'Good evening, Eadgith.'

“Good evening, Eadgith,” Brede said.

She turned to him abruptly, startled, and her face flushed. She was holding the enormous lump of a baby that was Haakon in her arms, and the flush of his own skin indicated that he was probably sleeping. Brede was not normally an admirer of babies or of the women who carried them, but for a moment he thought he could see the attraction of possessing such creatures.

He hadn’t expected to find her alone in the nursery. He had been looking for Estrid, in fact, but he was far more pleased to have found Eadgith, alone.

He strolled up to the two of them and took advantage of Haakon’s presence to lean close enough to her neck to peek into the baby’s face – and breathe the odor of her hair. She smelled like the musty and unrecognizable dried flowers that one found at the bottoms of chests that had once held ladies’ gowns, but he was more interested in the way her warmth seemed to create a layer of warm and flower-​​scented air that enveloped her body, and he desired to stand close enough to her that it would come to wrap him round as well.

'He's sleeping.'

“He’s sleeping,” he observed.

“I know,” she said softly.

“Where is your little Mama?” he asked the baby in Norse. “Where is your Mama,” he asked Eadgith in English. “Where are all of the ladies?”

“Her Majesty the Queen is in her chambers, and everyone else has gone to Nothelm. Didn’t you go?”

“I was sleeping all afternoon. I am to stay up all night. Why didn’t you go?”

“My sister did not want to take Haakon, so I offered to stay and care for him.”

'It seems that you have done it well.'

“It seems that you have done it well. Do you mean to hold him like that all night?”


“Why don’t you put him down then?”

“I like to hold him. He is so soft and warm.”

Brede thought that she looked to be so as well. But if anyone asked him whether he meant to hold her all night, why, he might say he did. He smiled at the thought.

Eadgith turned away from him slightly and closed her eyes as she kissed Haakon’s blond head. Brede did not mind, for it gave him an opportunity to admire her neck.

She took a few steps away from him then, and he followed, using a caress of Haakon’s head as an excuse. “Is it true that Hilda is expecting another baby?” he asked, mostly for the fun of seeing her blush, which she did tremendously.

'I shouldn't be the one to answer that.'

“I shouldn’t be the one to answer that.”

“It’s not the sort of question one can ask directly. I thought you might know, as her sister.”

“Ask Sigefrith then.”

“I shall, if I think of it. Do you know whether the King means to return tonight?”

“He was supposed to return after supper, though Sigefrith and Eirik and the ladies will remain at Nothelm tonight. I do not know whether he has returned.”

“I haven’t seen him. I hope nothing has happened.”

“What could happen?”

“I don’t know, Eadgith. Tonight is the new moon, don’t you know?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Aren’t you frightened?”

'Aren't you frightened?'

“Should I be?”

She tried to walk away again, but he slipped around to stand in front of her and block her way. “I don’t know that either. Everyone here is afraid of the elves, but I have never seen one.”

“Haven’t you ever seen Baby?”

“I haven’t seen her. Her father keeps her locked up at Nothelm.”

“She’s an elf. I’ve seen her ears. But she wouldn’t hurt anyone. She’s a sweet little girl.”

“I still wonder whether the whole elf business is not an elaborate joke you all mean to play on me. The King asked me to stay up tonight so that I might wake him at the first sign of trouble. Are you all planning to don plaster ears and come frighten me?”

'Are you all planning to don plaster ears and come frighten me?'

“I don’t think that would be funny even if we did mean to do it. You know, they say the elves killed people before we came. In terrible ways.”

“I heard that,” he said gravely. “I hope no one has been telling you what they did. I shouldn’t like to think of a lady knowing about such things.”

'I shouldn't like to think of a lady knowing about such things.'

“I don’t know,” she said uncomfortably. Haakon stirred and groaned.

“Why don’t you put him down?”

“I like holding him,” she repeated. He thought she meant to use Haakon as a shield, or at least as something to occupy her as she stood, so she need not feel so awkward. Well, he understood, but the boy was in the way.

“Why don’t you give me a turn?” If he could hold Haakon for a while, he could easily put him down in the cradle afterwards.

“You like holding Haakon?”

“Why not? He’s a funny little man.”

“But he will wake up.”

“He won’t either. Let me see him.”

She frowned, but she passed him the baby, endeavoring on her part to touch him as little as possible, while he did his best to bump into her.

He did his best to bump into her.

Now he was saddled with the baby, and she, freed, walked briskly halfway across the room. But he knew she would be too polite to walk out on him.

Haakon, less polite, grumbled and squirmed in his arms. Brede had plenty of experience holding his little brother and sisters, but he could not say he had missed the opportunity to do so.

“You should come sleep in your mother’s room tonight, if she won’t be here,” he suggested.

“Why?” she asked, turning to look at him.

“If Sigefrith and Hilda are at Nothelm tonight, then you will be the only person sleeping in that tower.”

'You will be the only person sleeping in that tower.'

“But there are guards.”

“You know what happened to the guards the last time the elves came.”

She hesitated.

“I’m surprised the King didn’t command it,” he added thoughtfully.

“Surely it’s not…”

He lifted his eyebrows. “Only as a precaution, of course. If you like, I could walk across the court with you and let you get your things. You should do it before it gets too late.”

“You begin to frighten me,” she said softly.

'You begin to frighten me.'

So far so good.

“I don’t mean to frighten you,” he said. “After all, I’m not quite certain I even believe in elves yet! I merely think you should sleep with the rest of the people, on this side. And my door is only two doors down from your mother’s, and I shan’t sleep tonight, so if you are frightened, or in trouble, you would only have to shout.”

She flushed and turned away again. He thought he might have gone a little too far. Damn! She was skittish. Estrid was so much easier to manage. Of course, that was the fun of a girl like Eadgith – that and the fact that she really was quite pretty.

And she was clearly a girl who needed desperately to be kissed, and didn’t know it yet. He meant to show her. But she was moving away in only a few days, and who knew when he would have another chance to be alone with her again? And with her mother and brother not even at home?

“I wish I knew whether the King was home,” she said. “Perhaps I might go see.”

“Alone?” he asked.


“I – ” She stopped and stood with an open mouth. “Perhaps he is only in the hall,” she said after a moment. “I needn’t cross the court to see.”

“Will you leave me here with Haakon?” he smiled. “What if he cries?”

“Well, don’t you know what to do?”

“I know what to do, but I should rather not do it,” he winked. “Let’s take him to the nurse, and you and I can go look for the King together.”

“Or you could give me Haakon and you could go alone.”

'Or you could give me Haakon and you could go alone.'

“But if we go together then I might go with you to your room so that you could get your things.”

“But I don’t need anything.”

“Don’t you need something to wear to bed?” he asked innocently. But oh! how she blushed! Had he just suggested that she wore nothing to bed? It was brilliant! What would she say?

“I – ” Her eyes cast a glance of longing at the door behind him. She was beautiful. “I could wear something of my mother’s,” she said, blushing brightly.

'I could wear something of my mother's.'

Even talk of nightgowns flustered her! To think that Estrid in the same situation would probably have been the one to hint that she needn’t one at all! Unfortunately, she did seem to have solved that problem. He wondered what he could suggest next.

He did not have time to find something, however, for the door opened suddenly.

“Sigefrith!” she smiled in relief.

Brede turned, expecting to see her brother. Thus he was quite flustered in his turn when he found himself staring straight into the glare of the King.

He found himself staring straight into the glare of the King.

He held Brede’s eyes for a moment and then turned to Eadgith. “There you are!” he cried gaily. “I had thought you a little old to be locked up in the nursery, but it may be that I am getting older than I thought, and can no longer make such fine distinctions between shades of young.”

She giggled. Oh, certainly, she would giggle for him.

She giggled.

“It was very clever of you to engage this runt to carry around that lumpish baby of your brother’s.”

“He likes to.”

“Oh, he does, does he? Squire, you are a man of mysteries for me yet. If he likes the babies so, then you and I shall leave him in peace with this one. Come along, little girl,” he said, holding out his hand to her. “I have just had the misfortune of attempting to sup at Alred’s, and I should like to make a raid on the kitchens to get some proper food, if cold. And if I know you, without your mother or your humble dragon here to make you eat, you have been subsisting on milk and bread.”

She came forward and took his hand, and as they went out he heard her telling him that she had, in fact, eaten a slice of meat with her bread.

She came forward and took his hand, and they went out.