Malcolm stealthily moved his foot nearer Iylaine's.

Malcolm stealthily moved his foot nearer Iylaine’s. Now, he thought, he was closest to her – or at least his foot was. For the last several minutes, Stein had been gradually creeping closer to her as he lazed in the hay. He made it seem unwitting, but Malcolm did not believe Stein could be so careless in the presence of so fair a young lady.

Unlike Leofwine, Stein was a gentleman and had always kept his distance from Iylaine out of respect for Malcolm, but the young man had apparently decided that Iylaine was no one’s territory these days, and he seemed to be plotting a slow invasion. Innocently, of course! Anything Stein did seemed innocent, with his baby-​​blue eyes, his baby-​​soft hair – and his handsome nose.

Anything Stein did seemed innocent, with his baby-blue eyes, his baby-soft hair--and his handsome nose.

Oh! Stein had a long nose, it was true, but it was straight enough that the boy could have ruled his parchment with it. Malcolm didn’t mind his own dark hair and swarthy skin, and he was rather proud of his uncanny golden-​​brown eyes, but he would have given anything he owned except his horse to have Stein’s nose. Even his horse, if he thought it would make a difference to Iylaine.

“It’s not fair,” she pouted.

'It's not fair.'

“What isn’t?” Malcolm asked. “That it rains so much?” Their brief silence before she had spoken had drawn his attention back to the steady drumming of the rain on the stable roof.

“Poor girlie hates getting her face wet,” Stein chuckled.

'Poor girlie hates getting her face wet.'

Malcolm glared at him. What did he know about what she liked and didn’t like? But it was true Stein had been here with her for months while he was away. Malcolm still had not determined the extent of their relationship during that time.

“Shut up!” she snapped. “I was thinking that Dunstan and Eadwyn and Bertie got to go someplace, even if they have to stay inside too. We have to stay inside here and there’s nothing to do here.

“You would want to go to Dyrnemoras and Thorhold?” Malcolm asked. He found this surprising – she knew that Eadwyn had two brothers of an age to notice her prettiness, and at Thorhold there would be Affrais and Angharat, of whose prettiness he knew her to be jealous. Girls could be irrational that way.

'You would want to go to Dyrnemoras and Thorhold?'

“I thought you didn’t like Eadwyn’s father,” Stein said.

Malcolm scowled. He hadn’t known this. He had not been here to observe Iylaine with Sir Osfrey, and there had been many missed occasions, for the man had often stayed with the Duke in recent months. If he could have seen them together for only a few moments, he could have known more of her thoughts than Stein in his many months – but he had not seen them, and she no longer told him her thoughts.

“I don’t,” she said. “That is – I don’t know. I wish you had seen him, Malcolm. You always know whether we can trust someone.”

'You always know whether we can trust someone.'

Malcolm was somewhat mollified by this compliment. “I have met him. Not recently.”

“Not since he’s been friends with the Duke.”

“No… I knew him only as one of the Baron’s knights. They’re cousins.”

'No...  I knew him only as one of the Baron's knights.'

“He’s not cousins with the Duke! I don’t see what he sees in him. What Alred sees, I mean. He doesn’t even like poetry. Only pretends to, I think. Dunstan says his opinions on poetry are nonsense.”

“Perhaps they like each other because they are opposite,” Stein suggested. “As blond-​​haired boys like black-​​haired girls.”

“But you only like blonde girls, I think,” Iylaine said.

'But you only like blonde girls, I think.'

“That’s true, I do,” he laughed softly.

Malcolm tried to warn him with his eyes, but Stein would not look at him. The poor little thing had walked directly into that trap. And Malcolm had been away for over half a year, and she had had no one to defend her!

“What do you think, Malcolm?” Iylaine asked.

'What do you think, Malcolm?'

Malcolm was at least pleased that her thoughts had come so quickly back around to him. “About Osfrey?” he asked.


“Well, Iylaine, there are two possibilities. Either he wants something from the Baron or the Duke – or both – or he is genuinely friends with both of them. In the first case you must decide what he could want. In the second you must decide what the Baron and the Duke have in common so that Osfrey would want to be friends with the both.”

“Oh,” she sighed wearily. “Tell me.”

'Oh, tell me.'

“I don’t know! You’re supposed to think about it,” he laughed, a little painfully. It was still so difficult to avoid appending a “Baby” whenever he spoke to her. The revocation of this privilege hurt him more than any fits of screaming or of tears could have done. She had welcomed him home kindly and calmly enough, but she had informed him that he was to call her Iylaine now, and thus had the gates been closed to him.

“Can’t you think about it and tell us what you find?” she asked.

“I shall think about it anyway. But it would be easier if I had seen him with the Duke.”

'I shall think about it anyway.'

“I wish we could have gone too,” she sighed. “I’m so bored with this weather.” 

With a petulant foot she kicked the bale of hay on which Stein lay. He sat up suddenly, as if startled, but Malcolm didn’t believe the act as innocent as the boy looked. Now he was closer to Iylaine with his entire body, and not only his legs. On the other hand, Malcolm told himself, Stein sat near her on a bale, while Malcolm sat with her on the floor. He thought he might yet have the advantage after all.

“And I’ve never been anywhere,” she whined.

Malcolm sat up. This was the finest chance he had had yet. “You shall come home with me this summer, and then you will have gone somewhere.”

Stein flinched.

'Stein flinched.'

“My father will never let me,” she sighed, obviously intent on being pessimistic that day in spite of any rainbows that the world might unfurl before her.

“I wager he will! Synne is going, if the border country is safe this summer. And if Synne can come, surely a girl as fast and strong and brave as you can come.”

'I wager he will!'

Iylaine wrinkled her nose at the mention of Synne. Malcolm realized that might not have been the best argument to make – though surely, now that Synne was betrothed to his cousin…

“I wish I could go,” Stein said with greater petulance still. “Sigefrith is taking Eirik, but Brede will never go.”

'I wish I could go.'

“If Alred doesn’t go,” Malcolm said, “at least you will have Bertie and Eadwyn, and a whole valley full of girls to yourselves.” He intended to remind Iylaine at every possible occasion that Stein was no better than he – indeed, much worse, if one counted.

“Alred had better not go!” Iylaine cried. “Otherwise we shall probably have to go all the way to your house with Sir Osfrey Ealstan!

'Otherwise we shall probably have to go all the way to your house with Sir Osfrey Ealstan!'

Malcolm was delighted. She had said “we”!

“Unless your father doesn’t let you go,” Stein pointed out gleefully as he stretched out on the bales again – a few inches closer to Iylaine than before. “Otherwise you will be stuck here with Sir Osfrey Ealstan!

Malcolm despaired. It was true! Her father had not yet consented. And if he did not, then she would be stuck there: perhaps with Sir Osfrey Ealstan, perhaps not – but certainly Stein would have her all to himself!

Certainly Stein would have her all to himself!