“Shhhhh!” Alred cautioned as Egelric came through the door. “My lady is sleeping,” he whispered.

Egelric smiled down at the little five-​​month baby who lay sleeping in her father’s arms, tinted like a jewel by the summer sunlight that streamed through the green and golden panes of the window.

“A quaint bed,” Egelric said softly.

“Her favorite.”

“Your Grace is little better than her slave,” Egelric teased.

“It’s a fine life,” Alred agreed. “But I’m glad to see you out of your quaint bed.”

'I'm glad to see you out of your quaint bed.'

“I’ve been up for a few days, but I still can’t ride, and so I didn’t think I should be of much use to you.”

“What have you been doing then?”

“Would you believe that I come from Gunnilda’s kitchen, where I just shelled an enormous bowl of peas?”

“She has you shelling peas!” Alred shook with silent laughter until the baby opened her sleepy eyes. “My squire is little better than her slave!”

“It’s a fine life!” Egelric said, waving a greeting at little Margaret.

'He waved a greeting at the smiling baby.'

“No wonder you didn’t come to see me! I thought I told you she was mine?”

“As a matter of fact, that is the only reason I came today at all.”

“What? To challenge me to a duel? Here,” he said, handing the baby to Egelric, “my lady commands you to hold her a while and let Papa rest his arm in preparation.”

“No, to prevent her husband from challenging you to a duel.”

'No, to prevent her husband from challenging you to a duel.'

“What? Alwy?” Alred laughed.

“It seems that Wynna has told him of you calling Gunnilda by such names as ‘beloved,’ ‘darling,’ and ‘goddess.’ Between the two of them, they came up with the idea that something wasn’t quite right.”

“That’s all just my little joke with her. Oh, poor Alwy!” he laughed. “Don’t worry, I shall go explain to him before he drops his gauntlet. Will he never learn that I never speak but I joke? The only time he doesn’t take me seriously is when I pay him a compliment!”

'Oh, poor Alwy!'

“Alwy doesn’t think the way you and I do.”

“I know it, I know it. Well, he must be the one truly happy man on earth for it.”

“Oh, Alwy has his own share of sorrows,” Egelric said.

“Still believe in the fundamental unhappiness of all men, Squire?”

'Still believe in the fundamental unhappiness of all men, Squire?'

“I have yet to meet an example to the contrary.”

“My beloved Gunnilda tells me that wisdom comes with sorrow. I told her she had it backwards, but she may be right.”

“The Queen said something like that to me once.”

“I hope she wasn’t referring to herself,” Alred sniffed. “I do believe she is more foolish than ever. Sigefrith came home almost a whole man, and she’s broken him again already.”

'She's broken him again already.'

“He has other worries besides the Queen.”

“Damn, Egelric – a wife should make you forget your cares, not add to them.”

“Your Grace may well think so.”

“Ah, Egelric, you still believe in the fundamental depravity of all women, too, don’t you?”

“Not all.”

“No, not all,” Alred agreed.

'No, not all.'