'There you are!'

“There you are!” Matilda called from her bed as her husband came into the room, unbuckling his belt. “I’ve been waiting.”

“Kind of you, my dear.” He hung up his belt and pulled his tunic off over his head. “I do believe that we are making progress with that man. I got him to laugh twice.”

“Who, Cenwulf?”

“That’s the man.”

“Oh, that’s good of you, Alred. Poor dear.”

“Margaret sleeping?” he asked, peeking in the cradle.

“As you can see.”

“Why are you sitting up then?” he asked as he came around the bed. “Don’t tell me you were waiting for little me?”

'Why are you sitting up then?'

“I was waiting up for little you. You must come and spank me, Alred, for I have been naughty.”

He laughed and bounced onto the bed. “What a good girl it is! I shall, and with pleasure! To what transgression do I owe my good fortune?”

'To what transgression do I owe my good fortune?'

“It seems you haven’t done with punishing me for my transgressions of the night of Dunstan’s dinner.”

“What, you weren’t sitting on Sigefrith’s lap merely for the lack of a chair?”

“Silly man! There were plenty of chairs, but that’s not what I meant. No, I’m afraid I let my mouth run away with me again.”

“You were kissing him?” he demanded, tossing her back onto the pillows.

'You were kissing him?'

“No!” she squealed, laughing breathlessly. “Nothing about Sigefrith. You’re jealous! I can smell it!”

“That’s only mead, my beauty, but don’t get any ideas because I am most definitely not drunk.”

“Any ideas about what?” she purred.

“You’ve already drunk me into marrying you and drunk me into being a father, so I am frightened to even consider what other life-​altering schemes you may have planned for me.”

'I am frightened to even consider what other life-altering schemes you may have for me.'

Matilda laughed and tried to pull his head down to where she could kiss him.

“Not so fast! You have to tell me what your mouth has been up to before I make up my mind to kiss it.”

“Oh, I just meant that I told Gunnie Hogge about poor Prince Colban’s paternity.”

“Oh, Matilda! Poor Gunnie Hogge! Why the hell did you want to tell her?”

“I was angry at you for giving her those rubies, that’s why.”

“Oh, those rubies again! Damn! Next time I shall give her emeralds. Well, I suppose she won’t tell anyone, but I wish you hadn’t.”

He leaned forward to kiss her, but stopped suddenly when another question came to him.

“Why are you telling me this now? Is it slowly coming back to you? Or do you simply want to get multiple spankings out of one night of indiscretion?”

'Why are you telling me this now?'

Matilda laughed. “It’s because Egelric came to see me tonight, and he was simply furious. You should have seen him!”

“I have seen him furious, and I don’t envy you that. But why was he so upset? Surely he doesn’t think Gunnilda will tell. Or was it because he didn’t realize that you knew?”

“Oh, he knew I knew. I already talked to him about it before.”

“Decidedly, Matilda, I shall have to keep a closer eye on your pretty lips.”

Alred promptly attempted to keep an eye on her lips by means of his mouth, but Matilda laughed and twisted her face away from his kisses.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know!” she crowed.

Alred lifted his head. “So why was he ‘simply furious,’ as you quaintly put it? Did he tell?”

“I don’t know why. He said I destroyed his friendship with Gunnilda.”

Alred rolled over onto one hip. “What? Why?”

'I don't know why.'

“I don’t know!” she panted, still flushed from giggling. “I’m sure she’ll get over it. I did.”

“Just what did you have to get over? You couldn’t stand Maud even before.”

“No, but I do like Egelric.”

She flung an arm around his neck and tried to pull him down on top of her, but this time Alred resisted.

“Egelric? What does he have to do with any of this? It’s not his fault.”

“Not his fault!” she laughed. “Was he drunk or what? Anyway, he told me he still loves her.”

“Wait a moment,” Alred said, sitting up. “Wait just one moment. What in Jupiter’s hoary name are we talking about here?”

'What the hell are we talking about here?'

“About Egelric and Maud, of course.”

“Egelric and Maud?” Alred let go of his wife and drew away from her as if she had suddenly transformed into an unfamiliar and somewhat loathsome creature. “Egelric and Maud?”

“Well, yes!” she laughed. “What were you talking about?”

Alred’s mouth went dry. He turned away from Matilda, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to collect his thoughts. “What, exactly, did you tell Gunnilda?”

'What, exactly, did you tell Gunnilda?'

“Well, I told her that Egelric is Colban’s father.”

Alred leapt to his feet. “You told her what? Holy Juno, mother of Mars, Matilda! What have you done?”

'What have you done?'

“What?” she cried. “What have I done?”

“Matilda! Egelric isn’t Colban’s father! Malcolm is!”


“Yes, Magog! Damn you, woman, and damn your tongue! What have you done?”

Matilda rose unsteadily. “But you told me he was,” she said.

Matilda rose unsteadily.

“I never told you any such thing!”

“You did so! Right in this bed!” She pointed at the mattress and stomped around to meet him.

“I never told you it was Egelric! Where did you ever get that idea?”


“For the love of Judas! Did we sit in this bed and have a whole conversation about Maud’s lover and never once mention his name?”

“But Egelric admitted it!” she said, suddenly remembering.

'But Egelric admitted it!'

“I do doubt that Egelric would admit to that, even to protect his cousin. What exactly did he say to you?”

“He said it was true, and what’s more, he said he still loves her! And it was only a few weeks ago! So there!”

“What exactly did he say? Did he say, ‘Yes, Matilda, I am Colban’s father, and what’s more, I still love the Queen?’ Is that what he said?”

“I don’t remember what he said, exactly…”

“Don’t you think it’s possible—just possible!—that you had the same sort of half-​spoken conversation with him that you had with me, and very nearly had again with me just now? Just possible?”

'Just possible?'

“Perhaps,” she admitted, losing her nerve before his anger. It did seem that a furious man was less attractive when one had a guilty conscience.

“Holy mother! That was weeks ago, Matilda! And all this time poor Gunnilda has believed that of Egelric! Oh, God! What have you done?”

Alred shoved past her and stomped around the foot of the bed.

“No,” he muttered. “I shan’t even tell you what you have done. I don’t trust your mouth! I’m going to explain to her.” He whipped his tunic up off the back of the chair, and promptly flung it down again. “No, I can’t, it’s too late. Damn!”

“Oh, Alred, it was all only a misunderstanding…”

Alred stopped in the doorway and swung his arm around to point at her. “You can misunderstand all you please, but once you open your mouth you had better be damned sure that you’re not spouting lies! All the more so when I consider why you seemed to feel yourself obliged to tell Gunnilda! Damn!”

“Oh, Alred…”

'Oh, Alred...'

“Don’t Alred me. Damn! Sometimes I forget you are a woman. Thank you for reminding me! You’re lucky Egelric remembered, for if you’d been a man he should have slain you for a vicious liar.”

“It wasn’t a lie,” she said, her voice trembling.

“It was malicious gossip, and that’s as bad. What must Egelric and Gunnilda think of you now? They believe it was a lie. Good night, Matilda. I’m going down to read a while, and pray for forbearance.”

'Good night, Matilda.'