Eadgith's voice was trembling.

“Sigefrith?” Eadgith’s voice was trembling, but he thought he heard a smile in it. She must have heard he had had letters, and guessed why he had sent for her.

“There you are, dear,” he said gently, turning away from the window.

'There you are, dear.'

She was indeed smiling, looking up at him with her blue eyes swimming in tears. He hated to disappoint her.

“What is it, Sigefrith? You sent for me?”

“The Baron has sent letters along despite the hour, for he thought one of them might be urgent news.”

“Letters?” she gasped, her face losing some of its radiance.


“Why, yes, dear. There is one from your husband.”

“My husband?” she repeated, taking a step backwards as if his very letters might be dangerous. “My son?” she asked in a whisper.

“He hasn’t seen your son. He is still searching.”

Two of the tears he had seen earlier slipped down her cheeks.

Two of the tears he had seen earlier slipped down her cheeks.

“He’s a man, Eadgith. You mustn’t think of him as a little boy lost and alone and frightened, but as a young man gone out to make his own way. He shall tire of his freedom soon enough and come back to his Mama.”

She swallowed and nodded.

“Let me tell you what was in the letter, dear cousin, for there is a surprise after all, though I do not know how you will like it.”

“What is it?” she asked.

Sigefrith chuckled nervously. “His father has been to see Haakon.”

“Has Sigefrith been to him?”

'Has Sigefrith been to him?'

“No, dear, but it seems that Haakon is looking for him as well.”

“But I sent him a letter when we came here, to explain. Didn’t he receive it?”

“Leofric didn’t say, but Haakon has his own reasons for looking for the boy, it seems. He is demanding that we send Sigefrith to him by the first Sunday of Advent, or failing that, three half-​​marks of silver.”

“Has he killed a man?” she asked, paling.

“It wouldn’t surprise me, but that isn’t why. My dear, your young Sigefrith will be a father very soon.”

'My dear, your young Sigefrith will be a father very soon.'

“Oh!” she gasped and stood with her mouth open as if he had punched her in the stomach – though his mind shrank away from the thought when he remembered she might know what that felt like.

“What’s wrong, cousin? Is it that Sigefrith will be a father or that you will be a grandmother?” he gently teased.

“Oh, Sigefrith! But he’s only a boy!”

Sigefrith laughed. “And you’re only a girl!”

Sigefrith laughed.

“Don’t laugh, Sigefrith! Oh, but I never thought of such a thing! Surely it isn’t possible!”

“I assure you it is, having been that age myself, over half my life ago. I’m only sorry he didn’t content himself with the maids, as I did.”

“Oh!” she wailed, realizing, he thought, that there was a girl involved too.

“It’s Haakon’s eldest daughter, as a matter of fact,” he said before she could ask. “Hence the three half-​​marks of silver. What’s her name?” he asked, turning towards the letter on his table.

“Ragnhild,” she supplied. “Oh, but she’s only a baby! Sigefrith!”

“She must be older than that, dear.”

'She must be older than that, dear.'

“I believe she’s scarcely older than Eadgith.”

“Even Eadgith is old enough, isn’t she?”

“I suppose,” she admitted.

“Weren’t you hoping to marry Sigefrith to one of Haakon’s daughters anyway?”

'Weren't you hoping to marry Sigefrith to one of Haakon's daughters anyway?'

“Yes, but that was before I – before we – I don’t know.”

“The lad could do worse than the great-​​granddaughter of a King of Norway, Eadgith, though I doubt his father-​​in-​​law will thank him for forcing his hand.”

“Sigefrith is descended from Swein Forkbeard, who defeated your King of Norway and ruled his country for a time!” she protested.

“So is – what’s her name?” Sigefrith laughed.

'So is--what's her name?'


“So is Ragnhild then, through her mother. And she is also a great-​​granddaughter of Canute, and Sigefrith only of Canute’s sister. Come, Eadgith. You and Haakon can trade insults over your families if you like, but I believe it’s a fine thing, if a little premature. Your boy may regret growing up so quickly, but who knows? Perhaps he loves the girl. Ah, I do not doubt he does, at his age.”

“My baby!”

“Your baby with a baby, eh, Eadgith? What a lovely grandmother you will make, though!”

“Will I?” she laughed softly, laying her hands on his shoulders.

'Will I?'

“With your freckles! You could not look more like a girl. I cannot conceive that you are older than I.”

“You are cruel to remind me, Sigefrith.”

“Scarcely older. Anyway, I don’t have the advantage of your freckles.”

'Anyway, I don't have the advantage of your freckles.'

“Oh, my freckles! How you used to tease me for my freckles!”

“I still do, as you see. But now you know that I always did like them.”

“You did?”

“I did!” he laughed. “But unlike your son, I was wise enough to content myself with the maids,” he winked.

“Oh, Sigefrith!” she breathed, stepping closer to him. “What if you hadn’t?”

'What if you hadn't?'

“Then young Sigefrith would have been my son,” he said, taking a step back, “and I should be wanting to tan his hide as his own father does now. Instead I think it a fine little joke. But if he doesn’t show up before Advent, the joke will be on me, for I doubt you or Leofric will be coming up with three half-​​marks of silver any time soon!”

“But what shall we do?”

“Don’t worry, cousin,” he said, trying to slip away from the reach of her hands. “I have the silver. I should rather see the poor girl married in time, mind you, and not only because I have better uses for it. His father is probably in Denmark by now. Let’s hope he finds him there. Leofric sends his apologies in the letter, Eadgith. I believe he is sorry.”

'I believe he is sorry.'

Her hands dropped. “He always is. Until the next time.”

“I’m sorry, Eadgith,” he sighed.

“Never mind,” she said, shaking her hands as if to rid them of something. “Is there anything else in the letter?” she asked dully.

“Nothing in particular.”

“Nothing for her?” she asked with a hint of spite in her voice.

'Nothing for her?'

“Nothing for her, no. He wrote to me, and only begged that I give you his apologies.”

“Then I may go?” she asked, turning to the door.

“Of course. Good night, cousin.”

“Good night, my lord,” she said without looking back.