'What are you doing, dear?'

“What are you doing, dear?” Matilda asked her husband as she came into the bedroom.

He stood leaning over the cradle against the wall. “We are admiring one another.”

She came to peek in at her sleepy daughter.

“When does she stop being a baby?” he mused. “When she is one year old? That’s only a few days away. When she starts walking? She’s already working on that. When she starts talking? She already says ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa.’ What do you think, Mama?”

'What do you think, Mama?'

“Mama?” Margaret repeated.

“I’m not certain, dearest,” Matilda said softly. “I think that to be certain, we should have another.”

“Oh, Matilda,” he sighed, straightening. “Not again.”

“You didn’t hear Maud tonight. Now that she has deigned to return to Sigefrith’s bed, she’s already making plans for her next baby.”

“There has to be some advantage in it for her.”

“Oh, I think she only sees that as her first step on her path to sainthood. The babies are but a pleasant reward along the way.”

“Such cynics, we’ve become,” he laughed wickedly.

'Such cynics, we've become.'

“We know what she is.”

“And what does that have to do with us? I thought that being in my bed was pleasant reward enough.”

“She told me that if she has a girl, she’s going to name it Colburga.”

“Is she expecting already?”

“Oh, she didn’t say that. Which makes it all the more… absurd.”

“Shall I unlace you?”

'Shall I unlace you?'

“Please,” she said, turning her back to him.

“You still haven’t told me what that has to do with us.”

“I told you – she’s going to name her next baby Colburga if it’s a girl.”

“That’s sweet of her. Now, can you explain to me why I should care?”

'Now, can you explain to me why I should care?'

“Because! I knew Colburga far longer than she ever did.”

“So now you own her name?”

“No, Alred,” she huffed as she squirmed out of her dress. “Oh, don’t be so dense! I don’t want that little viper naming her baby Colburga.”

“Pardon me for seeming dense, my lady, but you aren’t making any sense. Firstly, Colburga and Maud were very close, and secondly, how do you intend to stop her?”

“I want to have a baby girl before she does, and name her Colburga.”

Alred stared at her for a moment, pulled off his tunic and shirt, and then stared at her again.

He pulled off his tunic and shirt, and then stared at her again.

“What?” she asked, frowning.

Suddenly he laughed. “A fine joke, Matilda.”

“It’s not a joke.”

'It's not a joke.'

“Of course it is, darling. It’s either a joke, or some kind of insult to Colburga’s memory. Are you trying to tell me you want to have a baby simply so you can name it Colburga before Maud does?”

“Well, that’s not the only reason…”

“No, but it’s the most hilarious reason you’re invented so far.”

“Oh, Alred,” she said, her chin trembling. “You don’t know what it is to want to be a mother.”

'You don't know what it is to want to be a mother.'

“That’s better,” he said, putting his arms around her. “You were beginning to look like a viper yourself. Now, need I remind you that you are already a mother to four beautiful, clever, healthy children? And they have a beautiful, clever, healthy mother, and I a magnificent wife, and we don’t want to lose her. You don’t know what it is to love you, Matilda.”

“But nothing will happen to me. I shall simply give up my little honey cakes and my wine for a while. Look at Meg! She’s practically grown up with babies of her own now.”

'She's practically grown up with babies of her own now.'

“She’s not a year old!” he laughed. “Anyway, if she were practically grown up with babies of her own, you could satisfy yourself with your grandchildren, could you not?”

“It’s not the same,” she pouted.

“No, it’s better, because they don’t wake you at night. Don’t pout, Matilda. You know that I am by no means prepared to become a monk, and we can be as ‘careful’ as we like, as our dear Colburga would say, one of these days we’re bound to be careless. Can you not leave this up to Providence, instead of pestering your poor husband, who finds it so hard to refuse you anything when you make that little face?”

'Can you not leave this up to Providence, instead of pestering your poor husband?'

“It’s not fair that Maud should have all the babies she likes with anyone she likes.”

Alred laughed. “Not fair! You begin to talk like Yware. ‘Papa, it’s not fair!’”

“It isn’t.”

'It isn't.'

“Do you know what’s not fair? Does Maud have a Margaret or a Gwynn or an Yware or a Dunstan?”


“Do you truly believe you can do better than them?”

“Let’s see whether we can.”

'Let's see whether we can.'

He laughed. “You’re a stubborn little brat. Just like Yware. You know, I begin to see where the boy gets it. I have an idea, Matilda. I shall ask Sir Leila to name her baby Colburga if it’s a girl, then you and Maud will both lose your little race. As for the rest, simply pray as hard as you can that you may get what you want, and I shall pray as hard as I can that you may not, and we shall see which one of us will win that race. But, as I said, unless I increase my worth in the eyes of the Lord by becoming a monk, you’re bound to win in the end. Inch’Allah!”

'You're bound to win in the end.'