'Are you helping me, or smelling my hair?'

“Are you helping me, or smelling my hair?” Eithne asked suspiciously.

Cian buried his nose in her hair outright and sighed, “Can’t I do both?”

She could feel his cold breath all the way down to her scalp, and she twisted away. “I think not! There’s nothing happening over there with those candles meantime.”

'I think not!'

“If there’s nothing happening over there, you’ve only your own self to blame. I only pretend to help so I may smell your hair.”

“As I thought!” she cried.

She tried to be angry at him, but he was smiling his sly, sideways smile, inviting her to join him in his joke. It was so easy to let herself be led into it.

He was smiling his sly, sideways smile.

“Even if you haven’t been helping, how am I to learn anything with you distracting me?” she demanded.

“You are supposed to be practicing with Sweetdew when I am not here,” he reminded, “leaving me free to enjoy the perfume of your hair when I am.”

“Ach! If that’s all you’re wanting, you may be taking Sweetdew with you and smelling her all the day and night!”

“That is not all I’m wanting,” he smiled, a little smugly, as if he was amused to see how neatly she had fallen into her own trap.

'That is not all I'm wanting.'

She flushed in annoyance and embarrassment and squeezed past him to the window. A sliver of the eastern sky was visible between the curtains, so thick with stars that even a new moon would have been visible as a blank spot among them.

“It’s just before dawn she’ll be rising,” Cian said, though she had asked nothing. “A wee white slip of a maiden she’ll be, but not dark, Eithne.”

“Yet,” she whispered.

“And one wandering star will be rising behind her,” he murmured at her ear. “The red one you call the Warrior.”

'And one wandering star will be rising behind her.'

Her entire body clenched against his cold breath. “Chasing her,” she hissed between her gritted teeth.

“No, no, no…” he said soothingly. “Only following her. Wherever she leads.”

“It is the same. Because she is running away from him.”

'No, no, no...'

“No, no, no…” He lifted the ends of her hair and whispered, “Eithne…”

Perhaps he meant to kiss them, perhaps merely to hold them against his face, but as she felt the long tresses lifting from her shoulders, she was reminded of the games of horse and rider she used to play with her sister. Eithne would be the horse, her long hair would be the reins, and Condal would steer her wherever she wanted her to go.

“No!” She pulled the curtains shut against the night and stepped away from him. Her hair slipped out of his hands and settled lightly over her shoulders again, like a last, weightless caress.

For a moment he was silent behind her. Then he sat in the chair.

She spun around to face him, and her hair was lifted and fell again. “You cannot have me if I’m not wanting you!” she reminded him.

'You cannot have me if I'm not wanting you!'

The fine features of his face contracted briefly. “Aren’t you?”

She hesitated. She did not like to hurt him. He sat back in his chair and waited.

He sat back in his chair and waited.

“You cannot have me if I’m not,” she muttered.

It was her one power over him. She was constantly forgetting that the new moon was not her undoing.

And yet the fact always filled her with a different sort of despair. She would have to continue running away from him even after the moon had gone dark.

She knew many stories in which hapless maidens were pursued by determined suitors. Their fates never seemed to be other than exhaustion and eventual capture, or, if they were fortunate, transformation by some merciful deity into a deer or a tree or a stream.

Eithne could not run forever.

Unless Dana arrived in time to change her into a stream, Eithne could not run forever.

“Please, good sir,” she whimpered. “I’m so tired…”

“You haven’t been eating, either, Sweetdew tells me,” he said gruffly.

The cat looked up from washing her paw and meowed.

“Please, good sir…”

'Please, good sir...'

“Cian,” he corrected. “Eithne…”

“Please!” she sobbed.

Her exhaustion gripped her suddenly, as if it had only been waiting for her to be reminded of her sleepless nights and her inability to eat.

She dropped to her knees and wailed, “Please, let me be! I don’t want to be a fairy! I don’t want to have a baby!”

'Please, let me be!'

Sweetdew padded up to the two of them, meowing softly and long in concern.

“Eithne…” Cian said gently.

“The – the – shame I shall bring on my father!” she blubbered. “It’s not my fault! No choice did I have!”

Cian slid off his chair and kneeled before her.

Cian slid off his chair and kneeled before her.

“We always have a choice, Eithne,” he whispered earnestly. “It is the one thing God gave us all – angels, and fairies, and men: His blessing and His curse.”

She sniffled and paused to try to understand what he meant.

“You must choose,” he said. “You must – ”

“I choose no!” she sobbed.

'I choose no!'

“Whisht! Listen. You must choose, and I want you to choose me. And I want you to choose me because you love me, not because you think you don’t have a choice.”

His cold breath blew between her fingers and over her face. She squirmed away from him and awkwardly tried to push herself to her feet, but he caught her hand and squeezed it.

He caught her hand and squeezed it.

“Eithne!” he gasped. “Stay!”

He sounded so desperate that she thought he feared she was leaving him forever.

“It’s the first time ever I am kneeling to one who has not the power to destroy me.”

She straightened and shook her hand free of his, though she did not move away. His fervor frightened her, but it was the sort of thrilling fright she thought she would want to seek out again and again, like soaring too high on her swing when she was small.

'Perhaps you do, too.'

“Perhaps you have it, too,” he said.

His voice was shaky, and his eyes grew dark and darker until at last a pair of tears spilled over. He wiped one away and stared wide-​​eyed at his wet thumb, as if he had never seen such a thing before, or as if nothing else mattered.

At that moment, to Eithne, nothing else did. It was like soaring so high on her swing that it was no longer any use to kick her legs – the ropes would go slack, and for a giddy instant she would be weightless. She had always wondered what would happen if she simply let go at that moment. She was a fairy: perhaps she would fly.

'Take me with you!'

“Take me with you!” she sobbed.


He had chased her so far; now she would try to lead, though she was not a bold girl like Catan or Flann. “Take me with you! You cannot be leaving me here.”

He stood slowly. “Will you be following where I go?” he asked gravely.

'Will you be following where I go?'

“You cannot be leaving me to my shame,” she whimpered.

Her whole life was shedding off from her as she went up to him, all her past and her memory falling away as she fled into the present. She tried desperately to cling at least to her pride in who she was.

'You must be marrying me.'

“You must be marrying me,” she said.


“Before God. It’s twice forever you’ll be waiting to take me if you won’t.”

He was silent, and she began to fear. She could not stand up to him if he refused. She would continue running, and he would continue pursuing, and she was already so tired.

“Don’t angels marry?” she whimpered.

'Don't angels marry?'

I never have.” After a moment he added thoughtfully, “Some do.”

“Then you must! Or it’s never you shall be having me.”

He said nothing for a while, but at last he asked, “Will you come with me tonight?”

“If you take me away to be married. And you must give me your word you will. And you must take care of me as long as I live, even if you grow tired of me.”

He kissed her cheek.

He kissed her cheek.

“And you must let me take my cat!” she gasped.

He chuckled and kissed her other cheek. She could feel them both blushing beneath his lips.

She turned her face away and said, “Give me your word.”

“I will take you away to be married,” he whispered, “and your cat as handmaiden. If you will keep your vows to me, then I will be keeping mine.” He stroked his fingers through her hair as he spoke, caressing her curls. “And I will take care of you, and our children, and our children’s children, for seven generations. And you shall never be wanting for anything but me. I give you my word.”

'I give you my word.'

“Before God,” she insisted.

“Before God.”

He had offered everything she had asked. She had padded and gilded the trap before she entered into it, but she was caught now. She could no longer refuse him, and he would have her body and her life and her soul in exchange for what he had offered.

She had let go – of her past, even of herself – and now she knew how it would be. Her weightlessness was emptiness, and she could only hope he would fill it. Her flying was falling forever.

Her flying was falling forever.