Gunnilda's head had begun to nod.

Gunnilda’s head had begun to nod. She had been up well past dawn with Iylaine. Egelric had come in then and sent her off to lie down for a while, but shortly thereafter he had been called to the castle, and so she had slept only an hour or two.

Iylaine was cooler now, and she had tossed a little, but she still hadn’t woken. The important thing was that she was better than she had been.

Gunnilda yawned and pushed her hair back from her eyes for the hundredth time. She felt odd having it down during the day. She had told Egelric to fetch her hairpins when he came back from the castle, but he had looked at her strangely and asked her why.

“It’s pretty when it’s loose,” he had said. “I thought you only wore it up to keep it out of your face when you worked.”

Ah, she had blushed, but oh, how sweet to hear! Not only did he find her hair pretty, but he had even previously thought about it long enough to have asked himself the question of why she wore it up.

She was silly to be thinking such things!

Oh, of course she was silly to be thinking such things! She smiled faintly at herself. But it was a happy smile.

“Gunnie, what is raped?”

Gunnilda sat up. “Baby! You’re awake!”

'You're awake!'

“Aye,” she said, yawning and stretching like a little cat as she sat up. “What is it?”

“What is what?”

'What is what?'

“What is raped? My Da said the Baron did that to your sister, and he blinded your brother, and I know what is blinded because my cat is blind, but not what is raped. What is it? Is it bad?”

Gunnilda was speechless. Why on earth would Egelric…? “I’m sure I don’t know why your Da would be talking about that with you!” she gasped.

“He was talking to His Grace the Duke. I was listening.”

Oh, she would! Egelric still hadn’t learned what attentive ears small children had.

'Is it bad?'

“Is it bad?” she asked again.

“Oh, it’s very bad, Baby. It’s when… it’s when a man hurts a woman real bad.”

“What about when a woman hurts a man real bad, like when my Mama hurt my Da?”

“Oh, Baby, that’s not the same thing,” she sighed. The poor girl! And the poor man! What had Elfleda done to them?

That's not the same thing.

“Does it have a name too?”

“No, I don’t think it has a name. But, Baby, don’t you be going around talking about rape, you hear? That’s not something for little girls to talk about. Your Da will be real mad and hurt if you do.” Little girls weren’t supposed to know as much as she did about how people hurt other people.

“Gunnie, do you hate that Baron ’cause of that?”

'Do you hate that Baron?'

“I don’t know if it’s right to hate people, Baby, but I guess I does. She was a real sweet girl, my sister. She got a bad husband after that.”

“How come?”

“Oh, Baby! Listen to me go on. Never mind about all of that. How do you feel?”

“I feel tired,” she sighed. “But I wanted to know.”

'Yes, you're just like Bertie.'

“Yes, you’re just like Bertie. You always want to know!”

“Gunnie, I saw that Baron in a burning place, and he was all burnt up. Do you think it was hell?”

'Do you think it was hell?'

“Baby! What nonsense! You never seen that Baron in your life!”

“I did too. I seen him in the fire, and he was burning up. But I guess if he was bad he was in hell.”

“You shouldn’t be talking about that place neither!”

“Why not? That’s where my Mama is, that’s what Father Brandt says.”

'Why not?'

“Baby!” Gunnilda was overwhelmed.

“Because she took her own life, and that made God sad. And that Baron did raped your sister, and blinded your brother, and that made God mad, because he was bad.”

“Oh, Baby, oh, Baby, where is your father when I need him?”

'Where is your father when I need him?'

“Was it hell?”

“No! Baby, no, it certainly was not. That Baron is still alive, so he can’t be in that place, you see? Now don’t let me hear you talking about that no more. You just had a dream, is all. And you let your Mama rest and don’t talk about her no more either.”

“All right, Gunnie. I just wanted to know.”

Gunnilda leaned back in her chair with a sigh of relief.


'What now?'

“What now?” Gunnilda asked with a feeling of dread.

“Can I have a cat in here?”

Gunnilda smiled. That was a question she could handle. “I don’t know, Baby. I don’t know if Her Grace likes cats in the beds. But we’ll ask later.”

“My Da never lets me have my cat in the bed.”

'My Da never lets me have my cat in the bed.'

“Your Da don’t like cats,” Gunnilda smiled. But she knew that Egelric had a secret affection for the blind cat Iylaine had brought home from their barn, for all he stomped and cursed over it.

Gunnilda never could find where Alwy would hide the white kittens, but the Mama cat knew and went back and forth between those and her colored kittens. Somehow she and Alwy had come to an understanding. And when the last batch of white kits had come out of hiding and one of them had proven to be blind—as Gunnilda always warned!—Iylaine had insisted on adopting it, because no one else would love it, she said.

Well, Iylaine reckoned without Alwy—he was capable of loving any animal, the more miserable the better, it seemed. But Alwy had smiled to see the cat go to her, and Egelric had smiled to see it come.

Gunnilda thought that Egelric was watching anxiously for signs of coldness or cruelty in the girl after all her mother had put her through, but Iylaine was the sweetest, lovingest girl she knew—although she had a bit of a temper when it came to insults against the people she loved. And her jealousy of her father, she thought, remembering how she had boldly shoved the Duke when he had dared suggest that Egelric was bringing home a new mother for her.

“Gunnie, can I have an apple, if I can’t have a cat?”

“You’re thinking of them sweet red apples of the Duke’s, aren’t you?” Gunnilda laughed.

'You're thinking of them sweet red apples'

“Your apples aren’t so good.”

“Our apples are for cider, and then for the pigs! You like them apples real well when they’re in the pork, Baby.”

“I like apples better when they’re in me,” she said.

“Oh,” Gunnilda smiled. “I’ll see if I can go find you one. Your Da will be real happy to see you’re back to your old saucy self.”

“Apple-​saucy!” Iylaine said, and laughed and laughed.

Iylaine laughed and laughed.