Sigefrith had retreated to his study, hoping that an hour of peace would allow him to regroup his wandering senses.

Sigefrith had retreated to his study, hoping that an hour of peace would allow him to regroup his wandering senses. He would have preferred to have lain an hour in Eadgith’s arms, but that would have to wait for the night. During the day, her arms were full of Alred’s grieving children, all but the oldest, whom Alred had kept to himself, and the youngest, whom Alred had thrust away.

He had been dreading this day: the day after Matilda’s funeral. For him and for Cenwulf, this had been the hardest day. This was the day when others began going about their affairs again, and when one raged that the world could go on as it always had now that one’s wife was no longer in it. Surely the world would never be the same?

Alred had been so devastated immediately upon Matilda’s death that Sigefrith had feared that anything worse would lead to a brain fever. Instead, he seemed much as he had been for the past four days. He did not seem to have noticed the world, or that it was steadily going on.

He did not seem to have noticed the world, or that it was steadily going on.

It was quite possible, as Sigefrith had said to Brede that morning, that Alred had not yet noticed that the sun had risen upon the night of her death. He still seemed to believe in God, for he spent many hours alone or with Father Aelfden in Saint Margaret’s chapel, wherein his wife was now entombed. But Brede had thought it might prove only that Alred still believed in Matilda.

The important thing, to Sigefrith’s mind, was that Alred had not yet gone to stay at Egelric’s house. Egelric was a good man in many ways, but there was something feral about him and his retreat from civilization, and Sigefrith feared that too much exposure to that at this time would make Alred a little wild as well.

Sigefrith jolted awake at the sound of a knock. He had not even realized he had been sleeping.

Sigefrith jolted awake at the sound of a knock.

“Enter!” he called wearily, but gently. Whoever it was – Alred, or one of his children, or one of Sigefrith’s own children – they would doubtlessly need be treated with gentleness. Anyone else who dared disturb him at this time would certainly deserve – and get – the opposite.

It was Leofric. Sigefrith slumped in his chair, too exhausted to yell after all. “God damn you,” he muttered.

“Afternoon, runt,” Leofric said meekly.

'Afternoon, runt.'

“I thought you went home last night after the funeral. Where the hell did you stay? Good God, don’t tell me you were here and I never even noticed!”

“I did go home. I came back. May I sit?” His speech was slurred, and by now Sigefrith had smelled the drink on him.

“Name of God, were you drinking on horseback or what? Sorry bastard! Don’t tell me you’re still drunk from dinner at your place! Sit down before you fall over.”

“I didn’t come directly here. That is, I was with Egelric.” He sat and twisted a fold of his tunic between his sweaty hands.

“Oh! Gone to see his pretty wife at last, were you?”

'Oh!  Gone to see his pretty wife at last, were you?'

“I went to see him only. His wife is pretty, though, and his elf runts.”

“Well, I suppose you drank to their collective health several times over, did you not? That why you came back here? Too drunk to make it all the way back to Raegiming? Doesn’t your horse know the way?”

“Don’t be rough with me, runt,” he pleaded, and Sigefrith almost believed for a moment he had tears in his eyes. “I need your help.”

“What have you gone and done now? Can’t Sigefrith help you, or someone else? I’m half dead myself, here.”

“I need you, Sigefrith. I need you to talk to Alred.”

“Oh, good God! Not now, Leofric! Another hour with Alred today will be the death of me. Your son has him now, God bless his loving heart!”

“I need you to talk to him, Sigefrith. Please.”

'I need you to talk to him, Sigefrith.  Please.'

Never, Sigefrith thought, had Leofric looked so old.

“What about?” he asked wearily.

“I would like you to ask him whether Leila and I might take Matilda’s little daughter to be nursed with us.”

Sigefrith was speechless.

“Leila is still nursing the twins, but it’s about time they were weaned, I think. She could nurse the baby.”

“But why? She’s with little Gunnilda Hogge now, who nursed Gwynn. She’s a fine nurse.”

'But why?'

“But she is only a common woman. Matilda’s daughter ought to be nursed by a lady.”

Sigefrith shook his head. “Forgive me, Leofric, but you have me staggered. Why do you care who nurses that baby? It won’t live anyway. The poor thing is smaller than Brede’s twins were, and she’s gone all yellow.”

“Have you seen her?”

“I saw her two days ago. I haven’t heard anything from up that way since this morning. She could be dead already.”

'I saw her two days ago.'

Leofric swallowed. “What does she look like?”

“Oh! Don’t ask me. Everyone knows I don’t know anything about spotting resemblances. She looks like a scrawny little wrinkled troll, may her blessed mother forgive me for saying so.”

The corners of Leofric’s mouth turned down in a fine impression of a man trying not to cry.

The corners of Leofric's mouth turned down in a fine impression of a man trying not to cry.

“Oh, God damn you, Leofric,” Sigefrith sighed in exasperation. “I told you to go see her while you still had a chance – while she could still speak.”

“I told you – told you – told you to tell her I would come for her if she wanted,” Leofric whimpered. Now he truly was crying. Never had he looked so old and so miserable. “She never wanted me!”

“You know Matilda and her pride,” Sigefrith said gruffly. “You should have known. But I’m sorry for you, old man. Now you must make it up to her in Paradise.”

“I shall never go!” he laughed bitterly. “You’ll tell her for me, won’t you, runt? Tell her – ” He stopped and bit his lip, and the tears rolled down into the folds of his cheeks.

“Please don’t cry, Leof,” Sigefrith said after a while, and he kicked Leofric’s shin lightly with the tip of his boot. “I haven’t seen you cry since Siggy died.”

'Please don't cry, Leof.'

“You have to help me, runt.”

“What will it change if you have Matilda’s daughter with you? Honestly? Do you think you will make up to her mother that way?”

“It will change everything.”


“Because she’s mine.”


“Mine! My daughter! Mine! And Matilda’s! Mine!”

'Mine!  My daughter!'

Sigefrith very slowly sat up straighter in his chair, as if the slightest sudden movement might cause this new and precariously unbalanced world to collapse around him.

“What are you telling me?” he asked warily.

“I’m telling you she’s my daughter. Matilda and I – last summer – while you were away – ”

“Leofric, you are drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“No, runt, I’m telling you, she’s mine!”

“No, Leofric, you are drunk. I repeat – you don’t know what you are saying.”

“No, I swear to you, she’s – ”

Sigefrith leapt from his chair, regardless of the perilous instability of the world. “Damn you, listen to me! You’re drunk! You don’t know what you’re saying! Don’t make me say it again!”

'You don't know what you're saying!  Don't make me say it again!'

Leofric hung his head.

“Damn you!” Sigefrith roared at him, and he wondered whether one could strike one’s own father-​​in-​​law. “Damn you for telling me this!”

“But I need your help…” he quavered.

“You need more help than I could hope to give you – or you will if Alred ever learns of this!”

“He needn’t…”

Sigefrith shook his head and pointed at the door. “Get out of here. Get on your horse and go home, and thank the gods that you’re drunk enough that I’m not obliged to believe anything you just said. And don’t tell anyone else of this, drunk or not! Understood?”

Leofric got up and left without another word.

Leofric got up and left without another word.

Sigefrith fell back into his chair and sat holding his head in his hands.

The entire unstable world was balanced on one drunken, desperately miserable man’s shoulders. Now Sigefrith would spend every waking moment cringing and awaiting the crash.

When he thought Leofric had had enough time to leave the castle, he got up and left his study. There was no peace there. His only hope was to find his wife’s arms empty.

His only hope was to find his wife's arms empty.