'You're already dressed.'

“You’re already dressed,” Colban murmured.

“Bathed and dressed and ready to go,” Malcolm smiled. “It’s Father Brude I’m awaiting now, to confess. I thought you were he.”

'I thought you were he.'

Never, Colban thought, had his son looked so handsome, though he wore only the simple tunic and plain red surcoat of an English knight initiate. He wore it with the assurance of a man who knew it was a great thing, and who knew himself worthy of great things. He looked years older than his twin. He looked like a man.

“How do you feel?” Colban asked him.

“Hungry!” Malcolm laughed.


Colban could not bear to see him laugh. “It’s not too late.”

“Too late to eat?”



Malcolm had arrived mere minutes after his brother’s birth. He had been smaller and scrawnier, but he had put on weight more quickly, had cut his teeth and spoken and walked first, and indeed seemed to have dedicated his life to catching up with and then surpassing his brother in every way.

Colban had often wondered at those few minutes that had separated them, and which had made all the difference in everyone’s lives. But for those few minutes, this young man before him would have been his heir.

Malcolm leaned back onto his heels and lifted his head.

Malcolm leaned back onto his heels and lifted his head. He was already as tall as his father. He also must have been aware that his father was about to say something he would not like. Some men said that Malcolm could read thoughts. Colban knew that he could only read faces, glances, and gestures, but that was enough. Colban always had that disadvantage before his son.

“When I brought you here,” he said slowly, “I promised your mother that you would come home again when you were grown.”

'I promised your mother that you would come home again when you were grown.'

“You should not have made such a promise. When I am grown, I decide for myself.”

“And you have decided to forsake your family.”

“I do not forsake you. I choose to live here, as I have for the half of my life.”

“And make this man your lord.”

“Aye. He is worthy of it, and of better men than I.”

'He is worthy of it, and of better men than I.'

“Is it for his sake you do turn your face from your father and your brother? Or for hers?”

Malcolm was always like a lion before her, guarding her, and now his brows came down over his cat’s eyes, and it almost seemed he had unsheathed his claws. Only then did he speak. “She too is worthy of it, and of better than I.”

“Aye, Malcolm,” Colban sighed, pretending to admit that he was beaten on that point. Malcolm’s eyes glittered in the candlelight. He could not tell whether his son had been fooled. “It is Iylaine you want. She is all that matters.”

He could not tell whether his son had been fooled.

Malcolm was too wary to reply.

“But, my son, it is a grave decision you make today. It is all the rest of your life you decide today.”

“Such is marriage.”

“No, Malcolm, that is not what I mean. Tomorrow you will swear an oath to Sigefrith, and he will ever after be your lord.”


“But perhaps you will come to regret it…”

Malcolm glared at him.

Malcolm glared at him.

“Perhaps, in a few months, in a few years…”

Malcolm sucked in a short breath as if he were preparing himself to be punched in the stomach.

“Perhaps you will think differently…” Colban said weakly. Malcolm had already guessed what he was trying to say, and he looked dangerous enough that Colban did not dare say it.

'Perhaps you will think differently...'

“Not you too!” Malcolm hissed. “Is this how you come to wish me luck and happiness? ‘What will you do after she’s – she’s gone?’”

“I didn’t say that…”

“No! You dare not! You dare not! Is it for this that you all came? You? And my brother? And Malcolm?”

“No. But we want to see you come home again.”

“My home is a short walk from here. My home is almost ready for my bride.”

“And after she is gone?”

Malcolm howled and pointed at the wall of the narrow guest chamber. “It’s behind this wall she lies tonight! She can hear you! God help us if she knows that much Gaelic!”

'God help us if she knows that much Gaelic!'

“My son,” Colban soothed. “Calm yourself. Allow me to speak plainly. I do not begrudge you your wife. But you know that swearing an oath to Sigefrith is not part of the holy sacrament of marriage.”

“I need a house and income if I am to have a wife.”

“You could have had that from your father.”

'You could have had that from your father.'

“She does not wish to leave the valley.”

“And afterwards?”

Malcolm’s face was growing as red as his surcoat. “If I did not hit my brother and I did not hit my cousin, I cannot hit you. But, by God, I wish I could!”

'But, by God, I wish I could!'

“It does her no good to pretend she is well.”

“I do not pretend! She will be better soon. She feels stronger whenever I can take her out into the sun. But we have had so little sun this winter. She will be better and stronger as soon as the spring comes.”

Malcolm was a very clever liar. He could make a man believe the baldest falsehoods. It appeared that Malcolm had grown so skilled that he had succeeded in fooling himself, who could not be lied to. And his father’s heart ached for him.

His father's heart ached for him.

“I hope she will. I only ask you to consider whether you need swear an oath to Sigefrith.”

“I think I would have in any case.”

“Malcolm, Malcolm,” Colban sighed. “God forgive me for saying it, but you are my finest son. Must I give you to him?”

'Must I give you to him?'

“He gave his son to you.”

“Colban is not his son.”

“He could not love him more if he were. You let Sigefrith grow to love him rather than denounce Malcolm. You acted in the interests of our family. Now I act in Sigefrith’s. It is not for this that I remain with him, but you will admit there is justice in it. He could not love me more if I were his son.”

“You are my son!” Colban sobbed.

“Aye!” Malcolm said with sudden tenderness and kissed his father on both cheeks. It was true Malcolm surpassed his brother in affection as well. “And what is any oath to that?”

Malcolm kissed his father on both cheeks.

Colban so loved his son that he wished he could want what Malcolm wanted. More than anything he wanted Malcolm to be happy. The difficulty was in accepting that his son’s happiness and his own did not coincide. Forevermore he would have to draw his own happiness not from Malcolm, but from Malcolm’s.

“Just a moment,” Malcolm said, but he did not release his father from his embrace.

'Just a moment.'

Colban did not understand what he meant until he felt the cold draft around his legs and realized the door had been opened. Malcolm was speaking to the priest.

“Go with him,” Colban said wearily.

'Go with him.'

Malcolm kissed him again and let him go. Colban could not bear to watch him walk away.

“The peace of God on you, my son,” he called after him.

“And on you, my father.”

Colban would not see him again before the ceremony. Malcolm would still be his child when next they met, but he would be Sigefrith’s man.

Colban would not see him again before the ceremony.