Gunnilda did not appear to be impressed.

Malcolm had been as polite as he knew how to be, but Gunnilda did not appear to be impressed.

“Didn’t you already say goodbye to her earlier?” she asked.

“Aye… but I thought of a few other things I forgot to tell her.”

Gunnilda’s eyebrow went up, but Iylaine had appeared behind her by this time.

“Malcolm!” she cried. “What did you forget?”


“Let’s go out back. May we, Gunnie?”

'May we, Gunnie?'

“On the bench,” Gunnilda said. “Don’t you be going out into the woods or on the downs. It’s late.”

“Come on,” Iylaine said, taking his hand and pulling him inside to lead him down the hall to the back door.

“And keep that door open!” Gunnilda called.

“Oh!” Iylaine scoffed and pulled him down onto the bench beside her. “She thinks you’re courting me or something. She does the same thing when Anson comes to see Wynna.”

Malcolm laughed softly.

Malcolm laughed softly.

“What did you forget?” she asked.

“Oh! Well, nothing. I only wanted to say goodbye alone, which I couldn’t do earlier because Bertie and Eadwyn were there, and they would only make fun of me.”


“For the same reason Gunnilda makes us keep the door open.”

“They think we’re courting?” she gasped. “That’s funny.”

“I know. Isn’t it?”

“Do you think Anson and Wynna are?”

“I have no idea, nor do I care.”

“You don’t like them, do you?”

“Both of them are mean to you.”

'Both of them are mean to you.'

“Oh!” she sighed through slack lips. “Who isn’t?”

“Lots of people. Murchad and I, Bertie, Eadwyn, Eirik and Stein, and all of the young lordships and ladyships and the Prince and the Princesses. All the of noble folk.” Malcolm rose for a moment and turned to peer down the hall into the house, to see how close Gunnilda might be to the door. “I wish you didn’t live here, Babe,” he whispered.

“I know, but if I stay at the castle, then I can’t get outside into the woods when I want. It’s like being in prison, almost.”

“I think Alred would let you go out with me or Bertie or Eadwyn or Dunstan. We’re certainly capable of defending you.”

“But what if he thinks like Gunnie?” she giggled.

“Well, take Gwynn or something.”

“Oh, I don’t care, Malcolm,” she said with another weary sigh. “No matter where I go, I’m never peaceful.”

'No matter where I go, I'm never peaceful.'

Malcolm frowned. This problem had so far resisted his every attempt to find a solution.

“Which is harder on you, then?” he asked. “Being around people who are cruel to you, or being shut up in the castle when Bertie and I aren’t there to take you out?”

“I don’t know.”

Malcolm shook his head. “You should be living at the castle. They’re your people. Your father is a knight now.”

“Don’t talk to me about my father,” she snapped.

'Don't talk to me about my father.'

“Oh, Baby,” he groaned. “Don’t start again.”

“I hate him!” she hissed.

“No, you do not.”

“You never believe it when I tell you he doesn’t care about me, do you? Don’t you see? How much proof do you need, you stupid blockhead? He always went all over the place when he only had me. He never cared. He left me with whomever and went where he liked. But now that he has her and his precious babies–which are not even both his – he won’t step one foot away from his precious house!”

“Baby…” he sighed.

“Don’t call me Baby, either!”

“What? Why not?”

'What?  Why not?'

“Because I’m not his baby any longer,” she sniffed. “He has his own babies now.”

“You – The devil take you and feed you to his kittens!” he laughed. “Tell your Da not to call you Baby any longer if you like. You’re the only baby I have. I don’t see why I should stop.”

“Well… all right. You may. But I suppose I’m getting a little old for the name, don’t you think? Relatively speaking? I suppose people ought to begin calling me Iylaine.”

“Stop acting like such a crybaby when you don’t get your way, and they might.”

She giggled. “I’m not as bad as I used to be.”

“No, you don’t stomp your feet any longer, it is true.”

“It would be easier if I could swear like a boy. Isn’t it a great relief to swear?”

'Isn't it a great relief to swear?'

He laughed. “It is until you’re talking to a lady and you have to suddenly stop the flow. But you swear anyway, my fine Baby, and don’t pretend you don’t.”

“I only say ‘damned stupid something’ like my – like my damned stupid Da!” she said savagely.

“Ach, Baby! You always used to cry because he went away, and now you cry because he doesn’t.”

“I am not crying. And anyway, it is only because he is not staying for me, which he could have done at least once in all those years. So I know how much he loves me – relatively speaking.”

This “relatively speaking” was a new trick of hers that she had adopted from Dunstan, and always before it had made him laugh. This time there was too much truth in what she said to permit it. He could not explain away her father’s behavior, and he privately attacked him with far worse epithets than “damned” and “stupid.”

“No more talk about your Da,” he said and shrugged, and when his hand fell again it landed almost directly on her own. He quickly patted it a few times to make the gesture seem deliberate and then crossed his arms over his chest. “I didn’t come here to get an earful of all the things you want to say to your Da.”

'I didn't come here to get an earful of all the things you want to say to your Da.'

“How about a noseful?” she giggled.

“I didn’t come to hear my nose insulted, either.”

“Those are the only two things I can find to say, so you will have to think of something else to talk about.”

'Those are the only two things I can find to say.'

He smiled at her in the dark. Despite her father’s neglect, she had seemed merrier in the last weeks. Perhaps the occasion to get out into the woods when she liked was doing more good than anyone had anticipated.

“I can talk about the weather,” he mused. “That’s usually safe. Let’s try. It’s a fine night, Babe!” he cried for Gunnilda’s benefit. “What do you think?”

“I think it is quite pleasant, relatively speaking,” she said primly.

“We should have fine weather for our trip, at least in the one direction. I wish you could come with us. My mother will be asking after you again.”

“You may kiss your mother for me.”

“And my brother?” he teased.

'And my brother?'

“You may tell him that I inquired about his health,” she smiled.

“Slow down, Babe! That’s going it a little strong, I think,” he said, and immediately feared that Gunnilda had heard that part of the conversation.

“Oh, pish!” Iylaine giggled.

“I think I shall give him a cool nod from your part.”

“That is acceptable.”

“Your Da said last year that he might let you go when you were thirteen. Do you suppose he remembers?”

“I’m certain he doesn’t, since he has forgotten about me entirely.”

'I'm certain he doesn't, since he has forgotten about me entirely.'

“Ach! I wasn’t supposed to talk about him, was I?”

“I think it would be a fine joke if I went without him! I wish you could take me this year! Couldn’t I sneak away somehow?”

“Whisht! Don’t say such things aloud, even in jest. Gunnilda will never let you out of her sight.”

“I wish I were a boy,” she frowned. “You all get to go. And who is left for me? You and Bertie and Dunstan will be gone.”

'I wish I were a boy.'

“Poor Gunnilda might get a good night’s sleep for a change.”

“Why?” she giggled.

“Does she make Bertie and Dunstan keep the door open when they see you?”

“Oh, pish! Bertie likes stupid Osgyth, and Dunstan is supposed to marry the Princess. They aren’t courting me.”

“Oh, so only I get the special treatment! I like that.”

'Oh, so only I get the special treatment!  I like that.'

“You ought to find a sweetheart, too. Then Gunnie won’t worry about letting me go out with you.”

“Sly one! And whom should I pick? I don’t have any ideas.”

“I don’t know. I could find one for you. Lots of girls like you, I think.”

“You think! Well, all right, but only if I may pick a sweetheart for you.”

“No!” she squealed. “I don’t want one. We don’t both need one. Only you – that would be enough.”

'Only you--that would be enough.'

“But wouldn’t it be simpler if you got a sweetheart? Then any other boy could come to see you.”

“But I don’t want any other boys to come to see me.”

“So you’re saying only I get the special treatment.”

'So you're saying only I get the special treatment.'


“Ach, Baby!” he laughed, delighted. “What a cheesehead you are.”

“Don’t call me that,” she yelped as if she had been stung.

“I’m sorry, Babe,” he said, and this time when his hand fell upon hers the gesture was deliberate. “I forgot.”

'I forgot.'

He had been calling her cheesehead and clabbercheeks and other dairy-​​related insults for so long that he had not yet lost the habit since Wynna and her friends had begun using the words as a code for Iylaine’s supposed depravities.

Thus far he had honored her request not to tell anyone else. He had at first thought that Bertie would quickly put an end to the affair if she would only tell him, but with his late fondness for Osgyth, Malcolm was no longer certain where his allegiance lay.

“Don’t let them get to you while I’m gone,” he whispered. “You know that you’ve done nothing wrong, and they only show their own wickedness by speaking of yours.”

“It isn’t what they say that hurts me,” she said slowly. “Only that they hate me for no reason.”

'Only that they hate me for no reason.'

When her chin trembled like that, one was reminded how delicate it appeared, and how fine was all her face. She had the look of a fawn with her pointed ears, her large eyes, her slender nose… but there was the fullness of her lips where a fawn’s tiny muzzle should be.

He squeezed her hand and leaned closer to her ear, though he knew she could have heard him perfectly well from across the courtyard.

'You mustn't take it to heart.'

“If it’s for no reason,” he whispered, “you mustn’t take it to heart. The people who love you won’t love you any less because of what some people who don’t love you say.”

She shrugged one shoulder and pouted with her lips.

She shrugged one shoulder and pouted with her lips.

He leaned close enough that he could smell the perfume of her hair, which was like the scent of a strange flower. He had just opened his mouth to say he knew not yet what when she abruptly turned her head away from him. He sat up and released her hand, abashed – and only then did he understand why she had.

He sat up and released her hand.

“It’s real quiet out here,” Gunnilda said once her footsteps had reached the open doorway. “I guess you’ve said all you forgot to say, Malcolm.”

“But we weren’t finished, Gunnie,” Iylaine protested.

“I don’t know, but I guess you were. It’s getting late, and Malcolm has a lot of riding to do tomorrow. You ought to let him go home and sleep.”

'You ought to let him go home and sleep.'

Malcolm stood, hoping it would prevent any further protests, and Iylaine stood with him.

“Is there anything else you wanted to say?” she asked him in a tiny voice.

“Only goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Malcolm.”

“Goodbye, Baby. Goodnight, Gunnilda.”

“Goodnight, Malcolm,” Gunnilda said. “God keep you on your journey.”

“Thank you.”

Iylaine cocked her head and smiled sadly at him.

Iylaine cocked her head and smiled sadly at him. It seemed she was waiting for him to walk away first. Without thinking, he took her hand and bent to kiss it.

When he stood, the coolness of the breeze on his face showed him how he had blushed at his audacity. But he kissed ten or twenty hands a day! Could it be that he had never kissed Iylaine’s hand before? He did not think he could have forgotten it if he had.

He tarried only long enough to say, “Goodnight, Baby,” and walked quickly away towards the downs, fearing that even the stars gave light enough to let his face be read.

He had not gone far when he heard Gunnilda murmur something to Iylaine as the latter walked up the steps, and then he heard the girl’s high voice quite clearly in the night: “Gunnie, I think I would like it if you would start calling me Iylaine now.”

'Gunnie, I think I would like it if you would start calling me Iylaine now.'