Sir Sigefrith brooded on the bench while Hilda smirked at him from her seat on the bed.

Sir Sigefrith brooded on the bench while Hilda smirked at him from her seat on the bed. His unwillingness to speak further was as good as victory to her.

He hated these arguments. They were the arguments that always began with “In my father’s house…” He remembered perfectly well what Hilda’s father’s house had been. He also knew that Hilda’s father was a wealthy and powerful man, while he was a young knight who had not even earned the little he had.

He also remembered that it had been as much Hilda's idea as his to return here to live.

He also remembered that it had been as much Hilda’s idea as his to return here to live. She had been eager to be mistress of her own household. He tried to be generous with her – she had been too young, perhaps, to realize that things would not be as they were “in her father’s house,” but when “in my father’s house” didn’t suffice to infuriate him, she would become far crueler.

First she would tell him he couldn’t understand her misery, because he was not a woman. Then it would be because he was not a pregnant woman. Finally it was because he could not understand what it was to be a mother and lose one’s baby.

That was so. But he thought that if she could say so, it was because she could not understand what it was to be a father and lose one’s son. That was always where such arguments ended. He could think it, but he could never bear to say it.

He could think it, but he could never bear to say it.

Hilda kicked her foot saucily against the edge of the bed and watched him. He would have to get undressed and get into bed with her in a little while. When she kicked her foot and smirked impudently at him, he longed to go down into the hall and sleep on a bench. He had tried it once, but she had sworn that he would never again so humiliate her before the servants and before his family.

He wondered whether it would be too incongruous if he suddenly developed a passion for reading, and spent the night in his study with a book. He thought it would. If only he could go out and accompany Eirik on his evening prowl! But such expeditions were not for him. Never, never again for him. Oh, but he would take any excuse to get away for a while! Even work.

Oh, but he would take any excuse to get away for a while!  Even work.

Then, as if sent from God, that excuse came: three smart raps on the door – that meant his steward. Nothing for which he could come at this hour could be unimportant.

“Excuse me, Hilda,” he said, and fled to the door. “What is it?” he asked once he had it closed behind him.

“There’s a man here to see you, sir,” he said, his brow winkled in his worry at having disturbed his master so late in the evening.

“A man? What man?”

“He said his name was Robert, and that you knew him. I told him it was late, but – ”

“Robert!” Sigefrith gasped. “Where is he?”

'Robert!  Where is he?'

“In your study, sir.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” Sigefrith cried softly and ran off, leaving the surprised steward standing in the passage.

He found Malcolm standing in contemplation of the great sword hanging on the wall, but he turned sharply as the door opened.

He turned sharply as the door opened.

Sigefrith had been about to shout his name and run about in jubilation, but at the sight of him, making joyful noise did not seem the appropriate thing to do. Malcolm contemplated him, now, with eyes that seemed both weary and fond. Sigefrith hesitated in the doorway until Malcolm said, “Little brother!” and held out his arms to him, and then the thing to do seemed to be to laugh and run into them.

The thing to do seemed to be to laugh and run into them.

“I was looking at your sword,” Malcolm said, “and wondering whether you had grown into it yet. But I see that you are a man now indeed.”

“Only eighteen,” Sigefrith said apologetically.

“Have I been away so long?” he asked wistfully.

“Nearly three years. Malcolm, where have you been?”

“On the continent. And you? What about your baby?”

'And you?  What about your baby?'

“But my baby is a big boy of two-​​and-​​a-​​half now!”

“Ach! I knew it would have a son!” Malcolm grinned. “What else could it have?”

“I don’t know, but in a few months I shall find out.”

“Another!” he laughed.

“This is my third. I had another boy that died this last winter.”

'I had another boy that died this last winter.'

“I’m sorry,” he said as his laughter died, and he fixed on Sigefrith a look that made him think that here was someone who could understand, if Hilda couldn’t.

“But I hope you will meet them this time!” he said eagerly. “My son, and my sister and mother, and my cousins, and everyone!”

“I hope I may. But that is why I came first to you. Is it safe here for me?”

“Safe here? Oh… you mean about… well, no one else has learned, as far as I know. But I am afraid that Sigefrith knows where you were. I got your letter…”

“My letter?”

“You addressed it to Sigefrith the younger, and Sigefrith’s father was also named Sigefrith, so he thought it was for him…”

“I couldn’t remember your father’s name,” Malcolm said with a slow smile, and then he laughed as he realized what the King must have thought. “But I wrote as a Norman!”

'But I wrote as a Norman!'

“I remember!” Sigefrith laughed with him. “I believe I nearly died that day. Oh – and Colban knows. Because of this,” he said sheepishly, patting the amulet he wore.

“I had meant to ask about that,” Malcolm said with a scold in his voice. “I should have told you to hide it.”

'I should have told you to hide it.'

“I nearly died that day too,” Sigefrith laughed. “He thought I must have killed you.”

“As if you could!” Malcolm laughed and shook him by the shoulder like an impudent pup.

“But we are good friends now. He would have forgiven me anything for the news I gave him.”

“I wonder whether he will forgive me.”

“I’m certain he will, but it will go hard with the fatted calf. And – oh,” he cried suddenly, sobering, remembering something that Malcolm might not have heard, and that might change many things. “But did you know? The Queen is… gone…”

'I know.'

“I know,” he said quietly. “Else I would not have come.” He took a deep breath as if he would begin a long speech, long since prepared. “I went home first, to see my brother Colban if he was still there, or to await his return if he had already come to fetch my… Colban. And there they told me he meant to stay long, for the King’s wedding. And then they told me that she was gone, and I thought I could come. Perhaps it was wrong…” There was something in his eyes that Sigefrith could not understand, or even name.

There was something in his eyes that Sigefrith could not understand, or even name.

“I don’t believe it was wrong. Everyone will be happy to see you. Oh – not everyone. Perhaps I should warn you. Your wife is here, with a cousin of yours named Aengus. They thought you were dead, and so… And Sigefrith said they might stay, and made him a knight. And their baby only lived a few days.”

Malcolm’s nose twitched, and it was the only sign he gave of having heard. “What else has changed here? I went to see my cousin Egelric, and there was another family in his house.”

“The Squire lives at Nothelm castle now with his daughter, with Alred. They are all well. Let me think… I scarcely know how things were here before you left. The Earl’s wife died and he married again. There have been several babies since you were here. Sigefrith had a son who died as a baby. The Queen died soon after.”

'The Queen died soon after.'

“How did she die?” There was that look again.

Sigefrith hesitated.

“Tell me,” he whispered.

“She leapt from the highest tower of the castle. She was… I don’t know whether they told you…”

“They told me nothing, but that she was dead. Tell me.”

“She was mad, at the end.”

'She was mad, at the end.'


“Well… she became very religious, of a sudden. She was always speaking in Bible verses, and talking about the devil. You see…” He hesitated. He had been about to say that she had never been the same after being “attacked” at the abbey a few years ago, but he and Malcolm knew who had “attacked” her. On the other hand, it was likely that someone would mention it, and Sigefrith thought that it were better that he be the one to tell it.

“Aye?” Malcolm prompted.


“She was never the same after she returned from the abbey,” he said in a low voice, as a compromise. “It was a month before she spoke, and after that she could scarcely – Malcolm?”

Malcolm had gone stumbling away, limping, and sat himself heavily on the bench against the wall. He leaned his elbows on his knees and held his hands clasped before his mouth for a while before saying, “Forgive me – I have remembered her as she was, and long believed her so still.”

'I have remembered her as she was, and long believed her so still.'


“I am sorry, little brother, but I have come a very long way today, and am tired. May I stay here tonight? We may speak again in the morning.”

“Of course! Of course!”

“Only tell me first – how is my son?”

'Only tell me first--how is my son?'

“Oh! Very well, very well. You will be so proud of him! He’s tall and slender and dark, like you, and he loves horses more than anything, and he is the sweetest, friendliest, most affectionate little boy you will ever meet.”

“You sound proud of him yourself,” Malcolm smiled.

“I am! I see him every day, or almost, and take him riding, or play with him, as you asked. I shall miss him.”

“I hope you will come to visit him – visit us.”

“I hope I may.”

'I hope I may.'