Egelric Wodehead stood outside the home of Alwy Hogge

Egelric Wodehead stood outside the home of Alwy Hogge, where he had stood—what? a mere twelve hours before?—with Gunnilda. He hadn’t slept that night, and he hadn’t eaten that day, not yet daring to go home and face Elfleda. Furthermore, the day was oppressively hot and breezeless, and his hair and clothing clung to his damp skin. He felt—and looked—thoroughly miserable.

He hadn’t particularly wanted to face Gunnilda either, but he had an uncomfortable suspicion that he would need to explain things with her. Women had a way of—well, you couldn’t be sure.

He had been trying all day to put this problem out of his mind, and as a result he still had no idea of what he was going to say to her when she surprised him by coming up to him from around the back of the house.

She surprised him by coming up to him from around the back of the house

Here was the familiar housewife, with her limp, untidy hair and her coarse dress. She flushed in embarrassment. Something about the curve of his grim mouth made her feel ill.

“Alwy here?” he barked, angry at himself for not being capable of showing her a little more tenderness.

“N-​no. He’s out working, for all he’s sick. Did you need him?”


“Oh. Well—won’t you come in? The babes is sleeping.” She blushed at her lapse into peasant speech.

He followed her wordlessly.

“It sure is hot. Would you like a drink?”

“Thank you.”

She bustled around the little kitchen for a while, hoping he would speak. Was he going to pretend nothing had happened? It had not been a dream, of that she was sure. She would find out.

“I had the strangest dream last night,” she said, laughing nervously.

'I had the strangest dream last night'

“Did you? A nice one?” he asked, avoiding her eyes.

“Oh, yes,” she sighed, nearly voiceless.

He realized he hadn’t come to explain anything to her, only to see what effect he had had on her. Her eyes were eloquent. It was as he feared. And so he would have to explain.

'I didn't sleep at all last night'

“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” he said.

“So you didn’t dream,” she said softly.

“No, I did. But then I woke up, as sleepers do.”

“Was it a nice dream?”

He shrugged awkwardly. His shirt was sticking to his back. “Yes, but I knew it couldn’t be true,” he finally said.

Her chin quivered.

“Be brave, Gunnilda, I know you can be,” he said impulsively, letting fall his look of grave composure. “You know how things are.” He nearly reached out to hold her by the shoulders, but thought better of it.

She sobbed

“Oh, I know!” she sobbed. She stood a while, her little fists clenched, trying to collect herself before speaking again. And then she sniffed and pushed her hair back from her face and laughed.

She pushed her hair back from her face and laughed

“Oh, it don’t matter. I had my dream for the time it lasted, and now—now I know,” she said simply. “And no one can take that from me, so—” she laughed again and shrugged. “I am richer than I was yesterday. No need to be brave.” She smiled at him, but her lips trembled still.

Egelric had expected an outburst of another sort. This little woman had nothing in common with Elfleda, he saw. Indeed, he had expected that he would be required to lose his temper with her just to shake her loose a little, and here…

“You’ll still come to see Alwy and me some evenings, won’t you?”

“If you like.”

“Oh, pish! My tongue is going to lose its edge if I don’t have your clay-​brained, mammering self to sharpen it on!” She poked him and laughed, her dark eyes shining.

'Oh, pish!'

Egelric only stared. Damn her. Women were supposed to sob and cling and cry their eyes red and make themselves thoroughly contemptible. He had come inside hoping that he could shrug her off without too much of a stew, and instead he found himself again wanting to kick himself for the fool he had been five years ago when he had married Elfleda. Gunnilda deserved far better than Alwy Hogge. By God, what was he thinking? She deserved far better than Egelric Wodehead.

Gunnilda shoved him playfully. “Don’t you cry,” she said, her voice tight. “You’ll break my heart if you do.”

Egelric felt the wretched loneliness closing over him again like dark water. It seemed to him that the ordinary every-​day world of men was the real dream. In his mind he was already far away when the door opened and Alwy came clomping in.

“Hallo, Egelric,” he said, grinning. “I have to go help bring the sheep in, there’s a real bad storm coming. I guess you should go see about your cows.” He turned to his wife. “Well, Gunnie, I don’t know but what you was crying,” he droned in his soft, childlike voice, frowning tragically.

Gunnilda gasped and looked away.

'What happened, Egelric?'

“What happened, Egelric?” he asked, turning to his friend.

Egelric looked at Gunnilda’s back for a moment, wondering what was best to tell him. “I think Gunnie’s not feeling too well today. You should take good care of her—I know you will.”

'Take good care of her'

“You bet I will! Gunnie you just go lie down on the bed, and soon as I come home from bringing in them sheep, I’ll take real good care of you, you bet! Say, Egelric, do you think—”

But Egelric was gone.