He came out of the kitchen to find Duke Alred and little Lady Margaret.

Egelric heard boots in his front room and came out of the kitchen to find Duke Alred and little Lady Margaret, the former looking around in confusion. The doors were all wide open to the spring air, but a fire burned in the hearth, and Egelric had a rag in his hand.

“What are you doing, Squire?” Alred asked. “Housework?”

'What are you doing, Squire?'

Egelric kissed his lady and said, “I’m simply airing the place out and cleaning it up a little. It’s so damp in here it’s practically mossy. Hallo, my wee girlie!”

“Giving it over to one of the hands?”

“No, it’s for my own self.”

“Egelric,” Alred sighed. “I thought you meant to stay with us for now.”

'I thought you meant to stay with us for now.'

“So I do. I only want to stay here for the night.”

“Why? Oh, it’s the new moon, isn’t it?”


“Here, take her, she wants you. Breaking poor Papa’s heart already.” He handed Margaret to Egelric and asked, “Need company?”

“If you care to join me.”

'If you care to join me.'

“I can bring wine. Theobald sent something I should like to try.”

“I don’t know that it’s wise to drink under the circumstances. That’s my beard,” he cooed to the girl. “It’s much nicer and furrier than Papa’s beard, isn’t it? You must tell my Lady Gwynn that it’s nothing to fear.”

'It's much nicer and furrier than Papa's beard, isn't it?'

“Nothing will happen tonight,” Alred said. “Nothing happened last month. I believe we got them both for good, this time.”

“So do I. I don’t think I shall wait up next month if nothing happens tonight. But no wine. If nothing happens we can always celebrate it the next evening,” he winked.

“That’s so. Jupiter, there’s one advantage to Matilda’s interesting condition, and that’s the fact that I can get as drunk as I please for the next few months and let her have her way with me.”

'Jupiter, there's one advantage to Matilda's interesting condition.'

Egelric laughed. “Sometimes I wish my only problems were yours.”

“I shouldn’t care to trade, sorry. Even if I thought I could bear to live as monkily as you do, she would never let me.”

“Monkily? Is that living like a monk, or living like a monkey?”

Alred laughed. “That’s thinking like a poet, old man. I still have hope, both for making you a poet and unmaking you a monk. The condition of living like a monkey I cannot fix, however.”

'The condition of living like a monkey I cannot fix, however.'

“My monkiness, you mean.”

“That’s right. Damn, you’re in fine spirits today.”

“So I am, the third Monday of every month, without fail, except it rains or the cows get into the corn.”

'So I am, the second Tuesday of every month.'

“Excellent! Then I shall take the opportunity to ask if you would like to ride out with me tomorrow and look for the best site for our next castle. They’ve cut a few loads of stone already, and they want to know where to put it.”

“Ahhhhh… perhaps the following day, since I don’t plan to sleep tonight.”

“That will do just as well. Mind if we take Yware?”

“He wants to site his own castle?”

“Papa made the mistake this morning of telling him it was for him. He talked of nothing else all through breakfast.”

'He talked of nothing else all through breakfast.'

“Once he gets his little mind fixed on something, it’s difficult to pry it off.”

“If you know how to get it stuck on his Latin, I wish you would tell me.”

“You will have a harder time making him a poet than you will me.”

“I believe you’re right. But an easier time making him a warrior,” Alred winked.

“He could already slay me, I fear.”

'He could already slay me, I fear.'

“He won’t – at least not until you have built him his little castle.”

“I only wonder how you will convince him that he may not live in it until he is a grown man.”

“Jupiter! I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose I should simply allow him to live in it and see how long he lasts without his Mama and his brother and sisters and friends.”

“It may indeed be the best way to teach him,” Egelric said gravely.

'It may indeed be the best way to teach him.'

“Well, I shall keep that in mind. But anyway, if my Lady Margaret has finished untying your shirt, I have to take her up to Gunnilda’s and then get back to what I was doing before I came, namely this: have you seen Leofric’s boy today?”

“Young Sigefrith? No, why? He’s gone missing?”

“He hasn’t been seen since last night. He often goes out riding in the morning on Sigefrith’s big gray, but he always comes back for breakfast. And he took his sword and quite a few other things, apparently.”

'And he took his sword and quite a few other things, apparently.'

“Did he ride out to Leofric’s castle?”

“I don’t see why – Leofric’s here. Sir Leila is out there by herself. Say – I hope he didn’t go out there, in that case.”

“Perhaps he simply rode up to visit Theobald? He seemed to take a liking to him.”

“Perhaps. Jupiter, I feel bad for the boy. I don’t know what I would have done to my father if I had found him not dead after all, but living somewhere else with full knowledge of my continuing existence. Probably kicked his teeth in, as I should like to do to Leofric. I swear, I used to like that man, but something must have changed since I saw him fall at Hastings.”

“Perhaps you simply became a man in the meantime.”

'Perhaps you simply became a man in the meantime.'

“And he didn’t. That may be it.”

“Well, I used to run off all the time when I was a lad. No harm ever came to me, and the boy already knows how to use a sword, which was – and still is – more than I can say for myself. He’ll show up again this afternoon, or in a few days at worst.”

“No doubt. But as for you, Squire, you remind me, I want to see you this afternoon after you’ve taken off your cap and apron and feel like being a man again. And bring your sword. I should like to know what kind of knight you’ll make if you never learn how to use it.”

'I should like to know what kind of knight you'll make if you never learn how to use it.'

“No kind of knight!” he laughed. “I live in mortal fear that His Majesty will start a war simply to have an opportunity to get me on a battlefield and knight me.”

“He doesn’t have to get you on a battlefield, you know. He’s King – he can knight his horse if he likes. Even Lord Hwala has the authority to create knights, as was granted his grandfather by King Canute.”

'Even Lord Hwala has the authority to create knights.'

“In that case, I shall simply live in mortal fear. Now, take my wee lady and let me get back to my soap and my duster. The monkey life is the only life for me, and you can tell His Majesty so.”

Alred laughed. “I shall make something of you, yet.”

“I shall never be more than your pet monkey. Greet Gunnilda for me,” he said, waving Alred to the door.

'Greet Gunnilda for me.'

“I shall give her a great, deep kiss and tell her you sent it. And if you don’t like that, bring your sword this afternoon and tell me so,” Alred laughed as he ducked outside, with Margaret giggling in his arms.

Alred laughed as he ducked outside, with Margaret giggling in his arms.