Egelric lay half-reading, half-dreaming

Egelric Wodehead lay in bed one evening, half-​​reading, half-​​dreaming. The house for the priest was nearly finished. They would be moving in the furniture tomorrow or the next day. He had designed and overseen the construction of the entire house himself. He was rightfully proud, as it was snug and comfortable, and he had planned ahead how it could be enlarged in the future.

For a while he dreamt of what it would be like to have been a priest himself. There would have been no Elfleda, of course, but somehow… he would not have known the happiness of the first months of the marriage, but neither would he have known the sadness of those early miscarriages, or the sorrow of the birth of the dead baby boy who was big enough to mourn as a person, and to name – Cuthgils, after his long-​​dead father. Would they have met in Paradise? he mused. Did he know that his grandson had been born free? The lad would be about the same age as little Wynna now. Walking and babbling like Wynna? It was hard to believe.

Egelric dreamt on. If he had been a priest, he would not have had to live the despair of watching his wife’s sanity deteriorate from day to day. At times now he would see her shuffling around and twitching like a caged animal, muttering to herself, and casting paranoid glances around her. Some days she was calmer, and she went out and apparently behaved herself, since he never heard complaints about her. And the daily routine of cooking, cleaning, and washing seemed to give her something to cling to, and he let her work in peace, but he expected any day now to come home to a disarray that would become the new norm.

He looked up as Elfleda entered the small bedroom.

You're not going to read that book all night, are you?

“You’re not going to read that book all night, are you?” she growled as she laid down next to him in her clothes.

“Of course not,” he said, slipping the book beneath the mattress.

He slipped the book beneath the mattress

“I need to sleep anyway,” he said. “I have lots of work to do tomorrow.”

She snorted.

“You haven’t been to see the little house yet, Leda,” he said, gingerly addressing her by his nickname for her. 

You haven't been to see the little house yet, Leda

“I wish you would come. It’s so snug and warm, and the kitchen is so much roomier than ours. Building this house has given me so many ideas about improvements we could make to our house. The Duke says – ”

“The Duke is a fool,” she said in her lowest and iciest voice, never even looking at him. “And you moreso the fool, for worshipping him the way you do. My God, sometimes I want to kick you, the miserable, fawning lapdog of that simpering ninny that you are.”

Egelric sat up

Egelric sat up. The sheer cruelty of the woman still astounded him at times. She couldn’t have hurt him more if she had kicked him. He waited for her to say or do something – if not to apologize, at least to smooth over what she had just said. But she lay still, and he could imagine the faint smile that must have been playing over her lips.

He stood and walked to the bedroom door, never looking back at her.

“Good night, dear,” she called out in mock affection.

Good night, dear

He slammed the door and stood, dazed, in the front room. After a moment he grabbed his coat and stepped outside. He looked down the hill – no, it was too late to go to Alwy’s. The lights were all out at the farm. 

He stood a while looking up at the wide sky, the January wind biting at his face and bringing tears to his eyes. Finally he folded his coat more tightly around his chest and trudged off to bed. That was the first night Egelric Wodehead slept in the barn.