He was not in the bed, but was curled up on the couch that had been pushed aside to make room for a cradle.

Sigefrith heard Leofric’s snoring even before he opened the door to the room that had been Eadgith’s. He was not in the bed, but was curled up on the couch that had been pushed aside to make room for a cradle.

Never, Sigefrith thought, had Leofric looked so old.

He went to peek in the cradle.

He went to peek in the cradle. Leila had told him the baby was well, but it was nevertheless a relief to him to see her there, so pink and warm and softly breathing. She had lost the troll-​​like yellowish cast she had had to her skin the last time he had seen her, and without Gunnilda’s baby nearby for comparison, she did not seem so tiny after all. He tested her hand on his finger and found that it was easily larger than the miniature, frog-​​like hands of Brede’s newborn twins.

“Please, don’t take her!” Leofric moaned behind him. Never had Leofric sounded so forlorn.

Sigefrith sighed. “I consider that one three-​​hour ride in the winter air is enough for her for at least a week.”

'I consider that one three-hour ride in the winter air is enough for her.'

Leofric rose and came to look at the baby. “I kept her warm in my cloak,” he said.

“I supposed you had.”

After a long silence, Leofric timidly asked, “Isn’t she beautiful? So much more beautiful than I had dared dream.” His trembling voice faded hoarsely. “She will have Matilda’s eyes. And she has Matilda’s little chin,” he concluded in a whisper.

Sigefrith could only sigh again.

“What do you mean to do to me?” Leofric asked gruffly.

'What do you mean to do to me?'

Sigefrith extracted his finger from the sleeping girl’s grasp and turned to him.

I can’t slay you, because you are my wife’s father. And Alred doesn’t want to. At the moment he doesn’t care what becomes of the poor mite. He hasn’t even seen her.”

I shall keep her!”

“You are dreaming, Leofric. You are. One of these days Alred will want his daughter.”

'One of these days Alred will want his daughter.'

“She is my daughter.”

“When he asks for her, you may tell him so.”

“I shall.”

“It may be the last thing you ever say.”

Leofric shrugged and pushed past him to lay a hand over his daughter’s forehead. “Then you will tell her when she is grown that I loved her, and that I loved her mother. And you may tell Alred that her mother never loved me.

'Then you will tell her when she is grown that I loved her.'

“Don’t try to convince me you were in love with Matilda,” Sigefrith snapped.

Leofric blinked as if startled. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re a randy old goat who took advantage of her husband’s absence to seduce her.”

“It isn’t true.”

“It would be the first time.”

“It would be the only time. But it may happen to a man once in his life.”

“And to randy old goats?” Sigefrith sneered.

'And to randy old goats?'

“It would seem so.”

Sigefrith sighed. Leofric seemed sincere.

“Damn you,” he swore softly, bitterly. “You don’t deserve an ounce of pity. You killed Matilda.”

Leofric choked and held his hand over his mouth for a moment. Then he leaned down to take the baby in his arms. “If I hold her against my heart,” he explained to no one in particular, “I can almost bear it – almost.”

'I can almost bear it--almost.'

“And Alred?” Sigefrith cried, trembling with anger and with the difficulty of keeping his voice low before the sleeping baby. “Damn you! God damn you! Don’t you start crying! That’s a woman’s trick.”

Leofric shook his head. “You have to help me, Sigefrith.” With his tears, he had the croaking voice of an old man. “I gave you my eldest, dearest, most beautiful daughter. You have to help me keep my youngest.”

“You have been nothing but a scoundrel from the day you were born.”

'You have been nothing but a scoundrel from the day you were born.'

“And I have loved you since the day you were – my lord’s son, and then my lord, and then my son.”

“Damn you.”

The baby begin to stir and whimper against Leofric’s chest. “Hush, hush, my dove,” he soothed, and he turned away as if he did not want a witness to his love.

'Hush, hush, my dove.'

“What about Leila?” Sigefrith asked.

“Leila knows. She recognized Raegan in her at once.”

“You’re a sorry bastard.”

'You're a sorry bastard.'

“I know. Why do you think I’m sleeping in here? She won’t have anything to do with her–or me, now.”

“Are you nursing her, too?”

“She will do that, and no more. But she will come around. She’s a woman.”

“And Alred will come around, too. He’s her father. Or thinks he is.”

“Then you must help me, Sigefrith. If he will let me keep her while believing her his own, that is just as well. Inch’Allah. If not, he must be told. But I think he will recognize me in her soon enough.”

'But I think he will recognize me in her soon enough.'

“And then what will he do?”

“I don’t know. But I shall not give her up while I live.”

Sigefrith glared at him. “Many a time and often I have told myself that your only redeeming feature is your love for your children, and for your daughters in particular.”

“And for you, runt.”

“God damn you! Don’t remind me!”

'God damn you!  Don't remind me!'

“You’ll help me, won’t you, Sigefrith?” he pleaded.

“I suppose I must. Damn you! God knows I believe a child ought to be raised with its father!” he cried bitterly.

Leofric did not reply. He had already turned away to comfort his whimpering child.

He had already turned away to comfort his whimpering child.