Little Brunhilde was already fast asleep, but Lady Hedwige lingered by her cradle and continued her soft singing. This was her favorite hour of the day: the last feeding before the long sleep, and the songs, and the broad grins as Bruni tried to charm her mother into picking her up again.
At any other time of day she would have cried to be held, but the baby too seemed to savor this hour and did not truly mind being in her bed. She was tired; she was warm and dry and her belly was full of milk, and because of the dear songs she could be certain of her Mama’s presence even after her eyes were closed. Through those first, difficult, colicky weeks, perhaps neither had imagined life together could be so sweet, but now it seemed they had their reward.
Of course, there was still the cranky hour every evening: too long after the afternoon nap, too early for bedtime. But even that had passed pleasantly today. Hedwige thought that either Alred had a special soothing charm for babies, or else Bruni had simply found his funny faces and his novel games of such fascination that she had forgotten that it was her time to throw a fit.
She had tried to imagine Friedrich giving in to such indignities, but she had to admit she could not – not even to make his child laugh. Certainly not for another man’s child.
Her brother-in-law was perhaps not the clown Alred was, but Egelric did not mind rolling around on the floor with his boys, and he was not shy about holding Bruni or talking nonsense to her. Hedwige was certain he would be a good father to her sister’s baby.
She supposed she should be happy that Bruni would, at least, have such an uncle. But she often thought that her sister did not know how lucky she was to have a good and kind husband, even if he did not love her.
The day had been hot, and Bruni had not had a blanket on her since she had been taken up from her morning nap, when Alred had arrived. Now, though, the narrow valley was filling again with the cool air coming down from the hills and up from the long lake. Egelric said the nights were never hot here in this castle, and so far this summer it had been true.
Hedwige decided she would put Bruni’s favorite little green silk quilt on her. It was rather fine for a baby who might spit up on it, but Bruni seemed to love to touch the smooth fabric. For her morning nap she had had it because she had been fussy and Hedwige had thought it might soothe her; tonight she would have it because she had been such a good girl, and deserved something special.
Hedwige went to pick up the quilt from where it had lain since morning, on the linen basket under a pile of pillows, but as soon as she lifted the corner of the blanket, she was startled to find beneath it a little scrap of something – something square and neatly folded that glowed in the candlelight with the tawny translucence of fine parchment.
Hedwige hung the quilt over the edge of the cradle for a moment and turned her attention to the paper. She was mystified. A letter for her brother-in-law? But how did it get in here?
She took it over to the candlelight and unfolded it carefully.
Her first thought was that the writer had an exquisite hand: the lines were straight though they had not been ruled, and the long strokes of the R’s curled off across the page like waving banners. It was a pleasure merely to look at it.
It was not a letter; it had the look of a poem, but it was in English. At first she thought vaguely that she would ask Lili to read it to her, but she could not resist trying it alone.
Her lips moved slightly to help her over the difficult words, but she silently read. Gradually, even with her meager English, she realized that she should not ask Lili about this. It was a love poem.
She read it through twice to make certain, and then she let her arms drop, as mystified as ever. She knew Egelric’s and Ethelwyn’s writing, the former crude and childish, the latter tidy and businesslike. This was the handwriting of an artist, and even if there had been any doubt of who had written the text, she knew only one man capable of writing the poem. It was Alred.
She remembered that he had been in the room that afternoon, when they two had brought Bruni up for her nap. He must have slipped it under the quilt then, knowing that she would find it in the evening when she went to cover the baby for the night.
And even then she was mystified. He was always gallant with the ladies, but she had not realized that he paid her any more attention than the others.
Of course, she had been living in Sir Egelric’s castle for months now, and had lately seen Alred with no other ladies besides Lili herself. Hedwige was well-accustomed to being overshadowed by her younger sister. Hedwige knew herself to be a rather pretty woman when considered in isolation, but she was a pale creature in more than just her skin and hair whenever her golden, glowing sister was near.
And yet Alred had noticed her! Her pale hands began to tremble. No one had ever paid her so sweet a compliment as to write her a poem and slip it somewhere where she would be certain to find it.
Why hadn’t he simply handed it to her, or spoken to her? Could it be that, underneath his jokes and gallantry, he was as shy as she? Was it out of sympathy for her own shyness that he did not wish to confront her and force her to reply?
Or could it be because she had so recently lost her husband? Yes, she thought, that was it. It was perhaps a little of all three, but certainly it was too soon to speak of such things. But it was perhaps not too soon to let her know he cared… to let her know he was waiting for her…
Oh! She would smile on him with extra fondness the next time she saw him. He would be looking to know whether she had received his poem, and whether she had understood. She would smile, and he would understand that she had.
“Oh, Bruni!” she whispered and took her drowsing baby into her arms. She had to tell someone, and she could not bear to tell Lili, whose husband would never write her such a poem. “I think we shall be happy!”