“Aengus,” Lasrua announced when it seemed dragging her feet and dawdling would not suffice, “I think we’re lost.”
“Now, we cannot be lost,” he said. “We never crossed a bridge a second time, so we’re still on the island. And I’m certain we’ve never seen this street before.”
“Perhaps we don’t recognize it because we came down the other way last time.”
Aengus stopped, took a fortifying breath, and turned to look behind him. “No,” he said, “nor neither.”
He returned to plodding up the hill, and Lasrua and Domnall followed.
“We’ll run out of streets sooner or later,” Aengus said distractedly, his nose in the air, as if he could sniff out the right direction. “And then I’ll grant you we’ll be lost. Say, isn’t that the tower of the Saint Christophe church straight ahead?”
Domnall muttered, “When have I heard that before?”
“Aye, but this is a different tower. Surely there are fewer churches in Paris than streets. We shall scratch them off one by one.”
Aengus, Lasrua thought, was a formidably difficult man to discourage. She would have to try a different tactic.
“But it is time for supper,” she protested. “Oughtn’t we return to the inn and try again in the morning?”
Aengus stopped so suddenly Lasrua heard the clank of his sword belt, and she turned to see a glare of warning. “You, young lady, scarcely deigned touch your dinner. Do not be telling me you’re hungry now.”
Lasrua flushed, hurt and offended, but Aengus walked past her and never saw. Granted, she wasn’t truly hungry for her supper now. But if she hadn’t eaten earlier, it was because her stomach was so knotted with trepidation that she couldn’t eat at all. Aengus might have thought of that, if only he cared.
“I was only thinking,” she mumbled, “that if they close the bridges at dusk, we will be stuck on this island with no way to return to the inn.”
“’Tisn’t dusk yet. At least let us find out whether that roof is the Saint Christophe church so we know where to start looking tomorrow. But I would like to find him tonight. I’m not trusting that Castilian fellow not to tell Malcolm someone is looking for him. I’m thinking he wasn’t telling us everything he knows.”
“Neither did we,” Domnall pointed out.
Aengus ignored him. “Say, there’s an arch. Are you thinking that’s what he was trying to tell us when he was doing like this?”
He hurried ahead, making vague sweeping gestures with his arms. Lasrua’s heart beat faster, keeping up with Aengus’s hastening steps even if her feet did not. Was this the street? Might they even run into Malcolm stepping out of a door or coming around a wall?
“If that’s the Saint Christophe church,” Aengus said, “then that’s the street corner, and that’s the arch, and the house must be just behind it!”
He broke into a jog, and Lasrua called out, “Aengus!”
He slowed to a walk again, but he never even turned around. “I wager that’s it!” he shouted back, sounding elated.
Lasrua’s feet dragged while her head seemed to float. Had they reached the end of their journey at last? Or was it only that Aengus was certain of a thing merely because he wanted it to be true, as was his way?
“I smell horses,” Domnall announced.
“That’s it! That’ll be he!” Aengus gabbled. “The man said he kept horses in town!”
He jogged a few steps in his excitement, and then the enormity of the occasion seemed to dawn on him, and his pace slowed. In spite of her foot-dragging, Lasrua was catching up to him.
“Sweet Jesus,” he breathed. “If his horses are stabled in there, he can’t be far. I wager if he sneezed just now, you could hear him, couldn’t you, love?”
Lasrua did not answer.
As they approached the stable, a gray horse poked its head over the gate and whickered after Lasrua. Lasrua shrank away.
“Eh, now, big fellow,” Aengus said, striding up to give the animal a friendly pat. “You look like the sort of handsome devil my cousin would fancy.”
The horse butted Aengus’s hands away and stretched its head out to sniffle towards Lasrua. She knew it was only curious about the scent of an elf, but she could not help but see an accusation in its black eyes.
“Where’s your master?” Aengus asked. “Inside?”
He stepped back to peer around the corner of the stable at a grand, weathered wooden door. Then he looked at Lasrua.
“I wager that’s it!”
“Supposing we’ve run Malcolm to earth at last! We’ve succeeded where even his own brother never has.”
Lasrua whispered, “Aengus, I can’t.”
“Ach, never you worry. I’ll do the talking at first. Besides, remember what Lord Hingwar said: If he opens the door to see you standing on the step, you’ll be a widow before he hits the floor. You and Domnall shall just hide around the corner, and let me break the news to him gently. I’ll make certain he’s sitting down!”
Lasrua wrung her numb hand in the good one. Could he not see she was shaking? How could he look upon her and smile?
“No, Aengus, I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t…”
Her mouth moved to speak the words “see Malcolm,” but before the confusion dawning on Aengus’s face, not even a whisper came out. She couldn’t quite admit the truth to him.
“I’m frightened,” she concluded shakily.
Aengus looked relieved. “Ach, you’ve nothing to fear, love. Malcolm has never been a harsh man, and least of all with women. Besides, after what Hingwar said, I wager the only thing you’ll have to fear from him is a surfeit of rejoicing.”
Could a man be so stupid? The unhappy tears that Lasrua was hiding were becoming tears of frustration.
“I mean,” she said, “I don’t want…”
Even her lips refused to move. Would Aengus not help her at all?
“I don’t know what I want,” she managed to say.
Aengus made a slight toss of his head. “Then I suggest,” he said quietly, “you try to want what you have.”
He turned away, and Lasrua blurted out, “I want to go home!”
Aengus froze. His head began to turn. “After we have come all this way…”
“I didn’t want to come all this way! I told you I wanted to go home! I told you in Dunfermline and Dover and Calais, and I already wanted to long before I ever told you I did!”
She stopped, panting, and waited for Aengus’s reaction. She had seldom seen anger gather on Aengus’s mild face, and she watched it with a growing dread. But he seemed to think better of it, and shook it off.
“Aye,” he muttered, turning away again, “well, we’re here now.”
His eyes flared and he rushed at her, sending her skittering back a few steps against the wall.
“Can you not, for once,” he hissed in a hot whisper, “think of someone besides your own self? You owe him at least the truth. He’s in there a-grieving his dead wife, when it’s right outside his door she’s standing. Are you telling me you’re going to walk away?”
Lasrua sucked in her breath. Aengus drew back and scowled down at her, certain he’d had the last word. Lasrua’s pride lashed out and snatched it back.
“Bringing your cousin’s wife back from the dead to him isn’t going to bring back yours!”
Surprise and hurt flashed over Aengus’s face before he whipped it aside. Horrified at herself, Lasrua tried to soften her words by making them less specific, adding, “Nor your mother, nor anyone.”
But by calling to mind their intimate, predawn conversation in which he’d confessed to fantasizing about the same, she feared she only made the wound worse. Aengus turned away and walked to the door.
Lasrua could dry her tears before they fell from her eyes, but even her pride could not stop the shaking of her shoulders as she gasped for air, trying to stifle a sob.
Domnall followed Aengus to the door, ignoring her, but Aengus turned around and snapped, “You and Rua get back. Go hide behind those barrels there if you want to watch the door. Mayhap as he won’t be at home anyway, or ’tisn’t even his house.”
Domnall spun on his heel and walked back to Lasrua. “Come on,” he muttered. “Let’s get this over with.”
He turned again and marched away. Lasrua followed him around the corner, dumb and obedient as a kicked dog. For the moment she scarcely cared whether this was Malcolm’s home. Aengus would never unclose his heart to her again.
Aengus smoothed back his hair and stretched his shoulders, as if he were about to pick up a hammer and swing it.
Domnall whispered, “Get down!”
Lasrua hurriedly crouched, banging her knees against a bucket of dirty water. She looked down into the sloshing, chaff-speckled reflection of the Saint Christophe church tower. They had arrived at last.
Aengus pounded on the door. The startled horses reacted with a brief flurry of jostling and stomping. Then, from the story above, Lasrua heard a rustle followed by a pause. She heard two feet hit the floor, and after that even Aengus and Domnall must have heard the steps pounding over the boards and down a flight of stairs that creaked and snapped in protest.
Lasrua braced herself against the barrel, sick and breathless with trepidation. How had Malcolm known she was there? Had he overheard her hoarsely whispered argument with Aengus? Or did he feel her presence as she felt his, racing toward her like a draft of fire?
Aengus stepped back as the bolt banged open and the door flew wide.
It was Malcolm.
He was wild-eyed, tangle-haired, unshaven and pale with grief, as Aengus had foreseen. Lasrua was stunned and ashamed.
He looked right and left, so frantic he didn’t even seem to recognize his cousin standing right before him, nor spot his lamented wife half-hidden behind the barrel.
Then he grabbed Aengus by the front of his tunic and dragged him nose-to-nose, wailing, “Aengus! Have you seen my boy?”