Chapter Sixteen (part I)

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My Brothers and Sisters, I have word from Wulfsig. He insists, still, that our King lives, and that he remains the guardian of the child Eadgyth. He asserts now they are both in his custody, and he will deliver them to us by the first of Blooms at Cheapworth, in the Northerns. Furthermore, he swears that if he fails in this, he will at last surrender himself, along with his own son, to Justice.

Shall we believe him...? I do not know, but I shall go to Cheapworth. Who of ye will come with me?

(letter from Godfrey, Earl of Belrad to the Earls of Baelward, Baelfrid, Ermenhard, and Fyrbrand, Ninth of Grassmonth 514 CR)

.:.

Days passed, mostly indoors -- the winter rains began in earnest and kept us from venturing out unless we truly needed to. Morning after morning, night after night, we huddled round the fire, washed, dressed, undressed, cooked and ate, combed, spun, or knitted... I spent many hours scratching runes in the dirt with Eadsig, telling him their names and their sounds and their meanings. And I spent many more hours knitting a cap big enough to fit a man, telling myself it wasn't for Edgar.

We all of us grew restless as days turned into a week, a week to ten days, and more... Eadlufe was most restless of all. On the first clear morning, she opened up the door and all the little windows, gathered up all the woollens no one was wearing at the moment -- including both my dresses -- and mounded them on the bed. Eadsig and I were still in it.

"Up, min cildra." Eadlufe stripped a quilt off the bed and shook it out. "The morning is bright and dry. And things can only be aired indoors so long."

Her daughters were up already, both wearing kirtles too large for them, their skirts kept from dragging on the floor only by the sashes tied round their ribs. I reckoned Luthwyn wore one of Lufewig's old dresses, and Lufewig wore of Eadlufe's old dresses. Whose dress I was supposed to wear, I did not know.

Eadlufe told me, "I have put out clean things for you," with a wave to the private nook. She squatted with a groan, reaching for the little painted chest under the bed, and then she flicked her hand toward the nook again with a laugh. "Go. Go."

A very square linen shift waited for me in the nook, along with a dress in bright blue wool. It was one of the loose, long-sleeved kirtles the Wolf women favored, and it absolutely reeked of lavender.

I washed and pulled on the shift quickly, my hands trembling from the cold, and then I just stood there a moment, shaking my head at my reflection. The shift was long in the sleeves, loose in the bust, the hem touched my toes... I looked like a child in a borrowed nightgown.

Eadlufe glided up behind me, the rusty red sash draped over her wrist ever so elegantly. She cast a glance at her reflection -- the crack in the mirror cut her head from her neck -- and then she gave me a nod.

"That fits rather well," she said, picking up the blue kirtle and giving it a shake. "Better than I hoped. Now put up your arms, min cild."

She dressed me, lovingly, taking quite some pains to wind the sash about my ribs just so. "I wove this for you when you were just a little girl," she told me. "We dyed the yarn together... Red, to match your hair." Though she didn't say it, I could see in her quivering smile that she had long ago given up the hope of seeing me wear it.

She sat me down on the little stool then, and combed my hair, parting it down the middle and letting it fall free, in the fashion of the Wolf women. She beamed at me when she was done, fiddling with the lay of a few curls. "How beautiful you are, min Eadig."

"Oh..." I was sure I looked absurd and not beautiful at all, but Eadlufe smiled at me so fondly... I simply didn't have the heart to contradict her -- perhaps I truly was beautiful to her eye. I smiled back at her, my heart warmed, despite my gaudy hair and the loose bodice another woman's breasts would have filled. "Thank you."

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