'I'm over here, Egelric!'

“I’m over here, Egelric!” the Queen called brightly from behind a bush.

Egelric walked down the path to where the Queen sat on a bench before her little pond.

“Won’t you please sit down?” she smiled.

Egelric bowed and sat next to her with a sigh.

“I am pleased you decided to visit me at last.”

'I am pleased you decided to visit me at last.'

“His Majesty the King asked me to come.”

“Why wouldn’t you come for me? You have been home for over a month.”

“I did not believe we had anything left to say to one another.”

“I am pleased you did not use the excuse of your injury.”

“I’m not ashamed of the truth.”

“Let’s not quarrel today, Egelric. Do you remember how we used to sit in this garden and talk together? You were such a sweet and shy man.”

'You were such a sweet and shy man.'

Egelric scowled.

Maud laughed. “And look at you now! You and your cousin Colban are a matched pair. I should be terrified to see you in your kilt just now.”

Egelric kicked a stone off into the pond, frightening the ducks that paddled around by the shore.

“Did you tell Malcolm what I asked you to tell him?”

'Did you tell Malcolm what I asked you to tell him?'

“I told him only what he asked.”

“And what did he ask?”

“He asked whether Your Majesty was well.”

“What did you reply?”

“I told him Your Majesty was well.”

“I am not!”

'I am not!'

“I thought Your Majesty was. I told him Your Majesty was delivered of a very lovely baby girl in April.”

“I suppose you told him she is Sigefrith’s daughter?” she huffed.

“My cousin can count.”

Maud pouted for a moment. “You should have told him that I am not well. You know I am not. I love him. And you let him marry another woman.”


“Does he love her?”

“One does not ask such a question. It goes without saying, or it is supposed to.”

“You know very well that people may marry where they do not love.”

'You know very well that people may marry where they do not love.'

“Then it is best for those people to make up their minds to love where they marry.”

Maud sniffed. “What does she look like?”

Egelric threw back his head and laughed.

“What is so amusing, Squire?”

'What is so amusing, Squire?'

“Only a woman would dream of asking such a question. ‘I love him. What does she look like?’ She is not nearly as beautiful as Your Majesty.”

Maud looked thoughtfully at the pond.

“Your Majesty is wondering whether that proves he loves her, or proves he doesn’t?” Egelric laughed again. “Women!”

“You are contemptible.”

“Your Majesty meant to say ‘contemptuous.’”

'Your Majesty meant to say 'contemptuous.''

Maud turned to him, her face livid.

“We were not to quarrel,” Egelric cautioned her.

Maud glared at him for a moment, but finally asked, “What else did you tell him?”

“I told him nothing else. He asked nothing else. We did not speak of Your Majesty again.”

Maud breathed heavily – whether out of anger or an attempt not to cry, he could not quite tell. Perhaps both.

“Your Majesty is wondering whether that proves he has forgotten you, or proves he hasn’t?” he asked, his voice gentler in spite of himself.

'Your Majesty is wondering whether that proves he has forgotten you?'

Maud did not reply.

Egelric took a deep breath. “I shall pretend the old intimacy of those ‘sweet and shy’ conversations we once had and be candid with Your Majesty. I don’t know whether my cousin loves his bride, and I don’t know whether he still loves you. Perhaps both, perhaps neither. But he has evidently decided to attempt to be as happy as he may with his new wife. I believe he is wise enough to have accepted that he will never see you again.”

Maud only sat and stared into her lap as he spoke.

“I can only earnestly recommend that you follow his example, and try to be as happy as you may with your husband. I say that as a friend both to my cousin and to the King. Perhaps some day we two shall be friends again, as well, but not until you have stopped hurting your husband.”

He watched her curiously, surprised that she did not shriek or slap him.

He was surprised that she did not shriek or slap him.

“Sigefrith hates me,” she whispered, not looking at him.

“I can assure Your Majesty that he does not.”

“You hate me.”

“Nor do I.”

“Alred hates me.”

“I shall not presume to speak for my lord.”

'I shall not presume to speak for my lord.'

“Everyone hates me,” she whimpered, and something about the way her lip trembled reminded him of Elfleda on the few occasions when she had shown him her weakness.

He almost reached for her hand – but of course he could not touch the Queen. “I don’t hate you,” he said softly. “Sigefrith doesn’t hate you either, though you may not believe I know. But I can assure you that I do not hate you. We are but so many unhappy people. And if you ask Sigefrith, he will tell he does not hate you, either. Only ask him.”

'Only ask him.'

“Go away,” she said, and he could hear in her voice that she was about to cry. “Go away. You don’t know anything.”

Egelric waited a moment, but she did not look up. He stood then and bowed. “I bid Your Majesty a good day.”

'I bid Your Majesty a good day.'