'Now where you do you think you're going, Mistress Kraaia?'

“Now where you do you think you’re going, Mistress Kraaia?” Cat cooed.

Kraaia thought she was taking advantage of the sisters’ Gaelic squabbling to sneak downstairs and peek about and prowl – and if she found her way into the pantry, to stuff herself with cheese or cold meat so that she could turn up her nose at the roasted geese with proper disdain.

She shuffled into the doorway and muttered, “Nowhere.”

“Dina will call us down when it’s ready,” Cat said. “You come in here and help us gossip! We need a girl to break our tie.”

“I hate gossiping.”

“Just like you hate goose!” Flann hooted.

'Just like you hate goose!'

“Now, if she wants to go to bed with an empty stomach and an empty ear, that’s her affair,” Cat pretended to scold her. “I shan’t stuff a helpless girl with delicious goose and prune gravy, and sister, you mustn’t be boring her with all your bothersome gossip about your new wolf. I won’t allow it!”

Cat sent Kraaia a smug smile over Liadan’s head. For that alone Kraaia could have run off and kicked over a chair, but sagely she grit her teeth and bore it. She had already been fooled into giving up goose forever – or for at least as long as she lived with Cat and Paul, which, she reminded herself, was not likely to be long.

'What wolf?'

“What wolf?” she muttered dubiously. If it had been a trick, she told herself, she would surely make Cat pay.

“Ach, nothing,” Cat chirped. “Vash brought Flann a wolf to stay with them at the barn, but it’s such a scandalous story, and I know how you hate juicy gossip…”

Flann snickered, but she came to Kraaia’s rescue all the same. “Ach, don’t be teasing her, sister! Vash brought me a wolf for a wedding-​​gift, darling – a little lady-​​wolf named Frost.”

'Vash brought me a wolf for a wedding-gift, darling.'

“A real live wolf?” Kraaia squeaked. And then, to her horror, she blurted, “Can I see her?”

Her wild spirit awoke an instant too late to do anything more than thrash and snarl. Once again she had been fooled into expressing an interest in something. Now these people would twist it and twine it about her at every opportunity, trying to make a halter by which she might be led.

At once her body stiffened.

Sure enough, Flann said breezily, “If you’re good.”

Cat laughed aloud. “If you’re good! Fie, sister! It’s three months you’ve been a mother, and already you’re bleating out If you’re good like a fat old matron to her flock! If you’re good!” she cooed breathlessly at Liadan. “Is that what Mama tells you when you’re asking may you have a pony to ride and a pair of gold rings for your ears?”

'Is that what Mama tells you?'

One of the few things Kraaia hated more than gossip was nonsensical fussing over babies. Nevertheless she would have to endure it if she wanted to hear more about Flann’s wolf.

She slipped between the piles of bags and folded blankets, and into the interesting chaos of a room turned inside out. She resolved to peek into everything if she was left alone upstairs, but for now she was most attracted by the eerie wrongness of a bed frame lacking its slats and mattress. Like a vagabond crossing a stile into forbidden lands, she lifted her skirt and stepped inside.

While her back was yet turned, she put on her most scornful, least interested voice and asked, “What could be so scandalous about a wolf anyway?”

“Fie! I’m not finding it scandalous!” Flann protested. “I think it’s a fine, brave thing!”

'I think it's a fine, brave thing!'

Kraaia lowered her head until her hair hung over her face so she could safely turn her ear towards Flann. A real live wolf in an arguably scandalous yet fine and brave affair: she could think of no story that could interest her more, unless it also involved herself.

“I never said it can’t be all three!” Cat said. “But not one word about it will I be hearing, sister, until Kraaia has settled our argument. Once you tell her about your wolf, she’ll skilter off and it’s never more we’ll have her ear again.”

Kraaia kicked a pair of pillows into a taller pile and dropped herself upon them with a huff. “What?” she sighed.


“Now, it’s just a little argument we big girls were having,” Cat gushed, “and this coy baby girl is just a-​​blinking and a-​​winking and never saying what she’s a-​​thinking, so we need a third big girl to help us decide.”

Kraaia rolled her eyes impatiently. “I don’t know – the green one!”

Cat squealed and danced a turn with Liadan. “The green one she says! It’s the Captain she’s meaning, with the green eyes of him! Bless you, darling!”

“She is not!” Flann gasped. “You never asked her the question!”

'She is not!'

“So I shall, but the answer will remain the same! The question is this, darling: Which man shall Connie have – Cearball or the Captain?”

Kraaia had not expected an interesting conversation, but this was very nearly the most tedious subject she could imagine. It only lacked a debate on which of the two men had a more pinchable behind.

“Uh, why are you asking me?” she grumbled. “Why don’t you just ask Connie?”

'Why don't you just ask Connie?'

“Because Cat’s afraid to hear the truth, that’s why!” Flann laughed.

Cat gasped, “Never!”

“Ach, when they danced together!” Flann moaned. “Each seeing nothing but the other’s eyes!”

Kraaia sighed and pushed her pillows behind her so she could at least lie down. As her face dropped below the edge of the bed frame she imagined herself being laid in her grave, but when her head hit the pillow she found the bed frame made an unsatisfying coffin.

She found the bed frame made an unsatisfying coffin.

She lay under the bed, though there was no bed above her; and the box in which she lay had no sides. When she let her head loll she saw the fire, and she imagined herself in Hell.

“I believe Cearball may have glanced southwards a few times,” Cat scowled.

“Never did he!” Flann held up her hand to swear. “For I was watching! And did you see the smile of her, sister? When has little Connie smiled like that since poor Eithne went away?”

“The smile!” Cat scoffed. “Fie! And her laughing, when the Captain made her laugh? Were you ever seeing shy wee Connie laughing like that with a man? The great big belly laughs of her!” she babbled breathlessly at the baby. “Just like this girl!”

She lifted Liadan up to kiss her all over her round belly until she laughed.

She lifted Liadan up to kiss her all over her round belly.

The wrongness of Cat’s play on words captured Kraaia’s attention more than the rest of the conversation. In its unraveling she was forced to imagine the scene enacted by Condal and the Captain: a man’s scratchy beard and hot, wet mouth being applied to the sensitive skin of a half-​​naked girl.

Kraaia’s hungry stomach gurgled with a faint nausea, and she sat up to fold her arms protectively over it, with something like the instinct of prey.

She sat up to fold her arms protectively over it.

“I’m not denying the Captain’s a tolerably agreeable man,” Flann grumbled, “but he’s not having blood like the Brians’. Think of her babies, now, sister.”

Irish blood,” Cat muttered.

“Aye, Irish blood!” Flann barked. “And what’s being the shame in that?”

Even Kraaia was startled by her vehemence. Liadan whined, and Cat held her up to stare at her strangely.

Liadan whined.

Flann hastened to add, “Better a son of Irish kings than a Englishman who can’t even be telling his grandfather’s name!”

Cat clutched Liadan to her breast and waved her little fist at her mother. “And what’s being the shame in that, Mama?” she asked darkly on behalf of the baby. For herself she added, “You’re simply jealous because he’s fonder of Connie than ever he was of you.


Both ladies began hissing and yapping at one another in Gaelic, neither stopping to listen to the other. Kraaia could not have followed their cacophony even had it been in English, and she wondered whether they did.

She sighed and leaned her hand on the bed frame to help herself lie down again, lowering herself gradually with her arm like ropes into her grave.

She lowered herself gradually with her arm like ropes into her grave.

Once in Hell again she reached up to scratch idly at the painted wood while the ladies argued. Not until her thumbnail had gouged a fat chip of paint from the edge of a petal did she notice that the inside of the bed frame was painted with flowers just as lush as those on the outside, though once the mattress was in place no one would ever see.

The inside of the bed frame was painted with flowers.

Kraaia decided that Osh was an unusual elf indeed – perhaps another being who was drawn to negative spaces and forbidden places, or who saw things in others’ nothings. She rubbed the chipped petal gently with the oil of her fingertip, though it was too late to repair the damage she had done – and though no one would ever see.

“What about the wolf?” she cried, as much to interrupt her own queer thoughts as the sisters’s argument.

Both ladies stopped for a moment, stunned like woken sleepers.

Then Flann flicked the backs of her hands at Kraaia and sighed, “Ach! the wolf! Vash brought her because she’s expecting pups, and the other wolves would kill them if she had them.”

'Vash brought her because she's expecting pups.'

Kraaia grabbed the bed frame and pulled herself up. “Pups?

Flann turned and spoke angrily to her sister in Gaelic, picking up the argument again.

“Can I have one of the pups?” Kraaia begged.

Flann groaned, “If you’re good!” before flinging another Gaelic imprecation at Cat.

'If you're good!'

Kraaia hugged herself tightly beneath her breasts with the instinct of the unloved. She imagined a fat puppy wriggling in her arms, straining its way up her chest to lick her cheeks and chin. She imagined herself taking it everywhere with her, raising it up into a real live wolf. She would not crush its wild spirit into obedience and submission, but earn its love and teach it to want the same things she did, making it her partner and not her pet.

“I’ll eat my goose!” she shouted over the shouting. “I’ll eat anything if I can have a pup!”

'I'll eat my goose!'

Cat paused to cackle. “I wager you will! With two gravies!”

Flann said uneasily, “You’d better be asking Osh is it proper…”

“It’s Cat you’d better be asking!” Cat cried. “For it’s my house! And a wolf in it! Fie! What about the baby?”

“And what about Liadan?” Flann demanded.

Cat lifted Liadan into the light and gabbled, “So blessed is this baby girl, she’ll be making the wolf to dwell with the lamb, and be the little child to lead them!”

'So blessed is this baby girl!'

Flann wiped Liadan’s cheek with a rag and muttered, “And drown them in drool if they misbehave.”

Kraaia saw they were forgetting her already. “Promise?” she called anxiously. “If I’m good I can have a wolf pup?”

Her wild spirit howled in protest: she was roping and haltering and hobbling her own self with her reliance on one of the promises that adults seldom kept.

“If you’re good!” Flann groaned.

'If you're good!'

Sagely Kraaia left matters at that, allowing the sisters to return to their argument.

She laid a careful hand on the bed frame and let herself down again, past the lip of her coffin, down into the earth, and on to the bed of pillows she had reserved for herself in Hell.

She laid a careful hand on the bed frame and let herself down again.

She let her eyes unfocus on the nothing overhead, forgot her stomach’s grumbling and the smell of roasting goose, and stopped her ears from hearing the sisters’ Gaelic squabbling. Her attention trickled down into herself: through the roof and barred walls of ribs that Cedric had bruised, down beneath the tracks worn by the restless pacing of her angry spirit, and farther down into the wall-​​less, roof-​​less, fiery forbidden landscape of her wild heart.

Perhaps, she thought, with her wolf she would dare to dwell there again. At last she had something to look forward to.

She had something to look forward to.