Aelfden let himself fall back against the wall.

Aelfden let himself fall back against the wall. He could already hear footsteps coming to the door, but he was desperate for even a few seconds of rest. Yet again his work was pushing him to the limits of his strength just when he was already artificially pushing the limits through fasting!

“Oh, Father!” It was not Paul but Osh. “We heard the horse and thought it was… anybody else.”

“I ride when I have need.”

“Are you ill?” Osh asked suspiciously.

“I am well. I am here to see Flann.”

'I am here to see Flann.'

“Ah! Flann is sleeping with her little baby. I hear her make the little snores.”

“Let him in, Osh!” Cat called from inside the house.

“I let you in,” Osh said, “but I don’t wake Flann. She is very tired. A baby does cry a lot of the time,” he sighed.

'I let you in, but I don't wake Flann.'

Aelfden did not answer. This stubbornly pagan elf would not stand between him and a soul in danger.

“You’re needing to see Flann?” Cat asked. “It’s late, Father. I wish you had come earlier. She’s eager to show you her baby.”

'She's eager to show you her baby.'

“She is?” Lasrua asked.


“My child…” Aelfden began, though he paused to allow himself to be kissed. “I need to see your sister and her child at once. I wish to baptize the baby.”

“So late!” Cat gasped.

'So late!'

“I am sorry to come so late.”

“Paul…” She turned to her husband for reassurance.

“Catan, when a priest tells you he believes your niece ought to be baptized at once, will you not trust him?”

“Of course I do, Father, but… Ach! Won’t you baptize her in the church? It isn’t her fault what her father is!”

'It isn't her fault what her father is!'

“That isn’t why,” Aelfden sighed. “We shall have a ceremony in the church at the appropriate time. But tonight I wish to see her baptized.”

“Why?” Osh asked.

Aelfden closed his eyes in weariness, but lacking any visible clues of verticality, his entire body began to sway.

“I do not trust a priest,” Osh said.

'I do not trust a priest.'

Cat patted his arm. “I do, Osh. I shall fetch her, Father. And, Paul, you go fetch the Father a cup of wine. He needs it.”

“Half a cup,” Aelfden said automatically. As soon as he said it, the idea of taking so much as a sip made him dizzy, but Paul and Cat were already on their way.

Fetching a baby took more time than fetching a cup. While he waited, Aelfden had to deal with the first effects of the wine as well as the rapid chatter of Paul.

While he waited, Aelfden had to deal with the first effects of the wine as well as the rapid chatter of Paul.

There was also the palpable mistrust of Paul’s father to bear, but worse than that was the fact that Osh was standing next to the doorframe against which Aelfden so longed to lean. On the other side was Lasrua in her chair, no more tolerant of priests than her father.

Aelfden was surrounded by elves, either unfriendly or too friendly.

Aelfden was surrounded by elves, either unfriendly or too friendly. And he had thought his burdens many when he was only a monk at Lund!

“Her maid is dressing her,” Cat said as she returned. “But I brought this wee angel for you to nibble meantime. Look at the eyes of her! Will you tell me this darling needs baptized? Why, I think I saw a halo just a moment ago!”

'Why, I think I saw a halo just a moment ago!'

Of course, the Abbot could not agree with all this auntly adoration, but he said, “She is a pretty child.”

She was: her fair skin had a radiance rare for a newborn, and her gray eyes were soft, gentle, understanding…

He wanted to stare into them a while. He wanted to tell his worries to this baby, strange as it seemed. Then he saw why.

“Father Brude had eyes like these,” he murmured.

'Father Brude had eyes like these.'

“Father!” Cat laughed and playfully shoved his shoulder. “A priest!”

Aelfden closed his eyes and held the baby tight against his body until the shock had passed over it.

“That isn’t what I meant…” he said.

“I know it,” she giggled. “Don’t be worrying, Father. I don’t know who it was, but I know who it wasn’t, and it was not Father Brude – with the flaming hair of him!”

“I would not have worried,” he sighed.

'I would not have worried.'

He fixed the baby firmly in the crook of his arm, and with the other hand he fished into his robe in search of the vial of holy water and his prayer book.

“Shall I take her for you?” Cat offered.

“No,” he muttered. “It does me good to hold her.”

Cat grinned at him, and Osh planted his hands on his hips and stared.

Osh planted his hands on his hips and and stared.

It was true – the baby was a comfort. He did not know what it was, whether the weight of her, the warmth of her, the plumpness of her limbs… unless it was the eyes.

He told himself he was simply being fooled by their color, but the eyes did so resemble Brude’s. As with Brude, he thought he did not even need to tell his worries to her. She already understood.

She already understood.

“Bless you,” he whispered to her. Then he realized Cat was already whispering to him.

“…tell her it’s no sin to love her baby. She nurses her and cares for her, but she doesn’t kiss and cuddle her. And she’s making all new dresses for her, all in gray…”

The wine was hot by now in his empty stomach, and Cat’s whispering was little more than the rustling of leaves. Osh was staring at him – but perhaps only to be ready to snatch the baby away if he should start to fall. He greeted and was greeted by Lena, and then came Flann, looking twice her age.

Then came Flann, looking twice her age.

“You’re wanting to baptize her?” she asked softly.

“You will trust me?” he asked.

“It’s no matter to me when or where or by whom,” she said. “But it’s Liadan she shall be called.”

“Flann…” Cat whimpered.


“Or I shall not have it done.”


“It is no matter to me,” Aelfden said. “Her mother shall decide. But let us proceed. I am very… It is very late.”

Their faces all wavered, as if seen through air shimmering through heat. Only the baby’s was still.

Only the baby's was still.

“Let us pray,” he said.

He led them through the short prayer despite not being able to clearly hear his own words. The arm that did not hold the baby was growing heavier, and he did not see how he would lift it to the girl’s forehead. He was trying to battle against a demon, but he was being defeated by his own body. What would Brude have said to that?

He did not believe he could pour the water out, so he dipped his fingers directly into the vial. He could not feel the water at all, and he would have thought it empty, except that he could not feel the vial either.

He looked down at the baby's face and was startled again by those eyes.

He looked down at the baby’s face and was startled again by those eyes: calm and calming, patient, understanding, even slightly amused. He thought of Brude… and then he had a fleeting thought of John of the wild hair, up to his hips in the flowing water, seeing the Lord come down the bank to him and crying, “I have need to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?”

It was a mad, delirious thought, and it frightened him, until he had another: Saints were surely born as babies, and most of them were baptized by mere men such as he. Perhaps he had lived long enough in the presence of the blessed relics of saints to be sensitive to sanctity when he met it.

Perhaps he had lived long enough in the presence of the blessed relics of saints to be sensitive to sanctity when he met it.

Therefore he dodged. As he had instructed Lawrence only an hour before, if there was any doubt whether a man had previously been baptized – whether he needed to be baptized at all – one prefaced the rite with the phrase, “If you are not already baptized.”

Accordingly, he said, “Si tu non sis adhuc baptizatus, Liadan…” He focused the last pale rays of his attention on the words, though by now it was little more than cupping his hand over a candle flame. “Ego baptizo te, in nomine Patris… et Filii… et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

'Ego baptizo te...'

To his relief, nothing happened.

He marked her forehead with the sign of the cross, murmuring his way through the Latin in such a hurry that his own voice was little more than the rustling of leaves to his ears. He did not have the strength to say another prayer, but he had done what he had come to do.

“Now she belongs to God,” he said as he handed her to her mother, but in his mind it was to the demon Eight he spoke, and to all his kind.

'Now she belongs to God.'