Sadb had been Queen of her domain.

For five days and four nights Sadb had been Queen of her domain. She sat up so late at night that she burned her costly wax candles down to stubs, and in the morning she lazed in bed until her back was sore. She slouched and belched and scratched herself. She ate honey straight from the jar with her finger. For supper. She left her hair loose and went breezing about the house without petticoats when she liked; and when she did not like, she obliged her maid to pin her curls into a hundred ringlets, donned her wedding dress, and dined at the head of her empty table wearing every last blessed ring, bracelet, and necklace she owned.

She was now royally bored.

For five days and four nights Sadb had comported herself like royalty. The result was that she was now royally bored. Rule-​​breaking was a sweet but unsatisfying pastime, like suppers of cake and honey, and it seemed that both left a girl feeling worse than before.

Unlike Diarmait, her cat went out.

Even the wicked pleasure of sleeping with That Accursed Cat was lessened by the absence of Diarmait’s colorful cursing. And unlike Diarmait, her cat went out and deprived her of his warmth long before the night was through.

Tonight the cat would not even sit and stay the evening with her, it seemed, which Diarmait never failed to do. He slipped out from beneath her arm and thump-​​thumped onto the floor, two-​​paws-​​by-​​two.

“Where will you be roving now, ungrateful wretch?” Sadb demanded.

She tried to snarl out of the side of her mouth, as Diarmait would have, but she could not fathom how he managed it while still so deliciously trilling his R’s like his Irish mother.

Unsatisfied at the result, Sadb fished about in her mind for an epithet worthy of Diarmait’s imagination. “Ball-​​licking bastard!”

The cat flattened his ears, lashed his tail, and hissed.

The cat flattened his ears, lashed his tail, and hissed.

“Aye then, you… you…” She tried to think of one of the things Diarmait only said when he believed she was out of hearing. “…cockeyed little fucker!”

Sadb giggled, breathless and aghast. She had never said that word before, even under her breath. Diarmait would have been horrified. Or perhaps – unaccountable as he was – he might have laughed and asked her who had taught her such nasty, nasty words. And she would say–

Her cat let out a long, low, scarcely cat-​​like moan. Sadb leaned forward to look below her propped-​​up legs. The cat’s gray fur stood straight out and glowed like an unholy halo in the firelight. His tail stuck up stiff as a rod.

“‘Tis aught but the wind!” she scolded, running her hands over her hair to press it flat against her prickling scalp.

Now that Diarmait had left her alone, Sadb understood how often her annoyance at his door-​​slamming, boot-​​stomping ways must have been unfairly directed. So many times in the last four nights and five days she had run across the house to meet him, only to find a flapping shutter or a loosely-​​hanging, banging board. She had sworn she would no more be chasing after the wind.

So tonight the wind came to her.

Tonight the wind came to her.

For an instant her heart trilled – she recognized the black breast and shoulders, the walk – but like a shadow the body grew taller the nearer it approached the fire, until it could not possibly have been her husband.

And the shadow had a shadow, and this shadow a shadow too – all tall men, all with rough-​​hewn, grim, coppery faces.

Sadb sat up and peered past them.

Sadb sat up and peered past them, looking for a small man with a handsome nose and luminous rose-​​gold cheeks, but the third shadow caught the door the wind blew at him and gently shut it behind him. Sadb’s hissing cat darted past the boots and slipped through the door just before it closed. These were Diarmait’s brothers. Diarmait was not among them.

Sadb floated up from her chair, light as a ball of thistledown with only her flannel skirt brushing her bare legs.

Sadb floated up from her chair.

The men moved stiffly together, shuffling and creaking and eyeing one another’s boots as they stepped up into a line. Their breasts sparkled with what must have been every last blessed pendant, amulet, and medallion they owned, except where Sadb’s body cast its tall shadow.

All three laid their hands over their hearts and began to bow. Donnchad, the eldest, took a breath, and with a low, rumbling voice began to speak a word. Sadb knew what he was about to say.

'Welcome to Three Winds!'

“Brothers!” She clapped her hands like an over-​​eager little girl, stopping Donnchad’s word in his mouth. “Welcome to Three Winds!”

The men stood straight, and Comgeall and Cathal exchanged a glance behind Donnchad’s shoulder. Donnchad inclined his head. Then their hands settled back over their hearts, and their many amulets tinkled as they swung free from their breasts. Down they went again. Donnchad opened his mouth.

Down they went again.

Sadb stooped and blindly flung out her hand towards the tray at her side.

“May I offer you some hot wine?” she asked, beaming like the most delighted of hostesses.

She clumsily grasped the handle of the pitcher, but its weight was too much for her – she could not even feel her hand. The pitcher slipped out of her numb fingers and fell a perilous inch or two to clang and clatter back onto the tray, splashing lukewarm wine out of the two cups – one she had poured for herself and the other for someone who was not there.

Sadb staggered back and squealed like a piglet behind her hands. She felt nothing of her body but the fire toasting her bare calves through the flannel.

Sadb staggered back and squealed like a piglet behind her hands.

Donnchad said firmly, “Sister,” in spite of her squealing, determined to get through the speech he had prepared.

Sadb made a long, low, scarcely girl-​​like moan. Her whirling mind spewed up ugly, half-​​digested fragments of thoughts: Her husband, dead. She, Sadb, sixteen, a widow, locked up at Three Winds until she bled, and then sent home again: used, discarded, a balled-​​up rag. She would never see Diarmait again. She had turned her cheek to him when he had tried to kiss her goodbye.

Donnchad had a sack slung over his shoulder, and he pulled it around to his hip. Sadb pressed her hands flat over her mouth and nose to stop her scream. Diarmait’s head – a bloody something – such horrors tumbled through her disintegrating consciousness–

But Donnchad withdrew only a long, clean, curving thing, luminous and honey-​​golden in the firelight: a drinking horn.

But Donnchad withdrew only a long, clean, curving thing.

“Your husband is Lord of Ramsaa.”

His voice seemed to come from far off and from long ago – a dim memory of words heard behind a door – something she was too young to understand.

“Sadb, you are Lady, if you will go.”

'Sadb, you are Lady, if you will go.'

He tipped up the silver-​​rimmed throat of the horn and cupped the firelight like mead. It glowed through the thin shell, making a black shadow of his fingers, and a magical relic of the aged vessel.

“His mother would have you take this horn to him, which her mother had from her father’s mother, and which you shall give to your son’s wife or to your daughter, that her man may drink from it, and so forever.” He added, “If you are willing to go.”

As soon as he spoke the last words, Comgeall said, “Christ, man, couldn’t you have hurried it up a bit? She’s about to faint.”

'She's about to faint.'

A hand cupped Sadb’s elbow. Belts creaked, pleats ruffled, and amulets tinkled all around her like fairy bells. A second hand was on her, and a third.

Sadb squeaked, “Lord of Ramsaa?” It was all she had properly heard: Your husband is…

Lord of Ramsaa, she thought, must have been some Scottish euphemism for dead.

“Aye, Ramsaa, on the Isle of Man,” Comgeall said. “Aren’t you knowing your islands, girlie?” he chuckled. “Daughter of Mull?”

'Aren't you knowing your islands, girlie?'

He stroked his hand down her loosened hair, flattening it against her spine.

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

Sadb blubbered and shook her head, drawing her hair tight and loose, tight and loose beneath Comgeall’s firm hand on her back.

“Never mind, lassie,” Comgeall said, grinning past her at Cathal’s frown. “No more was he telling our father.”

Donnchad brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek. She thought they felt wet, and this was how she began to understand that she was crying. 

Donnchad brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek.

“Never mind that, sister,” he murmured. His dour face appeared almost gentle through her tears. “‘Twas out of love for you he did it, thinking to spare you the worry of all these days and hours.”

Through four nights and five days she had queened about her empty house, never thinking to worry. She did not believe Diarmait had thought to spare her anything out of love.

“Does he live still?” she squeaked.

'Does he live still?'

Donnchad gasped as though she had pounded on his shoulders with both fists and shrieked at him. She thought she might if she had the question to ask again.

“Ach, darling…”

He gathered her up and pulled her close, flattening her breasts in their thin flannel against the tinkling ceremonial trappings of his chest.

He whispered, “Probably.”