Egelric's room was dim with the coral-colored light.

Egelric’s room was dim with the coral-​​colored light that had fooled him into believing it Sunday the first time he had awoken beside Lili.

It would soon be sunrise in the long heart of the valley, but here in the lake’s narrow gorge, the sun would not appear above the cliff for a long while, and no man could tell the hour but for the color of the light: ember brightening into coral, and rose into daffodil, and then the hushed blue light of day, as when the sun hid behind a cloud.

He slept far later than this light on Sundays, but during the week he arose around this time.

Now, a month after the spring equinox, the dawn came early. He slept far later than this light on Sundays, but during the week he arose around this time, like the farmer he had once been. He liked to look at Lili’s sleeping face that glowed like a shell in this light, but he also liked to slip away before she woke and spoke to him and reminded him that she was real. Lili never woke before the daffodil light.

And yet today, in the coral light, she was already up and dressed, though in a simple gown. She sat slouching on the edge of the bed with her back to him.

She sat slouching on the edge of the bed with her back to him.

None of this made any sense at all, and for an instant he panicked and wished he had slept with one eye open, as Eirik had recommended. Then he remembered.

“How is she?” he asked softly.

Lili was startled. “Oh! You’re awake.” She turned her profile to him, and her shell-​​white face was wet with salty tears.

She turned her profile to him, and her shell-white face was wet with salty tears.

She busied herself with her pillow, and when she turned away to lie down, he sat up and reached across it so that she would lie upon his arm instead.

He hoped it was only the baby. He knew she loved her sister, and moreover he feared that she would soon grow unhappy with only him for company.

She curled up against him without hesitation. If she did not like him to hold her, she hid it well. “I’m supposed to be sleeping,” she said with a little laugh. “I’m the only one who is not.”

'I'm supposed to be sleeping.'

“I’m not either.”

“Then you will scold me too,” she said.

“I shan’t. Do you care to tell me?”

“Oh, she has a girl baby. The women said she was very pretty, but I thought her rather dreadful-​​looking.”

“They always are. Haven’t you seen a new baby before?”

'Haven't you seen a new baby before?'

“We didn’t have many of those in the convent,” she giggled.

“Deo gratias.”

She laughed. Egelric thought that perhaps there was nothing wrong with her sister after all.

“And how is the mother?” he asked.

“She’s well. Only very unhappy that Friedrich is not here. How shall I ever tell her?” she whimpered.

“Is that why you were crying then?”

“Was I?”

'Was I?'

“Your face was wet. It still is a little, here.” He touched her face just beneath her eye, where the skin was thin and always brownly shadowed. Elfleda’s eyes had been so, he thought, even when she too had been a girl. One only noticed it on Lili when she was not laughing, and then her eyes made her look a little sad.

She shook her head slowly against his shoulder. “I didn’t know I was. So I do not know why. But it was not what I was thinking.”

'But it was not what I was thinking.'

“What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking it was all horrible, horrible…” She squinted up her face and shuddered. “So much pain, for so long… and blood… and all…”

“Hmm.” He did not know, but he had seen plenty of animals into the world, so he had some idea of how it must appear to a lady who had not grown up on a farm. “But was it interesting?”

“Ach!” she winced. “I can’t believe I ever said that.”

'I can't believe I ever said that.'

“I can. It was very like you. I am certain that when Death comes for you – which I hope will not be for an extraordinarily long time – you will look him in the eye and say, ‘Very well! I only hope this will be interesting!’”

'Very well!  I only hope this will be interesting!'

She laughed.

“The devil! I don’t doubt you were telling yourself, ‘I hope this will be interesting,’ when I carried you in here that first night.”

She laughed until her eyes were again wet with tears. “I don’t know what I was telling myself. I was only trying so hard to make you think I know what I am doing. But it was interesting, after all.”

“Interesting enough to do it again, in any case.”

'Interesting enough to do it again, in any case.'

“Yes,” she smiled thoughtfully.

“I hope you found the same true of childbirth, since you will be called upon to do it yourself one of these days,” he said.

'I hope you found the same true of childbirth.'

She had not mentioned her own baby to him again, and her continuing good health had finally caused him to begin to suspect she had made it up to save her life. Now he would find out.

“Ach!” she shuddered and hid her face in his shoulder. “I think that is why I cry.”


“Because now I know how it will be. And I am afraid.”

'Because now I know how it will be.  And I am afraid.'

“You afraid, Lili?” he murmured. “I can scarcely believe it.”

“You should believe it. I am afraid of many many things, but I know how to hide. Even as I make you think I know what I am doing, I make you think I am not afraid.”

He did not know what to say to that, so he only asked, “When will it be?”

“Martinmas,” she said firmly.


“Oh?” he smiled. “Have you picked the very day?”

“Yes, but I can’t decide on the hour,” she laughed.

“Choose the hour when the light is like this,” he said and touched her cheek again, as he did not dare do when she slept. “Even a dreadful newborn baby would look pretty in this light.”

'Even a dreadful newborn baby would look pretty in this light.'