Dunstan walked into the tilemaker's studio through the open door.

Dunstan walked into the tilemaker’s studio through the open door, but he stopped short when he saw that the tilemaker was not there – and a girl was. She sat on a mat on the floor, her back to him, and she was surrounded by tiles whose decoration was in various states of completion.

Dunstan tried backing slowly outside again, but the girl must have heard him, for she lifted her head suddenly and cried, “Oh! Good morning!”

Dunstan stopped short again. “Good morning.”

'Good morning.'

“Can I help you?”

She dropped a paintbrush into a pot and rose to her feet. At first she busied herself brushing off her apron, but she froze when she glanced up at him and noticed, he supposed, his fine clothing.

“Oh!” she gasped. “You must be…”

'You must be...'

“The Duke’s son,” Dunstan said quickly. He wished he had disguised himself as a common boy – but then what would he be doing, looking to buy tiles for a castle floor? Of course, he could pretend he was a servant from the Duke… but it was too late now…

“And I’m the tiler’s daughter,” she laughed. “Uhhh… your… my…” she blushed, searching for the correct term of address for a Duke’s son.

“Lord,” Dunstan muttered.

“My lord,” she curtsied.

And then she giggled.

And then she giggled. Her eyes squinted up into little crescent-​​moons when she laughed or smiled.

“Was my father expecting you?” she asked.

“No… I need to speak with him about some tiles, for… a castle…”

'Oh!  That's what we do here!'

“Oh! That’s what we do here! Castles and churches. We haven’t made a tile for a common man’s house since we came here. You noblemen just keep building and building. I guess you’ll need to come back, though. He’ll be out till after dinner.”

Dunstan was about to take advantage of this excellent opportunity for making his escape, as he did almost automatically whenever he was in an uncomfortable situation, but suddenly he was angry at himself for being such a coward. And he was curious about this painting of tiles, though he had never given the matter much thought before.

He was curious about this painting of tiles.

“I’m sorry for interrupting you…” he said slowly.

“Oh! No trouble.”

“Were you… painting those?” he mumbled and waved at the tiles she had quite obviously been painting when he had come in.

'Were you... painting those?'

“Just now,” she nodded and walked over to them. “These are for Sir Baldwin.”

Dunstan followed her. “Did you truly paint all of these?” he asked, honestly impressed.

“I painted these ones,” she shrugged.

'I painted these ones.'

“They’re beautiful!”

“Well, my father drew the first one for them. After that I just copy. My father does most of the designs.”

“They are lovely.” He searched for a compliment that he could pay her alone. “And you paint them very neatly.”

“Thank you!”

'Thank you!'

“Did you paint all of these today?”

“Oh, heavens, no. I have to have them all out so I can make the edges match up, silly!” She began to laugh again but stopped abruptly. Dunstan thought she had remembered that he was not to be addressed as “silly” but as “my lord,” and she was embarrassed.

Dunstan, never more compassionate than when someone else embarrassed himself, did what he always did in such situations: namely, to rush in and embarrass his own self even more.

'Of course!  But I think it would be more fun if you didn't.'

“Of course! But I think it would be more fun if you didn’t. That way it would be like putting together a puzzle when it came time to tile the floor… Trying to arrange them so the edges match up… that is…”

“Fun for the people watching, maybe,” she said. “Not so much fun for the poor tilers.”

“Oh, well… yes…”

“And there’s no guarantee there would be matches, if I was quite sloppy.”

“Well… no… but of course you wouldn’t be sloppy.”

'Well... no... but of course you wouldn't be sloppy.'

“And that is why I lay them all out on the floor when I paint, silly – my lord.”

Dunstan searched hastily for something else to say. “Did your father design these especially for Sir Baldwin?”

“He sure did. Somehow the noble people never like to have the same design as anyone else. It’s a bother,” she sighed, “because then we have extras left and no one else wants them. So we sell them at market to the farmers and so. The miller has the same tiles in his house as the King in one of his rooms!” she laughed. “Oh – you won’t tell though?”

“No!” Dunstan gasped. “Of course not. Anyway, the King wouldn’t mind. He would probably laugh.”

“I guess you must know the King,” she said admiringly.

'Know him!'

“Know him!” Dunstan cried. “He’s my godfather!” And then he cringed. He wondered: was that boasting? Would she think he was trying to impress her?

“In that case you must recognize some of these tiles over here,” she said and led him over to the other side of the room. A number of tiles were spread out on the floor here, too, but each of these was different from the others. “It’s all right. You can walk on them!” she laughed when he hesitated beside them. “That’s what they’re for, silly!”

'That's what they're for, silly!'

Dunstan laughed awkwardly and stepped even more awkwardly out onto the tiles. “I know this one,” he said. “From Sir Malcolm’s new house. And this one is from the little sitting room off of the new hall at the King’s castle. And this one is from the corridor between it and the hall. I don’t see one from the yellow room, though. He just had that room tiled last autumn. I’m certain your father must have made them. Perhaps you painted them – they’re so pretty.”

'I don't see one from the yellow room, though.'

“The yellow ones? They must be the ones we sold to the miller!” she laughed. “We usually keep one tile of each design to show, to give our customers ideas. In case someone ever has the silly idea to get the same tiles as someone else! But we had just enough for the miller’s hearth with what we had.”

“That way it will remain a secret known only to people who are permitted to enter the King’s yellow room or the miller’s hall,” Dunstan laughed, and he was quite pleased that she laughed with him. “But what are these?” he asked of a set of tiles against the wall which featured images of fantastic beasts rather than abstract patterns.

“Oh, those are just something I made,” she scoffed with sufficiently strained modesty that he could tell she was proud of them.

'Oh, those are just something I made.'

“You made those?” he asked. “You mean you drew them yourself?”

“My father makes pretty patterns, but he doesn’t know how to draw. Animals or anything, I mean.”

“Griffons!” Dunstan admired. “They’re beautiful. They look so real.”

“Real!” she laughed. “Have you ever seen a real griffon?”

“Well… they look like what a real griffon would look like. If they were real.”

'Well... they look like what a real griffon would look like.'

“Thank you… I think! I made these for the hearth in Lord Britmar’s baby’s room. For when he’s a big boy and likes griffons, I suppose. But his wife changed her mind and got tiles with a design instead,” she shrugged.

“Never! These are just the thing a young boy would like.”

They were already leaning low over the tiles, and the girl suddenly sat down on the floor as if it were the most natural thing to do. Dunstan sat as well, though he found it the most unnatural thing he had done in some time.

“Do you think?” she asked.

'I should know!  I used to be one.'

“I should know! I used to be one. I mean – I’m still young. But – not a young boy who likes griffons. Though I do like these tiles. I mean… how old are you?” he blurted.

“Fourteen,” she said coolly. “And you?”

“Fifteen. In December. I mean – fifteen since December. Fifteen and a half. But… you’re very talented for fourteen.”

“Thank you!”

'Thank you!'

“Do you suppose you could make more tiles like this? The castle that I mean, it’s my brother’s castle, in fact. My younger brother. He loves griffons and other such animals. Well – he’s not a young boy any longer. I mean – he’s thirteen. Younger than you. But he always did like dragons. Do you think you could draw a dragon?”

Dunstan’s mouth was feeling dry – possibly because he had never in his life talked so long to a girl who was not his sister or his betrothed. Conversely, his hands were feeling very damp.

Dunstan's mouth was feeling dry.

“I could if you could tell me what a real dragon looks like!” she laughed.

“I shall ask the King! He has many drawings of dragons and images of dragons all around. The Queen calls him a dragon.”

“Sounds dreadful.”

'Sounds dreadful.'

“Oh, no! He’s really quite nice. It’s their joke. They even called their son Drage. It is Danish for ‘dragon.’”

“Oh! Is that why?”

Dunstan could not tell whether she was being polite or was genuinely interested in what he was saying. Worse, it was beginning to sound like boasting to him again, all this talk of the King and Queen and even poor little Prince Drage.

“But about these tiles…” he began again.


“Anna!” The door had opened silently, and the tiler himself had come in. “What’s this?”

“Father!” the girl gasped.

Dunstan stumbled to his feet and instinctively put himself between the girl and her father. “Good morning,” he said in his most imperious tone. “I have just come to look at some tiles for Dunellen castle.”

'I have just come to look at some tiles for Dunellen castle.'

“Yes, my lord,” the tiler bowed. “It will be my pleasure. Anna,” he added under his breath, “get back to your painting.”

“She was showing me the tiles with the griffons,” Dunstan said. “I find them quite interesting.”

“Of course,” the tiler bowed. “And I shall show you some of the others, and we will discuss what you would like.”

'We will discuss what you would like.'

The man continued speaking to him, but Dunstan watched the girl walk around her father and back into the corner where he had found her working when he had come in.

Her name was Anna, he told himself. He was pleased her father had spoken it, for he had forgotten to ask. Nor did he think he had told her his own name. He wondered whether she knew it. He wondered whether she even cared.

'He wondered whether she even cared.'