“Theobald!” Sigefrith cried happily. “I thought I spied two red-​​headed giants riding up the road. Where’s your complice?”

“We met Caedwulf on our way in and the boys ran off to play somewhere.”

“Good! The boy has been missing Malcolm, which usually means he spends his days harassing the guards and the grooms. How’s Githa?”

“Very well. She sends her love, et cetera.”

'Very well.  She sends her love, et cetera.'

“What about your baby? Last time I saw him he was only the size of a yearling calf or so. Must be – what? A bull and a half by now?”

Theobald laughed. “He is a big baby. But I can still lift him, so far.”

“The day you can’t, you’ll find he can lift you. You send him to me when he’s older. I could use a Goliath in my army, though I don’t know how I shall mount him.”

“Githa’s father has a stallion close to nineteen hands.”

“Better send him too, then. How did you do with the fires? We saw smoke from over in your direction.”

“We only had a fire in the woods opposite the town. The pastures have been grazed down to the dust, so the farms were all safe, as it happened.”

“Same here. We only lost your farm, as a matter of fact, and incidentally a barn near the Ashdown farm.”

'We only lost your farm, as a matter of fact.'

Theobald sighed. “I heard Selwood burned.”

“Not the trees. It only tore through the underbrush.”


“I haven’t seen, but Cenwulf has ridden through. Those old trees aren’t on their first fire, I’m certain.”

“Githa will be happy to hear that, but sorry about the house, poor dear.”

“If that baby of yours ever puts her down, bring her to see me. I have just the thing to cheer her up.”



“Indeed, I meant to invite you both for a little festivity whenever that wayward Alred and his shaggy squire return, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry. I have an announcement I should like to make to the people, but I’m afraid they’ve already guessed in the meantime.”


“Only the small matter of a royal wedding next summer,” Sigefrith beamed.


“I certainly hope young Fenric will allow her to attend that.”

“He’s already weaned, if that’s what you are thinking. Poor Githa! He’s already eating porridge and mashed peas. But, forgive me, what worthy lady did you find…?”

“Oh! My cousin Eadgith.”

'Oh!  My cousin Eadgith.'

“Ah! But aren’t she and Leofric still…?”

Sigefrith laughed. “My young cousin Eadgith! Damn! Wouldn’t you know, Alred spent weeks in the same error, and had practically begun to despise me for it!”

“Oh! A very charming young lady, though I don’t believe she has said more than five words to me in all the time I have known her.”

“You will see her tonight at supper, and if you love me you will make her talk to you. We need to make a queen out of her, and her one flaw is her timidity.”

“I believe that is part of her charm. But, Sigefrith, is it really fair to ask her to speak to me? I must be a terrifying sight to such a small lady.”

'I must be a terrifying sight to such a small lady.'

“She had an actual conversation with Cenwulf last evening, and if she can talk to that death’s-head, she can talk to a jolly giant such as you.”

“Oh! How are those two and their children? I hope you will invite them for supper if you expect me to stay.”

“Certainly. They’re well enough, which is to say the same as ever. As a man besotted, it grieves me to see him so utterly cordial to his wife. One of these days he will realize what an ass he’s been, but by then I fear she will have fallen out of love with him.”

Theobald shrugged.

“That reminds me – I want you to help me find a wife for Egelric.”

“Egelric! Is he looking for one?”

“No, but it’s high time he started, for a great many reasons, not the least of which is that his poor daughter needs a mother.”

“I’m afraid you will have to look farther afield than Thorhold if you want to find a lady for him. His reputation…”

“Damn his reputation! What we need to find is a lady who will fall in love with him. Some women do like to reform a man.”

'Damn his reputation!'

“Oh, he has only to crook his finger and they fall in love with him. I don’t know how he does it.”

“It’s probably his reputation that does it,” Sigefrith laughed. “Some women do like a bad man.”

“But he truly is dreadful with them.”

“Some women like that too,” Sigefrith sighed. “He’s not dreadful with the ladies, I hope?”

“Oh, no. He is very obviously Alred’s man when it comes to the ladies. The difference is that Alred is also gallant to the maidservants and the peasant girls. But you had better find a widow for him, Sigefrith. None of my men would allow him to marry one of their daughters.”

'None of my men would allow him to marry one of their daughters.'

“If he were a knight?”

“Even then.”

“Damn. He must be worse when he visits you than he is here.”

Theobald shrugged uncomfortably and cleared his throat. “Speaking of Egelric…”


“I come to the purpose of my visit.”

“You don’t need a purpose to visit my delightful self, do you?”

'You don't need a purpose to visit my delightful self, do you?'

“No, but in this case I have one. It’s a dream I’ve been having…”

“Oh, Theobald! Another dream?” Sigefrith chuckled. “What – have you been dreaming of Egelric?”

“No! Of his daughter.”


“I know you don’t believe my dreams have much importance, but I can’t help but wonder…”

“Go ahead, Theobald. I shall at least listen.”

“I’ve been having this dream for a while now. A year, perhaps, although not very often. But I have been writing my dreams down, recently, and I have realized that I always have this dream on a night of the new moon.”

'I always have this dream on a night of the new moon.'

“I see. But you know, nothing has been happening recently.”

“I know. Let me tell you anyway. I am telling you now because after having the same dream many times, the last time it ended differently, and I thought perhaps it meant something. In all of my dreams, I am following Egelric’s daughter through a forest, and somehow I feel as if I am a phantom… I have no body. And she can’t see me. But as soon as she comes out of the woods into a clearing, I run after her, and at the last moment she looks up at me and screams, and then I… I eat her.”

“You eat her?”

“All in one mouthful. I simply engulf her.”

“That is… an interesting dream, Theobald.”

'That is... an interesting dream, Theobald.'

“But the last time it ended differently. Just as I was about to swallow her, instead of screaming, she turned and bit me in the side.”

“Good for her!”

“You’re not taking this seriously, are you?” Theobald sighed.

“I don’t know, Theobald. I’m in too good a humor to take anything too seriously lately. Try telling Cenwulf if you want gravity. But I suppose I can tell you that something interesting did happen to Iylaine last week, but we don’t know what.”

“What happened? Was it the new moon?”

'Was it the new moon?'

“As it happens, yes. That night she and young Bertie Hogge got out of the castle – this was the night Selwood was burning – and when they returned, Iylaine had lost all of her clothes, and Bertie had loaned her his tunic. But neither of them are telling what happened. Bertie only says he won’t tell except to Egelric.”

“How old is he?”

“Eleven, same as Malcolm.”

“That’s rather young for… such adventures.”

“Nobody’s saying they had any such adventures. But Iylaine is greatly disturbed. Matilda is afraid something happened to her. Perhaps Bertie only brought her home.”

'Perhaps Bertie only brought her home.'

“Good heavens! Egelric will be… something awful.”

“Let’s hope it’s only some stupid game of theirs. But it doesn’t seem to have much to do with your dream, does it?”

“No, I suppose not. But it’s odd, all the same.”

'No, I suppose not.  But it's odd, all the same.'