'Now what are we talking about?'

“Is it true?” Alred grinned as Egelric came to sit beside him before the fire.

“Let me guess… It’s true! Now what are we talking about?”

“Sigefrith tells me I can have you back again.”

“I suppose it’s true, then. The stonework is done and I shall only ride out for a day or two a week. And less, I hope, once his lordship has moved in.”

“That won’t be until Sir Leila and her baby can move, I suppose.”

“The keep is livable already. I was nearly ashamed to come home to my humble little house. One doesn’t expect a great stone keep to be warmer and less drafty than a little wood house.”

“My compliments to the architect.”

“The architect is hoping to take care of his own house this summer. Baby must feel like the proverbial shoeless daughter of the cobbler.”

“Oh, is that so?” Alred laughed hesitantly.

'Oh, is that so?'

“Certainly. When I built that house, I never expected to be in it eight years later. I didn’t expect any of the things that happened in the past eight years, but that at least is one I can remedy.”

“Is it urgent? I would rather have you stay here at the castle.”

“And I would rather have a quiet little house and a quiet little daughter, rather than your great, noisy hall and the little pagan girl that Baby becomes when she’s around your children and that Bertie,” Egelric chuckled.

“It’s quiet enough once the pagans have gone to bed, isn’t it?” Alred asked, waving at the dark and empty hall behind them. “And I could always find a quiet corner of the castle for you and Baby.”

'I could always find a quiet corner of the castle for you and Baby.'

“You’re determined to keep me here, aren’t you? You haven’t tamed me yet, you know. I’m still a bit of a wild thing, and like to come and go. Besides, my proud little girl is a bit ashamed that both Wynnie and Colburga live – or will live – in a finer house than she does. And while I hate to encourage her pride, things are getting a bit run-​​down at the farm. I have hands with nicer houses than mine. And anyway, Baby’s a big girl of seven or so now, and I can’t keep her in bed with me forever. She needs her own room. I can’t believe how long her legs are getting, and she seems to grow six of them when she gets into bed, the better to kick me with when I snore.”

“They do grow up, don’t they?” Alred sighed. “But she’s small yet. You can take your time looking around for a better place to build…”

'You can take your time looking around for a better place to build...'

“Enough!” Egelric laughed. “Say it, please. You don’t want me to start anything here, because you and His Majesty want me to go out and start building another castle before I have fairly finished the first!”

“Well, since you mention it,” Alred grinned. “But you know I mean two castles. One on either side of the lake.”

Egelric sank back into his chair.

“I’ve talked it over with Theobald and he’s quite certain that those hills are not part of his holdings. Now, if you extend the border between my land and the King’s straight south to the hills, you will find that the lake falls entirely in mine. Thus the castles are mine to build, and I mean to outdo Leofric, for I plan to put Yware in one of them when he’s older. There’s plenty of land to be farmed on either side of the north end of the lake.”

“No more castles, please,” Egelric whimpered. “A small keep with a nice palisade perhaps?”

“For a start.”

“Shall I even see my daughter grow up?” he sighed wearily.

'Shall I even see my daughter grow up?'

“Now, it’s less than an hour’s ride. You might see her every day if you choose.”

“I know. I know. But wait a moment – I thought you wanted to see me tonight to ask my advice about something? Here you’re only giving orders.”

“Jupiter! That’s right. You started talking about working on your house, and I had to head you off before you got to breaking ground. I meant to talk to you about that later. I’m sorry Egelric. I suppose I ask too much of you as your reward for serving me so well.”

'I suppose I ask too much of you as your reward for serving me so well.'

“I’m not complaining. Honestly, it’s a bit hard to come home every week and be treated like a leper after having had such good relations with the men out at the site.”

“The peasants still treating you badly?” Alred frowned.

“Not around here. I don’t ride to His Majesty’s castle unarmed any longer, however.”

“Sigefrith’s men? I’m a bit surprised. I shall talk to him.”

'Sigefrith's men?'

“It’s not Sigefrith’s men that are the problem. It’s the women, and the things they whisper to Sigefrith’s men. I wouldn’t mind living out there with the workmen all the time, if it weren’t for Baby.”


“Get the men away from the women and they become rational creatures again, if a bit crude.”

“You have never said a truer word, old man. Wouldn’t you know the advice I need regards women? Two of them in fact.”

“You’re asking me for advice about women?”

'You're asking me for advice about women?'

“Perhaps what I need is a disinterested party,” Alred laughed. “Or a rational, crude one, who doesn’t spend all that much time around women, more’s the pity.”

Egelric bowed.

“It’s my foolish wife been meddling again in other people’s affairs. Not yours, this time,” he said reassuringly when Egelric’s head snapped up again. “I don’t know whether you are aware of this, but Leofric was married before. His wife, of course, believed he died at Hastings, and he had no idea whether she still lived or whether she had not assumed herself widowed and found a new husband – and so he married another.”

Egelric nodded. “I know.”

“So, when Leofric showed up here, Matilda had the brilliant idea to write to her cousin in Denmark to find out whether he had any word of Eadgith – Leofric’s first wife. I don’t even know what she intended by it. She was rather outraged at first that he should have married again without knowing what had happened to his first wife. She does not agree with the Danes that a man may have more than one wife.”

“Nor do I,” Egelric said.

'Nor do I.'

“Ah, well, so perhaps you will take her side. Magnus wrote recently to tell her he had found where Eadgith was living – about ten miles from where Leofric left her, in fact. Sigefrith had sent her money ever so long ago that she might go to their cousins in Denmark – she and Sigefrith are cousins somehow, I don’t know – but apparently she never did. Nor did she remarry.”

“So Lord Hingwar has two wives.”

“So it would seem.”

Egelric nodded. “Does his first wife know he’s alive?”

'Does his first wife know he's alive?'

“I don’t know. Magnus was not explicit on that point. But he has even less tact and discretion than Matilda, if such a thing is possible, and so I fear the worst. But it takes so long to get a letter to Denmark these days – and I don’t know how I could get a letter to Eadgith without giving us away. There’s a Norman in Sigefrith’s castle.”

“Aye. That’s hard.” Egelric rubbed his beard. “And you wanted my advice about something?”

“What the hell do I do now? I told Matilda that I was going to tell Sigefrith, but in the end I simply went for a stroll. I don’t know what’s best.”

“She’s His Majesty’s cousin, you said?”

'She's His Majesty's cousin, you said?'

“And Sigefrith is her lord – or was until the Normans showed up. So it’s Sigefrith’s problem, isn’t it?”

“Does one know whether she is in need?”

“Magnus didn’t say.”

“Does she have children?”

“Two. Has a boy named Sigefrith, in fact. Jupiter, he must be nearly a man by now.”

'Jupiter, he must be nearly a man by now.'

Egelric shook his head. “She should be told. Anything else seems dishonest. She might be in need – and you have children growing up without their father. That doesn’t seem right at all. It should have been Lord Hingwar’s duty to find her, and if not his then His Majesty’s, as her cousin and as her lord, although I suppose he thought he had done his by sending her money to go to Denmark. But as soon as you came into this knowledge, it became your duty to put it to use. If I may presume to tell my lord his duty,” he smiled.

“I know,” he sighed. “I already knew everything you told me. I suppose I needed to hear it. Do you know, the hardest part is that poor Sir Leila will be hurt, and Eadgith herself will be hurt – and I can’t imagine Leofric being anything but inconvenienced and perhaps a little shame-​​faced at best.”

Egelric shrugged.

“Does my duty require more of me than that I give the letter to Sigefrith?”

“I suppose not, although your duty may also consist of reminding His Majesty of his.”

“I believe we can count on Sigefrith to do his duty. But I doubt he will be thanking Matilda for reminding him of it.”

'I doubt he will be thanking me--or Matilda--for reminding him of it.'