'Look who's coming!'

“Look who’s coming!” Alred said to his little girl.

Gunnilda came running. “Gwynn!”

Lady Gwynn stretched out an arm to her old nurse and begged a kiss.

“If she isn’t the prettiest little girl I ever seen!”

'If she isn't the prettiest little girl I ever seen!'

“I’ll thank you for that, Gunnilda, for I find she looks more like her father than her lovely mother. I like to think I would have made a pretty woman,” he laughed.

She will be, in any case.”

“You want to play with young Egelric, do you?” he asked the squirming girl. “I suppose he will have to do until the old one comes home, eh?”

Alred sat Gwynn on the grass.

“Does Your Grace think he’ll be home soon?” Gunnilda asked timidly as Alred sat Gwynn on the grass.

“I don’t know… I expect he might have a few ‘matters of business’ to handle up there before heading home,” he said with a wink.

Gunnilda stared. Whatever did that mean?

“Where is that Baby, by the by? Matilda gave me a kiss to give to her, and if she doesn’t collect it soon I believe I shall simply keep it for myself. It’s a terribly sweet one.”

“I’ll get her, Ma,” Wynna said shyly, running off. Wynna was terrified of the Duke and his teasing.

“There goes another pretty girl, though she would never forgive me for saying so.”

'There goes another pretty girl.'

“I’ll thank Your Grace for that,” Gunnilda said archly. “I hear she looks a lot like her Ma.”

“I believe you heard it from me!” Alred laughed. “She’s the only one of your brood who looks like you, Gunnilda. Perhaps we shall never know whether you would have made a handsome man!”

“I would have made a small one,” she grinned.

“That’s a good start! Ave, O Baby girl!” he cried as Iylaine danced up to him. “I have a kiss or two here for you, if you care to trade one of yours.”

'I have a kiss or two here for you.'

This she did gladly.

“Now this is a pretty girl, Gunnilda,” he said. “Her father will have to keep her under lock and key—though I should think Egelric would be a frightening enough obstacle to a young man. I should have hated to have come up against him in my day. What say you, Baby? Why don’t we just marry you off to Dunstan before your Da gets home?”

Iylaine groaned. “Not Dunstan!”

'Not Dunstan!'

“Is that so? My boy isn’t good enough for my fine lady, is he? Well, Baby, who did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe I will just marry my Da.”

Alred laughed. “You may have a hard time of that. It’s very likely that you will find him to be already married, by now. Seems he couldn’t wait!”

Gunnilda’s heart lurched.

“What do you mean?” Iylaine asked suspiciously.

'Just a little secret between you and me, Baby.'

“Just a little secret between you and me, Baby, but something tells me that Gog and My Gog aren’t the only people your Da is bringing home with him from Scotland, and I think the third person means to stay a while.”

Iylaine stared up at him, too young to understand. Gunnilda came to her rescue, though she asked as much for herself as for Iylaine: “Does Your Grace think he means to marry?”

“Just a little idea I have, Gunnilda. Before he left he asked a few particular questions about our future in this fine valley that made me think he was wondering whether it was wise to bring a delicate creature into it—though I personally wonder whether a Scotswoman may be delicate under any circumstances, never having met one. I hope that I was able to reassure him,” he confided with a wink.

Gunnilda looked away, her thoughts in a whirl. Was this why he had sent her away as he had? Why he had been so hard and cruel? He no longer thought of her, that was all. Oh, she could see how unwelcome she must have been. What a fool she had been, anyway, to think that a man like that—

But Iylaine was not so easily silenced. “No!” she cried, stamping her small foot. “He must not!”

'He must not!'

“Little lady,” Alred chuckled, “I should think he may. And you need a mother—there are many things a man can’t teach you, even a clever man like your Da.”

“I don’t need a mother!” she shrieked, shoving him.

“Baby!” Gunnilda cried in horror. “Young ladies don’t shove! I beg pardon, Your Grace—”

'I beg pardon.'

“Never mind, Gunnilda. You forget I get shoved around by women all the time. Just ask my wee lady behind you there. Now, Baby,” he said, kneeling before the girl, “I suppose you like things the way they are, but if you don’t try something new, how will you ever know whether things can be better?”

“We don’t need nobody else,” she scowled.

“Your Da does, Baby,” he said gently.

“Baby, please be polite,” Gunnilda begged. Perhaps she did need a mother, though Gunnilda was sorry to think that she herself had not been able to teach her better.

“Well,” Alred said as he rose, “I see I have worn out my welcome for the day. I think I shall get me home where, if I am abused by females, it is at least for crimes I have committed, and not for things that some other man in some other country may or may not have done.” He smiled wryly at Gunnilda, who attempted a smile in return.

Gunnilda watched Alred’s back as he carried Gwynn up the road towards the keep, wondering over what he had said, but she looked down upon hearing a sniffle from Iylaine.

She looked down upon hearing a sniffle from Iylaine.

“Now, Baby, it’s not like you to cry.”

“I don’t want a new mama,” she whimpered. “I don’t like mamas.”

“Oh, Baby—aren’t I a mama?” she asked, kneeling beside Iylaine and laying an arm over her thin shoulders.

“I like you for a mama for me, but I don’t want a mama for my Da. I don’t want no one hurting my Da.”

“Baby! Not all mamas hurt. You don’t see me hurting Alwy?”

“You do! You do—you make him cry.”

Shocked, Gunnilda let go of the girl. “How can you say that?”

'How can you say that?'

“You do, I seen him cry. He lets me wipe his tears,” she sniffed.

“How do I make him cry?” Gunnilda whispered.

“I don’t know,” Iylaine said peevishly. “I don’t know—when he tries to play with you or kiss you and you say, ‘Not now Alwy’ or ‘Don’t bother me Alwy’ or you push him away. And my Mama used to make my Da cry. I ’member. I don’t know how, but I always ’member. Re-​member,” she corrected herself.

But Gunnilda was no longer listening. She felt sick, she felt cold, she felt a headache coming on, she felt utterly miserable.

Oh, Alwy! She had no idea. But he was always coming around when she was busiest! Putting his arms around her waist when she was at the stove, or tickling her when she had her arms up to the elbows in the dirty water of the washtub. He wasn’t a bad man, he was just—just in the way!

“Gunnie, you won’t let him take me home if he brings back a new mama, will you?” Iylaine begged. “You tell him, if he wants me he has to take her back.”

She tried to forget her own troubles and put herself in the place of the girl.

“Now, Baby,” she soothed, trying to forget her own troubles and put herself in the place of the girl—a girl who was not only jealous but also frightened of the woman Egelric would be bringing home. “Maybe I’m a bad mama too, but you listen to me: not all mamas are bad, and I am sure that your Da will pick the very nicest one he can find, and one who won’t hurt him or you. And what else? You listen to me: your Da is going to be real worried when he comes home that you won’t like your new mama. And he is going to be real unhappy if you aren’t happy. So if you want your Da to be happy, you have to try to be happy too.”

“But I won’t be happy if he brings her home,” she protested.

“Then you must pretend to be happy, Baby. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can do.”

'Sometimes that's the only thing you can do.'