Lasrua knew the sound of every pair of feet.

Lasrua knew the sound of every pair of feet in the bustling house, and she had heard these two coming long before they had bounded up the stairs—even before they had passed through the front door. Nevertheless it was the way of men to cry out, “Who is it?”

“Finn! Let me in!”

She had not seen Finn since the day before.

She had not seen Finn since the day before, when he had gone off to be with his father… his father, and his father’s cousins.

“Come in!” she called.

Finn entered so abruptly he could only have been leaning on the handle in anticipation.

“Good mor-​ning! Las-​ru-​a!” he sang and danced, neither very successfully.

'Good mor-ning!  Las-ru-a!'

“Good morning, Finn,” she sighed.

He clapped his hands and spun around before stopping in mid-​gyration.

“It certainly is cold in here,” he said. “Didn’t you notice?”

'It certainly is cold in here.'

“No, I did not,” she muttered. “If I had, I might have lit a fire.”

“Oh! I shall just—” He spun halfway around again and found himself confronted by a blank wall. “Oh. You don’t have one.”

“I had not noticed that either.”

'I had not noticed.'

“Oh.” His round little ears turned red, but suddenly he smiled broadly. “That’s all right, Rua. You may have my room. I don’t have a fire, but it’s right next to the hall fire, so it’s almost quite entirely snug in there.”

I certainly shall not oblige anyone to quit his room for my sake.”

“You don’t have to!” he beamed. “I shan’t be needing it! Not for a while, anyway.”

'You don't have to!'

Lasrua stared at him. Sir Egelric must have worked some wonderful magic on him in one night. She had long expected that Finn would eventually be forced to go live with his true father, but she had not thought to see him so happy about it.

He squirmed like a puppy, waiting for her to say something, but like a puppy he could not hold it long.

“I’m going to Scotland!”

“Scotland!” she gasped.


“Scotland!” He flung up his arms and spun twice around, laughing like a dizzy little boy. “My cousin Malcolm is leaving tomorrow at dawn, and my father and I are going with him!”

“Tomorrow!” She hopped off her bed with less than her usual grace, her heels thudding on the hollow floor.

“At dawn!” Finn squealed. “Less than one day! Can you believe it?”

'Can you believe it?'

“He only arrived here yesterday…”

“Of course! But he must hurry home to tell everyone to stop looking for Eithne! And I shall go with him! My father says we shan’t have another chance until the spring! And I may take a friend! Only I can’t decide whom…”

An aching pressure was building in Lasrua’s chest, as if she were being squeezed from her stomach upwards until her throat burned with bile. It was a pain she knew well: the crushing vise of missed opportunities on one side and a bleak future on the other.

For a day--less than a day--she had had a respite from her torment.

For a day—less than a day—she had had a respite from her torment, inhabiting a space in between. She had lost herself in planning the short-​term pleasure of telling Malcolm son of Colban what she thought of him, for she feared he believed he had gotten the better of her.

But she would never have a chance to say all the clever, cutting things she had found to say. She had missed her brief opportunity. Her future was bleaker than ever.

'I could take Domnall.'

“I could take Domnall,” Finn was saying, “but I think he ought to be allowed to go anyway. He already is a Scot. So perhaps Olaf… I shall have to hurry, though, if he is to—”

“Take me!” Lasrua interrupted.

Finn’s mouth hung open, blocked on his “to”. Nevertheless Lasrua could almost hear the protests rising up in him like footsteps bounding up from a distance.

“Iylaina went!” she cried, heading them off. “And she was younger than I!”

'And she was younger than I!'

Finn’s protests did not seem to realize they had been waylaid. “I know, but… you’re a girl! And only sixteen!”

“I just told you: Iylaina went, and she was only a little girl!”

“I know, but… it’s dangerous, Rua!” he said eagerly.

'I know, but... it's dangerous, Rua!'


“We shall ride for days! And there might be brigands, or… or bears! And the fearsome red-​haired clan of Congalach!” He rubbed his hands together in delight.

“And what shall you do if there are?”

“I shall fight them with my sword!”

'I shall fight them with my sword!'

Finn swung and stabbed at an invisible brigand or bear with an invisible weapon. There was no denying Finn could fight better with an imaginary sword than he could sing or dance to imaginary music. But Lasrua knew this well enough to remain unimpressed.

“And I shall fight them with my magic,” she said. “Without even dismounting.”

'Without even dismounting.'

Finn slipped his sword into an imaginary scabbard and frowned, searching a new tactic. “Why do you want to go Scotland, anyway, Rua?” he asked suspiciously. “You’re not a Scot.”

“What else shall I do?” she asked. “Lie on my bed in a cold room all day, waiting to get old so that I can start waiting to die?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you like to sew and such things, like the other girls?”

'Don't you like to sew and such things, like the other girls?'

Lasrua snorted in scorn. “They sew for their babies, which I shall never have. Or to have dresses to be pretty for their husbands, which I shall never have.”

This argument did not seem nearly as moving to Finn as it seemed to her, so she tried another.

She tried another.

“Just because I am a girl, it does not mean I am not interested in adventure.”

Finn peeked up at her from beneath his hair.

Lasrua strode dramatically to the window and looked out onto the morning behind the house, still dazzling with dew in the north yard.

'Look, Finn.'

“Look, Finn. Far out there, beyond the forest and beyond the hills, is Scotland—the land of the Scots!”

Finn said, almost apologetically, “But you’re an elf, Rua. Elves never leave the valley. Is it safe for you?”

“I am not an elf,” she whispered. “Neither am I a woman. I am an outcast, punished for others’ crimes.”

'I am an outcast.'

He stared for a while at the yard instead of at her tragic face, but he still seemed affected, as silence proved on boys of his age.

She leaned her tragic head against the window frame, showing to great advantage the tragic beauty of her tragic neck—even if boys of his age could not appreciate it properly.

“What a relief it would be to go where no one knows me,” she said. “Only for a while. To be someone else. Here everyone either pities me or dislikes me, and nobody loves me.”

'Here everyone either pities me or dislikes me, and nobody loves me.'

“I love you, Rua,” Finn said, as frank and as unromantic as he was and probably would be forever.

Lasrua had so lost herself in her own tragedy that she was startled to hear it, and she gazed on him with eyes that were still soft and wide.

He smiled foolishly, blushing about the ears. “Not love you, I mean.”

She smiled sadly and sighed.

“I pity you, too, though. It’s not fair what happened to you, even if it’s not Flann’s fault either. I shall take you instead of Olaf, if you want to come.”

'I shall take you instead of Olaf, if you want to come.'

Lasrua was no longer certain she did. She had tried to be tragic to appeal to Finn’s sympathy, but the greater tragedy was that even in the midst of her scheming and wheedling, she had said nothing that was not true.

Like many girls her age, Lasrua thought her life unbearably unfair. Unlike the others, however, she could not tell herself that it would be different when she grew up.

she had dreamt otherwise.

For a day—less than a day—she had dreamt otherwise, but now her dream seemed so embarrassingly absurd that she was grateful she had no friends to whom she could have told it.

“But do you think your father will let you?” Finn asked.

“No. But on second thought, I suppose I should rather stay here.”

'No.  But on second thought I suppose I should rather stay here.'