'Good morning, Egelric!'

Alred only stared at him, but after a moment of silence, Margaret chirped, “Good morning, Egelric!”

“Good morning, my little lady,” Egelric smiled hesitantly.

“Papa, say good morning,” she prompted.

“Good morning, Egelric,” Alred said. “Far be it from me to disobey my lady’s command. Sit down, please. Margaret, will you kindly run tell Baby that her father is here, and she can stop crying now?” But he glared at Egelric as he said it.

Egelric sat and watched Margaret until she had gone.

Egelric sat and watchd Margaret until she had gone.

“You know, Egelric, you’re a grown man and all, and you’re entitled to your little fits of spleen, but you leave your daughter here, and I’m the one who has to dry her tears while you’re out there sulking.”

“I wasn’t sulking.”

“Let’s hear it, then. I hope it’s good.”

“You might have found me. I was at the lake.”

“I know. Malcolm rode out there last night and found you sleeping.”

“In the rain?”

“It’s astounding what that boy will do for his little cousin, isn’t it?”

'It's astounding what that boy will do for his little cousin, isn't it?'

“Why didn’t he speak to me?”

“I suppose he didn’t trust himself. Malcolm knows he shouldn’t punch his elders in the face.”

“I shall add Malcolm to the list of people to whom I owe apologies.”

“Sigefrith is furious at you.”

“Noted. What about Alwy?”

“Alwy? What did you do to Alwy?”

“I kissed his wife.”

'I kissed his wife.'

“You – ” Alred sat back in his chair and rubbed his nose briskly. This was more than he had expected. “Is that what this was about?”

“Aye. I don’t know whether she told him.”

“Why would she?”

“So that he would come and punch me in the face.”

“Are you telling me that Gunnilda did not consent to this kiss?”


“Would you like me to punch you in the face?”

'Would you like me to punch you in the face?'

“I deserve it. To be honest, Malcolm will never know how close he came to finding me dead rather than asleep.”

“I don’t care to hear about it, Egelric. Your melodrama interests me no more than your melancholy. I shan’t shed a tear for you until you have redeemed every tear that girl upstairs has cried over you. And Gunnilda likewise, though I had no idea you so wished to wound her that you would – do what you did.”

“I did not wish to wound her. I wished to prove to her that I was bad. She didn’t seem to believe it.”

'I did not wish to wound her.'

Alred rested his forehead in his hand. He was in no mood for this. It would have been so much easier to have punched him in the face and sent him out. “Egelric, you of all people should know that Gunnilda is not such a fool as to fall for that. Are you certain you were not trying to convince yourself that you were bad?”


“God only knows,” he sighed. He closed his eyes and waited for Egelric to say something – or go out, or something.

'God only knows.'

“I only came home to tell you something I have learned,” Egelric said hesitantly after a while. “Would you like to hear it?”

“Not if it’s about you, or what you want, or how you feel, or what a miserable worm you are.”

“It isn’t. I saw my young elf last night.”

'I saw my young elf last night.'

“Oh?” Alred sat up and looked at him.

“He told me that we must not allow Hel to enter the crypt beneath the castle. He doesn’t know why, but Druze does. And I believe we are right about her. He recognized the name, in any case. And she has killed an elf every month since Malcolm and the boys released her – except for the month when Baby escaped from her.”

“That’s all very interesting. Useful, even.”

'Useful, even.'

“And he wanted me to know that Druze and Midra shouldn’t be disturbed, since they are trying to stop her, and won’t hurt us. And that the elves aren’t our enemies.”

“I have been trying to convince you of that for years. Tell Sigefrith when you go to apologize to him.”

“May I begin by apologizing to you?”

'May I begin by apologizing to you?'

“No. You may apologize to me when all of the others have forgiven you. I do feel as if I am always the one left making excuses and making amends to them whenever you play the deuce. Now go see your daughter and your lady, and then go to Sigefrith. He has plenty of work for you to do. As for me, don’t come see me again until I send for you.”

'As for me, don't come see me again until I send for you.'