Alred scratched his head anxiously as he came into the bedroom.

Alred scratched his head anxiously as he came into the bedroom. How would he ever tell Matilda?

She turned to him as he opened the door, and he saw she held little Cynewulf in her arms. Need she look so maternal?

She held little Cynewulf in her arms.

“There you are!” she scolded. “Baby and I have been mad with impatience. Sigefrith sent for Cenwulf while I was with Edris, and then when I got home I found that he had sent for you, too. What was it this time?”

“You are only angry because you were left out. Let me see the Old Man first,” he said, taking the baby from her arms.

'Let me see the old man first.'

“Don’t try to distract me with the baby.”

“I shan’t. Look, Matilda. We need to talk about this boy’s head. I know he was born early, but couldn’t you have at least put some hair on him beforehand? He will indeed look like an old man if he never grows anything more than this fuzz. You have more hair on your upper lip than this boy has on his whole cranium.”


“I know, you can’t do anything about it now. About the boy’s head, anyway. For your lip, you might get a valet.”



“I’m only joking, Matilda. Even Magnus has more of a mustache than you do.”

“Barely,” Matilda snickered, but suddenly Alred doubted whether it had been wise to make a joke at Magnus’s expense just then.

“Now that I have insulted my son, my wife, and my cousin-​in-​law, I shall get to the matter at hand.”

'I shall get to the matter at hand.'

“Oh, indeed! What was your little enclave all about then?”

“Allow me to speak and I shall tell you. In short, Matilda, we have just learned that the illustrious and enormous King of Danes has drained his last tankard and polished off his last haunch of mutton.”

“Swein is dead?” she gasped.

'Swein is dead?'

“I believe you have said it short where I said it long, after all.”

“Who is king?”

“One of his sons, Harald.”

“Do we know him?”

'Do we know him?'

“Sigefrith believes he has met him. They are of about the same age. We shall ask Leofric whether he saw him.”

“My God, Swein has been king as long as I can remember. What shall we do now?”

“You and I shall talk. Allow me to put this tired old man to bed and we shall see.”

“This can’t be good news,” she murmured.

'This can't be good news.'

“It may get worse,” he sighed.

“What do you mean?” she asked, turning abruptly to him.

“Matilda, you are as good as a man. Tell me what you would do if you were Sigefrith.”

She pressed a finger against her bottom lip and thought. Alred knew she was flattered by appeals to her masculinity. It would be much easier if she thought of these things herself.

“If I were Sigefrith, I suppose I should go see. A letter is not enough when you don’t know the sort of person with whom you are corresponding.”

“And Sigefrith agrees with you. Now, if you were Sigefrith, and you had to go to Denmark, whom would you take with you?”

'Whom would you take with you?'



“Because he’s a Dane.”

“Now you’re not thinking like a Sigefrith. Sigefrith is already a Dane. He doesn’t need two. Guess again.”

“Oh, Alred—not you!”

“Thus you have thought of me, and wish you hadn’t. Sigefrith probably did the same, but I am the best he has. And do you know why?”

“Because Magnus and Godwine are there.”

“Very good!”

“But Alred…” she said softly, as a woman now. “You will be away for months.”

'You will be away for months.'

“You won’t forbid me.”

“Of course I shan’t forbid you. You must go, but I may be unhappy about it, mayn’t I? When do you leave?”

“You shall have plenty of opportunities to profit from my presence over the next few days and nights, my beauty, but we must leave before long if we want to return before the autumn storms.”

“Who else is going? Only you two?”

“That’s the bad news, Matilda,” he sighed.

“Why? You’re not taking Egelric too, are you?”

“Certainly not. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is coming back here to take care of you and my children, and incidentally my land and my people.”

“Who then?”

'Who then?'

“Let’s see… young Sigefrith and Eirik are coming, because we shall try to take a Norse ship.”

“What? Why?”

“Young Sigefrith has letters of introduction from Haakon Tryggvason as well as old Haakon Raudi. We can get far with those among the Norsemen. Sigefrith and I are outlaws, remember. And we should find a Norse ship more easily than a Danish on the west coast.”

“So you will be in young Sigefrith’s train?” she snickered.

“I shall be his valet and Sigefrith will be his groom, for all I know.”

“Will you shave his upper lip?”

“It is true that the boy has more hair on his lip than you or Magnus.”

“More than the two of us combined. Who else?”

'More than the two of us combined.'

“Ah, Matilda. You insist.”

“Well, who? Leofric?”

“No, dear. My son.”

“Dunstan?” she gasped.

“No. Yware.”

“Yware?” Now she was white. “He’s only six years old.”

'He's only six years old.'

“He will be seven in a few months.”

“Then ask me again in a few months.”


“Why?” she snapped. He saw that in her fright, she was growing angry.

“Matilda, did you ever ask yourself why Magnus does not fail to send a little something for Yware with every letter? And only now and then for the other children?”

“He likes Yware best,” she said softly. He saw that she understood, but would not admit it.

“He has never met any of them.”

“But I have written about them.”

“Matilda…” he said, trying to take her hands, but she darted away.


“My baby boy,” she murmured.

“Matilda, you know how it is. My brother was only a few months older than our Yware when he went to Lord Raedwicc.” He tried to catch her arm, but she stalked away from him.

“That was different! You saw your brother often! When shall I see him again? Shall I ever see him again? Oh, no! You can’t do this to me!”

“Matilda, I’m not saying I won’t bring him home again. I must see what Magnus can offer him. But you know it is what Magnus has in mind. And there is still hope that he will be king one day. It may be years before we meet your cousins again.”

“Then it will be years before we meet Yware again! Alred! Your son!”

He caught her in his arms at last.

He caught her in his arms at last.

“You know I do it for him. Not for you, not for me, and not for Magnus. This valley is too quiet for such a boy. He will do great things one day, but not if we keep him here. Yware is a Godwin or a Harold, not a mere Alred who likes to stay home and watch his fields grow and write poetry.”

She did not reply—she only closed her eyes against the tears and laid her chin on his shoulder, softened, perhaps, by the thought of her Alred, who liked to stay home and watch his fields grow and write poetry, as well as memories of what Godwin and Harold had been. It had been a brilliant stroke. He had won, but he found the victory bittersweet.

She only closed her eyes and laid her chin on his shoulder.