He kissed her on both cheeks and then on the forehead.

“Bertie!” Gunnilda cried, trying to hide her happiness – for she feared that Bertie’s swagger would only be exaggerated if he knew how much she adored him.

“Ma!” He kissed her on both cheeks and then on the forehead. She scarcely had to stoop to allow him to reach it these days.

“We didn’t expect to see you today! On a Wednesday!”

“It’s a holiday today! Hallo, kids.”

'It's a holiday today!  Hallo, kids.'

“Hallo, Bertie!” his brother and sisters said as he sat at the kitchen table with the three of them.

“What kind of holiday?” Bedwig asked eagerly. “Can we have something good for dinner, Ma?”

“It’s too late to make something else for dinner, Beddy,” Gunnilda said. “What holiday is it?”

“Don’t eat too much now,” Bertie advised them. “You’ll be eating a big dinner at the keep at supper time.”

“We will?” Bedwig and Gytha cried together.

'We will?'

“What for, Bertie?” Gunnilda asked him. She hadn’t heard anything of this.

“Didn’t you hear the gossip, Ma?” Bertie asked her. “It’s all anyone’s talking about.”

Her main source of gossip had dried up with the death of Githa Ashdown, and since Alwy’s death she had not had the time nor the energy to go visiting much. Most of what she heard arrived by way of Aelfie or Wynna, but Aelfie’s belly had grown too large for her to come work for Gunnilda in the past weeks, and Wynna had been helping at home all morning as a consequence.

“I’m sure Aelfie will be up later to gossip if it’s that good,” Wynna said. “What is it?”

I'm sure Aelfie will be up later to gossip if it's that good.

“Well, I can tell you a lot better than Aelfie can,” Bertie said importantly. “I was there! You’ll never guess! Egelric got married, and I stood up with him.”

Egelric married? Bertie laughed and smiled as if he were only telling of something funny he had seen at the market that day. Egelric married? Gunnilda leaned back against the wall.

Egelric married?

“To who?” Wynna gaped.

Bertie was obviously pleased by her stupefaction. “One of the German ladies, Lady Lili. The funny one I told you about.”

“Is she pretty?” Gytha asked.

'Is she pretty?'

“That’s all you girls care about! She’s pretty, but you almost never notice it because she makes you laugh so hard. And she’s so tiny too! It was that funny to see her standing up next to Egelric. He could just about rest his elbow on her head. She’s smaller than you, Ma. You’ll see her tonight.”

“But… didn’t he just meet her?” Wynna asked.

“I know! Less than a month ago. But listen, it’s not like that. Her brother-​​in-​​law found her in Egelric’s bed this morning, so he made him marry her.”


“No!” Wynna gasped, and then she laughed low at the deliciousness of this gossip. Gunnilda did not doubt she would talk it over for hours with her friends. Wynna did not think highly of Egelric, and this only confirmed her prejudice against him.

“Sure as sure! It wasn’t Egelric’s idea! To get married, I mean. And to look at her, you would have thought it wasn’t her idea either, but a girl ought to know if she lies down with a man like Egelric, she won’t rise up a maid in the morning!” he laughed.

“Bertie!” Gunnilda choked and looked meaningfully at seven-​​year-​​old Gytha.

“Ah, she better learn the truth of that someday,” Bertie smiled. “And besides, you know, Wynn, Egelric asked me and Eadwyn to stand up with him, and we were that proud, till he told us why – he said he wanted it to be a lesson to us!”

'He said he wanted it to be a lesson to us!'

Bertie laughed long, and Wynna with him. Bedwig and Gytha giggled as well, and Gunnilda could only hope they did not understand why.

“So you see, Ma,” Bertie said, “you were right: even a clever man like Egelric isn’t so clever but a more clever girl can come along and trap him! You should have warned Egelric!” he said and laughed again.

'Bertie, you shouldn't laugh about it.'

“Bertie, you shouldn’t laugh about it,” Gunnilda snapped. It was the laughter that was worse than anything. Her arms trembled with the desire to make it stop, and her legs with the strain of holding her up.

“Aw, Ma! Everyone’s laughing about it. All except Egelric and Lili, and Lili’s brother-​​in-​​law. And Father Brandt!” Bertie snorted atop his laughter at the thought of Father Brandt. “Even Egelric will probably laugh about it someday. He certainly picked the right wife for laughing!”

Egelric’s wife. Egelric had a wife. Gunnilda had told herself that Egelric had not had a wife since Elfleda’s death, since he had not married his elf woman in the Church. But he must have married this Lili woman in the Church, if Father Brandt had been there to not laugh about it. It was done, and only death would undo it. She remembered this from her own vows, though they were long since said, and many months undone.

It was done, and only death would undo it.

“I think there’s not a man who’s met her who hasn’t dreamt for at least a moment that he would find himself in the same situation!” Bertie said. “She’s only seventeen or so, and you had better believe Eadwyn and Stein and Eirik and Leofwine are biting their fingers with envy today.”

“Not you, Bertie?” Wynna teased.

“Ah! She’s too fine for me. A real lady, what. Plus she’s only about that high on me,” he said, indicating a spot on his torso approximately at the level of his navel.

“She really is?” Gytha squeaked.

'She really is?'

“No, silly, but she’s shorter than Wynn even, I bet. But anyway, I don’t want to get trapped like my mother says. And Malcolm thinks she and her brother-​​in-​​law and that Sir Raedwald planned the whole thing. I don’t know, but I’m just saying. She always did seem real sly to me,” he said with a slow nod.

“But, why?” Wynna asked.

“Well, I don’t know, but I guess because he’s a knight and has a fine castle, even finer than Sir Sigefrith’s and Sir Brede’s, who are cousins of the King.”

'Well, I don't know, but I guess because he's a knight and has a fine castle.'

“So why didn’t she try to trick the Duke?” Wynna laughed.

“I don’t know,” Bertie said, laughing with her. “Maybe she tried. But I guess a Duke doesn’t have to marry only a knight’s daughter anyway, even if he gets her in trouble. But a knight does. Either that or he has to fight her brother, and I guess Egelric knew he would be killed for sure. And what fool would choose death over life with such a girl?” he sighed grandly.

“I wish I had seen her,” Gytha complained.

'I wish I had seen her.'

“You shall, tonight, silly!”

“Oh!” Gytha beamed. “And have something good to eat?”

“I’m certain you will. The Duke means to celebrate just the same as if he had planned the whole thing himself. I guess that will show that Sir Raedwald!” he laughed. “I don’t know but I guess the Duke has been wanting Egelric to get married anyway. A knight ought to have a lady, to hold his castle when he goes to war.”

“It’s so romantic!” Gytha sighed.

'It's so romantic!'

“It is not!” Wynna laughed. “It’s so funny, that’s what! That will show that Egelric, you should say, Bertie!”

“Say, Ma,” Bertie said, having suddenly remembered his mother. “You look real tired. Why don’t you go lie down and let me and these lazy kids finish your work for you? And then you can just worry about what pretty dress you want to wear tonight.”

'And then you can just worry about what pretty dress you want to wear tonight.'

“Your prettiest one!” Gytha said. “And us too!”

“I don’t know about that, Bertie,” Gunnilda mumbled.

“Aw, Ma!”

“Can’t we go?” Gytha whimpered.

“I don’t know…” she sighed. “You all can go if Bertie wants to take you…”

“But, Ma, it’s for Egelric,” Bertie said. “I don’t know, but I guess he won’t understand if you don’t go.”

“Bertie, I think he will understand.”

'Bertie, I think he will understand.'