Edris was singing softly to her baby.

Cenwulf stopped just outside the doorway. Edris was singing softly to her baby, and he hated to interrupt her. It was true what she had said in the beginning about knowing how to sing, and furthermore she had proven herself to be a very good mother, despite not having had the training for it. He had been able to make her happy at least in this: in giving her this little daughter.

“How will you ever get her to sleep if you sing to her, Edris?” he asked after she had finished singing. “She will want to stay awake to hear the entire song.”

'How will you ever get her to sleep if you sing to her, Edris?'

“Then I shall sing her another. Here is Papa, Ardith. Aren’t you happy you didn’t fall asleep and miss him?”

“Why don’t you have a fire?” he asked her. “It is cold today.”

“We only just came in. We were in the bedroom.”

'We only just came in.  We were in the bedroom.'

“Then I shall have the honor of making a fire for the three of you.”

“Is it an honor to do the work of a servant?” she smiled.

He turned to kneel on the hearth. “For thee, it is.”

'For thee, it is.'

“It is rather an honor thou doest to me. But we weren’t expecting thee home so early. We would have had a fire and made the room pleasant beforehand, had we known.”

“Thy presence suffices to make a room pleasant, Edris.”

Their conversations were always thus these days: an exchange of formal compliments that he tried to carry out in her dialect, as a further compliment to her. He saw now that Alred’s gallantries were not the empty trifles he had long imagined them. The same words said without feeling had no more heft and even less force of impact than soap bubbles.

“But not warm,” she said, and he heard the smile in her voice. He thought it a shame that he did not have the heart to smile back at her.

'But not warm.'

“Sigefrith did not feel up to the work we had planned for this afternoon,” he told her, still busy with the fire.


“Harold is not well. He hasn’t been sleeping. Sigefrith, I mean. Well, Harold hasn’t either, for that matter.”

“Is it his teeth?”

“They don’t know. Perhaps. He cries as if he is hungry – and indeed he must be – but when she tries to nurse him, he will suck twice or thrice and then stop and scream as if it hurt him.”

“Oh my.”

“But you’re right. It could be his teeth.”

“Of course that’s all it is. He will be better in a few days.”

“How about this girl?” he asked fondly, standing and returning to the two of them.

'How about this girl?'

Edris passed the baby to him and asked, “When will she start getting teeth?”

“I don’t remember. At about six months or so. The bottom two teeth are the first.” He stopped there, as five pairs of bottom teeth in five smiles came wavering up out of his memory, and then blanked out his view the rest of the world.

Or, no – he had only closed his eyes.

He had only closed his eyes.

It was always a risk to speak of babies in the abstract with Edris. She had so many questions, and all he knew came from his own experience – and he did not wish to go over his own experience any more than necessary.

But Edris did not ask any more questions.

Edris did not ask any more questions.