Cenwulf stood idly before the window of his high bedroom.

Cenwulf stood idly before the window of his high bedroom, looking out onto the gray and moody sky. Baldwin played on the floor behind him, but Baldwin was a quiet baby and did not require much supervision.

Nor did his fields and farms need much supervision these days. The harvest was in, and the season’s great work was done. The pigs worked harder than the men now, grubbing around for the first fall of acorns. Soon the woods behind the walls would be black and bare, but for now they still glowed like gold beneath an iron sky.

All was as it had been a year ago at this time. Colburga was dead and in the ground and damp with rain, all of their children but one alongside. He had already lived a year without her. At the time it had seemed inconceivable, insurmountable – even to live a year! But life was crueler than that, and went on, whether he would come or no.

But life was crueler than that.

He took a deep breath to test his lungs: clear. His back and arms were still strong, his eyes were still keen, and he could still eat anything or nothing and thrive on it. He might not yet have lived even half his allotted life. And he had lived only thirteen of those years with her!

All he had now was their son. Baldwin had known his mother for an hour. He had stared into her face as Cenwulf had never seen a baby stare, and he knew Baldwin would recognize her when they met again, but meanwhile he would grow up never knowing her. It was an inexpressible loss, which meant he would never be able to make the boy understand. He, at least, had had those thirteen years.

A knock came at the door, and Baldwin looked up at him for reassurance. The boy did not like strangers.

A knock came at the door, and Baldwin looked up at him for reassurance.

“Enter,” he said dully. It was still early enough in the day to be anyone come about anything. Somehow he didn’t care to be bothered just then – but he was lord.

“My lord the Baron awaits you below, my lord, with Sir Raedwald and his lady.”

“With whom?”

“A Sir Raedwald, my lord, and his lady. I do not know them.”

“Friends of Theobald’s,” he muttered. “Come up, Baldwin,” he said to the boy. “Let’s go to your nurse.”

'Let's go to your nurse.'

He did not like the woman who served as nurse to the boy. Gentlewomen were hard to come by in the valley, so he had had to settle for the old maiden daughter of one of his tenants. He would almost have preferred to leave Baldwin with Githa and Ethelmund, who were gentlefolk at least, and loved Baldwin well – but, indeed, they loved him too well. One morning he had heard Baldwin calling Ethelmund Papa – innocently, of course, emulating little Brandt – but then he knew he would have to bring him home.

“Good day, Theobald,” he said as he came in to the room below, where Theobald and his visitors awaited.

'Good day, Theobald.'

With him were a man and a woman, both as tall and as red-​​haired as Theobald himself, though they were rounder and less rugged in the face. This Sir Raedwald had a bit of the look of a scapegrace, though his lady seemed demure enough.

“I thought you had brought me some of your visitors, but now it looks as though you have brought me some of your cousins,” he said to Theobald.

'It looks as though you have brought me your cousins.'

My cousins?” Theobald laughed. “My dear Cenwulf, these are your cousins!”

“Mine?” he asked. Raedwald… he knew of a cousin Raedwald. It was his father’s sister’s son – and, indeed, the son of Colburga’s uncle – the Baron’s brother’s son. But he had never met any of that lot – his aunt had left for the continent before his own birth, and had died only a few years later, giving birth to her second child.

Raedwald laughed at his discomposure. “Not so happy to see us, now you know we belong to you!” He spoke like Colburga – as an Englishman, but with a hint of an accent still.

“Welcome cousin!” he said, feeling slightly dazed. “My father’s sister’s own son?”

“Even so.”

“Will you introduce me to your wife? I fear I don’t remember her name.”

“My wife? Think you a wretch like me could win so fair a prize? This is even my sister, Edris,” he said with a close look at Cenwulf to watch his reaction.

'This is even my sister, Edris.'

Cenwulf realized his reaction must have been worth the scrutiny at that moment, although the lady’s herself was perhaps more so, as her fair skin showed the blush much better than his own.

This was Edris. This was the woman his father and his father’s brother had meant him to marry. This was Colburga’s beloved cousin, who had grown terribly ill shortly before she was to have come to England, and been sent to a convent to recover or, as they expected, to die. And the Baroness, not wanting to risk the loss of the alliance – for Cenwulf’s brothers had already married Englishwomen – had sent her own daughter in her place.

After their betrothal had been decided, he had sent Edris a few letters, telling her of his home at Wigen, of his life with Sigefrith at Hwaelnaess, and of his plans and prospects of course – dreadfully dry stuff, he realized now, and even a passionate woman would have had a difficult time falling in love with him over such. The girl who had replied had showed no sign of passion, in any case, and had responded in kind.

Cenwulf realized his reaction must have been worth the scrutiny at that moment.

He had not doubted she would make a fine wife and mother, and had been content – and had even been saddened to learn how ill she was. But when Colburga had come bounding into Sigefrith’s hall and asked who was to be her husband – oh, half the men had cried ‘I’! – and he, who of course had said nothing, realized that this laughing, luminous woman was looking for him out of all the knights and lords assembled there… why, he had scarcely ever thought of that modest, industrious, pious little Edris girl again.

Suddenly it felt like a betrayal.

Theobald kindly distracted them by saying, “I’ve had the pleasure of entertaining your cousins the past two days, and was more than pleased to accompany them here, since I was able to bring Githa and the girls to the castle at the same time.”

“Sigefrith mentioned Githa wanted to come for the Queen,” Cenwulf mumbled, still staring at his cousin.

Cenwulf mumbled, still staring at his cousin.

“Is she any better? I left Githa there and came directly here with your cousins.”

“I suppose not.”

“A shame.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, cousin,” Cenwulf said suddenly, realizing he hadn’t even greeted her yet.

“I also.”

“You’re probably wondering why we’re here,” Raedwald said with a grin that almost seemed to have something malicious in it.

“My cousins need no excuse to visit me.”

“No, but we needed a reason,” he chuckled. “You may thank the Baroness for the surprise.”

'No, but we needed a reason.'

“Raedwald,” Edris scolded softly.

But Raedwald continued. “I was on my way to Ireland, and fool enough to stop by to pay her a visit. Seems to think I’m her own private messenger, she does. Next thing I know, I’m setting my little caged songbird of a sister here free, and then shipping her off to be imprisoned here. What do you think of that, cousin?”

“I don’t understand,” Cenwulf frowned.

“My aunt means – ” Edris began, but Raedwald interrupted her.

“The Baroness doesn’t know what sort of woman you have picked out to care for her grandson, but apparently she doesn’t trust you to do it properly. Fortunately for her, she has kept my little sister here stored away in case of future need.”

'Apparently she doesn't trust you to do it properly.'


“She’s not as fresh as she used to be, but she’s unspoiled!” Raedwald cried bitterly.

“Sir!” Cenwulf barked. Raedwald took a step backwards despite himself.

“My aunt is simply concerned over her grandson,” Edris explained. Her voice had the velvety hush of a woman who had spent many years in a place where voices were never raised except, perhaps, in song. And unlike her brother, her accent was as heavy as Brandt’s. “She will have no other.”

Cenwulf did not need to be reminded that Colburga had been the doughty Baroness’s only child.

“Her grandson!” Raedwald sniffed. “Of course, her grandson requires a mother.”

'Of course, her grandson requires a mother.'

Cenwulf did not need to be reminded that Baldwin had none.

“My cousin,” Edris began pleadingly.

“Theobald, would you be so kind as to bring Baldwin to us here?” Cenwulf said. When Theobald had gone out, Cenwulf said to Raedwald, “It may interest you to know, then, that the woman I have chosen to be my son’s nurse is a very capable and very devout woman. The Baroness has nothing to fear.”

“I don’t believe the Baroness was thinking of the child’s nurse,” Raedwald said.

“Brother!” Edris protested miserably.

“You and I may continue this discussion at another time,” Cenwulf said curtly. “I do not like the way you speak of your sister, or of my mother the Baroness.”

They stared at one another until Theobald came in with Baldwin.

They stared at one another until Theobald came in with Baldwin.

“I’m pleased to see he let you hold him,” Cenwulf said. “Normally he’s terrified of this dreadful red giant man, aren’t you, Baldwin?”

“I told him I would take him to Papa,” Theobald explained as he handed Baldwin to his father.

“Then I’m pleased to know how easy it would be for someone to kidnap the boy. Learn a little discretion, would you, son?”

“Papa!” the boy said happily, patting his father’s cheek.

“That’s right. Now, let’s meet your cousins. This is Sir Raedwald and this is Edris. Can you say Edris?” The boy only hid his face in his father’s neck. “He’s shy,” Cenwulf explained apologetically.

'He's shy.'

“So is Edris; they shall get along marvelously,” Raedwald said. “But he may find that Mama is easier to say.”

“Ach, Raedwald!” Edris wailed.

“Sir, I do not like your manners,” Cenwulf snapped.

“Then I shall not impose them upon you any longer. Good day.” He pushed past Cenwulf and went out the door.

The three of them stood awkwardly silent for a moment.

The three of them stood awkwardly silent for a moment, until Baldwin peeked out from Cenwulf’s neck to see what the problem was and spied Edris. She smiled at him, and after a moment’s consideration, he smiled shyly back.

“Might I hold him?” she asked.

“I hope he will allow it. Will you be a good boy, Baldwin, and let your cousin Edris hold you?”

At once, Baldwin hid his face again.

At once, Baldwin hid his face again.

“He’s shy. I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” she said softly.

“So am I, I suppose,” Cenwulf said awkwardly.

“Luckily, I am not,” Theobald said brightly. “I was thinking that I should like to see how Githa and the girls are getting on, and I have been meaning to pay the Lady Eadgith a visit for some time now. What’s more, I know how you eat here, Cenwulf, and I should hate to ask Edris to endure that after she has been enjoying Githa’s cook. Why don’t we all go over to visit Sigefrith until you have made arrangements for something that might be called hospitality over here?”

“I am not certain that Sigefrith is in the mood for entertaining, either, but I suppose things are well-​​regulated enough over there to go on without him.”

“I know that Lady Eadgith will do the honors. Shall we go?”

Cenwulf did not like the idea of imposing himself and his cousins on Sigefrith at such a time, but it seemed that almost anything would be preferable to what he was presently trying to endure.

It seemed that almost anything would be preferable to what he was presently trying to endure.