'What game is that, Cubby?'

“What game is that, Cubby?” Sigefrith chuckled.

“He holds my hand,” Colban said. The boy was kneeling on the floor behind his baby brother’s head, waving his hand above Harold’s face.

“He’s still small to know how to work his hands yet, Cubby. He doesn’t realize that they’re part of him. I believe he’s surprised every time he finds himself holding something.”

Colban giggled. “Good baby,” he cooed, and he bent down to kiss his brother on the lips. “Upside down!”

Sigefrith sighed and turned back to the chest to finish packing his bag. Colban was remarkably affectionate for a boy, especially considering that one would expect him to be jealous of his baby brother, for Maud worshipped the baby and tended to ignore him.

Colban crawled around to the side of the baby, presumably so he would not have to kiss him “upside-​​down”, and kissed him again. “Sweet baby,” he sighed. “What a good boy!”

He was only repeating what he heard Maud saying from morning to evening. Harold was not even a particularly good baby – he was very fussy in fact, and often cried for no reason that anyone could find. But he was quiet enough now, content to lie on his back and look up at his brother with his wide, dark eyes – Maud’s eyes.

“Good baby” – kiss – “Good baby” – kiss – “Good – ”

Sigefrith stopped digging through his shirts and looked up. Maud had come in, as silent as a deer, and stood before the children. Colban was petrified at the sight of her.

Maud had come in, as silent as a deer, and stood before the children.

In an instant, her face was livid. “You get away from him!” she hissed, and she bent down and knocked Colban over with the back of her arm.

Sigefrith heard the thump of his son’s little head on the rug, and he felt a surge of rage come up from his stomach and flow out his arms to his hands – for a moment he believed he would strangle her with them.

Colban did not cry – he only lay helpless on his back with his face twisted up tightly, as if to hold the tears inside.

Maud gently lifted Harold from the rug and her face softened at once into maternal bliss. “My sweet baby,” she cooed.

Maud gently lifted Harold from the rug and her face softened at once into maternal bliss.

“What have you done?” Sigefrith asked – it seemed as if it had taken him ages to speak, though it had been mere seconds since Maud had come in. He did not recognize his own voice.

“Papa?” Colban whimpered as loudly as he dared, hoping to be rescued but not wishing his mother to remember he was there.

Sigefrith bent to him at once. But he did not know what to say to comfort him – he only stroked the boy’s head with a trembling hand and watched his wife.

He only stroked the boy's head with a trembling hand and watched his wife.

He could neither blame her nor forgive her. And he could not allow anyone to hurt his son – not even his own wife.

But he was leaving tomorrow.

“Would you like to go for a ride, Cubby?” he asked suddenly.

“Yes,” Colban said with his thin, brave smile, but there were tears in his dark eyes – Maud’s eyes.

'Would you like to go for a ride, Cubby?'