Sigefrith sighed in contentment.

Sigefrith sighed in contentment. He had gone outside to walk off his frustration with the letter he was trying to write to poor Eadgith, but he had wandered into Maud’s garden and had felt his worries fall away as if he had been welcomed back into Eden.

Maud had made room for him on her little bench and had even thrown an arm over his shoulder when he sat. Britamund lay daydreaming on the grass, lovely in an uncharacteristic moment of repose. Colban ran up and down the paths on his short legs, shaking a stick at butterflies and attacking monsters that were apparently hiding in the bushes. And his little ginger-​​baby sat before him, picking apart the flowers that grew around her.

Little Emma sat before him, picking apart the flowers that grew around her.

Only Caedwulf was missing, and Sigefrith knew him to be out riding with Alred and the other boys, which was a satisfying thought in itself.

Sigefrith wondered how Leofric could live happily without his children around him. Even if he didn’t love his first wife, and Sigefrith did not believe he did, there were the children.

Leofric had always found excuses for delaying an attempt to find Eadgith. In Denmark, he didn’t know from month to month where he would stay, so he could not tell her where he could be found. And here, he had always found something… the baby, the work on the castle… and lately he had said he wanted to wait until he had moved into his new home.

Well, he had moved, and still he had done nothing. Worse, thanks to Matilda, Leofric now knew that Eadgith lived, and where… and a month later, still nothing. Thus Sigefrith found himself in the awkward position of doing Leofric’s duty for him. Eadgith was his cousin, so if her husband wouldn’t move to help her, he would have to.

But what to say in such a letter? It was dreadful.

“Sigefrith, I believe I see our Baron coming,” Maud said suddenly, looking over his shoulder at the stretch of road visible through a break in the trees.

Sigefrith turned his head to look. “I believe you’re right. Unless we know of another red giant who rides a giant red horse?”

“No, that’s Theobald. There’s Githa’s blonde head, and who else?”

“I can’t tell,” Sigefrith said as the riders disappeared again behind the trees. “Do you suppose the steward knows where we are?” he asked.

“He knows where I am. He will assume you followed.”

'He knows where I am.  He will assume you followed.'

Sigefrith squeezed her hand and smiled at her. “Let’s meet them in the garden, then. It’s a shame to go into the dark hall on such a day.”

She nodded and leaned her head against his. Sigefrith closed his eyes and breathed deeply the smell of her hair and the flowers around them. He heard Colban crying, “Beetle! Beeeeeeeetle! Papa!”

“Good work, cub,” he said without opening his eyes.

Emma laughed at something, and he heard Brit roll over in the grass. He would be happy to see Theobald, but it did seem a shame to cut short this moment. Why had Theobald not arrived an hour ago, while he had been anguishing over that accursed letter?

“Githa looks rather short in that dress,” Maud murmured. “Isn’t she almost as tall as Theobald?”

'Githa looks rather short in that dress.'

Sigefrith opened his eyes and saw Theobald approaching on foot with a woman and a young man and a girl. “I don’t believe that is Githa,” he said, rising. “Perhaps Theobald has guests.”

The woman stopped some distance away, looking anxiously between him and his children.

The woman stopped some distance away, looking anxiously between him and his children.

“Theobald!” Sigefrith cried. “I was just telling Cenwulf we need to pay you a visit. I thank you for saving us the trip.”

As he embraced his tall friend, Theobald whispered to him, “Forgive me, I didn’t tell her about Leofric. I didn’t think it should be I to tell her.”

Sigefrith’s jaw dropped. He suddenly recognized the woman – but it was impossible. He hadn’t even finished the letter, much less sent it. It was impossible.

She looked at him with such eyes that Sigefrith felt his heart breaking for her sake. She didn’t even know.

Britamund hopped past him, calling a greeting to Eadgith as she passed, but heading straight for the girl. “My name’s Britamund, and this is my castle, and my mama’s garden. What’s your name?”

Sigefrith didn’t need to hear the girl reply. Her name too was Eadgith.

The woman was in his arms before he could look back at her.

The woman was in his arms before he could look back at her.

“Sigefrith, Sigefrith, Sigefrith,” she repeated, on the verge of a sob. “Everyone said you died at Ely.”

“Why, Eadgith!” His voice trembled as much as his hands. “And I long thought you were in Denmark – I was just writing to you – how did you find me?”

“Harold’s sons told me! Oh, Sigefrith!” She took a step away from him, and they looked intently at one another. “One would say your father! Look at you!” she babbled happily, tears running freely down her face.

'Look at you!'

“And you! One would say your daughter! Surely you haven’t aged more than three, four days since I saw you last. Even your freckles are in the same places.” But her eyes had not always been so deeply shadowed, and there were lines around her mouth now that could not have been laid by smiles.

“And my children,” she said, waving a hand at the children behind her. “But are these your children? Oh, Sigefrith!” At last she began to sob.

At last she began to sob.

“My children, and my wife,” he said, laying an arm over her shoulder. “After all of your years of scheming to get me married off, I finally managed on my own. Very well, if I may say so. My oldest son isn’t here, but you shall see him this afternoon.”

He talked on about his children to calm her, but he wondered how he was going to manage telling her about Leofric. What had Magnus told her?

“And you, boy,” he called to the young man who still stood quietly behind them. “Remember your old godfather?”

“Come, Sigefrith, come,” his mother murmured.

The boy walked up and bowed.

The boy walked up and bowed.

“Never mind that, cousin. Damn! I was just fretting that people are going to be calling me ‘Old Sigefrith’ now, but looking at you, I feel old! Don’t you remember me?”

“I do, my lord.”

“How old are you now, runt? Fifteen, or?”


“Damn! And is that fuzz on your face, or just dirt? You’re going to have to let that grow out another foot or two if you want it to match your armpits, if you’re anything like your shaggy father.”

'You're going to have to let that grow out another foot or two.'

The boy laughed.

“That’s better! Damn, I was starting to worry that you were as shy as your mother. Ever seen such a thing as a sword, boy?”

“The pointy end is the one you use to stick people, isn’t it?”

Both Sigefriths laughed.

Both Sigefriths laughed.

“He’s been with the Norsemen,” Eadgith explained. “With our cousin Gytha’s husband – Canute’s granddaughter, I mean. But he comes home every Easter to see his poor mother, and just as soon as he arrived, we came straight to you, Sigefrith,” she said, beginning to cry again. “Straight to you!”

“Norsemen, eh?” Sigefrith asked. “I shall put the lock on the outside of your door, then, or I shan’t sleep a wink tonight. And who’s this pretty little thing?” he asked, hoping to distract Eadgith. “Do you remember me, honey?” he asked the girl. “My knee was your first pony.”

'Do you remember me, honey?'

“My lord,” she said with a shy curtsey, “I don’t believe I remember you, but my mother has told me about you.”

“Oh dear, oh dear. No wonder you look as if I were about to eat you. If your brother is fifteen, you must be thirteen.”

“Next month.”

“My bones creak just thinking about it. Oh, my,” he sighed, “you are lovely, aren’t you?” But he was thinking of what Leofric would think when he saw her. How could a man put two such creatures out of his mind for eight years?

“Eadgith,” he said, turning suddenly to their mother. “I should like to introduce you to my children and my wife, but I must have a word with you alone, or I shall not hear a thing anyone says, including myself. Maud, darling, will you take Theobald and the children under your wings until I return?”

Maud, who was standing shyly aside cuddling Colban, nodded, and Sigefrith led Eadgith out of the garden.

Sigefrith led Eadgith out of the garden.