Food. This body’s appetites were on the scale of this body: monumental. Araphel had been obliged to plan his journey around the availability of hot meals, jugs of ale, and warm beds long enough to let him stretch out his big body and snore. He considered himself fortunate that it was at least more willing than Brude’s to sleep alone.

Eating alone was a bit much to ask of it, however, and Araphel was pleased to see the tavern door open ahead of him and an agreeable-​​looking young fellow step through it.

Araphel was pleased to see the door open ahead of him.

Araphel smiled eagerly up at him, hopeful he would be able to convince him to turn around and drink one last mug before going back out into the cold, if he would not join him in a meal.

He was aware his new grin appeared somewhat wolfish, but it had never yet evoked such a reaction of panic as it brought out of this young man.

“Sweet Jesus and M-​​Methuselah!” he wailed.

Then the other door opened, and it took all of Araphel’s thousand years’ practice at living lies not to likewise cry aloud.

It was Sir Malcolm.

It was Sir Malcolm: surely the second-​​to-​​worst man Araphel could hope to meet immediately upon his return to the valley. Perhaps even the worst, for if he met Sir Egelric, he might at least get his nose story squared away from the start. Under the scrutiny of Sir Malcolm’s keen mind, he would be lucky to get away with any story at all.

“He has a brother!” the other young man spluttered in outraged Gaelic. “Or a bastard!”

Araphel tossed back his head and laughed at him. “I was wondering what happened to your eye, friend, but if you’ve the habit of greeting strangers by accusing them of fornication…”

'I was wondering what happened to your eye.'

“He means,” Malcolm said softly, “you’re wearing an uncanny resemblance to a friend of him.”

Malcolm did not twitch so much as a brow, but an uncustomary redness welled up in his cheeks, betraying his shock. The resemblance, Araphel realized woefully, must have been uncannier than even Eithne had made him believe.

“A friend?” the young man howled.

Araphel laughed again. It was his new body’s one most dependable reaction – it came easily and looked true, and he was grateful for it now after months spent battling Sebastien’s balking, bucking peevishness.

Araphel laughed again.

Inside, he despaired as only the angel Araphel could. He had scarcely ridden five miles past the hazy borders of Lothere – scarcely pronounced a single phrase – and already he was forced to pull out his Cian and Eithne story. If he did not mention it now, he would never be able to bring it up hereafter. And he did not even know what had become of Cian.

“So I’m the bastard?” he chortled. “Sir, I do not like what you’re implying about my mother!”

He clapped the young man on the shoulder to show he teased, but the young man flushed and glowered as though he might have preferred a blow, man-​​to-​​man.

The young man flushed and glowered.

“But I’m not blaming you, friend,” Araphel smiled. “Seems I have the face of a bastard – or more like the face of an infamous Lotherian bastard-​​maker! I met a young lady on the road said the same thing to me the other day.”

Malcolm immediately asked, “Did you catch a glimpse of her ears?”

The other man shook Malcolm by the sleeve and begged, “No! Did she look anything like him?”

“Ach, no, friend,” Araphel grinned. “She was pretty.”

The man laughed until Araphel cooed, “But not as pretty as you!

'But not as pretty as you!'

While the other man was still brewing up a smart retort, Malcolm asked mildly, “Was she from coming from Lothere?”

“Was her name Eithne?” the other man gasped, his outrage again abruptly forgotten.

“Well, now…” Araphel chuckled.

Malcolm tried to silence him with a warning glare, but the young man gabbled on, “Was she young and dark? With long black braids all down her breast? And in a green cloak dressed, with beads of glass upon it?”

Malcolm muttered, “Cearball…”

“Well, now,” Araphel said thoughtfully, “that’s just uncanny.”

'That's just uncanny.'

“Where were you seeing her?” Cearball begged. “Where was she going?”

Malcolm growled, “Cearball!”

“But Malcolm, it’s Eithne!” he squealed. “Where was she?” he demanded. “How long ago? I’m going to find her!”

'But Malcolm, it's Eithne!'

“Your sweetheart, was she?” Araphel asked.

“My sweetheart’s lost sister! And it’s I shall be bringing her home!”

He crossed his arms and gleefully danced a scuffling step through the powdery snow of the porch. Araphel laughed and fought back his body’s desire to give the man a hug.

Finally even Malcolm groaned in fond exasperation. “Lad, grateful though she may be, Connie is not going to fall in love with you simply because you bring Eithne home.”

“I can make her fall in love with me myself! I need to make her family love me! Where was she, friend?”

'Where was she, friend?'

Before Araphel could launch into his carefully rehearsed reply, a young woman came stomping out of the back of the tavern, howling, “If you boys don’t get in or get out and close that door!”

Cearball pulled himself together in a snap and swaggered grandly back into the broad room. “Sorry, darling!” he crooned. “I’ll bring in some wood for you ere we go, if you won’t let me be warming you any other way!”

His Gaelic was of a snobbish elegance, but his English was merely Irish, and Araphel was struck by a mournful nostalgia for Brude.

Then he was struck by Malcolm’s firm hand on his shoulder.

“Can we buy you a drink, friend?” Malcolm asked him. “Malcolm is the name of me, and that’s my friend Cearball.”

'Can we buy you a drink, friend?'

Something about his smile seemed strained, but Araphel’s convivial new body reacted with an immediate grin and a hearty handshake.

“Fergus! Glad to meet you both! And I’ll drink with you if you’ll have dinner with me!”

He swept Malcolm through the door with him even as Malcolm protested, “Dinner? Already?”

Araphel would not be turned aside by such flimsy excuses. He interrupted Cearball’s flirtation with the tavern-​​keeper and informed her, “Three for dinner! And with my appetite, better count four!”

'And with my appetite, better count four!'

“Dinner!” she cried. “It ain’t even noon!”

“I never let that stop me, dear heart!” he grinned.

“But it ain’t ready yet!”

“Then let’s have breakfast again!” he beamed, entirely undaunted. “What do you have? You’ve bread and cheese and butter, haven’t you?”

“Of course…”

“And sausage and eggs and ham? That ought to keep us chewing a while. And what’s cooking for dinner?”

'And sausage and eggs and ham?'

“Well, it was pea soup and a roast of mutton,” the woman said dubiously, “but the roast is still bleeding and the soup is just ham bone soup so far…”

Araphel nudged Cearball with the back of his wrist and announced, “But my friend here loves ham bone soup! Don’t spoil his ham bone soup with peas!”

“No peas, please,” Cearball lisped in a childish falsetto.

Malcolm attempted to interrupt with a soft, “But we haven’t the time, lad…”

'But we haven't the time, lad...'

Araphel gave Malcolm’s shoulder a jovial pat, but he was wise enough not to meet his eyes.

“And with that big lake outside you’re bound to have some fish, dear heart,” he gently scolded the tavern-​​keeper, “and don’t deny it.”

“Well, salt fish we got plenty,” she said. “And I think I got some potted eels I was saving…”

“Potted eels!” Araphel gasped. “My friend Malcolm adores potted eels!”

“On hot buttered toast,” Cearball added.

'My friend Malcolm adores potted eels!'

“You want some of everything, what,” the woman said dazedly as she waddled back to her stove.

“We’ll start with everything to tide us over till you scrounge up more!” Araphel shouted. “And something hot to drink! To start!”

“You know just how to flirt with a tavern-keeper’s wife,” Cearball congratulated him as he pulled out his chair.

'You know just how to flirt with a tavern-keeper's wife.'

“One must have the depths of purse and stomach to back it up,” Malcolm pointed out. He smiled vaguely and studied Araphel’s face with inscrutable eyes, in the way of cats.

He smiled vaguely and studied Araphel's face.

Araphel realized only then that his exuberant disregard of Malcolm’s reticence may have been precisely what Malcolm had in mind. Malcolm had backed just far enough away to lure Araphel head-​​and-​​neck into his own snare. He resolved to eat quickly and keep his mouth full at all times.

“He wouldn’t chouse us with the bill,” Cearball scoffed. “We’re bigger than he is, if we’re stacked.”

Araphel threw up his arms. “Arm wrestle me? Both of you?”

“Ach, at the same time?” Cearball laughed.

'At the same time?'

Araphel did not suppose the tavern-​​keeper understood their Gaelic, but she understood the universal gesture of Cearball’s elbow hitting the table with his palm raised.

She slammed down a mug of hot wine as a distraction, without spilling a drop. “No fighting in here!”

Malcolm sat back and sighed. “These gentlemen were just demonstrating their wealth and honest intentions in the usual gentlemanly manner of brawling with each other.”

'These gentlemen were just demonstrating their wealth and honest intentions.'

“You can demonstrate your wealth later by paying your bill,” she grumbled as she sat the other two mugs down. She wiped an invisible spot from the table and bustled away.

“I can demonstrate the depths of my purse to you now, if you like,” Araphel said to the others, effortlessly slipping the English word into his Gaelic as a poor speaker of the language would be obliged to do. A thousand years’ practice at living lies had at least assured him that it would not be his vocabulary, grammar, or accent that would give him away, even to the likes of Malcolm.

“The depths of my stomach I’ll have to show you the old-​​fashioned way,” he added with a grin. He gave his belly a fond pat with the side of his fist.

'The depths of my stomach I'll have to show you the old-fashioned way.'

Cearball clapped his hand down over the steaming rim of his mug. “I propose we start by testing your bladder, good sir,” he intoned.

Malcolm closed his eyes and groaned. “Why does everything turn into a pissing contest with you, lad?”

“Because everything starts as a drinking contest?” Araphel guessed.

“Oh, so you’ve met?” Malcolm laughed.

Cearball and Araphel laughed together, and Araphel was nearly overwhelmed by a brotherly fondness for the young man. His blood was hot and Irish, and he loved one of the nine daughters of Flann. Araphel remembered just how that was.

Araphel remembered just how that was.

Araphel lifted his mug. “I propose we start by drinking to this man’s sweetheart.”

Cearball gave him such a grateful, hopeful smile that Araphel longed to put down his mug again and hug him with both arms.

“And to yours?” Cearball offered.

Araphel brought his mug against his. “Aye, and to her new husband!” he said with a wryly bitter smile. Still, he found it sweet to tell that much of truth. Dantalion had allowed that he might pretend to be lovelorn, to hide the fact that he was.

“Ach, no!” Cearball crooned. “A villain, I’m certain!” He tapped his mug against Araphel’s and declared, “May the skin be on their soup, and on their milk no cream!”

'May the skin be on their soup, and on their milk no cream!'

Araphel laughed painfully, from the depths of his body’s deep lungs. He thought it just the sort of absurd curse Brude might have produced.

Malcolm shook his head dazedly. “Lad, not one week ago you would have congratulated the man for getting himself free.”

Cearball wiped the wine from his mustache with the back of his hand and spluttered, “That was before I met Connie! Now, where were you meeting the sister of her, friend?” he begged.

“We haven’t drunk to Malcolm’s sweetheart yet, if he’s having one,” Araphel pointed out.

'We haven't drunk to Malcolm's sweetheart yet, if he's having one.'

“He’s married with babies already,” Cearball said dismissively. He snatched at a small loaf from the basket the tavern-​​keeper had just left, but Araphel brought his hand down on the back of Cearball’s arm and pressed it flat.

“He may still love his wife,” he said gently.

Malcolm shrugged and lifted his mug in silence. Having been his confessor, Araphel knew Malcolm’s marriage was not the happiest, but it did not help him read the mysteries of his eyes. His smile was one of mere bemused long-​​suffering and meant for Cearball, it seemed.

Malcolm shrugged and lifted his mug in silence.

Araphel wondered again who this young Irishman was, and what to Malcolm and his cousins, and how he had made his way to Lothere. More than anything he wondered desperately what had been happening here in his absence. He had hoped that by arriving through Wintermere he could get his fill of gossip before heading down into the valley. Now he could not even guess what had led Malcolm so far from home.

He held the basket out to Malcolm and asked, “Where are you two traveling in this weather? I wouldn’t send a dog out of doors in this snow.”

'I wouldn't send a dog out of doors in this snow.'

Cearball bent his head and sawed a hunk off his own loaf with his knife. “How did you get here?” he demanded. “Fall out of the sky?”

Araphel had for so long lived lies that he felt not even the stirrings of a wry smile at this unintentional truth.

He turned to Malcolm and asked, “How do you say ‘I meant that ironically’ in Gaelic?”

Malcolm laughed. “He wouldn’t get it anyway.”

'He wouldn't get it anyway.'

Cearball reached for the cheese, but Araphel interrupted him by banging both of his elbows down on the table and leaning his forehead against his clasped hands to pray.

He did not have to open his eyes to see the awkward gestures of the two young men as they arranged themselves into icons of piety on either side of him, pretending it was perfectly natural to bow one’s head before every meal. He could see the nervous glance they exchanged before closing their eyes, and the sidelong peeks they sent his way as each tried to ensure he would not be the last man praying. He had seen it all before.

Therefore Araphel generously jerked and shifted and creaked his chair as he unbent his arms and laboriously crossed himself, giving them plenty of time. Then he took out his knife and at last cut into his bread.

“You’re a proper Scot, I believe,” he nodded to Malcolm, “but you’re a long way from home if I’m not mistaken,” he told Cearball.

'You're a long way from home if I'm not mistaken.'

“We’re not traveling anywhere,” Malcolm said quickly. “We’re out looking for a lost girl.”

Araphel’s unflappable new body began to flush with a low dread. Would they still be looking for Eithne? Had something made them start looking for her again? And what had become of Cian?

“An elf girl,” Cearball added.

“An elf girl!” Araphel laughed in relief. “I heard there were elves here, but I wasn’t quite believing. Pity she’s lost, for I’d like to see!” he winked. “Do they truly have pointed ears?”

“His wife’s an elf,” Cearball said. His voice was oddly flat. He and Malcolm were staring at one another over the lantern, and neither laughed.

'His wife's an elf.'

“She’s very tall and slender,” Malcolm said. “The girl we’re seeking. Sixteen years old. Black hair, green eyes. So beautiful I’m already knowing you haven’t seen her, for you’d be talking of naught else.”

Cearball picked up his mug of hot wine and drank. Araphel heard him swallow, and swallow, and swallow.

It had to be Lasrua. It had to be Osh’s daughter. What had been happening here? Where was Osh? Where was Flann?

“She ran away yesterday morn,” Malcolm said. “We were hoping mayhap with a man, but I’m thinking no.”

'We were hoping mayhap with a man, but I'm thinking no.'

“I haven’t seen such a girl,” Araphel said softly.

Cearball went to work carving his cheese, chin tucked nearly against his breast, as though he wanted to avoid all eyes. “We’ve already looked everywhere she could be,” he muttered. “And now we’re looking everywhere we hope she’s not.”

Malcolm picked up a cold sausage and sawed away at that. “It’s hard going, with the snow,” he observed.

“After a while,” Cearball said, “every lump in the snow starts looking like the body of a girl. After a while, one starts seeing dead girls everywhere.”

'After a while, one starts seeing dead girls everywhere.'

Malcolm stared across the lantern flame again – not quite glaring, but warning all the same. Cearball looked up and boldly met his eyes.

“I’ll be finding Eithne for her,” he announced.

Malcolm said nothing, but the casing of his sausage snapped and creaked and cracked beneath the blade of his knife as he sliced it slowly against his palm. The meat was silent.

“Now tell us where were you seeing her,” Cearball demanded of Araphel. This time he would not be denied.

'Now tell us where were you seeing her.'

Araphel had scarcely touched his food, but he took his time wiping his hands and mouth on his napkin. When he and Dantalion had drawn up his Cian and Eithne story, they had not considered that Condal would have acquired a stubborn young suitor in the meantime. They had only meant to allow a comforting message to reach her, and thereby ease Eithne’s own mind. Araphel had not thought any lives would be risked in pursuit of a lie.

“She’ll be long gone, friend, I’m sorry,” he said softly. “It was days ago I saw her, crossing the Clyde.”

'She'll be long gone, friend, I'm sorry.'

“The Clyde.” Cearball wrinkled his nose and glanced at Malcolm.

“Days or a week from here,” Malcolm grunted.

Araphel explained, “I had just come over, and they were getting ready to cross – ”

“They?” Malcolm interrupted.


“Her – her husband, I thought…”

“They eloped,” Malcolm muttered. He attempted to glare at Cearball, but Cearball was looking mournfully at Araphel.

“Were they saying where they were going?” Cearball asked.

“North,” Araphel said. “That’s all I know. The, ah… the husband wasn’t a talkative fellow. Quite gentle with her, though. And she seemed quite fond of him.”

'And she seemed quite fond of him.'

“North,” Cearball repeated miserably.

Malcolm waved the back of his blade at him. “The Highlands, lad. You’ll never be finding anything there,” he warned, “and you’re likely to lose yourself. Like the father of her.”

Cearball poked at his bread with the tip of his knife, forlorn.

“She was alive and well a few days ago,” Malcolm grumbled on. “And from the sounds of it she has what she was wanting. Connie shall have to content herself with that. And you, too.”

'And you, too.'

“She’ll break her heart over that, you’re meaning,” Cearball pouted.

Malcolm pounded the heel of his knife down on the table. “Well and? It was Eithne broke her heart and none other! And she may think on that if she’s asking herself whether to run away with a man of her own!”

At last Cearball seemed to notice he was being warned. He laid his knife flat on the table and leaned over it, eerily more menacing unarmed.

He laid his knife flat on the table and leaned over it.

“I’ll gladly stand up and ask her hand of any man who has any right to call himself a guardian to an innocent girl.”

Malcolm’s cheeks were flushed an uncustomary red. His clean-​​shaven upper lip sparkled with beads of sweat. Cearball glared as ordinarily only Malcolm could glare.

Araphel was beginning to piece together his first jagged-​​edged hints of what had been happening here, and they all took the shape of Egelric. Cearball’s livid shock at seeing a face so like Egelric’s… his outrage at being teased about his “friend”… the black eye… the girl’s guardian…

What he could not understand was Malcolm’s white-​​lipped reaction to any reminder of the man. Surely a simple quarrel between his father-​​in-​​law and his new best friend could not suffice to explain that.

“I’ll tell you all I know,” Araphel said with the gentle gravity Brude had spoken so well.

'I'll tell you all I know.'

The two men turned to him, both slightly stunned-​​looking and blinking after their long stare. Araphel was forced to choose, and he turned to Cearball.

“I’ll tell you everything I remember about her, and you may tell her sister. She’ll be glad to hear it from you.”

Cearball’s face softened as he thought it over, and Araphel saw it all through his violet eyes: being there to share her glee in learning her sister was still alive, being there to comfort her heart-​​break as she realized her sister was never coming home.

Cearball's face softened as he thought it over.

Araphel too had once possessed a hot Irish head and loved a daughter of Flann – but no kindly stranger had come along to make the way easier for him!

Araphel saw a flash out of the corner of his eye as Malcolm flipped the blade of his knife over the backs of his fingers and planted the point lightly into the wooden tabletop. Head bowed, brow furrowed, he poked and picked at the grain with the knifetip as though no one were watching.

He poked and picked at the grain with the knifetip as though no one were watching.

Outside of church affairs, Araphel had not known young Malcolm well, but he did not think he had the habit of fidgeting, and certainly not by means of an implement so revealing of hidden aggression as a knife.

“And I shall help you look for your elf girl, if I may join you,” Araphel said to him.

Malcolm looked up and guiltily laid his knife down in a subtle movement he must have hoped Araphel would not see.

Araphel pretended not to. “Or if you think it wiser to go separately,” he drawled, “I’ll keep my eyes open as I ride down. If you could point out a way to the abbey you haven’t already gone over…”

Araphel pretended not to.

“You’re going to the abbey?” Malcolm asked mildly.

In the space of two phrases he had recovered all his poise. Even the sweat on his face seemed to have instantly dried.

“They don’t feed you so well as this, you know!” he added as the tavern-​​keeper brought a steaming platter in.

'They don't feed you so well as this, you know!'

“I don’t go for the diet!” Araphel laughed. “I don’t know that I’ll stay long, but I wanted to visit there at least once before I settle down and take up with anything that keeps me from traveling.”

“Or with someone,” Cearball said with such blushing delight that Araphel was certain he was thinking primarily of himself.

'Or with someone.'

“Not what I had in mind,” Araphel laughed. “I’d rather meet abbots than pretty girls at the present, at least till I scab over after the last one!”

Cearball shrugged and plowed into his meal with bread in one hand and knife in the other.

“Does the abbot ever see visitors?” Araphel asked Malcolm.

Malcolm grunted. “I doubt you’ll be allowed to see the Abbot just now. He’s not been well lately…”

'He's not been well lately...'

“He’s a fucking lunatic,” Cearball announced through a mouthful of egg and sausage.

Malcolm slumped back into his chair and laughed. “So quoth this daftie.”

“He is! Tell him!” Cearball protested. “They found him in the crypt this morning, all a-​​gibbering and a-​​slavering and covered with blood!

'He is!  Tell him!'

Aelfden. This body’s terrors were on the scale of this body: monumental. Its lungs were as deep as caverns, and when Araphel fought to force back a gasp or a cry, it was like trying to stop the wind. His galloping new heart was a runaway warhorse.

He wondered how Egelric bore it.

He wondered how Egelric bore it. He had to hope that it was not in the same way – or at the very least that Malcolm was not watching.

“His own blood,” Malcolm said wearily.

“He cuts himself with knives!” Cearball said to Araphel, pointing with his own greasy knife as if to demonstrate how shocking it was.

“It’s called self-​​mortification,” Malcolm told him.

'It's called self-mortification.'

“It’s called fucking insanity,” Cearball concluded and took another bite of egg.

“Is all that true?” Araphel asked. His voice seemed to shake in time with his pounding heart, and he did not know how to still it. He supposed Egelric had simply learned to avoid speech when he was moved. “He cuts himself with knives?

“He’s a very holy man in a very frail body,” Malcolm said. “We can’t imagine how hard that is to bear.”

'He's a very holy man in a very frail body.'

“Has he always been that way?”

Malcolm shrugged a shoulder. “No one knows him very well. He’s the King’s cousin, and Sir Brede’s uncle, but I don’t believe anyone’s truly knowing him. And that’s not common knowledge,” he added, pointing warningly at Cearball. “About what happened this morning, and the cutting and so on. You need to learn to keep your mouth shut, or I’ll quit talking to you.”

Cearball clamped his lips together and chewed widely behind them, staring white-​​eyed at Malcolm like a willful child.

Cearball clamped his lips together and chewed widely behind them.

“I won’t mention it,” Araphel murmured. “But I thought it must already be common knowledge that he’s somewhat… unusual.”

“Fucking insane,” Cearball grumbled.

Malcolm ignored him and asked, “Oh?”

“His books, I’m meaning,” Araphel explained. “Seemed a bit… inspired.

'Seemed a bit... inspired.'

He had only meant to draw Malcolm out a little, to try to prolong the conversation in spite of its awkwardness, to learn all he could about Aelfden in case he could not reach him for some time. He only meant to seem like a curious stranger, prey enough to ordinary human nature to be intrigued by these lurid details of blood and madness.

But Malcolm sat back in his chair and raised an eyebrow.

But Malcolm sat back in his chair and raised an eyebrow. His monumental poise shone like a halo all around his head. Araphel saw an instant too late that he was the one who had been drawn in, head-​​and-​​neck, into a snare.

“I wouldn’t have thought they’d let you read that sort of book in a Culdee house,” Malcolm said.

Araphel’s great body swallowed convulsively, and its hoarse voice asked with a shaky laugh, “How did you know I was ever in a Culdee house, friend?”

'How did you know I was ever in a Culdee house, friend?'

“I knew you’d been a monk by the way you prayed,” Malcolm explained. “Arms above the table like that. And I can tell English is your mother tongue, but you learned Gaelic from educated Gaels, so I’m thinking it was a monastery in Scotland.”

Araphel nodded. That much had, of course, been intentional.

“But you’re speaking it queerly enough that I’m thinking you learned it by whispering in a silent house,” Malcolm winked.

Araphel began to smile, and then Malcolm grinned and opened his arms out over the laden table.

'And only a man fresh out of a Culdee house would sit down to a dinner like this before noon.'

“And only a man fresh out of a Culdee house would sit down to a dinner like this before noon, and eat as if he hadn’t had a full belly in twenty years!”

Cearball laughed, and Araphel joined him in glad laughter. It had only been a lucky guess. He supposed that a young man like Malcolm could be clever enough and bold enough to parlay an unusual talent for deduction and the occasional lucky guess into a reputation for an uncanny sixth sense.

Araphel bent over his plate and carved eagerly into his steaming sausages. With the practice of a thousand years of living lies, he had already nearly prepared his explanation for having come by the books, and he would have polished it off by the time he swallowed his bite.

He would have polished it off by the time he swallowed his bite.

But Malcolm leaned towards him again and scratched at the wooden tabletop with the tip of his knife, idly it seemed – but Araphel had understood too late that nothing Malcom ever did was idle.

“Also,” he said coolly, “the cloth you used to wipe your knife was Culdee cloth. That’s scarcely ever seen outside the monasteries.”

Araphel’s mouth fell open. His unsteady breath blew in and out across his lips like the wind through caves.

Araphel's mouth fell open.

“I recognized by the weave,” Malcolm shrugged. Malcolm never smirked.

Cearball pounded his fist on the table and laughed with his mouth full of half-​​chewed food.

“Recognized by the weave!” he hooted. “Jesus Christ! He’s fucking uncanny, isn’t he?” he asked Araphel.

'He's fucking uncanny, isn't he?'

“Uncanny,” Araphel repeated. He did not even consciously remember having performed the gesture of wiping his knife, and Malcolm had not only seen it but scrutinized it, down to the very weave.

Malcolm sat back and grinned fondly at Cearball, since he could not smirk at Araphel.

“You can’t lie to this man!” Cearball said proudly. “Sweet Jesus! He told me things about me I didn’t know about myself!”

'He told me things about me I didn't know about myself!'

“And you’re still blushing to this day, laddie,” Malcolm laughed.

“You should be grateful he gave you a fair warning now,” Cearball told Araphel. “You’ll feel less like an ass later if Malcolm tells you everything he knows about you from the start.”

'You should be grateful he gave you a fair warning now.'

Malcolm smiled slightly and lifted his head. He seemed to be speaking directly across the lantern flame at Cearball, but his golden eyes saw all around, in the way of cats.

“Malcolm never tells everything he knows, lad. Let that be fair warning to you.”

'Malcolm never tells everything he knows, lad.'