Anna came hurrying over the stile.

Anna came hurrying over the stile into the weedy pasture where Dunstan always awaited her.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting!” she panted.

Dunstan had meant to be angry at her, but he could not be angry at her when she stood before him. She was so sweet, so smiling, so sparkling… and her cool fingers were so gentle on his cheek…

Her cool fingers were so gentle on his cheek.

He could not be angry at her, but he would have liked to have seen her sorry, so that he could have the pleasure of forgiving her.

“You did last night,” he scolded softly.

“Oh! Last night. But I did wait for you, naughty boy, and you kept me waiting.”

'Now, you can't have waited long.'

“Now, you can’t have waited long. The sky was still afire when I went out to wait for you.”

“What does that mean? The sun had already set, and that’s what you said.”

“I said before nightfall.”

“Well?” she laughed. “The sun sets: that’s night. Don’t they teach you anything in those castles of yours?”

'Don't they teach you anything in those castles of yours?'

“There was only a single star.”

“Close enough. I was here, and you missed me. So don’t blame me now!”

“I don’t…”

“You don’t expect me to sit around in a dirty, cold old pasture and wait for you if you never come? And not go out with my friends?”

“Well – ”

“Anyway, I knew you would be kept away with your barons and princesses and things.”

'Anna, hush.'

“Anna, hush,” he whispered. He did not like to hear her speak so flippantly of “princesses and things.”

“Oh, Dunstan,” she said mournfully. “Sometimes I wish you could be an ordinary boy, just one of my friends. And then we could go out together every night, and I could take you home to my father, and you could take me home to yours.”

“Do you?”

'Do you?'

Sometimes he feared that his title was precisely the most interesting thing about him. It was not because of anything Anna had done or said, but because he could not guess what else he possessed that could interest such a pretty, lively girl. He was only small and dark and shy. He could scarcely believe that if he had been born among the village children she would even have noticed him. But he wanted to believe it.

“Of course I do,” she pouted. “I scarcely ever get to see you, and I could never see you enough as it is. And you would not be so ashamed of only-​​Anna if your father were ‘only’ a farmer or a smith.”

“Anna! Ashamed of you! How could I ever be ashamed of you? Such a pearl amid all these pebbles? You can’t help who your father is, and neither can I. That’s not who we are. The proof is that we already recognized one other the very day we met.”

“We were made to be together,” she concluded for him.

'We were made to be together.'

It was their own beloved conceit that underlay everything that had gone since. Dunstan had found the idea, but Anna had agreed that she had known he was special – and especially for her – from the moment she had turned and found him standing in her father’s workshop.

Dunstan realized now that he had never truly conceived of love until he had been stricken by its self-​​evidence. Now he understood what his father had felt for his mother: how his father could have known from the moment they met that Matilda daughter of Cynewulf was the woman for him.

“But we never can be,” she whispered.


“You will marry your princess, and I…”



“It’s all right, Dunstan. We always knew…”

“I don’t know! Anna! Anything can happen.”

Dunstan did not know what could happen, and it frightened him to think of it… but surely, if they were made to be together, the world had likewise been fashioned to allow them to be together. Surely God and the Fates were not so perverse.

“Believe in us, Anna,” he whispered.

'Believe in us, Anna.'

“I believe in you,” she said. “‘Us’ seems only like a happy dream…”


Dunstan had not realized before he met Anna how futile and far from truth were words. Poetry had less force than the breath spent in speaking it. Now he understood why his father called it vanity.

He kissed her. It seemed the easiest way to tell her what he wanted her to understand.

He kissed her.