'I had an idea.'

“I had an idea,” Ethelmund said as he climbed into bed.

“That’s a good sign,” Gunnilda said dryly.

Ethelmund grinned at her for a moment, and then he said, “I believe I shall give my old house to Alfred.”

Gunnilda was surprised to hear this. Ethelmund had had a family of farmers living in that house since he had built the new, but he had offered them a new house soon after Githa had died, and he had not put another family in after them. She was beginning to suspect that Ethelmund saw that house as Githa’s house, and he did not like the idea of anyone else living in it.

“Is he looking for a house?” she asked weakly.

“I believe he’s looking to get married.”

“What about Colburga?”

'That's what I'm thinking.'

“That’s what I’m thinking. I’m afraid there’s not a few mamas with young daughters who have been spending a lot of time lately looking at patterns for new furniture, if you see what I mean.”


“So if he wants to get married, then I shall offer him the house. And Colburga of course.”

“What does Colburga say?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her. But I think she doesn’t mind. The house could use some work, but that’s Alfred’s trade after all.”

“That old house…” Gunnilda smiled.

“It seems so long ago, doesn’t it?”

'It seems so long ago, doesn't it?'

“Fifteen years.”

“Colburga was born in that house,” he said wistfully. “She’s the only one left who remembers it.”

“I remember!” Gunnilda said. “And the Countess would come and coo over her. Oh, those were different times! When we might expect a King or Earl to drop in any time. And their own castles were made more of wood than of stone. They were getting started in life just as we were. We were all so young,” she sighed.

“I remember.”

'I remember.'

“And I remember…” she began eagerly, but then she stopped. She was about to say that she remembered how she had met Egelric once in that old house in the early times, and how they had fought, and how she had shoved him and nearly knocked him down – more from surprise than from the shove. They had often laughed about it in later days, and he would ask her to try it again, and she would shove him and find him as immovable as a wall.

But it did not do to mention Egelric before Ethelmund. She had learned that early on.

“I remember how lazy you were…” she finished.

“Some things haven’t changed!” he laughed.

“No, I guess you’re a good worker now. Now that you’ve found something you enjoy.”


“Perhaps,” he smiled, apparently pleased by the compliment. And then he scooted closer to her and slipped an arm behind her back.

She had known that was coming. When he was as wide awake as he apparently was tonight, this always came. By the grace of God she had somehow managed to avoid a pregnancy until now, but she knew that the day would come. Githa had had plenty of children, and by their faces it was quite clear who the father was.

Ethelmund had lost more children than she. She could not understand how he could still crave more. He had four children alive, just as she did. She could not understand how he could risk loving more and losing more. But Alwy had always been that way as well. There must be something different about men, she thought. They would rather have ten and lose eight than have and keep one.

“I think you should ask Colburga before you talk to Alfred,” she said quickly as he leaned in to kiss her.

'I think you should ask Colburga before you talk to Alfred.'

“Well… I think I should ask Alfred first,” he said. “Suppose he refuses?”

“Suppose she does?”

Ethelmund frowned. “She had better not.”

“Well, I don’t know but I guess she’s a bit young,” Gunnilda protested.

“You were about that age, were you not?” Ethelmund leaned in again, as if the thought of what she had done at Colburga’s age had given him ideas about what she might now do at her own.

Ethelmund leaned in again.

Gunnilda squirmed away on the pretense of leaning over the edge of the bed to blow out her candle. “Well… but I had reasons…”

“Again, I say she had better not,” Ethelmund grumbled. “Anyway, she’s older than Iylaine and she’ll be married in a few weeks.”

“But Iylaine is… she has reasons as well.”

“The wrong reasons.”

“Oh, Ethelmund…”

'Oh, Ethelmund...'

“It doesn’t make sense to build such a house for a girl if she’ll scarcely live in it. Not that I mind the work…”

“But he loves her. And she loves him.”

“That’s fine for stories. Anyway, I didn’t think you liked the good Sir Malcolm all that much.”

“I don’t. But… I suppose I don’t know who else I would have picked for her. They’re made for each other.”

'They're made for each other.'

“I should say so. I don’t know which is haughtier than the other. The King himself doesn’t order me around the way he does.”

“I used to think perhaps she and Bertie…” Gunnilda laughed sadly.

“I think we can do better than that for Bertie. He needs a nice, easy-​​going girl – not a spitfire like that Iylaine.”

'I don't know.'

“I don’t know,” Gunnilda mumbled.

She bristled at the idea of Ethelmund “doing for” Bertie. Her other children had come to live with her and Ethelmund, but Bertie remained at Nothelm keep. She did not think of Bertie as being Ethelmund’s stepson. Bertie was nearly a man, and he was Alwy’s son, which meant he was all her own.

“What about Wynna?” Ethelmund asked suddenly.

Gunnilda shivered. “I don’t know,” she murmured and laid an arm over his shoulder to pull him closer. She knew one sure way to get his mind off her children. Delighting him with her apparent eagerness would only distract him all the faster. She would do this and more for them.

She laid an arm over his shoulder to pull him closer.