Vash had been little more than a child when the elves were last permitted to go abroad on the night of the new moon.

Vash had been little more than a child when the elves were last permitted to go abroad on the night of the new moon.

He knew now that the ban had first begun to prevent the elves from interfering with Druze and Midra when they woke and went among the men. No elf could have witnessed such savagery without attempting to prevent it – even knowing that it had been prophesied, even knowing that it was Fate.

Later it had been intended to protect the elves from the monthly attacks of the woman Hel. Even the wretched kisór had learned to hide on those dark nights: the woman would content herself with one of their number if she could not find better. The kisór, true to their fickle, shallow nature, had almost immediately incorporated this night of hiding into their rituals as the Night-​​Dark-​​Moon-​​Sleep, to accompany the Still-​​Breath-​​Fire-​​Ring, the Cloud-​​Mountain-​​Spirit-​​Hunt, and other senseless rites which remained in force long after the reason for them had passed.

Vash knew better than anyone.

As far as the elves knew – and Vash knew better than anyone – Hel was still trapped in her prison deep beneath the earth, outside of the embrace of the sacred hills. Nevertheless, though the Bright Lady had not demanded it, his father had decided to maintain the ban on these nights. Vash suspected his father intended to reserve the nights of the new moon for some purpose of his own, but on this moon and the previous, Vash had not seen or heard any signs of elves abroad.

Even with all the bustle of a night in late spring, the season when the young animals began to venture out, the forest was a desolate place without the other elves. His own people were so few that it was possible to walk long distances without meeting a cousin, but it was a strange and silent night that was not filled with the rustling and pattering and giggling of the low-​​born kisór.

The stillness was unnerving. He could imagine that he was the last elf left alive.

The men he saw only made him feel lonelier.

The men he saw only made him feel lonelier. He knew that he was hiding from them, but nonetheless their inability to see him gave him the unsettling feeling that he too was dead, and that there were no elves left at all.

There was no pleasure for him in watching them, either. At this hour the men he saw were dull and stony-​​eyed, plodding wearily home after a few hours spent doing something they shouldn’t: drinking, he thought, or chasing unsuccessfully after girls.

Those who had chased successfully would not be lumbering home for another hour or two, but they would inspire no more interest in him. If they were in love, he hated them for it, and if they were not, he hated them more.

Between the unsuccessful and the successful girl-​​chasers there came a man who did attract his attention for a moment. It was one of the religious men that he had seen going in and out of the new church they were building on the hills behind the old.

It was one of the religious men that he had seen going in and out of the new church.

These men were not priests, but they too swore to live apart from women so that they could be more holy. At times Vash toyed with the idea of asking one of them how they did it. If it was as simple as a plant one could eat or a prayer one could recite, he thought he might try it. It would be useful to know, in any case. But this man was very old, and Vash thought he might have forgotten by now that it had ever been necessary.

After a moment he turned his face away again, back to the darkness from which he hoped to see the Dark Lady step at any time. Thus he was greatly surprised when the old man, instead of walking blindly past him along the path, stopped before him and smiled.

'Good evening.'

“Good evening.”

Vash froze, moving only his eyes as he looked to the left and to the right in search of the person to whom the old man could have been speaking. He saw nothing, heard nothing, and indeed knew from the steady gaze of the man’s own eyes that he was looking directly at him.

He choked and stumbled back to a comfortable distance. “You can see me?”

'You can see me?'

The old man chuckled into his beard. “Young elf, I have seen things even you wouldn’t believe. But it’s such a dark night without a moon!” With the toe of his sandal he kicked at the exposed tip of a buried boulder. “Why don’t you give us some light so we can see one another properly?”

'Why don't you give us some light so we can see one another properly?'

Vash stood and watched him, ready to spring away, until the man stepped back far enough to leave a safe distance between them. Then, still watching warily, Vash bent and laid his hand on the boulder.

There was very little light to gather into it – only the light of the infinite, infinitely distant stars – but it was a big rock beneath the surface, and so it was not difficult to coax a glow into the tip of it. It was only after he stood again that he wondered how the man knew about this light magic at all.

He wondered how the man knew about this light magic at all.

“Who are you?” he asked.

The old man’s smile was as guileless and endearing as a baby’s. “Brother Myrddin is my name. I have traveled all over this island, but I shall believe myself a Welshman until I die, no matter how far I roam. And you?”

'Brother Myrddin is my name.'

“Vash is my name.”

“Oh, yes! Vash! You are the elf who loved the elf Iylaine and lost her. A tragic tale! It is worthy of a song, and I would love to sing it… if only I knew how it will end!”

Vash scowled.

Vash scowled.

“I am sorry, young Vash, if I seem to take it lightly. Indeed I do not. I am a Celt, and if life were only laughter and sleep, we Celts would prefer to die. We know that joy is nothing without sorrow behind. You elves would do well to remember that.”

“And what is sorrow without joy?”


Vash snorted. “It is worse than nothing.”

“It is like light and dark. Either without the other is blinding. You elves have forgotten that too.”

'You elves have forgotten that too.'

“What do you know about the elves?”

“I told you – I have been all over the island, and I have seen many things. For instance, I have seen a tall lady, black as night, very much like an elf, but with astoundingly long points on her ears. Have you ever seen such an elf?”

The old man’s childish grin was all out of place with the guile of his words.

He was only a man, Vash reminded himself, and so he could not hear how his heart pounded. Only the most perceptive men could recognize fear in another at all. But if this were not an ordinary man? If this were some disguise of the Dark Lady herself? He had not known he would be so terrified.

The old man leaned toward him. Vash was somewhat reassured to notice that he smelled like an old man – until he spoke and frightened him again. “Perhaps you have seen one like her, but all white? All aglow?”

'Perhaps you have seen one like her, but all white?  All aglow?'

“Have you?” Vash whispered.

“Oh!” the old man sighed. “Many years ago. I have never forgotten her, though. I think she might have been an angel – though I do not think the dark one was a devil,” he added in a confiding whisper. “But I would do anything to see her again!”

“Do you know how to see the dark one?” Vash murmured.

'Do you know how to see the dark one?'

“Do you know how to see the bright one?”

Vash did not know how to answer, but after a while the old man seemed to take his silence as a reply.

“Perhaps we could help one another?” he suggested. “You tell me how to meet the bright one, and I shall tell you how to meet the dark one? If that interests you, of course…”

'If that interests you, of course...'

“I cannot do that.”

Vash had not forgotten that Dre had spent weeks trying to obtain the same information from him, at times with the same smiling subtlety. Could these two be working together?

But Vash himself had not been looking for the Dark Lady at the time. More importantly, he had still trusted Nimea then. Though she had not warned him about Dre when she had told him where Iylaine was being held prisoner, he had still believed that somehow he would escape, be reunited with Iylaine, and then… everything would have been as she had promised.

She had deceived him, deliberately or through ignorance.

But she had deceived him, deliberately or through ignorance, and she had stood by and watched all of the joy disappear from his life, leaving him with worse than nothing. And still she met him with the same smiling subtlety, and tried to convince him that it was only nothing.

The old man had seen him hesitate and laid a hand on his arm. “I think you can,” he murmured. “Not until you have seen them both can you appreciate either one, Vash. It would be like joy without sorrow.”

'It would be like joy without sorrow.'

“She can teach everything one needs to know about sorrow,” Vash muttered.

“Ah!” The old man’s smile grew sad. “Indeed she can. But that may mean that the dark one can teach you something about joy?”

Vash took a step away from him and shook his head, as if to wake himself from a dream. “What sort of religious man are you, to say such things?”

Vash took a step away from him and shook his head.

“A Celt, before all else,” he shrugged. “We are unlike all other men, and some of us are unlike all the rest of us. And I am a very old man, and I have seen a great many things. But I know you are a very young elf, and you have never even left this valley. You are not a fool, but you know very little, and you are afraid to do what is necessary to learn more. You won’t dare trust me tonight, and so you will wait all night for nothing. But you will know where to find me when you are ready. Good night, Vash.”

'Good night, Vash.'

The monk turned and began walking back the way he had come.

“What do you mean?” Vash asked before he had taken more than a few steps.

“Next moon, perhaps,” the old man muttered, as if to himself.

'Next moon, perhaps.'