Catan screamed and screamed until she woke herself.

Catan screamed and screamed in her dream until she woke herself.

The screams continued, however.

Lady Gwynn was already awake and sitting up. “It must be Leia!” she gasped.

“Huh?” Leia’s room was beside their own, but it seemed to Catan that the screams were still coming from inside her own head.

Flann was in the room before she was quite awake.

Flann was in the room before either of them was quite awake. “Is that Leia? Is there a fire?”

That most dreaded word woke all three of them and propelled them out of the room and into Leia’s.

The lamp was still lit in the little girl’s room, but there was no fire and no apparent danger. Leia was out of her bed and shrieking into her hands, though she quieted once Gwynn had put an arm around her.

'What happened, honey?'

“What happened, honey?” Gwynn soothed. “Did you have a bad dream?”

Catan looked at Flann and Flann looked at Catan. Both were thinking of the charm.

“I want my Papa!” Leia sobbed.

“But your Papa’s sleeping, honey. Everyone is sleeping.”

Cat looked at Flann again, wondering whether Lord Hingwar were really sleeping and, if so, with whom. Flann did not seem to have had the same thought, for she only watched Gwynn and Leia.

Cat wondered whether Lord Hingwar were really sleeping and, if so, with whom.

“I want my Papa!” Leia howled.

“But I’m here, Leia,” Gwynn said. “And Cat and Flann.”

“I want my Papa!” Leia shrieked.

Gwynn looked up at Cat with pleading eyes. Cat was the oldest. She would have to go.

Gwynn looked up at Cat with pleading eyes.

“Stop your keening, darling,” she said. “I shall get your Papa for you. Only keep it quiet till then, or you will wake the castle.”

Leofric’s room was on the ground floor of the castle, windowless and half-​​sunk into the earth. Still sick with horror from her own nightmare, Catan could imagine she was descending into the lair of a dragon. She was sorry she had not thought to bring her knife, though she could not have hidden it in her nightgown, and it would have been difficult to explain.

She was sorry she had not thought to bring her knife.

She knocked. After a moment’s silence, she realized that she had knocked quite softly, hoping he would not hear, hoping she could go away again. This would not do. Leia was not the sort of girl who would stop crying eventually if her demands were not fulfilled. Nor was Cat the sort of girl who liked to think herself frightened of men. Her liberty would be greatly curtailed the day she did.

She lifted her hand to knock again – just as Leofric yanked open the door.

In the instant before he recognized her, he had the face of a dragon indeed. Then he smiled. “Well, now…”

Then he smiled.

Catan squeaked.

“Come in, my dear.” He grasped the edge of the door above her head and began pulling it closed, herding her into the room ahead of it.

“But I didn’t – Wait!”

She saw – somehow to her relief – that only half the bed was unmade. No one else had been in it; no one else was hiding under it.

“Couldn’t sleep, eh?”

'Couldn't sleep, eh?'

“I didn’t mean – ”

Catan had known it would be this way. She had laughed in the faces of any number of men, and she had kicked and clawed her way out of several unwelcome embraces, and she had even had occasion to threaten men with her knife. But there was something about this man – some sinister fascination such as that of a spider with its many shining eyes. She could not understand why Flann did not see it. Her own self-​​assurance paled before his like a candle in the light of the sun.

“I’m not saying I’m a quieter bedfellow than her ladyship,” he chuckled, “but I can promise you I won’t kick you in my sleep.”

“I’m not here to sleep with you!” she gasped.

'I'm not here to sleep with you!'

“That’s fine with me, my dear. We needn’t sleep at all.”

Catan had known it would be this way, but she had not known he would be like this. She had thought he must have been of about the same age as her father, for they had children of nearly the same age, and nearly the same number of gray hairs. Now she saw she would have to revise her estimate of his age. She knew her cousin Egelric was forty-​​three, and even he did not have such a body, such arms, such a chest. Nearly naked, Leofric seemed more massive than he did with a shirt and tunic.

Nearly naked, Leofric seemed more massive than he did with a shirt and tunic.

For he was nearly naked, and she was in her nightgown, and she was alone with him in his room at night. Her senses were heightened in response to this danger, but that only served to magnify his presence. She could smell his presence as well as if she had laid her head on his shoulder. She could taste his presence as though she had touched her tongue to his neck. She could feel him at a distance, like a cat whose whiskers sent an intimate knowledge of the shape of things deep below the surface of her skin.

She could feel him at a distance.

Wherever she thought to move, he was already there. He was neither smiling nor scowling, but he stared intently at her with his six or eight or ten eyes. He was not luring her but leading her. The only paths he left open led into the bed or into his arms.

But he mistakenly believed she wanted to go there. Catan felt relief flowing over her like cool water. His self-​​assurance was such that she had started to believe what he believed. He had thought she was drawn to him, but she was no fly and he no spider. She almost felt sorry for him for having let himself be fooled.

When his hands went out towards her hips, her hand went up, planted itself in the middle of his face, and pushed him away.

Her hand went up, planted itself in the middle of his face, and pushed him away.

“Hold it! That is not why I am here!”

He shook his head like a dog doused with a pailful of water. “I beg your pardon,” he growled. “It should have been obvious, given the hour and your state of dress, that this is not why you are here.”

'It should have been obvious.'

“I am only here to bring you back upstairs to Leia. It’s crying her eyes out she is.”


“That is all.”

He grunted and looked up and down her body. “Wait here for me?”

'Wait here for me?'

“You wish!”

“So do you, I think,” he muttered and went out.

She tried to follow him at a safe distance, but he was too much a gentleman to let her climb the stairs alone when he might assure her safety by coming up behind her.

Not since she was learning to walk had two flights of stairs been so awkward to climb. Without her underskirt and the stiff cloth of her skirt, without the tight laces of her dress, she was nothing but a naked body beneath a loose layer of fine linen. His eight eyes were behind her at the level of her hips. She walked as stiffly as she could to limit any swaying and shaking beneath her nightgown, but those two flights of stairs were like slow torture to her. She could almost feel his hot breath blowing across her thighs.

He was transformed into another creature entirely as soon as he saw Leia. Gently he knelt beside her, gently he hugged her and laid his cheek upon the top of her head.

He was transformed into another creature entirely as soon as he saw Leia.

“Papa!” she wailed. “I had a bad dream!”

Leofric soothed her with murmured phrases Cat could not understand from across the room. She found herself drifting closer so she could hear.

“There was a big, black monster!” Leia blubbered. “Big and black! And he sat on my belly, and I couldn’t breathe!”

“Hush now, baby. It was only a dream. Papa’s here.”

“I don’t want to marry a monster!”

'I don't want to marry a monster!'

Leofric chuckled and kissed her hair. “No one shall make my baby marry a monster, silly girl.”

“But I must! I did the charm and I must marry the husband in my dreams!”

“What charm? What do you mean, baby?”

Catan found herself backing away again.

Catan found herself backing away again.

“I did the charm with Gwynn and the ladies! To see my husband in my dreams. But now I don’t want to!” she sobbed.

Leofric turned his head to look up at Catan and the girls. “What charm?” His voice was no longer gentle.

Cat still stood closest to him, and she was the oldest. She would have to speak. “It was only a little charm for Saint Luke’s Eve, my lord. Such as we girls like, to see whom we shall marry. It’s only a silly game.”

“No, it’s not!” Gwynn protested.

Cat cringed.

Leofric stood, slowly it seemed.

Leofric stood, slowly it seemed, but perhaps it was only the impression he gave since he was so very tall. “She is four years old,” he growled.

“It can’t do any harm,” Cat said.

“She’s terrified she must marry a monster, and too young to understand she needn’t! That is harm!”

“But she – ”

'And four is too young to be thinking about men and marriage!'

“And four is too young to be thinking about men and marriage! Get them started that young, by the time they’re twenty they’ll be showing up in their nightgowns in men’s bedchambers in the middle of the night!”

He was not so angry that he could not deliberately taunt her. Cat’s own hot anger shook over her. “There’s no danger in that if the men are gentlemen!”

'There's no danger in that if the men are gentlemen!'

“Fortunately most are – to a point! Son of a serpent! What a pea-​​brained woman you are! To have taken that risk!”

“It’s not her fault!” Gwynn cried. “I didn’t want to let her do it, but Lili insisted!”

Leofric grunted and looked over at her. Cat realized after a moment that Gwynn believed they were talking about letting Leia try the charm.

“It was never Cat’s idea at all,” Gwynn said. “So you may yell at Lili if you like, but you shan’t yell at Cat.”

Leofric gave her a thin smile and said, “Lady Lili already has a man who can yell at her, and I shall ask him to do so. But Cat here hasn’t a man, and this is not the first time it has seemed to me she’s in sore need of one.”

'This is not the first time it has seemed to me she's in sore need of one.'

“No one shall yell at her, since she did not do anything wrong,” Gwynn insisted.

“Not yet,” Leofric smiled and turned back to Cat. “I think she will, though.”

“No, she won’t,” Gwynn said. “Cat’s a good girl.”

Leofric laughed.

'Let's go back to bed.'

Catan turned away and took Gwynn’s arm, a little roughly because she was frustrated with Gwynn for making matters worse. “Let’s go back to bed.”

“Better stay there,” Leofric called after them. “If you’re truly a good girl, that is.”

Catan climbed back into bed at once. She felt slightly nauseated, and her legs were weak and trembling. She would have liked to have talked to Flann about her disgust for that man, but Gwynn was there, and she did not dare speak of Leofric before Matilda’s daughter.

She felt slightly nauseated, and her legs were weak and trembling.

Flann kissed her and went back to her bed in the next room, strangely quiet. Gwynn too was quiet, and Cat noticed after a moment that she was reapplying the charmed water. The immediacy of Leofric had entirely chased her own dream out of her mind until now.

“Didn’t you dream, Gwynn?” she asked.

“I did, but I want to have another one.”

“Oh, no!” Cat’s laugh was weak – the muscles of her belly were trembling as well. “Don’t tell me you dreamt of a black monster, too!”

Gwynn flopped back onto the bed. “No… It’s worse,” she whispered. “You mustn’t tell Lili.”

“What is it, darling? Wulf or Gils?”

“No. I dreamt of Egelric.”

'No.  I dreamt of Egelric.'

“Egelric!” Catan gasped.

“What shall I do, Cat?” Gwynn whimpered. “He’s so… old!”

“Well, a man can still be quite attractive when he’s old.” Cat cringed at her own words, coming a little too soon after standing so near Leofric. “Lili’s young enough to be his daughter,” she continued, “and she can’t get enough of him.”

That too was the wrong thing to say. Catan tipped her head back into the pillow, seeking to obliterate herself. However, that only exposed her neck, and she hunched her head down into her shoulders, shuddering at the thought of those lips on her throat.

She hunched her head down into her shoulders.

“I know,” Gwynn sighed. “But even so, what does that mean for Lili?”

“Ach… But is that all you dreamt? Was there no one else in your dream?”

“Only my father. Egelric was chasing a kitten, and my father and I were trying to catch it. Because we were trying to help it. But we didn’t know where it was.”

“What was Egelric trying to do? Kill it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, Gwynn, I shall tell you what I think. I think it’s not Egelric nor your father, but the kitten.”

“I’m supposed to marry a cat?” Gwynn moaned.

“No. You won’t marry at all, and you’ll be one of those crazy old ladies with twenty-​​seven cats. That’s what I think.” Cat found the strength to giggle.

“That is the least romantic thing ever,” Gwynn sighed. “I certainly hope I shall have another dream. But what about you, Cat?”

'But what about you, Cat?'

Cat pulled the blankets up under her chin, covering all of her body but her face. Though that left her lips exposed…

“I didn’t dream of anything,” she murmured.

“Then don’t you want to take some more of the water?”

Catan turned over onto her side. “On second thought, darling, I don’t believe I want to know.”

'On second thought, darling, I don't believe I want to know.'