The room was nearly dark.

The thick blue glass of the window was as black as the moonless sky behind it, leaving the room nearly dark. The man who had let himself into the guest house had lit only a single candle before knocking smartly at Araphel’s door.

It burned directly behind him, rimming his head with a golden aura and leaving his face in shadow, but even the shadow was not dark enough to obscure the mark that forked and snaked across his left cheek.

Even the shadow was not dark enough to obscure the mark.

Dantalion waited until he had seen the sickened look of recognition in Araphel’s eyes, then dropped his own to look slowly over the length of Sebastien’s body.

Very nice,” he said approvingly. “What a pity you didn’t take it a few months earlier.”

“I told you to stay away from this abbey,” Araphel whispered fiercely, hoping to convince Dantalion he was not intimidated, and hoping he could coax him into whispering as well.

'I told you to stay away from this abbey.'

Dantalion was not so easily led. “How do you like mine?” He smiled and opened wide his arms. “I know why I chose to be a handsome young man… Can it be we had the same idea?”

'Can it be we had the same idea?'

Until that moment Araphel had only been afraid for Aelfden. With that one phrase Dantalion had heaved him up above the crest of that fear, revealing broad vistas of unexplored terrors beyond it. Perhaps the jinni had even lowered himself enough to find a way to weasel out of his word to Brude.

Dantalion turned away before Araphel had recovered enough to speak, relieving him of the weight of his stare for an instant before burdening him with a new horror.

“Will you be lighting a fire for us, my dear?” he asked, suddenly switching to Gaelic.

Dantalion turned away before Araphel had recovered enough to speak.

Until that moment Araphel had not noticed the slender shadow across the room. His hand reflexively grasped the door to prepare himself for ducking behind it – as if beings such as Dantalion and his minions could be shut out with mere panels of wood.

At the same time his heart clenched at the sound of Gaelic spoken gently by that subtle tongue. Dantalion liked to play a man’s fears as a bard likes to play his harp. He was masterful enough to make Araphel thrum with a deeper fear that the Gaelic was meant for more than mere music.

The shadow did not move, but one by one the logs popped and cracked into flame, slowly revealing her face. In the first, frustrating glow, she so resembled Flann that in spite of her small size Araphel shuddered with an instinctive desire both to fling himself on Dantalion to protect her and to crush her against his own body.

As the light rose, he saw with certainty that it was not Flann, but she came to resemble Flann more than ever. It was almost Flann – simply younger, with wider eyes and softer, childish cheeks. It was either an apparition meant to torment him or–

It was almost Flann.

“Eithne?” he croaked.

She fumbled with her cloak and bobbed slightly in a sort of curtsey. “Are you knowing the name of me, good sir?” Both her voice and the hands she twisted nervously before her trembled with timidity, if not with something worse.

“I think someone has been telling him a bit about you,” Dantalion said, smiling, as he joined her in the corner. “And it wasn’t even my own self.” He turned suddenly back to Araphel, and his mouth was grim. “As for you, ‘good sir’, while I find myself to be a sufficiently attractive young man, I have not yet proven it to this young lady as thoroughly as you are presently doing.”

'I have not yet proven it to this young lady as thoroughly as you are presently doing.'

He looked over Sebastien’s nearly naked body again with a gaze that was only reproachful and no longer lewd.

For a moment Araphel hesitated to leave the girl alone with him, but he soon realized that she could already have endured far worse than anything that might happen in the time required for him to pull on a robe.

“Let us be speaking softly,” he said as he returned to the sitting room. “My secretary is sleeping in the other room.”

'Let us be speaking softly.'

“Your secretary?” Dantalion smiled.

“Good evening, Eithne,” Araphel said, ignoring him. “My name is Sebastien Maloisel, but all my friends are calling me Bastien. I hope – ”

'I hope--'

“Araphel,” Dantalion interrupted.

Araphel sucked in his breath, and his body tensed as if it had been lightly flicked with a scourge and expected more savage blows to come.

“Are you an angel, good sir?” Eithne asked softly.

“What have you been telling her?” Araphel hissed in their own, ancient language.

'What have you been telling her?'

His heart had begun to pound with fear, awaiting some word or sign of his doom. The frail shell of his carefully erected persona was buckling; he would be sent far from Flann and Liadan – perhaps to China as Baraqiel had threatened – and he would never see them again while they lived.

He did not know why Dantalion had chosen to tell his secret; and even if Araphel could convince him to keep it between the three of them, he would be in the jinni’s power for as long as it lasted.

“Only the truth,” Dantalion replied smugly. “The bits she needs to know.”

'Only the truth.'

“Am I an angel?” Araphel asked, outraged.

Dantalion shrugged. “She wondered why I had wings…”

“You told her you were?” Araphel groaned. “She has seen your wings?

'She has seen your wings?'

“Black and batty!” Dantalion grinned.

“What do you want with her?”

Dantalion turned his face suddenly to the girl at his side. “Eithne, my dear,” he said, speaking Gaelic again, with a foolish gentleness Araphel could never have imagined for him. “Forgive us for speaking another language before you. We don’t mean to frighten you.”

'We don't mean to frighten you.'

It was sickening to see the young and innocent and Flann-​​like creature come alive at the sound of his voice; to see her lean towards him when he leaned nearer to her; to see her anxious glances constantly fly to that sinister face in search of reassurance. It would have been less revolting to have seen him kicking her and dragging her behind him by her long hair.

And what would Flann say if she knew he had not helped her sister?

“My friend is none too pleased that I have told you the truth about ourselves,” Dantalion explained to her. “We must make him understand that it’s no harm done. A family secret, if you will. You see, my dear, he is the father of your sister’s baby.”

Araphel gasped again, aloud, as if the barbs of the scourge had stuck in his flesh.

Araphel gasped again.

“Flann?” Eithne peeped.

“Aye, darling. He’s nearly the brother of you.”

“You know my sister?” Eithne asked. When Araphel did not answer, she turned to Dantalion with a hesitant smile. “Where are we, Cian? It’s to Lothere you were bringing me all this time!” she accused, smiling more broadly.

'It's to Lothere you were bringing me all this time.'

“Does it please you?”

“May I see my sisters?”

“Tomorrow, darling. It’s too late to be waking ladies.”

Dantalion did not look at her, but Araphel saw his hand go out to her, almost discreetly, and he saw her clutch his finger in her little hand, like a child.

What was he to her? What had he done to her? Araphel had a few ideas – enough to make him ill in Sebastien’s body.

“You should be marrying my sister, good sir,” she said gravely to him. “Even if you are an angel. Some angels do marry, you know.”

'You should be marrying my sister, good sir.'

Araphel had never missed Brude’s calm and steady strength more than he did at that moment. Sebastien was a nervous man, dry-​​tongued and sweaty-​​palmed, and when his heart raced it would sometimes pause in its gallop to convulse painfully, reminding him just how mortal he was. Now Dantalion was riding it, with a whip in his hand and spurs on his heels.

'He knows.'

“He knows,” Dantalion said. “It’s many times he’s been married. He’s quite an expert, in fact, which is why I brought you here.”

“Why?” Araphel whispered. “What do you want?”

Dantalion looked past Araphel and sighed, “Oh, dear! We seem to have woken your secretary.”

'We seem to have woken your secretary.'

Araphel did not dare even turn his head.

“Good evening, sir,” Dantalion said. “We are sorry for waking you.”

His secretary did not speak, nor could he.

“Ah… I beg your pardon,” Dantalion said in English. “Perhaps you don’t speak Gaelic? I speak many languages – from what far-​​off land do you hail?”

Araphel finally turned with a pleading look. Surely he would not risk anything in the presence of a strange girl!

“What does your ‘secretary’ speak?” Dantalion asked him. “Unless he doesn’t speak?” He smiled slowly, his eyes half-​​closed, as if savoring the smile. “Don’t have a tongue, do you, young man?” he asked. “Why don’t you get dressed and come join us, ah… Amarel, isn’t it?”

'Ah... Amarel, isn't it?'

Amarel turned at once and went back into his room, slamming the door behind him.

“That is more good fortune than I had hoped,” Dantalion said in their own language. “Two of you here. We can do this properly.”

“Do… what?” Araphel asked warily.

“Are there any more of you? I do believe I told you there was more than one interesting person in this valley,” he chuckled.

Araphel hesitated. If Dantalion already knew whom Amarel was meant to find, it would almost have been worth asking him the favor. And if Dantalion knew, it also meant that the boy or girl was in danger.

It would almost be worth asking him the favor.

“Amarel is the name of him,” Dantalion explained to Eithne in Gaelic. “He’s an angel, too.”

“Are there many angels in Lothere?” she asked.

“Hmm… I wonder that myself.”

'Hmm... I wonder that myself.'

Araphel desperately tried to calculate the best way to get Dantalion out of the house and away from Amarel before any more was said. He could not predict how Amarel would react if he learned about Flann and Liadan. Perhaps he would tell the leader of their decade, Ezeqael, or even Shemyaza, the leader of the centuries. Or perhaps he would demand a wife of his own in exchange for his silence. Flann’s sister Condal was not yet fourteen.

And what did Dantalion intend to demand?

“It’s tired you are,” he murmured to Eithne, turning towards her and raising his shoulder against Araphel as if he did not want him to witness. “Be sitting yourself down a while and rest. It’s soon enough and soundly we shall be sleeping, my darling.” He lifted her braids and shook them with a gentle playfulness before twining them together over her breast. “Side by side,” he added in a whisper.

Araphel’s heart bucked in horror. “What is it you’re wanting here?” he hissed.

'What is it you're wanting here?'

Dantalion spun to face him, his face terrifying with sudden, brief savagery.

“To be married,” he said when he had calmed himself – just as Amarel’s door opened again.

'To be married.'

Araphel could not bring himself to look. The footsteps were heavier than Malo’s usual catlike tread, but they stopped well behind him. Amarel could not speak, and Araphel would not even be able to watch the expressions of his mournful face. But Amarel would be watching.

Amarel would be watching.

“The scars are a nice touch,” Dantalion smiled.

Amarel was not the sort to answer such a remark with even so much as a scornful snort.

Dantalion coughed, feigning discomposure. “As I was saying,” he began in Gaelic, “now that the both of you are here, I intend to be married tonight.”

'I intend to be married tonight.'

“Married!” Araphel cried, startled into a discomposure that was very real.

“I believe you gentlemen are having some experience in those arrangements.”

“Are you priests, good sirs?” Eithne asked.

“I am only a… scholar…” Araphel said weakly.

'I am only a... scholar...'

“Nonsense,” Dantalion chuckled. “He has been ordained many times. He has even been a cardinal, not to mention a saint, a prophet, a patriarch, a sadhu, a shaman, a buddha, and surely several other things of which I am not aware. Amarel here was even Pope once.”

Araphel shook his head slowly, pleading with his eyes. Dantalion only smiled in greater amusement.

“Is that Christian?” Eithne whimpered.

'Is that Christian?'

“My dear,” Dantalion said gently, “I do not know what could be more Christian than being married by angels. Unlike your mortal priests, we have been in the very presence of God.”

“Have you seen the Lord?” she gasped.

“Aye, darling. Now…” He smiled expectantly at Araphel.

Araphel was too terrified to speak. Anything he said might lead Dantalion to mention Flann. At that moment he would have married the two of them on the spot, if only they would be gone and never show themselves nor speak their secrets again.

But Dantalion knew his fears as if he had composed them himself.

Dantalion knew his fears as if he had composed them himself.

“I know the hour is late, but I believe we angels marry beneath the stars, do we not? I hope you will do me the favor, old friend. I shall be only too happy to return it when you and Flann decide to be married.” He paused, waiting for Araphel’s agony to mount a bit before adding, “Unless Amarel has already agreed to do it?”

His eyes slipped off of Araphel’s face to focus on Amarel behind him.

“Have you seen his baby yet?” he asked. “It’s a ruddy father she’s having, but her mother’s beauty must redeem Brude’s freckles.”

Araphel hung his head.

Dantalion continued grinning, and Araphel hung his head, waiting with an almost Brude-​​like calm, though it was born of despair. He was trapped: Dantalion was before him, Amarel behind him, and Baraqiel above him. If he hoped to have his own happiness with Liadan and Flann, he would have to take it on their terms.

He had sunk so deep into his gloom that he was startled to feel Amarel’s hand fall upon his shoulder and drag him back to the surface.

He spun around and snapped, “Yes, yes, I have a child. Brude did. Flann isn’t… isn’t…”

'Flann isn't... isn't...'

“Flann isn’t a daughter of men,” Dantalion supplied. “Neither she, nor my Eithne, nor her seven other sisters, I suppose.”

Amarel threw up his hands in a question.

“A daughter of Dana, I believe,” Dantalion said.

“She is,” Araphel sighed, “though she is mortal. Baraqiel knows of it, too. But he says we mustn’t tell the others. And – you mustn’t,” he pleaded.

Amarel looked past him to Dantalion and held up seven fingers.

'The elder four are already married.'

“The elder four are already married,” Dantalion said briskly. “I suspect the fifth will be before long, and sixth will be tonight. That leaves the three youngest,” he shrugged. “The next one is nearly fourteen, but she is my Eithne’s best beloved. I won’t let you hurt her,” he warned, “even if Dana would.”

Eithne stared sleepily up at the ceiling through it all. Clearly Dantalion had not yet taught her their language.

Eithne stared sleepily up at the ceiling.

“Dana?” Araphel asked.

“She’s meddling,” Dantalion growled.

“Meddling how?

“Like a mother hen meddling after her tiny chicks.” He glanced quickly aside at Eithne, and the corner of his mouth closest to her almost appeared to lift into a smile, half-​​wry and half-​​fond.

“And if I don’t marry you,” Araphel asked, “she’ll ‘meddle’ with you? Is that it?”

Dantalion shrugged helplessly.

Dantalion shrugged helplessly.

“I gave Eithne my word I would marry her, and you know what it is worth. If you won’t do it, I must ask someone else… Baraqiel, perhaps, since he knows…” he said thoughtfully. “But I have a small grudge against Baraqiel at the moment. Perhaps Shemyaza would help me…”

“No, no, no,” Araphel whispered, horror-​​struck. “Don’t you know what would happen then?”

'Don't you know what would happen then?'

Dantalion frowned and lifted an eyebrow. “Surely he is not fool enough to try to take my Eithne away from me. What did you have in mind?”

Dantalion, of course, knew precisely what Araphel had in mind. He stood silently with his majestic patience, letting Araphel’s fears eat away at him like the fire tonguing over the logs.

Araphel turned to Amarel in desperation. “What must I do?” he begged.

'What must I do?'

Amarel stared at him for a long while. More than a millennium had passed since he had last pronounced a word, and all his erstwhile eloquence had moved into his eyes.

Still, his mournful mien could express no emotion without tingeing it with sorrow. For this reason there were those among their brothers who called him not Amarel, God’s Word, him who had lost it; but Phanuel: the face of God.

His mournful face could express no emotion without tinging it with sorrow.

At last he uncrossed his arms and kneeled to fiddle with the laces of his boot, pretending to untie it. Then he pointed at Dantalion.

“He wants me to remove my boots?” Dantalion wrinkled his long nose, perhaps in distaste at the vulgarity of being married in one’s stocking feet, but since he had said it in Gaelic it might also have been intended to make Eithne smile.

“No,” Araphel sighed. “You must untie all the knots on your body. No prior tie must bind you at this time.”

Dantalion looked down the front of himself, neither lewdly nor reproachfully but appearing somewhat daunted before so many straps and buckles. “Eithne too?” he asked.

'Eithne too?'

“No,” Araphel muttered. Already the weight of what he was about to do was settling over him, sickening him. “It’s your own self will be untying those later tonight.”

Dantalion looked fondly again at Eithne, long enough that she looked up at him and smiled drowsily.

Amarel snatched up a candelabrum and stalked outside, his face unreadable but for a look of pain.

“Do you want to be married tonight, to him?” Araphel asked her gently.

'Do you want to be married tonight, to him?'

He longed to wrap her up in his robe and carry her to safety, like the infant Flann she appeared to be. But there was nowhere on earth where he could take her.

“Before God?” she asked.

“Aye, before God.”

'Aye, before God.'

She glanced quickly up at Dantalion again before replying. “Aye, good sir. And I hope you will soon be marrying my sister, if you are Liadan’s father, and saving her from her shame.”

Did she say it because Dantalion had already shamed her as well? He did not ask. It was too late to matter.

“We shall be brothers, you and I,” Dantalion said.

He spoke with such gravity that Araphel believed he was speaking to Eithne until he realized he was no longer speaking Gaelic, and then he turned his attention to the words.

“Before your silent secretary returns, I wish to ask you one thing. I ask you to protect my wife and children, and I shall protect yours likewise.”

'I wish to ask you one thing.'

“I believe I have already protected my wife and children from you with what Brude did last winter!” Sebastien whispered.

Dantalion shook his head. “Not protect them from me. Protect them with me, and by me.”

“I don’t want your demons anywhere near Flann and the baby!”

'I don't want your demons anywhere near Flann and the baby!'

“As you wish,” he shrugged. “I shall protect them from my demons – is that what you want? I shall even protect them from my brothers’ demons. And you, Sebastien, or whoever you may come to be, protect Eithne and her children as your feeble bodies can. Will you not?”

“Why are you doing this?” Araphel whispered.

“For the same reason you are.”

“Impossible! You don’t love anyone – you aren’t even capable of loving anyone.”

'That is not true, Araphel.'

“That is not true, Araphel. I love myself enormously. Every part of myself.” He lifted a hand and wriggled his fingers beneath Araphel’s nose. “I am simply broadening my definition of myself to include parts of myself that are not attached to my body. Namely my wife and children.”

“That is not love. That is vanity.”

“All is vanity,” Dantalion whispered. “Give me your word, brother, and I shall do all I can to keep your Flann and your children safe from harm, and their children, and their children’s children, for seven generations.”

'Give me your word, brother.'

Araphel hesitated. Dantalion was far stronger than he, especially so long as he was locked in a mortal body. Even Shemyaza would not stand up against Dantalion and his legions.

“I am more powerful than you,” Dantalion whispered, as if he could read the mortal body’s mind. “I will keep them safe for the sake of Eithne’s happiness, and in times to come you shall decide whether that may be called love.”

They heard Amarel open the door, returning from the court outside.

“Your word…” Dantalion breathed.

Araphel nodded sharply, and at once his face contorted with disgust.

At once his face contorted with disgust.

For Flann’s sake he had again made a deal with this devil, and in times to come he would ask himself whether that might be called love.

Dantalion nodded and held Araphel’s gaze for a moment before jerking his head away and stalking past him to stop beside Amarel.

“It’s outside I shall be untying my ‘prior bonds’,” he muttered.

'It's outside I shall be untying my 'prior bonds'.'

He was again his inscrutable, sardonic self, but now there was a flush on his face and a tremor his voice that would have been equally startling on him whether they were intentional or not.

“I’m not convinced it’s not a trick. I think you two would like nothing more than to see my pants fall down around my ankles in the middle of the ceremony.”

'I'm not convinced it's not a trick.'