'Salve, Egelric.'

“Salve, Egelric,” the King said as Egelric came into the hall. Sigefrith and Caedwulf sat cross-​​legged on the floor before the fire, Sigefrith with a book in his hands. “We were just practicing our Latin.”

Egelric bowed. “Salvete.”

“Well, boy, don’t look so happy the lesson’s over early. It simply means it’s early to bed with you.”

“Ohhhh!” Caedwulf wailed.

Sigefrith winked at him. “Your mother isn’t expecting you yet, and I shall not be up till late, you know. You might get lost in Malcolm’s room for a while.”

Sigefrith winked at him.

Caedwulf laughed and started for the door.

“Pay your toll,” Sigefrith said ominously, pointing at his cheek.

The boy returned to throw his arms around his father’s neck and give him a noisy kiss before running off.

Egelric smiled sadly. His boy would be three now. Even if he found him again, as he had begun to hope, he had already missed so much.

“Pull up a chair, Dogface,” the King said, sitting himself down with a great sigh.

Egelric brought a chair to the fire and sat down beside him.

Egelric brought a chair to the fire and sat down beside him.

“Will you have a cup of wine with your King?”

Egelric’s smile faded at once.

Sigefrith looked away. “Fine then, will you have a cup of wine with your friend?”

“As Your Majesty’s friend, may I suggest that Your Majesty has already had a cup or two and needn’t rush to have another?”

“No, you may not,” Sigefrith scowled. “And, Egelric – if you want to be my friend tonight, please call me Sigefrith,” he said, his voice pleading. “I should like to hear my name spoken in some other tone than scorn for a change.”

'I should like to hear my name spoken in some other tone than scorn for a change.'

Egelric thought he must have been thinking of the Queen. “Very well, Sigefrith.”

“Let’s pretend we’re far away from here. It’s only here that you don’t seem to be my friend.”

“I hope that isn’t what you think.”

“When we’re here and when we’re away, you’re quite a different man, Egelric. Once we cross the border you even dare to call me an English dog and make me eat dirt.”

“I didn’t make you eat dirt,” Egelric protested with a laugh. “I made you taste dirt. How else is a farmer supposed to know how rich the earth is? or how iron or how salt?”

“I still believe it was all a joke. Either that or it was intended to prepare me for what I would be eating in Scotland.”

'I still believe it was all a joke.'

“You were as happy as a flea in a doghouse the whole time we were away! Don’t come girning to me about the food or the dirt we made you eat!”

“Ah, Egelric,” Sigefrith sighed as his laughter faded. “Don’t you have any other cousins to marry? I should so like to get away again.”

“I shall certainly tell you if I do.”

“You’re happy here, though, aren’t you?”

Egelric shrugged. “If I’m not, I don’t know where else I could be. Aren’t you? I thought you had stopped seeing this place as exile.”

“I have. It’s not the place. I suppose I’m simply lonely,” he sighed. “Cenwulf almost never comes these days – he’s always with Colburga. I understand, of course, but… so. And Alred doesn’t like to come any more either. I don’t know why. Theobald is away, and… and anyway, I don’t know what to think about Theobald. And you never come. I don’t know why, either.”

'I don't know why, either.'

“I should not presume to come uninvited.”

“You have been invited. Maud tells me she has asked you and asked you to come, and yet you do not.”

“I came tonight because you asked me.”

“That’s very good of you, but why won’t you come for my wife?”

Egelric looked down at the fire.

“It’s because Alred told you not to come?”

“It’s true, he did,” Egelric said, admitting half the truth.

“Egelric, I understand you must obey your lord, but I am your king, and your friend. And I don’t see why a quarrel between your lady and my wife is any reason for you not to see her, whatever Alred says. I wish you would come. It would make Maud happy. She likes you. And if Alred complains, just send him to me.”

'And if Alred complains, just send him to me.'

“That’s what His Grace told me I should do if you complained.”

“Well then, we shall just set ourselves at each other, and you may come and go as you please.”

Egelric sighed. It was very clever of the Queen to get Sigefrith to ask him.

“Will you come next time she asks?”

“If it would make you happy.”

“Anything that could make Maud happy would make me happy.”

Egelric nodded. “Then I shall come next time Her Majesty asks.”

“Thank you.”

Sigefrith added a log to the fire, and they both sat and watched the flames lick at it for a while in silence.

“I never knew your wife,” the King said suddenly.

“Neither did I,” Egelric said, looking up.

'Neither did I.'

“That’s an odd thing to say.”

Egelric shrugged and looked back at the fire.

“You never talk about her.”

Egelric frowned. “I don’t have any news to give. And as for the past – I prefer to let it rest. Let her rest.”

“I understand you had a hard time with her.”

'I understand you had a hard time with her.'

Egelric nodded. He had no desire to talk about Elfleda, but he had an idea that the King didn’t either.

“Did you ever stop loving her?”

Egelric took a deep breath and let it out in a slow sigh, despite the pain in his ribs. “I don’t know how to answer that. I suppose I never stopped. But I don’t know whether she was the woman I loved. Perhaps she had been once.”

“Do you still?”

Egelric closed his eyes. He couldn’t do this any longer. “I prefer to let her rest.”

“I’m sorry. I’m dreadfully cruel tonight. But you don’t leave me much hope, Egelric.”

'But you don't leave me much hope, Egelric.'


“I had been thinking that I would stop loving her some day, and then I wouldn’t care any longer.”

“I’ve often thought that the only way to be happy is to feel nothing.”

“I’ve been working on that,” Sigefrith said, waving a hand at the jug of wine that sat close by.

“Does it help?”

“For a few hours.”

'For a few hours.'

“You’re killing yourself.”

“I know. But at least I’m killing myself slowly, instead of suddenly one morning with my sword.”

“Has it come to that?”

Sigefrith sighed. “I suppose not. I shouldn’t say such things to you, of all people. But I thought that you, of all people, might understand.”

“Oh, I do. I thought of that myself. For weeks I thought of nothing else. But I have my daughter. I can’t allow her to be hurt because of me.”

'I thought of that myself.'

“Are you trying to say I hurt my children?”

“I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I don’t often see you with your children. But I have an idea that my young Lord Dunstan is frightened of you. I believe he has told Baby so.”

“What a monster I am,” Sigefrith whispered.

You aren’t, but I suppose you make yourself into one. Inside you are only an unhappy man, like all the rest of us.”

“Then why don’t the rest of you make yourselves into monsters?”

“Each of us has his monster.”

'Each of us has his monster.'

“Egelric, I find I would rather talk with you than with the priest.”

“I shall be happy to hear your confessions any time, but I’m afraid I cannot absolve you of your sins.”

Sigefrith laughed and clapped Egelric on the shoulder. “Thank God I still have you. You don’t mind if we sit here quietly for a while and think? And not drink?”

“Better that than the contrary.”

“Any other night I would disagree with you, Dogface – but not tonight.”

'Any other night I would disagree with you.'