'There's a lady here to see you, sir.'

“There’s a lady here to see you, sir,” Egelric’s steward bowed.

“A lady?” Egelric laughed and dropped his pen. “What will you invent next to interrupt me in my work, Wyn?”

“I didn’t invent her,” Ethelwyn grinned. “If I could have, I would have invented her for myself years ago!”

“My daughter, I trust? What the devil is she doing riding out here in the snow? In the dark?”

“It isn’t your daughter, sir. It’s a lady calling herself Lili.”

“Lili! The devil!” Egelric rose. “His Grace is here with her?”

'His Grace is here with her?'

“No, she came alone.”


“Well, there was her horse…”

“Oh, that’s fine, then, if her horse is here! What the devil am I supposed to do with her?”

“I shall tell Cook we have a guest for supper.” Ethelwyn shrugged.

“And then I shall have to accompany her back again. Just what I wanted to do tonight! You’ve outdone yourself this time, Wyn. Show her up!”

'You've outdone yourself this time, Wyn.'

Lili came in shortly, still pink-​​cheeked and sniffling from the cold, but smiling as brightly as ever.

“What a handsome castle, Egelric! I wait and wait for you to invite me, so I invite myself!”

'I wait and wait for you to invite me, so I invite myself!'

“I suppose I was waiting until the snow had melted,” Egelric said dryly. “And until it was not black as sackcloth outside. And until someone could accompany you.”

“The moon is almost full! And snow is white. So I see like the day. I don’t get lost so easy.” She looked around the hall approvingly. “You like a tidy room and a hot fire. It is good.”

“I assure you, the tidiness is not my doing. Does anyone know you are here?”

'Does anyone know you are here?'

“I left a note for my brother, but they are all at the King’s castle tonight. I said I am sick and I don’t go out, but then I changed my mind.” She smiled proudly.

She smiled proudly.

Egelric felt exhausted already.

Lili was a very pretty, very clever, very charming young woman, and Egelric found that, despite her many flirtations, she had a way of making every man feel as if she paid special attention to him. At least that was the way she made him feel. Certainly, on the occasions when she had met him alone, her attentions had been quite marked, but he supposed she was so with any man she found alone.

It was all rather flattering and fun, and despite the impropriety he was tempted to play along with her now. However, he had noticed that his lord had been paying some marked attention of his own these past weeks, and it pleased Egelric to see him taking a keen interest in the world again, if only as a source of jokes to tell Lili.

Egelric knew that the King did not like her for Alred, but in Egelric’s mind it was enough that she be a gentlewoman. Alred had been married to a great lady, and already had three sons with her. Now he was nearly forty years old, and if he wanted the pretty little younger daughter of a German knight for second wife, Egelric thought he ought to have her.

Thus Egelric intended to have her back at Bernwald again before her brother-in-law returned.

Thus Egelric intended to have her back at Bernwald again before her brother-​​in-​​law returned.

“Will you show me your castle?” she asked.

“I believe I have just enough time to ‘show you my castle,’ Lili, and then we shall eat supper, for which I apologize in advance, as we were not expecting guests, and then I shall take you home.”

'Oh, no!  Tonight?'

“Oh, no! Tonight?”

“Aye, tonight!” he laughed in wonderment. “Don’t tell me you were planning to stay! I suppose you brought your nightgown and things, too?”

'Aye, tonight!'

“No, but I think I shan’t need a nightgown and things,” she said as cheerily as if she were merely complimenting him on his tidiness and bright fire again.


“You act shocked, but I don’t see you blush.”

I am an old scoundrel and haven’t any blush left in me. But that is no reason why you should not.”

“I don’t blush for my own ideas. I hoped to hear yours. If you are an old scoundrel, you might have thought some things I have not.”

'If you are an old scoundrel, you might have thought some things I have not.'

Egelric could only shake his head in amazement. She was as bold as any kitchen maid. He had always believed that gentlewomen were fundamentally different from common girls, and now he wondered whether Lili were truly what she claimed to be.

And yet she had courtly manners, and could sing and dance and play the harp, and she spoke many languages, and could read and write several.

“But I think first you should finish what you are doing when I come,” she said, “and you tell me where to find your too cute little boys, and I go play with them until supper. Because I think it will take too much time to show me your castle now. Because I think your bedroom alone will take a long, long time.”

“No, no, no, no!” he said, still laughing in disbelief. “I shan’t show you my bedroom at all.”

'No, no, no, no!'

She shrugged. “Here is fine too. Handsome couch, and warm fire.”

Again Egelric was speechless. He realized that the remarkable thing about her was that she hadn’t touched him, hadn’t even approached him. A kitchen maid ought to have been twining herself around him by that time. Perhaps this was the difference between gentlewomen and kitchen maids. A smiling, bright-​​eyed, naive seduction was something he had never experienced.

A smiling, bright-eyed, naive seduction was something he had never experienced.

Now that he knew the sort of girl she was, he admitted himself tempted. Only an hour ago he had thought her so far out of his reach that he had never dreamed of taking her flirtation seriously. He was a knight, it was true, but he had been born a peasant, and had not forgotten the fact. He would never have looked higher than a common woman – or a woman who, like him, had risen above her birth, but had not forgotten it. Gunnilda, for example.

But though she had gentle blood, it seemed Lili was nothing more than a very charming, very pretty, very reachable, reachable girl. Without her fancy dress, and once brought past the point where articulate speech in any language would be possible, she would doubtlessly resemble any other girl he had known.

And for the first time in a year he was tempted.

And for the first time in a year he was tempted.

Then he thought of Alred. It was not what Alred wanted to do to her. Egelric believed that Alred was beginning to care for the girl. He could not do this to him.

And then he thought of Alred again. Alred did not know what kind of girl she was. Perhaps it were better that he learn. Perhaps, Egelric thought, he should do this to him now, to prevent her from doing worse to him later.

“I warn you that my bedroom is very untidy,” he said, “and I never have a fire.”

“It only proves that you need a lady in it,” she scolded him with a wagging finger. “To keep the room tidy, and to keep you warm.”

'It only proves that you need a lady in it.'