The man outside stamped and panted like Cearball in a huff.

The man outside stamped and panted like Cearball in a huff, but Iylaine could not quite make herself believe that this was simply another squabbling interlude in the adventures of her husband and his exasperating friend.

The man outside seethed with an angry fire Iylaine knew only too well. Her husband and his cousins were sweltering in their rages. Malcolm could make the very air shimmer around his head.

He made her skin prickle with a sensation of heat.

This man was not so hot or not so enraged, but he made her skin prickle with a sensation of heat. An angry Scot at Iylaine’s door on this night – it could only have been one man.

“Aengus!” she beamed.


“Iylaine – ”

Remembering perhaps too literally certain things Malcolm had said about keeping one’s opponent’s off-​​balance, Iylaine grabbed a fistful of Aengus’s sleeve and pulled.

As soon as he staggered across the threshold, she remembered herself and put her arm around his back to guide him more gracefully inside. She moved too late, however, to stop the sword he wore on his belt from banging against the door frame. Its thud rang up and out along the rafters, and baby Maud sniffled in her sleep.

'Welcome home!'

“Welcome home!” Iylaine cried in the soft voice mothers used to exclaim around their sleeping children. “We meant to pay you a visit tomorrow – ”

“Good evening, Iylaine – ”

“And we heard your father’s here?”

“Are you – ”

'Are you--'

Iylaine clasped his shoulders and leaned in to kiss his cheeks, one and the other, as Malcolm’s lady-​​cousins greeted him. Iylaine had never before kissed Aengus that way, and she left him looking shaken. She reassured herself with thoughts of things Malcolm had said about one’s opponent’s equilibrium.

“Are you remembering my old Da, then?” Aengus asked hesitantly, wary of what she might do next.

Iylaine remembered. Her Gaelic had not been good then, but to her dying day she would believe the beery old man had privately observed that such ears as hers would make excellent handles. To her dying day she would wonder to what end.

“I remember I was supposed to be quite honored that he smiled at me!” she giggled, though in her heart she seethed.

'I remember I was supposed to be quite honored that he smiled at me!'

Aengus smiled awkwardly at her. Wise Malcolm might have left him that way, but Iylaine prattled on.

“Won’t you come in? Would you like a drink?”

“No – thank you – ” he gasped, relieved to have been granted an opening. “I’m in a bit of a hurry, love…”

He laid his left hand on the pommel of his sword as if to hide its protuberance, and he leaned past her to peer into the shadows of her house.

“Is your husband at home?” he asked. The mildness of his voice was belied by the sweat gathering on his brow and across the cheeks she had just kissed. She imagined she could almost hear his heart pounding.

Even Iylaine was wise enough to answer simply, “No.”

Aengus swallowed and turned his head as if it cost him an effort to look directly at her. She heard the faint tapping of his wedding ring on steel as as he rhythmically squeezed the pommel of his sword in his agitation.

'Are you knowing where your man is?'

“Are you knowing where he is this night, love?” he asked softly.

“Why? Is there any trouble? Is there bad news from his father?”

He lifted his hand from his sword and laid it her shoulder. “No, no,” he soothed in his gentle voice. “All are well back home, and I’ll be glad to chat with you about them tomorrow, but for tonight…” He coughed and asked more gravely, “Are you knowing where your man is?”

'Are you knowing where your man is?'

Iylaine shrugged. “No.”

He let his breath out in a gust. He was clearly knocked off-​​kilter. He had not been expecting that.

“Wasn’t he telling you where he was going?” he asked.

'Wasn't he telling you where he was going?'


“But can’t you tell me where he might have gone?”


“Iylaine!” he sighed in exasperation. “Have you no idea?”

“No,” she cheeped. “Does your wife always know where you are?”

'Does your wife always know where you are?'

Only after she had said it did Iylaine realize what a low blow it had been. It was low enough – or Aengus had guilty enough a conscience – that he began to suspect she was not as innocent as she was trying to appear. His brows came together in an ominous arc whose angles Iylaine knew painfully well.

“I shall find him,” he said softly.

'I shall find him.'

He laid the heel of his hand on his sword again, and he pushed slowly back on the hilt until the blade hung parallel with his leg, as if he meant to hide the whole weapon in his shadow.

No knight ever rode out without his sword, of course, but at most times Iylaine scarcely glanced at them. They were simply part of the male equipment, and in their familiarity they were as harmless and inconspicuous as anything that might have been tucked away beneath a kilt.

Tonight she could not stop looking at it. Aengus could not stop touching it, adjusting it, shoving it out of the way. They were both excruciatingly aware of its presence – and each knew what the other was thinking – and both were too polite to say anything about it.

“I shall tell him you’re looking for him when he comes home,” she tittered. “I’m certain we shall see you tomorrow in any event.”

'I'm certain we shall see you tomorrow in any event.'

Aengus frowned slightly, but he nodded his head. His hips swayed over his feet as if he were working up the nerve to make a move for the door, but his feet were steady. His sword he held flat and stiff against his thigh.

“Won’t you come in and have a drink to warm up?” she asked weakly.

As soon as she said it, she wondered why she even bothered trying to stall him. An extra quarter hour would do Malcolm and Cearball no good if they did not know he was coming. At worst, they would return while Aengus was still in the house.

He inclined his shoulder to her.

He inclined his shoulder to her and bowed stiffly at the waist like a Scot. She saw only then how it made a man’s sword jut out from his hip, pommel before and blade behind, menacing even sheathed. Perhaps, more than gallantry, that was what he had meant her to see.

“Thank you kindly, love, but no.”

She had never heard blithe Aengus speak in such a voice, but it was one she knew terribly, fearfully well. It was the voice of her father’s smoldering anger – the voice of mightier, more dangerous men than he.

She had never heard blithe Aengus speak in such a voice.

Aengus straightened and stood square over his boots, grim and unshakable as a granite lion.

“Save it for your own man,” he told her. “He’ll be wanting it when he’s coming home.”

'Save it for your own man.'