Catan's husband liked to rise before the sun.

Catan’s husband liked to rise before the sun. Perhaps he had not always done so, but she knew that a year and a half of blindness had taught him a deep love for the beauty of things he could not smell or hear or touch. He liked to climb onto the roof and watch the dawn.

Cat had spent enough sleepless nights that she had developed a dread of the dawn. Her nights were sweet now, but enough of the old dread had lingered that it was a great pleasure to sleep through the dawn entirely and not even see it come.

Paul seemed to have understood this without needing an explanation.

His gift for sneaking extended to creeping out of bed.

Fortunately he was an elf, and his gift for sneaking extended to creeping out of bed without waking her, or, if he did, she was so slightly roused that she had only a moment of agreeable consciousness before slipping into sleep again.

This morning, however, she had a queer feeling that she ought to wake up for some reason. It was a struggle to open her eyes, but once she had, she saw her husband standing in the pink light of early dawn, still undressed, and she remembered.

She remembered.


He bent to pull the blankets back up over his side of the bed. “It’s still early, Mina,” he murmured. “You might sleep a while.”

“I know, but, Paul? Isn’t it Friday?”

“I think so.” He patted the crease of his head out of his pillow and began straightening the blankets with his usual precision.

“Isn’t it the Friday after Ascension Thursday?”

He froze.

He froze.

Cat pressed her right cheek deep into her pillow, but there was nothing she could do about the blush of the other.

“Were you forgetting?” she peeped.


He came creeping back onto the bed just as carefully as he had crept out of it. Meanwhile Cat squirmed and struggled up out of the blankets with all the grace of a trout flopping at the end of a line.

“Thought you could go sneaking out of here without me knowing, did you?”

'Thought you could go sneaking out of here without me knowing, did you?'

She was suddenly so out of breath that her laugh was more like a donkey foal’s squeak.


“‘You might sleep a while, Mina,’” she mocked.

“Well… that means you might not… also…”

'Well... that means you might not... also...'

He looked so bewildered and so uncertain that she had to laugh. He laughed too, and suddenly everything was easier. One of them had needed to get over the awkward part alone, and she had, and now they were together.

“It so happens that I am not tired,” she said.

“That is very…”

'That is very...'

“Fortunate?” she supplied.

“Yes!” he laughed hesitantly.

He looked up at her with an odd expression of helplessness in his blue eyes. She realized after a moment that he would have liked to have kissed her, but he could not reach her lips from where he lay, with his shoulder wedged beneath her arm and her arm beneath his back.

There was that awkwardness to cross, too, she thought. She wriggled herself down to his level, and they were together again. He kissed her at once, awkwardly at first, but he had kissed her a thousand times before, and soon it was as easy as it had always been.

After a while, however, she noticed him stroking his hand over her hip in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles in her gown, as he always did with anything that was rumpled or crooked on her person. Here was another awkwardness she had not even thought of.

When his lips had moved on to her neck, she said, “I was thinking – we might not get undressed.”

He sat up and whispered, “Cat!” Then he blinked at her as if surprised that it had come out as no more than a whisper.

'On the other hand...'

“On the other hand…” she mused.

“We might, also,” he supplied. By now his voice was at least a voice, even if it was not his own.

“It so happens that I should like to get undressed,” she said, “if only so that you will stop trying to straighten my gown.”

“Sorry,” he squeaked.

“You are supposed to say ‘That is very fortunate.’”

''It is very fortunate' that I have my Mina to teach me these things.'

“‘It is very fortunate’ that I have my Mina to teach me these things,” he teased.

She clutched the bottom hem of her gown in her fists and whispered, “An, dí, tí, go!” as if it were a game.

Immediately she began such a furious, such an embarrassing struggle against her gown – confounding herself by forgetting she was sitting on it – that she paid no attention to Paul beside her, who had meanwhile undressed himself with far less fuss.

She looked before she remembered that she did not intend to look.

“You won!” she gasped.

'You won!'

“That’s despite the head start you took by not warning me,” he scolded.

She felt a sudden, dizzying heat, as if someone standing between her and a bonfire had moved away. She was sitting up on her elbows, but her legs were already trembling, and she knew her arms would go next.

Somehow he knew it too, and he passed his arm behind her and lifted her up to lie against him. She let her body go limp, and the trembling stopped. She felt all the heat and the lassitude of a grave fever. She could do no more, no matter what awkward obstacles presented themselves now.

He was quiet and still, and she thought he might have been looking at her. She found she did not mind after all.

“Are you frightened?” he murmured after a while.

'Are you frightened?'

His voice was his again, if a little low, and it was no longer hesitant or uncertain. She thought all would be well. He could do the rest.

“No. Only a little dizzy.”

“Do you trust me not to hurt you?” he asked.

“Of course I do.”

“Even if I do something your friend Hetty or your sister didn’t warn you about?”

She lifted her head from his shoulder and took another quick peek. She was no expert on the matter, but she did not think she saw anything unusual.

“Such as what?” she asked dubiously.

'Such as what?'

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do. But what are you meaning?”

“Give me your hand.”

“Ach! ‘My friend Hetty or my sister’ warned me about that.”

He laughed. “No, they didn’t. Trust me and give me your hand.”

'No, they didn't.'

“Why won’t you tell me what you mean to do?”

“I don’t know what it will seem to you, Mina.” His voice was gentle but sad. “Perhaps you will only think I am holding your hand.”

Now she was frightened. She was frightened that he would be disappointed in his woman-​​wife after all. She had never thought that matters would be so very different between elves and men that she would not – would never – be able to satisfy him.

She put her hand in his, hoping and willing that she could do what he wanted her to do. Their hands disappeared at once into a burst of flame.

Their hands disappeared at once into a burst of flame.

She screamed and yanked her hand away.

“Cat, Cat,” he murmured and squeezed her with his arm. “Trust me, trust me.”

“You almost burned me!” she cried in an outrage born of terror.

“Did it hurt?”

She examined her hand in the pale light. The brief fire did not seem even to have singed the hair on the back of her arm. “Almost!”

“Did it at all?”


“Trust me, Cat. Please.”

She reminded herself that this was what he wanted her to do. She reminded herself that she had been praying she would be able to do it. She reminded herself that she trusted him. She put her hand back into his.

She moaned with her instinctive terror, but she held her hand in the flame, and it did not burn. He was whispering to her and nuzzling her cheek, scarcely paying attention to their hands at all, but she could not turn her eyes away.

She could not turn her eyes away.

“What is it like?” he whispered.

“It’s fire!” she squealed.

“How can you tell?”

“The devil! I can see it! I can feel it! I can smell it!”

“You can see it?” he asked thoughtfully.

“Cannot you?”

“Not with my eyes. Here.” He lifted his hand away from hers, and the fire faded at once. She did not even have time to be relieved before he laid his hand on her side, and then her very body seemed to be burning.

She did not even have time to be relieved before he laid his hand on her side.

“Oh, God!” she moaned. “We shall burn up the bed!”

He laughed. “It’s not real fire, Cat.”

“What is it?”

“It is the fire in you coming up to meet the fire in me. Can you truly see it?”

“Aye… it’s like – look! A spark!”

'A spark!'

“That must be what happens when you look at me like that.”

He laughed softly, but his voice was getting lower, and so was his hand, stroking down onto her hip beneath a plume of fire.

“Don’t be frightened,” he said. “It can’t hurt you.”

'Don't be frightened.'

“Nooo… but what’s it for?”

“What’s it for?” he chuckled. “What is anything for? What are kisses for?”

He kissed her forehead and then gently helped her to lie down on the bed, not in the least awkwardly.

He kissed her forehead and then gently helped her to lie down on the bed.

“Ach! I thought you knew!” she giggled. “If you don’t know, and I don’t know…”

He stroked a hand down her body, from her throat to the farthest point his long arm could reach, leaving a trail of fire all along the way.

“Then we shall try to find out together.”

'Then we shall try to find out together.'