Sigefrith knocked gingerly on the door to the nursery.

Sigefrith knocked gingerly on the door to the nursery. He was uncomfortable around the Queen – she was strange, and… it was awkward. But he wanted to get the boy alone.

“Who is it?”

It was his mother. That was a relief. He would not need to face the Queen alone. “It is only Sigefrith.”

“Oh, but which one?” his mother laughed, but he knew that she knew. “Come in, silly.”

He opened the door, and he could see by the look of disappointment on the Queen’s face that she had not known.

He could see by the look of disappointment on the Queen's face that she had not known.

He bowed politely to the Queen, kissed his mother, and then made another bow to the Princess, but with a wink this time. He liked the frank and dauntless little girl: she was remarkably self-​​confident for such a tiny thing, but not insolent in the least. He thought she would have made a good boy.

“To what do we owe the honor?” his mother asked him.

“I came to borrow the young Prince if I may,” he said, looking down at Colban, who sat alone in a corner with his toy. But once he realized that he was wanted, he got up and trotted across the room, grinning broadly. That smile!

He got up and trotted across the room, grinning broadly.

“Why?” his mother asked, glancing uneasily at the Queen.

“Take me riding!” Colban demanded. Then he remembered: “Please!”

“That’s precisely what I was thinking,” Sigefrith said.

His mother smiled up at him. “My boy is growing quite paternal,” she sighed.

“It will be some years yet before I can take Haakon riding, other than on my knee,” he said, taking Colban into his arms.

He took Colban into his arms.

“Oh, won’t you take me too?” the Princess begged.

“Another time,” he said. “You and I shall run. I shall have to go easily with this little one.”

“I can ride slowly,” she protested.

'I can ride slowly.'

“If you can, I have never seen it,” he said with a wink. “Tomorrow. Word of honor.”

The Princess shrugged and went to sit by her mother.

“May I take him, please?” he asked the Queen.

“Please, Mama?” Colban added.

She only dismissed them with a wave of the back of her hands.

She only dismissed them with a wave of the back of her hands, as if he had asked her whether he might take out the ashes. He gave the boy a little squeeze, thanked the Queen politely, and went out.

Colban clung to his neck as he walked, pondering which horse they might take. “Hmmmmmmm.… Dar-​​yoos? Hmmmmmmm.… Cy-​​roos? Hmmmmmm.… Nebu-​​nezzerd?”

Sigefrith chuckled and gave the boy another squeeze. He was too adorable. “Do you think? I believe you would try to drive Apollo’s chariot if he let you.”

'I believe you would try to drive Apollo's chariot if he let you.'

“Apollo is a bad horse,” Colban said, apparently thinking that he was referring to the Duke’s infamous son of Jupiter.

“So is your Nebu-​​nezzerd,” he said. “And I don’t think we shall take Cyrus or Darius either.”

“I want Cy-​​roos,” Colban pouted.

“Well, we might say good morning to Cyrus first,” he said as they arrived at the stables. “But we shall take my fat old horse for our ride.”

'Well, we might say good morning to Cyrus first.'

That would do. They could step into Cyrus’s stall, and he could look over the boy while the boy was looking over the horse.

“Good morning, Cyrus,” Sigefrith said brightly. “Move over, you great lump, and let us in.”

“Good morning, Cy-​​roos,” Colban cooed once they were inside.

The old stallion blasted them with his warm breath as he sniffed them over.

The old stallion blasted them with his warm breath as he sniffed them over.

“Oh, Cy-​​roos!” Colban sighed ecstatically, patting the horse’s cheek with his fat little hand. Sigefrith knew how slender and how strong those fingers would be someday.

“You love horses don’t you?” he murmured to the boy.

“Yes!” he chimed, gazing at Cyrus in adoration.

“So does your father,” Sigefrith said softly. “I know your father. He would be so proud of you. He wishes he could see you.”

'I know your father.'

Sigefrith had not understood at first. But Malcolm had told him that he would understand in a few weeks, and he had been right. Once he had passed the shock of being handed a red and squalling infant, once he had realized that the red and squalling thing was his son–then he had understood.

Malcolm had told him that it had been like this for him too. He had come with his cousin for the baby’s christening only out of curiosity, he had said. He had wondered what a son of his might look like. The idea had amused him. But when the Queen had handed him the baby… when he had held his son for the first time…

Sigefrith knew how it was. He felt as if he could slay a dragon with his bare hands – he felt as if he could tear a man to pieces with his teeth – he felt as if he could do anything to anybody who would threaten Haakon.

And yet when it came to Haakon himself, he had found himself capable of inexpressible tenderness… he had found himself to be not at all what he thought he was. The world itself was not at all what he had thought it was, for now he saw he had to prepare the way for his son.

But he had his son with him every day. There were times, such as when Hilda made him get up at night and walk with the baby until Haakon fell asleep again, that he thought he had his son too much with him. But he had only to think of Malcolm, and he thanked God he had the chance to walk half the night with his baby son in his arms.

He was deeply touched that Malcolm had chosen to share his secret with him. There were a few men that knew, but they had learned it themselves. Sigefrith was the only person Malcolm had ever told.

Sigefrith was the only person Malcolm had ever told.

He hadn’t intended to tell. They had been together many weeks before he brought Sigefrith home, and he had never so much as hinted about Maud or the baby. But when they had met again, after Sigefrith had spent a few days with his mother, he had found Malcolm greatly disturbed. 

And he had been angry, like a young fool! He had pouted because Malcolm didn’t care to talk or laugh or play with him, like a child!

It was a miracle that Malcolm hadn’t simply stolen away in the night and left him to find his own way to the coast. Instead, he told him what had happened. He told him what he had done.

Sigefrith wondered now whether Malcolm realized just what he had done to the Queen. He said he had frightened her. He said he had upset her. He said she didn’t want to see him. He said it had been a mistake. But he wondered whether Malcolm realized he had stricken her mad.

He wondered whether Malcolm realized he had stricken her mad.

Perhaps he had, for he had not returned to Scotland. When they arrived at the mouth of the Tyne, and Sigefrith had found passage on a merchant ship back to Norway, Malcolm had announced that he felt duty-​​bound to accompany him across the sea. He had long since put off his kilt, and now he put off his burr as well, taking on an exquisite Norman accent and the name Robert. Sigefrith had been too delighted to wonder at it then.

But he had not returned to Scotland even after Sigefrith had been delivered safely to Tryggvason. One evening his new father-​​in-​​law had laughed to inform him that the dark-​​headed Norman who had accompanied him had picked a fight with the hulking son of Haakon Raudi’s son Eirik, and had beaten him with swords and then with fists – and all so that he might demand a berth on the man’s ship, which was even then underway for Brittany. Brittany!

That was all Sigefrith knew, for they had already said their farewells. Malcolm had asked him to take care of his son for him, if he went back to England. Sigefrith had known at once that he would go back. This was something that he could do for Malcolm – for his brother.

When he had first come to his cousin’s castle, he had not paid much attention to his small son. He had not yet dreamed that he would soon be a father himself, nor had he yet dreamed that there was such a man as Malcolm, son of Colban. But now… his heart ached when he merely looked at Colban, son of Malcolm.

It was a miracle that the King had not yet noticed the resemblance.

It was a miracle that the King had not yet noticed the resemblance. To him, it was striking. There was that mouth with its thin smile, the chin, the nose of course, the slant of the eyebrows – even the tawny color of the skin, and the delicately rounded fingers, and the slender legs and arms. If Maud no longer loved Malcolm, then it was perhaps not surprising that she could not stand to see his son. He himself could not look at the boy without seeing the man.

He stroked Colban’s hair even as the boy had stroked the horse’s neck.

“You will see him someday,” he whispered. “He promised.”

'You will see him someday.'