The elf had shaved off his beard.

Araphel could not permit himself to frequent the Duke’s household, so this was the first time he had seen up-​​close what he had recently thought to see from afar. The elf had shaved off his beard. Araphel knew enough about the customs of elves to find it a confusing sign, and troubling.

Eithne kept her back to them and played childishly with her cat. This seemed to be her one retreat from a world that had grown too weighty for her.

Eithne played childishly with her cat.

Nevertheless, when Dantalion had left her at dawn, she had somehow found the courage to come dry-​​eyed to the door of the other guest house, to knock, and to beg Araphel to take her to her sisters. The strength of a Catan or a Flann ran through her, deep down, and she could tap it when she was in need.

The strength of a Cat or a Flann ran through her, deep down.

Still, she was the sort of girl who would need someone to care for her all her life. She was no Flann to declare that she would stand alone if she could not have her love, in defiance of the world entire. The tragedy was that the two sisters’ personalities – or their situations – were not reversed. Araphel wanted nothing more than to care for Flann and their daughter all their lives.

“Good morning, young sir,” the elf said stiffly. However, he did not seem anxious as he used to when Araphel came to the door. This too was a troubling sign.

This too was a troubling sign.

“Good morning,” Araphel said, putting on the accent that was French and the haughtiness that was Sebastien. “I am sorry to disturb the house so early the morning. However, I am bringing the ladies’ sister to them, and she has not yet had a breakfast…”

Eithne squeezed her cat a last time and used the excuse of setting her on the porch to turn her face briefly to glance at the two of them.

“Eithne?” Araphel asked hopefully.

“Eithne?” Osh gasped. “Little tiny Eithne?”

'Little tiny Eithne?'

He held a hand out to the height of an eight-​​year-​​old. Eithne saw enough of it to giggle shyly.

From inside the darkness of the hall a voice echoed, “Eithne?”

Even the cat meowed, “Eithne?” and purred in delight over her joke.

Even the cat meowed.

Catan stepped outside and gasped, “Eithne?”

“Cat?” Eithne asked softly. Of course she must have recognized her elder sister, who could not have changed much in less than two years. Still, she appeared confused, even frightened. Perhaps she feared her shame was visible, like a black mark across her cheek.

Perhaps she feared her shame was visible, like a black mark across her cheek.

Cat did not seem to find anything amiss. “Eithne! Eithne!”

She squeezed her sister, and when that proved insufficiently expressive of her joy, she picked up the slender girl and shook her.

She picked up the slender girl and shook her.

“You darling! Come inside with you! You shall see Flann! And the sweet baby of her! And – and Paul! My husband!”

She stepped back to look again at her sister, and perhaps to let her own pride and happiness be seen.

She stepped back to look again at her sister.

“That is very kind of you to bring her here,” Osh said to Araphel. “Very kind, upon my honor! Thank you, sir! And we wish you a good day.”

Araphel turned to the girls. He could not meet Osh’s eyes now and risk acknowledging this bald attempt to dismiss him. “Catan?” he asked.

“Bastien?” Cat smiled dazedly, finally noticing him. “How…”

“Kind,” Osh supplied. “Very kind.” He glanced up towards the gate where their horses were tied.

'Very kind.'

Cat either failed to notice the glance or ignored it. “Won’t you come in?” she laughed. “Everyone! But – where’s my father?” she asked her sister in Gaelic. “Who came with you, darling?”

Eithne’s dusky cheeks turned red. “My cat,” she squeaked in a child’s voice.

“Your cat!” Cat laughed. “Sure and certain! It’s all the way from Scotland she did ride, astride her wee pony!”

“She did! Come, I’m meaning…”

Araphel coughed. “I can explain…”

'I can explain...'

Catan hooked her arm around Eithne’s waist and headed for the door, but she caught Araphel’s elbow as she went by and dragged him along.

“Come inside, then, for I shan’t been seen gossiping on the porch like an old snaggletooth potter’s wife!” she laughed. “Eithne, Eithne, Eithne! Where’s Flann, Osh?”

'I go to her room and get her!'

Osh made haste to say, “I go to her room and get her! I tell her she has a nice surprise here – ” He stopped abruptly with his eyes on Araphel’s face.

Araphel jerked his head aside as if such a stare could be tossed off. “Catan, please,” he murmured.

“Aye?” She let go of her sister and turned to him, though she could not quite hide her annoyance at his continuing attempts to capture her attention.


He switched to Brude’s Irish Gaelic, but taking care to lay on a heavy layer of Sebastien’s Burgundian French.

“It’s a married wife she is,” he said softly. “To a… a man…”

Cat gaped at him for the first moment, but then her brows descended in mistrust. Araphel already knew that he would be bearing the brunt of Dantalion’s share of blame. The jinni had doubtlessly planned it so.

'That much I could be guessing.'

“Aye, a man. Go on,” she said. “That much I could be guessing.”

“With a… an old friend of me, I’m meaning. An outlaw. That is why…”

“Eithne!” Cat gasped. “What is this I’m hearing?”

Eithne continued caressing and cooing to her cat, either not hearing or pretending not to hear.

Eithne continued caressing and cooing to her cat.

“He’s not dangerous,” Araphel said quickly. “Not to her and hers. But he’s not a man accustomed to caring for anyone but his own self. And… it’s hiding himself he is, and her to me leaving. And she has traveled far,” he blurted, “and more than all else it’s a warm bath she’s needing, and a warm breakfast, and her sisters… And please don’t be angry with her! It’s sly as a fox the man is.”

'And please don't be too angry with her!'

He winced at his own idiocy. He was obliged to make this Sebastien a pompous and somewhat foolish character, but the young man’s own innate nervousness often led him into blabbering even more foolishness than he intended.

“And – ” He had to ask. “And I must speak to Flann…”

Her eyes went wide again in surprise and narrowed again in outrage.

Her eyes went wide again in surprise and narrowed again in outrage.

“It’s about your sister…” he added.

“Then you may speak to me,” Cat said coldly. “I’m the eldest.”

“I beg you…”

“Or you may be speaking to my cousin Egelric. Why must you be speaking to Flann?”

“She will know why… please…”

'She will know why... please...'

Sebastien was nearly crying in frustration. Brude would have known just what to say, priest or not.

Cat cocked her head and seemed to consider the question for a moment. In the end she leaned close to him and spoke softly, “I’m certain it’s a worthy man you are, Bastien, but I believe I must ask you to leave my sister be now. I’m not to say anything, but I think it’s only fair you be told that she and Osh are likely to be very happy together if they’re given a chance.”

'She and Osh are likely to be very happy together if they're given a chance.'

Now it was Araphel whose eyes went wide. “Happy?”

“Together,” she said, speaking softly so that Eithne would not overhear, but firmly so that he would understand.

“So soon?” he whispered, horrified. He had to stand up straight to give Sebastien’s heart room to pound.

He had to stand up straight to give Sebastien's heart room to pound.

He had wasted all these weeks, giving her time to heal. He had thought it the kindest thing he could do for her at the moment, though their little gem of a daughter was growing up without him.

Meanwhile the elf had been taking advantage of his proximity and her fragility…

“Soon after what?” Cat hissed. “It’s none too soon, if you’re asking me! It’s dying of grief she was, and Osh is saving her.”

'It's dying of grief she was, and Osh is saving her.'

Araphel said nothing. He could hear Flann heading for the stairs.

“You don’t even know her!” Cat added. “There are pretty girls all over this valley, and I hear you aren’t planning to stay anyway. Perhaps outlaws and friends of outlaws are often moving along!”

“What’s my surprise?” Flann laughed at the top of the stairs. By the time she had reached the bottom, she had stopped laughing. As Osh must have feared, she believed Sebastien was the surprise.

As Osh must have feared, she believed Sebastien was the surprise.

“Eithne is here, darling!” Cat said with forced good cheer.

“Eithne!” Flann lifted her skirts and ran behind Cat to meet her.

“It’s a married woman she is now!” Cat cried, grinning angrily. “Eloped with an outlaw who sends his friend to break the news!”

Flann stopped just before embracing her sister. Eithne sobbed through a smile.

Flann stopped just before embracing her sister.

“Eloped?” Flann asked. Then she turned to Araphel, clearly repeating “outlaw” and “friend” in her mind.

“I must speak with you, Flann,” he said dully, doubting he would be granted the chance.

“You needn’t, darling,” Cat said. “I told him he may be speaking with Egelric if he wishes to chat. I think my cousin Egelric will be wanting to ‘chat’ with you in any case, sir, if this man isn’t forthcoming.”

“Please talk to him,” Eithne sniffled. “You must.”

'Please talk to him.'

Flann turned on her heel and thrust her face up beneath Araphel’s. “I must, must I?” she challenged.

“I need to speak to you,” he said, trying to summon up Brude’s calm.



“Right away.”

She glared at him for a moment. He knew she did not owe Sebastien any love, and still it pained him to see such rancor sparking forth from her beloved eyes and entering him through his.

“Why is she crying?” she asked. “Did she elope with the man or was she kidnapped? Was it a rape or a wedding?”

'Was it a rape or a wedding?'

“A wedding!” Eithne sobbed. “Go with him!”

Flann’s anger suddenly drained out of her, leaving her limp and defeated. In that moment he knew he was seeing her as she was – as she would be all the time if she did not have her anger or her other passions propping her up. He wondered whether the elf knew or cared.

He knew he was seeing her as she was.

She opened her lips and mouthed a single word. It might have been “Come”; it might have been “Go”.

She turned away from him and walked out of the hall, her back and shoulders already straight again. She had found another passion, or had perhaps simply tapped her own deep-​​laid reserve of strength at this moment of great need.

Araphel followed her out.

Araphel followed her out.