Alred and Iylaine sat a while in silence behind Gunnilda's house.

Alred and Iylaine sat a while in silence behind Gunnilda’s house. Iylaine could hear the after-​​breakfast bustle of the family inside, still joyous over Bertie’s return, but she supposed that the Duke’s ears could only hear an occasional muffled shout behind the closed door. For him there was only the whithering of the wind across the downs.

“I missed you, Iylaine,” he said softly. “You know the worth of silence, especially when it is shared. Not one of the men that were with me has learned that secret.”

'I missed you, Iylaine.'

“Dunstan doesn’t talk much,” she pointed out.

“That’s so,” he agreed. “But he’s afraid of silence and tries to fill it himself if no one else will. You and I know that silence isn’t simply a lack, don’t we?”

Iylaine was not certain she understood what he meant, but she was inclined to agree. “I suppose we do. I like to sit and think with someone, not always alone. But Gunnie will get suspicious if she doesn’t hear us talking,” she added with a giggle.

'But Gunnie will get suspicious if she doesn't hear us talking.'

“I beg your pardon?” he laughed.

“If Wynnie and Anson stop talking for a while she always comes to see what they’re doing. She always makes them leave the door open, too.”

Alred twisted his head around to glance at the closed door behind them. “She must trust me more than Anson.”

“With me?” Iylaine laughed.

“Well? I suppose I’m a bachelor again now, aren’t I?” His voice was suddenly strange – not with bitterness, but with a sweetness that had gone rotten, like apples flung down by a bitter wind.

'Well?  I suppose I'm a bachelor again now, aren't I?'

“But I’m only a little girl,” she said quickly.

“Not so little any more,” he said thoughtfully, and his voice was his own again.

Iylaine flushed and looked at her feet, mortified. Surely he did not know – surely he could not tell merely by looking at her?

“The problem,” he continued, “is rather that I am something of an old man. Nearly thirty-​​eight years old now.”

'Nearly thirty-eight years old now.'

“That’s not so old.”

“No, but it is ugly,” he sighed.


“Nothing, my dear. But age and ugliness aside, the true impediment to our love is my many, far more worthy rivals.”

'The true impediment to our love is my many, far more worthy rivals.'

“Oh,” she said and hung her head again.

“Now, I’m not here to tease you. I know you know that none of them is in fact worthy enough to be worthy of you. And if you don’t know it, only ask your father and I’m certain he will explain to you how inferior they all are. Most particularly I, alas!”

“Oh, stop,” she giggled. “You’re not going to start using your poetry on me as you do on Gunnie, are you? My hair is like a flock of goats?”

'My hair is like a flock of goats?'

Your hair is like spun sunshine shot through with strands of moonbeams.”

“Oh, pish!”

“There!” he cried and clapped his hands down on his thighs in exasperation. “No matter what I say to you ladies, whether it’s absurdly metaphorical or simply very true and flattering, it’s always the same pish to you! Or is it only because the words are mine?”

“I wouldn’t even listen to such nonsense from anyone else but you. Or Dunstan, but only because Dunstan would never say such a thing about me.

“Not to your face.”

'Not to your face.'

“What?” she gasped.

“I seem to be teasing you after all,” he grinned. “I have missed you! Won’t you come stay with us again? It won’t be the same without you. Gwynn and Margaret begged me to beg you, but they needn’t have bothered. I want you, too. And it will give me an excellent advantage over my rivals. Those that don’t live with me, at least.”

“I don’t know…” she mumbled.

“Unless you would rather stay here?” he asked.

Now she hesitated.

“I shan’t pester you about it. Kindly consider it; that is all I ask for now. I simply promised Gwynn and Margaret that I would ask you to come. And Malcolm.”

'And Malcolm.'


“Ah, yes – Malcolm. I suppose I may tell you he asked me to look out for you, since he doesn’t seem to believe that Bertie can do it properly.”

She looked down at her lap.

“You do know he isn’t here?” Alred asked gently.

“Bertie told me.”

“Hmm! I can only imagine how young Squire Sigebert made it sound: going off to great adventures with nary a thought for the danger nor for the people he left behind.”

'I can only imagine how young Squire Sigebert made it sound.'

“Something like that,” she mumbled.

“I do doubt he reckoned the danger, but I know he thought of you. I gathered he had promised you he would be home by a certain time, or something like, and he was sorry he would not be. He wanted me to tell you so, in any event.”

“He never promised me anything.”

“Then he is wise beyond his years. But he was foolish enough – or bold enough – to promise you that you shall go home with him next summer and meet his mother, whatever your father has to say about it. And I promised him I would stand with him. Would you like that?”

She shrugged the shoulder closest to him. She could feel that he was leaning low, trying to peer up at her face behind the hair that hung over it.

“You know, I’m not certain he would have gone at all, if he had had the choice. He must serve the King, of course, but if he – ”

'Oh, I don't care!'

“Oh, I don’t care!” she said. “He always wanted to go places and do things, so… that’s what he wanted.”

“Well, if you don’t care, then never mind,” he said and sat up again. “I only promised to deliver that message, and I have. Oh, I was also to tell you that he misses you, and misses your ears, for what that’s worth. He said you would know what he meant.”

“I’m certain he does,” she said haughtily.

“He must be one the few mortals who have had the privilege of seeing them.”

“Only because he pulls my hair.”

Alred laughed softly to himself, and when she dared look at him, she saw him staring out across the downs and shaking his head slowly.

She saw him staring out across the downs and shaking his head slowly.

She sat beside him in silence for a while, but she no longer found it pleasant. He had told her nothing she did not already know, but now she was annoyed.

“He doesn’t even like Eirik!” she cried when her frustration finally got the better of her.

'He doesn't even like Eirik!'

“I believe the two have developed a mutual respect. And young Eirik is going with them.”

“He doesn’t like young Eirik either. Much.

“No? That may be. He may have a talent for hiding his true feelings. But remember, Iylaine, that he did not go because he liked any Eiriks, young or old, or young Tryggve, or any Danish knights. He went to serve his king. He’s remarkably clever for his age, and indeed at his age he can go many places without attracting as much suspicion as a grown man would. And he doesn’t miss a detail, and he never forgets a face.”

“He has the devil’s own right eye,” Iylaine said proudly.

'He has the devil's own right eye.'

Alred laughed. “Who says so? Your father?”


“He would know! He has the devil’s nose.”

Iylaine giggled. “So does Malcolm.”

“For that matter, so does the whole clan. But only young Malcolm has the devil’s right eye, I would wager, although his cousin Magog has been known to borrow the left from time to time.”

She smiled at him.

'She smiled at him.'

“You know, Iylaine,” he said, suddenly grave, “that Malcolm is a valuable friend to our King, and very dear to him besides. Sigefrith would not have sent him if he thought there was a great danger. His friendship with the King of Danes is not worth a hundredth part of what Malcolm is to him.”

“When will he come home?” She did not like to look as if she cared, but she had to know. Bertie had not been able to tell her.

'When will he come home?'

“That depends on how far Eirik is willing to sail in the winter months. I expect they will pass the winter in Nidaros. I wouldn’t look for him until the spring.”

She looked out onto the downs and sighed. “The leaves will have fallen and the leaves will have come again.”

She looked out onto the downs and sighed.

“Perhaps. Are you growing poetic from lack of your prosaic cousin, Iylaine?”


“A pity! But perhaps I should not wish that fate on the people I love. It’s little comfort to be able to express one’s suffering if it also allows one to suffer more.”

“Doesn’t it allow you to be happy more, too? You wrote lots of happy poems.”

'Doesn't it allow you to be happy more, too?'

“Perhaps it does. I wonder whether it’s worth it? Happiness is like the wine, and sorrow is like the lees. You can keep the lees in your cup as long as you like, but you can only drink the wine until it’s gone.”

“But people drink wine anyway,” she said.


“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I.”

'Neither do I.'