Ethelwyn hurriedly pulled a book from the shelf.

Ethelwyn hurriedly pulled a book from the shelf before him and opened it to a page somewhere in the middle.


It was not Sir Egelric, as he had feared, but the guard got no farther than, “Wyn, Sir Egelric’s—” before two dark-​haired young ladies pushed past him and came smiling into the study.

Two dark-haired young ladies pushed past him and came smiling into the study.

“We’re our cousin Egelric’s cousins,” announced the girl in the red cloak, whose hair was tightly bound behind her head.

“From Scotland,” added the one in green, whose hair fell loose over her shoulders.

'From Scotland.'

“I… am… pleased to meet you.” Ethelwyn closed his book and slipped it back onto the shelf as he backed away from their advance.

“Who are you then?” the first asked. They spoke good English, but their accents added a different sort of unintelligibility. “The servant of him?”

'Indeed I am not!'

“Indeed I am not!” Ethelwyn gasped. “I am Sir Egelric’s steward.”


The girls paused in their pursuit of him to smile at one another, so Ethelwyn was able to slip past them before they trapped him against the wall. However, at that announcement a third Scot invaded the room, this one with a particularly magnificent head of hair, but also a beard.

'Good evening, young man!'

“Good evening, young man! His steward, you said?”


“I’m the cousin of him, namely Flann son of Lulach, also uncle to Lord Colban. Heard of me?”


“Do you live here?” the long-​haired girl asked Ethelwyn.

“Yes,” he murmured. “My room is right behind that door, in fact…”

'My room is right behind that door, in fact...'

“Ach!” The two girls squealed and turned to the door in apparent admiration.

“What?” the man insisted. “Did he never tell you about Flann of the Nine Kirtles?”

“You’re the—You’re the one with all the daughters?” Ethelwyn began to panic at the possibility that there were seven more of these inquisitive creatures even then roaming the corridors of his master’s quiet, orderly castle.

'You're the one with all the daughters?'

I’m the one with all the daughters!” Flann beamed. “But I only brought two for you!”


“Have you any daughters?” asked the girl with the knot of hair.

“No, I don’t,” Ethelwyn said as he rescued one of his most precious books from the hands of the other. “But I—”

Flann interrupted him to say, “My cousin Egelric sent to Colban asking for ladies to be friends to his lady. And who in all of Scotland is the greatest source of charming ladies?”

'Who in all of Scotland is the greatest source of charming ladies?'

“Flann of the Nine Kirtles!” the long-​haired girl laughed. “Though it is but six kirtles he’s having now.”

“Our three elder sisters are married,” the other explained as she peeked into one of the little drawers in which Ethelwyn kept all of the various accoutrements of scribe and steward, and for whose precise arrangement he was already despairing.

“And we shall see what cousin Egelric can do for these!” Flann said.

“Would you…” Ethelwyn had closed the little drawer again and herded the girls away from it, but now he did not even know which way to turn his head; they were all around him. “Would you like to go up and see your cousin and his lady?”

They were all around him.

The guard looked at him and shrugged apologetically.

“Do you sit with our cousin at table?” asked the girl in green.

“This is my fourth daughter, Catan,” Flann said of her.

“But we call her Cat,” the other girl said.

“Because I’m so soft and sweet and like warm laps!” Catan announced.

'Because I'm so soft and sweet and like warm laps!'

“Because she likes to leap on the furniture and knock everything on the floor!” her father corrected, laughing indulgently.

“Will you be staying long?” Ethelwyn asked with a feeble smile.

I shall go home with my nephew,” Flann said. “But the girls are staying until Lady Lili tires of them.”

“Or finds husbands for us,” Catan added.

'Or finds husbands for us.'

“I see.” Ethelwyn cleared his throat and began moving towards the door in the hope they would follow, but instead he only cleared the way for them to explore his desk.

“And my fifth daughter,” Flann said, “name of Flann.”

“Flann also?” Ethelwyn asked. “Don’t—don’t—don’t touch that!” he gasped as Catan attempted to inspect the underside of his inkpot.

The other girl planted her hands on her hips and cried, “It’s a name for girls and men! Don’t you like it?”

“It’s a fine name, I’m certain,” Ethelwyn said. “Ladies…”

'It's a fine name, I'm certain.'

“When my father returns home, you may call me simply Flann,” she said. “But when we are together, you must call us Man-​Flann and Girl-​Flann, as my cousin Malcolm does.”

“Girl-​Flann?” Ethelwyn murmured.

“Do you ever go before the King?” Catan asked.

Girl-​Flann stepped in front of her sister before Ethelwyn could decide how to answer. “Do you have any brothers?”

'Do you have any brothers?'

“Two, but not here… But, ladies…”

“Are they as handsome as you?”

Ethelwyn gasped and lifted his head.

Ethelwyn gasped and lifted his head.

The girls looked at one another and laughed—either at Catan’s boldness or Ethelwyn’s surprise.

And suddenly he no longer cared. They could take his books off the shelf and flip through them—he had not even had the heart to take a book down at all until the guard had knocked and he had been obliged to look busy.

They could rifle through his nibs and knives and bits of sealing wax—order for order’s sake was no more satisfying than disorder.

They could even ask him personal questions and call him handsome—even if he had no intention of marrying, it would be a nice change to believe that pretty young ladies might find him marriageable. Perhaps he was, after all! Who better a judge than a pair of young ladies looking for husbands?

He bowed slightly to them and smiled his most charming smile.

He bowed slightly to them and smiled his most charming smile. “My brothers’ wives have always believed that their husbands were the most handsome of the three. Thus, not having a wife of my own to tell me otherwise, I have always believed that I am the ugliest.”

The girls seemed so pleased by this bit of information that he was not interrupted once when he proposed, “However, Lady Lili has seen all three of us together, and if you will allow me to accompany you upstairs into the hall, we may get her opinion on the matter.”

'If you will allow me to accompany you upstairs into the hall, we may get her opinion on the matter.'