Sigefrith and his godson sat in uncharacteristic silence. The heavy rain rumbled on the wooden roof and muffled the sound of any footsteps that might have been arriving in the corridor beyond the door.

“I wish we could somehow wait until Matilda is out of danger to tell him,” the young knight said fretfully.

'I wish we could somehow wait until Matilda is out of danger to tell him.'

“That seems a difficult ruse,” Sigefrith muttered.

“I wish I could wait to tell Hilda, not that she has a hard time of it. I didn’t tell you we’re having another one, did I? I’m not supposed to tell, but I keep telling people anyway. I always do.”

“No, you didn’t. I suppose this isn’t the moment to offer congratulations, but…”

“I know.”

“How old is Dumble-​​Dora again?”

“Her first birthday was at the beginning of August.”

“So she won’t be two when the next comes.”

“No,” he sighed. “That’s why Hilda’s so huffy.”

“I kept you away from her for nearly four months this summer. What more can I do?”

'What more can I do?'

“I know! I can’t help it!”

Sigefrith chuckled and then sighed. Sometimes he wished he had his godson’s problems, but on this day he was grateful he did not.

“I’m sorry about Hilda,” the young knight blurted after another long silence.

“Sorry about what?”

“Sorry about what she said to Eadie.”

“What did she say to Eadie?”

“Didn’t she tell you?”

'Didn't she tell you?'

“She told me nothing about which you ought to feel sorry.”

“Oh. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you then.”

Sigefrith shrugged.

“She told Eadie she would have yet another baby,” he said quickly, “and then she said she wished she could trade places with Eadie for a year or two.”

Sigefrith sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I suppose you shouldn’t have told me. I don’t like to think ill of your wife, but she is often cruel to mine.”

'I don't like to think ill of your wife.'

“I know,” he said miserably. “I don’t know what to do about it. It’s because she’s afraid people won’t love her.”


“That’s what Alred told me. I think he’s right. But he doesn’t know what to do about it.”


“You know, I think it’s like what you told me about Alred and his cook. If he has a nasty cook, then he doesn’t feel slighted if we refuse an invitation to dinner. And if Hilda is nasty to people, then she doesn’t feel slighted if people don’t like her.”

'And if Hilda is nasty to people, then she doesn't feel slighted if people don't like her.'

“I suppose it’s possible,” Sigefrith muttered.

“And Alred said he’s the same, but I can’t see how.”

“What?” Sigefrith was genuinely surprised.

“He said he’s the same as Hilda, and that’s how he knows how she feels. But I don’t think he’s nasty at all.”

“He told you that?”


“He told you that?”

'He told you that?'

“Yes. Was that wrong?”

“No! But I’ve been chipping away at him for twenty years and he has never said such a thing to me.”

“It’s because I told him about Hilda.”

Sigefrith thought for a moment. “I don’t know which of the two of you holds more surprises for me – you or Alred.”

His godson smiled and was about to answer when a knock came at the door.

“Who or Alred?” the voice called.

Startled, Sigefrith hesitated a moment as he went over their conversation and wondered how much Alred had heard. “Enter!”

Alred came in, grinning. “Oh! You or Alred,” he said to young Sigefrith. “In that case, I nominate you.”

'In that case, I nominate you.'

“You don’t even know for what!” the knight laughed.

“Is it pleasant or disagreeable?”

“Oh – I – I don’t even remember what we were saying. Sigefrith?”

“Come in, Alred,” Sigefrith said.

Alred frowned. “I was about to say I hoped this visit would prove worth coming out in this rain, old man, but at the look on your face I already wish myself home.”

“I’m sorry I had to send for you, but I wanted to give you the news myself. Why don’t you sit down?”

Alred sat without a word.

“We have a letter from Theobald,” Sigefrith began. “Githa had her baby.”

Alred bowed his head. “Oh, I see,” he sighed.

'Oh, I see.'

Sigefrith paused. The chest on which young Sigefrith sat creaked as he shifted his weight, and a gust of wind drove the rain against the thick glass of the windows. It was worse than silence. He wished again that he could save this news for a few months – that he could end this conversation here and leave Alred with his misunderstanding until the spring.

Sigefrith paused.

“A girl,” he said. “She named her Maud.”

“Oh, a girl.” Alred smiled sadly. “Poor Githa. She so wanted a daughter this time.”

“No, Alred. Listen. It’s – the baby is fine. Githa didn’t live an hour.”

Alred’s head snapped up, and after a moment one hand came up to lie upon his chest, as if to feel for the beating of his heart, or to slow it.

'Alred's head snapped up.'

“I’m sorry,” Sigefrith said. “I know you and she were especially close.”

Alred smiled a twisted smile and said, “Once she called me a hedgehog, because that was the worst name she knew! A hedgehog!” He gave a short, strangled laugh and suddenly stood. “I must tell Matilda.”

The others stood with him, but neither could find a word to say.

The others stood with him, but neither could find a word to say.

“Thank you, Sigefrith and Sigefrith,” he bowed smartly. “I shall…” He trailed off and walked slowly to the door.

“Give her my love,” Sigefrith said.

Alred nodded and opened the door, but he stood in the doorway for a long while, his back to them and his head bowed.

He stood in the doorway for a long while, his back to them and his head bowed.

“Would you like me to tell her?” Sigefrith offered.

“Thank you!” he cried without turning around. “God bless you, Sigefrith. Tell her – tell her you couldn’t find me. Tell her I was at Egelric’s. In any case, I believe that it is where I shall go tonight.”

“In this rain, Alred?”

“Oh!” He laughed the strange laugh again. “We poetic folk call those tears.”

'We poetic folk call those tears.'