'Good morning, ladies.'

“Good morning, ladies,” Alred smiled.

“Good morning, Alred.” The Queen held up her hand to be kissed. “I apologize for receiving you in my bedchamber.”

“I don’t mind, if your husband doesn’t,” Alred winked.

Britamund laughed.

“Her Majesty, at least, had the modesty to blush,” he said to her, and then he came to kiss her hand as well. “Good morning, my beauty.”

Britamund blushed only then.

Britamund blushed only then. There were very few women whom Alred had ever addressed thus, and she knew it was a special compliment he paid her as his future daughter-​​in-​​law.

He pulled up a chair and sat before them. “What are you ladies doing on this fine day?”

'What are you ladies doing on this fine day?'

“We were just considering possibly beginning to think about doing some sewing,” Britamund laughed. “Later.”

“Lazy girls!” he scolded. “Gossiping rather, I’m certain. I hope you were saying something nice about me, at least.”

“You are so certain we were talking about you!”

'You are so certain we were talking about you!'

“It goes without saying, my dear. I know that I happen to be a most interesting subject of conversation at the moment, due to my approaching nuptials.”

“We had mentioned it, Alred,” Eadgith said. “Have you chosen a date yet?”

“Yes, we have, and I’m afraid I shall be disappointing you.”

'Yes, we have, and I'm afraid I shall be disappointing you.'

“Oh, no! You won’t be married on Saint John’s Day?”

“I am trying to do you a favor, my dear. It is a very charming tradition you have, giving your personal congratulations and a gift to all of the couples who marry on your own anniversary, but the result is that everyone with the luxury of choosing a date marries on Saint John’s Day now. Which, if it is not inconvenient to you, is certainly something of a bother to our doughty priests.”

“Oh, dear!” Eadgith sighed. “I know Sigefrith has been grumbling about that. But the people love it so.”

'The people love it so.'

“It is that they love their Queen so. And I am afraid that my poor, shy Hetty will never replace you in their hearts, but it is her desire to emulate your handsome tradition and receive those of my people who marry on the date of our wedding, namely on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.”

“But that’s right afterwards!” Britamund cried.

'But that's right afterwards!'

“Is that good or bad?”

“Good! Because then we shall have one long feast running from Midsummer Eve to Saints Peter and Paul.”

“That’s good thinking, Brit, but that’s a span of six days. I recommend you marry in the middle, say on the twenty-​​fifth of June, and that way we shall be guaranteed a six-​​day feast starting in a few years.”

'That way we shall be guaranteed a six-day feast starting in a few years.'

“I do not think our doughty priests will thank you for encouraging such dissolution among our people, Alred,” Eadgith smiled.

“With a saint’s day at the start of it and a saint’s day at the end of it, I think their immortal souls will be safe.”

“So long as they are sober enough to attend Mass,” Britamund said and then sent a quick glance Eadgith’s way. The Queen did not appear to be amused, but she did not scold, and that was already an improvement.

She sent a quick glance Eadgith's way.

“We shall withhold the wine until after they have confessed and been shriven,” Alred said gravely, but he winked slyly at the Princess. “Where’s your sister, Brit? The feast of Saint Thomas Apostle is on the third of July. Do you suppose we could keep the festivities going on that long, if Emmie does her part when she comes of age?”

“I hope you know where Emma is!” Eadgith interrupted. “She went to play with your girls.”

'She went to play with your girls.'

“Oh! In that case she’s with Hetty.”

“You shall tell Hetty that I want to see her one of these days, Alred. I’m afraid she’s too shy to come see me, and I’m too lopsided lately even to walk downstairs to receive you properly, much less ride all the way to Bernwald to visit Hetty.”

“My dear, that is precisely the matter on which I came to speak, though I had not realized that it required an intervention on my part to effect a meeting between the two of you fair ladies. What I should like, and what I humbly ask, is for you to be a friend to Hetty. Last night the poor girl nearly dissolved me with a rain of tears because she despaired of ever knowing how to be a Duchess.”

'She despaired of ever knowing how to be a Duchess.'

“And you want me to teach her?” Eadgith gasped.

“Well, I realized that I still don’t know the first thing about being a Duke, so I thought I was not the person to teach her.”

“And do you think I know the first thing about being a Queen?” Eadgith asked.

“You have everyone fooled if you do not,” he shrugged.

“And so do you.”

'And so do you.'

“Then you may teach her how to fool everyone. But I had hoped that she would be a real Duchess, so that I might be absolved of being a real Duke.”

“Oh, dear!” Eadgith sighed.

“What about you, Brit? Unlike the rest of us, you were born into the title you now possess. Is there a secret to being a princess?”

'Is there a secret to being a princess?'

Britamund shrugged. “The only secret I know about being a princess is to remember not to lock your knees when you are obliged to stand for a long while, as one is often expected to do.”

Alred laughed. “That is precisely the advice we give to soldiers when they learn how to stand watch.”

“That’s why. It was my father who told me, after I fell over in a faint once when I was standing to receive Lord Galan and his lady.”

'I fell over in a faint once when I was standing to receive Lord Galan and his lady.'

“Lord Galan must have been horrified at the effect he produced on you. Or extremely flattered.”

“I was only a little girl,” she shrugged, and then she blushed and giggled as she understood his meaning.

“You are no longer, my beauty,” he said gravely. “The next time Lord Galan comes we shall warn him not to lock his knees in your presence.”

'The next time Lord Galan comes we shall warn him not to lock his knees in your presence.'