Eithne swayed on her feet, drunk with drowsiness, and laughing soundlessly like Liadan.

Eithne swayed on her feet, drunk with drowsiness, and laughing soundlessly like Liadan. With one hand she hung her weight from Cian’s shoulder, but with the other she tugged determinedly at his belt. It was a new game she had discovered during the night, and she was eager to play it again.

The game was not like the awkward, shameful silence of their love-​​making on the rug at her sister’s house, when Condal had slept unwakeable on the bed beside them, and Flann had fretted and tended her fretful baby down the hall. Rather, with only Araphel to hear – and with his enthusiastic snoring to prove he did not – the game was simply naughty and fun.

With only Araphel to hear, the game was simply naughty and fun.

When her husband had at last come to bed after talking with Araphel well into the night, Eithne had caressed him and tickled him, ducked beneath the covers to kiss him and nip him with her teeth, rolled on top of him and pinned him down – everything she could think of to force him to laugh aloud or moan or plead – any sound that might wake his insufferable cousin and elicit a snort or a knowing laugh or a chicken joke.

She supposed Cian had won, since Araphel had snored placidly in the corner all the while, in spite of Cian’s slight sounds, and since Eithne herself had moaned the louder when Cian had rolled her off of him and climbed atop her at last.

But she had never before felt such power as in that time she had held her man squirming and helpless and pleading beneath her, almost as he had held her once, ages ago. She was eager to feel that power again.

She was eager to feel that power again.

Now, however, she was beginning to think that her man was stronger than he had seemed during the night; and if she had held him then, it was because he had wanted – at least a little – to be held. The hand that plucked her hand from his belt was firm. The smile that spread across his face was not.

The smile that spread across his face was not.

“I said dress you,” he whispered. “Not undress me!

“It’s the same difference,” she teased.

“Not at all, if I want to take you outside in the cold!”

“We needn’t go so far, lad!” she whispered. She paused to allow Araphel to finish a snore before tugging on Cian’s belt with both hands. “If he wasn’t hearing the bleating of you last night, he won’t hear it now!”

'If he wasn't hearing the bleating of you last night, he won't hear it now!'

“The bleating!” For a moment Cian’s face looked a little naughty, a little fun, as though he could not resist the power she held over him even now.

Then it sobered, and he whispered, “I must speak with you, wife.”

'I must speak with you, wife.'

If he called her “wife”, she thought it could not have been for something naughty, and still less for something fun.

Eithne dressed in such silence that no man would have heard, and she followed Cian out into the entry.

The air was raw with dawn light, dawn fog, and dawn chill.

They had not yet begun making this roofless room cozy, and the air was raw with dawn light, dawn fog, and dawn chill. It was a fine morning for cuddling another hour or two beneath the blankets, she thought, and sending Sweetdew out from time to time to report on the weather. But Cian was dressed to ride.

“Are we going away today?” Eithne whimpered.

Cian turned to her, and in the raw light his surprise was plain. “Are you sorry?”

'Are you sorry?'

Eithne glanced around at the empty window, at the empty doorway, at the bare, cobbled corners she had swept clean of dirt and leaves.

In her dreams she had already seen the room snug and warm, creeping with kittens, streaming with summer sunlight tinted golden by thick glass, and carpeted with heavy rugs to protect tiny hands and knees. She had already imagined big chairs, pitchers full of cider and bowls full of flowers, a heavy oaken door she would throw open to visiting sisters and brothers-​​in-​​law, visiting nephews and nieces, visiting friends…

Eithne glanced around.

But she murmured only, “I want to go wherever you are, lad.”

The tears were thick in her husband’s eyes like the glass of mirrors. Eithne saw her slender body only as a dark line splitting the pink glow of the window in two. In Cian’s eyes the room was still a damp ruin, cold and jagged, open to the sky.

The tears were thick in his eyes like the glass of mirrors.

He smiled, and the reflection flickered out. “Then you will be sorrier still,” he said tenderly. “It’s I am going away today, and you leaving behind.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he pulled her against him and squeezed her so tightly she could only sigh.

“Not for long,” he whispered into the hair that hid her ear. “But for eight days or ten. It’s as far as Dunfermline we must be riding, and after home again.”

“You and Araphel?” she quavered.

'You and Araphel?'

“Aye,” he growled playfully and pretended to shake her. “If you were needing any further proof I would rather be staying here.”

“Are you going to see the King?”

“The King!” He tipped back his head and smiled at the paling sky. “No, Eithne, we’re riding farther still, to Loch Leven. The prior there is an angel, too.”

“Oh!” she breathed. She would have been less impressed by the King.


“If you’re ever needing help…”

His sickly smile slanted and slipped off his face, leaving it grim.

“Listen now, wife, for I want to be saying this before Araphel awakes. I shall surely return in a week or two, but if I do not – if I am trapped somewhere – you’re not to be leaving this place. Never, never leave this place–especially if I’m not returning.”

'Never, never leave this place.'


He shook her again, no less gently, but no longer playfully. “If you’re needing help, send for Amarel. Or send word to the prior at Loch Leven, since you know of him now. But never leave this place. Swear it.”

“Cian – ”

“Swear it!” His fingers were beginning to bite into her shoulders. “Swear it! or I shall go mad.”

“I swear it!” she gasped. “But, Cian!”

“But nothing, Eithne!”

“But how shall I send word if I can’t be leaving?” she protested.

'But how shall I send word if I can't be leaving?'

His fingers relaxed, but his head pitched wearily to the side.

“That is what I want to show you before he wakes,” he muttered. “Come!” He snapped his fingers imperiously beside her head and turned away. “Get behind me, Eithne.”

Eithne stepped behind him and pinched the wool of his sleeve between her fingers. Her power of the night seemed as unreal as the rugs and the summer sun. When Cian commanded she dared not so much as lay her hand upon his arm.

“Is it magic, Cian?” she whispered meekly.

Eithne stepped behind him and pinched his sleeve.

“No. Don’t be afraid. Stay behind.”

Eithne slowly lowered her head until the scent of his wool-​​clad shoulder was in her nose, damp in the dawn.

He cried, “Qatal!” and Eithne squealed and shivered in surprise, cringing away from him and clinging to him both.

Eithne squealed and shivered in surprise.

In the time it took her to squeeze her eyes shut and open them wide again, a massive black shape had blocked out the glow of the crumbling window opposite – and the massive blackness was descending on her, falling towards her like a wall collapsing.

In her last instant Eithne ducked behind her husband and screamed into the wool of his sleeve.

Cian barked, “Hassah!

Nothing happened. No wall fell. Far off in the sudden silence Eithne heard a drop of dew plink into the stagnant water of the court.

Then she heard the hiss of bovine breath behind a plaque of iron, and she opened her eyes.

Then she heard the hiss of bovine breath behind a plaque of iron.

“This shall be your servant, Eithne,” Cian said coldly. “I do not want you fatiguing yourself. He shall carry your wood and water. He shall bring you food. He shall serve you in everything – except what is forbidden him – as if your commands were my commands.”

He never once looked at her. He seemed to be speaking more to the monster than to her.

Eithne bit her lip and mustered all her courage to protest. “But… but I can’t…”

“You can, Eithne,” Cian said sharply.

“But – ”


“I know! A demon!” he snapped. “I know! Evil and so forth. But he will only do evil if you command him to do evil, Eithne. It is no different from a knife. With a knife I can murder a man, or I can cut my bread. It is not the knife that is evil. Nor the demon,” he said, smiling cruelly at the monster. “Isn’t that right?”

The demon did not answer except to exhale, blasting his steamy breath through the slits in his mask.

Then she heard the hiss of bovine breath behind a plaque of iron.

From the instant Cian’s command had halted him in his crouch, the demon had not moved a limb. His only sign of life was his slow breathing, lifting and lowering his dark-​​furred belly. In the raking light, its tense muscles heaved like knotted snakes beneath his skin. The hulking body seemed no more living than the mask; it seemed only the shell of some larval monster that stirred within.

“Does it… think?” Eithne whispered.


Cian chuckled cruelly. “Does it think? Does it think? Do you think, rababah?” he purred. “Speak!”

The monster bowed his head and said, “I think of nothing but how to serve you, temanyeh.” His voice was deep and rumbling, and its echo in the mask made it seem the lowing of a bull in a far-​​off field, muffled by fog.

'Thus it appears you have learned your lesson.'

“Thus it appears you have learned your lesson,” Cian smiled. He threw out his arms and cried, “Your punishment is done!” Then he leaned close to the demon’s head, unflinching, and murmured, “Now your undeserved reward begins, rababah. You are honored above all your kind. You alone shall serve my wife.

The demon lifted his head and looked into Cian’s face. A ray of light slipped through one of the holes in the mask and twinkled on the surface of a dark eye. That brief gleam changed his entire countenance, revealing the living, thinking being behind the iron.

That brief gleam changed its entire countenance.

“So honored are you,” Cian continued softly, “that you are hereafter unfit to mingle with your brothers. You are forbidden to speak to or see any among them again. Henceforth you shall think of nothing but how to protect and serve my wife.”

The slanting light only glanced across the ridges of the mask, leaving the eyes blank and dark, but Eithne was almost certain the demon was staring at her.

“But, Cian,” she whimpered. “I don’t need any help…”

“You do,” he said curtly. “You shall not fatigue yourself. When you need anything done for you, you shall say, ‘Qatal,’ and this servant will appear to you and await your command. Say it.”


Eithne’s throat was dry and seemed almost stopped shut. “Ka – tal…” she whispered.

“Qatal,” Cian repeated.

She looked pleadingly at him. She scarcely heard the difference. “Katal…”

“She may call me what she likes,” the demon muttered.

'She may call me what she likes.'

Cian jolted away from her and raised his arm as if he meant to strike it across the iron-​​clad face. The demon did not flinch.

After a tense, trembling moment, Cian lowered his arm again and merely growled, “Aye, Eithne, tell him what you will call him.”

The demon bowed his head to her and waited. Cian tapped his fingers against his hip in agitation.

“Sir…” Eithne squeaked.


Her own panting breath was loud in the morning air and bright with the pink light sparkling in its steam. She was certain the demon knew her fear. She could not understand how Cian did not.

She quavered, “Demon…”

The syllables rang in her ear like a funeral bell, and she fell limply against her husband, dragging herself up by his sleeve to lie against him even as they stood.

“I cannot!” she sobbed and hid her face in his sleeve. “He’s so terrible! Mayn’t I have just a maid or a man? Please!”

'Do you hear?'

Cian turned not to her but to the demon. “Do you hear?” he snarled. “Even this gentle, generous girl finds you hideous, rababah! How dare you go before your lady in your form?”

The demon disappeared in a blur, and Eithne shuddered in relief. “Ach, Cian!” she moaned. “He was so…”

Then she heard a faint tapping – not of two massive hooves such as the demon stood upon, but of four tiny, cloven feet, dancing with equal parts grace and clumsiness upon the cobbled floor.

Cian’s body began to shake with soft, cruel laughter. “I should have known! This one thinks itself clever! Do not forget what your cleverness has earned you thus far, Sir Demon!” he menaced.

The little roe deer fawn peered up at him.

The little roe deer fawn peered up at him with big eyes that reflected the light of all the windows and the sky. Its calm in the face of such towering anger was as unnerving as was Cian’s anger towards such a tiny, harmless baby.

Eithne was inclined to ask whether it was alive – whether it thought – whether it was still a demon – but she dared not speak. All her questions seemed so senseless. Beauty was the gauge of nothing.

Beauty was the gauge of nothing.

“Begone, Sir Demon!” Cian commanded. “You have had your joke – now begone! You have heard my command. Your lady will call for you.”

The fawn looked quizzically up at Eithne and wet its nose with its long, pink tongue.

Cian snorted. “He is a dutiful servant,” he grumbled. “I believe he is waiting for his lady to dismiss him.”

Eithne mouthed, “You may go – ”

The demon was gone before she could swallow.

She stood stiffly.

This time she was determined not to be surprised, and she stood stiffly, waiting for the next apparition.

But this time Cian swept her up and spun her around with him.

“What a sight!” he laughed. “He’s making my black and batty self seem almost handsome, is he no?”

Eithne forced a smile. Her body was rigid, and she could not make it yield to his sudden gentleness as he kissed her and tried to tuck her arms beneath his and into an embrace.

He kissed her and tried to tuck her arms beneath his and into an embrace.

“It’s no wonder you aren’t liking him,” he murmured into her hair. “But he will serve you with his life, Eithne. And you, my sweet girl, you will make him so likable you won’t be able to help liking him – just as you did me!” He smiled and tickled one of her dimples with his finger. “You will see! You will have him weaving wreaths of flowers in the May.”

'You will see!'

Eithne could imagine tapestries and rugs and summer sun in this chilly, moss-​​grown room, but she could not imagine those furred hands twining flowers together. The demon would surely crush them to a paste between his burly fingers if he tried.

“And it’s only eight or ten days,” Cian babbled on. “You shall scarcely – ”

Eithne lunged at him, since she could not relax in his arms.

Eithne lunged at him, since she could not relax in his arms.

She threw her weight against him, spinning him around and tipping him back, and she squeezed his arms against his sides. She kissed him as she had during the night – though it was no game now – sucking his lip into her mouth and nipping it, and twining her tongue around his.

She had found a way to make her stiff, shaking body seem strong. She had found a way to hold some power over him.

She was the one being kissed.

Cian gasped and swayed, but he was still silent, though there was no one near to hear. And soon enough Eithne felt that she was the one being tipped back, and she was the one being kissed, and she was the one losing again. Her man was too strong.

At last Cian lifted his head, wiped his mouth on his cuff, and smiled at her.

At last Cian lifted his head and smiled at her.

Eithne could scarcely make herself recognize him. The pink light glanced over the curves and hollows of his face and made it seem the mask of another man. He had never failed to frighten her in the dawn.

He tipped her back until his eyes gleamed with pure light, unmarred by her shadow.

“Let us say eight days,” he whispered. “Or I shall go mad.”

'Let us say eight days.'