Chapter 3 (part 1)

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Chapter 3 (part 1)

An hour before dawn, Gallen urged the mare under the canopy of Seamus O'Connor's house. His home had grown from a great oak, and at this time of the year the dead leaves in the canopy rustled in the wind under the starlight. Other oak houses, planted generations ago, grew near in a cluster, so the O'Connor farm-inhabited by several families of O'Connors-was more like a grove of houses. Here in the wilds, such groves gave one a sense of security, with people all around-though they were really little more than firetraps. Eventually, if the family didn't leave, they'd get burned out.

As Gallen neared the house, a watch owl swooped near his head, shouting "Who are you?" Gallen gave his name, fearing that the raptor might rake him with its talons. A candle burning in the O'Connor window bore testimony that Seamus's wife Biddy had waited up for him.

Seamus was in a bad way. He kept crying out at visions and couldn't answer a simple question.

Gallen slid from the saddle and shouted for help, then lugged Seamus to the house. Biddy unbolted the front door, and soon Gallen had him laid out on the sturdy kitchen table and all seven of Seamus's children got up. Brothers and aunts and cousins poured in from the other houses in the grove. Soon the house

bustled with crying children. They gathered around Seamus and hugged his hand, wiping their snotty noses on his sleeve.

Biddy sent her oldest daughter Claire for the priest while her son Patrick fetched the doctor. Gallen watched Patrick make ready to leave. The boy didn't hurry-instead he just skulked away, lazy to go out. Patrick had a likeness to his father, but was still just a gangrel of a boy with long arms and a slouching posture. Word around the county said he was a rowdy and a drunkard that his mother wouldn't be sorry after once he left home.

Seamus woke and called for Biddy but didn't know her when she answered him. The doctor arrived and checked Seamus's wounds-a shallow cut to the ribs and a cracked head that was swollen and feverish.

The priest, a Father Brian who was a second cousin of Gallen's on his mother's side, gave Seamus the last rites even as the doctor drew cold well water to bathe Seamus's head.

Gallen told them the story of the attack, saying only that a stranger had intervened, frightening off the robbers. He was afraid to admit that the stranger was a sidhe. How could he explain that one of Satan's minions had rescued him?

Afterward, Gallen sat on a stool, holding his head in his hands, afraid Seamus would die. He kept replaying the whole fight in his mind, wondering if somehow he couldn't have made it come out better. He recalled one moment, when one of the blackguards had first jumped up from the roadside, waving the white slip to spook the horse, when he had thought to pull his knife. Yet he'd held still, wanting first to gauge his enemies, estimate his chances of winning.

But if he'd only pulled his knives from the start, attacked before the robbers consolidated their forces, Gallen would have stood a better chance. Gallen relived the incident over and over, and within an hour he was sure he could have won. He could have killed all nine bandits and gotten Seamus home safely.

And Gallen wondered about the sidhe. There, in the mountains at night with a spinning head, Gallen had been sure of what he'd seen, but now that he was back in a warm home, with people bustling around, those swirling images of the glowing lavender face seemed astonishing, impossible. He could not have seen such a thing.

Just before dawn, Seamus lapsed into a deep, uneasy sleep, the kind of sleep that men seldom wake from. Gallen's eyes became gritty and his eyelids heavy. He was in that state where his skin felt as if it slept, as if he were losing the sensations of touch and heat and cold.

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