'The elves here aren't speaking Gaelic, are they?'

“The elves here aren’t speaking Gaelic, are they?” Sebastien asked nervously.

“I’ve taught Osh a few words.” Flann tipped up her nose and smiled. “Nothing I hope to hear from your lips.”

His eyes were briefly shadowed by his dark lashes, and his mouth shriveled into a thin frown. His was not the face of a man who had been struck, as she had hoped, but one who had been made ill.

His was not the face of a man who had been struck.

“What is it?” she snapped. “Make swith with you. It’s a year and more since I’ve seen my sister, and she’s never seen my daughter at all.”

He licked his lips and looked away.

“About this friend of you?” she prompted. “Or is it you?” She flushed both in outrage and in pride at her powers of deduction.

“No!” he gasped. “No!”

“What then?” she cried before he could recover. “Why is it to me you must be speaking? If this is your trick to be getting yourself alone with me, it’s the last time you’ll ever be standing so close to me again!”

'It's the last time you'll ever be standing so close to me again!'

“No, Flann! Listen to me – let me speak,” he pleaded. “For Brude’s sake…”

If the mention of Brude was a trick, it had its effect. Flann’s flaring anger withered into a husk of sorrow. Brude had loved and trusted this man. For Brude’s sake, she could almost love and trust him, too.

“What does Brude have to do with it?” she asked hoarsely. “Did he know the man?”

Sebastien hesitated for a moment. “Aye. Aye, he did.”

'Aye.  Aye, he did.'

Again an idea clicked into place, her powers of deduction redeeming themselves for their last failure. “It’s a priest he is!” she whispered. “That’s why he’s an outlaw! A married priest!”

“No, Flann,” Sebastien sighed wearily.

She blushed and drew back. “What is the name of him?” she huffed.


She laughed shrilly.

“Ach!” She laughed shrilly. “Cian and Eithne! It’s made to her measure he was! But it’s not truly the name of him, is it?” she demanded.


At last she had guessed correctly, but she found the truth no less ugly for it. Her ironic laugh burned her throat like bile, and she clapped her hand over her mouth before she vomited worse. She too must have looked painfully ill at that moment. Sebastien’s hand twitched just out of reach of hers.

Sebastien's hand twitched just out of reach of hers.

“That – poor wee girlie!” she gasped, trying not to sob. “She always loved her stories – she and Connie. My mother would be asking her, ‘What are you doing there in your Da’s kilt, with the white knees of you a-​​glaring?’ And she and Connie would be saying, ‘Playing a story!’ ‘Playing a story,’ they always called it!”

She looked to Sebastien for compassion – for she had no choice! They were alone in the room. And his gray eyes were so like Brude’s if one disregarded the rest. He nodded rhythmically as he listened, too, like Brude.

His gray eyes were so like Brude's.

“And now a man comes calling himself Cian, and the poor girlie thinks she’s ‘playing a story’ with him…” Flann had wrestled down her desire to sob, but now she could not stop her lips from trembling.

Sebastien’s mouth moved slightly too, either out of sympathy with hers or to scarcely form words he dared not pronounce. It also seemed to be moving closer to hers, and she flung her head back.

“Who is he?” she growled.

'Who is he?'

“First I must be telling you of my own self,” Sebastien said gently. “He has told her something of me, and she will be telling you, and you will be finding it confusing and cruel. I fear she will tell you, for else I would never have you know.”

Confusing and cruel it was indeed, even before he said it.

“For Brude’s sake, Flann, you must repeat nothing of what I say. Not even to Eithne. For her sake, too. I must tell you so that you will know how to reply to her, and to help her keep her secret.”

'I must tell you so that you will know how to reply to her.'

“What is this ‘secret’,” she asked warily, “that you’re bringing Brude into it?”

He pressed his palms together and brought his hands up to his chest for a moment, as Brude always did when he collected his thoughts before launching into the Homily.

“The eyes of you have seen a miracle,” he said. “You were witness, were you not?”

'Paul, you're meaning?'

“Paul, you’re meaning?” she murmured. “I was there…”

“Would you have believed if you had not seen?”

“I… I would have believed my sister…”

“Would you? I think you are a skeptical lady by nature.”

'Would you?'

As his agitation lessened, he became more Brude-​​like than even his eyes allowed. Just then, with his tilted head and his softly doubting “Would you?” she could almost feel Brude’s presence.

Proud Flann allowed no one to criticize her – not even Proud Flann, lest she admit herself less perfect than she believed. But Brude’s criticism had always come with such fond indulgence that she did not mind being less, for somehow Brude’s love would make her more.

She bowed her head. She would let him speak, even to criticize her, and she would listen.

She bowed her head.

The nasal whine of his French accent faded from his speech as it calmed. What remained was the Irish accent he had inherited from Brude himself.

“He is blessed who has not seen, and yet has believed. Blessed also is he who has been allowed to see. It’s grateful I am to know you have witnessed a miracle, Flann. You know such things may be.”

'You know such things may be.'

She was so lost in her search for echoes of Brude that she scarcely noticed the strangeness of what Sebastien was saying. It was simply what Brude might have said.

“What did he ask when he left you, Flann?” he murmured. “By what would you be knowing him?”

Flann’s head snapped up as if she had been struck, but more than anything she was sickened by her newest suspicion.

Flann's head snapped up as if she had been struck.

“What did he promise you?” he whispered. He stepped closer to her, and she stepped away.

“You think you may say it because of the gray eyes of you,” she whispered hoarsely.

'You think you may say it because of the gray eyes of you.'

“It’s everything his mortal body could do he promised you. And more than that he promised you. It was not mere poetry he was speaking.”

His gray eyes were lit up like clouds whose bellies roiled with lightning.

“Vicious liar!” she hissed. “If he knew what you’re trying to do! When he trusted you!”

'Vicious liar!'

“Flann, I knew you wouldn’t believe!” His agitation was returning, but he had shed his French accent entirely. The voice was too high, too young, too anxious, but its music was Brude’s. “I feared I might not return, and I left what proof I could in case of need…”

“Never say ‘I’! Never say ‘I’!” she panted.

He bowed his head as if he consented to that demand, but he pressed on with the rest. “Do you still have the hair he gave you? It was no mere token, Flann! If you have it still, it’s black you’ll be finding it – ”

'It's black you'll be finding it--'

She drew back her arm and swung at him in rage. He twisted away at the last instant, escaping the ringing slap she had intended. She managed only an awkward, unsatisfying, but apparently painful smack to the ear. She tried to kick him, but she remembered in time that she was wearing soft slippers, and she saved her toes by merely banging his shin harmlessly with the side of her foot.

Then she saw Osh running through the door.

She lifted her skirts and fled through the other, out into the hallway and up the stairs before either could come after her.

She lifted her skirts and fled through the other.

She slammed her door behind her, though Liadan still lay in the cradle, as she had when Flann had left Osh with her. She never noticed whether the baby had been startled.

She flung herself down beside her bed and dragged out bags and boxes, pushed aside piles, and dug down into the sack in which she had hidden the box.

She dug down into the sack in which she had hidden the box.

There was nothing but half-​​finished lace in it as far as anyone knew – lace which she had begun to hook when she still dreamed of marrying Brude someday, though that fact no one ever knew. Cat would never look through it, she thought, for fear of being saddled with the task of finishing it. Flann herself never looked in it out of dread of these reminders of all her pretty, half-​​finished dreams.

She needn’t have opened the box now. She already knew he would not have lied about something so easy to verify. She did not know how he had done it, but each strand of frizzled gold and bronze and copper had turned a glossy, softly-​​curling black, like drawn lead.

Proud Flann had the strength to put it away again, neatly, where Cat would never look. Then she tipped back her head and howled like her month-​​old baby.

She tipped back her head and howled like her month-old baby.

As he often did when her baby cried, Osh came at once.

“He’s gone, my darling, he’s gone already,” he murmured. “I made him go.”

'He's gone, my darling.'

“Did you hurt him?” she squeaked.

“No, no, I don’t scare anybody here. I think I hurt him if he comes back.”

As he often did Liadan, he picked her up and held her against his shoulder, hushing her with words she did not yet understand.

He picked her up and held her against his shoulder.

When she had stopped sobbing and only sniffled, he asked her, “He talked to you about Brude?”

She choked and reflexively tried to jerk away from him before she realized he must have simply recognized the name floating amidst the flood of Gaelic. Everyone knew that Sebastien had brought her a letter from Brude.



“Do not you worry yourself about him, my darling,” he said gently. “We don’t care whom he tells. It can’t matter now.”

Flann had been trying not to catch his eyes, but now she looked up at him. She did not understand what he was trying to say.

“It does not matter to me,” he whispered. “And it would not matter to Cat and Eithne and Paul, and to everybody who loves you. And who does not love you?” He kissed her cheek, which was still damp from half-​​wiped tears. “Even a priest loved you.”

He kissed her cheek.

That was it. Even her own apparently fallible powers of deduction sufficed to tell her Osh knew or had understood that Brude was Liadan’s father, and he simply believed that Sebastien had upset her by threatening to tell her secret.

“Even an old elf who thought he could not ever love again,” he whispered, “he loves you.”

“How… long have you known?” she mumbled. Her face was strangely numb from sobbing. She could scarcely feel his lips on her cheek and temple.

'How... long have you known?'

“Since I hear him read this letter Brude wrote to you. I know not many Gaelic words, but stór I know.”

Flann turned her face away and closed her eyes. He was obliged to kiss her ear.

“I never shall talk about him again,” he said. “I only think it is easier if you know I know. Isn’t it? We don’t look back, as you say.”

She nodded almost without hesitation. Proud Flann did not like to admit she was wrong.

She nodded almost without hesitation.