To Araphel that face meant only one thing: an obstacle.

To Araphel that face meant only one thing: an obstacle. He had seen it so often in unidentical circumstances that he briefly forgot he was the one standing in the doorway and the elf the one standing before the door.

As soon as he remembered, Sebastien’s hand leapt for the handle. The elf’s hand was faster, however, and it caught the edge of the door before Araphel quite knew he had meant to pull it shut again.

“I am not here to hurt somebody,” Osh said, though the growl of his voice hinted otherwise. “I want to talk with you. Are you alone?”

'Yes, I am.'

“Yes, I am,” Araphel said coldly. Sebastien’s haughty politeness suddenly seemed a very practical thing, as it gave him both something to say and a way to say it. “Will you please come in?”

“Thank you.”

The passage was narrow enough that Araphel had to let the elf close the door behind him. It was narrow enough that he had to walk with the elf at his back, and long enough that there was time for all of Sebastien’s fear to flare up like a pile of tinder. The elf’s last words to him had been a threat.

“Will you have a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

'No, thank you.'

“Will you have a seat?”

“Yes, thank you.”

The elf too had a chilling haughtiness when he was not in the presence of ladies. Araphel decided they would sit beside the fire.

Osh skipped any polite preamble and announced, “I want to ask you a question.”

'I want to ask you a question.'

“You may ask.”

“Does Brude still live?”

Araphel had thought he had steeled his body against anything, but that question sliced through his forced calm and struck the quick. Inside he was already in a panic. There was danger everywhere, in everything he might say or not say. If Flann could tell Osh about Brude, he had no way of knowing what else she might have revealed. He did not even know how much she had understood.

“Why do you ask?” he frowned. “I am not the only man who is saying no.”

'I am not the only man who is saying no.'

“Why?” the elf repeated, grimacing as if the very word were sour in his mouth. “Because I try to guess what you say to Flann last time. I try to think what could hurt her so. And I think perhaps you told her he is still alive. And if he is, then I am going to find him, and I will make him come back to her, priest or no.”

'I will make him come back to her, priest or no.'

Araphel managed a disinterested shrug. “He died in Salerno and was buried there, by the sea. I was there.”

The elf watched him warily, looking for any hint of a lie. Araphel found some strength in knowing that in this, at least, there was none. He found a little defiance, too.

'He would have come back to her and the baby.'

“He would have come back to her and the baby. Priest or no.

Osh tossed his head. “He might have simply stayed with her. But if he is dead, I shall never be able to tell him what I think of him, since I shall not go to your ‘heaven’ when I die. Or even Salerno.”

'I shall not go to your 'heaven' when I die.'

If he meant it as a joke, he did not smile. His mouth was expressionless; his gaze as cold and unblinking as a snake’s. Araphel was beginning to see that Osh was no mere jealous rival. His claim that he would not go to heaven suddenly seemed a subtle threat.

“You, however,” he continued, “are still here. And if you do not answer my questions as I like, I shall take this opportunity to tell you what I think of you.

Araphel sniffed disdainfully. “How tedious. Are there many others, then?”

'How tedious.  Are there many others, then?'

Osh leapt up from the bench in a liquid bound, like water unpouring. Sebastien cringed down into his chair and flung up an arm to protect his head, but Osh passed harmlessly by and seized the edge of the mantel in both hands. His knuckles were white with the grip of a man hanging over a void, his arms shook with the strain, and he did not unclench his teeth even to speak.

“What did you tell her that day?” he snarled.

'What did you tell her that day?'

One of his hands let go so that he could turn, but Araphel did not doubt he had strength enough in the other to hold himself up, even if he truly had been hanging over a void. Doubtlessly he could have held up the weight of another man in the other. He could have held up another man, and if he let him drop, it would be because he wanted to.

“Before that day, she stopped crying at night! Since that day, she cries again! What did you say?”

Araphel did not know whether he should have felt heartened or horrified at this news. He felt both.

“My people, we have a name for you: Ksaríslóí–killer of peace! Killer of sleep! It is a monster!”

Even before 'monster' Araphel was on his feet.

Even before “monster” Araphel was on his feet. Afterwards nothing could have kept him down, but it was another word that had infuriated him into reacting.

“Do not you talk to me about peace!” he growled. “You have left her none for me to kill!”


Araphel laughed savagely. “I too have wanted to tell you what I think of you! You and her sister, you give her no peace! No time to heal herself! She is not ready for you!”

'She is not ready for you!'

“And perhaps she is ready for you?

“No! And that is why I try to give her peace! Which you won’t leave her!”

“I make her peace, when she had none. That is what I do. And you come, and you break it! And then you say she needs it! No! Her little baby smiles for everyone – even the cat! – but she will not smile for Mama! Because Mama is so unhappy!”

'Because Mama is so unhappy!'

“What?” Araphel gasped.

“Every day – all the time – she asks me: Why does she not smile? Is there something wrong with her? Why does she not? And what shall I tell her? Do I let her think her baby is unwell? Or do I tell her: ‘No, my darling, she smiles for everybody but you!’”

Araphel was breathless and shaken. Osh saw it and went on.

Araphel was breathless and shaken.

“Never have I hated any man more than I hate you then! She was happy – we were happy together – only a tiny little time! Until you came!” He raised his fist, but at the last instant, he turned away and slammed it down on the surface of the mantel, sparing Sebastien a broken jaw. “What did you say to her?” he howled.

'What did you say to her?'

“I said nothing to hurt her.” Araphel spoke softly, his hands harmlessly open, as he might approach an angry beast. “I only reminded her of her love for Brude. If she is unhappy, it is because she is still loving him. That is all.”

“How dare you speak for her?” Osh hissed.

“How dare you?

'How dare you?'

“I dare because I love her!”

“And so do I!”

It was a daring – even foolish – thing to say. Sebastien could scarcely claim to know her. Osh glared at him with such disdainful malice that Araphel began to fear for more than Sebastien’s jaw.

Osh glared at him with such disdainful malice.

In the end, the elf only said, “If you did, you would leave her to her peace.”

“And if you did, so would you.”

“I shall remember that if I ever decide to begin taking advice from heartless young idiots,” Osh muttered. “Meanwhile, there is clearly no point in either of us saying anything to the other. Therefore I heartily wish you would go to hell.”

'Therefore I heartily wish you would go to hell.'

“I suppose there is no point if I wish you the same? You do not go there either?”

Osh’s voice echoed back from the narrow passage even as he disappeared down it. “Sooner in Salerno!”

'Sooner in Salerno!'