Dantalion was taking his time, arranging his pillow just so.

Dantalion was taking his time, arranging his pillow just so. A pillow seemed a grateful thing after napping half the afternoon on a pile of straw.

But the time he took was too long: Eithne woke before he had slipped beneath the blankets, and she bounded out of bed with a soundless shriek. She had grown so accustomed to hiding her terrors that she could stifle a cry before she even knew what had terrified her.

She bounded out of bed with a soundless shriek.

Dantalion scrambled over the foot of the bed and drew up before her, stopping just in time: he had not yet grown accustomed to the idea that fear was something he did not wish to inspire.

“Whisht, Eithne!” he whispered. “You’ll be waking your sister!”

She cringed away from him, breathing in sharp squeaks.

“It is Cian, dear Eithne,” he murmured. “Your husband. Last night we were married.”

The arms she had flung up to defend herself began to fall, but she still gasped for breath, and she still stared.

She still stared.

Now, however, she was not staring at his face. He thought it just as well, since he could feel his cheeks turning pink.

“I told you,” Sweetdew mewed in satisfaction. “Clothes are not merely meant to keep one warm.”

'I told you.'

“Sweetdew!” Eithne cried, and in pronouncing the name she seemed to free her breath. The presence of the cat also permitted her to look elsewhere and encouraged her to smile, all of which proved to be some relief to Dantalion.

Until she looked back at him and continued smiling.

She looked back at him and continued smiling.

“It is supposed to look that way,” he muttered. “Most of the time.”

“Like a chicken neck?”

“Like a what?

“Once he’s killed and plucked, of course.”

Sweetdew fell over onto her side and squirmed in silent laughter.

Eithne giggled shyly. “It’s what my mother did say, when we – ” Suddenly she was gasping to breathe again, and her arms went up between them.

“When you did what?” he asked as gently as he knew how.

'When you did what?'

“When… when we were wee girls in braids,” she whispered.

The soft beauty of her face grew softer and more beautiful as she spoke, and Dantalion was sorry now she was not looking at any part of him.

The shortest moments of that long journey had been the rare occasions when she had told him a little about herself, her sisters, and her childhood. He had noticed that she never looked at him when she did: she was not forgetting herself at those moments, but forgetting him.

The soft beauty of her face grew softer and more beautiful as she spoke.

“We were trying to think of how we could see… one of those,” she whispered impishly, “for no brothers had we, and Mama heard us… me and Connie…” Suddenly her face wrinkled and reddened as if she were trying not to cough – or not to cry.

“Are you thinking to cry?” he asked hopefully and put out his arms. He would show that impudent cat.

'Are you thinking to cry?'

“No.” She shook her head shyly and drew away from him.

Sweetdew ostentatiously licked her paw.


When he reached for her again, she did not move away, and he caught her and pulled her close. She did not resist, and she even put her arms lightly around him, but hers was the same rigid little body he had held the night before. Then it had only relaxed when she had fallen asleep from exhaustion, but now they were on their feet.

Hers was the same rigid little body he had held the night before.

“Never again shall I eat chicken,” he murmured, hoping to make her laugh. Only Sweetdew did.

Eithne lowered her hands and slowly patted her palms over his naked back, like a man testing the solidity of ice before venturing onto it. She also deliberately lifted her hands after each pat, carefully avoiding stroking his skin. There could be no mistaking such firm and fleeting pressure of hands for caresses.

There could be no mistaking such firm and fleeting pressure for a caress.

She had never touched him in any way that could be mistaken for a caress.

“Eithne…” he whispered and held her tighter. He could squeeze her until he strangled her, but he could not make her caress him. He could not terrify her into loving him. He did not know what else to do.

She pressed both hands against his back a last time and said firmly and loudly, “Cian.”


“Whisht!” he whispered. “You’ll be waking the sister and niece of you.”

She drew back her head and tried to look him in the face. “Did you not make them all sleep?”

“All but Flann and the baby,” he muttered. She was thoughtfully silent, and he added, “The child is too young to go long without nursing.” It was not his true reason, but it was nevertheless true.

Eithne relaxed slightly for a moment. Then she pushed herself away from him and began again, softly: “Cian.”

Then she pushed herself away from him and began again.

“Aye?” He could not help but frown. Thanks to Sweetdew, he thought he knew what was coming, and Dantalion did not like being told he was wrong – not even by his own wife.

She did not scold him for “abandoning her”, however, nor for anything else he might have done or not done. She merely said, “My family would like to meet you.”

She spoke with the same kitten-like gravity.

She spoke with the same kitten-​​like gravity she had put on when she had scolded Araphel for not marrying her sister. Dantalion had thought it charming then, and was surprised to find it no less so now, despite being himself on the receiving end of the scolding.

“Eithne…” he smiled indulgently.

“My cousin Malcolm is here,” she hastened to add, backing away from him as he tried to embrace her. “It’s the road to Lothere he was taking, but on every other some cousin of my clan did ride. And my… my father…”

At last she stopped and let him catch her.

“It’s into the Highlands my father is gone,” she said gravely. “It is a savage country, if you aren’t knowing it.”

“I have been,” he shrugged and tried to lean his face down into her hair.

'I have been.'

She pushed him away and held him at the length of her arms. Even his mortal body could have broken through that fragile obstacle and crushed her against him, and to his naked body it seemed the most urgent of his concerns. Fortunately, he remembered in time that he must not.

“What shall I tell my sisters if any harm comes to their father?” she asked. “Or to Gorman, whose husband too went with him? Looking for – for me?” she squeaked.

She was about to cry, and she was holding him away. Dantalion glanced at the floor and saw Sweetdew watching with interest, doubtlessly waiting to intervene if Eithne needed comforting. He did not know what to do. From this distance he could only talk to her.

'Are you worried about your father, then?'

“Are you worried about your father, then?” he asked gently.

She nodded briskly, like a little child. “Aye.”

“Would you like me to make certain he comes to no harm?”

“Can you be protecting him, then?” she asked hopefully. “Like a guardian angel?”

'Can you be protecting him, then?'

He smiled. “Of course I can.”

Her arms relaxed, and the slight tension in his own was enough to bring her body against his. Nevertheless she twisted her head away as he tried to kiss her.

“My cousin Malcolm will be leaving in a day or two to tell my father I am safe,” she said. “But I hope you will meet him so he may tell him I am happy, too.”

“Would that make you happy?” he whispered.

'Would that make you happy?'

She drew back and blinked at him, apparently startled.

“Are you unhappy when I am not here?”

She bowed her head and murmured, “My family was so angry, and thought much ill of you. And I did not know how to explain.”

It was not what he had wanted to hear. Nevertheless it was the closest she would ever come to demanding an explanation from him. He was humbled by her meekness, though logically it seemed it should only have inflated his pride.

He decided he would explain.

“Eithne…” He took her hand and brought it up to stroke his left cheek, in a simulation of a caress.

He took her hand and brought it up to stroke his left cheek.

Her fingers twitched against his face, shying away from the black mark upon it, but she was dutiful enough a bride not to pull back her hand.

“I shall meet your family,” he said, “but not right away. I need your help.”

My help?”

“Eithne, when I married you, I had to be untying every knot in my clothing so that no prior bond would be holding me. Or my pants,” he added wryly.

Sweetdew sneezed in derision, and even Eithne smiled at the memory of him trying to keep himself decently clothed without a belt. Dantalion too paused and smiled briefly: it was still rare that he could share a smile with her.

Even Eithne smiled at the memory of him trying to keep himself decently clothed without a belt.

“But there is one bond I could not untie,” he continued when her arm began to grow heavy with its longing to be away from his face. He patted the backs of her fingers against the mark and said, “This one.”

Her eyes widened, but she waited to hear.

“Eithne,” he whispered, “there is a very wicked man who has found a trick to make me his minion. He made me teach him every sort of magic, and he has been using me to perform deeds he would not dare himself. And this mark on my face is his seal on me.”

'Does it hurt?'

“What does it mean?” she whimpered.

“It means I must do whatever he commands. But you have far more magic than he, my dear wife. I shall teach you how to use it, and soon you will be strong enough to steal me away from him and make yourself my master. And then you shall free me, and this mark will be gone forever.”

Eithne was no longer kitten-​​like, but owl-​​like with her wide and solemn eyes.

Eithne was no longer kitten-like, but owl-like with her wide and solemn eyes.

He could not know what she was thinking, and the not knowing frightened him, and the fear angered him. Her mind was a mystery and a void to him, eternally silent, as God was to him forevermore. There was love in her, as in God, but not for him.

But he still had power over her. He let go of her hand and prepared to lay out the threats of what might happen if she did not comply.

A remarkable thing happened to interrupt him, however, before he had even begun. Eithne’s hand did not drop straightaway as he had expected. Instead, she caressed his cheek with the backs of her fingers and whispered, “Does it hurt?”

'Does it hurt?'

It was not the mark that hurt, but the humiliation of being a slave.

Dantalion had spent so many centuries brooding over his bondage that he should have been able to explain his plight in words that would have moved even his silver-​​tongued brother Foras to tears. But before Eithne he could only shake his head stupidly.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, not angrily but sorrowfully.

'Why didn't you tell me?'

He shrugged his shoulder, and at once her arm laid itself over it.

“You mustn’t be telling your family about me or the mark or the man,” he said. His voice was oddly hoarse and ragged, but he had to warn her. “If he learns it is I who am your outlaw husband, he will surely try to prevent you from saving me. He – ”

Now it was his own breath that came in gasps. His own mind was filled with a rush of horrors: startling images of what the ruthless old man might do to her or to her family if he learned she was a danger to him – or what he would force Dantalion himself to do to her.

Now it was his own breath that came in gasps.

Her hand came up again of its own accord to caress his cheek, the left side and the right. Her fingers left traces of tears behind them, as if hands could cry.

Then she put her arms around him and held him, and her warm, wool-​​clad body against his bare skin seemed a grateful thing after half a millennium of being trapped alone on the earth, black and batty and unable even to die.

Sweetdew flopped onto her side before the fire and mumbled, “It doesn’t count if she is holding you when you cry, temanyeh.

Eithne could not have understood, but she hugged him still more tightly and shyly mewed, “I shall save you, husband.”

'I shall save you, husband.'