'Beloved, thy radiant face is like this morning's sun.'

“Beloved, thy face is like this morning’s sun: obscured by clouds,” Alred said softly as he came down the hall and spied Gunnilda sitting at her kitchen table.

“Oh!” Gunnilda chuckled. “Where did Your Grace come from?”

“I met little Wynna going out the back and she let me in. I didn’t realize I was sneaking.”

“Oh, I guess my mind was far away from this kitchen. Won’t you take off your cloak and sit a while? I’m sorry I don’t have a joke for you today, but I do have a pie.”

“I can’t stay long, dear, so I must miss your pie, but I shall sit a moment with you. I must go to see the King, and I should like to meet Egelric on the way and have a word with him first.”

He watched her face closely to see what the name would do. The clouds seemed to thicken.

“However, I have been anxious to speak with you, and I came as soon as I thought decent. It may seem a little odd, but I didn’t trust her to do it properly herself… you see, I am here to apologize for my wife.”



“I am certain that you and Egelric are furious with her. Egelric, at least, came last night to make his fury known.”

Gunnilda looked away, and the clouds roiled. “I don’t see as he has much reason to be furious with other people.”

“I don’t know that it matters to you now, but in my wife’s defense, she thought she was telling the truth. Her motives were not good, but she didn’t intend to tell you a lie.”

“A lie?”

Alred blinked at her.

“You mean it isn’t true?” Her voice had dwindled to a whisper.

'You mean it isn't true?'

“Didn’t Egelric tell you? Jupiter! This is more serious than I thought.”

“He told me it was true.”

Alred considered this. “Darling, if I have learned one thing since last night, it is that no matter how delicate the matter, it is a good idea to be very explicit in its discussion, at least to ensure that we are discussing the same thing. Now, let’s begin again. What, exactly, did Matilda tell you?”

“Her Grace told me that… that Egelric is Prince Colban’s real father.”

“Ah, that’s what I thought. And I am under the impression that it was yesterday that Egelric first learned you knew about this?”

“I guess I told him I knew it.”

“What, exactly, did you tell him you knew?”

'What, exactly, did you tell him you knew?'

“I don’t remember exactly. I told him I knew about his secret. I told him Her Grace told me.”

“You didn’t say what, exactly?”

“I guess not. But he knew what it was. And he said it was true! I remember that real plain. I asked him, ‘Is it true?’ and he says, ‘I’m afraid it is.’ Now are you telling me it isn’t?”

“Gunnilda, darling,” he said, taking her hand. “I believe we are all far too discreet, with the noteworthy exception of my wife. As far as I can tell, this whole affair grew out of too many people saying too little about too much.”

'This whole affair grew out of too many people saying too little about too much.'

“Isn’t it true?” she begged.

“Beloved, those clouds look like rain,” he said gently. “No, it isn’t true. The truth is that Egelric’s cousin Malcolm is the Prince’s father. I don’t know what Egelric thought you were discussing when he said it was true, but I do doubt that he believed you were talking about him.”

“But he still said he loved her!”

“Loved whom?”

“The Queen!”

“He told you that?”

“No… Her Grace did.”

“Let’s forget everything Matilda said,” Alred sighed. “I don’t know where she got such ideas. She talked to me about it, and she claims she talked to Egelric about it, and nevertheless she came away with the idea that it was Egelric and not Malcolm. God only knows where she got the idea that Egelric is in love with the Queen. I assure you he has a very poor opinion of Her Majesty.”

“I knew that Malcolm was rotten!” she huffed.

Alred laughed. “And yet you believed it of poor Egelric?”

'And yet you believed it of poor Egelric?'

“Oh, Your Grace don’t know what ‘poor Egelric’ was when he was young. He was rotten too.”

“I believe that ‘poor Egelric’ may find that what he regrets most about his youthful misdeeds is that it allows a good woman like you to imagine him capable of such even today. Look—is that a ray of sunlight I see peeking out there, from the corner of your eye?”

“Oh!” She cackled, blushing. “I don’t know about that. I guess I’m that upset. I been thinking such awful things about Egelric these past weeks, and—I guess I been real cold and cruel with him too. But what did he think I meant yesterday when I told him why I was mad?”

'What did he think I meant yesterday?'

“You will have to ask him about that. I shall not even dare to guess. It doesn’t make sense, though,” he said, shaking his head. “He was angry about something when he came to see my wife. Perhaps he thought she had told you about Malcolm, not realizing that Matilda had confused him with his cousin. But, no, she said that… no, never mind. I shall only make things worse. All I can tell you today, dear, is that Egelric is most certainly not Colban’s father, for I have spoken at length with Malcolm on the matter. Nor does Egelric love the Queen. He may, however, have a guilty conscience about something else. Jupiter!” Alred slapped his palm on the table and sat back, grinning. “I shall try to find out for you! You haven’t had any of your pies go missing, have you?”

'You haven't had any of your pies go missing, have you?'

Gunnilda laughed and patted his hand.

“That’s what I like to see!” he said. “A bit of sunshine on a right cloudy day.”

“I guess I got some apologizing to do.”

“Please ensure that you both understand precisely for what you are apologizing.”

'Please ensure that you both understand precisely for what you are apologizing.'

“Oh, I guess I will! Though I’ll be ashamed to admit I believed it, now.”

“I think he will be happy to forgive you. Now, I have to tear myself away from you, beloved.” He pushed his chair back and stood. “For it seems to be drizzling out there, and my horse will be sulking if I make him stand in the wet much longer. Don’t get up, dear, I can make it all the way to the door unaided.”

“If you see Egelric…”

“As I shall. I meant to apologize for my wife. But I suppose I had better find out what he believes is the matter. Leave the explaining to me, little one, and I shall leave the apologizing to you.”

'Leave the explaining to me.'