'I do believe the bridegroom is coming!'

“No elven ears do I have,” Cat said slyly, “but if mine do not deceive me, I believe the bridegroom is coming!”

“Have you oil for your lamps, girls?” Condal asked. “Mine is dry!”

Flann was glad to see Condal making a little joke. She had struggled all day to be happy about the wedding, but her heart was clearly grieving for Eithne. And Condal did not even know how right she was to grieve.

She had struggled all day to be happy about the wedding.

“Not one of them does!” Cat cried aloud in feigned outrage. “Look at them blushing! Naught but three foolish virgins do I see. Fie!”

“Four, if you count Liadan,” Raegan giggled.

“Ach! I’m not counting Liadan, wise as she is.”

“Wise!” Gwynn scoffed. “I happen to think she is very silly. Silly girl!” she cooed. “Silly girl!”

'Silly girl!'

Liadan seemed to shake her head in indulgent disagreement, and all the girls laughed – even Condal.

“That makes three foolish virgins and one wise,” Cat said, nonchalantly at first, but then she tipped her grinning face up to Flann, and her tone turned naughty. “But I’m seeing another one who may be less wise and more virgin than she realizes yet.”

Raegan was not affected, but Lady Gwynn’s pretty little face turned red, though she pretended not to hear.

Raegan was not affected.

“Sister…” Flann warned.

“It’s an elf husband you’ve taken, sister, and you’ll soon be learning there’s more to them that’s long and pointy than their ears.”


It was just the sort of joke they would have snickered over.

It was just the sort of joke they would have snickered over if they had been alone or with Condal only, but Flann was miserably aware that this wedding dinner was almost the first occasion since her shame had become known that she had been allowed into the presence of Lady Gwynn. She did not want to betray the Duke’s trust straightaway by joking about the anatomy of men and elves.

“It isn’t coming as a surprise to you, I hope?” Cat teased. “Or perhaps I should hope it is, since we did leave you and Osh alone together often, all unknowing.”

“Are you trying to make these foolish virgins wise, or what?” Flann asked her sister in Gaelic.

'Are you trying to make these foolish virgins wise, or what?'

Cat replied saucily in English. “Ach! What worries you? Darling Raegan is too young to understand, and her ladyship is old enough to at least suspect.”

She winked up at Gwynn, who giggled and blushed and looked very proud to have had suspicions.

“Why, you’re only a little younger than Connie!” Cat declared. “Old enough to have a sweetheart of your own. Don’t you, darling? It’s time we sat down for a good, long gossip, you and I.”

“Yes!” Gwynn said breathlessly. “Soon! I shall come with the Old Man, next time, and we shall talk about everything we’ve missed! You, too, Connie! And you, too, Flann! And you, too, baby!”

'And you, too, baby!'

Liadan laughed excitedly to have everyone’s smiling attention turned on her again.

“But you must at least tell us his name,” Cat insisted.

“Oh, he hasn’t a name!” Gwynn said hastily.

“Neither did my Paul,” Cat winked. “But I loved him all the same.”

“I mean – I–haven’t a sweetheart,” Gwynn stammered.

Flann began to relax. This was only girlish teasing.

“Was he at dinner with us?” Cat asked. “Let me see… Connie already has her eye on Cousin Finn, mind – ”

'Let me see...'

“Nor do I!” Condal interrupted.

“ – but that Conrad seems like a nice boy. A little fat around the middle, but he’s young yet – he’ll stretch.”

“Not Conrad!” Gwynn groaned. “He is so unromantic! And besides, I think he likes my little sister. Even though she is not interested in boys or flirting at all.” Gwynn heaved a sigh of long-​​suffering. “It is all I can do to get her to comb her hair before she comes into company! And you should see how she dances! Clomping around like a mule in pattens!”

“Don’t put your sister on the shelf just yet, darling,” Cat advised. “There are men as like a tangle-​​headed girl who gallops around and won’t be bridled. A trig and tidy little maid is an agreeable thing, but a bonnie girl with the devil in her – just what will strike such a man mad with love.”

'Do you suppose?'

“Do you suppose?” Gwynn asked anxiously.

“Ach!” Cat laughed. “Mayhap I was thinking of my own self just now. Don’t you be changing a thing about yourself, darling – not a hair! There are many good men who prefer a sweet and gracious and elegant and beautiful and romantic girl, like your ladyship.”

Gwynn’s face bloomed into a smile again beneath the glow of so much well-​​aimed flattery.

Gwynn's face bloomed into a smile again.

“The important thing is to be your own self,” Cat concluded firmly, flush with the self-​​important wisdom of the recently married and soon-​​to-​​be confined. “You might win a man by being what you’re not, but after a time you’ll be tiring of the pretending, and it’s sorry you both will be when he finds he’s been tricked and you find he never loved you for you at all. Better to wait and find the right man. And that goes for you, and you too, lassies,” she added, pointing a stern finger at Condal and Raegan in turn.

“And Liadan, too,” Raegan said.

'And Liadan, too.'

“Ach! The man is not yet born who is good enough for my wee girlie,” Cat sighed. “And if you’re not believing her old Auntie Cat, you can ask her new Da!”

She clapped her hands at the door an instant before someone knocked, and she laughed at her own apparent powers of elf-​​summoning.

'Lord, Lord, open to your own self!'

“Lord, Lord, open to your own self!” she cried. She clapped her hands again and shook her curls, merrily imperious on her cushioned throne as a round-​​bellied little queen, surrounded by her court of virgins and one nervous bride.

“So!” a giddy Gwynn demanded as soon as Osh and her father had stepped through the door, “could any man be worthy of this little gem of a girl, Osh? Cat and I think not.”

Surprisingly Osh did not make a joke, but only said with a breezy gentleness, as if his mind were elsewhere, “It is a lonely fate for her, is it not, my lady?”

Then his eyes found Flann, and all of his attention drew together to rest on her face. It reminded her of the Abbot turning all his thoughts toward God before ministering a Sacrament, and she saw that this too was a beautiful and holy thing.

Then he turned to Flann.

“I am not worthy of this dear lady and her daughter,” he said, “and still she is so gracious and trusting to marry me anyway.”

He stroked his fingertips lightly up the curve of Flann’s smiling cheek, and the backs of his fingers down. It felt so perfectly right that she was again awed by his ability to guess exactly how she would like to be touched even before she knew it herself.

She was again awed by his ability to guess exactly how she would like to be touched.

Flann was ashamed she had once assured her traumatized sister that it would be sweet with a man she loved – for what had she known of love then? What of sweetness? Now all her newlywed nervousness melted away; she was not afraid so long as Osh was near, as all night long he would be, and every night, forever.

Gwynn hugged the baby in vicarious ecstasy and sighed, “You are so romantic, Osh!”

'You are so romantic, Osh!'

Then Osh turned to her and wiggled his eyebrows, his own silly self again. “Eh? Not bad, for a fellow with long, pointed ears, et cetera?”

Cat shrieked with laughter, and Gwynn gasped and turned a very pretty shade of pink that would doubtlessly drive a certain sort of man wild with love someday.

“You heard!” she squeaked.

“Beware of marrying an elf, my lady,” Osh advised. “Our et cetera is not the only thing that is long and pointed.”

'Beware of marrying an elf, my lady.'

This time even Raegan joined in the giggling, adding Lady Leila to the list of people Flann was afraid of offending. She supposed that if Osh felt free to make such a joke in front of the Duke’s daughter while the Duke was near, then it must have been acceptable – though the Duke seemed perturbed. Indeed, he seemed so perturbed that Flann was not certain he had even heard.

He seemed so perturbed that Flann was not certain he had even heard.

Sensitive Osh – her dear, sensitive husband! – seemed to notice her worry and leaned close to kiss her cheek and whisper across her ear, “I tell him everything. About this night, and all you saw. And Eithne.”

Flann whimpered, “But we decided…”

'But we decided...'

“The Abbot is unwell. And – I tell you later,” he whispered hastily as the Duke began to move.

“Are you ready to leave, ladies?” Alred asked the girls. “You don’t mean to ride so finely attired?”

'Are you ready to leave, ladies?'

“No, we don’t!” Gwynn laughed. “I mean to put on my biggest, loosest gown so I can hide this baby inside and steal her away. Osh?” she teased.

“I hear that with my big ears,” Osh said. “And I shall not allow it. I get myself a wife and a daughter this night and still I have not been alone with them once.”

'The baby, too?'

“The baby, too?” Gwynn asked slyly.

“The baby, too. Do you think we elves think only about et cetera?”

Gwynn laughed, and Alred wrinkled his nose as if he was beginning to catch on.

“It is still light outside,” Osh said, “and I do not know whether my wife is ready for bed, but I know my baby is not.”

'Flann's cheeks were already aching.'

Flann’s cheeks were already aching, but the creases of her smile still found room to deepen. “My wife!” “My baby!” They were the words she had so wanted to hear, for long.

“Well!” Cat sighed and slapped her hands down on the arms of the chair. “That’s a dismissal if I ever heard one! Is Paul seeing to the horses?”

“He was ‘seeing to’ talking the valiant Sir Godefroy’s ear off when we left him,” Alred said, “but he has probably finished that by now and gone to see about the horses, yes.”

'But he has probably finished that by now.'

“Won’t you come with us?” Gwynn pleaded.

“Ach, no!” Cat groaned and laid an arm over the round swell of her belly. “I want nothing but to put up my feet at the end of this long day.”

“But you will come, won’t you, Connie?” she begged. “There will be dancing if young Sigefrith has any say, and you shall meet my sister the Princess.”

“No, thank you,” Condal curtsied. “My sister might come home.”

Her rudimentary English did not permit her to say all she was thinking, but Flann knew how to read her eloquent eyes.

Flann knew how to read her eloquent eyes.

She realized then just what anguish Condal must have felt through the long dinner, imagining Eithne returning home to an empty house. And her eyes said her imagination had not been kind that day – she had not imagined Eithne returning home in glory on the arm of her loving, repentant husband, but dragging her battered body to the door and crying forlornly at the lock.

Flann thought she would be grateful if Eithne made it even that far.

This time it was the sensitive Duke who saw what she was thinking, and he led her into the shadowy corner near the mirror, where only Osh’s ears could have heard.

“She will come home, my dear,” he whispered.

'She will come home, my dear.'

Flann shook with a surge of anger at these men who thought women were such fools as to believe a thing merely because a man said it with assurance.

“How are you knowing?” she huffed.

“Because she belongs to God. And because innocence and love are stronger than evil, Flann. Look skeptical all you like, but it is so. Besides – ” He took her hand and leaned closer, looking slightly wicked himself. “He has stolen away with one of you nine daughters of Flann. Something tells me that devil may be in for a little more than he bargained for.”

'Something tells me that devil may be in for a little more than he bargained for.'

Flann thought Alred did not know Eithne all that well if he could say so, but she smiled in spite of herself – he spoke with such assurance, and she so wanted to believe.

“Fortunately Osh has already observed the misadventures of his son with his own little bekirtled wife, so he must have an inkling of what he’s getting into.”

“He can hear us, you know,” Flann smiled.

'I know!'

“I know!” he said wickedly. “That’s why I’m only wooing you with my eyes.”

She laughed, but he grew serious again before she did.

“Do not worry about my knowing,” he said. “I shan’t tell your sisters. But he was right to tell me. He means to live truly with the men now, and be honest and forthright with you, and with me, too. You see… My dear, please allow me the pleasure of being the first to call you my lady. If you are gracious enough to permit it, your husband will soon be my knight.”

'Osh will?'

“Osh will?” she whispered.

She had pictured life with Osh as being lived on the outskirts of mankind, clinging to the shreds of her culture he would allow her as he lived the most elf-​​like life he could contrive. She had not even dared hope she would make a Christian out of him.

“Sir Osh?” she asked dazedly. She saw Osh’s eyes peeking at her over the heads of the girls, his expressive eyebrows making him seem anxious she would be displeased.

'Sir Osh?'

“Well – doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as ‘Sir Sigefrith’ or ‘Sir Leila’,” Alred admitted, “but I suppose our ears will grow accustomed to it.” He tapped her arm with the back of his hand and asked eagerly, “What do you think of this, my dear? I have a number of excellent knights seeing to my farms, but I’ve no one seeing to my forests but a somewhat disreputable man who your cousin Egelric swears is selling my game out from under me. So, let us suppose I put your worthy husband over my forest from the downs to the river?”

“How then?” she breathed. She had not even begun thinking of how they would live, for after so many disappointments she had not dared hope for anything more than going on as they always had, only with her leaving her narrow, gray-​​painted “valley” for his, and sharing the same bed.

'How then?'

“No?” Alred asked. “A little house in the woods such as your cousin Malcolm built his elf wife? And it is the forest where Aengus and dear Lena were attacked by elves, and when I asked him whether he could solve that problem, he laughed. Mind you, I don’t ordinarily appreciate being laughed at unless I am deliberately making a joke, but under the circumstances I admitted myself relieved.”

He smiled hopefully at her, and she replied with a smile of her own, which she also aimed over his shoulder at Osh’s bobbing head.

“Unless you would like a grand manor such as Aengus and Maire have,” Alred said thoughtfully. “We’ve always room for that, too. But Osh seemed to think you would like something a little quieter, a little lonelier. No?”

'Osh seemed to think you would like something a little quieter.'

Alred smiled fondly on her and tapped her beneath her chin with his fingertip.

“I wouldn’t have thought it of you, but it proves how much better he knows you than I. You must allow me to quote my daughter and say it is the most romantic thing. I shall quite envy you two. You must allow me to visit and bask in the glow.”

“Aye, but not too often,” she smiled.

“Ah!” he sighed dreamily. “I knew I brought you back to the mirror for a purpose. Will you look at yourself? I find it very becoming.”

“My hair?” she asked, smiling still more sweetly.

'My hair?'

Osh had braided up her hair that afternoon with his deft hands, and it had been her delight to swear to him that no mere maid would ever touch it again. The entire labor had seemed one long caress, promising another to follow when he unbound her hair again in the night, followed then by many, many others.

“Your hair is lovely, my lady,” Alred whispered. “But I meant your happiness.”

'I meant your happiness.'