Matilda moaned as the blanket was pulled down and the light hit her face.

Matilda moaned as the blanket was pulled down and the light hit her face. The light hurt.

“Wake up! Wake up, my beauty!” Alred cackled.

“Oh, no!” she whimpered, trying to pull the blanket up again, but he grabbed it and yanked it off her entirely. Now the light was hurting her whole body, and she moaned again.

“Oh, yes! Her ladyship awaits!”

“Not now! Oh, you take her, Alred.”

“I would love to take her, but I must ride with Egelric over to the new castle, and even I don’t think my lady should spend three hours on a horse.”

“Then quit laughing at me. Damn, I feel like hell,” she grumbled as she sat up.

'Damn, I feel like hell.'

“You look delicious, however, and so I must ask you to dress. I’m in a hurry this morning.”

“How is it that you don’t feel like hell?” she asked as she gingerly laid her feet on the floor.

“Because I did not get roaring drunk like you and Sigefrith and Leofric. The three of you made quite a choir.”

“We were singing?”

'We were singing?'

“Were you ever!” he grinned. “You three were making up verses to ‘The Merchant and the Maid’ and pestering me for rhymes. Egelric came up with a few, though. I shall turn that man into a poet yet, if only of bawdy verse.”

“That must have been something! I don’t even remember. I don’t remember anything.”

“Oh, then perhaps I’m off the hook?”

She blinked her bleary eyes at him. What had he done, again? “Oh, that woman!” she groaned.

“Don’t call her ‘that woman!’” he laughed. “‘That woman’ nursed your elder daughter, and helped to save the life of your younger. And she’s a charming little lady. But she can’t hold a candle to you, my wanton. Besides which, as I so convincingly explained last night – and I am sorry to hear my eloquence went to waste – you have a lot of nerve complaining about me and Gunnilda, when I had to forcibly extract you from your perch on Sigefrith’s lap, with your legs lying across Leofric’s.”

'I had to forcibly extract you from your perch on Sigefrith's lap.'

“Oh, I never did!”

“You did so, woman! And you clung to Sigefrith’s neck as if you were a babe I was trying to take from its mother!”

“Oh, I wish I could have seen that!” she chuckled, not failing to see the humor in the situation, though she kept a cautious hand resting on the focus of her nausea. “I wish I could remember it, I mean! I wasn’t trying to suck his tit or anything, was I?”

“Thank the gods the three of you remained fully clothed,” Alred said as he laid Margaret in her arms.

He laid Margaret in her arms.

“Oh, God, Maud must have been chewing her fingernails down to the knuckles!”

“That was after she and Sir Leila went up to bed, dear. You were the only woman left by that time, depraved creature.”

Matilda tried to remember. “I was waiting for you to carry me up to bed. You did, too! Oh, I scarcely remember a thing,” she laughed.

“Then I again regret that so many of my talents went to waste last night.”

Matilda snorted. “You may remind me tonight. But just now, I don’t even want to be touched by air.”

You may remind me tonight.