'Do you know what I feel like?'

“Do you know what I feel like?” Sir Egelric asked his wife without preliminary greeting.

Lili put down her sewing and squinted up at him. “Like an old mule who has had a sack full of twenty spitting tomcats lashed to his back all day?”

Egelric stopped just short of kissing her and laughed at her instead. “You’re too quick for me. Wherever did you get that idea?”

'Wherever did you get that idea?'

“Nowhere. I simply thought that’s what you looked like when you came in.”

“You’re too bad for me! Let me correct you in one minor detail: those were the devil’s own cats on my back, and there were fifty of them.”

“Noted for next time.”

'Noted for next time.'

“What I meant for you to guess was that I feel like a nap. What do you think?”

Lili laughed. “I think if you truly felt like a nap you would simply go lie down without announcing it to me first.”

“I need you to help me,” he wheedled.

“Help you do what?”

“Fall asleep.”

'Fall asleep.'

“That I can do! Let’s go lie down, and I can talk and talk and talk to you until you start to snore. That’s what I feel like doing.”

“Blethering!” he sighed. “Just like a woman.”

“You’re so busy with the harvest,” she whimpered. “I’m here all alone.”

“Why don’t you go see Sophie or your sister or someone? You can talk talk talk to Sophie and then I can put your pretty lips to other uses later.”

“Because I’m afraid to take a horse that far today. I feel as if I’m starting to get a pain down here,” she frowned and placed her hands on her waist.

'Oh, poor henny.'

“Oh, poor henny.” He reached around her to begin kneading the small of her back with his broad hands, which was the only thing that seemed to help her.

Ever since her baby’s birth, her monthly pains had gone from a minor annoyance to a crippling affliction, and she was sure to spend twenty-​​four hours out of every month in bed.

“Or perhaps I’ve only been sitting too long sewing,” she sighed and arched her back against his hands. He was always afraid of hurting her, but it seemed that no amount of pressure was ever great enough, and she always begged him to press harder.

“Why don’t you come lie down a while and I shall rub your back?” he offered.

'Why don't you come lie down a while and I shall rub your back?'

“Of course, ‘my back’! You don’t give up.”

“Asking doesn’t cost anything.”

“How frugal of you.”

She stopped leaning back against his hands and instead let him pull her against him, which permitted him to use all the strength of his arms. He could feel the little bones of her spine, and he thought he might at least bruise her.

“Aren’t you afraid I shall break something one of these days?” he asked.

“Perhaps you will fix something.”

“Fix something?” he gasped.

“Don’t you think there’s something wrong with me, ever since…?”

'Don't you think there's something wrong with me, ever since...?'

“I don’t know, Lili.”

“I hurt so much, and I bleed so much, and… every month…”


“Perhaps I can’t have any more children,” she said. Her voice was no more than the squeak of a shy mouse, and she hid her face and spoke into his shoulder besides.


Egelric stopped rubbing her back and only held her.

Egelric stopped rubbing her back and only held her. Lili so rarely showed herself overcome by her own problems; though she knew now he loved her, she still seemed to think that it was a wife’s duty to always be bright and cheerful before her husband.

But this month Egelric had been expecting something like this. Lili had been greatly affected by the death of the baby Princess, who had lived only one night to her own son’s three days. She had tried on several occasions to pay a visit to the Queen, but the Queen would not receive her.

Egelric could tell her that the Queen received almost no one these days, but Lili was still hurt. Lili was so outgoing, so friendly, and so compassionate in her sometimes overwhelming way. Reclusion was not something that Lili could understand; she was open towards others even in her grief. He thought she must have told herself that she and the Queen were nearly the same age, and they had this tragedy in common now, and perhaps a second one as well. And so the Queen’s refusal had hurt her, and she had brooded over the death of the Queen’s baby more than Egelric thought was good for her, and these tears, he thought, were the result.

These tears, he thought, were the result.

Meanwhile, he himself had been mentioning Lili more often than usual in his conversations with the King, telling him what Lili had recently said or what Lili had recently done. He hoped thus to gently remind Sigefrith that even after such a loss, a young woman could eventually recover and be merry and optimistic again. But he was now reminded that perhaps they never were quite the same.

“Lili,” he said, “I have often thought that all of my children have come to me when I was least expecting them. Even Iylaine and Gils. Especially Iylaine and Gils!”

“That’s because you’re a stupid man,” she mumbled, but not unkindly. “You men are always surprised, as if you’re big innocents who don’t know how babies get made. You don’t think we women are surprised, do you?”

'You don't think we women are surprised, do you?'

“I don’t know, henny. You’re all a mystery to me. But, Lili, though I hope you will have a dozen children if that’s what will make you happy, you know it doesn’t matter to me. All I know is that I almost lost you, and to me it would not be too high a price to pay to have you back.”

Lili nodded slowly.

Lili nodded slowly.

“Iylaine brought you back when you were standing at the very gates of a kingdom one never leaves, Lili. We don’t know what the consequences might be. We must only rejoice that you yourself are well.”

“Perhaps she did something,” Lili murmured.


“Perhaps Iylaine did something so that I could not have more children.”

Egelric considered this for a moment, hoping he did not understand correctly. But Lili could not meet his eyes with her own, and so he thought he had.

Lili could not meet his eyes with her own.

“Are you suggesting that my daughter did this to you deliberately?”

Now Lili hesitated. “It sounds so cruel when you say it so,” she whispered.

“It would be very cruel if it were true. But I think it cruel of you to think it of her.”

“But I don’t…”

'But I don't...'

“I hope you do not. Even if it were true, even if you had reason to think it true – I should have hoped you would not have it in you to believe it.”

“I don’t.” Now she looked up at him. “Now that I have said it, I see what an ugly thought it is, and I say it is not mine. She was very kind to me even that day, for she told me you loved me.”

“She did?”

“That is how I dared tell you I did when you came back to see me.”

'That is how I dared tell you I did when you came back to see me.'

“I had thought it was because you thought you were dying.”

“But I had been thinking it would be a kindness to you if I were to die.” He knew she was trying to speak lightly, but he could hear the tragedy trembling behind the words.

“Lili!” He held her tightly, with little regard for what he might break. “I owe my daughter more than I know.”

“You owe Malcolm, too. It was Malcolm who brought her that day. And Malcolm who told her you loved me.”

“I have already thanked him for making Iylaine’s happiness,” he sighed. “I did not realize I owed him my own.”

'I did not realize I owed him my own.'