Lady Wynflaed knew why she was there, but it did not prevent her from feeling distinctly out of place.

Lady Wynflaed knew why she was there, but it did not prevent her from feeling distinctly out of place.

The Queen was there because she was the Queen, the Countess because she was the Countess, and Lady Eadgith because she was a great lady as well as the Queen’s mother. Lady Luitgarde was nothing more than the wife of a knight, just as Wynflaed was, but she was also the sister of the bride and so had every right to be there. Wynflaed was simply the Queen’s best friend—by decree of Her Majesty the Queen—and so her presence was accepted as a given wherever the Queen went.

Her presence was accepted as a given wherever the Queen went.

Wynflaed had enjoyed the ladies’ gathering of the evening before, since all of the ladies had attended: from the Queen on down to young Lady Iylaine, and even the older daughters of the nobility. Her presence there was perfectly natural.

But in the intimacy of this little bedchamber, as they put the finishing touches on the bride’s gown and veil, Wynflaed felt like an intruder. She hid herself as best she could against the far wall, content to watch as Lili attempted to joke her sister’s nervousness away, and content to be allowed to do no more than watch.

Lili attempted to joke her sister's nervousness away.

However, it was difficult even for such a small lady as she to make herself inconspicuous when she had such an enormous belly in front of her.

Both the Queen and the Countess were expecting as well, and they had both had dresses made in the pattern of her own wedding gown, since it had been found to be quite flattering to a pregnant body. Wynflaed was honored, but it was true that the teasing from their husbands had been merciless. The three ladies were like a matched set, and when they stood ranged from the tall lavender Countess to the sky blue Queen to the tiny coral-​colored Wynflaed—and when one saw how the biggest lady had the smallest belly and the smallest lady the biggest—even a child could have found a joke or two to tell, as young Cynewulf had in fact proven.

But the sight of the other two women in dresses identical to hers showed Wynflaed just how pregnant she actually was. The Countess was expecting to be confined in early September, and the Queen around the Feast of the Assumption, which was a month and a half away. But Wynflaed’s belly was far larger than theirs.

Wynflaed's belly was far larger than theirs.

She had been telling everyone she thought her baby would come for the end of July, but she was beginning to have doubts. In truth, she had no idea. She had never started bleeding again after the twins had been born, but she had been nursing them for a while, so it was difficult to say what was the cause. Furthermore, she and Sigefrith had not waited quite the prescribed forty days after her confinement, and she was too ashamed to admit it to the other ladies, so she could not get their honest opinion.

The only thing she thought she knew was that she was not having twins again. This baby was far less of a writhing, kicking annoyance than Brid and Gala had been. On the other hand, if she was carrying only one baby, she thought she must be getting close to her time.

Fortunately she was still able to get around. She was proud to note that she was still more maneuverable than Eadie, though perhaps it was because she had already learned how to carry twins, and a single baby was an easy burden after that. Eadie wanted to sit all the time, else she complained of pains in her legs. But Wynflaed had scarcely any pain at all, though it was true that with all of the standing she had done that day she was beginning to feel an ache in her back.

She laid her hands on her hips and attempted to arch her back away from the dragging weight of her baby.

She laid her hands on her hips and attempted to arch her back away from the dragging weight of her baby. That helped a little, though she began to have a queer feeling in her leg—not a pain, exactly, but…

Then she realized what she was feeling. It was not in her leg, but on her leg—something warm running down the inside of her leg and soaking into her slipper. At first it was only a trickle, and she desperately wondered whether she would not be able to hide it somehow, at least until after the ceremony…

But then the trickle turned into a flood. “Oh dear!” she whimpered, and she miserably attempted to balance on one foot so that she could at least lift the other slipper out of the growing puddle.

'Oh dear!'

Lili whipped around and laughed at her. “You didn’t understand that joke, you sneaky girl! You don’t speak German!”

Wynflaed could not even bear to lift her head and look at her. Why could she not have remained inconspicuous? Why was this happening to her now, of all times?

“Ach, du mein lieber Gott!” Hetty shrieked.

'Ach, du mein lieber Gott!'

“What now?” Lili groaned and turned back to her.

Hetty babbled something in German that Wynflaed did not understand, but she supposed that Hetty knew what was happening, for the Countess gasped, and Lili spun around again and commanded, “Tell me your water did not just break!”

At that, the Queen and her mother also understood, and the Queen leapt up from her chair as she had not been able to do in four months, and her mother came crashing into her in her attempt to get to Wynflaed.

“You can’t do this now!” Lili wailed.

'You can't do this now!'

“I’m sorry,” Wynflaed whimpered.

“I promised Alred that we ladies would do nothing to jeopardize his wedding! And so you shall not!”

“Oh, get out of my way, you useless baggages,” Lady Eadgith cried and barged past the others. “What would have you her do, Lili? Cross her legs and hold it in?”

“I don’t know…” Lili said, somewhat subdued.

“Now, now, my pretty pigeon,” Lady Eadgith said gently to Wynflaed. “Babies come before everything and everyone, including brides. And this one was polite enough to announce his arrival before we went down to company.”

'Babies come before everything and everyone, including brides.'

“But poor Hetty’s wedding!” Lili cried.

“Poor Hetty shall have her wedding, for heaven’s sake! This baby won’t come for hours. We shall simply—”

Lady Eadgith was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Oh, ladies!” Sir Egelric cooed. “Time for to come… ah… pay the piper!”

“Not now!” Hetty wailed.

'Not now!'

“That means you, my pretty! The bridegroom awaits!”

“Can’t you stall him, Lili?” Lady Eadgith hissed.

“What shall we do?” Lili asked frantically.

'What shall we do?'

“I only need a few minutes to get Wynflaed packed off to her room,” Lady Eadgith whispered. “And I shall stay with her, and the rest of you can go down. But I don’t want that man to see her! And stop your wailing, Eadie!” she added, for her daughter was practically in tears despite the Countess’s attempts to calm both her and a trembling Hetty.

“What’s going on in there?” Egelric asked dubiously. “She’s not changing of her mind is she?”

“Ahhhh…” Lili hesitated.

'Stall him!  I only need a moment.'

“Lili!” Lady Eadgith hissed. “Stall him! I only need a moment.”

“How?” Lili whispered.

“For the love of heaven!” Lady Eadgith groaned. “Can’t you think of something to do to keep a man occupied for five minutes?”

“I can!” Lili squealed and yanked the door open. Egelric must have been leaning against it, for he stumbled inside.

He stumbled inside.

“Keep that man out of here!” Lady Eadgith howled.

Lili snagged his arm and attempted to drag him out into the hall again, but between her size and his state, she did not move him very far.

“Come with me, you!” she giggled.

“What about Hetty?” he asked. “Afternoon, ladies!”

“Come with me! I want to make certain your loins are properly girded up.”

“The devil you do!” he laughed. “And if they aren’t?”

'The devil you do!'

“I shall do them for you! Come on! Surely we have five minutes!”


But Egelric must have believed they did, for he allowed Lili to lead him away without further protest.

“Now!” Lady Eadgith sighed. “Edris, you go down and send a man for Wynflaed’s sister, and send my maid for the women. Do try to keep it a secret,” she begged. “Otherwise my son and my husband will be quivering lumps of jelly all through the ceremony, if they attend at all.”

Edris laughed and went out.

Edris laughed and went out.

“But my wedding…” Hetty murmured.

“Your wedding shall proceed as planned, my dear,” Lady Eadgith said. “By the time that man drags his sorry self back over here, Wyn and I shall be well hid. And he’s in no condition to remember how many women were in here when he first came.”

'He's in no condition to remember how many women were in here when he first came.'


“No buts, Hetty. If your sister promised Alred that we ladies shall not jeopardize his wedding, then by God, we shall not. Pardon your mother, Eadie.”

“I’m sorry,” Wynflaed whispered.

'I'm sorry.'

“No sorries, either,” Lady Eadgith said. “Your precious baby won’t come until tomorrow morning, mark my words. Your husband and mine shall have the fun of pacing the floor all night and waiting for him. I simply hope they don’t have any more of this so-​called cider while they’re waiting. Though I think I could use some,” she sighed.

'I think I could use some.'