“Egelric! Squire!”

Egelric groaned inwardly. It was the Queen. He stopped and waited for her to catch up with him.

“Egelric, I have asked you to come to me. Why have you not?”

“I must obey the orders of my lord even before those of the Queen. His Grace has asked me not to see Your Majesty. If that is not to your liking, you may discuss the matter with him.”

“How dare he!” she hissed. It was nearly Midsummer, but the hour was late enough for him to have taken a torch, and now the firelight and the shadows dancing across her face made her seem almost a monster.

'How dare he!'

“I believe he thinks Your Majesty intends to ask me to carry a message to my cousin. Shall I tell him he was wrong?”

“You have gained in impudence since your birth as a serf,” she sneered.

“I have gained in rank as well. Like Your Majesty. Also in wisdom, although I fear I am alone there.”

“You wretch!” she shrieked, slapping him across the mouth.

“I deserved that,” he laughed.

'I deserved that.'

“I hate you!”

“That is of no importance to me.”

Maud stood with her fists clenched, her face white with fury.

It was sad, really, Egelric thought: this grown woman who had the all the civility of a two-​year old. And not just any two-​year-​old.

“May I go?” he asked. “I can’t believe Your Majesty has anything more to add to that remark.”

'May I go?'

“No, stay. I need your help.”

He laughed. “Do you often find that slapping a man is an effective way to convince him to help you?”

“You must help me. You’re the only one who can.”

“That’s not a reason.”

“But you’re the only one who understands!”

“Do I?”

“Don’t you remember our last time together? You understand what it is to be unhappy.”

'You understand what it is to be unhappy.'

“I remember that we wondered whether much grief brings much wisdom. I conclude from your behavior today that it does not, or else Your Majesty does not know what true grief is.”

She shook her head slowly. “I know. I know. You do not know what it is to be a woman.”

“I grant Your Majesty that.”

“We may not decide for ourselves—not anything. I could not decide whom I would marry, nor the life I would lead, nor what he would do to me. I can only choose what I think, and whom I love.”

“The Queen of Scots found herself in the same position as Your Majesty, if I may presume. Her husband took her because he loved her beauty. But she chose to accept her fate with grace, and she chose to give her love to God.”

'She chose to accept her fate with grace.'

“I am certain the Queen of Scots is a saint. I am only a woman, and I love a man I cannot have. Have you no sympathy at all?”

Egelric sighed. “You and Malcolm both know precisely what to say to me.”

“You must help me,” she said eagerly, seeing him weaken.

“What can I do? He is a man Your Majesty cannot have.”

“You must not let him marry. I know he still loves me.”

“That may be, I grant. We men may not always decide for ourselves either. But ‘it is not good for the man to be alone,’ as my lord often says to me. If he is wise, he will make a happy life with his wife and his children, whether or—”

“No! He shall not marry! You must stop him. You must tell him I love him still. You must tell him that I will go to him. I shall bring the child, and—”

“Enough! I shall carry no such message!”

'I shall carry no such message!'

“You must tell him, only tell him. What he does is his affair. But he must know.”


“Tell him—tell him Sigefrith hits me. Tell him that. Did you know that?”

“By God, I think I would too, in his place!”

“No, you wouldn’t. I don’t believe you have ever struck a woman. I don’t believe you could.”

“I don’t believe your husband could, either.”

“Then you don’t know him as well as you think you do.”

'You don't know him as well as you think you do.'

Egelric shook his head, but he realized he didn’t know what he believed. Sigefrith could not—but Sigefrith drunk? Who could say, besides, perhaps, the Queen herself?

“Tell him,” she pleaded, seeing the uncertainty in his eyes. “Only tell him. You are not responsible for the message.”

“I shall not deceive my friend for you.”

“You must!” she said, clutching his arm. “You must, or I—or I shall tell Sigefrith the child is yours!”

He gasped, and then he found he could only laugh at the absurdity of the idea.

'He could only laugh at the absurdity of the idea.'

“He has your nose, your color! He could be yours!”

“He looks far more like Malcolm. I should only tell the King the truth if you have the folly to do anything of the sort. I might in any case. I might tell him, at least, that his wife is asking me to carry messages to her lover. We shall see what he says then.”

“He would kill me. He would beat me to death.”

“He might,” Egelric said coolly. “His Majesty is a Dane, and I believe that a Dane may slay an adulterous wife.”

“How dare you!”

'How dare you!'

“How dare I? How dare he? How dare my lord? You seem willing to allow yourself any depravity, yet the least impropriety on the part of others scandalizes you.”

She glared at him.

“Enough. I beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but the hour is late, and I should like to go to my daughter before she is asleep.”

“You must tell him! I beg you!”

“I bid Your Majesty good night,” he said, not looking back.

'I bid Your Majesty good night.'