Gwynn would not stop looking.

Gwynn would not stop looking. If Cearball had even once looked up at her, Margaret would have assumed that Gwynn was merely attempting to engage him in a far-​​sighted flirtation. But Margaret could see Cearball from where she sat, and she saw what his violet eyes were doing. Better still she could see how Gwynn’s fat lip was swelling into a full-​​blown childish pout.

She would have to do something to distract her.

Margaret would have to do something to distract her, for the only thing more unbearable than a sister sighing about how everything was so romantic was a sister squalling about how everything was so unfair. Unfortunately she had already nearly exhausted her repertoire of annoying fidgets and bad table manners.

Fortunately, however, at that moment Cat provided a distraction by loudly scooting back her chair and standing.

Cat provided a distraction by loudly scooting back her chair and standing.

“Where’s Cat going?” Cynewulf bleated.

Cat smiled at him, patted her belly, and pointed upstairs.

“I know where she’s going!” Cynewulf said slyly to Godefroy as she waddled away. “I wager you her baby kicked her right where it makes you want to pee!”

'I know where she's going!'

“She might have gone before she came down,” Cynan muttered.

Everyone on Margaret’s side of the table went briefly silent with shock, allowing them to hear her father call out mournfully, “You ladies aren’t hiding Wynflaed upstairs, are you?”

Margaret hastened to explain for Cynan’s special benefit: “Lady Wynflaed had her baby directly in the middle of Hetty’s and my father’s wedding dinner.”

'Lady Wynflaed had her baby directly in the middle of Hetty's and my father's wedding dinner.'

Cynan’s face contorted into a piggish grimace: either the simple thought of childbirth disturbed him, or he had imagined “directly in the middle” as “right on the table”. Either possibility pleased Margaret, so long as it made him squirm.

Cynan's face contorted into a piggish grimace.

“And I got drunk and threw up all over Hetty!” Cynewulf said proudly. “I got drunk when I was seven years old! I remember it like it was yesterday,” he added with a great, nostalgic sigh.

'I remember it like it was yesterday.'

“Perhaps because you’re drunk now,” Margaret suggested.

Gwynn whispered an anxious, “Margaret!” and jerked her head towards Cynan.

“I had observed,” Cynan said darkly.

'I had observed.'

Thus ended that distraction. Everyone picked up fork and knife and took another bite, but even as she chewed, Gwynn’s head was already beginning to swivel about on her neck. Meanwhile Margaret could see Cearball’s profile engaging in an animated conversation with Condal’s ear.

“So,” she said brightly to Cynan. “How’s your father? Still in prison?”

That did the trick. Gwynn’s head whipped around and she gasped, “Margaret!”


“He is very well, thank you for asking,” Cynan growled. He added stiffly, “We heard from him only last spring.”

Margaret nodded. “Prison life agrees with him, does it? Well, I suppose it’s that or exile, and at least if one is in prison one can always repose in the knowledge that there’s nothing one can do about it.”

Dunstan put down his fork and put on a ugly face, the likes of which Margaret had not seen since before his marriage.

Dunstan put down his fork and put on a ugly face.

“Mar-​​gar-​​et!” he whispered.

Hetty, however, was so stunned by this information that she failed to notice Margaret’s impudence. She too put down her fork, but it was to pat the back of Cynan’s wrist.

“Oh my dear, is it true?” she cooed.

'Oh my dear, is it true?'

“My father is in prison, yes, it is true,” Cynan said. “Due to no fault of his own, but the treacheries of the Earls and of his own men.”

He turned to glare at Margaret. Margaret longed to stick out her tongue at him, but Dunstan was closely watching her.

“And with my mother we had to go back to Ireland,” he mumbled. “That is how I met Cearball,” he added roughly, almost spitting the name out over his shoulder as he glanced back at his traveling companion.

That glance was all the invitation Gwynn needed to turn her head.

That glance was all the invitation Gwynn needed to turn her head – just as Condal was giggling at something Cearball had said.

“So you’ve been to Wales?” Margaret blurted.

Cynan’s big, bulldoggish eyes turned back to her, but Gwynn only flinched.

“To our grandmother’s castle?” Margaret added loudly.

That did the trick. Gwynn sucked in her breath – apparently in preparation for an explosive gust of “How romantic!” – but when her eyes fell on Cynan she only held it.

'Of course I have.'

“Of course I have,” Cynan said.

“Oh – ” Gwynn began, but finally she was obliged to turn to Margaret to finish her phrase. “Our grandmother’s castle!” she whispered delightedly.

“Our great-grandfather’s castle,” Cynan corrected stiffly. “Your grandmother certainly never owned it.”

“Neither did your grandfather,” Margaret pointed out, for no good reason except a pernicious desire to correct him.

“My father did.”

“For less than a year. And now you do not.”

“Mother said it overlooked the sea,” Dunstan interrupted.

'Mother said it overlooked the sea.'

“It does,” Cynan admitted grudgingly.

Gwynn’s face was turning pink with romantic delight. Even Cearball seemed to be forgotten for the moment. Margaret hastened to pop a bite of rabbit into her mouth while she had a chance to chew.

“Mother said Grandmother’s room was in a tower,” Gwynn breathed. “She would open one shutter in the morning to see the sun rise over the hills, and open another in the evening to see it set over the sea.” She hesitated a moment before the glum blankness of Cynan’s expression, but finally she dared ask, meekly, “Do you know the room?”

'Do you know the room?'

Cynan grunted and turned his attention to his plate.

“It sounds very pretty,” Hetty said.

Dunstan, meanwhile, was squirming in his seat like a drunken ten-​​year-​​old. “Girls…” he began. He patted Margaret’s shoulder and smiled foolishly at Gwynn, and at last he shouted over Cynan’s head at their father.

'Father, may I tell Margaret about the thing Mother wanted her to have?'

“Father, may I tell Margaret about the thing Mother wanted her to have?” he asked pleadingly. “We’re talking about the castle.”

Their father sat back in his chair and sighed. “I think you have already said too much, Dunstan.”

'I think you have already said too much, Dunstan.'

“I’m sorry… ” Dunstan turned red. “But do you mean I may?”

“I mean you must, now,” their father seemed to say. Margaret could not hear, and she could not read his lips when he turned away. She did not know what “the thing” was, but she knew she did not want it, now that she had seen what it had done to her father’s face.

“So,” Dunstan said awkwardly, “Margaret, when Grandmother was married, she had with her a key – ”

'Margaret, when Grandmother was married, she had with her a key--'

“She was not married,” Cynan interrupted. “She was kidnapped.

“Grandfather did so marry her!” Cynewulf cried. “Where do you think my mother came from?”

Cynan smiled indulgently at him.

“She did love him,” Gwynn murmured.

Cynan turned to her, but his indulgent smile did not change.

'I suppose that is every girl's dream?'

“I suppose that is every girl’s dream? Being kidnapped by a handsome man and forced to marry?”

“Except for Mother – she kidnapped Father,” Cynewulf said proudly. “I hope my wife kidnaps me,” he confided to Godefroy. “That will relieve me of the worry of asking her.”

'I hope my wife kidnaps me.'

Margaret laughed brightly at him, hoping to infect her pouting sister, but Gwynn did not seem to hear.

“Sometimes it does work out,” she whimpered. “Grandfather and Grandmother were very much in love.”

'Sometimes it does work out.'

“And sometimes it does not,” Cynan snapped, “and that is called rape.

Margaret very nearly picked up her plate and hurled it at the boy’s face. The only thing that saved him was Gwynn’s sullen lack of reaction. Margaret thought it likely that Gwynn knew little enough of the world that she truly did think rape was nothing more than being carried off by a man who was not quite handsome and whom one did not quite love.

But if this boy thought he was going to teach her simple sister the difference, by word or – Heaven forfend – by deed, then after the bath of rabbit stew, Margaret would pick up her plate and beat him to death with it. Already her knuckles were white around the grip of her fork.

“What key?” Cynewulf asked.

'What key?'

Margaret sighed and slumped back into her chair.

“Well,” Dunstan said shakily, “when Grandmother left home for Church that day, she had her key in her pocket, and she kept it all her life, and Grandfather kept it for Mother, and Mother kept it for Margaret. So, you see, it’s the key to the very same castle Cynan knows. It is odd,” he laughed. “It has always seemed like a fairy tale castle to me – only a family story. It is strange to meet a man who has stood in it. But it’s a real key – it must unlock a real door.”

'But it's a real key--it must unlock a real door.'

Margaret glanced up at her sister. Gwynn’s longing to sigh over the romance of the key and her disappointment at not being its intended owner could be seen battling for dominion of her face, winning and losing ground feature by exquisite feature.

When disappointment had conquered both her uplifted eyebrows and her trembling lip, Margaret muttered, “Gwynn may have it.”

“No, dear,” Gwynn squeaked. “Mother wanted you to have it…”

Margaret looked hopefully over at Dunstan – surely their mother had left something for Gwynn, too. But if she had, Dunstan had learned his lesson the first time and said nothing now.

“It wouldn’t unlock anything anyway,” Cynan said.

'It wouldn't unlock anything anyway.'

“Are you certain?” Gwynn asked wistfully.

“What do you suppose?” Cynan laughed. “She left fifty years ago! Do you think we left a door standing locked all this time for lack of key? Do you think the Normans did?”

“I don’t know…”

“Her tower room all locked up for fifty years, with all her pretty things inside,” he sneered, “just as she left them, waiting for a girl to come with the key. No! Her room is probably a store-​​room now, full of barrels and dust and spiders!” He snorted and scooped a pile of mashed beans onto his fork. “A fairy tale castle indeed!”

'A fairy tale castle indeed!'

Hetty was speechless and white, Dunstan looked hurt, and Cynewulf appeared confused at this unprecedented behavior. Margaret had sometimes thought Egelric could be gruff and even rude, but Cynan forced her to push out her definition of rudeness to such an extent that even Egelric edged into the range of polished gentleman.

And as for Gwynn… Margaret wished she would look back at Cearball and Condal. That at least was an ordinary heartbreak. That at least was an ordinary pout at the ordinary unfairness of everything.

With this, Gwynn was shattered.

With this, Gwynn was shattered. Cynan had aimed directly for the one romance of Gwynn’s life that had the advantage of being true – the story that had made their mother’s dark eyes shine – the tale that made Gwynn proud she was so tiny and of portable size, and proud of her Welsh name, and proud enough of who she was to go on stubbornly and a little stupidly being herself, in spite of the taunts of her sister and of certain boys.

Verily, Margaret thought, Cynan made even Finn seem a courteous man.

She saw she would have to do something – she could not allow Cynan the satisfaction of seeing Gwynn cry. If Cynan had kicked down and stomped all over Gwynn’s favorite fairy tale castle, Margaret would simply have to build her another – ferociously defended this time.

'It is not a door that it will unlock.'

“It is not a door that it will unlock,” Margaret said, “but the castle.”

Cynan continued chewing, but he looked warily up at her with his bulldoggish eye. Margaret waited a moment for him to protest, but it appeared that the stubborn boy could spend some time chewing even beans that arrived in his mouth in the state of pre-​​chewed.

At last he swallowed, took a sip of wine, and said cuttingly, “There is a gatehouse there of remarkable size, not opened by a key that could be carried by a girl.

'There is a gatehouse there of remarkable size.'

Margaret waved her hand impatiently. “I don’t mean open it, open it. I mean, surely there is a curse upon the castle.”

Cynan rolled his eyes, but he was always slow enough to say anything that Margaret simply hurried on.

“Great-​​Grandfather was so heartbroken when Grandmother was stolen away, he must have laid a curse on the castle until Grandmother would be brought home again. And that is why her brother was never able to hold it, and why your father was never able to hold it, and why you never will be.”

'And that is why her brother was never able to hold it.'

“I do not believe in curses,” Cynan scowled.

“You didn’t believe in elves, either, until you came here,” Margaret said. “And just like elves, curses are even nastier when you don’t believe in them.”

“Fairy tales,” he scoffed.

“It is not a fairy tale – we have the key to prove it.”

Dunstan was looking wary, but Gwynn’s face was brightening slightly into a flush. She was beginning to see the romance of it.

Gwynn's face was brightening slightly into a flush.

“Mark my words, Cynan,” Margaret said, mustering all the eerie portent of the girls’ old games of play-​​acting Odysseus and Oracles. “No son of the line of old Iago will ever hold the castle for more than a year, until a daughter of the line returns with the key.”

“You are telling a fairy tale right now!” Cynan spluttered. “You are making it up right now!”

“Perhaps I am,” Margaret said with a mysterious smile. “But if there is a curse, the prophecy inhabits me. Who else could speak it but I? I am the granddaughter of Gwynn, and I hold the key.”

'I am the granddaughter of Gwynn, and I hold the key.'