He only smiled at her, stroking her fingers between his.

For a long moment, until the door clinked shut at the bottom of the stairs, he only smiled at her, stroking her fingers between his, one by one, lovingly. All of the fear and frustration evaporated; the hurt and the humiliation melted away.

“My treasure…” he murmured.

“Whisht! Where are the boys?” she whispered.

He chuckled and laid his other hand on her waist to pull her close. “Egelric promised he would keep them in the hall with him.”

“The ears of them can hear a whisper across a room and behind a door…”

“I know.”

There was a hush in his voice that bid hers be still, and he kissed her. When he lifted his head, his gray eyes were sorrowful, but not angry.

His gray eyes were sorrowful but not angry.

“I talked to your cousin Maire. She told me something she thought I didn’t know.”

Flann cast her gaze down at the pile of white linen.

“I asked you to wait, Flann.”

It was the scolding she expected, but having spent a week far from him and close to her sarcastic cousin, she had forgotten the gentleness of this man whose daily duty was the preaching and the practice of forgiveness.

'I had to tell my sister.'

“I had to tell my sister,” she mumbled. “She already knew something was wrong. She knew I wasn’t bleeding, and when she saw I wasn’t eating breakfast, she all but accused me. You know Cat. She’s into everything.”

“Just like a cat,” he smiled. He stroked a hand down her arm as if she were the cat herself.

“Aye,” she giggled hesitantly.

“And Cat told your cousin Maire.”

One corner of her mouth twitched down into a frown. “And Maire told Aengus, and it’s Aengus told Egelric. And Egelric wrote to my father…”

“Now, do you see, my treasure? Do you see why I wanted you to wait until you were quite certain?”

'Now, do you see, my treasure?'

“But I am quite certain,” she protested, sighing at his stubbornness. “I was quite certain already, and I’m more certain with every passing day. But, anyway, it’s Cat’s elf who told me for sure and certain. If you believe in that.”

“What about Cat’s elf?” he breathed.

She tilted her head the opposite way to avoid his eyes. “Cat thinks he can tell if a girl’s in a family way merely by touching her hand. So she had him hold my hand, and he said it was certain. Though I think it doesn’t take magic to tell when a girl’s a… month late…”

'When a girl's a... month late...'

He had taken her hand between his and closed his eyes, and he seemed to be no more aware of her presence when she was speaking than now, when she had stopped.

“Don’t tell me you can do it, too,” she grumbled.

His eyes snapped open and seemed startled to find her there. “No, no,” he smiled weakly. “I was only wondering at it. You know this valley is a trying place for a priest. We aren’t taught to deal with elves in the cathedral schools.”

“Anyway, whether you believe in elf magic or not – and Cat says she’s seen him light a fire from across the room, and Father Aelfden saw it too, so there’s at least that–I am telling you it’s certain, and you – ”

'I am telling you it's certain, and you--'

“Did he tell you anything else?” he interrupted.

“Who? The elf?”


“No. But I asked him whether he could tell the father before I let him do it. He said he couldn’t. It’s surprised he was that I should even ask.”

He stepped closer to her and brought his head so near to hers that his eyes were all she could see.

'I shall ask you something that will make you angry.'

“Now, my treasure, I shall ask you something that will make you angry, but you must indulge me this one time. I shan’t ask you again, but I want to hear it from your lips and see it in your eyes.”

“What?” she asked dubiously.

“Is there any chance at all that it isn’t mine?”

Flann sucked in her breath and found herself too angry to let it out again in any sort of protest. She merely clamped her lips together and glared at him.

“I don’t mean to accuse you, my treasure, but if there’s a young man out there who could take care of you…”

She choked back a sob. It meant he couldn’t take care of her. It meant he had no intention of taking care of her himself. Of course, she reminded herself, she shouldn’t have hoped he would. But she could not help dreaming that he would leave the priesthood for her, or run away with her…

She was too ashamed to admit she had thought of these things, for she could not ask a man to love her above the Lord, but she still had her anger at his stubborn refusal to admit the child was his.

'What's the matter with you?'

She shoved him away and stepped back into the corner. “What’s the matter with you?” she hissed. “Do you not know how babies are made?

“My treasure…”

“Don’t call me that! Do you think because you’re a priest you are miraculously incapable of making them?”


“It’s a man you are, under that robe, and if you do what a priest shouldn’t, you’ll face the same consequences as any man.”

“Flann.” He had backed her as far into the corner as she could go, and now he laid a hand on her elbow. “Simply answer my question, and if you say it is mine, I shall say no more about it.”

'Simply answer my question.'

“Aye, it’s yours.” Her voice still trembled with anger. “I’m more certain of that than I am of anything.”

He slipped his other arm around her waist again and pulled her against him. “Perhaps I only wanted to hear you say it,” he whispered. “You might not expect a priest to want children, but you don’t expect him to fall in love with a young woman either. I suppose it’s one of the consequences.”

'I suppose it's one of the consequences.'

Her smile trembled with hope. “What shall we do?”

“Give me a little time to think, my treasure. I haven’t left yet.”

Her smile fell.

“I shan’t leave without taking care of you. Have faith in me. Will you?”

She nodded hesitantly, and he tipped her back and kissed her. She felt sick and dizzy, but for now he was holding her. For now his beard smelled only of rain.

She nodded hesitantly, and he tipped her back and kissed her.