Queen Eadgith woke up that morning already smiling with contentment.

Queen Eadgith woke up that morning already smiling with contentment. She missed her husband and her stepchildren, it was true, but in compensation she had her parents and her littlest sisters. Indeed, she had left her beloved son laughing over the mess he was making of his breakfast in order to go out in search of some of them and make her happiness all the greater.

But she had found no one until she went down into the hall and met her mother standing by the fire with little Mae in her arms.

“There you two are,” she smiled. “Where are my father and Leia?”

Lady Eadgith did not answer at first, but only choked and held Mae more tightly.

“Mother?” Eadgith said softly, her smile fading. “Are you unwell?”

“Where do you think he is?” her mother said bitterly. She lifted her cheek from her youngest daughter’s hair, and Eadgith saw that her eyes were puffy and pink-​tinged from tears. “Gone!”

'Where do you think he is?'

“Mother, why don’t you let me take this big girl back to play with her nephew?” Without waiting for a reply she lifted Mae from her mother’s arms.

Her mother had already composed herself by the time Eadgith returned, and stood as tall and as ladylike as her short stature and heavy belly permitted.

“Are you feeling ill, Mother?” Eadgith asked her gently.

'Are you feeling ill, Mother?'

“Ill!” her mother cried. “Only of a broken heart.”


“Where do you think he is, Eadie? I don’t know. He took Leia and left before dawn. Don’t you know what day it is?”

“But… it is Leia’s birthday…”

“What else?”

“What do you mean?”

“It is the day Matilda died! That is the day! He did the same last year, and the year before. I thought he would not this year, because you were here, and Drage—but do you see? He loves no one more than Matilda! Not I, not Mae, not you, not Drage, not anything!” she sobbed.

'Oh, Mother...'

“Oh, Mother…”

“I don’t know where he goes, what he does… This year I shall ask Leia! That I shall!”

“But, Mother…” Eadgith’s own happiness was folding itself up and hiding itself away, and she felt her courage and grace going with it. She did not know what to say.

“He doesn’t love me,” her mother choked. “He doesn’t care. When he sees me, he wishes I were Matilda. When he touches me, he sees Matilda in his mind. That is what I think.”

'That is what I think.'

“No, Mother, never,” Eadgith soothed. “He loves you so much.”

“It’s unfair, Eadie! She will never grow old and ugly! She will never get fat and lose her teeth! She will never snap at him or laugh at him or be cruel to him, as she would have if she had lived! The haughty, selfish woman she was! She can only stay young and beautiful and perfect in his mind, and what am I compared to that?”

“You’re his wife, Mother, and he loves you,” Eadgith said, feeling a desperation rising in her almost like a nausea. Or perhaps it was nausea.

'You're his wife, Mother, and he loves you.'

“I am his old wife, and mother to his children, and a comfortable creature to have in his bed. That is what I am! It is Matilda he loves. That is what I think.”

“It isn’t true! I know it isn’t! I hear his voice when he speaks of you to Sigefrith. He calls you a silly bird, and smiles, and with his fond laugh—you know how he does!”

“I do not think he called Matilda a silly bird,” her mother scowled.

'I do not think he called Matilda a silly bird.'

“Mother, you mustn’t be jealous,” Eadgith soothed. “You know he loves you. He knows he is the one getting old and ugly and fat, and perhaps he will lose his teeth, and still you love him, and he knows it. And he tells Sigefrith that it is a remarkable thing. And then he calls you a silly bird, and laughs because he is glad to have you. That is what I think.”

“Then where is he today?” she pouted.

Still, Eadgith was relieved to see that she seemed to be growing calmer. She would have to remind her father to tell his wife he loved her in plain English, though she knew it was far easier for him to call her a silly pigeon and pretend to growl at her. She did not think her mother had the imagination to see through his gruffness.

And yet it was true that what he had done that day must have been very hard on her. Even for Eadgith, who knew herself loved, it was very hard.

'Mother, you mustn't begrudge him one day out of the year alone with Matilda's daughter.'

“Mother, you mustn’t begrudge him one day out of the year alone with Matilda’s daughter. Sigefrith tries to spend the anniversary of the death of Her Majesty Queen Maud with his children, and I try to let them be. I do not think it means that he does not love me.”

“Sigefrith loves you more than anything,” her mother grumbled.

“My father loves you more than any other woman. You may believe that. But he is a silly goat, and doesn’t remember to tell you he does, as Sigefrith does me. You don’t hear how he speaks of you when you aren’t around. Everyone knows he is fond of you, and everyone shakes their heads at him because he is such a looby.”

Her mother tried not to laugh and snorted instead. “Now you’re talking like your brother.”

'Now you're talking like your brother.'

“Only ask my brother how our father loves you, the next time you see him! I’m certain my father tells him things he doesn’t think fit for my ears. Not that Sigefrith must find them very agreeable either, considering you are his mother,” she giggled.

“He can’t be worse than your husband when he comes here and talks to your father about you,” her mother snickered.

“That’s only because Sigefrith likes to torment my father by making him imagine ‘his baby’ in Sigefrith’s bed.”

'That's only because Sigefrith likes to torment my father by making him imagine 'his baby' in Sigefrith's bed.'

“The men are dreadful, aren’t they?” her mother asked.

“Aren’t they?” Eadgith agreed. “Now why don’t you sit yourself down and take this ‘young runt’ off your feet.” She led her mother to a chair. “I’m certain you would feel more serene without a little baby Leofricsson tormenting you from the inside, even if my father insists on being a great looby on the outside.”

'Oh, I hope it's a boy!'

“Oh, I hope it’s a boy!” her mother said eagerly.

“I hope it’s not another looby, that’s all I care to say,” Eadgith smiled, relieved that she seemed to have steered her mother’s mind into happier channels.

But she was beginning to wonder whether she would have the strength to keep her own self afloat amid the eddies and flows of her exhausting family. Her mother did not expect to be confined for another two weeks or more. Between the silly, selfish pigeon, the silly old goat, and the clamoring toddlers, she would have to find her own way to a chair.

She would have to find her own way to a chair.