Phelan sat by the fire, propped up against the storage totes that housed spare dishes and silverware, his staff across his lap and knife in hand, as if he’d been working on carving it. His hands were still, though, and his eyes were on the fire.
He seemed a thousand miles away as I added another log to the fire and sat down next to him.
It was another moment before he tore his gaze from the fire and looked at me sidelong. “What’s wrong, leannán?”
I shook my head slightly. “Just trying to understand all of it, that’s all. They wouldn’t tell me why they’re making a dress. You wouldn’t tell me why it’s so important that you marry Thom and I so soon.”
“And that’s important?” Phelan asked, smiling wryly.
“To me it is.”
He nodded, snapping his knife closed and tucking it away into his pocket. His palms rested lightly against the wood of his staff, his eyes drifting back to the fire.
He was silent for so long, I started to wonder if he was ever going to answer.
“It’s complicated, Marin,” he said at last. “Part of my insistence is born of regrets, though perhaps not the largest part. That honor, I think, goes to one thing—the two of you are stronger together than you are apart. This ensures that you’ll be together.”
“For as long as love lasts,” I said. “That’s what a handfasting is. You promise to stay together for as long as love lasts.” Or a year and a day, but I wonder if Phelan will give us that option.
“Aye,” Phelan said, voice as distant as his eyes, which seemed to focus on something well beyond what I could see. “And nothing that I have ever seen or ever divined says that you and Thomas Ambrose will ever fall out of love. That’s what being a soul mate is all about, leannán, and you are his as surely as he is yours. You are two halves of a wholly dysfunctional whole, but two halves of the same whole nonetheless.” Phelan reached out, laying his hand over mine. “And in the days and years to come, we will need you together as one rather than as two—or three.”
A shiver shot through me.
I thought of the vision of the birth of our son. It seemed like more dream than vision.
“Hush,” he soothed softly. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to, Marin.” The corner of his mouth twitched in a smile as his head lolled toward me. “Trust me. That’s a question you don’t want to know the answer to.” He kissed my forehead. “Things will be what they will be.”
“Will they?” I asked, unable to keep the doubt from my voice. I don’t even know what we’re actually talking about here. What are you hiding, Phelan?
“Yes,” he said, drawing himself a little straighter. “Now make me some tea. I’m parched.”
I laughed weakly and got up to get the kettle. He watched as I filled it and hung it over the fire, silent as I fetched a teapot and a pair of mugs to match. I’d hung the bags in the pot, ready for the hot water when it boiled, before he spoke again.
“Now tell me what’s really upsetting you, leannán,” he said, patting the ground next to him. “I know it’s not this wedding business.”
I froze for a moment, heart skipping. Don’t be surprised. Of course he can read that in you.
I sat back own with him and stared at my hands.
“Go on,” Phelan said softly.
He’d been different since the battle, less vibrant, less present. It was as if he’d left a piece of himself somewhere and his mind couldn’t help but to wander, looking for it.
“How close was it?” I asked.
“Ah.” Air rushed out of him and he deflated like a balloon. “So that’s what it is. You saw her?”
A shiver shot through me. He knows? Did he somehow see her, too? Sense her? My mouth was dry. I’d promised not to talk about it, but I needed to know.
My voice came out as a bare whisper. “Who was she, Phelan?”
“You have your suspicions already,” he said, his eyes on mine as we looked at each other sidelong. He looked almost frightened, but more sad.
Who else would come for him? Who else would whisper those words in my ear?
But why would she care?
“Then why do you need to ask?” Phelan smiled weakly. “Why does it matter?”
“Why shouldn’t it matter?”
Phelan sighed. I got to my knees, looming over him.
“What are you not telling us?” I whispered. “Why would a goddess care?” My hands found his. “Why would you die to protect us, Phelan?”
A shiver wracked him and he looked down at our linked hands. His fingers were cold. For the first time, I noticed faint scars that crisscrossed the backs of his hands, his knuckles permanently swollen from long-ago fistfights. He’d been fighting for a lot of things for a long time.
“Isn’t it enough that I would?” he murmured. “Blood takes care of blood, leannán. That’s all it is.”
My stomach dropped as I realized what he’d just implied. “Phelan—”
Pain filled his eyes as he looked up at me, lips thin and jaw trembling. His fingers tightened and his voice came as a whisper.
“All of you belong to me as surely as I belong to you.”
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