Eithne found she could only laugh.

Eithne found she could only laugh, now that Cian had picked himself up off the floor and Flann had seen that Liadan was safe and had stopped her shrillest screaming for Osh and the Lord to come to her aid.

It had been so funny to see her elegant husband trip over Osh’s legs in his surprise and fall over them to sprawl flat on his back. It had been funny to see her sister pull her nightgown up to her knees and leap over them, her bare feet thudding just shy of Cian’s face, and spring over him to reach the cradle.

It had been funny to see her sister pull up her nightgown and leap over them.

It had been funny, and Eithne knew they would all laugh over it in the morning. All this screaming was only a misunderstanding.

Her heart swelled up with love and pride for her husband and sister both; at last her two families would be made one and whole. She wrapped her arms snugly around Cian’s body and said, “What a carrying-​​on, sister! It’s only my own man!”

'It's only my own man!'

Flann stopped screaming at once, and her last aborted cry came out as a breathless squeak.

She looked so confused that Eithne added, “This is Cian! The husband of me.”

Flann crouched slightly, readying herself to spring again. “Come here to me, darling,” she coaxed in the soft, high-​​pitched voice one used to call kittens out of trees. “Come here to your sister.”

'Come here to me, darling.'

Eithne giggled.

“Eithne! Eithne!” Flann whispered. She reached out a hand, palm upward, as if to tempt a little cat. “That isn’t your Cian, darling. Come here to me now.”

“Isn’t he, then?” Eithne laughed merrily. “Tell her, Cian.”

“Eithne, that’s no man! That’s a demon!”

“He isn’t!” Eithne cried. “It’s an angel he is! Tell her!”

'Tell her!'

“An angel!” Flann choked. “An angel! That’s your angel, is it?” She clutched great fistfuls of her hair, and her body shuddered once from feet to head as if something mighty was working its way to the top of her. When it reached her mouth she screeched, “Get away from my sister!”

Eithne gasped, “Flann!”

“Eithne, come here!” her sister barked. She smacked her fist against the mantel in frustration, but she would not move away from her post before the cradle. “Was he wearing that mark when you were marrying him, your Cian?”

“Aye, he was!”

Flann must have been certain she would deny it, for when she heard, she nearly pitched forward in another heart-​​rending sob: “No!”


“But it isn’t his fault! Tell her!”

Eithne shook Cian’s arm, finally rousing him enough that he turned his face to her and muttered, “You know I may not be telling her anything, Eithne.”

'You know I may not tell her anything, Eithne.'

“Because you promised Sebastien?” Eithne cheeped.

“Sebastien!” Flann howled, roused again to anger. “Nevermore! He’ll not be making any promises on behalf of me! Answer for yourself, demon! What are you wanting with the poor dear sister of me!”

“But Sebastien is an angel, too, darling,” Eithne whimpered.

“An angel!” Flann smacked the mantel again. “A demon he is! And I almost believed him, with the gray eyes of him! Demon! Seducer!”

'Demon!  Seducer!'

Cian sighed, “I am not a demon…”

“I know you!” Flann growled. “You’re the demon came to Cat that night! He can take the form of any man, Eithne! And he chose to come as the elf who raped her! Monster!”

As the seconds passed and Cian did not respond, Eithne felt her self-​​assurance trickling out of her like water.

Flann tore at her hair again, and when another shudder of anguish reached her mouth, she arched her back and screeched as Cat had done upon learning of their father’s death. Eithne clutched at Cian’s arm in superstitious dread: ladies did not keen for the living.

Eithne clutched at Cian's arm in superstitious dread.

“Tell her, Cian,” she whispered, though she no longer knew what she wanted him to say.

“I am not a demon,” he repeated wearily. “I did not hurt your sister Catan, and never would have.”

“Putting the filthy hands of you all over her?” Flann growled savagely, all but slavering. Suddenly she flung her arms up in despair and wailed, “And my little baby sister, what has he not done to you?” Just as suddenly she groaned, “Osh! Osh!” and clutched her stomach and writhed as if in pain.

'Osh!  Osh!'

Cian sighed.

Flann’s wild emotions were yanking Eithne around like hands, and she clung to her husband to keep herself from being flung down. “Osh is only sleeping, sister. It’s only harmless magic, so he wouldn’t hear Cian come, with the keen ears of him. Tell her, Cian – tell her you’re an angel,” she pleaded, though it was as much for herself she wanted to hear it said.

'Tell her, Cian--tell her you're an angel.'

“Aye, Eithne, aye,” he muttered. “We are called jannin, but in the Bible, ‘angel’ is your word for what we are.”

“You see, darling?” Eithne smiled weakly. “I even saw the wings of him.”

The words seemed to snag on her lips as they left them, curling her mouth into a grimace. She had been reduced to holding up past horrors in proof of his holiness – of finding shelter in the memory of those blue-​​lucent, batlike wings, in spite of all that had passed beneath them.

“His wings!” Flann laughed as if she were choking on a bone. “And the halo of you, sir?”

'And the halo of you, sir?'

“We do not have haloes,” he grumbled, as if he found the idea mildly insulting.

Eithne carefully mouthed the words after him: “He doesn’t have a halo…

No, her husband had horns on his black head. No matter how hard she had tried to believe she had only dreamt him, there had remained those two little holes in her headboard.

“Your husband is a demon, Eithne,” Flann pleaded. “Though it’s breaking my own heart to say it! And he won’t be any less a demon because you wish he weren’t!”

“I am not a demon!” Cian grimaced. “As if I could be banished into a pig!

'I am not a demon!'

Demon! Monster!” Flann taunted. “The dear Abbot himself says you are, demon! Demon Dre! Demon Eight!”

Flann spat into her palm and carved a cross into it with her finger before brandishing it in his face, glaring at him with such wicked defiance that Eithne feared she would succeed in cursing him, be he demon or angel of God.

Eithne feared she would succeed in cursing him.

Eithne squealed in superstitious horror, and Liadan cried out from her cradle, but Cian swatted Flann’s hand away as if the gesture meant nothing to him.

“Call me janni if you will, angel if you must, or Cian if you’re loving the sweet sister of you – but demon I am not!”

Eithne melted away from him, quivering in dread: she was seeing her husband angry at last. “Don’t, Flann…” she pleaded softly, but they had both forgotten her.

“De-​​mon!” Flann barked. “Get behind me!”

“I am no demon!” Cian thundered. “Here is your demon for you!”

'Here is your demon for you!'

There was a booming thud on the floor beside them, and a bellow as of a wounded bull.

Eithne saw a massive black body sprawled out, with legs that twisted off into impossible angles, but when it lifted its head she saw nothing more.

Its face was a rigid, gleaming mask of evil.

Its face was a rigid, gleaming mask of evil, as if a nightmare had been frozen forever at the point of frightening to death.

Flann and Eithne were frozen, too, though Liadan and Sweetdew both began to howl. The monster saw Cian and immediately slammed his face down against the floor, but almost at once he disappeared, abruptly silencing the ringing echo of the iron.

“Osh!” Flann whispered. “Help me!” Her body shook from head to toe as if it were about to collapse in on itself.

“Osh will wake with the dawning,” Cian said coldly. “No harm have I done him. Eithne, I believe it is time for the two of us to go.”

'Eithne, I believe it is time for the two of us to go.'

Flann reached out a limp hand. “You needn’t be going with him, darling.”

“You shall be following where I go, Eithne,” Cian reminded her. “You gave your word.”

“She owes you nothing,” Flann said hoarsely. “It’s a wee innocent she is, and you a monster. She need not keep her word to you.”

'She need not keep her word to you.'

“One’s word engages one’s own honor,” Cian said, “not that of the one to whom it is given. Nor have I deceived her. Say goodbye to your sister, my dear.”

Eithne tottered forward to embrace her shaking sister, having found some show of courage in simply being told what to do.

Eithne tottered forward to embrace her shaking sister.

“No harm will come to her and her baby,” she said, half-​​questioning and half-​​demanding, as she had when she had last consented to go away with him.

“No harm will I do her or her baby, so I have sworn,” he said. The wistful gravity of his voice went suddenly stern, making it clear to whom he truly spoke. “And if she wants no harm to come to you or yours, she will be wise to tell no one of what she has seen.”

Flann’s shivering jaw was tapping against Eithne’s shoulder, but she lifted her head long enough to stutter, “Are you threatening your own wife, monster?”

'The threat is not from me, Flann.'

“The threat is not from me, Flann. I shall defend her with all I am. But I have enemies who could only hurt me through her. Now get your cat and cloak and come away, Eithne. It’s far we must ride before the dawning.”

Eithne whimpered, “Mayn’t I say goodbye to Cat and Connie?”

“If they’re loving you enough, you will see them again soon. And if they aren’t you do not owe them a goodbye. Come, wife, and be shedding no tears. I told you you would be sorry.”

“Tell them I love them, darling,” Eithne whispered as she stepped away.

'Tell them I love them, darling.'

Flann bent her head into her shaking hands and groaned, “Don’t be leaving me, sister! Don’t be leaving me another night alone!”

Eithne turned before it was too late – too late for her to get easily away. It was already too late for her to stay.

Cian’s eyes were tightly closed, and his breath rose and fell rapidly high in his chest. Eithne did not know whether he was angry. She no longer knew what he was.

From the doorway he could see only the back of her.

She said, “Let me only say goodbye to dear Osh, Cian.”

She waited a moment, breathlessly, but Cian’s silence seemed a grudging permission, and even had he opened his eyes, from the doorway he could see only the back of her.

From the doorway he could see only the back of her.

She darted up to the chair, dipped her head like a bird, and laid a little kiss on the elf’s damp temple.

But as her lips moved past the arch of his ear, she caressed his cheek, lifting with her hand the edge of the web to whisper beneath, “Marry her, Osh, before he finds a way.” She had to hope he would hear and understand.

She dared not use her hand again.

And though she dared not use her hand again, as she stepped away she lifted the trailing end of his sleep and hid the strand in the glittering weft of her own magic. She would have to secretly weave it in as she rode, but she knew the long spiral could not reach even as far as midnight if carefully unwound.

“Come, husband,” she said. She opened the door.

She knew the long spiral could not reach even as far as midnight if unwound.