air was warm and lapped them like a bath, and Colban pawed at the dapples of light that danced over her dress whenever the wind rocked the trees. She was as close to happy as she could be without Malcolm.

“Perhaps you will see your father soon,” she whispered eagerly to the baby. “Soon!”

'Perhaps you will see your father soon.'

Oh, but would he come? Sigefrith thought that Colban would, as he was to be godfather, and Sigefrith couldn’t imagine that any man would not be honored to be godfather to his son. But he thought Malcolm might have better things to do.

He didn’t care! He liked Colban better. They were closer in age, both of them boring and self-​important with their responsibilities as leaders of men.

Sigefrith would always sit Colban at her end of the table, as if he did one or the other of them an honor, and she would have to nod stupidly at him as he rumbled ponderously on about his wife or his children or the landscapes of his country, thinking such would interest her, while Malcolm flashed and sparkled at the other end, meeting every thrust of Alred’s with a brilliant parry. And meanwhile Sigefrith would grow red with his wine and laugh, besotted.

If she could only arrange to have Colban to keep Sigefrith busy and Malcolm to herself…!

But how was she to manage it?

But how was she to manage it? she wondered, pacing anxiously. Last year she had been sleeping in Caedwulf’s room—now she was trapped in Sigefrith’s bed. How would she get away at night? She would have thought that anyone who could snore like that would wake his own self if he didn’t sleep like one dead, but she knew that Sigefrith hadn’t lost his soldier’s habit of being intensely aware of his surroundings even as he slept.

No, she would need to quarrel with him and return to Caedwulf’s room, at least for a time. So much the better if she could make it permanent. She would need to take Colban as well—the baby was another complication. He still woke twice a night, so she couldn’t leave him.

But what could they quarrel about?

Little Colban coughed, curling his tiny mouth up into a tiny O, and Maud was drawn back to the living world.

Little Colban coughed.

“Don’t cough so,” she scolded gently. “You worry your mama.”

He had been coughing last night as well, but she had thought it was the smoke. Sigefrith had decided that early September was not too soon to light a fire in the hall, though there were weeks to run before they would begin lighting the fires in the fields that still lay green and gold before the harvest. And the nights were not yet cold enough to draw out the smoke.

That was Sigefrith, who loved winter so! He would try to make it winter indoors before the autumn had fairly begun. He liked nothing more than to sit in the evening with Cenwulf, his feet up on the hearth, curling his impossibly square hands around a cup of something hot and alcoholic, and drone on about the most infuriatingly boring subjects.

But he would have his wife and children around him, and so she would have to sit and fume. And since Colburga was in bed recovering from her little daughter’s birth, she had to sit and fume alone—while outside the hills were brimming with crimson light, and the flowers of the woodbine opened unseen and unsmelled in her garden, and the fields lay still and green and gold beyond—and inside Colban coughed in the stifling air.

But the baby coughed again, now, outside in the warm and clear air of her garden. He smiled up at her afterwards, delighted by the noise he had made, but he had not yet learned a cough was a thing to fear.

“Let’s go inside a while,” she said. “It may be that autumn is coming sooner than I had thought.”

He smiled up at her.