Dantalion only snorted. His mind was still murky, his body still heavy and numb with first sleep. He had not even begun to dream. He knew it was not yet time to wake.

Temanyeh?” Sweetdew repeated in an anxious squeak.

Above his head a human mouth whispered, “Cian!”


Dantalion groaned. He no longer knew who he was – the immortal or the man – Dantalion or Cian. Even the bickering voices around him could not agree.

Temanyeh!” Sweetdew’s whiskered chin trembled, making a chattering of her mew.

“Dantalion! Brother!” the other whispered. “Get up, or move over and let me in!”

Dantalion heard the huffing of silent laughter overhead, and then a very cold, very large, very masculine hand found his arm beneath the blankets and slid its way seductively up his biceps.

Dantalion was nearly shocked out of his skin. Never had he imagined that a man’s touch would one day feel so revolting.

Dantalion was nearly shocked out of his skin.

His body stiffened and shook with the helplessness of a man startled out of sleep. So often he had smiled upon that blind panic, and so often patiently watched it bloom: one of fear’s finest flowers, flaring from its bud of confusion into lush terror as the sleeper made out his black face in the darkness.

Fortunately Dantalion recognized the gray eyes at once. As his confusion cleared, he realized it could have been none other – no men’s eyes of any color could have seen anything but wilderness in place of the ruin.

'Get up!'

“Get up!” Araphel whispered hoarsely. “I need some clothes, or a blanket, or something!”

“Don’t you everever–until the end of time – touch me in that way again!”

Araphel grinned at him. “You liked it last time.”

Dantalion whined softly in exasperation. “Don’t you ever even remind me of that again!”

Araphel laughed silently, showing off an entire mouthful of magnificent, almost menacing teeth.

Araphel laughed silently.

“I thought you liked your men rather on the burly side than not?”

He lifted one of his big hands and wriggled his blocky fingers beneath Dantalion’s nose. Dantalion swatted it away.

“The only manlike is myself,” he hissed, “and the only man who shall be touching me is likewise myself. Anyway,” he huffed, swatting the hand away again, “you are presently less burly than crude.”

Araphel grinned and pounded a fist against his hairy chest. “Isn’t he fine?” he whispered eagerly. “Need any oxen carried across the river, brother? I feel as if I could carry one on each shoulder.”

“Hush, before you wake Eithne!” Dantalion huffed. “And you only seem so wonderful now because Sebastien was such a sickly thing.”

'And you only seem so wonderful because Sebastien was such a sickly thing.'

Araphel lifted his arm. “Arm wrestle me?”

“Arm – Are you insane?” Dantalion whispered. “What are you doing in here? Why couldn’t you wait until morning?”

“Are you insane?” Araphel countered. “It’s snowing out there!”

“Snowing! The sky was clear!”

“Right–almost snowing, then!” Araphel said cheerily.

“And I made you a fire!”

“Forgive me, brother,” Araphel said with apparent pride, “but one damp blanket and one scrimpy fire are not enough to get a big man such as I through the night.”

'One damp blanket and one scrimpy fire are not enough.'

“Stop calling me your brother!”

“And I’m starving! A half dozen eggs are but a crumb to a man who hasn’t eaten in twenty-​​five years!”

Dantalion’s body stiffened again and began to shake. “Eggs!” he hissed. “What eggs?”

“The eggs you left for me, in the bask – ”

His words were choked off by the impact of Dantalion’s hand against his windpipe, but with his new strength, he simply plucked the hand away and continued.

“In the basket outside. Weren’t they for me?”

“Those were Eithne’s eggs, for her breakfast and supper!” Dantalion wailed, pounding his fist atop Araphel’s dark head. “She needs to eat eggs for her wee babies!”

'She needs to eat eggs for her wee babies!'

Araphel asked, “Babies?

Dantalion lifted his other fist and pounded them both on Araphel’s head, humiliated at having been heard speaking of “wee babies,” and furious at Araphel’s new ox-​​skulled placidity in the face of such abuse.

“Sorry, brother,” Araphel smiled, “but you should have brought either the eggs or me in out of the cold if you didn’t want us to meet.”

Suddenly Eithne squealed, “Cian!” and fought and kicked beneath the blankets as her confusion bloomed into fear. “There’s a – a man!”

'There's a--a man!'

“That is not a man!” Dantalion groaned. “That is Araphel!”

“Good evening, Eithne,” Araphel said with a grin that was as wolfish as it was sheepish. “I apologize for having eaten your eggs.”

Dantalion planted a hand on Araphel’s dark head and pushed himself up and out of bed. “And he’s just about to go!”

“But it’s cold out there!” Araphel whined. He staggered to his feet and nearly fell back against the wall, laughing foolishly as he swayed.

He staggered to his feet and nearly fell back against the wall.

“It’s drunk he is,” Eithne whispered.

“He isn’t drunk,” Dantalion grumbled, “but simply an idiot who can’t control his own legs.”

“Every time I move, I forget how strong I am,” Araphel said gaily.

Eithne sighed in exasperation as she tossed the blankets off her legs. “And are the angels forever walking about without a stitch of clothes? Are there no kilts in Heaven, then?”

'Are there no kilts in Heaven?'

Araphel hurriedly clutched his broad hands over his groin: an effectual gesture, but it seemed to Dantalion rather more obscenely inviting than Araphel’s nonchalant nudity of a moment before.

“Nor kilt nor even the merest fig leaf,” Araphel grinned. He added slyly, “Begging your pardon, dear heart.”

Dantalion choked, “Dear heart?”

“That isn’t sounding much like Paradise to me,” Eithne muttered as she began rifling through one of their bags.

“Are you liking the sight of a man in a kilt better than the sight of a man, Eithne?” Araphel asked.

'Are you liking the sight of a man in a kilt better than the sight of a man, Eithne?'

His voice was mild with a mere friendly curiosity, but his mouth was smirking, and he quickly tilted his hands away from his body so he could peek beneath them. With Eithne looking away, his impudence could only have been directed at Dantalion.

“I can’t – help it,” she huffed as she pushed herself to her feet.

Dantalion had been so occupied glowering at Araphel that he caught her hand only in time to be of no assistance at all. With her other hand she held out a towel, and she hid her face against Dantalion’s shoulder.

Her breath against his bare skin was so warm! Her shyness so sweet! Dantalion smiled with cruel smugness at Araphel, hoping to remind him of what he did not have.

Dantalion smiled with cruel smugness at Araphel.

Then Eithne spoke, and she wiped away his smugness with a single stroke. “I can’t look at a man without thinking of a… dead chicken.”

“A dead chicken!” Araphel laughed as he fumbled with the towel. “Speak for your own man! My chicken’s still alive!”

'My chicken's still alive!'

Dantalion blurted, “So is – ” before realizing his dignity did not allow him to protest.

“A plucked chicken,” Eithne giggled. “No – half-​​plucked. A half-​​plucked, hairy, dead chicken,” she laughed. “And you men thinking you’re so fine!”

Araphel laughed heartily, apparently not offended in the least. “‘If chicken necks did glow!’” he quoted. “If I had known, I would have brought at least a fig leaf, dear heart!”

“Go find you one!” Dantalion snarled. “You shouldn’t have to go more than seven – eight-​​hundred miles to find a fig tree!”

'Go find you one!'

Araphel stopped, holding the towel still clumsily half-​​folded around his waist, and staring intently at Dantalion’s own naked middle. Dantalion’s fists shook with half-​​suppressed outrage, but his dignity did not permit him to cover himself with his hands.

And then Araphel began to cluck softly like a chicken: “Bok.. bok-​​bok…”

'Bok.. bok-bok...'

Eithne had the presence of mind to throw her arms around Dantalion’s waist before he could deliver more than a brief flurry of wild, ineffectual fists.

“No fighting!” she ordered. “You’ll be kicking Sweetdew in the belly, with the brawling of you! Fie!”

“He’s insufferable!” Dantalion shouted. “And I won’t suffer him!”

'And I won't suffer him!'

Araphel laughed giddily, still struggling to tuck in the end of his towel with his beefy new hands. “No fair hitting a man when he’s occupied with trying to keep himself decent before a lady!” He tried to bow and only managed to pitch and sway.

Eithne wrapped a second towel around Dantalion’s waist and clapped his hands upon it to hold it up.

“Don’t be letting him get your goat, Cian,” she said wearily. “That’s all he’s trying to do.”

'Don't be letting him get your goat, Cian.'

“Or your chicken,” Araphel giggled.

Dantalion growled at him, though his hands were still tangled up in towel.

“Leave him be, lad,” Eithne muttered. “It’s drunk he is. Don’t be thinking I don’t know a drunken man when I see one, good sir,” she said primly to Araphel. “It’s often enough the father of me was coming home all a-​​stottering and a-​​swavering as you are.”

“I’m not drunk, Eithne,” Araphel said. “A new body is a bit awkward at first, you see.”

'I'm not drunk, Eithne.'

Eithne bit her bottom lip and looked Dantalion over, from head to hands. Dantalion tried to read her eyes, but it seemed her dark lashes were always in the way.

“And this one is so powerfully good-​​humored,” Araphel blundered on, beginning to giggle again. “I do feel a bit tipsy, now that you mention it. Forgive me, dear heart, if it takes me a few days to learn how to act like a gentleman again.”

'Forgive me, dear heart, if it takes me a few days.'

“I hope you will remember how to act like a gentleman if you go down into the valley, good sir,” Eithne said gravely.

Araphel stopped chortling and looked up at her.

“It’s a married woman my sister is, and her to her husband you shall be leaving.”

“Aye, Eithne…” Araphel croaked.

“You were meaning to play a trick, sir.”

'You were meaning to play a trick, sir.'

“No tricks, Eithne.”

“Then why are you coming here looking like the cousin of her?” she challenged.

Araphel whispered, “I beg your pardon?”

'I beg your pardon?'

Dantalion could feel a snarl forming at the corners of his lips. He had been thinking something was not quite right about Araphel’s face…

“Isn’t he looking like the cousin of me, Cian?” Eithne asked. “With the brow and the nose of him?”

Dantalion snatched Araphel’s coarsely bearded chin between his fingers and whipped his face around into profile.

“You idiot!”

'You idiot!'

Araphel cringed and patted the tip of his nose. “It seemed rather large…”

“You idiot! You fool! Eithne! Were any of the kin of you living in this valley fifteen, twenty years ago?”

“Only Cousin Malcolm…” Eithne quavered. “And Cousin Egelric…”

'And Cousin Egelric...'

“Incompetent idiot! I wash my hands of you! I shall not sully my name by associating it with your idiotic enterprise! And I wish you luck in thinking up a likely story to explain that nose!

Dantalion shoved him away in disgust, and was satisfied to see Araphel stagger away and sway.

“But I need your help,” Araphel whimpered. “I don’t have any story at all. I need to get to Aelfden… And I can’t simply show up at the Abbey without so much as a letter…”

'But I need your help.'

“That is not my affair!”

“But he is unwell,” Araphel pleaded. “He has had a terrible shock–because of you!” he cried dramatically.

“You had a perfectly good body and a perfectly good story. It is not because of me if you threw that away.”

Araphel pawed clumsily at Dantalion’s arm with his big hand and then raised it between them – clean now, for it was made entirely of clay. “But it is because of you that I have this,” he whispered. “Don’t let it be for nothing.”

'Don't let it be for nothing.'

Dantalion only turned his face away.

“I beg you – I must hurry back to Aelfden. I’m frightened for him – and he has a book…”

“Ohhh, if he has a book!” Dantalion sneered.

Araphel leaned close and whispered softly, “A book… for summoning demons, he said.”

Dantalion held his breath so he would not miss a syllable, but Cian’s heart seemed to pound twice as loudly to compensate.

“I don’t know what he was trying to do with it,” Araphel whispered, “but I saw a page of it, and Ramiel’s alphabet was on it – every symbol, perfectly drawn.”

'I saw a page of it, and Ramiel's alphabet was on it.'

Dantalion could no longer hold his breath, for it came in ragged gasps. The body of the man Cian could scarcely bear the terror of the immortal Dantalion.

“What did it look like?” he panted. “Where did he get it?”

Eithne whimpered, “Cian?” and stroked the back of his arm with her soft hand.


He still savored her least caress, but this one, coming at this moment, so reminded him of her frailty that her sweetness pierced him like fangs.

“I don’t know,” Araphel shrugged. “I didn’t… quite see…” he said nervously. “It was old… I think red. It was in his – ”

'It was in his--'

“Don’t tell me!” Dantalion shrieked.

Araphel and Eithne both gaped at him.

Dantalion twisted his mouth around, in search of words he could speak in spite of his bonds.

“It’s – I’ve – ”

The ward on his cheek seemed to be tightening over his skull.

The ward on his cheek seemed to be tightening over his skull, the eight points piercing down into his brain to inject his living consciousness with agony. These bonds were too much for the man Cian to bear.

“This book is a danger to you!” he blurted, finally striking upon something he could speak without betraying his master.

“I… see…” Araphel murmured.

'I... see...'

“You must – ”

Burn it! Shred it! Drop it into a bottomless pool! Every fate he imagined for it seemed to be visited on his living body, and his living body grimaced and twisted in pain. But he could not speak the words.

Eithne was caressing him, stroking him, trying to calm his gasping and choking, but her frailty was greater than Cian’s, and in her weakness he found more anguish than comfort.

'This book is a danger to you!'

“This book is a danger to you!” he sobbed, defeated. It was the only thing he could say. “This book is a danger to Aelfden! This book is a danger to Eithne! This book is a danger to us all!”

Araphel’s broad hands settled upon him, one on each shoulder, and steadied him with a placid strength like that of oxen. “Then let us all help one another,” Araphel said softly. “Dear heart. Brother.”

Never had a man’s touch felt so good.

'Then let us all help one another.'