Queen Eadgith was not sleeping.

Queen Eadgith was not sleeping. The morning was already bright, and she could hear the servants coming and going in the corridor that ran beneath her bedroom. Breakfast was already over. But the Queen was still in her bed.

She knew her husband had risen hours before, at dawn, though he had not awoken her then. As she did almost every morning, she had opened her eyes onto a vacant pillow, a blanket pushed back to reveal wrinkled sheets, an empty place.

Now she was staring at a long, black hair that he had left spiraling across the pillow. Drage had the same hair, though on his head it was still short enough to spring into soft curls. Catherine, she thought, would have had her own hair: straight and blonde and darkening into an uninteresting brown.

Or perhaps Catherine would have remained blonde like her fair grandmother.

Eadgith closed her eyes and pretended to sleep as her mother came in.

Eadgith closed her eyes and pretended to sleep as her mother came in. She had done the same every morning for the past month. It had been a month now. It was a thing that was reckoned first in hours, then in days, then in weeks, and now the measure had expanded to hold an entire month in one scoop.

Eadgith had found that the first day had seemed to pass as slowly as the entire remainder of the first week. The first week had seemed to pass as slowly as the entire first month. She supposed the first month would have passed as slowly as the entire rest of the year. And the first year? It would seem as long as all the rest of her life. She could not bear it.

'Good morning, Eadie!'

“Good morning, Eadie!” her mother called brightly. “It’s Mistress Leia’s turn for wake up duty today.”

“Wake up… sleepyhead!” Leia laughed, without pausing in her dash for the curtain that divided the room. Leia found her sister’s curtain to be the greatest innovation in the furnishing of rooms since the development of walls, and she could amuse herself for at least several minutes by running through it to one side and the other.

Leia found her sister's curtain to be the greatest innovation in the furnishing of rooms.

Eadgith knew there was no point in pretending she was still tired. Her mother would not allow her to sleep. Her mother forced her to rise and did not allow her to return to her bed any earlier than the bedtime of children Drage’s age. She was allowed to remain in her private chambers, but she had to be dressed, and she had to sit up.

“Inside!” Leia cried as she ran through the curtain.

“Theobald and Brinstan are here today,” her mother said.

'Theobald and Brinstan are here today.'

“Outside!” as Leia ran back again.

“They’re leaving tomorrow,” her mother continued, “and I believe Baldwin means to ride with them to visit his brother for a few days. If you would like to send word to Judith or the Baroness.”

“Inside… out!” Leia laughed as she dashed through the curtain.

“We had fresh sausage for breakfast today, Eadie,” her mother said. “They’re already killing the pigs this year.”

“Hillside!” Leia squealed.


“But you may have an egg and toast if you prefer.”

“Backside! Oh!” Leia stopped running and doubled over in laughter as she realized she had made a joke of questionable propriety.

“You had better not pull that curtain rod down on your head again, Mistress Leia,” Eadgith’s mother scolded. “Or your father will show you where your backside can be found!”

'You had better not pull that curtain rod down on your head again, Mistress Leia.'

Leia seemed to find this even funnier and went giggling off through the curtain again.

“Perhaps you will like to go down and see Theobald this morning before he goes off with Cenwulf?” her mother suggested. “Sigefrith told me you meant to dress and go down.”

Eadgith froze. Sigefrith had told her mother.

Eadgith froze.

The night before, when he had come to bed, she had firmly told him that a month had passed, and that it was time for her to get up and go down to the people: to be a queen again. She had thought that it was what a great lady would do, if ever a great lady were to spend a month locked in her rooms out of sheer sorrow.

But she had told Sigefrith similar things on other nights, and when her mother had come she had not mentioned it, and Eadgith had not gone down. She was ashamed of herself, but Sigefrith never mentioned it the following nights. Sometimes she wondered whether Sigefrith remembered anything that happened in the evenings, or anything she said.

'I... can't go down...'

“I… can’t go down…” she murmured.

“Now, Eadie,” her mother sighed.

“Backside!” Leia laughed, but this time no one heeded her.

“It’s a month today, Mother,” Eadgith squeaked, and then the tears came.

'It's a month today, Mother.'

Her mother did not attempt a reply to this irrefutable argument. Her mother understood. Her mother’s baby had lived and died nearly twenty years before, but her mother had told her that she still thought of him every day.

It had helped her to know that her mother understood, but it frightened her to think that twenty years hence she would still be mourning her pretty, pale daughter. And her mother had had other children since. Eadgith did not believe she ever would.

“It’s no matter, honey,” her mother murmured. “Perhaps tomorrow. Or when you’re ready.”

'It's no matter, honey.'

Eadgith could not believe she would ever be ready. It seemed possible at night, when she could tell herself “tomorrow” and not “now,” and Sigefrith was near. Then she was reminded that she needed to be stronger for Sigefrith. And Sigefrith was her strength. But she scarcely saw Sigefrith from dawn to night.

“Don’t cry, Eadie,” her little half-​​sister said.

Leia’s mother had died, and Leia had lived. Eadgith’s baby had died, and Eadgith had lived. It did not make sense. Eadgith did not know what diabolical Fates had arranged the world so cruelly. Surely God could not be so perverse.

'Let's get you dressed, anyway.'

“Let’s get you dressed, anyway,” her mother said. “Perhaps you will feel better later, and if not, it’s no matter.”

“Yes, yes,” Eadgith said and followed her mother to the chest. “Later” was not too hard to bear.

Leia seemed to decide the crisis had passed, and she turned and ran for the curtain again. She had found another “side” and needed to try it out.

“Upside… down!” she squealed as she ran, and laughed and laughed.

'Upside... down!'