Duchess Matilda sat wearily in the chair in the corner.

Duchess Matilda sat wearily in the chair in the corner. Leila looked at her, hoping she would lift her eyes to her so that she might speak, but the Duchess stared at Iylaine and Gwynn, who were playing on the floor.

“Sir Leila?” Iylaine said suddenly.


“Do they have tigers in your country?”


“Like this?” she said, holding up a yellow cat toy that was striped with black.

“Yes, we have such cats.”

“No, big cats! Big like horses.”

“No, we have no big cats.”

“Oh. I like tigers,” the girl said.

“I like tigers too,” Gwynn said after her.

“You like everything Baby likes,” the Duchess said.

'You like everything Baby likes.'

“No, she doesn’t! She doesn’t like Malcolm,” Iylaine said.

“Do you like him?” Leila laughed softly. “I shall tell him so.”


“But he likes you,” Leila said.

“I know,” she groaned. “That’s why he calls me names and pinches my arms till they’re black and blue.”

“That’s how you know how much they like you!” Matilda laughed. “Simply count the bruises.” She stopped laughing suddenly and looked at Leila at last.

She stopped laughing suddenly and looked at Leila at last.

“He has never made bruises on me,” Leila said quietly.

“I’m glad.”

“Did you see what he did to his – to Lady Eadgith?”

“Yes, of course,” Matilda said hesitantly.

'Yes, of course.'

“I did not see. I have never seen her. And none have told me what he did, but I have heard it was a bad work.”

Matilda looked uneasily down at the children, but the girls seemed to be busy playing. “He hit her face. She looked dreadful for a week or two – her eye, and the rest. And he also – ” She stopped and looked at Iylaine for a moment. “They were in her bedchamber, you see, and it was night, and – ”

“I see.” That was what she had been trying to learn.

Matilda shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

Matilda shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

“Do you think he will return?” Leila asked.

“I suppose he will. He is looking for his son now.”

“He should have looked earlier.”

“Do you think so?”

“I always told him so.”

'I always told him so.'

“You did?” Matilda seemed surprised.


They sat and watched the children for a few moments, but Leila wanted to learn something else, and finally she dared. “Is it true he has wrote a letter to Sigefrith?”

“He did. Didn’t anyone tell you? He was going to Denmark when he wrote. He still hadn’t found young Sigefrith. I hope he has, by now.”

“Did you see the letter?”

'Did you see the letter?'

“No, I didn’t. Alred did.”

“I don’t like to ask him,” she said, looking down at her lap. She could not talk about Leofric with Alred, not since her husband had gone away without even a farewell. She realized that they were two very different sorts of men, and it was humiliating to her, somehow, to talk about her husband’s faults with a man who did not share them.

“I suppose he only said that Haakon’s daughter was expecting a baby, and to send Sigefrith there. I don’t know. Didn’t Sigefrith tell you?”

“No. There must have been nothing to me in the letter.”

“I suppose not. Otherwise Sigefrith would not have failed to tell you.”

Leila blinked back tears.

Leila blinked back tears.

“I prefer to believe that Leofric would fail in his duty before Sigefrith,” Matilda explained.

“He is a good man, too.”

“Who, too?”

'Who, too?'

“Sigefrith and your husband.”

“Oh, yes, they are,” Matilda agreed, leaning back in her chair and folding her hands across her belly. “But we must see what we can do about Leofric,” she said generously of a sudden. “He’s not a bad man, you know. Is he?”

“He was not bad before we came here.”

“He wasn’t?”

'He wasn't?'

“Sometimes he was bad in Denmark.”

“When he was drinking?”


“I thought so,” Matilda nodded. “Some men are merry when they drink, like Alred, and some are melancholy, like Sigefrith, and some are mean, like Leofric. I believe that if we can convince Leofric to drink less, we will already have a much gooder man, don’t you think?”

“Better, not gooder,” Iylaine corrected from the floor, as Noah and Shem fought ruthlessly beside the ark.

'Better, not gooder.'

The two women looked at her in alarm. “Were you listening to us, Baby?” the Duchess asked.

“I can’t help it,” Iylaine said. “I have elf ears.”

Leila and Matilda looked at one another, trying to remember what they might have said that they wouldn’t like a little girl to hear.

“Oh, well,” Matilda shrugged after a moment. “She will learn it all someday.”

“I hope not,” Leila said.

'She will learn it all someday.'