He wanted to hold her a while on his lap before they went to bed.

Sigefrith listened to Eadgith’s chatter with just enough attention that he could hope to make a reasonable reply if asked to comment. He wanted to hold her a while on his lap before they went to bed. He could always hold her at night in the bed, but he didn’t always have the time or the energy to sit up with her beforehand on the little couch before the fire, and so it was a delight when he could.

And she was so happy – God bless her! It had been a hard week for her, too. In addition to summoning up all the extra love she had found for Alred’s children, she had had to hide her happiness from everyone – everyone but him. She let it all spill out at night, when they were alone together.

She let it all spill out at night, when they were alone together.

The wonder was that she didn’t seem to realize that the thing that was making her so happy was the thing that had killed Matilda.

Sigefrith wondered whether there were other such things in life. It was what made women happiest, and it was also what was most likely to kill them. But the Lord had probably planned it so. If it had only been dangerous, none would have risked it, and the race of men would have ended outside the gates of Eden.

But for now, what he needed was precisely the purling brook of happiness that she was, and he let it wash over him. His wife was young and healthy and strong, he often reminded himself. Her happiness would flow on for many years yet. God bless her!

'Mother says it's too soon for me to be getting too big for my dresses.'

“Mother says it’s too soon for me to be getting too big for my dresses,” she said as he kissed her ear with little, nibbling kisses. “But I can scarcely lace the half of them. Why, even this old nightgown is getting tight around the middle.”

“Suppose we take it off, then?” he whispered.

“Oh, dear! Are you ready for bed so soon?”

“We needn’t go so far as the bed.”

She giggled. “But you know, it could be that I am simply getting fat. That’s what Hilda says. Will you still love me when I’m fat?”

'Will you still love me when I'm fat?'

“Hilda only says that because she is getting fat. But as for you – tell me how I could possibly love you less if there were more of you to love?”

“That’s a good question!” she laughed. “That’s one for Caedwulf, the next time he’s calculating how much corn he can fit in a bin of such and such a size. Ask him how much love one requires for a lady of such and such a size!”

“I believe that ten is a little young for such a lesson, my dear, and, what’s more, you ought to be careful when talking to a man about the size of his love. Some of us are a little sensitive about that.”

“Oh, dear!” she blushed. “But not you, I hope?”

'But not you, I hope?'

“Fortunately, I am the only standard weight and measure of a man you have. Am I insufficient?”

“Oh, no!” she giggled and hid her face in his neck.

“Then let us take off this insufficiently large gown and measure how fat you are growing, and calculate how much love I shall need, shall we?”

“What shall we use as a measuring stick?” she mumbled into his hair.

“Good Lord!” he laughed aloud. “I wonder!”

'I wonder!'

He had only just teased her face out of his shoulder and begun to kiss her in earnest when a timid knock came at the door. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth and prayed desperately that he had been imagining it. But it came again.

“You might pass the time by praying for the soul of the unfortunate person outside, for he is about to lose hold of it,” he muttered as he slipped her off his lap and stood.

“Oh, Sigefrith,” she scolded. “It might be a child.”

'It might be a child.'

“Anyone under the age of eleven is exempt.”

He smoothed his hair and clothes as best he could. Then he opened the door onto Malcolm.

“How old are you, runt?” he growled at once.

Malcolm blinked at him in astonishment. “Fourteen in a week or so.”

“Then prepare to meet your – oh! Oh, dear! Iylaine!” For the little elf girl was trembling in the shadows behind her cousin.

The little elf girl was trembling in the shadows behind her cousin.

Now Sigefrith was astonished. Iylaine was supposed to be staying with Bertie and his family these days. He could not begin to explain why she might be here so late.

“I’m terribly sorry to disturb you – Your Majesty,” Malcolm said with a slight bow. “There’s been a bit of trouble…”

“Of course, of course,” Sigefrith said quickly and closed the bedroom door behind him. “Follow me.”

In the space of time it took for him to lead them to the small sitting room beside the bedroom, he realized that they must have sent Iylaine – for some strange reason, Iylaine – to inform him of Matilda’s baby’s death. It was a pity, he thought, but perhaps just as well, considering what Leofric had told him that afternoon.

Malcolm helped Iylaine to be seated and then sat beside her and took her hand. Sigefrith was almost sorry this was not an occasion for a joke.

“What is it?” Sigefrith asked gently. The girl seemed upset. Perhaps she had grown to love the little baby in the last days.

'What is it?'

“I shall tell you what my cousin Baby told me,” Malcolm said. “I don’t want to – that is, I hope I don’t say too much. But I don’t like to keep such a secret between the two of us, and I wanted to tell an older man, which means you.”

“You have called me worse than ‘older,’” Sigefrith observed.

Malcolm smiled faintly and went on.

Malcolm smiled faintly and went on. “My cousin Baby was in Wynna’s room, and she heard – that is, it was after supper…” Malcolm seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

“Is it about the baby?” Sigefrith prompted.

“Oh! That’s right, it is,” Malcolm smiled in relief. “We thought no one knew. We thought he stole it.”

“What? Wait – who stole what?”

“The baby, I mean. Leofric took it.”

“Oh, dear God,” Sigefrith whispered.

'Oh, dear God.'

“Didn’t you know?”

“He came after supper,” Iylaine blurted. “He told Gunnie he was there to take the baby back to his wife, and Gunnie didn’t want to let her go, I don’t think, but she had to, because he’s a lord, and because he’s big and drunk.”

“Oh, dear God.”

“Didn’t you know?” Malcolm repeated.

'Didn't you know?'

“I had no idea he intended to do any such thing. Do you suppose he talked to Alred beforehand?”

“I don’t think so,” Iylaine said. “His Grace came right before supper, and he didn’t say anything about it. And he didn’t want to see the baby. And then he went to see my Da.”

“God help me,” Sigefrith muttered and rubbed a hand over his face. He realized that Malcolm was studying him with all the golden scrutiny of his eyes.

Malcolm was studying him with all the golden scrutiny of his eyes.

“Do you suppose you know why he did it?” Sigefrith asked him directly, hoping to catch him off guard.

“I suppose I do,” Malcolm said evenly. “Do you?”

“I suppose I do. Does your cousin?”

“I suppose she does.”

He held Malcolm’s eyes for a long moment. Then Malcolm bowed his head. “I said I meant to tell you,” he said. “We think that Leofric thinks that the baby is his.”

'We think that Leofric thinks that the baby is his.'

“And I happen to know that he does.”

Malcolm looked back up at him, but Sigefrith had already turned his attention to Iylaine. “How long after supper?” he asked her.

“Right after. Wynnie was still washing up.”

“That was hours ago, my dear.”

“I had to wait for Alwy and Gunnie to go to sleep,” she whined.

'I had to wait for Alwy and Gunnie to go to sleep.'

“She wanted to tell me,” Malcolm said defensively. “She couldn’t tell Gunnilda what she thought, now could she?”

“He could be home by now,” Sigefrith said, “assuming he was not so drunk as to fall off his horse along the way. How’s Druid?”


“Then you shall ride at once to Raegiming. If I don’t hear from you by dawn, I shall assume that they both arrived intact.”

'Then you shall ride at once to Raegiming.'

“What shall I tell him?” Malcolm asked.

“Tell him that he shall be held accountable for that baby’s death, if she dies. Tell him also that I do not appreciate having my hand forced. And tell him that, since it has been, I have done my best to smooth things over here. Meanwhile I shall take this wee girl home to Gunnilda, and in the morning I suppose I shall have to ride out to her father’s and try to explain to Alred the reasoning behind my brilliant idea to send that baby on a three hour winter ride with a churl such as his lordship. If you don’t hear from me by noon, you will know that Alred has already dispatched me for my presumption.”

'He doesn't want that baby.'

“He doesn’t want that baby,” Iylaine said bitterly.

Sigefrith looked over at her, surprised at the venom in her voice. “Then I suppose it is just as well that someone else does, isn’t it?”

'Then I suppose it is just as well that someone else does, isn't it?'