The forest at night was a different place entirely.

For all she had promised the elf that she would pretend to forget him, Catan had paid close attention to the path on the way home that day, and that she had not forgotten. However, the forest at night was a different place entirely. She feared she had wasted much time flailing through the brush and fleeing from the moving shadows her torch created.

At last, though, she had found the spot. There were the two tall pines standing like gate-​​towers before it, and there was the entrance behind the veil of ivy. This time it was not the breeze that gave it away, but the glow of a fire burning within.

There was the entrance behind the veil of ivy.

She did not know whether he lived alone. She did not know how she would be received even if he did not. She did not know into what danger she was walking, but Cat – and here was where she differed from her feline namesakes – had never been one to look before she leapt.

Cat had never been one to look before she leapt.

She realized that she had never learned his name, and for lack of something better, she called softly as she went down, “Friend?”

The cave echoed it back to her, but there was no other reply. The fire was unattended, though it burned well, and she thought he could not have been gone long.

The fire was unattended, though it burned well.

Now that the cave was lit from within, she could see that somebody did live here, despite the elf’s cryptic statement that “Nobody” did. There were clay pots and bowls, soft bundles and piles of folded cloth, and animal skins all over the floor, including the skin of one of the elusive bears that lived in the valley. It would have been quite a prize among her friends: only Sir Brede had killed a bear in all the seventeen years that the men had lived here.

He was standing near enough to slay her.

Cat could not understand how a blind elf could come by a bear skin, but if he had ever desired a Cat skin he might have acquired it that night. He was standing near enough to slay her before she ever knew he was there, and then only when he spoke.

“I told you not to come here.”

She shrieked and spun around, and then she laughed in relief. “Friend!”

He was not laughing. “I told you to stay away!” He walked around her and kicked at the fire with his bare foot. “Can I not even be alone?”

'Can I not even be alone?'

His hands were clenched into fists, and all his body seemed tensed for a fight, but the pitch of his voice was too high for mere anger. There was something of the plaintive note of a child who finds his life tragically unfair – though Cat was willing to admit that, in his case, it was.

'But, Friend...'

“But, Friend…” she began soothingly as he circled her again.

He stooped down to her height and held his blind face menacingly near to her own. “I am certain you think yourself so charming that I would be delighted to see you! You flatter yourself! I was not being coy–woman! You are cruel, cruel – just like a cat!”

'You are cruel, cruel--just like a cat!'

“Please listen – ”

“Listen to me! You do not know what my life is. I am not simply shy. I am broken – aching. And just when I had learned how – not – to – think…”

He smacked so furiously at the side of his head with his open hand that Cat’s hand darted reflexively up to stop it. He only slapped it away.

He only slapped it away.

You come,” he continued with a vicious sneer, “and give me something to think about! ‘Think of me when it’s getting dark!’” he squeaked, mocking her accent as well as her voice. “It’s al – ways – dark – in – here!”

He began smacking his head again, but this time she caught his hand and held on. Her strength was nothing against the strength of his arm, but he did not fight her, and he let their arms fall.

“Have you finished, Friend?” she asked.

'Have you finished, Friend?'

“And do not call me friend!”

“Tell me your name and I shall gladly call you by it.”

He stood up straight but hung his head. “I have no name.”

'I have no name.'

“Then I shall give you one!”

“You cannot name me.”

“I can if I want to, and you can’t stop me!”

“You may call me what you like, but you cannot name me. You do not know my nature.”

“I can think of a few names your nature deserves,” she smiled, “but I shall be kind and call you Friend instead.”

'I am not your friend.'

“I am not your friend.”

“You are if I say you are! And you can’t stop me!”

He walked away from her, smacking his fist into his open hand, and then he turned and wagged his finger at her. “Your nature is not cat-​​nature. It is flea-​​nature.”

'It is flea-nature.'

Cat laughed, and he tried and failed to hide a smile.

“How is your finger?” He held his hands out before him, and she put her hand into them. “Better?” he asked after he had run his own fingers over it.


“Quite better, and I thank you. But I did not come because of my mouse bite. I came because of my friend who was bit by a dog.”

He dropped her hand and turned his face away to squint towards the door.

“He’s not here!” Cat said. “He’s very sick. It’s dying he is. That dog was mad.”

'He's not here!'


“A mad dog. The madness that makes them fear the water.”


He went to nudge one of the logs deeper into the fire with his naked foot, laughing harshly. The cave only echoed back his laughter smoothed and softened.

“The curse of bats. So you come to me. You do know my nature. I am sorry I said you didn’t.”

'I am sorry I said you didn't.'

“What is your nature?” she asked, mystified.

“It is bat-​​nature. But I am not yet a bat.”

“What do you mean?”

He closed his eyes and smoothed his hair back with both hands, briefly exposing his ears, and the sight of them troubled her as she was troubled whenever she remembered that he was no man.

The sight of them troubled her.

“Forget that,” he muttered.

“I… all right. But about my friend…”

“There is nothing I can do.”

“But… but my finger…” Cat whimpered and held it out before her, though he could not see it.

'That was quite different.'

“That was quite different,” he snapped. “That was a sickness of the blood. This I can treat. The fear-​​of-​​water madness that is the curse of bats is a sickness of the head, and it has a threefold nature. First is the rush of blood, second is the rush of heat, and these I can treat. Third is the rush of water, and this I cannot treat.”

“But why not?”

“It is not in my nature.”

'It is not in my nature.'

“Your nature! There’s a girl there who loves him, and it’s breaking her heart you’ll be if you don’t help that man! I don’t care about your nature!

“And I don’t care about your friend. It is not my duty to be saving the lives of men.” He snorted. “Mine least of all.”

“But you…”

Cat could find nothing else to say.

Cat could find nothing else to say. She felt a rush of heat that was disappointment, and a rush of water that was tears. She had been certain that the elf could help Ethelwyn. She had also been certain that he would. She did not know which disappointed her more.

She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand, and for the first time was pleased that he was blind, at least in that he would not see her cry.

'Are you certain you aren't the girl there who loves him?'

“Are you certain you aren’t the girl there who loves him?” he muttered.

“I am certain of that!” she cried, though she knew her tears would reveal themselves in her voice. “Mouse is the girl who loves him.”

“And so the Cat wants to help the Mouse?”

'Aye.  And you would, too, if you saw how her heart's breaking.'

“Aye. And you would, too, if you saw how her heart’s breaking.”

He opened his mouth to reply to her words, and then their meaning seemed to strike him, and he fell silent.

He fell silent.

Cat said nothing and let them work.

After a moment he asked, “Is she your friend?”

“I never met her before this day.”

“You only met me once before this day.”

“I – ” Cat was certain that there was a difference, but she could not think of it just then. “But can’t you help him? Even a little? Can’t you save his life?”

'But can't you help him?'

“I don’t know.”

“Won’t you try?”

“How can I?”

“Come with me. To Sir Egelric’s castle.”

“No! No! Never! Never there!”

“Why not there? He likes elves. His own daughter is an elf.”

'Why not there?'

Catan knew that this was a bit of a lie, for though Sir Egelric loved a few individual elves, he cursed the rest of them as a diabolical race. But if she was willing to risk her life climbing two miles up a dark mountain in the middle of the night for Ethelwyn’s sake, she thought could throw in a little lie or two.

“I cannot. No. Do not ask me that.”

'No.  Do not ask me that.'

“But I cannot bring him here!”

Cat would have taken the elf by the sleeves and shaken him if he had been wearing a shirt. Instead her arms only danced helplessly around him as he paced anxiously between her and the fire, and this he could not even have known.

“I cannot bring him. He’s tied to his bed to prevent him from hurting himself or the rest of us. And his arms are all torn from fighting the ropes!”

Finally she dared lay her hands on him, one on his shoulder and the other on his arm. He stopped pacing and went as still as a captured animal terrified past the point of struggle.

Finally she dared lay her hands on him.

“You must help him. If you don’t – that will be something to think about, won’t it? It’s sitting here you’ll be, day after day, thinking about how you might have saved that man and didn’t. It’s sitting here you’ll be, thinking about that girl Mouse whose heart is broken when she might have been so happy. You must help him, Friend.”

“I see!” he laughed bitterly and shoved her away. “That is how you call me friend. You think: ‘Here is an elf so lonely, he will do anything for me if only I call him friend.’ No!”

“No! That is not true at all.”

She touched him again, this time only laying her fingers beneath his chin to tip his face up towards hers.

She touched him again, this time only laying her fingers beneath his chin to tip his face up towards hers. When she had seen he would not pull away from her, she said softly, “I thought: ‘Here is an elf who is my friend, and he helped me once, so perhaps he will help this friend of mine. Even if only because he is my friend.’”

He shook his head slowly. “I cannot be your friend.”

“You are my friend if I say you are. And you can’t stop me.”

'And you can't stop me.'