Alred spotted Egelric at the top of the hill, near the highest tower, talking to one of the workmen.

Alred spotted Egelric at the top of the hill, near the highest tower, talking to one of the workmen. Through the years, he had lost in deference and gained in self-​confidence, but he still dressed as he always had, in his maroon peasant shirt “that didn’t show the dirt,” as he always said. He was scarcely distinguishable from the craftsmen who worked under him, except perhaps for the way he carried himself. Alred wondered how high in life Egelric would have to climb before he consented to let his hair grow long and dress like a gentleman. Knight, perhaps?

He was laughing.

But he was laughing, and that in itself was nearly as shocking a change as a new shirt, and one that pleased Alred more. He only hoped that Egelric would not be too disappointed about being called away from his work here.

Alred sent the workman away with a few friendly words and then turned to Egelric.

“Care for a tour?” Egelric asked him with a smile. “As a matter of fact, how did you make it out here without Yware in tow?”

'Care for a tour?'

“You go straight to my point, Egelric.”

“I must be in a hurry, though I didn’t know it.”

“Then I shall attempt to be brief. Egelric, tell me how you have found the situation here after your absence?”

“There are many things that could have been done more quickly, but few that could have been done better. Why? Are you about to tell me that his young lordship was out here directing work in my absence?”

“No, I am come to ask you how well you think work will get along if you spend most of your time at home for the next few months, and only get out here for a day or so each week.”

“Do you need work done on your castle?”

“Not that either,” Alred sighed, shaking his head. “I’m going away.”

'I'm going away.'

“Now then! May I ask where?”

“Sigefrith and I are going to Denmark, for old King Swein is dead, and Sigefrith would like to meet the new King Harald.”

“Swein dead?”

“It is the way of all flesh, and Swein had so much of it that it seems doubly inevitable.”

Egelric only lifted his eyebrows and nodded.

“I need you to take care of my affairs for the next few months. Will you?”

“I shall do anything you ask, but I don’t doubt that Her Grace is perfectly capable of managing everything on her own.”

“Egelric, my wife is a brilliant and capable woman, but for every nine-​and-​ninety brilliant and capable ideas she has, she has one idea so incredibly stupid that I never fail to be dumbfounded, though one would think I would have the habit after fourteen years.”

'One would think I would have the habit after fourteen years.'

“One idiocy out of one hundred ideas is not a bad proportion.”

“That is true. Few men match it. Nevertheless, I should like to have you there to suppress every hundredth idea.”

“Does she come up with them on such a regular schedule?”

“Unfortunately, no. That is why I need you there.”

“As you wish,” he shrugged. “We have worked well together in the past.”

“I need you to do something else for me,” Alred said awkwardly. “Take care of her. I mean—make her laugh.”

“That is your area of expertise, not mine.”

“You do know how to make her laugh, if you allow yourself. If all else fails, get the two of you drunk and sing something I should not like my daughters to overhear.”

Egelric laughed. “You have remarkable faith in our collective virtue.”

'You have remarkable faith in our collective virtue.'

“You’re right. I do. But it’s important that you make her laugh, Egelric, because I fear she will be dreadfully unhappy when I go.”

“She was remarkably brave the last time you went away. I had not dreamed a woman capable of such until that time.”

“Oh, I! She will get along perfectly well even without my admittedly salutary company. Indeed, I am afraid she is furious with me at the moment, and it might be a few weeks before she even begins to miss me. I am taking her son away from her.”

Egelric blinked in surprise.

“Yware, I mean.”

'Yware, I mean.'

“You are taking Yware with you? He’s only six.”

“I am taking Yware with me, and I don’t know whether I am bringing him home again. I know, I’m a beast, aren’t I?”

“I admit, I don’t understand.”

“I may leave him with Magnus and Godwine. I believe Magnus has had the idea in mind for some time. I think that Yware might benefit from being raised among such men as surround them. Go ahead and tell me what you think. Don’t simply stare at me. You do make me feel like a monster.”

'Don't simply stare at me.'

“I shan’t presume to tell you what I think. I am only a farmer’s son. I simply don’t understand.”

“It’s a different world, isn’t it? We may not always choose whom we marry—we may not even always raise our own children.”

“If you put it that way, I certainly do not understand.”

“It isn’t quite the same as your situation. I have the choice, and I believe it’s best for my son. You know how Yware dreams of getting out into the world and having ‘many grand adventures,’ as he calls them.”

“So did I, at his age.”

'So did I, at his age.'

“And haven’t you always told me you were sorry you never got out into the world and never had any adventures?”

“Ach! It’s different looking back.”

“You, Squire, would have been a great man if you had grown up in a noble house. I do not want to say the same thing about my son in twenty years.”

Egelric shrugged.

Egelric shrugged.

“Anyway,” Alred said, shaking his head suddenly. “I don’t know whether I shall leave him with Magnus. I want to see what sort of man he and his brother have become, and I want to see what they can offer him. If exile in Denmark is no better than exile here, then I shall certainly keep him here. The trip will be good for him, in any event, and I shan’t tell him he might stay until I know he will. Sigefrith is bringing Caedwulf, too.”

“Oh, he is?”

“He will be seven in a few weeks, and if we hurry we might get a sword out of King Harald.”

“That is very shrewd of His Majesty,” Egelric laughed.

“Sigefrith is indeed an astute diplomat. He knows that the ties that bind the man who gives the favor are often stronger than those that bind the man who receives it.”

“Is it not a dangerous journey for two such young boys?”

'Never fear!'

“Never fear! We shall have young Sigefrith and his towheaded minion to protect us!”

“Those two?” he laughed.

“We mean to take a Norse ship, and who better to procure us passage? Sigefrith only wants to knight the boy before we leave. It will not be as planned, but few things in life ever are.”

'It will not be as planned, but few things in life ever are.'