Dantalion snarled, “You!


“What happened to you?” Dantalion sneered. “Or should I ask: What happened to Sebastien?”

'What happened to Sebastien?'

Behind him Eithne was scrabbling and squeaking, crying for Sweetdew like a panicked, precious little kitten herself, and he nearly turned to reassure her.

But Araphel whispered, “I killed him.”

“You killed him?” Dantalion howled. “You did?”

“I had no choice!” Araphel protested. “I had to get to Flann! And they wouldn’t let me near her, and they wouldn’t tell me where she was—”

“After weeks of moping you finally decide you had to get to Flann just then?

'After weeks of moping you finally decide you had to get to Flann.'

“That elf married her! And he was doing something to her!”

“I don’t believe this…” Dantalion groaned.

“And Liadan was crying—and that elf was… he was…”

Dantalion whined, “This is a nightmare!” Again he almost turned back to Eithne—perhaps to laugh.

“And… I tried to kill him,” Araphel whimpered.

'And... I tried to kill him.'

Dantalion held his mortal breath and stared at his cousin. He could not believe what he was hearing, and therefore he decided he had not understood.

Into that brief silence Eithne found the courage to peep, “Cian?”

“Kill whom?” Dantalion whispered.

Araphel dropped his eyes. “The elf…”

“You!” Dantalion roared. “Tried! To kill!

He remembered Eithne too late, and by the time he put his hand back to her, she had already skittered away in fright.

“I almost did…” Araphel blubbered. “I tried… If he had been a man… but he was too strong…”

“Are you insane?

'Are you insane?'

Dantalion took a breath and tried to murmur, “Eithne, stay near me…” but he could scarcely keep his mind on the Gaelic. He could not turn his mortal head two ways at once, and he could not look away from the monumental idiocy of his cousin.

“You!” he panted. “Have you labored a thousand years and let yourself be tortured to death and burned alive and I know not what else—for this?

Like a repentant child Araphel hung his head so low his hair fell before his face. He almost seemed to welcome the scolding.

Like a repentant child Araphel hung his head so low.

Truly, Dantalion thought, he and his kind were no better than children. They could not be trusted with a task; they could not control their tempers and their passions and their lusts for long.

Even if they were on the right path, that rag-​tag band of truants would never reach its end. They ought to have earned no more than his scorn, but at that moment Dantalion hated them with all the self-​righteous hatred he had been polishing for over three thousand years, without flaw.

At that moment Dantalion hated them.

He flung out his arms and tried to shove Araphel away from him, casting him off forever, but he had forgotten how fragile his deerlike mortal body could seem against the lionlike might of a son of heaven.

Araphel could scarcely have felt the shove, but he noticed the hatred or sensed the scorn. He beat the edges of his wings once in the narrow space of the hall, and their wind lifted his hair from his face, revealing a vicious scowl.

Their wind lifted his hair from his face, revealing a vicious scowl.

“What would you have done, Dantalion?” he demanded.

“What I would have done does not matter—”

“If you had come upon an elf undressing your wife! And putting his hand on the breast that nurses your daughter?”

Dantalion tried to calm himself with the thought that he had, as yet, no daughter, but every facet of his highly polished hatred could reflect evil from the barest light.

Dantalion tried to calm himself.

“And his tongue into her mouth?” Araphel whispered, with his own mouth nearly against Dantalion’s. “And his leg between her legs?”

Dantalion breathed deeply through his nose and tried to concentrate on nothing more than the fluttering of Araphel’s silver hair in the breeze of his cold breath. He had told Eithne he could control his own evil, and he would not let this be his first lie to her.

“And with his elf magic polluting her perfect light with his?” Araphel asked. “Leaving his mark on her eternal soul, like the beast he is?”

At last Dantalion looked up into those gray eyes, and the evil he saw reflected there was not his own.

The evil he saw reflected there was not his own.

“What are you becoming?” he whispered.

“What you?” Araphel smiled ironically. “Answer me, Brother. What would you have done?”

Dantalion lifted his head and threw back his shoulders as grandly as if there had been wings upon them. “There would have been no ‘tried to.’”

Araphel stared unblinking into his eyes, as if he expected Dantalion to admit he had done right. But Araphel was forgetting the one essential thing.

Before he could remind him, Eithne whimpered, “Please, Cian, if it’s to me you’re talking, I don’t understand.”

Eithne! Warm and soft and sweet! He stepped back and breathed deeply in relief, though he could not have said why.

'Show yourself to her.'

“Show yourself to her,” he ordered Araphel. “You’re frightening her. And be speaking the Gaelic,” he added, switching to that language himself. “Eithne, this is our old friend Araphel, if you’re remembering.”

He looked back at his wife at last, hoping to share a smile with her, but she was staring past him with startled eyes.

“Good evening, Eithne,” Araphel murmured.

Dantalion had not stopped to consider how the sight of such a being might affect her. The jeweled clasps of her cloak twinkled across her panting breast, and her lips were parted and wet enough that Araphel’s light lay over them in a sheen.

Her lips were parted and wet enough that Araphel's light lay over them in a sheen.

Dantalion tried to tell himself that it was only fright, but it looked so much like passion that a rush of jealous fire swept over him. He could not make her love him, he knew, but it had never occurred to him that he could no more prevent her from loving someone else.

“Aye, Eithne, aye,” he said roughly. “I know—say it: beautiful, magnificent, and so forth.”

'Aye, Eithne, aye.'

“And naked,” she said.

Dantalion held his mortal breath and stared at her. The corners of her mouth curved up, but her brows curved down to hint at the naughtiness she was trying to hide.

He glanced skeptically back at his cousin’s body and snorted. “Chicken neck?” he asked.

“If chicken necks did glow,” Eithne replied with absurd solemnity.

She had modestly turned her eyes away, but a blush was creeping down her cheeks from above and a grin inching its way up from below. And she was stepping into his shadow—nearer to him—out of the light of the other.

A blush was creeping down her cheeks from above.

She was beautiful, magnificent, and so forth, and at that moment Dantalion understood why sometimes she simply could not help but swing Sweetdew up into her arms, and squeeze her and kiss her, and dance with her around the room, laughing, until they both were dizzy. Dare he?

But Araphel croaked, “Brother…”

Dantalion turned on him in a fury. “Why am I ‘Brother’ to you all of a sudden?” he cried. “You could turn up Sebastien’s ridiculous nose at me, but now! Ah! Now that you need help from me!”

'Ah!  Now that you need help from me!'

Araphel hung his head and gazed mournfully up at Dantalion like a child.

“What do you think I can do for you? You had your chance. I even warned you she wouldn’t love a… coward…”

Araphel had simply held up his hand.

Dantalion took a step back and bumped into Eithne. “No.”

“You must help me,” Araphel whispered.

'You must help me.'

The hand was filthy; the light of the ghostly fingers was obscured beneath black clots of earth—shaggy, clinging clumps of rot—mortal clay.

Dantalion clapped a hand over his mouth and nose; his mortal stomach was turning at the sight and smell of death.

“No!” Behind his hand his voice sounded strangely hollow, strangely distant, like a ghost’s. “Help yourself!”

“I can’t,” Araphel murmured. “I don’t know how. Only the leaders can. And if they learn what I’ve done…”

“What’s happened, Cian?” Eithne asked softly. “My sister…”

'What's happened, Cian?'

“Your sisters are well, Eithne,” Araphel said gently. To Dantalion he spoke more softly still, almost hypnotically. “You can do it, though, can’t you? You did it, didn’t you? I saw you bleed.”

“Only once,” Dantalion choked. “Not for you.”

“But it’s far harder to do it for yourself,” Araphel said. “It would be nothing at all…”

At last Dantalion knocked the lifted hand away, though he was careful to touch no more than the forearm. “Get that away from me!”

For a moment Araphel’s mastery of himself was shattered. “You must help me!” he pleaded. “We swore we would help one another!”

'We swore we would help one another!'

“I swore nothing of the sort!” Dantalion spluttered. “I swore I would protect Flann and Liadan! Not you!

Araphel swept his wings back and held himself stiffly until he had calmed again. Then he lowered his head and spoke so softly that Dantalion was forced to lean closer to hear.

“Sebastien is not why I am here. You know why I am here. That is all that matters. Sebastien or anyone—” He lifted the filthy hand again. “—It does not matter.”

Dantalion reared back his head and grimaced in disgust.

Araphel tipped up his face, but it was no longer merely mournful, no longer shameful like a child’s, but grave and coldly noble.

'You need my help.'

“You need my help,” he said.

“In no wise!” Dantalion growled.

“You need my help,” he repeated.

“What can you do for me?”

“You need my help,” Araphel said slowly, with such weight in each word that no mortal tongue could have pronounced them. Then he stared.

Dantalion tried to stare back in defiance, but the reflection he saw in those gray eyes was not of his own evil.

Dantalion tried to stare back in defiance.

He had the dizzying, disarming impression that Araphel was seeing straight through the gleam of the three-​thousand years’ polish he had put on his hatred, and down into the transparent heart of the jewel.

“I need your help,” Araphel said. “You need mine.” He lifted both hands—one bright, one caked with earth—and added, “Brother.”

'I need your help.'