Flann moaned.

“Sister! Let me up!” Cat pounded the quilts with the flat of her hand. “I’m thinking Paul’s here!”

Flann rolled onto her side and burrowed her cheek into the pillow. “Fie, and if he is? It won’t kill him to sleep one night without you.”

It certainly had not killed Osh so far.

“But he’s hurting! There’s something wrong with him! Sister!”

Flann’s throat tightened. “How are you knowing that?”

“I can feel it! Ach, let me up, Flann!”

Cat shoved Flann’s shoulder hard enough to squash her sore breasts. Flann flipped back the quilts and slung the pile onto Cat’s lap.

Flann slung the pile of quilts off onto Cat's lap.

“Fine! I’m letting you up! Are you glad? But you’re not getting back in afterwards, if it isn’t he! Find your own bed! Not a wink have I slept tonight!”

Flann stumbled out into the cold room and turned to address the billowing bed curtains, proclaiming the many indignities done her as loudly as she dared.

“First we had to come here – in the rain! – right after I had put Liadan down, and she thinking it’s morning time again! And as soon as she’s sleeping and I’m crawling into bed, you would be waking me to let you up to pee! And then she waking me to let her nurse!”

Cat whimpered behind the curtain as she struggled with the blankets.

“And now you again, telling me Paul is here! And if he isn’t? What next? Colin opening the wrong door and crawling in on top of me?”

Cat’s feet thumped onto the rug, and belly-​​first she emerged from the tangle of curtains. “He is here! I’m swearing it! I can feel him!”

Flann choked.

Flann choked. Loneliness was the only thing she felt when her husband went out. She wondered whether he even thought of her when he was away.

Cat squinted her eyes and squeezed bunched-​​up handfuls of her nightgown in her fists. Flann had the unsettling thought that Cat’s “feelings” might rather have something to do with the baby. She had been sweaty and restless all evening long.

“Help me, Flann!” she panted. “Something has happened to him!”

'Help me, Flann!'

Cat had long insisted that her baby was a wee girl – but who could say how mothers knew what they knew?

Flann brushed a damp curl off her sister’s cheek. “Happened to whom, darling?” 

“To Paul!”

Flann stamped her bare foot and sighed. “Calm yourself, sister! What could have happened to him? Mayhap Cousin Malcolm threw the first punch and blacked the eye of him. Even he could never get a second blow in on an elf. And Osh wouldn’t let them fight. I wager your man’s only sulking so hard you can hear him pouting from here. Mayhap Osh let Malcolm kiss her again, and Paul’s sore.”

Flann tittered, but Cat moaned and ran for the door, staggering like a bewitched woman dragged by unseen hands. Flann’s scalp prickled.

Cat moaned and went for the door.

In a low voice she warned, “Wait for him here, Cat. You cannot be gadding about the house in your nightgown. Are you wanting to run into Colin?”

Cat yanked back the latch and opened the door.

“In the dark? Sister?”

Cat disappeared into the stark blackness of the hallway.

Flann dashed a few steps after her and stopped. “Ach! Let me get a candle, at least!”

She took the candle from Liadan’s bedside table and prayed the baby would not notice.

By the time she stepped into the hallway, Cat was no more than a whimpering echo and a flicker of gloom in the darkness. She turned the corner and vanished like a ghost.

“Ach, Cat! Not the stairs!”

Flann cupped her hand around the candle and ran. The guttering flame shrank to a pinprick of light by the time she reached the stairs, and she had to feel her way down with her bare feet. She told herself Osh would be there to catch her if she fell. She told herself she felt his reassuring presence below.

As Cat turned the corner below her she heard Paul wail, “Naí, naí!

Cat’s scuffing footsteps stopped. Flann stumbled out behind her and lowered her hand.

The candle flame throbbed and grew tall again.

The candle flame throbbed and grew tall again. Flann looked around the hall. A dark-​​haired, rain-​​soaked someone stood with Paul before the fire, but that someone was not Osh. Osh was not there at all.

Cat whimpered, “Paul?”

A wave of darkness rolled across the room, snuffing out all fire and all light. Cat shrieked.

A wave of darkness rolled across the room.

A voice from beside the hearth scolded, “Paul!”

A wave of light burst from the fireplace: logs and lamps and wicks leapt into flame as far as torchères against the wall that had not been lit before.

Flann’s candle flared and spat a mist of wax across the back of her hand. She drew back her head and howled in fright.

“What’s the matter with you, Paul? Are you trying to burn my face?”

'What's the matter with you, Paul?'

Paul moaned. Cat shuffled around the bench to meet him, blubbering.

Flann set her candle on the high cabinet and stopped within its sheltering globe of light, at a few steps’ distance from the scene.

Now she recognized the elf with Paul. Tashnu never seemed at ease among them, never forgot his visits were a crime. This was the first time Flann had seen him without his brother Shosudin or Vash, and she thought this an ominous sign.

She thought this an ominous sign.

She rolled her tongue around her mouth and watched him attempt to wordlessly comfort Cat and Paul while holding them apart with both hands. His wet hair flung off drops of rain that zigzagged down his wrinkled forehead and into his brows.

Flann opened her lips and whispered, “Sipú síkhírrí líhérí alúrí, Tashnú.

She rolled her tongue around her mouth and watched him.

Tashnu’s mouth fell open, and he stared bug-​​eyed at Cat before he thought to look past her to Flann. He closed his mouth, and the wrinkles of his forehead softened. He whispered something, but she could not read the elven language on his lips. “May sunlight surround you, Flann,” she filled in for him.

For a moment Cat’s panicked babbling and Paul’s whimpers were no more than the drumming of rain to two people who have dashed for shelter and found it beneath the same roof. She told herself she could feel something in Tashnu’s presence that was like Osh’s presence – that there was something in Osh’s presence that she could feel.

She whispered, “Alla…

She realized she could not finish her question.

She could not finish her question. Would an elven wife need to ask where her husband was? An elven wife would simply feel it. Perhaps Osh would be ashamed if Tashnu knew she did not.

Cat saved her by grabbing Paul’s belt with both hands and wailing, “Look at me, love! What’s happened to you?”

Tashnu dashed back into the storm and pulled them apart, stuttering half-​​formed English phrases right and left.

Flann leaned against the cabinet. Her legs trembled like tent poles bearing up a lake of rain. Already trickles of fear were leaking in. Where was Osh? He had left in the company of Paul, and hours later Paul had returned without him, distraught, in the company of Tashnu alone…

Behind her she heard floorboards creak beneath the pounding of bare feet, and out of old habit she jolted upright and tried to look innocent. Even before her bouncing hair had settled she recalled that no nighttime frolics would wake her angry father ever more. Dead, too, dead…

Aengus whipped back the curtain and pounded down the steps into the hall.

'What in the devil is happening here?'

“What in the devil is going on in here?”

Cat sobbed, “Aengus!”

Flann smudged away a tear.

Aengus stomped around the bench.

Aengus stomped around the bench. “Is anyone unconscious or bleeding? For otherwise, I don’t want to hear about it!”

Paul shouted, “Yes!”

Aengus stopped so short he nearly lost his balance. Flann grabbed the arm he put out to steady himself.

Flann grabbed the arm he put out.

Osh! She could not take a breath to ask. She could only cling.

Cat yanked at Paul’s belt again. “Paul! Look at me! Are you hurt? Are you bleeding?”

Tashnu looked between Aengus and Flann. “You do not know?”

Aengus took a deep breath and stood tall, dragging Flann up with him. “Know what, for the love of Christ? Will somebody stop blubbering long enough to tell me what is happening here?”

Paul bent his forehead to the mantel top and sobbed as elves did: silently but powerfully. Osh sometimes crushed the very breath out of Flann when she tried to dry his tears. 

He crushed her, too, when he kissed away her own – and when he greeted her with a hug, and when he laughed with her and danced her around, and most of all when he loved her. He crushed her to his chest and made her breathe against his throat in shallow gasps, like a panting bird, until she cried out, and he melted.

Her weight dragged at Aengus's arm.

But now her fear crushed her like a fledgling sparrow in its fist, and she could not breathe at all. Her weight dragged at Aengus’s arm.

He glanced down at her, and his dark eyes flashed with understanding. Whatever he had begun to say turned into: “And where is Osh, first of all?”

Tashnu said, “Not Osh is hurt. Lasrua is hurt.”

Flann took a ragged breath. Aengus slipped his arm around her and helped her stand.

Tashnu frowned and turned such a dark look onto the back of Paul’s head that every gaze followed his. Fat drops of rain swelled at the tips of Paul’s wet hair and dripped onto his collar.

Cat whimpered, “Rua’s hurt?”

Flann’s relief retreated like a breaking wave. Her husband was not hurt – but his daughter was. Osh must have spent the night in anguish, and she had felt nothing at all: only annoyance that he had left her to spend another night alone. He would be heartbroken if he knew. Perhaps he did know. An elven wife would have gone forth to find him in the dark and the rain.

Paul pressed his forehead to the mantel and breathed in silent sobs. His shoulders writhed beneath his wet cloak. Tashnu laid a hand upon one of them and pulled, turning him around to face the family.

“Tell them, Paul.”

Paul tipped back his head. His dripping hair clung to his scalp, giving him a look of baby-​​like fragility, but the sinister points of his ears pierced through.

“May God forgive me! I spilled the blood of my sister!”

Cat screamed and grasped the edge of the mantel.

Cat screamed and grasped the edge of the mantel.

Aengus asked, “Is she badly hurt?”

Tashnu patted Cat’s shoulder with an awkward hand and shook his head at Aengus. “We do not know. Did you hear no message?”

Cat screamed again.

Aengus said, “No, no message – a message from whom?”

Cat sucked in another breath and screamed.

Cat sucked in another breath and screamed.

Aengus shouted at her in Gaelic: “Cousin! Calm yourself! At least until we learn what happened.”

As soon as Cat pulled another breath into her lungs, she shrieked again. Flann hugged her from behind, sliding her hands around her belly to hold the baby. Cat’s knees folded beneath her, and she sank towards the floor, dragging Flann down.

Flann looked beside her for help. “Aengus!”

Aengus and Tashnu stepped forward, but Paul had felt his wife falling, and Cat had felt him reaching out to safely catch her.

No one reached for Flann.

Paul’s slitted eyes squinted shut at the sound of her knees hitting the floor, but for an instant, as she fell through his blank gaze, she saw what her sister must have seen: two dull white orbs of ice in a face that sparkled with rain and tears.

She saw what her sister must have seen.