The Duchess herself sat at his kitchen table.

As soon as he stepped into the kitchen, Alwy understood why the hand Gunnilda had sent to tell him to come up to the house had also told him he should wash up on the way. The Duchess herself sat at his kitchen table. He only wished he had cleaned his fingernails. He would try to remember to hide his hands under the table.

“Sit down, Alwy,” Gunnilda said. Her face looked grim.

“I wish Alred could have been here,” the Duchess said awkwardly, twisting her pretty hands. Alwy was reminded to hide his. “Oh, if he had been,” she cried, “perhaps this wouldn’t have happened at all.”

“It’s about Bertie,” Gunnilda explained to Alwy.

'It's about Bertie.'

“Bertie!” he whined. “What did that boy do?”

“I don’t know,” the Duchess began.

“What did he do, Gunnie?” Alwy asked.

“I’m sure I don’t know either, Alwy!” Gunnilda snapped. “Her Grace is here to tell us.”

“I’m sorry,” he whimpered.

'It's all right, Alwy.'

“It’s all right, Alwy,” the Duchess said. “What I know is this: last night Bertie and Baby got out through the gate – perhaps when the guards were distracted by a small fire we had in the outer court – and I don’t know where they went or what they did, but when they returned they were quite shaken, and – ” She stopped and cleared her throat. “Baby was wearing only Bertie’s tunic.”

Gunnilda gasped.

Gunnilda gasped.

“What?” Alwy asked her.

Gunnilda ignored him and asked the Duchess, “Wasn’t she wearing her little – little underclothes, or anything?”

Matilda shook her head. “I can only suppose she lost all of her clothing and Bertie loaned her his tunic.”

“Well,” Alwy said, “I don’t know but I guess maybe they just went swimming and Baby couldn’t find her clothes after.”

'I don't know but I guess maybe they just went swimming and Baby couldn't find her clothes after.'

“Oh, Alwy!” Gunnilda said. “In the middle of the night! With the fires! What did they have to say for themselves?” she asked, turning back to the Duchess.

“Nothing. Baby hasn’t opened her mouth since last night, and Bertie only says that he must speak to Egelric. And he can’t bear to look me in the eyes! It nearly breaks my heart. He was always such a good boy.”

“But they’re only children!” Gunnilda said in a hoarse whisper.

“I’m not saying that I think… anything like that. How old is Bertie, again?”

'How old is Bertie, again?'

“Only just eleven.”

“No, it’s certainly nothing like that,” Matilda said firmly.

“Certainly not,” Gunnilda agreed.

“Nothing like what?” Alwy asked.

“I’ll tell you later, Alwy,” Gunnilda muttered.

“Well, I don’t know but I guess maybe they just hit their heads,” Alwy said. It was a good explanation for otherwise inexplicable behavior.

'Well, I don't know but I guess maybe they just hit their heads.'

“Oh, Alwy,” Gunnilda sighed. “Let’s you and me talk about it later.” She looked back at the Duchess. “Do you suppose that… something happened to Baby, and Bertie found her and brought her home?”

“That’s what I worry,” Matilda admitted. “Oh, I only hope it was simply some silly game of theirs! That poor girl! Her father will never forgive me.”

“I’m sure it isn’t anyone’s fault. Did she look to be hurt?”

'Did she look to be hurt?'

“I only saw a bruise on her wrist, but I don’t know whether it was there before or not. She wouldn’t allow me to dress her so I don’t know what was… underneath.”

“Oh my,” Gunnilda sighed.

Both women hid their faces in their hands, and Alwy was frightened, but he dared not ask why.

“Well, Alwy,” Gunnilda said after a moment. “I guess you better talk to that boy and find out what was his part in all of this. I don’t know but I guess maybe he wasn’t a bad boy at all, but he’s not doing right if he don’t tell us what happened. And I’ll talk to Baby. She might talk to me – I don’t know who else she would talk to if she won’t talk to me. I remember one time she asked me– Oh, I wish Egelric was here!”

'Oh, I wish Egelric was here!'