Dunstan sat himself wearily on the couch before the fire.

Dunstan sat himself wearily on the couch before the fire. He had spent half the previous night reading, never dreaming that there would be a reason to celebrate this night, and now it was late and he was tired. But Iylaine had sent him a pleading look when he had wondered aloud whether he ought not to go to bed, and he knew she wanted him to stay.

Girls were incomprehensible, he thought. If she didn’t want to sit up with Malcolm, she could have simply told him that she herself was tired and wished to go to bed. She could have simply stayed at Bernwald with her father when Dunstan’s father had asked him to take his sisters home, for she should have known that Malcolm would offer to ride with them if she came home with Dunstan and the girls. Or she could simply tell Malcolm that she didn’t want him to do whatever she seemed to fear he would do if he were left alone with her.

But these simple solutions to her problem were not for her. She preferred to rely on the presence of others, or the hour, or the shelter of a chair not wide enough for two, or any other incidental impediment to Malcolm’s affections. Dunstan feared that she was working herself into a dangerous situation – if she allowed Malcolm to believe she was willing and was only prevented by circumstance, then she might not be able to convince him of the contrary when circumstances turned to his favor.

Dunstan was of course too shy to say any of this to her. The best he could do was sit and stay when she wanted him to sit and stay.

She had sat herself on the floor before the fire.

She had sat herself on the floor before the fire, and naturally Malcolm had joined her. He sat behind her and stroked one hand up and down her arm, and he did not speak. Dunstan did not know what Iylaine thought of this, but he thought it was quite boring.

“So what do you think of them?” Dunstan asked.

Malcolm sighed. Dunstan knew that any respect Malcolm might have had for him was being burned away over the slow fire of annoying-​​sproutishness. No doubt Malcolm was wishing him at the devil’s right hand at that moment. But he spoke.

Malcolm sighed.

“Which one?”

“I don’t know. Each in turn.”

“There isn’t much to say about the two in the middle. I think Sir Friedrich and his wife find themselves out of their depth. I think they truly only expected to follow Raedwald to Ireland and live there. And Raedwald might have delivered them there, but I think he’s up to something much greater.”

“Eirik thinks he’s too stupid to be up to anything.”

“I think Eirik is either stupider than he knows or more clever than he lets on. It’s often that way, sprout. I think Raedwald is playing stupid to put something over on Eirik. The question is: is Eirik playing stupid to put something over on Raedwald?”

“What do you mean?”

'What do you mean?'

“I don’t know yet. But I don’t think Raedwald is stupid enough to get caught by Norsemen. They are not known for their subtlety, whereas Raedwald hides a lot more than he shows, if you ask me. Which you did,” Malcolm snorted.

“You think he meant to get caught?”

“I’m just wondering aloud. Are you cold, Babe? Don’t put your feet in the fire.”

“They won’t burn,” Iylaine whined in the high, childish voice she used as an extra discouragement to Malcolm. Dunstan did not think Malcolm stupid enough to be fooled by a girl’s voice when he was sitting with the body of a young woman between his legs, but Iylaine seemed to think it an artful ruse, for she used it whenever he got too close to her.

Malcolm only laughed. “That’s my girl. But don’t burn your pretty slippers off.”

'Don't burn your pretty slippers off.'

“What about Lili?” Dunstan asked.

“Ach, Lili!” Malcolm cried. “I hope you like her, sprout.”


“Because your father does.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It only means that he paid quite a lot of attention to her tonight.”

“And? He always ‘pays attention’ to ladies.”

'He always 'pays attention' to ladies.'

“There’s paying attention and there’s paying attention, and if you were a little older you might know the difference. There were several occasions this evening when your father was struck dumb by something she said. Your father! Speechless before a lady!”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Anything that I have never seen before means something to me. But if it is any consolation to you, sprout, I think the lady herself was more interested in my cousin Egelric.”

“What?” Iylaine gasped.


“I have to assume it’s true, Babe, because she had Aengus and Maire to teach her Gaelic if that’s what she truly wanted.”

“And you!” Dunstan could not help but say.

“I must conclude that a rumor has spread that says I can’t teach Gaelic, because somebody refuses to let me teach her.”

“I can tell you to go to the devil in Gaelic, that’s all I need to know,” Iylaine giggled.

'I can tell you to go to the devil in Gaelic, that's all I need to know.'

“I can teach you some other things I should rather hear,” Malcolm murmured.

“Such as how to tell the devil to roast you on a spit and feed you to his cats?”

“Repeat after me,” Malcolm said, and he spoke a Gaelic phrase.

“I didn’t hear anything about the devil in there,” Iylaine said dubiously.

'I didn't hear anything about the devil in there.'

“Don’t trust him, Iylaine,” Dunstan said. “You’ll repeat after him and find yourself promising him your first-​​born son, or something.”

“I think I might be inclined to claim her first-​​born son anyway,” Malcolm laughed.

“Oh!” Iylaine gasped and scrambled to her feet. “I shan’t even have any children!” she cried.

“Baby!” Malcolm soothed. “It was a joke.”

“I’m going to bed!”

'I'm going to bed!'


“Goodnight, Dunstan!” she snapped and ran for the stairs.

“Oh, that’s fine! I like that!” Malcolm huffed after she had gone too far to hear.

“You know you shouldn’t mention babies around her,” Dunstan said.

“Thanks to you!” Malcolm snarled and turned on him.

'Thanks to you!'

“To me?”

“And your first-​​born son!”

“It was a joke, Malcolm!” Dunstan smiled. “Anyway, tomorrow she’ll be sorry she didn’t say goodnight to you, and she’ll let you kiss her.”

“That’s so,” Malcolm said, calming at once. “Do you suppose she’ll come back down if she knows I’m still here?”

“I doubt it. But if you want to find out, you can wait by yourself. I’m going to bed.”

“Goodnight, sprout,” Malcolm grinned.

“And don’t forget – if wait by yourself long enough, her father will find you sitting here. And perhaps he will wonder why.”

“Thank you for reminding me,” Malcolm sighed.

'Thank you for reminding me.'