'Ha ha!'

“Ha ha!” Synne crowed and pointed at the King. “Look at your beard!”

“Come here, you runt, and I shall give you a look at my beard!”

Synne laughed and ran to him, and once he had caught her up in his arms, he allowed her to inspect his shaggy face by rubbing her smooth cheek along it.

“Satisfactory?” he asked.

“Try harder next time!” she giggled.

'Try harder next time!'

Meanwhile Dyrne had seen Synne’s sudden flight and had promptly set off in pursuit, panting like a dog, as fast as her little hands and knees could carry her. Daeglan only sat up at the far end of the hall, forlorn and forgotten, and stared after her.

Daeglan only sat up at the far end of the hall, forlorn and forgotten, and stared after her.

“Oh, no, here comes Dyr across the flags again!” Synne cried.

“Doesn’t she ever look where she’s going?” Sigefrith laughed, for the baby crawled with her head down, as if she meant to plow through any obstacles that should have the misfortune to find themselves in her path.

“No, she never does,” Synne said as she went to get the girl, “and she never cares if she scuffs up her hands and knees on the stones, either.”

“Brit was the same way. I wish you luck with her!”

'Brit was the same way.  I wish you luck with her!'

Synne brought the baby to Sigefrith for a second inspection of his beard, and Daeglan, seeing her lifted out of reach, finally began to wail. Fortunately his father arrived at that moment to yell at Synne for her yelling. Brede was surprised enough to find the King in his hall that he only picked up the baby before his crying made matters worse.

His father arrived at that moment to yell at Synne for her yelling.

“Miss me, runt?” Sigefrith asked him.

“Of course. Synn, would you kindly express your joy in other manners than shouting? Estrid is upstairs with one of her sick headaches,” he added for Sigefrith’s benefit.

“Oh, dear! I’m sorry to hear that. I came to invite you all to supper. I’ve brought the first and third sons of Aed home with me for a visit, along with the seventh, whom I am told I may keep for a while.”

'I'm sorry to hear that.  I came to invite you all to supper.'

“Is the seventh Murchad?” Synne asked.

“It is indeed.”

“How many does he have?”

“Nine so far, and – and – and… perhaps another one on the way. And I lost count of the daughters.”

“Oh!” Synne gasped. “How old is he?”

“Do you know… I have no idea, Synn. Why don’t you ask Murchad? I shall seat him next to you this evening.”

'Do you know... I have no idea, Synn.'

“Sigefrith!” Brede hissed.

“I shall seat you between Yware and your brother if you continue to impugn the honor of Synne and Murchad in this manner.”

Synne laughed. “Then they will have to launch their peas over Brede’s head instead of directly at each other.”

“Is that so? In that case I shall seat the three of them across from me so that I may watch. You will come, won’t you Brede? I should hate to be disappointed, now.”

“I don’t like to leave Estrid,” Brede muttered.

“But he doesn’t like to leave me either!” Synne said.

'But he doesn't like to leave me either!'

“I shall stand guard over your sister,” Sigefrith sighed. “I do not know to what harm she could come at table.”

“She could arrange a meeting at a different location,” Brede said.

“That’s enough, Brede,” Sigefrith warned. He succeeded in looking menacing despite kissing Dyrne’s chubby paw meanwhile.

Synne smiled to herself, well-​​pleased. She hadn’t been seated next to a man younger than thirty in many months.

“Oh! Synn!” Sigefrith cried, and dropped Dyrne’s hand. “I nearly forgot! We came back through Thorhold, and I picked up two young ladies for you.”

“Oh, is it Freya and Ana?”

“It may very well be! I forgot to ask. And, Brede, Theobald sends his affectionate greetings, as well as notice that he will be coming down shortly after Midsummer, and he will want to take another peek at your twins.”

“Oh, no!” Synne laughed. “Last time he saw them, Daeg got so scared he peed!”

“Synne!” Brede barked.

“Name of God!” Sigefrith cried. “You reassure me, runt! I thought that Theobald only ever had that effect on me!”

'You reassure me, runt!'

“Oh, please, don’t encourage her, Sigefrith,” Brede groaned.

“What? Don’t you ever pee, Brede?” Synne asked.

“God!” Brede snapped. “Are you a lady or a – ”

“A runt!” Synne laughed.

“Don’t be too hard on her,” Sigefrith said. “It’s just a little ginger. There are men who prefer such ladies, you know. Think of Matilda – the mouth on her! Talking about pee was as polite as she ever was. Nevertheless, my dear cousin,” he said to Synne, “I hope that you will endeavor to be ladylike around our visitors. I have assured them that we are not savages here, and I would hate it to be our very ladies who prove me wrong.”

'I would hate it to be our very ladies who prove me wrong.'

“So no talking about pee,” Synne said.

“Let us at least wait for our guests to broach the subject. And put on your prettiest dress, and ask your maid to take her time on your hair. I have told them that our ladies are as beautiful as they are gracious.”

“That’s a lot to ask, Sigefrith,” Synne sighed wearily and giggled.

“I could have shaved myself into decency at Thorhold, and I did not, merely to please you. Now, can you do me the small favor of pretending to be a gracious lady tonight?”

“Anything for that beard!” she laughed.

'Anything for that beard!'