Aengus hesitated in the doorway.

Aengus hesitated in the doorway, wishing himself invisible, wishing himself small. He was not a coward, but he was a meek man at heart, and all he asked of life was that it be easy. The boldest thing he had ever done was to run away with the wife of the boldest man he knew. Even then, there had been days when he had wondered who had run away with whom.

Maire lay on their bed.

Maire lay on their bed, imposing even in her repose. She still wore her nightgown though it was late in the afternoon. She had given birth only the night before, to the twins that Lord Colban had promised her – to the son that Aengus had so long desired.

“How are you, Maire?” he asked gently.

“I am well.”

She did not look at him. The brown of her eyes was dark beneath the reflected candlelight like oak leaves on the bottom of a slow stream.

“How are you, Aengus? Did you find your son?”

“Aye,” he sighed.

His relief passed over him again like a dizziness.

His relief passed over him again like a dizziness.

“Someone… someone left him at Bertie’s sister’s house,” he said hesitantly. “On the back step. It doesn’t seem that – ”

“For you lost your daughter meanwhile,” she interrupted.

“I – ” He shook with a quivering pain, as if she had reached into him and snapped his drawn soul like a bowstring.

She lifted her face to him, but he could only bear its savagery for a moment.

She lifted her face to him.

“She came too early, but what could I?” she cried. “With the shock I had last night?”

“Maire!” he gasped.

“It’s in this one room she lived her life entire, Aengus, and it’s only once you saw her! Only once you held her – for how long? A quarter of an hour?”

“Maire…” He felt his shoulder hit the wall, preventing him from falling, and he was grateful, as he would have to be grateful for small mercies henceforth.


“It’s too busy you were, out hunting for your mongrel bastard while your daughter fought for breath! It’s you will be explaining to your girls where you were while their sister lay a-​​dying! I told them I could not!”

She fell silent. When at last he could bear to lift his hand away from his eyes, he saw her lying quiet and grim as she had been when he had come in.

He saw her lying quiet and grim as she had been when he had come in.

He dared not ask her about their son. He thought he had seen a pink knee over the edge of the cradle when he had come in. He went reeling across the room to see.

The baby was small and seemed smaller still from the lack of a newborn’s layer of fat, but he was alive. The scrawny chest rose and fell steadily.

The baby was small.

Here was the son and heir he had always wanted – born too early, born too late.

“Look long, Aengus.” Maire’s voice was cold and low. “I have given you a son. Love him all you can. So long as he lives, never again will you lie by my side.”

“Maire!” he whispered.


“What were you thinking, Aengus?” Her voice had sunk lower still, into a round, wet growl that shook with the effort of making itself heard. “Were you thinking you would come back here and apologize to me, and all would be as it had been?”

He did not answer. She had almost read his mind. He had not known how it was to have been arranged, but it would have been arranged.

He always took life easy, and he believed that easy it should come. Suddenly everything was so very difficult. He had not wanted this.

'A man cannot have two second chances.'

“A man cannot have two second chances,” she said. “I shall never again believe anything you say. Go back to your elf, if you have not yet lied to her. Or perhaps you have,” she sniffed. “Perhaps it is your way.”

This time she did not turn her face away. She stared. Her pupils were large and dark, and her eyes were wet with tears that she would never let fall.

She stared at him until she seemed to stare through him. He had become invisible. He wished himself dead.

He had become invisible.