Egelric was surprised to find Iylaine looking happier and more at ease than Lady Gwynn and Lady Margaret. It was true the girls would be losing their best friend, who was more like an elder sister to them, so their ambivalence might easily be explained. But he had never seen a bride who looked less nervous.
He also thought he had never seen a bride who looked more beautiful. Still, it seemed there was something sad that lay over her beauty like frost upon a flower, and he felt the chill of it down into his heart.
“Did you ladies work this transformation?” he asked the girls.
“I did her hair,” Gwynn said proudly.
“I helped!” Margaret said. “Doesn’t she look pretty with her hair up?”
“I have never seen anything so pretty in my life,” he said.
“Remember once when I was little?” Iylaine said wistfully. “I put my hair up and you got so angry and yelled at me.”
“Do you mean to break my heart for good and all today?” he sighed. “I don’t think it was you I yelled at that day. And I did think it was pretty even then.”
“Malcolm likes to see it up,” she said thoughtfully. “Sometimes I would put it up for just a moment so he could see. I think I should wear it up all the time now, don’t you think? To please him.”
“It’s a very good wife you will be, Iylaine, if you start out by thinking of what will please your husband.”
“I wish you would call me Baby today,” she said. “And I shall call you Da.”
She did intend to break his heart! “Would you ladies excuse us?” he asked the girls.
“Isn’t it time?” Iylaine asked.
“We have a moment, Baby. They won’t start without you.”
“That would be funny, if they did!” she giggled. “As long as they don’t finish without me!”
It did him good to see her laugh and joke. She seemed to have grown stronger in the last weeks. There had been more sun than usual for February, and Malcolm had taken her out into it every day it had shined.
But Egelric believed that Malcolm himself was more responsible than the sun. Egelric saw how she looked to him with such hope in her eyes, as if she laid all her hope of recovery in Malcolm himself – such bright, steady hope that Egelric was beginning to believe it was well-founded.
Certainly she had seemed more alive in the last weeks, and could even walk down to the courtyard on her own feet, though she still asked to be carried back up the stairs.
She did look almost well today, and happy. And yet there was something like a frost upon her happiness.
“You look a little sad today, Baby,” he said. It was not quite true, but it was the only way he knew to express it, and he hoped she would be able to explain.
“Oh, no. I don’t think I am. Perhaps I am so very happy that it tips over and shows the other side, which looks like sadness. As when one is so happy that one cries.”
“It may be.”
“But perhaps I am a little sad too.” She furrowed her brows and wore the little, pinched face she would wear as a child, when she would say something particularly wise. “It is the beginning of some things, but also the end of others. Now we shall never have a little house, as you used to say, just you and I.”
“Oh, Baby,” he moaned. His happiness tipped over at once into sadness, and spilled over into tears. He had made so many promises and kept so few.
“Don’t cry, Da,” she said and wiped the tears away. “I always knew that would never happen. You have another family now. And so shall I.”
“Oh, no, don’t say that, Baby. We’re still one family, aren’t we? You are still my daughter, and Malcolm will be my son.”
“He even looks like you,” she giggled.
“Fortunately you do not.”
“But it means your grandsons will look a little like you after all,” she said.
Oh, it did him good to hear her talk of grandsons, though she blushed to do it. She had not given up hope that she would live long enough to bear any.
“It also means my grandsons will be my cousins,” he laughed. “I’m not certain I like that!”
At that her own laughter faded and she looked sadly at the wall for a moment. “How much time do we have?” she asked.
“No time at all. They sent me up to fetch you down. But I shall stay here with you as long as you like,” he said softly.
“I think we should go. I don’t want Malcolm to fear that I don’t come because I am unwell. Or unhappy.”
“He will know that isn’t true as soon as he sees your face. When have I last seen you so happy, Baby?”
“I must have been a little girl.”
“I think so. I am sorry I didn’t know how to make you happier.” He could feel the hot tears rising again, and there was something in his throat that did not want to let him speak.
“It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “I shall be happy now. I think it was because you were so unhappy. But you are happy too, now. And you will be happy because I am happy, and I shall be happy because you are happy. For as long as it lasts.”
It had been a very beautiful thought until she had added the final phrase. That was the chill upon her beauty and her happiness, he realized. She already knew they were fleeting things.
“Shall I carry you?” he asked.
“I can walk down,” she said. “I am feeling strong today.”
“But I should like to. Do you remember how I always used to wonder what would become of me when you grew too big for me to carry?”
“Aye,” she giggled and lifted her arms to him.
“I am not ready to admit that day has come, though my back will not forgive me in the morning for my stubbornness.”
“But you will let me walk down the aisle when we get to the chapel?”
“That I shall.”
“On your arm.”
“On my arm.”