Colban had thought the halls seemed oddly quiet as he had come down.

Colban had thought the halls seemed oddly quiet as he had come down.

A small crowd had gathered in a corner of the court, near the great door of the southern tower. A clear space remained before it, however, and glimpses of red tunics and polished mail flashed beyond the duller grays and blues of peasant woolens. The Royal Guard was holding back the crowd.

The Royal Guard was holding them back.

Colban squatted and tried to peer between the milling legs, with a vague and not entirely disagreeable idea that he might see a downed mule, or perhaps even a man lying injured or having a fit. But the grimy packed snow was as clear as snow in a busy court could be, and he saw no traces of accident or blood.

He saw no traces of accident or blood.

“What – ” He looked up along the familiar marled gray sleeve at his side and startled back. For an instant he was small and lost, and the sky spun loose over his head. It was not his father.

He steadied his feet beneath him and asked, “What’s going on, Cousin?”

'What's going on, Cousin?'

Gaethine said, “They’re about to banish a man.”

“Banish a man?” Colban gasped. “The devil!”

This was all but unheard-​​of. Certainly it had never happened during one of his visits to Lothere. This was sounding more interesting than a man with a broken leg having a fit beneath a downed mule.

“What did he do?”

“It’s the man who raped Daughter of Aed.”

The earth lurched beneath Colban’s feet. His friend’s father. His father’s friend.

In disbelief he whispered, “Egelric,” and watched his foggy breath puff and fade into the air.


Gaethine added, “The last of the Donnchads.” He rumbled with faint, chuckling laughter until he was interrupted by a harsh cough.

“He isn’t the last, though,” Colban said. “He has sons. You met Finn.”

Finn was at Dunellen today. Finn would not have a chance to say goodbye, no more than Colban ever did. No more than Colban would he know whether he would ever see his father again.

“Ach!” Gaethine opened his sporran and pulled out a small apple. “He’ll be the last, laddie,” he announced as he buffed it clean on his sleeve. “The name will no more be spoken in the clan. Just what do you suppose Old Aed will do when he learns?”

He took a bite of his apple and stared down at Colban out of one eye as he chewed.

Colban asked softly, “What?”


Gaethine smiled to himself and lifted his palms to the sky, holding his bitten apple delicately between one spidery finger and his thumb.

“Behold!” he thundered. “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth!”

In spite of his diseased lungs Gaethine could make his voice carry. By the second word he had found the pitch required to make the walls of the court resound. Though most could not have understood his Gaelic, the people fell into the guilty silence of back-​​pew whisperers when the priest has had occasion to shout.

“And it shall come to pass, that every one that find me shall slay me!”

His arms flopped limp against his sides, but his echoes whirled up to the sky in a confusing clatter like a flock of wings. He cocked his hip and met every backward glance with a disapproving stare. Colban did not know whether he was condemning the crowd or merely enjoying the effect he had made.

He met every backward glance with a disapproving stare.

When their murmuring started up again, he lifted the apple almost to his mouth, and only then seemed to remember that Colban was there.

“So quoth Cain,” he muttered in his deep, dull voice of before. His swirling breath made the apple seem to steam. He took a savage bite, glaring at the row of backs, and gnashed his teeth as he chewed.

“Do you think Aed will try to have him killed?”

Gaethine grunted. “Wouldn’t you, then?” he mumbled around a cheekful of wet chunks of apple. “If it were your daughter?” He swallowed and added, “Or one of your sisters?”

Colban thought of Britamund and Emma and tried to imagine what he would do. Then he remembered who it had truly been.

“But it wasn’t! It was Maire! It was Maire!” His thin, high voice made sharp echoes that did not carry far. “She wanted him! She went to him!”

'She wanted him!  She went to him!'

They could not have understood the Gaelic, but heads were beginning to turn.

“The slut! The adulteress!”

“Easy, laddie,” Gaethine chuckled, holding his apple up between their faces like a lens he could inspect Colban through. “Where would you be if not for sin, Son of Malcolm?”

Colban whacked the apple out of his hand and shoved the wiry man against the wall.


Colban ran across the court and hurled himself against the crowd, swinging right and left.

'Murderess, daughter of a murderess!'

“Murderess, daughter of a murderess!” he howled in English, so they would all understand. “Witch, granddaughter of a witch! Sigefrith!”

A terrible rumbling rose up around him like a storm his tiny whirlwind had roused, but Colban did not yet realize it was not for him.

“She’s a harlot! She’s a liar! Cedric! Sig – ”

He ran smack into the outstretched arm of a guard, knocking his breath out of him in a cloud of smoke.

“Stay back!” he was warned.

Colban began to understand words amidst the growling: Devil, Monster, Murderer. The people barked and snapped their jaws like dogs.

'Let me in there!'

“Let me in there!” Colban wailed. “I have to see the King!”

“Nobody’s going in to see the King!” Natanleod shouted over his head.

“But he sent for me! Sigefrith!”

Natanleod shoved him back into a scuffle of angry bodies, and the bodies all shoved him forward. Pointing fingers jabbed past his face. Fists shook in the air above him, clenched in the sign to ward off the evil eye.

Colban lunged at the guard but pulled up short, tottering at the edge of a cliff as pieces of the earth crumbled away beneath his curling toes.

Colban lunged at the guard but pulled up short.

“Egelric?” he whispered. The man seemed impossibly small and thin… but no, there was something undeniably Egelric about the big hands bound behind him at the wrists.

“Fiend!” somebody shouted. “Elf lover!” Others were simply making sounds, howling or hissing or keening like the Bean Sidhe.

Colban held his breath until the air before his face was ice-​​cold, waiting for Egelric to turn, to straighten his shoulders and lift his head, to smother these people with the monumental defiance that had always cloaked him like a cloud.

Colban held his breath until the air before his face was ice-cold.

Someone cried, “Murderer!”

Egelric did not move.

“How dare you?” Colban shrieked. “You called yourselves his friends! Maire did the murder! Everybody knows!”

“He made her do it! He said he’d kill her babies if she didn’t!”

'He made her do it!'

“Baby-​​killer!” another woman howled.

“He killed every one of his wives!” a man said.

Colban felt himself withering. He had attended hangings and beheld mobs, but he had only been a spectator – he had never stood himself beside the accused and been battered by the crashing floods of condemnation before. If mighty Egelric could not face them, they were surely too much for a mere twelve-​​year-​​old boy.

For a moment, as insults and curses splashed over his head, he scuffed his toe into the packed snow and indulged himself in fantasies of his father coming home – if not precisely in the nick of time, then soon enough to save his friend from the vengeance of Aed. Colban’s father had defiance enough for two. And they would all go off together, boys and men, and live east of Eden in the land of Nod…

But no, Maire had poisoned his father’s heart too.

Maire had poisoned his father's heart too.

Colban gave a last kick and knocked a chunk of snow free of the flagstones, sending it skipping past the guard’s legs to land beside another boot. He looked up into a face as white as frost.

He whispered, “Finn,” catching even the fog of his breath behind his hand.

He looked up into a face as white as frost.

Finn had not seen him. He looked disoriented, blinking his eyes against the sudden light, holding up his arms against the blows of a brutal world that would make him answer for others’ sins. He looked like a lost little boy who could not find his father.

Colban reached between the guard and the reeve, trying to grasp Finn’s wrist to drag him back over to his side. They would go off together, fatherless boys, to the east of Eden…

But Brede passed an arm behind Finn’s back and herded him towards the gate.

Colban cried, “Finn!”

Brede shoved Egelric through, but Finn stopped.


Finn stopped.


The Captain heard Finn behind him and tried to wave him through the archway. “They’re going!” he shouted. “Everybody get back!”

His words resounded, but the Captain did not have a voice that could silence a crowd. Colban was kicked and elbowed as the people fought their way nearer the gate to howl their hatred at the banished man’s back.

The Captain did not have a voice that could silence a crowd.

“Finnie, come here!” Colban pleaded. “Where’s Cedric?”

Eadred grabbed Finn’s arm and swung him back through the gate.

“Cubby! Say goodbye to everyone for me!”


Colban hammered his way past the guard but was snagged on the crook of the weapon smith’s solid arm.

Colban hammered his way past the guard.

“What are you talking about?” he shouted through the arch. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going with him!”

Colban shrieked, “No! no! no!” in a childish hysteria. He flailed at the air and drummed on his skull until he found an adult reason for his despair: “You didn’t do anything wrong!”

'You didn't do anything wrong!'

“That isn’t why!”

“Finnie!” Colban sobbed. He did not know why.

The Captain stepped back into the shadows and herded Finn along behind him. Brede and Egelric had almost stepped into daylight again, on the far side.

“Cubby!” Finn shouted. “Tell Connie she is free if she wants to be! I don’t know when I come back! Perhaps never!”

'Tell Connie she is free if she wants to be!'


Egelric turned the corner. His head hung so low that his hair hid any chance Colban had of catching a last glimpse of his profile. There would be no final flare of dignity from him – no golden flash of a god slipping beneath the horizon. Egelric had simply gone out.

There was a roar from the court as he passed before the arch of the other gate, and then an eerie rumbling calm. The Captain clapped Colban on the shoulder and strode off. Colban had been shoved back so many times that he did not even think to follow.

“Finn! Come back!”

'I must go with him!'

“I must go with him!” Finn pleaded. “He is my father!”

Colban let his arms fall limp against his sides. His panting breath curled up along his cheeks. He had no answer to that.

Colban let his arms fall limp against his sides.

Meanwhile Eadred put an arm over Finn’s shoulders and led him away.

Colban closed his eyes and listened to the people snapping and laughing and huffing at each other as they struggled to settle into calm. They were verily a tribe of modern day prophets if taken at their word: they who “had always known,” they who “always did say.” They who a week before had “always been” Egelric’s friends.

A figure of familiar height stepped up behind him. He sensed the familiar swish of a heavy kilt and the knitted bulk of a familiar marled gray sleeve. This time the earth and sky stood still. This time he was not fooled.

A figure of familiar height stepped up behind him.

Nevertheless he indulged himself in a brief fantasy of his father stepping up just then to be exiled in his turn. Perhaps for the very crime of Colban’s existence, if nothing else would serve. His bristly eyebrows would furrow together to mark the gravity of the situation, and the corners of his mouth would frown. “I am your father,” he would say in his soft voice. “You must come with me.” And they would ride off together, on the trail of Egelric and Finn, east of Eden, into the land of Nod…

A voice like an Old Testament prophet’s spoke down from the sky – too dark, too unfamiliar to be his father’s, extinguishing his dream.

“Loyal is the son who braves exile with a father he can scarcely know.”

Colban snorted a cloud of steam over his shoulder in reply to Gaethine.

But in his heart he thought: “Lucky is the son whose father lets him go.”

'Lucky is the son whose father lets him go.'