'Would you kindly go down and have our bags taken out again?'

“Dunstan,” Alred said as the three came out of the bedchamber, “would you kindly go down and have our bags taken out again – at least what we shall need for tonight and the morrow?”

“But I thought we were staying here,” Dunstan protested softly.

“I think I should rather sleep in my own – in my own home.”

Alred walked with his back straight and his head up. Sigefrith knew it for the posture he assumed when he sought to make up for a lack of courage with an increase in height.

Alred walked with his back straight and his head up.

“What about the girls and the old man?” Dunstan asked.

“Just we two tonight, I think. You know what an expedition it is to go anywhere with girls.”

“Shall I have our horses saddled?”

“Let’s give them a rest. I should rather walk anyway. I think I shall want to talk to you on the way. You’re not too tired, are you?”

“Not if you aren’t.”

“That is the correct answer to give to an old man such as myself. Will you go on ahead? I should like to have a word with this even older man, if he is not too tired.”

“I can still keep up with you,” Sigefrith said.

'I can still keep up with you.'

Alred led him to the small sitting room near Sigefrith’s own bedchamber. Sigefrith regretted this, for he had already had a number of unpleasant conversations in this room, and he no longer felt at ease there. On the other hand, he thought, it meant that they would not be polluting some other room with the words they said tonight.

He lit the lamp and sat, and Alred sat on the bench facing him. Now that they were alone, Alred seemed to have shrunk to even less than his usual size, but his face and voice were calm.

His face and voice were calm.

“She isn’t mine, is she?” he asked.

Sigefrith had been planning for this meeting for nearly ten months. He already knew precisely what he would say, although he had no idea where the conversation would lead afterwards, or what the future would hold for any of them.

Suddenly, though, he wondered why he was doing it. Surely Leofric was not worth this. He already knew what he would say: it was the only thing he could say, the only defense he had, and yet it was not a shield but rather a sword with a double edge.

But Leofric was Eadgith’s father, and his own cousin, and his oldest friend.

'And Cubby isn't mine, is he?'

“And Cubby isn’t mine, is he?” Sigefrith countered.

Alred opened his mouth and closed it again. He sat up straighter on his bench and lifted his head. “How long have you known?” he finally asked.

“I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t learn all at once as you did. I suppose I gradually learned over seven years. I have truly known only since last spring, when I finally asked Malcolm. My squire, that is. That boy’s depths scrape the roof of Hell. I knew that if there were anything to know, he would know it. However, I was surprised to learn that he was not the only one who knew.”

“You mean me.”

'You mean me.'

“Among others.”

“Thus you think this is some sort of divine justice?”

“It is neither divine nor just. Cubby isn’t yours, after all. I merely mean to say that you and Egelric and Colban and Malcolm, in your combined wisdom, decided that I was not to have the satisfaction of slaying my wife’s lover.”

'You decided that I was not to have the satisfaction of slaying my wife's lover.'

“You think I want to kill Leofric?”

“Don’t you?”

Alred looked away, and his shoulders slowly slumped again. “What would that gain me?”

'What would that gain me?'

“The satisfaction?”

They sat in silence for a long while.

“Why don’t you kill Malcolm?” Alred finally asked.

“Ah, I have often wondered,” Sigefrith said and folded his broad hands over his knee. “Is it because I learned too slowly, and was his friend meanwhile?” he mused. “Is it because I have a new wife, whom I love? Is it because I love Cubby too much to make him an orphan? What do you think?”

'What do you think?'

“Because it wouldn’t gain you anything. I don’t think there would be any satisfaction in it.”

“You may be right.”

Again Alred sat a while without speaking, and again Sigefrith waited patiently.

“Do you remember how I often said that nothing could make me unhappier than I already was?” Alred asked.

“On several occasions, yes. Have you been proven wrong?”

'If this doesn't suffice--no!'

“No. I have been proven correct. If this doesn’t suffice – no! I shan’t tempt fate. I still have my children. And you, and all. But I had already lost Matilda, and I never had her daughter. Therefore, why am I sighing? Can I bring her back again? I shall go to her, but she will not return to me. I should be pleased that I have at least been allowed to know why she stopped loving me.”

“If it matters, Leofric claims she never loved him.”

'It doesn't matter.  Should it matter?'

“It doesn’t matter. Should it matter? Perhaps it’s worse.” His voice was taking on a taint of bitterness that Sigefrith hadn’t heard on it in several months. “If she didn’t love him, then what was it?” he asked. “Something unworthy of her. And so.” He stood. “I shall marry Raegan when she is older. It seems to be the safest thing to do.”

“Alred…” Sigefrith stood with him.

“It would seem that even two wives are not enough for him. I admire you, Sigefrith, for visiting Colban and his family this summer and never hinting that you knew, and never speaking a harsh word to Malcolm. However, I do not possess your composure, and I hope you will not ask me to speak to Leofric.”

'I hope you will not ask me to speak to Leofric.'

“I certainly shall not, nor do I myself wish to see him at the moment. I would imagine that he will leave as soon as he comfortably may.”

“Well, then, you may tell our dear Esau to take his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and go into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.”

“I shall tell him to go.”

'I shall tell him to go.'

“Don’t look at me so, Sigefrith.”


“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said miserably, tired indeed. “Let me go. I want to go home with my son.”

“I begin to wish you would stay here tonight. We might not retire for hours yet.”

“I think you will not tarry. You have a lovely wife who evidently missed you very much.”

“And you go home to an empty castle.”

“I have my son, and tomorrow my children. And why should I mourn this night more than the last? I have lost nothing that was mine.”

'I have lost nothing that was mine.'