'What did my little mother say to you today?'

“What did my little mother say to you today?” Wynflaed asked suddenly.

Sigefrith was startled. He had been drifting into sleep, and he had not expected that question.

“Why?” he asked, trying to laugh. “Do you think she said something special today?” But he knew he was a poor liar.

'Do you think she said something special today?'

“It seemed to me. She was very thoughtful after you left.”

Sigefrith was silent for too long.

“Did she tell you something I won’t like to hear?” she quavered.

He sighed and squeezed her.

“Is she more ill than we knew?”

'Is that truly possible, Wyn?'

“Is that truly possible, Wyn?” he asked her gently. It had been many months since the little mother had had the strength to descend into the kitchen. It had been many weeks since she had left her bed.

She shivered closer to him, and he had begun to think he had silenced her. But then she asked, “What did you talk about?”

“Nothing much.”

“I don’t know. You have been thoughtful tonight too.”

“I? Thoughtful?” he smiled. “I think you have the wrong man, if you’re looking for thoughtful. I’m only tired.”

'No, you're worried about something.  I can tell.'

“No, you’re worried about something. I can tell. Your eyebrows come together right here.” She tapped her finger between them.

“Good Lord!” he laughed. “I can’t hide anything from you.”

He nudged her hand away, but it only fell upon his chest and slid down onto his naked stomach, as if to remind him that he scarcely tried to hide anything from her in any case.

He did not know whether she was aware of it, but he had noticed she liked to stroke the soft fur of his belly with her little hand. There was nothing he liked more.

He was afraid to mention it to her for fear that she would stop. She would have continued doing it if he had asked, of course – there was nothing she would not do if he asked her, and she would enjoy it because he did – but he thought he liked the unconscious affection of this gesture more than he would have anything calculated to please him.

“Well?” she asked and lifted her hand. He caught it in his own. “You promised to tell me your troubles,” she reminded him.

'You promised to tell me your troubles.'

“I think it is something you won’t like to hear,” he sighed.

“Now you certainly must tell me. You worry me.”

“Your little mother wants to know what will become of the four of you after she is gone.”

“She already knows what Heaf will become.”

Sigefrith had decided to take Heafoc into his household as a page. Haakon would have his friend to play with every day, and certainly it would be good for Heafoc. But he meant to wait until spring, thinking that Hilda would be too heavily pregnant by then to interfere, if indeed she would wish to interfere.

'And the rest of us will stay on the farm.'

“And the rest of us will stay on the farm,” she continued. “Shan’t we?”

“Well, Os shall, of course. But your little mother was particularly worried about you and Mouse.”


“Because your father is not here to find husbands for you.”

“Oh.” She went limp in his arms.

“She asked me whether there were any young men you and Mouse liked, and whether there were any good young men I could propose.”

'She asked me whether there were any young men you and Mouse liked.'

They had never spoken of this before, and now he felt rather cruel doing it. But she had asked.

“I think we can trust Mouse to find a good young man, can’t we?” he asked. “She is not shy about sending the bad ones off with their ears ringing, anyway.”

She laughed weakly.

“But what about you, Wynsome?” he asked, less gently than he had hoped, but he could not risk breaking into tears. “You’re nearly eighteen. Perhaps you would like a husband of your own. And children of your own.”

'And children of your own.'

He waited for her to say what he thought she might – what he hoped she would. If she had said it, it would have made his choice easy for him. There would have been no choice – only the acceptance of a fate that he desired more than anything.

But she did not speak.

He did not know much about women and what they might do. Hilda always said that he had merely to look at her and she would find herself pregnant again. He wondered why she did not contrive to prevent it, if it were possible. And yet his father seemed to think it was possible, that there were things a girl might do…

Between a cruel wife carrying another man’s baby, and his beloved and their own child, there would be no choice. But Wynflaed did not speak.



“I shall stay with my brother until he is married,” she said dully. “He will need a woman in the house, of course. And I am grown, or nearly grown.”

“Your mother seemed to think that something could be arranged. That we could find a young man who would be willing to live with you and farm for you until Os came of age, against a farm of his own when the day came.”

'We could find a young man who would be willing to live with you and farm for you until Os came of age.'

She did not speak for a long while. This time he did not press her.

Finally she mumbled, “Sigefrith, would you give me up?”

“If it were what you wanted. If it would make you happy.”

“You are better than I. I would not give you up, not even if it were what you wanted. Not even to make you happy.”

“It wouldn’t.”

“Then don’t ask me to.”

'Then don't ask me to.'