'Here you are, runt.'

“Here you are, runt,” Sigefrith said and rubbed his hands together in satisfaction and delight.

“Good day, Sigefrith,” Brede said, afraid to meet his eyes.

“It’s my turn to runt runt runt someone,” Sigefrith laughed. “I’ve just been runted until I thought I would yelp.”

'Leofric was here?'

“Leofric was here?”

“Who else? How old does a man have to be before he is no longer a runt? And how tall, by God’s blood? I’ve been taller than he for the past fifteen or twenty years!”

“You pretend to hate it, but I believe your heart will break the day you learn that you will never be runted again.”

“Now then, Brede, I was in a fine mood until you showed up to cast a pall over it.”

'I was in a fine mood until you showed up to cast a pall over it.'

“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I’m not terribly merry today.”

“Bad news? I’ve noticed you’ve not been your frolicking self lately. Perhaps your heart is broken now that you’ve realized Eadgith really does intend to marry me?” he teased.

“I begrudge you neither your bride nor your happiness, Sigefrith.”

“You do intend to be serious today. I should have sent to Nothelm for reinforcements. What’s on your mind?”

“Well,” Brede took a deep breath and then sighed. “I don’t know how to say it.”

'I don't know how to say it.'

“My Danish is a little quaint at times, but you might try that,” Sigefrith laughed.

“No, no, I suppose I shall find the words,” Brede said, too nervous to smile. “What I want to ask is… does Affrais of Thorhold know… about your plans for her? For us, I mean?”

“Why, I don’t even know. I don’t believe Theobald himself had the idea until he had brought your family here, and had the two of you simultaneously in his field of vision for a week or two. That was – when? April? And he only mentioned it to me last month. And we haven’t formalized anything, of course. Why?” Sigefrith grinned. “Nervous about meeting her if she already knows?” he winked.

'Nervous about meeting her if she already knows?'

“No, no, it isn’t that…” Brede said miserably.

“What then? Perhaps you would like to tell her yourself? She should be here this afternoon. I hope so, anyway.”

“No, that’s not it, Sigefrith.”

“What, then, runt? I’m sorry. I shall shut my mouth now and let you speak.”

“I want to ask you – that is, say – that if I had my choice – and I realize that perhaps I don’t, but…”

'I want to ask you--'

Sigefrith cocked his head and waited.

“What I would do if I and she were free to choose is marry my cousin Estrid,” he blurted. There! It was said.

Sigefrith lifted his head slowly until he was quite staring down his nose at him, and Brede felt his own self shrinking into the chair.

“I love her, and she loves me, and we should like to be married,” he explained.

“You are seventeen years old, and you believe you know whom you would like to marry?”

'You are seventeen years old, and you believe you know whom you would like to marry?'

“Your bride is only fifteen.”

“Sixteen. And that is irrelevant. I am thirty-​​six.”


“Do you realize how insufficient a reason ‘I love her and she loves me’ truly is?”

“That is not the only reason. I mean – there is nothing to be said against such a marriage, except that it is not what you had planned.”

I have nothing to say for or against it,” Sigefrith said curtly, “except that it is not what I had planned. It is her uncle who will decide whom she marries, and I believe he already has plans for her. Furthermore, her brother is none too fond of you, and I believe he would do all he could to prevent it.”

“Her brother is not her guardian. And I hope that you don’t think his objections are anything but his own prejudice against me, which dates from long before I ever saw his sister.”

'Her brother is not her guardian.'

“I believe his main objection to you is precisely what you have done to his sister.”

“I have done nothing to his sister!”

“Haven’t you?” Sigefrith snapped. “You’ve obviously been seeing her without my knowledge and, I presume, without his.”

Brede flushed. “I have been seeing her, but I have behaved honorably with her.”

“Do you not see the contradiction in what you just said?”

“But, Sigefrith…”

“I have asked you this already, I believe, but please put me at ease and tell me that you aren’t preparing a trick in the style of Sigefrith and Hilda?” he asked wearily.

'Please put me at ease and tell me that you aren't preparing a trick in the style of Sigefrith and Hilda?'

“Certainly not!”

“Very well. Thus you love her, she loves you, and you wish to marry her. That is what you wanted to tell me today?”

“That’s it, I suppose,” Brede said hesitantly. It certainly sounded paltry enough in those terms.

“Thank you for telling me. You may go.”

Brede shifted a little in his chair as if he might rise. “That’s all?” he asked softly.

'That's all?'

“That’s all. Good afternoon.”

Brede stood, but still he could not bring himself to leave with nothing to show for his visit.

'Are you waiting for an invitation to supper?'

“Are you waiting for an invitation to supper?” Sigefrith asked pointedly. “Very well. I hope to see you all this evening. Certainly, if Theobald arrives with the girls and Brinstan this afternoon, you would have had one anyway.”

“Thank you,” Brede said and wandered out into the corridor, dazed. He would have preferred a clear refusal to this chill nothing… as if the thing were not even worthy of a response… as if their love were nothing at all…

Brede wandered out into the corridor, dazed.