'Good day, Gunnilda.'

“Good day, Gunnilda,” Egelric said, ducking into the house and out of the rain.

“Good day, Egelric,” she said softly. She hadn’t seen him since… when? She couldn’t say. It was before Angnes had even come.

“Wet day,” he said with satisfaction.

“Praise God.”

'Praise God.'

“Too late for the wheat, but we may yet have cabbage and turnips. Alwy here?”

“No. I believe he’s down to Osric’s.”

“Oh! I was told he was up here. Back out into the rain for me I suppose. It’s as well I hadn’t the time to get dry.”

“Wait – Egelric…”


He couldn’t go yet. Who knew when she would see him again?


“How’s Baby?”

His hearty good humor proved to have been a mask over the dark expression he usually wore. “The same. But you’ve seen her, haven’t you? Hasn’t Bertie been bringing her here?”

“Of course, but I… wondered what you thought.”

“I think she’s an unhappy girl, and I think I’m to blame. Next question?”

'Next question?'

“Oh, Egelric…” she said miserably. “She loves you.”

“That is precisely the problem.”

“Don’t say so.”

“Has anyone ever come to good through loving me?”

“I don’t know, but I guess a lot of people have,” she murmured.

“Perhaps in the balance. I suppose I have brought them a lot of grief, as well.”

“I don’t know…”

“In any event, as you can see, in my daughter’s case it has been more grief than good. Anything else?”

'Anything else?'

“I – Won’t you – won’t you come see my baby? You haven’t come to see her yet. She’s that pretty…”

His face softened slightly. “Forgive me. I’ve not been very neighborly lately. Where is she?”

“In the bedroom. Come.”

He followed her back to the bedroom, where Angnes slept in her cradle by the window.

“How old is she?” he asked as they came in.

“Not quite three months.”

“She’s sleeping,” he said once he had peered into the cradle. “Don’t let me wake her. Damn! Or drip on her,” he said, stepping away.

'Or drip on her.'

“Oh, pish! She won’t melt.”

He looked again, careful to stand where his hair would not drip onto the baby. “She’s as dark as you,” he observed. “What’s her name?”

Her lip trembled. He didn’t even know her baby’s name, after three months. “Angnes,” she said softly.

He stared down at the sleeping girl for a moment. “A fine name,” he said gravely. She did not know whether he meant to be sarcastic, or merely appreciated the grim truth of it. Either would have been typical of him. “A pretty girl.”

'A fine name.'

“Thank you,” she quavered. It was hopeless. He was little better than a stranger… an acquaintance of her husband.

He looked back at her and studied her face for a moment. “She looks more like Alwy, though. None of your children look much like you, Gunnilda. More’s the pity.”

“I… I heard you was working on the King’s castle now.” She winced as she heard herself slipping back into her peasant speech. Always before him!

'I heard you was working on the King's castle now.'


She hesitated a moment, and he began to move for the door. But when would she see him again if she said nothing? “I guess you must be staying at Nothelm now.”

“Aye. Sometimes at the castle when I’m too lazy or too drunk or too otherwise occupied to come back across the downs,” he said with a thin smile, and with a hint of sarcasm returning to his voice.

“Well – I don’t know, but I guess you might come visit us sometimes, when Bertie and Baby come.” There! It was said.

“I don’t believe I’m a very pleasant sort of visitor these days.”

'I don't believe I'm a very pleasant sort of visitor these days.'

“I don’t know, but I guess you might still be, if you wanted to be.”

“No, you don’t know. And you guess wrongly.”

“But, Egelric!” she blurted. “We used to be such friends! Don’t you remember?”

He stiffened. “I am not the sort of visitor you would be proud to receive in your house, Mistress Hogge.”

“But, why? How can you say so?”

'But, why?  How can you say so?'

“Are you so far from everything up here on your hill?” he said with that thin smile again.

That smile! She remembered now where she had seen that smile. It was the smile his cousin Malcolm had worn years before, when he had backed her into the corner, and had told her that he had imagined her otherwise.

“What do you mean?” she asked uneasily.

“I’m a bad man, Gunnilda,” he said softly.

“Oh, pish!” she cried. “I don’t believe it.”

“You’ve known me all my life. Or known of me at least.”

“That’s right, I know you real well! And I know you’re not a bad man at heart.”

'I know you're not a bad man at heart.'

“I assure you I am. It was the man you thought you knew who was the act.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Believe it!”

“I don’t!” she said stubbornly.

“Don’t you? I wonder what it would take to make you?”

She took a step away from him. That smile, those eyes – it was just as when his cousin Malcolm had backed her against the wall, only that time Egelric had been there to come to her rescue. Now it was Egelric who frightened her.

Now it was Egelric who frightened her.

“What… would it… take?” he cried, snatching up her elbow in a powerful, painful grip. With the other hand he grabbed her waist and pulled her against him. “Believe it now?” he asked.

She found she could only stare at him, panicked and unbelieving.

He released her elbow and twisted his fingers in her knot of hair, holding her head still so that he could kiss her, which he did suddenly and cruelly.

He did suddenly and cruelly.

Between the arm around her back, holding her off-​​balance, and the hand behind her head, she could do little more than pound at him with her fists. It was a nightmare – a hideous mockery of everything she had once dared to dream.

He released her suddenly and she stumbled backwards, her hands over her mouth.

She stumbled backwards, her hands over her mouth.

“Believe it now?” he panted. “It was an easy lesson. I hope it’s learnt. You wouldn’t like the next one. Good day.” He turned and went out the back door, slamming it behind him.

She whimpered for a moment into her hands and then went to sit on the edge of her bed, her knot of hair swinging awkwardly, loosened from its pins.

She went to sit on the edge of her bed.

Angnes stirred and whined in her cradle.

“I still don’t believe,” she whispered to him.

But the rain rolled down the windowpane, obscuring any view she might have had of him as he walked away, or he of her.

The rain rolled down the windowpane, obscuring any view she might have had of him as he walked away, or he of her.