'Here she comes!'

“Here she comes!” Matilda sang out as Sigefrith walked quietly into the hall, carrying his tiny daughter on one arm.

“What, no herald to announce Her Royal Highness?” Cenwulf smiled.

“No herald, but a cousin of Harold,” Alred winked at his wife.

“That was dreadful, Alred,” Sigefrith said softly. “Her Royal Highness is sleeping, which is why I did not have her announced, though I should love to have the trumpets blaring. Will you look at her? Is she not exquisite?”

'Is she not exquisite?'

“Oh, Sigefrith,” Matilda sighed. “She’s a jewel.”

“What, Alred,” Sigefrith asked, spotting the small boy in his friend’s arms, “did you bring Yware so he could take a peek at his future bride?”

'Did you bring Yware so he could take a peek at his future bride?'

“I begin to descry your nefarious schemes, old man,” Alred said. “But your girls shall have to earn the right to marry my boys, just as Matilda had to prove herself worthy of your humble servant.”

“How so?” Matilda protested.

'How so?'

“By drinking them under the table and stealing off with them, just as you did Alred!” Cenwulf laughed.

“Brute!” she hissed, but laughing too, and smacked his shoulder.

Alred explained, “I only brought Yware because this boy now knows the word for ‘ride’ in English, Latin, Norman, Danish, and Welsh, and he can spell it too. Matilda and I need to invent a new language once a fortnight if we want to keep ahead of this boy.”

“We still get to ride home, too,” young Lord Yware explained to the King.

“Just like his sire, that one. Or his dam, now that I think about it,” Cenwulf said, turning to Matilda.

'Or his dam, now that I think about it.'

“We’re training up Jupiter’s last colt, Apollo, out of Matilda’s Ruby, for him,” Alred said eagerly. “What a beast he is!”

“Oh, no, you are not!” Matilda cried. “Not that monster!”

“But, Matilda – ”

“But, Alred,” Cenwulf interrupted. “We are here to greet the Princess, not to arbitrate your domestic disputes.

'Eh, sorry, Sigefrith.'

“Eh, sorry, Sigefrith,” Alred said contritely. But Sigefrith looked away.

“Let’s see her,” Cenwulf said, leaning close to the little girl who was blinking sleepy eyes at the group.

“Who’s that dreadful scary man?” Sigefrith asked his daughter.

'Who's that dreadful scary man?'

“Why, it’s only the old Earl Dreadful Scaryman,” Cenwulf said softly to the Princess.

“Doesn’t she look like her lovely mother?” Sigefrith asked wistfully.

“She looks more like Britamund. She has your square chin, Sigefrith – they all do.”

“No, they haven’t – Colban hasn’t.”

'That's true, he hasn't.'

“That’s true, he hasn’t,” Matilda said. “His is more pointier.”

“More pointier? What kind of language is that?” Sigefrith laughed.

“Oh!” she huffed. “I’m picking that up from my husband, who speaks nothing but nonsense to the poor children! Now he has infected me!” She smiled fondly at Alred, but was surprised to see a scowl on his face. “What – still sore about the horse?” she asked.

'Still sore about the horse?'

“No, dear. I’m only tired and cranky and ready for you to put me to bed.”

“Not me!” Yware said. “I still want to ride home!”

“So you shall, mon petit chevalier,” Alred assured him.

“What do you plan to name her, Sigefrith?” Matilda asked. “I can think of a very pretty name that means ‘Maud’ in Latin,” she winked.

“Oh, Maud has already named her,” he said softly.

'Maud has already named her.'

“What, then? Another Scots name?”

“No, no – Emma,” he mumbled.

“Emma? Emma?” Matilda gasped. “Does she mean to make a joke?”

“Now, Matilda,” Sigefrith soothed, “you know Queen Emma was my grandmother’s brother’s wife.”

“And? What does Maud care for that? Does she know she was also William’s aunt?”

“I told her she was…”

“Sigefrith – Sigefrith you can’t allow it! Emma of Normandy!”

“But Matilda, dear,” Cenwulf said slyly. “Matilda of Flanders? I believe she is William’s wife?”

“Oh! She was only a girl when I was born! I was named for Empress Matilda.”

“You were not!” Alred protested. “That’s not what Harold told me.”

“What did Harold ever tell you?” she asked, mystified.

“Your father named you Matilda because that’s what we call the girls that follow along with the army. Since your mother had died, he swore he would take you with him everywhere, even along into battle, and so he named you Matilda.”

“Harold did say that, Matilda,” Sigefrith said, nodding confirmation, happy to turn the conversation away from his daughter’s unfortunate name.

'Harold did say that.'

“I never heard this!” Matilda gaped.

Alred shrugged. “Perhaps Matilda is not the most flattering name for a noble lady, considering why those girls are there.”

“But it – but it means ‘battle maiden’!”

“So it does!” The three laughed.

“Mama, you’re a battle maiden!” Yware said proudly.

“Are you sure this wasn’t a joke of Harold’s?” Matilda asked desperately.

“I don’t know about that,” Alred laughed. “Perhaps it was. But that’s what he told me when I asked him for your hand – or I should rather say, meekly informed him that I had somehow found myself inextricably married to you.”

“He told you my father named me for the camp whores?”

“No, dear,” Alred laughed. “I believe your father was the one making the joke. But Harold told me that there were two types of Matildas and I wasn’t to get them confused.”

“He never did, after that day,” Sigefrith said gravely. “I can bear witness to that.”

Alred winked at her.

“I shall call you Battle Mama!” Yware cried.

Matilda’s brows arched into a look of warning when she saw Alred’s eyes light up at the name. She knew she would hear it again, and not only from her son.

'The baby had begun to fuss.'

But the baby had begun to fuss. “I believe she’s had enough of Earl Scaryface’s face for one evening, old man,” Alred said.

“I shall take her up to her mother,” Sigefrith smiled. “You won’t mind if I don’t come back down?”

“We understand,” Cenwulf said knowingly. “Kiss the Queen for me and Colburga.”

“And for me,” Matilda was kind enough to say.

“And for me!” Yware added.

But Matilda cast a curious glance at her husband, for he only bounced Yware and said “Good night.”

'Good night.'