'Ethelmund, at least take your knife.'

“Ethelmund, at least take your knife,” Githa whispered as her husband went to the door. They said that the killer had been captured, but they had said the same thing a few months before, and he had killed again.

Granted, a sliver of moon had reappeared since, and he had never killed when it shone, but she was frightened. A knock on the door at this hour of the night could never bring good news in any case.

However, Ethelmund did not take his knife. “I won’t open the door with a knife in my hand, like some savage,” he grumbled.

But he felt like a savage anyway when he opened the door and found his lord standing outside – and he in his loincloth!

He opened the door and found his lord standing outside.

Too aghast to bow, he merely opened the door wide and let the Earl inside.

Cenwulf was holding a small bundle on one arm, and once the door had been closed behind him, he removed the blanket covering it to reveal a tiny, pink baby.

He removed the blanket to reveal a tiny, pink baby.

“My son,” he said.

His voice was a mere whisper, but Githa could hear that he had been crying. What of the Countess?

“The darling!” she murmured, leaning closer.

But the baby was so very tiny! He was not only small, but he looked as if he had gone hungry. His sunken belly made his chest look as broad as a barrel. And surely such a neck could never support the weight of a head.

Oh, perhaps she was simply too accustomed to seeing her fat little Brandt, who would be two months old in only two days. But her heart went out to this tiny creature.

Her heart went out to this tiny creature.

“I am sorry to surprise you thus, Githa,” Cenwulf began. “She held him for an hour, and then she – ” He stopped and closed his eyes. “She asked me to bring him to you.”

“Did she nurse him?”

“She could not.”

“Then I shall. Brandt will never miss what this wee squab might steal from him.”

Cenwulf gently passed the baby to her, and the sleepy eyes opened. “He has her eyes,” he said, and a few tears spilled over. “Forgive me,” he whispered, wiping his face with his sleeve. “Just now I believe it would have been easier without the baby. I shall have to see her eyes every day.”

'I shall have to see her eyes every day.'

“I think that someday you will be happy that you may.” She would not pretend with him now – it seemed crueler than honesty.

“She said – ” He paused and took a deep breath. “She said she won’t see him again. She doesn’t want him to – to fall ill. I must ask you to keep him for me until I may take him home with me again.”

“Of course we will.”

“I must return to her,” he said. “I shall try to come later this morning to see him.” He reached out a hand and gently stroked the baby’s thin cheek with the backs of his fingers. “She named him Baldwin.”

'She named him Baldwin.'

“A very handsome name for a very handsome boy. Now, you go on home to her. Don’t you worry about him any – here he’ll be warm and fed and cuddled as much as any wee heart could desire. And you tell her I said that, and kiss her for me, too, dear.”

Cenwulf nodded and said, “Thank you,” and went shuffling to the door. He was as close to exhaustion – physical and mental – as she had ever seen a man. She wondered what would become of him when Colburga went.

'He went shuffling to the door.'

But the baby was awake now and whining.

“You must be starving, poor darling,” she said as she opened her gown with her free hand. “Well, at least he’s strong enough to suck,” she said to her husband with some relief.

Ethelmund came closer and looked at the baby for the first time – this strange, scrawny baby on his wife’s breast. “He looks sick.”

“His Mama is. She put all of her strength into this baby, but she didn’t have much to give. A week or two of good milk and a warm house will fatten him right up.”

But Ethelmund was not so sanguine. He had his own son to worry about.

Ethelmund was not so sanguine.