Domnall was either more steadfast or more confused.

Domnall, Gwynn found, was either more steadfast or more confused than she had estimated.

She had already resolved to forgive him if he had fled—and for her own sake she almost wished he had—but she rather liked the thought that he might have decided to remain long enough to apologize for his mistake. If there was one species of humanity that she could not bear, it was rude boys.

“Good afternoon, Domnall! How nice of you to call!”

'Good afternoon, Domnall!'

Domnall had so forgotten his shyness as to come to meet her rather than wait to be met. A nervous flutter rose up in Gwynn as they stopped in the doorway, until she recalled that mistletoe season was well over, and doorways were no longer of particular portent.

Domnall, however, glanced up to make sure.

Domnall, however, glanced up to make sure.

“Never fear,” Gwynn said. “The sword of Damocles has been cut down!”

“The—the what?”

“The sword of Damocles. It is a Greek legend, telling of the precariousness of—”

“Ach, Damocles! I’m knowing that one. I thought you said…” He laughed sheepishly. “I don’t know what I thought you said.”

She lifted her hand.

Gwynn saw him attempting to collect himself for a proper greeting, and she lifted her hand when he seemed likely to be looking for it, so that he might kiss it without fumbling. He fairly pounced on it.

“Perhaps it’s said differently in Gaelic,” Gwynn said, offering him an explanation for his forgetfulness in matters of Greek mythology.

He lifted his head just shy of her hand. “Ah… it is. Or ‘sword’ is, at any rate.”

“Oh? How does one say ‘sword?’”

At last he kissed the backs of her fingers. “Claideb. Claidib in the plural.”

Gwynn laughed. “That’s different enough. Now…”

Domnall dropped her hand, but he immediately turned towards the fire, crooked his elbow, and held out his arm to her. His gallantries were not exactly awkward, but they were so unexpected that they were beginning to make Gwynn feel so.

Domnall held out his arm to her.

Still, if a man was polite enough to offer her his arm, Gwynn was lady enough to lay her hand upon it and follow him where he led.

“Now, Domnall,” she resumed, “you have given a Gaelic lesson for the day, after all, but I’m afraid there has been a small misunderstanding.”

She said it in the most slyly complicit voice she could muster, hoping she could spare him his embarrassment by inviting him to laugh with her.

But Domnall said coolly, “Ach, aye?”

Ach, aye, for you must have forgotten Rua has gone to Raegiming to stay a while. Remember? She left… she left yesterday,” Gwynn concluded shakily, recalling the commotion when Lasrua had alerted her and Sigefrith to Hetty’s screams.

Domnall slid his arm free and stepped behind Gwynn to pick up the poker. She could not see his face as he prodded the logs, but his voice, though soft, showed him unruffled by this announcement. “I wasn’t forgetting.”

'I wasn't forgetting.'

“You—you weren’t?”

“No. Shall I add wood? Are you cold?”

Gwynn noticed she was shivering. She was not cold, exactly, but she felt a yearning for light and warmth. “Yes, please, if you would be so kind.”

Domnall bustled around a bit at knee-​level, building up the fire, and Gwynn stood by warming her hands behind his head. For a moment she was able to relax her smiling mouth.

“I was thinking,” Domnall said from down low, “how you might want to continue learning the Gaelic even without Rua. You seemed to take to it.”

Gwynn began to smile a wee real smile. This un-​Domnall-​like behavior only confirmed a little idea she had.

He brushed off his knees and stood up beside her, still carefully keeping his face turned towards the fire. She leaned low enough to peek at a flush on his cheeks that was perhaps not entirely due to the heat.

She leaned low enough to peek at a flush on his cheeks.

He faltered, “But if you were only learning to help Rua, then…”

“Oh, no, no!” Gwynn said. “I assure you, I have enjoyed these lessons immensely, and I was sorry they were coming to an end. Indeed, we have had such pleasant times that I hesitate to apply the tedious name of ‘lessons.’ If it would not trouble you to continue, then—”

“Ach, no!” he protested, finally looking her in the face. His own was unquestionably pink. “’Tisn’t any trouble at all.”

“Lovely! I shall send word to Connie this evening. I am almost certain Malcolm will bring her tomorrow, or let her come—”

“But Connie already is knowing the Gaelic!”

Gwynn broke into a knowing smile and turned prettily towards the couch on her tiptoe. “Now, Domnall, that’s no reason not to speak to her.” She laughed. “On the contrary, I should think it would help!”

'Now, Domnall, that's no reason not to speak to her.'

Gwynn pirouetted another half-​turn and perched on the edge of a cushion. She attempted to drape her skirt gracefully around her legs, but lately her fat thighs filled up ever more of the once-​billowing cloth. One of these days she expected to burst out of her gown like a fried sausage.

Domnall sat on the edge of the next cushion, awkwardly bobbing first nearer then farther as he sought to balance himself. That, or he was attempting to account for the ominous spread of her thighs when she sat.

“I don’t mind speaking to Cousin Connie,” he said. “She’s a nice girl. But she isn’t needing lessons, I mean.”

Gwynn smiled indulgently at him. “No, but perhaps her presence makes the lessons more… enthralling?”

Gwynn smiled indulgently at him.

She let a hint of wickedness spread through her smile, but Domnall blinked blankly at her. “Enthralling?”

“To enthrall, it means to make a slave of one.”

His eyes widened, and he seemed to blink in alarm.

“I speak figuratively, of course. I mean that she captures one’s attention.”

“Do you find so?”

Gwynn laughed. “Do not you?”

“Cousin Connie?”

“Yes, Cousin Connie! The nice girl, indeed! Silly boy! I suppose you think no one has thought of it yet.”

He opened his mouth as if to say something, but quickly clapped it shut. His face was quite pink, but there was nothing bashful about his eyes—no self-​conscious sense of secret love revealed. He looked rather shocked.

He looked rather shocked.

Gwynn said, “You don’t mean… you don’t…”

He shook his head.

Gwynn felt all the blood drain from her face. “Oh, how stupid of me… when I felt so very clever for noticing…”

He gave her a faint smile. Suddenly his un-​Domnall-​like behavior seemed a little unfair, since it had fooled her.

“Well! I only wondered how it was that you would voluntarily give up your afternoons to a pastime that consisted solely of talking to other people. So I came to a logical conclusion.”

To her surprise, he burst into such easy laughter that she laughed along with him.

“You thought I was gone on Cousin Connie?” he asked with evident amusement.

'You thought I was gone on Cousin Connie?'

“Well, what else should I conclude?” Gwynn asked, feigning exasperation. “That you had a secret longing to be a language tutor?”

He laughed again and finished with his little trick of poking the tip of his tongue out of the side of his mouth for just an instant whenever he said something droll. Margaret mocked him for it privately, lolling her tongue like a dog in August, but Gwynn thought it rather endearing—a sign of a secret sense of humor that only revealed itself in bashful peeks.

“Mayhap as I do,” he said. “Anyway, Connie already has a sweetheart, remember?”

“But if she did not?” Gwynn asked hopefully. “Finn said she could be free, and I truly think she wants to be.”

'But if she did not?'

He shook his head. “More luck for the other lads, then, but not for me.”

“Don’t you think she would have you?” Gwynn pleaded.

He laughed. “Are you determined to see us together, or are you only determined to be right?”

Gwynn giggled. “Mostly the latter, seeing as I am a woman. But I do think you would have made a cute couple. Both so quiet and polite.”

“You’re a beginner at the matchmaker business, aren’t you?” he asked, revealing another glimpse of tongue. “The happiest couples come together contrariwise.”

'The happiest couples come together contrariwise.'

Don’t tell me you’re an expert at the business.”

“I know at least that much.”

They smiled at one another for a moment, amused at their own silliness, until Gwynn turned her face away and sighed.

“Oh, bother! I liked the idea, too. Well, she was a little old for you anyway.”

“Sure and certain. But it’s kind of you to like me for your friend.”

She pretended to scoff. “I shouldn’t care to waste a nice boy such as you on my enemy.”

He laughed, and she liked the sound. He never laughed so heartily when others were around.

He laughed, and she liked the sound.

“What about one of her little sisters?” she asked. “Have you met them?”

“Ach! You’re wanting to practice the matchmaking business, are you?” He rubbed his chin and endeavored to look skeptical.

Gwynn laughed. It had never occurred to her that there were boys her age who would waste their breath on mushy stuff, as her little brother qualified the sacred subject of romance. And she had never suspected that Domnall had so much breath to waste at all.

“And you’re wanting to practice on me, is that it?” he asked dubiously.

'And you're wanting to practice on me?'

Gwynn made a farcical seated curtsey with the folds of her skirt. “An you’re willing, kind sir.”

“Ach! I’m only grateful you’re not wanting to take up the surgery business.”

Gwynn giggled, and was repaid with a glimpse of the little pink point of his tongue.

She brushed out her skirt and began. “So, we must find a girl for you who is not quiet or polite. Is that how it works, O journeyman matchmaker? And who isn’t older than you.”

'Is that how it works, O journeyman matchmaker?'

“Ach! She mustn’t be loud and rude. But I like a girl who has interesting things to say, and who isn’t afraid to talk to people.”

Gwynn’s giddiness subsided as she attempted to interpret his requirements contrariwise. Did it mean he thought he had nothing interesting to say, and that he was afraid to talk to people? She wanted to tell him he was doing well for the moment, but she feared the moment would only be ruined, as complimenting a dancer on the lightness of his feet was likely to make him stumble.

“And she may be a wee bit older,” he added. “No more than… six months older. But no taller than I. Certainly no taller than I.”

'Certainly no taller than I.'

“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Gwynn said. “You’re rather on the tallish side.”

“She may be quite a bit smaller, however. Speaking contrariwise, she ought to be rather on the smallish side.”

“Oh! That does poor Kraaia in. She’s rather tall. That was my only idea so far. No one knows her family, so I daresay she isn’t high-​born enough for you, but she’s the prettiest girl in Lothere.”

Domnall said decidedly, “I like a black-​haired girl.”

“Oh. What about one of Cedric’s sisters?”

“Too young.”

Gwynn quirked the corner of her mouth. “Practice is supposed to be easy, sir.”

'Practice is supposed to be easy, sir.'

“Try telling that to the man on the table of the apprentice surgeon!”

Gwynn laughed and brandished an imaginary lump of flesh high. “’Tis only your heart, sir!”

“Take care not to drop it.”

Gwynn giggled and patted his pretend heart back into his chest. “Here it is, no worse for the wear.” Then she sighed in defeat. “We’re such a small court here. The scope for matchmaking is frightfully limited. And yet I hate to think that any of my friends shall marry abroad. Nevertheless, I promise I shall keep my eyes peeled for you, Domnall. That means I shall be looking out at all times.

His only reply was a little smile. Somehow their silliness had fizzled out. Gwynn felt it go, and in the trough of its wake she felt sadder than ever. Until the baby came, until Hetty was better, she expected her moments of fun to be infrequent and brief.

“Did I say something wrong?” Domnall asked softly.

“No, no!” Gwynn gave him a bright, forced smile.

'No, no!'

“Did you have an idea you weren’t liking?”

“Beg pardon?”

“About me?”

Gwynn’s smile faded in her confusion.

Domnall looked down at his lap. “Never mind.”

In her haste to ease his embarrassment, she said more than she meant: “I was only a little worried about Hetty. We all are…”

He looked up at her.

He looked up at her, polite concern crinkling the space between his brows. It was true they were bushy and black and almost grew together, as Margaret had gleefully pointed out, but Gwynn liked the soft look they gave his frown.

“How is she?” he asked. “We heard she took ill.”

“She is resting quietly today, thank you. Joseph came last night, but he only saw her this morning. He said she has hys… hysteria…” Gwynn hiccuped and barely averted a sob. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the simple word. “Hysteria,” she explained. “It is from the Greek, hystera, meaning—”

She closed her eyes and concentrated on the simple word.

Domnall laid a hand on her arm, gently interrupting her. “I know what it means.”

Gwynn lifted her head. “You do?”

“Aye, I do. My sister.”

She looked up into his eyes, grateful to have discovered someone who understood her troubles without even needing to hear them explained. Then, as she recalled just how terrible his own troubles were, she began to feel afraid.

Domnall seemed to see it, for he rubbed her arm and said, “Whisht, never worry, she’ll never be afflicted as sorely as my sister was. Don’t be forgetting what happened to Maire at the end. It was that man broke her, not her—” He lifted his hand suddenly. “You’re knowing about what happened to her?”

'You're knowing about what happened to her?'

Gwynn did not trust her voice, so she nodded. Margaret had explained it all to her. Gwynn had not wanted to believe it—not wanted to believe that men and women would care to do such things together at all, and still less that Egelric could force an unwilling woman to do them. But now she was forced to admit it true, or else to allow that perhaps nothing at all stood between Hetty and a madness like Maire’s.

Domnall glanced over his shoulder to where Leofgyth stood silently but conspicuously in the hall. He rocked himself uneasily on the cushion.

He mumbled to himself in Gaelic, “I don’t know whether should I be talking to you about this, but anyway… Don’t be worrying yourself,” he said to her in English. “Joseph saw her early enough, and he will help her. And don’t be afraid to go see her, even if she isn’t talking just now—”

'And don't be afraid to go see her.'

I will never be afraid to see her,” Gwynn said. “I shall spend every minute with her I am allowed.”

“That’s right. And remember, she’s knowing you’re there, even if she doesn’t seem to. My sister never even looked at me, all the time I was visiting her, but my brother told me that she knew I was there all the while. She remembered. And Hetty knows.”

Gwynn sniffled and blubbered at the thought of a Hetty who would even fail to respond to her presence. “But she still knows we’re there,” she choked. “She was talking quite… quite calmly…”

Domnall lightly rubbed his hand in a small circle over her back. Only an hour before Gwynn had done the same for Brunhilde, to help her fall asleep, but she had not guessed how comforting it felt. She did not believe anyone had rubbed her back since she was a little girl.

Domnall lightly rubbed his hand in a small circle over her back.

“That’s even better,” Domnall whispered. “She’ll be feeling better soon. She has suffered so much lately, she’s needing a rest. She lost her sister, too.”

Gwynn had, even rather recently, cried tears of compassion over Domnall’s loss. But the grief she had imagined for him was only the generic grief of a brother for a much-​elder half-​sister. Domnall was so unassuming a character, and Gwynn came from so theatrical a family, that she had never guessed what depths of quiet sympathy he possessed. Aside from her idle thoughts of him and Condal, she had never troubled her imagination enough to envision him doing or thinking or feeling much of anything at all.

But now she imagined him during Maire’s imprisonment, when only he and Edris had ever gone simply to pay her a visit. She could imagine him sitting beside his catatonic sister, speaking gently to her as he was speaking now, and perhaps touching her arm or stroking her back. He had learned those comforting gestures somehow.

“But you’ve been suffering too,” she pointed out.

She moved slightly, but as soon as she looked up at him she saw that she could not turn and lay her hand on his back. He was a boy—a tall boy, almost her own age… less than six months younger, in fact…

She looked up at him.

“Ach!” he sighed. “That is like you.”


“I was thinking how you were suffering, too, and you turn around and tell me you were thinking how I was.”

“But then that is just like you, too!” She smiled over the delicious sense of making a clever point, even while another nervous thrill fluttered over her, as if a fat bunch of mistletoe hung over the couch by a thread. “So we aren’t completely contrary after all.”

Domnall drew back his head to look her over and made a Gaelic grunt that could have meant anything. But he said, “Close enough.”

'Close enough.'