She had forgotten about the injury to her hand.

In the first few seconds of their struggle, as the man tried to get a firm hold on her, Catan managed to wrench her knife from her belt—but she had forgotten about the injury to her hand.

Her index finger was useless and swollen, and it smoldered with a dull, unceasing pain wherever it was not entirely numb. She could scarcely hold the knife at all, and she could not hope to attack him with it.

Worse, his hand immediately closed over her wrist. “Drop it!” he growled in her ear. “Drop it!”

His grip was so tight that the stopped blood immediately began to throb in her hand, awakening the fire in her finger. She could not have held the knife if she wanted to.

She could feel the heat of his body through her gown.

She could feel the heat of his body through her gown as she fought him, and wherever she touched him with her flailing hands, she only felt bare skin. She was too horrified to scream. If he was naked then he had been ready for her.

Ethelwyn had reminded her that there were men who would not be satisfied with merely looking—and she had been such a fool with her little knife! And they had been such fools to sneak out again!

When at last the man got a grip on both of her shoulders, he flung her away from him.

When at last the man got a grip on both of her shoulders, he flung her away from him.

Her legs tangled in her skirts, and she fell, making a foolish attempt to catch herself with her hand. She was too terrified to cry out at this latest bolt of pain. He would be upon her in a moment, and her hand would be nothing to her then.

But he did not move. “How did you find this cave?” he asked. He was angry, but, like a man accustomed to living in a cave, he spoke softly enough that only the last word called up a faint echo.

Cat kicked the tangles out of her skirt, leaned her weight on her good hand, and pushed herself to her feet. She could see her knife glinting in the puddle of afternoon light that poured in through the narrow entrance—too far away to be grasped without a sudden lunge that would alert him. For now she would stand and face him.

He was not naked.

He was not naked. He wore a short kilt such as stone-​cutters and other heavy laborers wore in the summer, but dark and stiff like leather. The rest of him was tall, well-​muscled but slender, and fair enough that she could see him moving like a golden ghost against the darkness of the cave.

“Answer me! How did you find me?”

“The sun showed me.”

“Whose son?”

“The sun! In the sky!” Catan took a slow step to the side, nearer the door, but he did not move.

'The sun!  In the sky!'

“What do you mean?”

“The sunlight came through the trees and fell exactly on the ivy before the door. That is how I found it,” she said with a pert nod and another step to the side. “You needn’t have attacked me. I wasn’t meaning any harm.”

He said nothing for a moment, and finally only grunted. At last, though, he seemed to notice her slow progress towards the entrance and followed warily after her, into the light.

He followed warily after her, into the light.

Now she could see just how well-​muscled he was, and also how ill-​kempt: his sandy blond hair was clean but straggled into no style at all, his chin had been abandoned to a patchy beard, and his legs were filthy with dust and crisscrossed with scratches as far up as his knees.

Then there was the pallor of his eyes, so uncanny that she could not bear to stare him in the face.

“Do you live here?” she asked, willing coolness into her voice.

'Do you live here?'

“Nobody lives here.”

“Then why are you here?” she huffed. “Why are you attacking me if it isn’t even your cave?”

His laughter was so bitter it surfaced only as a brief snort. “Nobody attacked you. Nobody hurt you.”

'Nobody hurt you.'

“Who are you then?” she cried, and the cave answered with the echo, “You then.”


“Ach, that explains it!” She laughed, because there was something like a very small, very unhappy smile on his own face.

But now that she dared look long at his face, she understood what had been so disturbing about his eyes. They were not merely pale—they were white, and they followed her only vaguely as she sidled towards the door.

She stopped and leaned close to look up into his face. “Are you blind?” she murmured, too softly for the echoing cave to hear.

'Are you blind?'

He jerked his head back, as if he had been surprised to find hers so close to his own.

“Is that why you live in a cave?”

“Go away, please. I do not wish to talk to anyone.”

“Because you’re blind and cannot work?” she asked. Now she was creeping towards him. “You know, the Queen helps the blind people here. You need only—”

“I do not need any help, and I do not wish to talk to anyone, so you may go.”

'I do not need any help, and I do not wish to talk to anyone, so you may go.'

“Ach! But I’m not Anyone!” she grinned. “I’m Cat!”

His brows rose slightly above his pallid eyes. “Cat, like…?”

“Like a cat! Catan is the name of me, but I’m Cat to everybody. And to nobody,” she giggled.

“Go, please, Cat.

“Ach, but I—”

“Go!” he roared, and the cave echoed back his command a dozen times over.


She took a step away, but she continued speaking softly to him. “Do you have any friends? Is anyone helping you?”

“I told you to leave! Are you deaf or only stupid?”

“Well!” She planted her hands on her hips and made the sourest face she knew, forgetting that it was wasted on him. “I was only trying to be kind!”

'I was only trying to be kind!'

“I do not want you to be kind!”

The cave echoed a dizzying interleaving of “want you” and “kind”.

“I shall be kind if I want to be kind, and you cannot stop me!”

The echoes replied “you” and “stop me”.

“And if I am cruel?” he asked.

'And if I am cruel?'

“If you think I should be cruel because you are cruel, then you must agree that you should be kind if I am kind. And since I started by being kind…” she smiled, quite pleased with her logic.

He snorted.

“So, do you need anything? Sir Egelric is my cousin, and I—”

'So, do you need anything?'

“No. I need nothing. Nothing. I need to be left alone.”


“You are being cruel without knowing it. Like a cat indeed. But I am no mouse.”

“Aie!” she winced. “Do not mention mice to me!”

'Do not mention mice to me!'

“Why not?”

“They are the bane of me!”

“A cat such as you?” One corner of his mouth smiled.

“Aye! A shame on me! First there was a girl called Mouse, and the man my sister wants to marry is breaking his heart over her, and never looks at my sister.”

'Aye!  A shame on me!'

“What sort of animal is your sister?”

“Ach! Only a girl. And then there was a mama mouse hiding away down deep in one of my stockings, and when I reached my hand in to see what was at the bottom, she bit me! She was only protecting her wee ones, but she put the curse of mice into my finger, and it hurts like the death. Soon perhaps we shall see the cat killed by the bite of a mouse, and then it won’t be long until the lion lies down with the lamb!” She laughed weakly.

He did not laugh. “Does it still hurt?”

'Does it still hurt?'

“That it does! It was five days or a week ago, but I think it gets worse by the day. You will laugh, but my friend Ethelwyn was bit by a vicious dog a few weeks ago, and he’s as fit as a flea now. Whereas I was bit by a mouse, and I’ve already been bled twice—in both arms!—but it does no good.”

“What do you mean ‘bled’?”

“I mean they make a cut in my arm and let a bit of blood flow. But it hasn’t done any good for my hand.”

“But how is that supposed to help?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “It’s to get the four humors in balance. It’s what they do.”

'I don't know.'

He scowled into the darkness. “Let me feel your hand.”

“But you’re blind!”

“Let me touch it. My hands aren’t blind.”

'My hands aren't blind.'

“But it hurts!”

“Then get out of here and go!”

She found his hands to be cooler than the cold water in which she had been dipping her hand for days.

“It’s the first finger,” she said.

'It's the first finger.'

“I can tell.”

He felt along the length of it, and though it hurt, it was not nearly as painful as her own explorations. One of his hands dipped into a fold of his kilt and pulled out a stubby knife. She jerked her hand away in a reflex of fear—for an instant she imagined he was going to cut her finger off entirely.

“It won’t hurt.” His voice was so gentle, and the left hand waving blindly in search of hers was so pitiful, that she gave her hand back to him.

'It won't hurt.'

She felt nothing when he pressed the point of the blade up into the underside of her finger—that part of it was numb. But he had found a hidden seam of pus, and it came spurting out across the blade, all creamy-​white and yellow-​green and streaked with blood.

Cat turned her face away and groaned.

'Cat turned her face away and groaned.'

“Found it?” he murmured, though he clearly knew he had. He pulled a bit of soft, leaf-​thin leather from his pocket, and he wiped first her finger and then the knife, quite as deftly as if he could see them all.

Catan held her finger up to her face to inspect the difference. In the dim light she was nearly blind herself. Without his cold hand upon it, the heat returned, and the throbbing pain with it.

“But I have not finished,” he said.

She gave it back at once.

She gave it back at once. If he only held it in his cool hands, she thought, it would already be a relief—and indeed that was all he did.

“What are you doing?” she whispered after a time.

“You have a fever in your blood,” he said. His white eyes seemed to stare off at nothing, either in concentration or simply out of blindness. “It is the work of fools to take the blood out and leave the fever. One must remove the fever and leave the blood.”

His white eyes seemed to stare off at nothing.

His hands were as cold as foggy windows, as stone walls at night, as her cheeks when she came in from a long ride in the winter. His hands were everything that was cold without being bitter.

“But you cannot be holding my hand forever,” she giggled, “though you will not be the first man to try.”

“I needn’t,” he murmured.

“What are you doing?”

'What are you doing?'

“Taking the fever out of it.”

Catan sucked in her breath and held it, stricken with fear. She remembered what Lili had told her about the birth of her first child, when she had nearly died, and Iylaine had saved her life by “taking the fire out of her.”

Again she tried to jerk her hand away, but this time he held her wrist firmly in his left hand and her finger gently in the right.

“Does it hurt?”

“You’re an elf!” she whispered.

“Didn’t you know?”

'Didn't you know?'

He lifted his head as if he wanted to look her in the eyes, but his blind face only bobbed uncertainly before hers. It was too unnerving. Her left hand leapt up, tempted to lay itself on his cheek and turn his face precisely towards hers, but she coaxed it down again in time.

“One cannot see your ears beneath your hair,” she said.

He shrugged one shoulder up towards his ear. “Look for yourself.”

Her left hand rose at once and lifted his hair, but that side of his head was all in shadow. Her hand, however, was not blind, and its fingers soon bumped up against the unfamiliar arch of a long, pointed ear. Lady Iylaine’s delicate ears had not prepared her for this, and certainly baby Duncan’s tiny tapers hadn’t. She had never met a man-​elf before.

She had never met a man-elf before.

A suspicious fear of him began to roil in her belly. If he had been an entirely inhuman creature he might have frightened her less. His empty eyes and his pointed ears were just foreign enough to make him worse than a monster.

She had no experience with his kind that would permit her to predict his behavior, and yet he was deceptively manlike enough to make her believe he would act like a man. She would try to laugh with him and be kind with him, and for all she knew he would suddenly turn on her and flay her alive with his stubby knife.

But his voice and hands were gentle, and his blind face trying to turn itself to her own was too heart-​breaking. Her left hand jerked away from his ear, but it passed along his cheek to turn his head just so. Then, with his ears hidden and his eyes looking into hers, he seemed harmless again. Even a little handsome.

He had smiled slightly at her touch.

He had smiled slightly at her touch, and the smile lingered for a while as he seemed to look at her. As she wondered what it meant, she began to think of what it must be to be blind, and not be able to see the expression on another’s face. For all he knew, she was scowling or sneering at him. That hint of a smile suddenly seemed a very brave thing, and she smiled back at him, though he would never know.

She smiled back at him, though he would never know.

“The fever is gone,” he announced as he released her hand. “The finger is damaged, and parts of it were dying, but it will begin to heal now, if you keep it clean and dry.”

'It will begin to heal now.'

“It doesn’t hurt much any longer. I thank you.”

“It shouldn’t. Now, please go. You were kind to me, and I was kind to you, and now you must leave.”

“But you never even told me your name.”

'But you never even told me your name.'

“Nobody, I said. Please go.”

“Mayn’t my sister and I come back to see you another time?”


“What if I am bit by another mouse?” she smiled.

'Don't be.'

“Don’t be.”

“A dog?”

He sighed. “Don’t make me be cruel. Forget you ever came here. You saw nobody today. You have been nowhere. Do you understand?”

“I couldn’t forget you. I’m sorry.”

'I couldn't forget you.  I'm sorry.'

“Then pretend you never knew me!” he barked.

The cave murmured, “Knew me.”

“I shall pretend,” she said, too softly for the echoes, and shook her good finger at him. “I shan’t tell anyone. But I shan’t forget you. And I shall think of you sometimes. I shall think of you tonight when it’s dark and I’m going to sleep. So you think of that! Think of me when it’s getting dark, and you won’t feel so lonely.”

“It is always dark for me.”

'It is always dark for me.'

“Oh! I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

“Please go.” His voice seemed to creak with weariness. She did not know what would happen when it broke, whether he would stop speaking or instead become cruel as he had threatened. She decided she would not oblige him to show her.

“Farewell,” she murmured.


“Farewell, Cat.” He bowed his head. “May sunlight surround you.”

“Is that how the elves say goodbye?” she smiled.

“To cats.”

'To cats.'