Finn had been just about to go down and help Osh split the wood.

Finn had been just about to go down and help Osh split the wood when Osh’s axe fell silent. Then the voice of Finn’s father bellowed up from the edge of the clearing.

“What are you doing out here splitting wood when you have a perfectly good fourteen-​year-​old hanging around?”

Finn couldn’t make out Osh’s answer, nor much of the brief conversation that followed. But he heard his father ask conclusively, “Finn around?” And shortly after the softly spoken answer, he heard Osh call back towards the house: “Top of the stairs, turn left!”

Finn was trapped. He stretched out on the bed and waited.

His father’s feet tromped up the stairs, hesitated on the landing, and turned left. Finn heard the curtain swish, and then another pause.

“Well, hallo, Legs,” his father said.

'Well, hallo, Legs.'

His father came closer, picking his way around the mess on the floor.

He said, “Are you telling me there’s nothing standing between you and those girls at night but a curtain?”

Finn rolled his eyes just as his father came into view. He hated when his father tried to talk about that. It made him want to tell him: I’m not like you.

Instead he muttered, “Osh has good ears.”

His father grunted. “Even if he didn’t, how well I know the futility of a door. What’s the matter? Aren’t feeling well?”

'Aren't feeling well?'

“No, but there is no point in going out, if there is going to be a storm. I’m just watching it coming in.”

His father leaned over the bed to glance out the window. A violet wall of storm clouds was rolling in from the west, giving the late afternoon light a ghastly hue.

“You’ve a good view for it,” he observed.

“You are going to get wet,” Finn pointed out.

“Thank you for your tender concern. But I reckon I have a few minutes. Mind if I sit down?”

'Osh has good ears.'

“Suit yourself.”

His father sat heavily on the chest facing the bed and smoothed his hose over his knees.

“Osh paint that?” he asked with a toss of his head at the painted panel behind him.

“Who else?”

“Awfully gray, isn’t it?”

'Osh paint that?'

“It doesn’t need color.”

“Hmph.” His father craned his head around to give the painting a last skeptical inspection. Then he asked, “So this is where you’ve been keeping yourself, is it?”

“Mostly. It’s quiet. The girls aren’t here that much anyway,” he added sourly. “They just come for the cleaning and cooking. Osh and I are mostly alone.”

“Flann’s staying with Cat?”

“So far.”

Finn’s father sighed and looked vaguely at the dirty laundry on the floor. Finn looked back out at the storm. Osh’s axe had fallen silent for good. He must have gone out into the woods, giving Finn some unwelcome privacy with his father.

“I just had a talk with Dunstan,” his father said.

'I just had a talk with Dunstan.'

Finn closed his eyes and thumped his head back against his pillow. This was going to be worse than he thought.

“Said you and Lady Gwynn had a conversation that took a turn for the ugly.”

Grudgingly Finn heaved himself up to sit. “Did he tell you why?”

“Said he didn’t know and didn’t care, but you acted like a regular heathen.”

“So, you took his word for it and came here to give me a scolding.”

His father crossed his arms and leaned back against the cushion, making himself comfortable. “No,” he said, “I came here to get your side of it.”

'I came here to get your side of it.'

Finn deflated, deprived of his latest source of outrage. He looked down and picked at a loose thread on his tunic, stalling for time.

This was going to be tricky. He couldn’t tell his father what had really happened. How the fire had suddenly gone out of him as soon as she’d stepped inside, and he’d realized how trivial a matter it was: a childish quibble, when he was marked forever by vivid memories of fear and death and blood.

And how, not knowing what else to say to her, he’d gone ahead and delivered his harangue anyway, obliged to whip himself into a fury he no longer felt. She’d been so awestruck she never corrected him once.

Well, if it worked once, it might work again. He took a deep breath and looked up at his father.

“She deserved it! You don’t know what she did!”

'You don't know what she did!'

“I’m listening.”

A cold gust of wind filled the room and blew the curtain through the doorway to flap in the empty hall. Finn’s trumped-​up outrage guttered like a candle. His father didn’t look so easily awestruck as Lady Gwynn.

“Last winter, Eadred tried to call on Connie one time, when she was staying with Gwynn. And he sent up a message to ask, when could he see her. But Connie never got that message! Because Gwynn got it first! And she sent down another message, telling him: Connie does not wish to further their acquaintance, now or at any time! So!”

His father’s expression scarcely altered throughout the entire telling. In the end he simply asked, “And?”

And! That means Connie never knew Eadred called on her, all winter! And Eadred thought she didn’t like him! And we weren’t here, and that left the way clear for Balls! What if she got betrothed to him? All her whole life would be changed, and Eadred’s too, all because of Gwynn!”

His father snorted. And then his mustache quivered. And then—Finn’s outrage finally turned real—he laughed!

He laughed!

“How can you laugh at that?” Finn howled. “Think of poor Connie!”

“I’m not laughing at poor Connie, lad! Ach! God bless her! I’m laughing at poor Gwynn.”

“Poor Gwynn? She is playing games with people’s lives!”

“Aye, but she cannot help that. It’s in her blood. You never knew her mother, or you would have to laugh, too. Meddling!” He laughed. “God bless her. I need to tell you about the time Matilda was convinced I was Cubby’s father, and felt obliged to spread this knowledge far and wide. And Lady Eadgith and her children likely wouldn’t ever have come to Lothere if not for her meddling. Ach! God rest her. Though I hope there’s a little scope for meddling in Heaven, lest she start hankering for Hell.”

Finn did not know whether to gape at him in open-​mouthed shock or to glare at him in raw outrage.

'We were not talking about her mother.'

“We were not talking about her mother,” he said icily. “We were talking about her.

“Aye, but she’s growing more like her mother every day. And that’s another thing, Finn. You still haven’t told me why you and I are having this conversation at all. I fail to see what any of this has to do with you.

Finn stared at him. Another gust of wind ruffled his hair and carried in the scent of rain.

“Seems to me,” his father said, “this is between Gwynn and Eadred and Connie.”

'Seems to me this is between Gwynn and Eadred and Connie.'

“Connie is my cousin, and Eadred is my friend.”

“Then why didn’t you take it up with them?”

“I did. I told Connie about this message. And Connie cried!

“Did she ask you to speak to Gwynn for her?”



“Did Eadred?”

Finn looked back at his fraying hem. “No.”

“So what is Gwynn to you?”


“And yet you took it upon yourself to chew her up one side and down the other.”

“Somebody had to tell her she was wrong and make her apologize.”

“I see. It’s funny you should say that, because that’s just what Dunstan said to me.”

Finn looked up in alarm. There was no hint of a smirk on his father’s face, but he had Finn trapped.

He had Finn trapped.

“I will not apologize to that… girl.

He waited for his father to tell him he would indeed, and that was an order.

Instead his father asked, “Don’t you think you ought to?”

Inside Finn writhed. He wished he hadn’t done it—had wished it so many times his stomach hurt from the wishing—but he could not apologize to her for all that. Maybe it would be better if he left the valley again.

Maybe it would be better if he left the valley again.

His father said, “Can I ask you something?”

“You will anyway.”

“That’s right, I will. What did that girl ever do to you to start this business between you two? The Devil knows I teased my fair share of girls when I was your age, but it was all in fun. The way you single her out, makes me think she must have done something particularly cruel. This thing wasn’t really about Connie and Eadred, was it?”

'This thing wasn't really about Connie and Eadred, was it?'

Finn sucked his teeth and fought back a surge of angry tears. There was no explaining it to his father. He didn’t even remember quite how it had all started. He only knew that it had started, and had kept getting bigger and bigger, and now the mere thought of that girl made him want to pick her up and break her over his knee like a handful of kindling. And burn the pieces. And scatter the ashes.

I should like that very much. Why hadn’t she corrected his English and insulted him with big, fancy words instead?

The wind gusted, and a few fat drops pattered on the windowsill and onto the bed.

“It’s starting to rain,” Finn muttered.

'It's starting to rain'

His father said, “None of my affair, eh? Well, you’re right about that. And unlike Dunstan I’m not going to say there’s never an excuse for a man to give a woman a tongue-​lashing, for sometimes it’s that or a lashing of the other kind. He’ll learn that soon enough, being married. I daresay his father reduced his mother to tears on many an occasion. But I will tell you this: I think you did wrong, and you ought to apologize. If it was about Connie, then it was not your place to meddle. And if it was about the other thing she did to you, then you two need to have it out once, if you haven’t already, and leave it at that. It isn’t right to go on punishing a person for the same crime. If you can’t be friends with her, have nothing to do with her, that’s my advice. And that’s all I mean to say about it.”

The wind blew hard, wetting Finn’s cheek and scattering raindrops across the blanket. He watched them sparkle for a moment in the eerie sunlight before soaking in.

Finn’s father slapped his hands on his thighs and stood.

“Well, I’d better get going before the animals start pairing up. You might come for dinner sometime. The boys are asking after you.”

'You might come for dinner sometime.'

Finn grunted.

“Guess I’ll be seeing you.”

His father turned and began shuffling his way back to the door, scooting aside the dirty laundry.

Finn swallowed a lump in his throat. His father had come all this way to see him, and they’d only talked about that stupid girl.

“Don’t go back across the downs,” Finn advised him. “There might be lightning.”

“Didn’t mean to, Finn. Didn’t mean to.”

Finn sat rigid on his bed. His father’s heavy tread stepped out onto the landing and thudded down the stairs, getting fainter as it went.

Then Finn was all alone again, and as hard he listened, he heard only the wind, the spattering rain, and a door curtain flapping limply into an empty hall.

Then Finn was alone again.