Egelric's hands were broad and massive.

Egelric’s hands were broad and massive, with curling black hairs growing over the backs of them as far as the second knuckles of his fingers. The fingers were long and straight and squared-​​off at the ends, and the nails were so thick he was obliged to bite off the tips of them, for otherwise they would never stop growing.

He could also have observed that the skin was as tanned and insensitive as leather gloves from years of going gloveless. He could have pushed his wedding ring up to see the pale crease it had left after two years, and if he had turned up his palms he would have seen the faint scar that still ran across the right one.

But Egelric was not thinking about these incidental or acquired features. He was looking at his hands with the thought that they were one part of his heritage from his parents and theirs, and part of his legacy to his children.

He was looking at his hands with the thought that they were one part of his heritage.

These were his grandfather’s hands that old Duncan would slam down on the wooden table to punctuate his oaths when he was drunk and roaring.

These were his mother’s hands, massive as truncheons, and her long fingers had reached far enough to clap painfully over his ear whenever she smacked him across the cheek.

These were his own hands that he knew so intimately that the backs of them served as a point of comparison for anything he might say he knew very well.

These were not Wulf’s hands. Wulf had his mother’s delicate, elfin hands with their pretty nails that were always breaking and snagging in his clothing.

He did not know whether they were Finn’s hands.

He did not know whether they were Finn's hands.

Not a day passed in which he did not think of Finn, but since the birth of young Duncan, he had been having thoughts he had not had in many years.

Duncan was now twenty-​​four days old. Finn had been taken from him twenty-​​three days after his birth.

Egelric had ridden out to visit Iylaine and Malcolm that afternoon, and he had told Malcolm so. He had told Malcolm that he owed an extra thanks to God every day after this day, for it was a day with his eldest son that Egelric had not had with his.

Egelric wished that someone had told him to be more thankful on each of those first twenty-​​three days. Malcolm had not needed to be reminded – perhaps he had suffered too much heart-​​rending separation already to take anything for granted – but Egelric had been a young fool, and he had not known. He had learned more of three-​​day-​​old Alaric than he had learned of Finn. He knew whose hands Alaric had.

He knew whose hands Alaric had.

He was beginning to understand why men who had happy families were so delighted to be grandfathers. It was not merely because grandchildren came with parents to handle the nighttime feedings, and it was not merely because grandchildren could be spoiled rotten and then left to their parents when it made brats of them.

He was finding that having a grandson and seeing young Malcolm’s delight and fascination in this little person was a starker reminder of his own youth and his own first experiences of fatherhood than was having another child of his own at forty-​​two.

He could see how happy men could enjoy living those moments again, but Egelric had not had a happy family, and these stark reminders were more bitter than sweet to him. Egelric could not bear to live over his thirty-​​first year a second time.

Egelric could not bear to live over his thirty-first year a second time.

He had just about made up his mind to go play with his two little elf boys until their bedtime. It seemed the best way to turn his thoughts away from Finn, for he had never seen Finn at four, and nothing they did or said could remind him.

But Ethelwyn was at the door, knocking more urgently than Ethelwyn was often given to knock.


Ethelwyn came into the study and did not speak until he had closed the door behind him, so softly that Egelric did not know he had closed it until he had turned to see what was taking his steward so long.

'What is it?'

“What is it?”

“Sir, there’s a man here to see you.”

“A man?”

“He said his name is Paul, but that you would not know him by his name but rather by his face. And, sir…” Ethelwyn leaned his head close to Egelric’s and whispered soundlessly, “I believe he may be an elf.”

'I believe he may be an elf.'

“Why?” Egelric whispered.

“He’s enormous. I believe he’s taller than the Baron. And – and – big! He’s not merely long-​​limbed like the Baron, but like a magnified man. And… huge!”

“How did he speak?”

“With an accent. And his garments are strange. But I didn’t… I didn’t ask him what he was,” Ethelwyn admitted sheepishly.

'I didn't ask him what he was.'

“From the way you tell it,” Egelric whispered, “we should simply be thankful you didn’t piss yourself. Never mind, Wyn. I shall go to him. You – ” Egelric stooped and pulled the short knife from his boot. “Take this and wait in the next room. Come if I call, or we start knocking things about. And if he leaves me for dead, don’t mind about me but do everything you can to save my wife and children. I shall thank you for it afterwards, assuming we get sent to the same place in the end.”

“Do you think…?” Ethelwyn asked, white to the lips. “Do you know who it is?”

“I don’t know why,” Egelric muttered as he made sure of his own long knife at his belt, “but I have an uncanny feeling that says I do.”

'I have an uncanny feeling that says I do.'