He had not expected to find all three  of them in the guards' dining hall.

Alred had been looking for any of his groomsmen, and he thought he might find at least some of them together, but he had not expected to find all three in the guards’ dining hall, accompanied by Leofric. But he thought he should have known: it was the closest room to the buttery.

“What are you rascals all doing down here?” he asked, though it seemed apparent.

“Drinking to your happiness,” Egelric said and lifted his cup.

“Already? I’m not even happy yet.”

'Already?  I'm not even happy yet.'

“But we were thirsty,” Sigefrith whimpered.

“Only ale, I hope,” Alred sighed.

“Only cider,” Egelric corrected.

“Well, in that case…”

“Don’t say only cider!” Leofric cried. “This is not only cider!”

'This is not only cider!'

“Aye,” Egelric said, “this is only the best cider I have ever tasted. You devil! Do you have some secret pact with Gunnie Hogge to get all the choicest cider to your greedy self?”

“And then never share it with your friends?” Sigefrith added.

“Even on the eve of your own wedding?” Cenwulf accused.

'Even on the eve of your own wedding?'

“Aye, what was that swill you had us drinking last night?” Egelric asked.

“That was only some of my best wine!” Alred cried. “Don’t tell me this cider is better!”

“This cider is only the finest use to which apple has been put,” Sigefrith said grandly, “since Adam and Eve used one to discover there was such a thing as nakedness and promptly profited from the discovery.”

'This cider is only the finest use to which apple has been put.'

“And speaking of nakedness,” Alred frowned, “why are none of you dressed yet?”

“We were just about to begin thinking about that,” Cenwulf said gravely.

“We still have time, don’t we?” Sigefrith asked.

“An hour or so,” Alred said. “But in your condition… How many cups have you had, anyway?”

'How many cups have you had, anyway?'

“Only… two, three,” Egelric said thoughtfully.

“It looks like more than that to me! What kind of so-​called cider is this anyway?”

“Have a cup!” Sigefrith said and offered him his.

'Have a cup!'

Alred sniffed at it and quickly turned his face away, blinking back tears. “What in Jupiter’s holy name is this?”

“Cider!” Egelric said. “Taste it.”

“The nectar of the gods, you mean,” Leofric said.

'The nectar of the gods, you mean.'

“Where did you get this poison?” Alred asked. But it was true that a smell of apples lingered in his nose…

“Only in one of the barrels that was meant for today’s dinner!” Sigefrith cried. “For what manner of wretched thieves do you take us?”

'For what manner of wretched thieves do you take us?'

“And where was this barrel?”

“Right by the door to the buttery,” Cenwulf said.

“With the barrels of wine for today sitting on top of it,” Sigefrith added.

'I see.'

“I see,” Alred sighed. “Gentlemen, that cider was not last year’s, nor that of the year before, but of the year before that. Those barrels were near the door because I had meant to have them taken out and emptied.”

“We shall generously empty them for you!” Sigefrith said.

“But one can’t drink three-​year-​old cider, you old sot! It spoils.”

'But one can't drink three-year-old cider, you old sot!'

“Taste it, Alred! It is most definitely not spoiled. It even had the prettiest bubbles in it when we tapped it.”

“Bubbles!” Egelric sighed happily.


Alred finally dared to take a sip. It prickled on his tongue, and harsh fumes rushed up into his nose, but they carried the scent of apples, and the lingering taste was like the browned edges of a baked fruit.

“It’s not bad,” he admitted. “However, it seems to me that this not-​only-​cider is stronger even than the swill—also known as wine—I had you drinking last night. I daresay it is three years old and three times as strong.”

“So that means…” Sigefrith said thoughtfully.

'So that means...'

“We had nine cups of cider in our three,” Egelric calculated. “The devil!” And then he began to laugh devilishly, in which he was soon joined by the King and Cenwulf. “Gentlemen, we have just discovered the shortest path between sobriety and drunkenness.”

'Perhaps we shouldn't have given a cup to the Old Man...'

But Leofric appeared perturbed. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have given a cup to the Old Man…”

“Damn!” Sigefrith cried. “Forgot about the runt.”

“What?” Alred wailed. “You got my baby drunk?”

“Only one cup,” Egelric said. “In his little boy cup!”

'In his little boy cup!'

“Three cups of cider in his little boy cup!” Alred cried. “Are you all gone mad? Did you not notice there was something wrong with the stuff?”

“But the bubbles were so pretty,” Egelric giggled.

“Holy Mother Juno!” Alred groaned. “Where is the boy now?”

“We don’t know,” Egelric said, “but here comes Lili to tell us perhaps. Eh, my bitty?”

'Here comes Lili to tell us perhaps.'

“There you are, naughty boys!” Lili laughed. “I came to see whether you were dressed, and I see you are not.”

“Now, I’m not so drunk to believe myself clothed when I am naked?” Egelric asked and looked down at his tunic.

“Dressed in your armor,” Lili sighed wearily. “Are you drunk?”

'Are you drunk?'

“Taste this!” Egelric cried and held his cup out to her.

“Oh, no!” she laughed. “One of us has to stay sober to keep the other from embarrassing both of us.”

“It’s only cider!” he wheedled.

“It is not only cider!” Sigefrith and Leofric cried together.

“Lili…” Alred whimpered.


“And what about you, henny?” Egelric asked. “Why aren’t you dressed? And why did you put on this delicious dress, if not to come down here and distract me from my important duties?”

'Why did you put on this delicious dress?'

“I am dressed,” she groaned. “The Old Man came up to kiss Hetty after she already had her dress on, and he threw up all over her lap.”

“Oh no!” Alred wailed.

“So I had to let her wear my dress. But it’s all right. It was white, too. And this old devil likes this dress better anyway,” she added and swatted Egelric’s hand away from her chest.

'And this old devil likes this dress better anyway.'

“Poor Hetty,” Alred sighed.

“Well, the dress wasn’t so bad because we had another. But there’s not much we can do about her flowers.”

'Well, the dress wasn't so bad because we had another.'

“What about her flowers?”

“Wulf sat on them when he was putting on his shoes. But Hetty has stopped crying now, so I think her eyes won’t be red by the time of the ceremony.”

“Poor Hetty!” he whispered.

'Poor Hetty!'

“But you had better wake up Father Brandt soon, though,” she said, “or he will still have marks on his face from the cushions.”

“What about Father Brandt?” he gasped.

“He’s taking a nap on the couch in the hall. But I know how those cushions can leave marks. Sometimes this old devil falls asleep face first on the couch at home,” she giggled and swiped at Egelric’s roving hand.

She giggled and swiped at Egelric's roving hand.

“And you and the boys let me sleep so you can laugh at me afterwards!” Egelric accused and tried to pinch her.

“Tell me you didn’t get Father Brandt drunk!” Alred moaned into his hands.

'And you and the boys let me sleep so you can laugh at me afterwards!'

“He only had one cup!” Sigefrith protested.

“In his great big Saxon priest mug!” Cenwulf laughed.

'In his great big Saxon priest mug!'

“But Father Aelfden is here,” Sigefrith said. “He never gets drunk.”

“I know it,” Alred cried, “but poor Hetty is so terrified of him that she giggles every time he speaks to her! What shall I do if she starts giggling in the middle of the ceremony?”

“I don’t think she’ll giggle in such a grave situation,” Lili said. “She might start to cry, though, if he scowls too much.”

“Oh, poor Hetty!”

'Oh, poor Hetty!'

“Well, perhaps Father Brandt will sober up before then,” Lili said. “How much time do we have?”

“I don’t know,” Alred said miserably. “An hour or so.”

“Gentlemen!” Lili cried. “You had all better start getting sober yourself. Especially you, Egelric, since you have to walk Hetty down the center of the church, and everyone will be watching you.”

'Especially you, Egelric.'

“And you will be staggering like a slew-​footed sow!” Sigefrith laughed.

“Poor Hetty!” Alred whimpered.

“You had better not embarrass me!” Lili warned her husband. “And you all had better go up and get dressed. It will take you half the afternoon to put on your armor, in your state.”

'I shall never manage it alone, in my state.'

“Oh, henny,” Egelric moaned. “I shall never manage it alone, in my state. Won’t you come with me and help me gird up my loins?”

“That’s a fine idea!” Sigefrith said. “Where’s Eadie?”

“Oh, no!” Lili said. “None for you and none for him until after we have seen Alred and Hetty tucked safely in. Now I must go back up to the ladies, and so must Her Majesty stay there with us. You may go gird up one another, but you shall have no help from your ladies. Snap to it!”

'Snap to it!'

“Where did you say Father Brandt was, again?” Alred asked weakly.

“In the hall. Come along with me, Alred,” she cooed, “and we shall wake him together. You poor thing! The way these men are treating you—and Father Brandt, too, and the Old Man, and even poor Wulf with his little shoes. But we took care of the dress, and we shall take care of Father Brandt, and those men shall simply have to fall into line. I’m certain we ladies will not allow anything to jeopardize your wedding, come what may.”

“God bless the ladies!” Alred sighed. “And God bless poor Hetty!”

'God bless poor Hetty!'