'The last time we were here, it was dark.'

“The last time we were here, it was dark,” Malcolm said. He immediately thought that was an awkward way to begin a conversation, so he added, “Remember?”

Iylaine shrugged and scooted away from him until she leaned back against the wall.

Malcolm frowned slightly. He could not very well pick himself up and move closer to her, and so he remained seated – at some distance from her now – and asked, “Miss me?”

“Of course.”

'Of course.'

“You did?”

“If you’re surprised, then I suppose it means you didn’t miss me,” she grumbled.

“Of course I did! I simply thought that with Bertie here to keep you company…”

“Bertie doesn’t keep me company.

“Aye, but…” Never mind! he thought with a sigh.

'Aye, but...'

“Bertie certainly got taller this summer,” she said with a wicked smile. “You should see him.”

“I suppose I soon shall. How tall is he?”

“I don’t know. Taller than Her Grace now.”

“Who isn’t?”

You aren’t.”

So she felt like sparring with him, did she? “Don’t be so certain of that! I suppose I’ve grown too, meantime.”

She shrugged.

You’ve grown smaller, I think, and you’re the only girl I know who gets whiter in the summer than in the winter. Have you been sick or what?”

“You know I never get sick.”

'You know I never get sick.'

“Then I must conclude that you didn’t do as I asked and didn’t get outside into the sun and air.”

“How could I?”

“Bertie could have taken you.”

“Bertie was too busy taking other girls out into the sun and air,” she said with a handsome disdain.

“Oh! I shall ask old Bertie-​​boy about that later. I should like to see these girls that are so pretty that they put you in the shade.”

'I should like to see these girls that are so pretty that they put you in the shade.'

“They are only common girls,” she sniffed.

“He’s only a common boy.”

“That’s so,” she agreed.

“Anyway, my fine Baby, I happen to know that Leofric offered to take you and the girls riding with him many a time and often, and you always refused.”

“Not with him!” she snarled, and her face was instantly as savage as a hissing cat’s.

“Now, Baby!” Malcolm cried, startled.

“I hate him! Hate him! I hope he – I hope he gets a pox and dies!”

'I hope he--I hope he gets a pox and dies!'

“Baby!” Now Malcolm felt justified in getting up and moving closer to her. “What’s this about? I thought you and he were friends?”

“No longer!”

“What did he ever do to you?”

“He – ” She abruptly pulled her knees up beneath her chin and held her fists against her eyes.

“What?” he whispered and laid a hand on her arm.


She squeezed her legs together between her elbows and pressed her face against her knees. Her entire body shook with the strain of trying to compact herself into the smallest possible space.

Malcolm felt a sudden nausea. He knew what sort of man Leofric was – like many men that Malcolm admired more or less, albeit for other reasons – but he had always thought that Leofric had a remarkable paternal fondness for little girls. He had never dreamed that it was only the outward manifestation of something more sinister.

And she was only a little girl! There was only the barest hint of anything beneath the bodice of her gown, and her hips were still as slender as a boy’s and did not sway when she walked, and she thought the mere idea of kissing to be revolting. And she was not just any girl…

Had there been any signs he had missed? There must have been! He cursed himself. He ground his teeth and clenched his fists and cursed himself. They had left her alone, without the Duke and without her father, and with only Matilda – and everyone knew what Matilda was! – to defend her from that beast. They had left a little lamb with nothing but a fox to guard her against a wolf.

“He – ” she began again, and Malcolm’s attention returned to her, in the present.

Her legs and arms were too long to allow her to curl up into a ball as she was trying to do. She was all elbows and knees and a little blonde head.

“You can tell me, Babe,” he said softly.

“He – ” She lifted her head and rested her chin on her knees for a moment. She had not been crying behind her hands, but her eyes were tragic and turned away.

She lifted her head and rested her chin on her knees for a moment.

“You can whisper it to me if you like.”

She nodded, and he leaned his head closer to hers.

“He – ” she whispered and hesitated again.

Malcolm waited. His heart pounded as if he were about to go into battle – as if, upon hearing what she would say, he would be called upon to do something. But he could not imagine what he could ever do.

But he could not imagine what he could ever do.

“Every night!” she hissed. Malcolm was startled and sickened again. “Or almost every night – he and Matilda would go to that big bedroom just down the corridor from mine, and they would get in the bed, and – and–you know! And I had to hear it all!”

Malcolm let his forehead fall against her shoulder in relief. That was all! She probably could not even have imagined that he had been thinking what he had been thinking.

“I’ve been waiting and waiting for you and wishing you were here!” she whimpered. All of the venom had gone out of her voice, and she sounded only overwhelmed and frightened, like a little girl.

“I’m here,” he said, and he lifted his head from her shoulder and replaced it with his hand.

'I'm here.'

“What shall we do?”

“Nothing, Babe. What can we do?”

“But she will have a baby and it might even be his!

“Nothing we can do about that, either.”

“But shouldn’t we tell somebody?”

He sighed.

“Why would they do such things? I hate them! I hate them! He’s supposed to be Alred’s friend!”

'I hate them!  I hate them!'

“One need not hate a man to love his wife,” Malcolm said, and then he frowned at himself when he remembered where he had heard that before.

“You think it’s all right?” she squeaked.

“No! I think it’s lamentable. But adults are always doing such things,” he said bitterly. “Not all of them, but enough of them. And what does it profit them? I should like to know.”

“But – ” Her eyes were pleading.

'Her eyes were pleading.'

“I’m sorry you had to hear such things, Baby.” He stroked a hand down the side of her head, down over the pointed ear that she always hid beneath her hair, and laid it on her skinny shoulder again. “Sometimes I wish you were an ordinary girl.”

She flinched as if he had struck her.

She flinched as if he had struck her. She shrugged her shoulder out from under his hand, and then she turned her face away from him and very slowly, very gently laid her cheek down upon her knees.

“I didn’t mean I don’t like you as you are,” he said hurriedly.

He tried to touch her again, and again she jerked away. Her hair slipped down her back and draped itself over her shoulder and her arm as if to shield her from future applications of his hand. The form of her ear was clearly visible beneath the thin veil of hair that lay over it now, and all of her frail neck was exposed.

If anyone else had hurt her so, Malcolm would have broken his nose. He was angry enough at himself just then that he thought he might do it anyway.

“I’m sorry, Baby,” he said miserably.

'I'm sorry, Baby.'

“Go away.”

She had told him to go away countless times in the past. She had shrieked and hissed and stomped her feet and called him names, but she had never told him to go away with that eerie calm.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t mean it like that – ”

“If you please.”

“Baby!” He stood and looked down at her. He couldn’t leave her like this. They would have to sort this out first. “Baby, talk to me for a moment and then I shall leave you alone if you like.”

“I don’t want to talk now.” Her head still lay on her knees, and he could see now that she was not crying, but her eyes were tragic and turned away.

Malcolm hesitated. “Shall I see you tonight at the castle?”

'Shall I see you tonight at the castle?'

She shrugged, and her hair slipped farther down her shoulder, exposing the lower half of her ear.

“I shall see you tonight, or soon, and then we shall talk,” he assured her. Meanwhile he could figure out what to say besides the manifestly ineffectual “I’m sorry.”

She did not respond, and so after a while he turned and blundered back up the hill. He had quite forgotten about Leofric. Leofric hadn’t hurt her–he had. It was surely not the first time. There had been signs he had missed. He saw them now, and he cursed himself.

He saw them now, and he cursed himself.