Sigefrith went humming softly down the dark corridor.

Sigefrith went humming softly down the dark corridor. Alred had composed a new song, and he, Sigefrith, Egelric, and Matilda had conspired to set a bawdy verse to it that evening. He chuckled now in the middle of his tune at the thought of it.

Maud had gone to bed early, claiming a headache, but Sigefrith suspected she had not approved of their little fun. Alred was Dionysus himself when he allowed himself to drink, and he did have a way of drawing others into the revelry.

Only Maud proved unmovable. She had always been a bit stiff, to use Alred’s term, but her late piety had frozen her solid – again to quote Alred. However, she was charming enough with him when they were alone and wine was not involved. And he thought the fact that she had not sneered at him in months was worth the extra stiffness.

It was out of respect for her that he was in the corridor now, on the way to his study. He would write a letter to Theobald, and by the time that was done, most of the wine should have left his head, and Maud would be deeply enough asleep that she would not notice his arrival anyway.



He stopped humming and listened. A lamp was lit in Eadgith’s room, and he stepped closer to the door.

“Sigefrith? Is that you?”

“It is,” he called softly through the barred window. “Do you need anything?”

“No – just a moment.”

He saw her come to the door, and heard the sound of a lock being opened. So she still locked her door, though they had not heard from Leofric in a month.

“Sigefrith,” she smiled when she opened the door. She was wearing only her nightgown, and Sigefrith hesitated in the doorway. It was a modest enough gown, but even so…

'She smiled when she opened the door.'

“Come in,” she said. “Couldn’t you sleep? Neither could I.”

“Do you need anything?” he asked again.

“I need someone to talk with me. Won’t you come in, cousin?”

He stepped inside, and she closed and locked the door again.

“Have you so little faith in my strength that you lock your door even when I am here to defend you?” he asked, trying to laugh.

'Have you so little faith in my strength?'

“No, I’m not afraid when you’re here, Sigefrith. It’s only a habit that I should not like to lose.”

“I’m sorry that it should be necessary.”

“You aren’t the one who should be sorry, and the one who should be isn’t. It is the way things are. Won’t you sit down?” she asked, indicating a chair standing against the wall beside the bed.

“If you will.”

'If you will.'

“Do you mind if I sit on the bed? Your beds are so soft here, Sigefrith. And perhaps you will tell me a story so that I may sleep,” she smiled.

“I don’t mind where you sit, although the only stories I know involve large amounts of gore. Caedwulf asks for nothing else. Is there something troubling you that prevents you from sleeping?” he asked as he sat.

“Oh, Sigefrith, you know that I shall not be entirely at ease in my mind until I have my son in my arms again. But tonight I was merely thinking. I was thinking happy thoughts,” she said softly as she sat on the edge of her bed, smiling down into her lap.

'I was thinking happy thoughts.'

“That’s not the most disagreeable way to spend a sleepless night.”

“I imagine there are other, better ways, but I have never been taught them,” she said.

“What were you thinking tonight?” Sigefrith asked, troubled by his interpretation of what she was saying.

“Oh!” she laughed, blushing beneath her freckles. And then she turned her face away, and Sigefrith thought he saw a quiver run over it.

She turned her face away, and Sigefrith thought he saw a quiver run over it.

“You needn’t tell me if my question was indiscreet, of course.”

“Oh, no. I suppose there are some things I may not tell, but there are others I may. I was thinking how happy I am to have found you again, Sigefrith. I had accepted Leofric’s death as part of God’s plan, but I could not accept yours when I heard of it. I had always thought… as long as you lived…” Her voice trailed off, and she stretched out on the bed.

“And neither Leofric nor I were dead. I suppose that is what comes of mortals trying to see God’s plan.”

'I suppose that is what comes of mortals trying to see God's plan.'

“I am not certain that the plan that caused Leofric to come back to life came from God.”

“You shouldn’t think such things, Eadgith,” Sigefrith said softly.

“Come closer, Sigefrith. I can’t hear you.”

“I can speak more loudly.”

“Come closer, rather, and continue to speak softly.”

He dragged his chair closer to the bed and sat again.

'He dragged his chair closer to the bed and sat again.'

“But we shouldn’t speak of him tonight. I told you I was thinking of happy thoughts.”

“That’s true.”

“Didn’t we have fun with Alred and Matilda tonight?”

Sigefrith chuckled. “I apologize for our vulgarity.”

“Oh, it’s all as if I were young again. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I only wish Cenwulf were merrier.”

'I wouldn't have it any other way.'

“And that Colburga were here.”

“That, of course. But I like your friend Egelric. He seems a man that it takes a while to know, but it’s worth the trouble in the end. I’m sorry he doesn’t spend more time here.”

“Oh, he and Alred are inseparable. I’m quite jealous at times.”

“You’re always fighting over him, from what I’ve heard.”

“I can borrow him to work for me, but not to play with me, unfortunately, unless I can get Alred along with him.”

“So much the better, if you can. Alred hasn’t changed, has he?”

'Alred hasn't changed, has he?'

“Oh, he has. In many ways. He’s a better man than just about anyone I know. Who would have believed it ten years ago? But he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, as you have seen.”

“I shall look for the sky to lose its sun before Alred loses his sense of humor.”

“I don’t know,” Sigefrith sighed. “I dread to think what would happen if he should lose Matilda.”

“They are a pair, aren’t they? I like to see them together to remind myself that there is such a thing in the world as love between a man and a woman. She was simply glued to him all evening.”

'She was simply glued to him all evening.'

“Oh, she’s an affectionate little one, that lady is,” Sigefrith laughed, “not to use a less flattering term.”

“Any term you could use could not be unflattering under the circumstances. However, she is affectionate. She’s nothing like Maud, is she?”

“Matilda? No, they don’t have much in common, it’s true, but there are a few things. Maud is no wanton like Matilda, but she’s affectionate enough in her way.”

“Is she? I hadn’t seen.”

“Come, now! Tonight I had her in my lap until she went to bed.”

“True, but you put her there.”

“Well, what of that? She seemed to enjoy her perch.”

'Well, what of that?'

“Perhaps. But haven’t you noticed that she is never spontaneously affectionate? She never kisses you before being kissed, or touches you before being touched. That is what I have observed, anyway. Of course I have not seen how she is when you are alone. Perhaps she is only shy around others.”

“She is indeed shy. It helps me to understand Maud to think of her as being like a deer. If I am very gentle, very kind, and very patient, she may come to lay her muzzle in my palm. But one sudden movement from me and she runs away again.”

'One sudden movement from me and she runs away again.'

“Is she afraid of you?”

“I certainly hope not. I don’t believe so.”

“You never hit her, do you, Sigefrith?” Eadgith asked wistfully.

“Certainly not! Certainly not. I could never.”

“She is a fortunate woman,” she sighed.

“The good fortune is all on my side. I only try to be worthy of her.”

'I only try to be worthy of her.'

“That a man like you believes himself unworthy of her, that is good fortune indeed.”

“Perhaps we are both fortunate then.”

“I doubt she realizes it.”

“Why do you say that, Eadgith?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “She doesn’t know you as I do. And she doesn’t know what other sorts of men there are. You took her from her abbey and keep her here with only you and Alred and Cenwulf around her – what does she know of the world, and of what men may do?”

'What does she know of the world?'

“She saw your face.”

“She may have found it more convenient to explain that away by thinking me deserving of it.”

“Eadgith,” Sigefrith frowned. “Don’t say such things. I hope you don’t believe it, and I hope you don’t believe my wife believes it. I thought you might know her better than that by now.”

“I don’t believe anyone can know her in a mere two months. I wonder whether even you know her, after all.”

Sigefrith stared at her, feeling inexplicably angry. “I wish you wouldn’t speak of her, then, if you admit you don’t know her.”

'I wish you wouldn't speak of her, then, if you admit you don't know her.'

“I don’t wish to speak of your wife, anyway, Sigefrith,” she sighed. “Indeed, I find that I am growing tired and don’t wish to speak at all. You will forgive me if I ask you to leave me now?”

“Of course I shall forgive you. I should like to write a letter tonight, in any event. I shall bid you good night,” he said, rising. “Shall I put out the lamp?”

“No. Leave it. I shall rise to lock the door after you are gone.”

'I shall rise to lock the door after you are gone.'