'I wish he had at least told us whether it was a boy or girl.'

“I wish he had at least told us whether it was a boy or girl,” Sir Sigefrith grumbled. He and his godfather were waiting in the hall at Raegiming to meet his new brother or sister, but the letter announcing the birth had been remarkably cryptic, though joyous enough.

“Why?” Sigefrith asked. “Would you not have come for a girl? Or for a boy, rather?”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I simply think that since he took the liberty of naming my daughter, I might name his. Or his son, or whatever it is.”

“Whatever it is!” Sigefrith laughed. “An angel, or what?”

“Aren’t the angels boys and girls too? I mean, men and women?”

“You may put that question to Fathers Brandt and Aelfden the next time you see them together. Alred has already used it to provide himself with an hour’s entertainment.”

'You may put that question to Fathers Brandt and Aelfden the next time you see them together.'

“I don’t believe I should find it very entertaining to watch priests discuss such matters.”

“No? Alred does. Anyway, they don’t simply discuss such matters the way you and I discuss the points of a horse or the virtues of a good wine. Father Aelfden slings lightning bolts, and Father Brandt responds with thunder claps, and a good time is had by all.”

The young knight laughed. “I’ve never seen. Alred knows better than to invite me when he invites those two.”

'Alred knows better than to invite me when he invites those two.'

“No, Alred invites those two when he knows you won’t come. It isn’t the same thing.”

“You make it sound so sad, Sigefrith.”

“I think it is, or he is. You should make an effort to accept once in a while when he invites you. He acts as if he doesn’t mind…”

'He acts as if he doesn't mind...'

“He always blames it on my dread of his cook!” he laughed.

“Ah! I congratulate you, young man,” Sigefrith said with a grave gentleness. “You have discovered the reason why Alred keeps that old harpy in the kitchen.”

“Why? I thought he simply liked to use her as material for jokes, and thought it worth the sacrifice of his stomach.”

“That is one reason. But I believe that so long as she is around, Alred never need feel personally slighted if an invitation is refused.”

“Good Lord,” the knight sighed after a moment’s consideration, “now I do feel like a churl.”

'Now I do feel like a churl.'

“It isn’t your fault. The entire purpose of Alred’s cook and his jokes and his laughter is to fool people such as you, and to protect himself.”

“You could have told me this earlier. I can think of a hundred times when I have laughed at his cook and gone home to mine.”

“Perhaps I should have,” Sigefrith said thoughtfully. “I suppose I say it now because he is in particular need of friends.”


“Egelric is away nearly every day, and you and I and Cenwulf and everyone are at home with our wives and families, and while that’s generally quite satisfying for us, I am not certain it is so for him these days.”

'I am not certain it is so for him these days.'


“Yes, yes, Matilda,” he sighed.

“What’s the matter with her?”

“You’re asking me? I don’t know. I sometimes think she has quite simply… how can I say it? Her love for him has simply worn out, grown old, something. I can’t put my finger on it. If she were angry at him or disliked him, it would be easier to understand. I don’t know why I am telling you this, by the way.”

“Neither do I.”

'Neither do I.'

“If I were trying to understand the wife of anyone else, I would ask Alred.”

“I see your problem.”

“Sorry, runt.”

“That is why you are proud to call me your godson.”

“Because you put up with the ravings of your senile godfather?”

'Because you put up with the ravings of your senile godfather?'

“Precisely. Oh!” he cried as the door opened and his sister came in, holding a pink bundle, followed by his grinning father, who held a brown. “Which one is – oh! Good Lord!”

Leofric laughed tremendously at his own joke.

“Twins!” Sigefrith laughed. “You Pharisee, son of a Pharisee! How precious of you not to mention it in your letter.”


“I don’t doubt it was the one chance in my life to see that look on the both of your faces, runt and fellow runt,” Leofric chortled.

They both stepped up to see the babies, but Sigefrith was temporarily distracted by the sight of his young wife with a tiny baby in her arms. He did try not to think about it – it did seem to distress her, so shy was she – but she didn’t know how beautiful she was, or how beautiful she would be. And though she had only been away four days, he had missed her so…

'He had missed her so.'

“Have you ever seen anything like them?” Leofric gloated. “Both boys!”

His oldest boy whistled. The babies truly were remarkable – not because they were twins, but because they did not seem to be twins at all. The baby Leofric held was tiny and darker than Leila, and he squinted up his face and curled his limbs tight against his body. The other was lighter than Leofric, and large and lusty, and he paddled at the air with his fists and stared frankly up at the visitors with his wide eyes.

I’ve seen something like them,” Sigefrith said, “every time the one of the kitchen cats has kittens – but then we always say that the kittens had different fathers.”

“Perhaps you will not insult the honor of your lady cats any longer!” Leofric laughed.

'Perhaps you will not insult the honor of your lady cats any longer!'

“I shall give them the benefit of the doubt,” Sigefrith nodded.

“Have you named them yet?” Sir Sigefrith begged.

“I have – Aefen and Aering!” Leofric crowed.

“Evening and dawn!” Sigefrith laughed. “Wait until we tell Alred! He will say that you are quite a poet when it comes to choosing names for your runts and grandrunts.”

“If you ever need that sort of advice, you know whom to ask,” Leofric grinned, giving his daughter a nudge.

'If you ever need that sort of advice, you know whom to ask.'

“Why don’t you let me borrow this one, honey,” Sigefrith said quickly, and he reached for the baby she held so that she might hide her embarrassment in the pleasant confusion of passing a squirming infant around.

“I hope you didn’t name the dark one Aering and the light one Aefen, at least,” her brother said.

“I’m a poet, not a jester,” Leofric sniffed.

“I hope you will let me have one when they’re weaned,” Sigefrith said as he and the pale Aering admired one another.

'I hope you will let me have one when they're weaned.'

“They’re not pups!” Leofric laughed.

“Kittens, I thought I said? I shall take the one that looks the most like you. It will be all the more satisfying to spank him.”

“Agreed, but only if you give me one from your next litter,” he grinned slyly and nudged Eadgith again.

Sigefrith tried to catch her eyes, but she looked down into the fire. He knew that what she needed was to hide her hot face in the corner of his neck, but for now Aering was nestled there, and anyway he knew she would not allow it before her father and her brother. She was frightened of so many things that should have brought her joy.

Sigefrith tried to catch her eyes.