'Your Majesty is looking well.'

“Your Majesty is looking well,” Egelric said with a grin and a bow.

“And you are looking tired as a dogface. Sit down, Egelric,” Sigefrith said, rubbing his hands together in delight. “I have just the thing for you.”

“It’s nothing to drink, is it? One cup and I should fall directly to sleep.”

“No, it’s nothing to drink. Guess again.”

“Oh my! I shall do as Baby does… let’s see – is it something to wear?”

“No! Is that what she likes?”

“Is it something to eat?”

'Is it something to eat?'

“No, no. It’s something to do.”

“Oh, God, not another castle!”

“As a matter of fact, I may have occasion to make a few additions to my own castle in the months to come. But that can come after. I need you to take a letter to your cousin Aed.”

“Urgent? I imagine Colban will be along before too many weeks to fetch his son back to his mother.”

“Urgent, yes. But perhaps Gog will return with you.”

Egelric scratched his head thoughtfully. “Have you already spoken with His Grace?”

“I have his permission to borrow you for a few weeks. Indeed, you might wish to speak with him yourself. I believe he was toying with the idea of accompanying you.”

'I believe he was toying with the idea of accompanying you.'


“Dunstan has been dying to make the trip ever since Bertie went, and Yware went to Denmark with us last year. One can hardly refuse Dunstan a trip to Scotland under those circumstances. And you can take Malcolm, and Bertie too, I suppose.”

“And yourself?”

“Ah! Ordinarily I should have taken my own letter, but I have, ah… a certain matter that is keeping me home for the time being.”

'Ordinarily I should have taken my own letter.'

“A certain matter that has you grinning like the cat that got the cream?” Egelric laughed.

“Rather more like the dragon that got the fair maiden. Although I haven’t got her yet…”


“Now now, not that sort of matter. I should rather say I am the knight who has to win her away from her father the dragon.”

“Her father! How old is she?”

'Her father!  How old is she?'


“Ohhhhh… in that case I hope you win her. I hadn’t realized your lecherous old self would be posing a danger to my Baby in so few years.”

“How old is she now?”

“Nine or so.”

“Oh, I hope to be married long before she’s fifteen,” he laughed.

“May I ask who, if I know the girl? I don’t like to frighten all of the fifteen-​​year-​​olds in the valley by staring at each of them and wondering whether she’s the one.”

“You stare at the fifteen-​​year-​​olds anyway! Who are you calling an old lecher?”

'Who are you calling an old lecher?'

“In that case, tell me which one I may no longer stare at!”

“You won’t tell?”

“‘You won’t tell?’” Egelric mocked. “What game is this? What are you, fifteen yourself?”

“I feel that way sometimes,” Sigefrith laughed.

“I shan’t tell, for heaven’s sake.”

“It’s only my cousin Eadgith.”

“Oh! A lady! I never stare at her. I believe her father could castrate a man with a look.”

'I believe her father could castrate a man with a look.'

“You frighten me, Egelric!”

“You might wish to hang a mirror from your belt when you go to see him.”

“Excellent advice. And as long as we are dispensing advice, may I advise you to follow my example? I haven’t felt like this in twenty years. It’s a cure for everything except an aching back.”

“And do what? Procure myself a fifteen-​​year-​​old?”

“Not necessarily. Fall in love.”

'Not necessarily.  Fall in love.'

“Ach! You’ve been speaking to Her Grace.”

“Suppose I have. But she would only like to see you happy.”

“If she had a sister, she might.”

'If she had a sister, she might.'

“Oh! You see? All you need to do is find the right woman.”

“The right woman would despise me.”

“I don’t think so at all. There is nothing a woman likes better than to reform a bad man.”

'There is nothing a woman likes better than to reform a bad man.'

Egelric chuckled. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I’m unreformable. I know, I’ve tried.”

“It takes a woman’s touch, Egelric.”

“Ach! You’re far gone. I wouldn’t trust anything that comes out of your mouth for the next half year. Now, when did you say I was leaving?”

'Now, when did you say I was leaving?'