'What about Maire?'

“What about Maire?” Matilda asked. “Have any of you been asked to wait on her?”

“Not I,” Eadgith’s mother said.

“Nor I,” Edris said softly.

“I don’t know,” Matilda continued with a sigh, resting her needle for a moment. “I have the distinct impression that Alred doesn’t like me to go see her, and I am not certain Maire appreciates the company.”

“Perhaps it is because she doesn’t speak our language very well,” Edris suggested. “Cenwulf doesn’t seem to mind.”

'Perhaps it is because she doesn't speak our language very well.'

“I don’t think Sigefrith likes Eadie to visit her either,” Eadgith’s mother said. “He always thinks of something else for her to do when it is suggested.”

“Oh, you know why that is,” Matilda laughed a little wildly. Eadgith thought she had again had far too much to drink at dinner.

Matilda laughed a little wildly.


“Because he doesn’t want her to see that enormous belly and get frightened out of marrying him! Edris, please stop yanking like that. I shall prick myself.”

The three women were at work embroidering silver and silken flowers all over Eadgith’s wedding gown. Eadgith herself, forbidden by centuries of tradition from lifting a needle to her own dress, sat embroidering ears of pale wheat across the bodice of a linen nightgown. She hoped that Matilda would not ask her what it was, for she feared the teasing that would follow.

“I think it will take a little more than a belly to frighten Eadie,” Edris said with a smile. “She’s not afraid of babies in any case.”

'She's not afraid of babies in any case.'

“I remember how afraid you were,” Matilda said. “When poor little Harold was born,” she added with a sigh.

“The poor dears,” Edris said, remembering.

“It could be that Sigefrith is simply worried that Eadie will ask Maire how she got that way,” Matilda said wickedly. “That ought to frighten her, if the belly doesn’t.”

'That ought to frighten her, if the belly doesn't.'

Eadgith bent her head lower still over her stitching. There she went! Matilda seemed to take a crude delight in telling her the most inconceivable things that men and women were supposed to do together, and although Eadgith suspected Matilda made up the half of it to see her blush, she was a bit worried that the other half might be true.

'Oh, Matilda.'

“Oh, Matilda,” her mother scoffed. “As if I haven’t told her!”

“In that case, I’m certain the girl has the courage of ten men to want to go ahead with the wedding. I shudder to think of what you might have told her. It isn’t really so dreadful, dearie,” Matilda giggled. “Is it, Edris?”

'Is it, Edris?'

Edris smiled and blushed.

“I’ve your husband figured out,” Matilda went on. “He’s quite grim and proper when he has an audience, but that’s the worst kind, if you ask me,” she said, shaking her needle at Edris. “He makes up for it when you’re alone, I’m willing to wager. Oh, I see the blush on you! He makes you happy. Doesn’t she look younger than she ever did when she came here, Eadgith?”

Eadgith’s mother looked up at Edris and shrugged.

Eadgith's mother looked up at Edris and shrugged.

“Well, I shall simply ask Maire the next time I see her,” Matilda said imperiously, returning to the original subject. “She will be confined any day now, mark my words. And it won’t do to leave her with no one but the servants. Or Aengus! God only knows how the Scots do with their babies. Perhaps it’s the men who catch them. But that won’t do. She will be a lady soon. I believe Sigefrith means to knight Aengus if he chooses to stay—and I hope he does, Alred simply adores him.”

“Tell her I shall come as well, if she would like,” Edris said.

'Tell her I shall come as well, if she would like.'

“I shall. And you, Eadgith?”

Eadgith’s mother said, “I, of course, if you need me.”

“It’s a shame Eadie can’t come,” Matilda said slyly.

'It's a shame Eadie can't come.'

“Oh, Matilda!” her mother cried.

“Well? It is! We already decided she won’t be frightened off so easily. I thought you explained to her, hmm? What shall we do if no one has a baby before Eadie does? Edris, dear, you wouldn’t have liked to have had little Ardith without having helped Harold into the world first, would you?”

“Matilda, please,” her mother huffed.

'Matilda, please.'

Eadgith ducked her head and kept her eyes close to her needlework. She did not know whether her mother knew that she had attended Leila when Lissa was born, and she did not want her to guess if it could be avoided. It would only hurt her, she thought. But Matilda would bring up the most delicate subjects…

“Oh, Eadgith, don’t be such a prude,” Matilda said. “I hope you won’t try to make Eadie into yourself. Sigefrith will be in for quite a disappointment.”

“God help your girls!” her mother snapped.

“My girls? God help their husbands!” Matilda laughed, throwing back her head and showing off her lovely throat in the way that Eadgith’s father apparently found to have an irresistible attraction for the eyes.

Eadgith glared at her little linen bodice and bit off the end of her thread with a snap. It had not escaped her attention that such a bodice would scarcely cover the half of Matilda.

It had not escaped her attention that such a bodice would scarcely cover the half of Matilda.

“If you’re so worried about Eadie,” her mother said waspishly, “why don’t you simply contrive to have a baby some time between now and then?”

“Eadgith!” Matilda cried and dropped her work, apparently shocked.


“Matilda!” her mother mocked.

“How can you say such a thing after… what happened to me…”

“How can I?” her mother said, dropping her edge of the gown as well. “How can you sit here and talk about—about husbands and happiness and babies when I shall never have such things again?”

'How can I?'

“Oh, Mother,” Eadgith pleaded softly.

“Well!” Matilda huffed, and she shoved her basket aside and stood. “I still have a husband, praise be to God, but I should like to know how we’re different where happiness and babies are concerned!”

'I should like to know how we're different where happiness and babies are concerned!'

“Matilda, dear,” Edris soothed.

Eadgith’s mother leapt to her feet and glared down on Matilda. “The difference is that you might have both if you choose, and I can’t! I can’t!”

“If it were so simple, why wouldn’t I?” Matilda cried. “And as for that… I don’t doubt Leofric would have—or still would!—provide you with all three if you weren’t such a harpy with him! He has certainly never made life difficult for women who weren’t difficult with him!”

'He has certainly never made life difficult for women who weren't difficult with him!'

“I suppose you would know, having been quite easy with him yourself!” her mother howled.

“Mother!” Eadgith cried, tossing her work aside and jumping up to stand between them.

'Say that again!'

“Say that again!” Matilda shouted, putting up her fists as if she thought herself a very small man.

“Matilda!” Eadgith gasped in exasperation. “You’re as bad as my father when you’re drunk!”

“Drunk? I’m not drunk, I’m sure! In the afternoon! And if I am—what’s her excuse?” she sneered, pointing at her mother.


“Ladies!” Edris said, coming to stand before them, and her height and dignity together sufficed at last to subdue the others.

“Mother, I believe you and I should go home,” Eadgith said firmly. “It’s growing late.”

'Mother, I believe you and I should go home.'

“Indeed!” her mother said. “Late indeed! Very, very late.” She glared at Matilda for a moment longer before moving to fold up the gown.

Eadgith hurried to gather up her work as well, angry and humiliated. She could only thank God that Hilda had not been here to see this.

Edris stood tall in the corner, watching her mother folding the dress without offering to help. It seemed uncharacteristically impolite of the Countess, but Eadgith slowly realized that Edris was also watching Matilda out of the corner of her eye and was holding her at bay by some oblique force of will. Matilda owed it to her blood to behave in a manner no less majestic than she. Out of the wreck of the afternoon, Eadgith had, at least, obtained a lesson in grace.

Edris was holding Matilda at bay by some oblique force of will.