No one as clever as Amarel could read that slowly.

No one as clever as Amarel could read that slowly. He turned the pages briskly enough, but then he would stare at them so long he could only have been daydreaming, hazy-​​eyed and heavy-​​headed, until he would jolt himself back into the moment and hastily turn another page.

Sebastien’s nervous hands were itching to snatch up his book and fling it into the fire.

Nothing Araphel contrived disturbed him in his placid book-​​gazing – not his snorts or impatient sighs, not his jiggling leg, not even his grumbling about the smoke from the candles.

Nothing seeemd to disturb him in his placid book-gazing.

Most infuriating of all, Amarel was reading – or pretending to read – a book loaned him by the Duke, and which Araphel was therefore obliged to scorn. Nor was it just any book, but a highly poetic history of Ireland that he would have liked to read.

Araphel had of late a keen and quite proprietary interest in Gaelic romances, since one might have said he was living one himself. He could not bear to see his brother nodding and sighing over such tales when he could just as easily have been reading some Greek tragedy or Norse saga, for all the subjects of Gaels or of romance mattered to him.

He could not bear to see his brother nodding and sighing over such tales.

In the end it was not one of Araphel’s coughs or nudges or ostentatious yawns that pulled Amarel out of his reverie, but a discreet little sniffle. They both turned their heads in time to witness Dantalion just finish wiping his nose and tuck his handkerchief away.

The idea of Dantalion with a handkerchief was so absurd that Araphel’s first gasp was one of disbelief. But of course, if Dantalion meant to amuse himself by pretending to be vexed by a runny nose, one could not deny the handkerchief was an elegant touch.

Araphel's second gasp was one of outrage.

Araphel’s second gasp was one of outrage. “You!”

Dantalion smiled. Nor was it just any smile, but a mawkish, feminine simper.

He batted his eyes and cooed, “Forgive me for disturbing you, but I thought I might presume upon the intimacy of our past relations and come in to get myself… hot.”

Nor was it just any smile, but a mawkish, feminine simper.

Araphel clenched his teeth and hissed his breath between them in helpless fury. Amarel did not know about the “intimacy” of their past relations – but then Dantalion would not have bothered to bring it up if they had been alone, when it could have done no harm. The beast had only just arrived and already he was tossing Araphel around like a battered mouse.

'Nice handkerchief!'

“As if you can – be – cold!” he growled. He could not prevent Sebastien from adding, “Nice handkerchief!” in a very Sebastien-​​like shriek of exasperation.

Dantalion snorted and sauntered around the bench, with just feminine enough a sway to his hips to send Araphel into a panic. He began to wonder whether it were not wise to remind Dantalion of his vows.

But Dantalion only clapped him on the shoulder, man-​​to-​​man, and beamed, “How are you, brothers, on this gloomy evening?”

'How are you, brothers, on this gloomy evening?'

His smile shone as brightly as the heavy stone on his finger, though Araphel saw they were not all that glittered on his body. His eyebrows too sparkled, and his slick hair where it caught the light, as though he had truly deigned to walk a while through the drizzling rain outside, rather than appearing directly in the room.

“No?” Dantalion asked in reply to some gesture of Amarel’s. “Perhaps we shall be someday, cousin.”

“Shall be what?” Araphel hissed.

'Shall be what?'

Dantalion gave him an indulgent but dismissive pat him on the arm, as if Araphel were only a precocious child. “Gloomy,” he whispered confidingly. “And how are Shemyaza and those dear friends of mine?” he asked them both. “I should have asked you to give them my regards…”

Araphel glanced back at Amarel, but no secrets were ever betrayed on that mournful face.

No secrets were ever betrayed on that mournful face.

However, he had no reason to believe that Amarel had met privately with any of their brothers. He began to fear that this was rather some subtle new threat of Dantalion’s.

“We haven’t seen Shemyaza or anyone lately,” Araphel said warily.

“No?” Dantalion scratched his eyebrow and glanced quickly at his fingertips, as if surprised to find them wet. “I thought you might have.”

'I thought you might have.'

He spoke with such studied nonchalance that even Araphel, who ought to have known better, was fooled into inattention.

The instant he glanced aside, his body was slammed against the fireplace with a shove that seemed calculated to jam every awkward corner of the mantel into some sensitive portion of his ribs or spine.

His body was slammed against the fireplace.

His cry was not one of protest but of pure pain.

Already Dantalion’s cold and queerly onion-​​scented breath was roaring into his face: “After what you did in Rome!”

'After what you did in Rome!'

Araphel did not know what he had supposedly done, but possessed by Sebastien’s bodily terror he squealed, “I didn’t!”

Dantalion’s arm went up, and Araphel shielded his face against the blow. But somehow, with nothing more than Malo’s slim body, Amarel pulled the raging Dantalion away.

“What did I do?” Araphel wailed.

'What did I do?'

Dantalion barked, “Victor III! Know the name?”


“That smock-​​faced prattler wasn’t supposed to make up his mind until the spring!”

“I know that! I didn’t have anything to do with it!”

“And who did?”

'And who did?'

“And why are you asking about it now?” Araphel challenged, though Sebastien’s jaw still chattered with fear. “He was made Pope weeks ago! Since before you brought Eithne here to be married! Why are you just bringing this up now? Don’t tell me you’re just finding out!”

Dantalion stiffened and brushed off his arms. He appeared almost discomposed, and Araphel laughed viciously.

“I was occupied with other matters,” Dantalion muttered.

'I was occupied with other matters.'

“What other matters? What can be so much more important than that, after you went all the way to Salerno yourself so that Gregory could die on schedule!”

“Family matters.”

Family matters!” Araphel shrieked. Amarel hissed to silence him, but it was too much for Sebastien’s unsteady temper to bear. “You talk about family matters after abandoning your own wife of five hours and never sending her so much as a letter of apology! When everything and everyone in heaven and on earth has been conspiring to keep me from mine!”

Amarel hissed again, angrily.

'And we shall decide whether that may be called love!'

“‘And we shall decide whether that may be called love!’” Araphel sneered, his voice nearly as high-​​pitched as Dantalion’s earlier ladylike appeal to the intimacy of their relations.

Dantalion appeared unmoved. “I shall see my wife as soon as I am finished here,” he growled softly.

“It’s about time!”

'It's about time!'

Dantalion glared at him, twisting up his lips as though he had to force himself not to speak, but the words broke loose in spite of them.

“I have seen my wife every night since I was married to her,” he panted, “and nothing in heaven and nothing on earth has stood in my way! And you may decide whether that is called love, coward! It’s no wonder Flann is running around to other men’s houses of an afternoon, if all you ever – ”

'And you may decide whether that is called love, coward!'

Araphel reacted reflexively, out of rage, but even as he swung his arm he knew the jinni’s reflexes were immeasurably faster. Dantalion would easily duck away in time, and Sebastien’s fist would smash into the wall.

However, it was Dantalion who should have known better. Araphel’s fist smashed almost directly into his elegant nose.

Araphel's fist smashed almost directly into his elegant nose.

The thing was so inconceivable that even Amarel gasped. He was too stunned to pull anyone off of anyone else, and the aftermath ought to have been brutal.

But Sebastien’s long, graceful fingers made an ineffective fist, and Dantalion’s skull was not much better-​​padded than the wall. Araphel was too occupied nursing his hand in the soft hollow of his stomach to strike twice, and as he twisted his body around his pain, he made a handsome target of his grimacing face.

He made a handsome target of his grimacing face.

Dantalion did not strike back, however.

“Look what you’ve done!” he whinnied. “Look what you’ve done!”

Araphel could not even see what he had done at first, but when Dantalion finally lowered his cupped hand, Araphel saw blood.

Araphel saw blood.

Suddenly everything made sense: the runny nose, the damp hair, the breath that smelled of food – even his ignorance about the state of affairs in Rome. This Cian was a man. Dantalion was alive.

Araphel’s first reaction was to howl, “I’ll kill him!” and leap at him.

'I'll kill him!'

Sebastien in a fury was a whirl of ineffectual fists, but a couple of them found their marks before Amarel pulled the two apart again.

He knew he would be made to regret it in times to come, but for the moment Araphel had the satisfaction of seeing the mighty Dantalion clutching his battered stomach and gagging, and snorting a fine spray of blood out of his elegant nose.

Araphel had the satisfaction of seeing the mighty Dantalion clutching his battered stomach and gagging.

“Need a handkerchief?” Araphel sneered.

“What are you doing?” Dantalion wailed. “What shall I tell Eithne if you’ve broken my nose?”

“Tell her you deserved it! Why don’t you fix it with your magic? Or don’t you have magic any longer, mortal?”

'Tell her you deserved it!'

“I tried that already,” Dantalion grumbled as he flapped open his handkerchief with his free hand. “It is not that simple. I tried to stop the bleeding once when I cut myself shaving, and my entire jaw was numb for hours. I thought I’d ruined it.”

Amarel turned away to chortle soundlessly into his sleeve, but Araphel laughed aloud.

“What an idiotic idea, anyway!” Dantalion snapped. “If their Creator put hair on their faces, who are they to shave it off?”

'Eithne doesn't like beards, eh?'

“Eithne doesn’t like beards, eh?” Araphel chuckled and patted the jinni’s smooth-​​shaved cheek.


“Well!” Araphel smiled. “Brother indeed! How do you like it? Shaving and sleeping and farting and all that?”

'How do you like it?'

“I hate you,” Dantalion muttered.

Araphel tapped him on the arm without fear, giddy as a child whose nighttime terror has been dispelled by the day.

“What’s this about, eh?” he asked. “Who put you up to this?”

Dantalion was slow to answer, seeming perplexed to find that even after wiping his nose, it continued to bleed.

Dantalion was slow to answer.

“It was my idea,” he grumbled. “I didn’t know what sort of child I would have had with my own body. Black and batty and so forth.” He snorted in wry amusement and then gasped in surprise at the blood that splattered out of his nose.

“I do not think women’s wombs were made with claws and horns aforethought,” Araphel said. His sneer was cruel and thoughtless, intended for Dantalion alone without implicating any particular woman.

Dantalion hunched his shoulder as if to defend himself from further blows, but he glanced quickly over one of them at Araphel, too. For an instant Araphel stared down into pure, profound horror, so often imagined that the image had been graven on the far side of Dantalion’s eyes: his precious wife torn up and slaughtered from the inside by his own child.

Araphel would never again wonder whether that might be called love.

'My daughter is beautiful.'

“My daughter is beautiful,” he murmured weakly. “I am certain yours will be, too.” He felt nauseated and weak-​​kneed, and if Amarel had not been nigh, he might have thrown his arms around Dantalion, as much to hold himself up as to comfort his new brother.

Dantalion wiped his nose again, this time having the clever idea to tip back his head and hold the cloth there a while. At last a few tentative dabs seemed to show the bleeding had stopped, and Dantalion sniffed carefully and put his stained handkerchief away.

At once he recovered his imperious poise. “But I certainly did not come here to chat about children like a couple of fat old matrons with shawls on their heads,” he sneered. “I want to know what you did in Rome!”

'I want to know what you did in Rome!'

He gave Araphel a rough shove, but Araphel immediately shoved him back without fear.

“I had nothing to do with it!” he cried. “Why do you suppose it was I?”

“Because you were not supposed to go all the way to Salerno with Brude’s body. What might you not have changed?”

“I didn’t even see the man!” Araphel wailed. “I kept to my rooms! I was sick all the time! I haven’t even met him in years” – he paused to give Dantalion another shove – “and I certainly never spoke to him about becoming Pope this year, or next year, or any other year!”

'I certainly never spoke to him about becoming Pope this year, or next year, or any other year!'

Dantalion smiled thinly. “Ah, and when did you see him last?”

“Years ago!”

Dantalion shoved Araphel back with both hands. “When?” he insisted.

“Three years ago! In Monte Cassino, when Brude was coming back with Aelfden.”

Araphel raised a threatening hand, but Dantalion leaned away.

“Ah! Aelfden!” he chuckled. “Aelfden, Aelfden… But Aelfden was not supposed to go to Rome three years ago, was he, dear brother? He was not supposed to go for five years yet, long after Victor was dead in his tomb. Wasn’t he?”

'He was not supposed to go for five years yet.'

Araphel shrugged uneasily.

“What might not our good Abbot have said to the man, in all innocence?” Dantalion purred. “Perhaps impressed his duty upon him, showed him his calling, and so forth? O dear Araphel: what might not your earnest charge have said while you were off frigging some louse-​​ridden hosteler’s daughter?”

'What might not your earnest charge have said while you were off frigging some louse-swarming hosteler's daughter?'

The accusation was so impudent, so vulgar, and so uncomfortably likely that for a long moment Araphel could only squirm as Dantalion leered ever closer to his face. Brude’s lust had sometimes been as difficult to master as Sebastien’s peevish temper, and Dantalion knew it only too well. And that reminded him.

“It’s your fault!” Araphel spluttered. “You’re the reason why he went to Rome in the first place!”

'You're the reason why he went to Rome in the first place!'

Dantalion stood up straight, but he had been leaning so low that the effect made it seem he had been struck. “You should have been keeping him quiet.”

I was not supposed to be with him by then at all!” Araphel protested indignantly. He shoved Dantalion with his right hand and shoved him again with his left. “I had to hurry to join him! You’re the one who sent him to Rome before his time! It’s your fault!”

Dantalion jabbed him painfully in the breastbone with his knuckles. “You still could have been watching over him! It’s your fault!”

Finally they were grappling arm to arm: “It’s yours!” – “It’s entirely yours!”

Amarel barked once loudly, like a seal, and shoved the two of them apart in equal measure as he forced his way between them to the fireside.

Amarel shoved the two of them apart in equal measure.

The two stopped bickering and glared at each other. Finally Dantalion seemed to decide either that the blame was to be divided equally or that it was his and he did not wish to speak more about it.

“So now what will happen?” he grumbled. “This could change everything.”

“Why do you care?” Araphel demanded. “I thought you found it interesting!

“Not on that scale!” He waved at Amarel and said, “Already this two-​​legged trout over here doesn’t know what he’s doing on earth! When Aelfden dies, to whom will you go next? Will he even be born?”

'Not on that scale!'

“Why do you care? Your kingdom will come, whether we fail or not, Dantalion!”

“Aye, and if you fail, you and your ill-​​mannered brothers will be stuck in it with me!”

“And how you shall laugh! You do so love to be right, no matter whom it hurts!” Araphel laughed bitterly and hurt only himself.

“I shall not love to spend the rest of eternity with a band of petty truants such as you two,” Dantalion groaned. He dropped himself onto the bench as if the bleak prospect already unmanned him.

He dropped himself onto the bench as if the bleak prospect already unmanned him.

Araphel sniffed at him, though his victory was spare. Neither did he wish to spend eternity with Dantalion and his brethren. He wanted to spend it in the sight of God, with Flann, with Liadan and their future children, and with all their children’s children who would be born from the present time until the end of Creation.

“Are you coming with me?” Dantalion muttered.

“What?” Araphel gasped, thinking of Hell.

“I’m going to see Eithne. Why don’t you come and see Flann and your girl?”

'I'm going to see Eithne.'

“What do you mean: going to see Eithne?” Araphel wailed. “Tonight?”

“Every night. I told you.”

“At that house?”

“Naturally, at the house. She’s too delicate to be running about in the out-​​of-​​doors on such a dismal night.” He smiled fondly at the fire, as though he considered Eithne’s fragility to be one of her charms. “All those elves and ladies and kits and cats have never slept so well,” he chuckled.

“Flann is in that house!” Araphel hissed as he realized what the jinni was saying. “My baby is in that house! You swore to stay away from them!”

'Flann is in that house!'

“And so I do, brother. I let her and the baby be, to wake or sleep in her room as they like. She almost caught me once.” He leaned his head back against the bench and laughed softly. “That is why I thought you might like to come. You in your bed and we in ours? I shall not have slept so well myself in some time.”

“You’re sickening!” Araphel cried. But the sickening idea had already sunk its claws into him and was dragging him down into its own black depths. “She’ll be terrified…” he protested, already thinking of Flann’s reaction and how he might best reassure her.

'I'm afraid I cannott invite you.'

Amarel watched him closely, as if he could see down into his thoughts.

Dantalion shrugged. “I must leave you to find a solution to that.” To Amarel he said sadly, “I’m afraid I cannot invite you, cousin. Connie is a darling, but she is still a little girl, and she needs her sleep.”

'I'm afraid I cannott invite you.'

For a moment Amarel’s mournful face betrayed something very like smoldering rage. Then he tipped it up to stare hazy-​​eyed at the crucifix over the fire – at the broken body of their Father, who had lived and died to redeem every earthly sin except their own.

Araphel did not know which of the three figures in the room he hated most at that moment – four, if he counted himself, though if he had he might have known.

Araphel did not know which of the three figures in the room he hated most at that moment.

“I shall not go to her under such circumstances,” he muttered.

Dantalion shrugged. “I leave the door unlocked, if you change your mind, brother. I believe you should go, however.” He lifted his head and stared deep into the far side of Araphel’s gray eyes. “You will soon regret it if you do not. Very soon, I think. The ladies in that family can love even a monster such as I if he loves them well enough. But the one thing they cannot love is a coward.”

'They cannot love a coward.'