Lasrua kept a tight grip on the handle of the door.

Lasrua kept a tight grip on the handle of the door, in case his insolence grew into audacity.

“What is it?” she asked coldly, though she felt as if she were baking.

What is it?” the man gasped in feigned shock. “Colban, do you think she isn’t even guessing we’re human?

'Colban, do you think she isn't even guessing we're human?'

“I mean, what is it you want?” she growled. “Your wife, by any chance?”

“Ach! Are you willing? Mind you, it’s the shortest courtship I’ve ever undertaken…”

“Not me!” she shrieked.

'Not me'

He ignored her and turned to the boy, lifting his heavy eyebrows as if he were seriously thinking over the question. “What do you think? Shall I?”

“Father,” the boy mumbled, “this is Lasrua, the sister of Cousin Cat’s husband.” He bowed slightly to Lasrua and said, “This is my father, Malcolm, son of Colban.”

'This is my father, Malcolm, son of Colban.'

“And my son, Colban, son of Malcolm,” the tall man said with a deeper bow, “not to be confused with my father of the same name.”

“Your father was Colban, son of Lulach,” the boy protested.

“Whisht,” Malcolm hushed him out of one side of his mouth, and grinned at Lasrua with the other side.

He grinned at Lasrua with the other side.

“I met you at the wedding,” Colban explained to Lasrua. “My sister’s wedding, I mean,” he added when she continued staring. “The Princess’s wedding, I mean.”

“I remember…” she murmured.

“Ach! And she’s forgotten me entirely.” Malcolm sighed and shook his head until the long hair drooped over his face.

Lasrua flushed in embarrassment. Could she have forgotten this man?

“You weren’t even there!” Colban said.

'You weren't even there!'

Now her flush was due as much to anger. The man was teasing her, and worse still, she was almost certain he had let his hair fall before his face to hide his mocking smile.

“What can I do for you?” she snapped. “Your cousins are not at home.”

“I fear you can do nothing for me,” he said, suddenly grave. “It’s far I’ve come and fast to find it all for naught, but at least I shall have the consolation of being disappointed by a pretty young lass…”

“I am not a lass.

'I am not a lass!'

His eyebrows leapt up above his startled eyes. “Are you no?” he gasped. “I beg your pardon, sir…”

Colban giggled.

“I am a lady! And if you are looking for your cousin Eithne, she’s here! And you may have her!”

“Eithne’s here?” Now his eyebrows arched up in genuine surprise.

'Eithne's here?'

Colban laughed. “I told you!”


'I told you!'

“I don’t know!” Lasrua said. “She came with a man. She arrived last night—and was married in the middle of the night—and by dawn the man had left her again. That’s all I know or care.”

“Left her?” Malcolm asked. His hand went to his hip, and though she did not see it, she was certain there was a knife beneath the kilt. “What’s being the name of him?”



“Eithne and Cian! The devil it is! Where is she?”

“Sir Egelric came, and they all went to Lady Maire’s to decide what was to be done.” She waved a hand vaguely off to the west. “Even Flann and the baby and everyone. Even my father and brother,” she added under her breath.

Malcolm paid her little attention once she had pronounced the name of Maire. “Maire!” he snarled softly, followed by a word whose meaning Lasrua did not know, but which she had only ever heard issuing from the mouth of Sir Egelric.

Colban winced.

“Is she hurt?” Malcolm demanded angrily. “Did he hurt her?”

“I don’t think so…”

'Why didn't we catch up with them?'

“The devil! Why didn’t we catch up with them?” he wailed to his son. “It’s on the Púca’s back they were surely riding, with the devil’s grandmother tied to the tail of him! We traveled almost as fast as my bad reputation!”

He peeked up at Lasrua, sneakily smiling again with the far corner of his mouth.

'They must have fled as soon as her father went to bed.'

“They must have fled as soon as her father went to bed,” Colban said gravely before yielding to childish glee. “But I told you they would come here! I knew it! He would be taking her to her sisters!”

“He might have taken her to a home of her own and stayed there,” Malcolm grumbled, but he seemed to have decided discussion of Eithne was over and turned smiling back to Lasrua. “We thank you, young lady. The bad news may outweigh the good this noon, but your beauty is redeeming the one and increasing the other.”

'Your beauty is redeeming the one and increasing the other.'

She wanted to roll her eyes in scorn, but he held locked them in place with the gaze of his own. His were as dark as charcoal, but their cool color was deceptive; the hearts of them still sweltered with hidden fire. Now she clung to the door handle merely to keep her balance.

At last, however, his stare dropped to slide down her body, slowly enough that she was trembling with outrage by the time it made its way back up to her throat.

“Is that a real butterfly?” he asked carelessly, as if her necklace was the most noteworthy thing he had seen on her.

'Is that a real butterfly?'

His hand darted out and flicked her pendant up by the corner of a wing, lightly enough that it only fluttered back against her breast, and with such precision that his finger never brushed her skin.

Lasrua clapped her hand over it and pressed it flat against her breastbone.

“It is made from the wings of a real butterfly…” she breathed. Then, embarrassed to hear how embarrassed she sounded, she coughed once and asked smartly, “Why? Are those real caterpillars?”

His eyes looked back into hers. “Caterpillars?”

“Those fat, ugly, fuzzy caterpillars crawling across your forehead?” she smirked.

'Those fat, ugly, fuzzy caterpillars crawling across your forehead?'

He did not seem insulted. On the contrary, he seemed greatly amused, which only infuriated her. “Real caterpillars?” he laughed. “Praise God, they are not! It’s a ticklish sort of man I am, though you wouldn’t be knowing that yet. And I hope you won’t be abusing the knowledge later,” he winked.

'I hope you won't be abusing the knowledge later.'

“Certainly not,” she huffed.

“I do have a real caterpillar on my person,” he admitted, “but it’s bald and blind he is, and something shy therefore. I shall introduce you when it’s dark, if you’re fond of butterflies and such beasties.”

Lasrua shrieked wordlessly in outrage, and Colban squirmed in embarrassment. “Father?” he squeaked.

'Ach!  I haven't forgotten your poor cousin.'

“Ach! I haven’t forgotten your poor cousin,” he sighed. “Let us be going to Maire’s, then, though I should rather be anywhere else. And especially here,” he added, turning to grin at Lasrua.

Lasrua took a step back into the house and pulled the door half-​closed.

Lasrua took a step back into the house and pulled the door half-closed.

“I shall scream,” she threatened.

He laughed. “You will singe my fat, ugly, fuzzy brows off, rather, if you’re truly an elf-​lass!”

'You will singe my fat, ugly, fuzzy brows off!'

“La-​dy!” she growled.

He chuckled and turned away, clapping his son on the shoulder as they started down the stairs. “Good day to you, la-​dy!” he called, failing even to turn his head.

Lasrua deigned not reply, but she stood in the doorway hating him until the heat of his eyes had faded from her like evening sunlight from stones.

She stood in the doorway hating him.