Garalt swung the heavy door outward like a scythe.

Garalt swung the heavy door outward like a scythe, prepared to mow down anyone impertinent enough to stand before it – beginning with Marcan.

Like an impertinent, fat-​​bellied grasshopper, Marcan leapt out of its way.

What is going on out here?” Garalt demanded.

“Not you too!” the girl beside Marcan wailed. “Doesn’t anyone speak English in this place?” She stood on her toes and screamed over his shoulder “Aengus!

Garalt disliked her at once. “I speak English, and Sir Aengus is not at home!”

The girl sobbed, “No! No!” and swayed between her two feet like Ete when she was about to go into a tantrum.

“Who is this chit?” Garalt demanded of Marcan in Gaelic. “You know Aengus is out!”

'Who is this chit?'

“It’s that Kraaia girl, Garrie,” Marcan blubbered, “but will you look at that kid’s ears?”

Garalt looked. “Lord Jesus!” he whispered.

Kraaia shoved him aside like a stem of grass and barreled into the hall.

Kraaia shoved him aside like a stem of grass and barreled into the hall.

He wailed, “Get back here!” before he remembered she spoke no Gaelic, and then he whirled about and hollered it again in English.

“She did the same thing to me at the gate!” Marcan whimpered.

'She did the same thing to me at the gate!'

Kraaia called out to Aengus once more – not a shout, but a shrill scream of the sort that would make men for a half-​​mile around get up and stand a moment in their doorways, staring out into the night.

Garalt tried to keep his own shout down to a whisper and ended up with a hoarsely croaked, “He’s not here!”

Kraaia whipped her head from side to side and screamed, “Domnall!”

“He’s not here either!” Garalt turned to take out his agitation on Marcan. “What were you thinking, you idiot? If the lady comes home and finds her here – with that kid!”

'What were you thinking, you idiot?'

I didn’t let her in!” Marcan protested. “You let her in the house!”

“She never would have got to the house if you hadn’t let her in at the gate!”

“What was I supposed to do? Tackle her?”

“You’d like that! If you didn’t crush her to death with your fat, sweaty – ”

The kitchen door swung out like a whip and cracked against the wall.

The kitchen door swung out like a whip.

“ – Lord Jesus…” Garalt concluded in a whisper. He had entirely forgotten about the old man.

“What in the devil’s name is going on out here?” Colin bellowed.

The one he chose to turn it on was Garalt's.

He staggered in, so drunk he took a shuffling step sideways or backwards for every step ahead, but the glare of his squinting eye was as keen as a blade – and out of all the noteworthy faces in that hall, the one he chose to turn it on was Garalt’s.

“N-​​n-​​now, it’s not my fault…” Garalt stammered. “We tried to tell her Aengus wasn’t home…”

'Now, it's not my fault...'

Colin tossed his head and hissed through his teeth, though the gesture cost him his balance, and he toppled back against the wall.

Kraaia let out a sob and finally turned. She clutched the baby protectively to her shoulder, but she shuffled closer to Colin, almost convulsing with gulping breaths.

“What are you doing here?” Colin demanded with the belligerence of an uneasy drunk. “That my grandson?”

'That my grandson?'

“You have to help…” Kraaia whimpered. Then she seemed to take courage and shouted angrily, “You have to help! Paul’s house is on fire and Maire’s there and she’s killing Lena and someone has to help her – ”

Colin snarled and slapped his palm back against the wall to silence her. “What the devil’s she saying?” he slurred, looking blearily between Marcan and Garalt like a senile sheepdog.

Kraaia sobbed, “Take him!” and shoved the baby at him. Colin fumbled, but Kraaia yanked at his arms and pushed and prodded the baby onto his shoulder. The baby neither struggled nor went limp – he merely let himself be slung around as if it was no matter to him in whose arms he was held.

'Doesn't anyone speak English in this accursed house?'

Then Kraaia staggered back and wailed, “Doesn’t anyone speak English in this accursed house?” She whipped her head around to glare at Garalt. “You?”

Marcan said softly in English, “I do, a little…”

Her head turned so quickly that her blonde hair swung out again before it had even finished settling down. Garalt bared his teeth at Marcan behind her back – it was very like him to trot out his awkward English to impress a girl when a far better English-​​speaker was standing right there – but Marcan pretended not to see.

“Tell him Paul’s house is on fire!” she pleaded. “And Lena’s in it and somebody has to help her!”

'Tell him Paul's house is on fire!'

Marcan began, “She says Paul’s house is a-​​burning – ”

“And Maire is there,” Kraaia gabbled, “and she was trying to kill Lena – ”

Garalt leaned back against the wall and whispered, “Lord Jesus…” He had thought his lady had looked livid, but he had supposed she was only going to fetch Aengus home from Nothelm, or from wherever Aengus had gone…

Garalt leaned back against the wall.

“ – and she was stabbing and stabbing her with a knife and whipping her with a horsewhip and she was all on fire – ”

Marcan lifted his hand to his eyes and asked weakly, “Say it again slow?”

“ – and I think Lena’s dead because Penedict was screaming and screaming and then he just stopped but somebody has to help her because I don’t want her to burn all up!”

Kraaia finally broke into childish sobs: one volley that lasted only until she had emptied her lungs. With her next breath, she screamed in fury, “Tell him! Tell him! Tell him!”

Marcan opened his fat mouth like a fish and looked pleadingly past her at Garalt. “I don’t think I heard that right…” he whimpered.

“I think you did…” Garalt breathed.

'Did you hear me?'

“Did you hear me?” Kraaia howled at him. “Fire! Murder! Lena! Did you hear me?”

“Aye, lass,” Garalt whispered.

Kraaia choked on a sob and bolted. She threw herself against the doors and flung them wide with all her weight, as though some enemy only she could see stood before them.

Her blonde head flashed briefly in the darkness and went out like a candle, making the night seem that much colder. The sky was the color of snow.

Kraaia choked on a sob and bolted.