Egelric looked uneasily at his cousins.

Egelric looked uneasily at his cousins. They both looked ill. Perhaps it was the green light filtering through the colored glass of the window, but in his own case he certainly felt ill. He could only hope that Alred would come unarmed. He had not mentioned to the servant that Malcolm and Colban were with him.

“I think I shall have cured your friend of his blasphemous tongue, brother,” Malcolm said to Egelric. “He will not call me ‘My God’ again.”

'He will not call me 'My God' again.'

“What he will call you is like to be blasphemous enough,” Colban muttered.

Egelric said nothing. He wanted this to be over. He wanted to go up and see Baby and Gunnilda. The servant had told him that his little girl had awoken. He should have liked to have properly rejoiced, but he was so exhausted—and there were still so many things troubling him.

The door opened. Alred did not flinch or express the least surprise when he saw Malcolm and Colban.

He did not flinch or express the least surprise.

Indeed, he stood silently in the center of the room at first, staring at the wall opposite, as if he had noticed none of them. Egelric noted with relief that he was not wearing his sword.

“Good day, gentlemen,” Alred said politely. “And dog!” he howled as he pounced on Malcolm.

He pounced on Malcolm.

Egelric leapt after him, but too late, for he heard Malcolm’s head strike the stone wall before he could pull Alred off of him. “My lord, this won’t help,” he pleaded softly.

'My lord, this won't help.'

“Squire, you once asked me whether I had ever killed a man. Shall I demonstrate how it’s done?”

“My lord—”

“Perhaps I shall even learn whether I have it in me to kill a woman. Where’s your bitch, Magog?”

This time it was Malcolm that leapt at him with a snarl.

This time it was Malcolm that leapt at him with a snarl.

“Enough of this!” Colban roared as he and Egelric pulled them apart.

'Enough of this!'

“We didn’t bring him here for you to slaughter, Alred, well though he may deserve it.”

“How dare you come back to his house? A man may make a mistake once, but a second time is wilful vice! To see her? Were you with her again last night? Did you get another one of your bastards on her?”

'A second time is wilful vice!'

“And you,” he said, turning to Colban. “Did you know about this?”

“I never dreamt it until I held the child,” Colban rumbled, “and thought I held my own son become a babe again. I never dreamt my brother would so dishonor his host, his friend, or his house.”

Malcolm hung his head.

Malcolm hung his head.

Egelric saw that he was ashamed, and as much as he wanted to kick him, his heart went out to him. Here was another unhappy man, and he knew well what that meant.

Malcolm had no doubt meant the thing as a lark, but the thing had run away with him and become a tragedy. If he hadn’t cared, it would have been nothing to him—a lark. How easy it must be to live without feeling! But Egelric could see that he did care. And he knew well what it meant to live when one was neither happy nor hard-​hearted.

“Alred,” he said softly, daring to call his lord by his name in the hope that it would reach deeper inside of him. “It will not help to kill or beat up or insult the lad. We’re here to talk about the two innocent people that have been hurt.”



“Sigefrith and the babe.”

“Perhaps it will die,” Alred said softly, staring into Malcolm’s narrowed eyes.

Egelric saw Malcolm’s hand twitch for the sword Colban had not allowed him to wear.

“You don’t mean that, Alred,” Egelric continued softly. “Think of your sons.”

'My sons are mine.'

“My sons are mine.”

“And mine isn’t mine?” Malcolm muttered.

Just then the door opened again and Dunstan burst in, carrying a folded parchment.

The door opened again and Dunstan burst in.

“Father, can you help—oh, Father, I thought you were alone.” He stared up at the Scots with wide-​eyed terror.

Egelric saw Alred’s shoulders relax, though he did not look away from Malcolm. “Your mother will help you with your Latin, Dunstan. You can show me later.”

The door opened again and Dunstan burst in.

Malcolm looked intently at the boy’s face and watched him out the door.

“Did you plan that interruption, Squire?” Alred asked, annoyed.

“It’s his father’s face he has,” Malcolm observed softly.

“Reassuring, isn’t it?” Alred snapped. “I know my son is mine, and not the brat of some guest that I honored by inviting into my house—that I trusted!”

Malcolm cast a pleading glance at Egelric.

Egelric frowned in irritation, but as much as he wanted to leave Malcolm to deal with his own problems—God knew Egelric had enough of his own!—he was the only friend the man had just then.

We're here to talk about Sigefrith and the child.

“Alred, we’re here to talk about Sigefrith and the child, not about Malcolm.”

Alred took a deep breath. “Very well, Squire. I shall deal with Malcolm another day, if he is fool enough to meet me again. Gog, I want to talk with you.”

Egelric nodded at Malcolm, and his cousin slipped past Alred and went to stand sullen-​faced in the corner.

'Would you tell Sigefrith?'

“Would you tell Sigefrith if you had learned of this without there being the child?” Colban asked.

“Not if I thought it wouldn’t happen again!” Alred answered, glaring at Malcolm.

“It shall not happen again,” Colban promised, adding his glare to Alred’s.

“But there is the child,” Alred pointed out. “And it’s a matter of time before Sigefrith guesses.”

“He may not. Men often have that sort of blindness.”

“The Queen has convinced His Majesty that the child resembles her father,” Egelric offered.

“You no longer intend to leave your son here, I hope?” Alred asked Colban.

'I think it would be best if I did.'

Colban looked uneasily at Malcolm. “I think it would be best if I did.”

“Why? In a few years the resemblance may be obvious!”

“If I leave young Malcolm here, I may ask Sigefrith to send the young Colban to me in a few years.”

“Are you his peer?” Alred sniffed.

“I am his brother. He would be twice dead if not for me. He will send Colban if I ask.”

“For that scoundrel to raise?” Alred cried, waving an arm at Malcolm.

'For that scoundrel to raise?'

“He shall be raised in my house. But he shall know his father. A boy deserves that. Malcolm never did—remember that.”

“Shall I forgive his every sin because he did not know his father? I scarcely knew mine! Nor Egelric his!”

“You may forgive him for wanting to be a father,” Egelric suggested.

“Damn the lot of you! Am I supposed to feel pity for this wretch? What about Sigefrith? ‘Your brother!’”

'Damn the lot of you!'

“I shall do what I can for Sigefrith now,” Colban replied. “You will agree that there is no way to make good come of this. Let us make as little evil as we can.”

“Tell him the other reason, brother,” Malcolm said from the corner.

“The other reason for what?” Alred snapped.

“Why I wish to leave my son with Sigefrith. Consider this, friend: if Sigefrith learns that Colban is not his son, you must tell him that I knew, and still I left my own son with him.”

“What, as a hostage?”

'What, as a hostage?'

“As a hostage.”

“You would pay with your son for his crimes?”

Colban nodded.

“It is not for nothing I called you God,” Alred said. “You see this, Magog? This is an honorable man.”

'You see this, Magog?'

“What would you have me do, Gog?” Alred asked.

“Watch over my son and Malcolm’s. Watch over Sigefrith. I would not have him know before the child is grown, but if he learns, you must tell him what we have said today.”

'You must tell him what we have said today.'

Alred considered this. “Sigefrith will never forgive me if he learns I knew. Are you asking this in the interests of your clan or in the interests of the ‘two innocent people’?”

“I leave him my own son,” Colban reminded him.

“Do you think this is wise, Squire?”

Egelric stood up with a start. He had been about to nod off, leaning against the wall. “It is the least unwise,” he replied. “And I think it would be best for the boy to grow up in Scotland.”

“Malcolm and I shall leave as soon as the child is christened,” Colban said. “You will never see Malcolm again.”

'Never will be too soon'

“Never will be too soon,” Alred grumbled. “You two, get out of here. I shall see you at the christening, and you had better hope nowhere else, Magog. You will not meet me without my sword again. Egelric, go up and see your daughter. She is asking for you.”

Egelric followed his cousins out with a sigh of relief. He would go to Iylaine and close the door, and for a short while there would be no one and nothing in the world but he and she and Gunnilda. He deserved a few moments of peace.