Chapter Twenty-One (part II)

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Rothgar had left before us and was nowhere to be seen. We searched right and left, and then Edgar grasped my hand.

I glanced up at him, regret gnawing at me. "I lost my temper."

Edgar huffed a laugh. "No, that was understandable. I was about to say something myself."

"She really does hate me, doesn't she?"

"Oh, no." Edgar nodded toward the thin green smudge of Wolcott's eastern wall, and we set off. "No, quite the opposite. She sees you are fierce..."

I snorted. "What?"

"And she is shrewd enough to want a grandchild on the High Throne. In fact..." Edgar trailed off, smirking shyly. "She told me I must try harder. If I can't put a baby in you soon, you must leave me."

"She really said that?"

"I think she pities me. Rothgar's fathered four children already, and I had to tell her I had none."

"It sounds like she wants you to be happy."

Edgar shook his head. "She doesn't understand."

I squeezed his hand, pumping it several times quickly. "I'm not leaving you. And you can take your time with the baby. We have other things to do."

Edgar grunted, shrugging up one shoulder. "It's likely for the better that way," he muttered -- he'd been muttering more and more as Budding drew near. "Perhaps that's our blessing from the Mother of All."

We fell quiet then, slipping out of the camp unremarked. The morning's fog had burned off, but the weeds and grasses were all still dripping. By the time we got home again, our clothes were so wet, I reckoned we'd have to strip off everything and huddle under the quilts to keep warm -- an idea we both liked very much. Alas, a knock came at the door while we were still unbuttoning our boots.

It was no one I knew -- a man, tall, with dark and uneasy eyes. He bowed his head, greeting Edgar, "Min cyning..."

Edgar hovered in the threshold, talking with him quietly, soberly. I took off my boots and stockings, glad to be free from damp wool and clammy leather, and then Edgar thudded back down the steps, his movements slow and heavy.

"I must go and be king," he said, belting on his knife.

I searched for his eyes, but his head was bent low, his attention fixed on the buckle. Whatever his duty was, it was plainly a grim one.

"Give me a moment." I pulled on a wet stocking.

A sad smile flickered over Edgar's face. He nodded. "Very well."

The man stood waiting for us outside. He pointed his chin southward and set off down the lane, at length leading us to another small cottage, a bit bigger than our little home, though not by much.

A woman, slight and dark-eyed and not many years older than I was, sat beside the fire with a baby in her arms. She glanced up as we made our way in, then she hastened to her feet, bowing her head low.

Edgar greeted her in the Common Tongue. "Eolind Brunlaif... Forgive me, it is not my place, but I bring the Princess of Fridric."

The woman bowed her head again, saying, "The princess is very welcome, of course," in a perfectly unremarkable Northerns accent. The entire exchange had an air of rote courtesy to it.

Edgar stretched out his hands, asking, "How old is the child?"

"Nearly seven months." She passed the baby into his hands.

Edgar murmured, "Hello, little one," his eyes wide, his smile a bit forced. The child goggled back at him.

The woman blinked fast, her hands twisting in her skirts. She said, "She will have the wolf eyes..." not quite stating it, yet not quite asking, either.

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