Malcolm had tried to get his cousin alone all through the previous day.

Malcolm had tried to get his cousin alone all through the previous day, but – unsurprisingly, he thought – too many people had been too eager to see him.

The only people who had not been were Alred, who had been polite enough, but did not joke – this was an important sign which Malcolm intended to consider further – and his cousin Iylaine. He thought it a shame about Alred, but he was more aggrieved by Iylaine’s attitude. He adored his older cousin and godfather and namesake, and could not admit that someone else whom he liked so could not see the man’s worth.

But that was something else that he would consider further, for he could see now that by rising early and guessing well, he had succeeded in finding his cousin alone, sitting on the bench in the wild and weedy garden that had been the Queen’s.

He had succeeded in finding his cousin alone.

So she had often sat at dawn, staring into the water that was now choked with slimy plants. The air was already heavy and slow, and needed only the heat of the sun to make it as miserable as the days had lately been. The woodruff had grown up over the path in the past year, and the scent he trampled up from its wilting flowers hung in the thick air and sickened him. Malcolm hated the garden now, though it had once been his honor to join her here. But perhaps that was why.

He stepped out of the brush and sat beside his cousin.

He stepped out of the brush and sat beside his cousin, and the tall man looked down at him with his thin smile. If he was annoyed to have been disturbed, he did not show it.

“Good morning, Malcolm, son of Colban,” Malcolm said.

“Good morning, Malcolm, son of Colban,” his cousin replied with a broader smile at their little joke.

'Good morning, Malcolm, son of Colban.'

Malcolm had thought of a dozen ways to broach the matter, but he had decided that when overmatched, one’s best hope was the element of surprise. Thus he reached into the pouch at his belt and pulled out the ring, and he handed it to his cousin without a word.

The man stared at it, and although he had control of his eyes and their expressive brows, Malcolm saw his nostrils flare at a sharp intake of breath. He had been surprised indeed. Malcolm had the advantage, but his cousin’s wits were already drawn, as it were, and he would have to hurry to profit from it. “She threw it in the pond,” he said simply.

Malcolm watched him closely.

Malcolm watched him closely. His cousin still stared at the ring, but he was obviously trying to guess how much he knew, and what it was safe to say. He seemed to have calculated that it was best to say nothing for the moment, but the younger Malcolm’s hand would not be forced, and he waited. Finally, he said, “I thank you,” and put it away.

Malcolm frowned briefly. His cousin simply refused to do battle. Well, he would have to lead him out, though he supposed that there was nothing he could say that would surprise him now. He would aim directly for the throat. “Is her son your son?”

“Colban, son of Malcolm?” he asked with a wry twist to his smile.

“That is what I should like to know.”

'That is what I should like to know.'

“If you ask, you already know. Whom have you asked besides my own self?”

“No one,” Malcolm said, slightly injured at the suggestion. “I keep my own counsel.”

“Not your father?”

“I didn’t need to ask my father. It was plain to me when he saw the boy. He still thought you dead. I believe that he knows, and Aengus knows, and Egelric knows.”

“Alred also.” That explained matters nicely as far as Alred was concerned.

'Alred also.'

“What I can’t understand is why and how Sigefrith doesn’t know.”

“I suppose that some things are easier to see when they are far away than when they are close by,” he muttered.

“And I don’t understand how you can call yourself Sigefrith’s friend now.”

“You wouldn’t, at your age.”

'You wouldn't, at your age.'

“Oh, don’t talk to me about my age,” Malcolm snapped. “I suppose I’m a little more clever than most boys my age.”

“But no wiser.”

Malcolm sighed in exasperation. Sigefrith and Egelric were always saying the same sort of thing against him. How could one argue beyond that?

“If you care to benefit from my experience,” his cousin said, “I can tell you that it is not necessary to hate a man in order to love his wife.”

'I can tell you that it is not necessary to hate a man in order to love his wife.'

Malcolm stared at the slick surface of the pond, and the heavy, reeking air seemed to weigh on his shoulders and his head – that, and this idea of men and wives and everything that went wrong thereby. “I wish you hadn’t done it,” he said suddenly, as passionately as a child. “They were so happy before you ever came.”

'I wish you hadn't done it.'

“I think not,” his cousin murmured.

“They could have been,” he grumbled.

“This life was like a prison to her. That is all I will say of her to you until you are older, and if you are wise, you will recognize that you understand little. It is the only wisdom one may have at your age. It is few enough who have it at any age.”

'It is few enough who have it at any age.'

Malcolm scowled. He did not doubt it, but the Bible said specifically that what his cousin had done was wrong, and so he needn’t rely on his own wisdom to make such a judgement. But there was clearly no point in discussing it any further with him.

In his anger and injured pride, however, he could not resist speaking of a matter on which he had intended to remain silent. “Were you the man who attacked her at the abbey?”

Now his cousin was both surprised and hit, and his eyes widened and his brows leapt up. “Why would you say such a thing?”

'Why would you say such a thing?'

Malcolm was indeed quite proud of his deductions, and not entirely sorry to take advantage of this opportunity to share them. “Afterwards she said that it was Lucifer who attacked her. And when she spoke in verses, I would write them down and consider them, and she would speak of your son and say ‘He is of his father the devil.’ And she said, ‘He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.’ And it was Lucifer who was cast out of heaven with his angels, and it was she the woman who brought forth the man child – in her mind – and you Lucifer.”

'It was she the woman who brought forth the man child--in her mind--and you Lucifer.'

“It’s mad she was,” his cousin muttered.

“It’s your own self who made her so.”

His cousin stared at him, and Malcolm was unsettled by the look in his dark eyes. He had been right to have thought it best not to mention this, and now it was too late. But the fact remained. The look in those dark eyes told him it was true. He could forgive him for loving her, but he could not forgive him for killing her.

'His cousin stared at him, and Malcolm was unsettled by the look in his dark eyes.'

Malcolm stood and glared down at his cousin, as angry and as passionate as a child. For the first time in his life, Malcolm wished he had remained ignorant, and this new slip of wisdom began at once to take root in his fertile mind.

But this morning he was still child enough to go stomping off to his room, leaving behind him the sickening scent of the white flowers of the woodruff he crushed beneath his passionate feet.

This morning he was still child enough to go stomping off to his room.