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Under That Burning Ether

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There is a wedding at Carterhaugh in early autumn, presided by the wedding gift of a spurned lover, a fast-falling flurry of snow to crown the fair-haired bride. It is nought more than a moon’s turn past All Hallow’s Eve, and Janet has had just enough time to realize how little she knows of the man who is, in all ways but this last one, her husband.

Still, she places her life, and the life of the tiny creation between them, into his hands, and says the words that will bind them together, for now and for all their lives. His touch is hesitating, his words stuttering, as if he does not know how this is done; how a marriage is begun in her Church. They have known one another in the most intimate of ways, Janet thinks while clinging to her husband’s hands, and there is so much more that she will need to learn of him.

Tam Lin is something out of place, even next to her; someone who does not know how to live among her people. His black-brown curls and sun-browned skin speak of a place utterly different than the craggy, snow-covered home Janet has loved her whole life, and she longs to understand the halting movements he makes around her father and his lords, as if he does not know what the etiquette among them is.

Perhaps he has been so long among the Fae that he has forgotten how to be human.

Perhaps he has been so long the consort of the Faery Queen that he does not know what a mortal life is worth.

She asks him that night where he had come from, as he lay in her bed with those haunted gray eyes fixed on her round belly.

“As far from here as you might imagine,” he answers, and his laughter does not quite reach his eyes. Rather, he looks down her bared body with interest, even when Janet covers herself with one of the woolen blankets.

She believes him, and it troubles her that she does not know. Rescuing the man she loved—loved with her body and loved in her memories of their singular encounter—has not a husband made of him, nor a wife made of her.

“Perhaps,” she says, curving her body against his for warmth, “you will tell me what you are, one day.”

Tam Lin peers at her curiously in the dark, snowlight reflecting through the window on her face, and bends forward to kiss the delicate curve where her ear is welded to her fair-skinned cheek. Janet feels so far from him, and her heart is aching with desire to know him better; to know from what she truly rescued him.

She reaches for his arms, and his erect cock brushes hotly against her soft thighs, into her hardened belly. No, she will not know his heart any better tonight, or perhaps the next, but she knows how to do this with him.

When it is finished and Janet is sweaty and her limbs heavy, Tam Lin tucks the blankets around them both for warmth. She has learned that he is never quite warm here, when the winds begin to blow from the north and the leaves turn.

Janet has just settled into sleep, her doubts drifting beyond reach, when he rests his hands on her belly and his chin on the curve of her shoulder.

“One day,” he finally agrees quietly. “Perhaps, one day.”


It is not easy.

Wife is a thing that means something to Janet’s father, and another thing to Tam Lin, and a third to Janet herself, who has been given rule over Carterhaugh, her tiny queendom. In this way, Tam Lin understands that his role is to be consort of a much smaller land than the one he held honor in before. He is always laughing, but Janet senses that he is keenly aware of what he traded to regain his freedom.

Janet is afraid that he will tell her the truth of it if she asks him about the Faery Queen. It is because she has seen her, because she has heard the stories of her. She is powerful, terribly beautiful, and once so enamored with Janet’s husband that she captured him and kept him to herself.

Tam Lin is a skilled lover, no doubt for his experience, and Janet has enjoyed him for that since the very beginning. But when she thinks too much about it, particularly when she is trapped inside the walls of Carterhaugh, she remembers the way the Queen looked, how beautiful she would be amidst her passions. It would be quite the thing to turn away from her spider-silk sheets, her magic-kissed favors. For his part, Tam Lin never mentions the Queen, nor his time with her. She sees him wandering the wood to reflect, and sometimes the snowflakes caress his hair with unabashed affection. He is never smiling at these times, and it is the most honest expression Janet thinks she has ever seen on his face. It is not an expression of joy.

Perhaps it is better, she thinks, not to dwell too much on her consort, the man who rules her tiny queendom at her side. She holds him close at night, allows him to press his ear to her belly, as if he can hear the heartbeat of their babe, and never asks him to tell her about his other Queen.


The girl-child does not cry.

She is born early in the season, when the sound of her mother’s birthing pains are masked by the unearthly shrieks of a winter storm and her father paces with anxiety beyond that of an ordinary father. The world as she has known it has been nought but bitter cold and longing for more, but, touched by magic, she does not cry for whatever it is she might desire.

She resembles her parents in equal parts. Her eyes are wide as her mother’s, her nose a tiny, upturned point, and her lips perfectly formed and pink. Her downy tufts of hair are fair brown, her eyes are as a tempest sky, and her babe-pale skin promises to take to the touch of warmth as soon as she is acquainted with the sun. She is of this place, of these people, but to look at her is to know she is as touched by the Fae as her father; as otherworldly and outsider as he.

The daughter of Janet’s fated meeting with Tam Lin watches this world, fascinated by its ordinary kind of magic, and never cries.

She sleeps peacefully between them, waking occasionally to nurse and coo, and Janet wants to wait to name her until they are certain she will survive. Tam Lin is less anxious on that matter after the girl is born, and names her Margaret. He does not say why, only that it seems fitting now, and not a moment too early, for she will survive. Before long, despite her objections, Janet finds herself using the name as often as he.

Tam Lin is a fine hunter, a praiseworthy warrior, and a good father, though in none of these things is he quite how Janet imagined her future husband might be. He carries Margaret out with him to the field on his horse, explaining the world to his daughter in a tongue she cannot begin to understand, and teaches her to hunt from horseback before the girl can walk.

From farther than she could have imagined, indeed.

She asks him again, the night he returns with their daughter, laughing that she had slain her first boar that very afternoon, where it is he has come from.

Tam Lin seems to consider this, his fingers resting on Margaret’s cheek. They will have to move her soon to her own bed and consider giving her a sibling; a brother, if they are lucky.

“I was a lord’s son,” he begins in a low voice that is melodic and faintly reminiscent of another land. “A very long time ago.”

“You are not so old,” Janet interrupts, because he is perhaps ten years older than she.

Tam Lin laughs, always laughing, and touches her nose with his other hand, as if he is afraid Margaret will disappear the moment he takes his hand from her. “Time does not flow for the Fae as it does for you and I. It was a very long time ago, and seven years for me.”

“Which lord, then? I have read my history.”

“No lord of this land, or any near it. I have been, it is a different place than it was when I was young. I cannot say that I am still a lord’s son, when the man who is lord of that place is very different than my father.” His fingers comb through her golden hair when he speaks, and Janet knows he is trying to comfort her for what he imagines is a shock. She allows him to think so, as she thinks what it must mean, that her thoughts have been confirmed.

“And what was it like when you were a lord’s son?”

“I was never cold, nor lonely, nor wanted for a lady’s company. I could walk out and pluck a fruit from a date palm,” he explains, and Janet scoffs with immediate disbelief, though she has every reason to believe him. She has tasted a date once, from a merchant who came by sea to her father, but they had come from so far away. So too, it would seem, did her husband.

And so she leans over and tastes his mouth, remembers the story he told her on their second meeting, that he had fallen into the Faery Queen’s arms, become her consort and, eventually, her sacrifice to hell. Tam Lin tastes the same he did when she first kissed him, but now that she knows, even Janet can taste the memory of that one sugared date from her childhood.

“And that is all?”

“No,” Tam Lin murmurs into her ear, nibbling the soft flesh of her neck until she laughs, wriggling very slightly to avoid waking Margaret.

“But I will tell you in time,” he decides aloud and brushes Margaret’s hair back to show her little ears, for Janet to kiss. Margaret sighs and turns toward her mother, and murmurs a word Janet has only heard from Tam Lin; a word from his far-away homeland that she does not understand.

“What does it mean?” Janet wonders if he will tell her, as if the secret language he speaks to his daughter in can only belong to the two of them.

“It is our word for you.” And his gray eyes look through hers, the thorough stare that she knows means that there is something he wants to say to her, wants her to say to him. Janet looks away, suddenly shy of him, but his fingers curve along her jaw, tipping her face toward him again, and her heart flutters with a strange kind of affection, a new kind of love for him, tied up in this moment; falling in deeper, truer love with a man she could spend a lifetime getting to know, if it means it will feel like this.


Winter comes early every year now, memorializing the day that Janet rescued him with the same gift that came on her wedding day. Janet cannot say she minds. The harvest has already come in at Carterhaugh, after a successful season. Tam Lin has learned the farm well, and he has even begun talking to the plants the way he talks to Margaret and, sometimes, when he thinks she is asleep, the way he talks to Janet.

She asks him to teach her sometimes, but Tam Lin is not a good teacher. He can tell her words for things, long phrases that mean other things that have no word in her language, and Janet commits them to memory. It is enough that he speaks her language well, can tell her the stories of his homeland late at night, stories of a mermaid, and a thief, and sailors. Sometimes, he tells the stories using the words of his native tongue, and Janet finds that she understands. Margaret, of course, has no trouble understanding the stories; they are as much a part of her as if the stories were transmitted to her in the blood of her father.

It is snowing heavily on the day before Christmas, and they go walking to the grove where Janet met Tam Lin. The roses are in their winter sleep, and there are none for Janet to pluck now. She smiles at the naive memory, the girl she was and the woman she has become from that one stem.

Janet’s toddling daughter twirls untouched through the falling flakes, tumbling back into her father’s arms where he waits for Janet, beneath the tree where she first knew him. Tam Lin’s gray eyes are bright and unguarded, twinkling in the light reflecting off the snow. If love is magic, then it is magic, the thing that brought them together, and the thing that swirls around them in the snow now. Even Margaret’s shouts of joy are muffled by the snow when her father lets her run again, gathering snow in the hem of her skirts.

“Here, where it started,” he says when Janet is near enough to hear. His meaning is obscured in his words, so Margaret will not understand, as if she could understand her own torrid beginnings.

Janet rests her hand in his, a faint smile curving her lips skyward. An errant snowflake rests on her full bottom lip, melting by the warmth of her breath as Tam Lin—her husband, she reminds herself—bends to kiss it away. His mouth is cool and careful on hers, as if she will break from that touch. Janet laughs, and Tam Lin kisses her pliant mouth once more.

This is love, she decides, with warmth spreading to her toes. Not that she loved him that first spring day in this grove, but that he is here now, every day her constant companion and consort.

This is love, that he loves her, and she him, and they Margaret, safe and alone in their insulated little world, forever.