Leofric studied his new grandchildren with a rapt attention.

Leofric studied his new grandchildren with a rapt attention that was not only due to his own new love for them, though that alone could have kept him staring for hours. He was also trying to memorize them for his wife’s sake: he had promised her a detailed report as soon as he returned home.

He had thought she would accompany him, and he was almost sorry she hadn’t, for he would have loved to have gloated over the babies with the one person who would understand better than anyone what he was feeling. Instead the silly woman had chosen that moment to surprise him with the information that he was to have another child of his own in the coming winter.

Fortunately he could blame it on the wine, but at several inappropriate times throughout the night he had begun to giggle like a girl at the thought of what his face must have been at that instant, when his concentration on his hurried departure had been shattered, and he had stood gaping at her with one boot on his foot and the other in his hand. It was the one idea that could have distracted him from the thought that Sigefrith and Wynflaed were about to have a child.

Or rather two children.

For Eadgith’s sake, Leofric cataloged every little feature, searched out every hint of family resemblance, and even measured the tiny limbs and bodies by the lengths of his thumb and fingers and hand.

The girl was larger than the boy.

The girl was larger and fatter, but Leofric had to admit a certain sneaking fondness for the boy. The girl had only cried on the two occasions he had been allowed to hold her, while the boy had stared solemnly up at him, as if measuring the mighty body against his own tiny fists, or as if looking for family resemblances between Leofric and the angels of long departed great-​​great-​​grandfathers whom he had recently seen in heaven, from whence the wee babies came.

And now whenever Leofric bent close to the crib, the little boy’s eyes met his own and held them for as long as Leofric would stare. The girl’s eyelids fluttered drowsily, but the boy was wide awake.

Leofric stroked his fingertips over the dark fuzz atop the baby's head.

Leofric stroked his fingertips over the dark fuzz atop the baby’s head, but the boy pressed his cheek into the palm of his grandfather’s hand as if he wanted to be held. Leofric was sorely tempted.

He looked over his shoulder to where Sigefrith slept in a chair, his feet up on a basket of linen and his head lolling onto his shoulder.

He looked over his shoulder to where Sigefrith slept in a chair.

Leofric could already picture him at his own age – surely he himself looked at least that ridiculous when he fell asleep in his chair, though at Sigefrith’s age it took a day and a night such as he had spent to exhaust him to this point.

But if the young papa was sleeping, Leofric thought, then the old grandfather might be excused for cuddling an infant grandson who wanted attention.

“Don’t cry, or I shall be in trouble!” he whispered to the baby.

'Don't cry, or I shall be in trouble!'

He had measured the little body against his hands, but it was only when he held it in them that he truly appreciated how small the babies were. They were twins, and they had been born before their time as twins so often were.

But Estrid had exclaimed over and over at how big they were compared to her own, and it seemed to Leofric that Aefen and Aering had not been much larger – and indeed Leofric was a bigger man than young Sigefrith, and Leila was a bigger woman than Wynflaed. That the tiny girl had managed to carry such babies around at all was already remarkable.

The first few weeks would be telling. And yet this little boy was so warm and alive and solid! He stared up at his old grandfather with a ponderous gravity, and he held Leofric’s eyes as few men dared to do. Leofric decided then and there that this boy would grow up to be a great man.

Leofric decided then and there that this boy would grow up to be a great man.

After a time Leofric decided that the baby was determined to keep his eyes open as long as he had a face to look at, so he laid the boy down again and sneaked away.

But once in the corridor he was immediately confronted with the door to Wynflaed’s room. Again he was sorely tempted. He had not been allowed to see her yet. As long as he was misbehaving, he thought he would just knock gently and see whether she was awake. After all, she might want something!

“Who’s there?” a little voice called.

He peeked inside. There she lay, as wide awake as her son, and as beautiful in the candlelight as her daughter.

There she lay, as beautiful in the candlelight as her daughter.

“Do you need something?” she asked.

“Shhh! May I come in?” he whispered.

“Aren’t you allowed to be here?” she whispered in reply.


She giggled and waved him in.

“It is I who am supposed to ask you whether you need anything,” he said. “And aren’t you supposed to be sleeping?”

'And aren't you supposed to be sleeping?'

“I’m not tired at all. But I’m supposed to be resting even if I can’t sleep. Have you seen them?”

“Seen them?” Leofric gasped as he pulled a chair up to the bedside. “My dear, I haven’t taken my eyes off of them since they were brought out. Your husband, meanwhile, can’t keep his eyes open.”

“He had a difficult day,” she said sadly.

“I know he has. But it ended rather well.”

“Is it morning?” she asked wistfully.

'Is it morning?'

“It’s still dark, but it won’t be long.”

“They said I could see them again in the morning. I wish I could nurse them.”

“You will in a few days, my pigeon. Guests who arrive before the appointed hour mustn’t be surprised if they are kept waiting for dinner.”

She smiled.

'So, have you given some thought to which one you will give to me?'

“So, have you given some thought to which one you will give to me?” he asked gravely.

She giggled again. “I’m not certain. Do you have a preference?”

“I was thinking I should like to have the boy, if it’s the same to you.”

“Why? Tell me about him.”

'Tell me about him.'

“Because he isn’t afraid of his old grandfather. Indeed, he seems to find me a very handsome man. Whereas your daughter cries every time I touch her.”

“She cries at you? I don’t believe that.”

“Estrid calls it ‘lifting up her voice in song,’ but I think Estrid is having a little joke at my expense.”

'I think Estrid is having a little joke at my expense.'

“I think Estrid is right. We have singers in our family. You should hear Mouse sing.”

“You should have named her Nightingale.”

“We called her Mouse because she was meek.”

'We called her Mouse because she was meek.'

Leofric snorted. “That would be like calling you Ox because you are big.”

“Well, you may have the boy,” she smiled, “but you mayn’t name him, especially if you can only think of names like Ox. Sigefrith said I might call him Brid for my father.”

“And what about the girl?”

'And what about the girl?'

“I don’t know about the girl. My sister already has my little mother’s name.”

“Your mother was named Mouse?”

“Oh, no, don’t try that!” she scolded. Mouse’s refusal to reveal her name to Sigefrith’s family was becoming a source of amusement to all of them.

'Oh, no, don't try that!'

“And I suppose we already have enough Eadgiths…” Leofric mused.

“Don’t you have any ideas?” she asked. “But not Duck or Chicken – Eadie warned me you might try something like that.”

“My dear!” Leofric gasped, scandalized. “I would never dream of such a thing.”

'I would never dream of such a thing.'

“But you do have a daughter named Gull.”

“Her name is not Gull, but Mae, which is what we call the little sea-​​mews in the south. And if you had grown up on the sea cliff at Hwaelnaess, you would miss them, too, and you would think that a little baby girl whose first cry sounded like the crying of the mews could not be more beautifully named than Mae.”

“Then you should call my baby Nightingale since she sings at you in the night,” she teased.

'Then you should call my baby Nightingale since she sings at you in the night.'

“That is an excellent idea,” he said.

“Oh, no!” she laughed softly.

“Or Gale. Or Gala, as we say in the south.”

“Gala… that’s rather pretty.” she said. “And my mother’s grandfather was named Galan.”

'Gala... that's rather pretty.'

“Do you like that?” he smiled.

“I do.”

“Now I almost wish I had chosen to take the girl.”

She giggled. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

“I shall think about it, then.”

'I shall think about it, then.'

“But you might want to ask Sigefrith his opinion.”

“In that case, the game is up with me,” Leofric sighed. “He’ll never consent to my taking one of them. He won’t even let me take you home with me. Not even to borrow.”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to laugh!” she tittered, holding her hands gingerly upon her stomach.

'Oh, I'm not supposed to laugh!'

“We’re both misbehaving tonight,” Leofric winked.

“Aren’t we?”

“That’s what happens when everyone else goes to sleep and leaves us unattended. Brid was being a bad boy, too. He doesn’t want to sleep either.”

“He was? Oh, I wish I could see him!”

Leofric looked left and right and up and down, as if to reassure himself that they weren’t being watched. “Would you like to?” he whispered.

'Would you like to?'

“Oh, yes!” she whispered in reply. “And I suppose we’ve already been hopelessly bad already!”

“Might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb, as my friend Egelric says. What if I brought him in here?”

“I shan’t tell! But won’t you bring Gala too?”

'I shan't tell!'

Leofric stood and bent to kiss her tawny cheek. “My dear, if it is your desire, I shall attempt to oblige you. But if that little bird begins to sing, the game is up with me!”

'But if that little bird begins to sing, the game is up with me!'