Tashnu sat himself up, wearily.

Tashnu sat himself up, wearily. “Come in, Vash,” he called softly. “I’m in here.”

Vash! On this night!

“May the wind lift you up, Tashnu,” Vash said as he stepped through the curtain.

“May the rain fall softly upon your face, Vash.”

Vash paused in the entry, staring with strange intensity at Nina, who sat silently to the side.

Vash paused in the entry, staring with strange intensity at Nina.

Nina was carefully avoiding his gaze, but more than that, she seemed to be petrified. It was no wonder – Vash had never paid her more attention than the rest of the furnishings. Even Tashnu was unnerved.

“This elf shall go to my chamber and await me there,” he ordered her.

'This elf shall go to my chamber and await me there.'

Nina scurried away, but Vash still stared at the cushion where she had been sitting.

“You still have the Nina-​​elf?” he asked.

“She suits me.”

“Does she?”

'Does she?'

Tashnu felt his unease deepening. “What do you mean?”

“She is not Perala.”

“Vash!” he cried, forgetting in his shock that his children were sleeping behind the door at the end of the corridor. “What’s the matter with you tonight?”

Vash turned to him at last, and the gravity of his face lifted like a fog before the sun. “Nothing. Why do you ask?”

Tashnu could not have said why, except for the one obvious reason. “It’s the night of the full moon. You’re the last elf I expected to see tonight.”

'You're the last elf I expected to see tonight.'

“Doesn’t look as if you were expecting to see anyone.” Vash turned to scowl at the vacant cushion.

“I wasn’t.”

“Can we have a fire?” Vash asked with another startling return of brightness.

'Can we have a fire?'

“Vash!” Tashnu groaned. “It’s the hottest moon of the year, and you want a fire!”

“I’m not hot.”

“You never are,” he grumbled, but he waved a hand at the fireplace. He could not deny his friend that comfort. There would never be fire enough for Vash again.

“Now, what are you doing here?” Tashnu asked him once he had passed the noisy part of the fire-​​making business.

“Don’t you like to see me, Nush?”

“Always. But why aren’t you at the lake?”

'Why aren't you at the lake?'

“I do not think I shall go there again,” he murmured.

Tashnu regretted having asked while his back was to him. The statement was shocking enough that he would have liked to have seen his face when he made it.

“Why not?”

Vash did not answer, and Tashnu did not wish to ask again until he could look at him.

After Vash had stood again, he said, “Come sit with me, Vash.”

'Come sit with me, Vash.'

“Thank you.”

But Vash only kicked Nina’s cushion closer to the fire and sat on it himself, as if he were not nearly the highest of them all.

“Does it help?” he asked.

'Does it help?'

“Does what help?”

“The Nina-​​elf.”


Vash leaned his head back against the wall and let his hair slip down his temple until both eyes were exposed to the ceiling.

“You have the Lena-​​elf in your chamber,” Tashnu pointed out. “You might see for yourself.”

'You have the Lena-elf in your chamber.'

“You know why she is there.”

Tashnu knew why she was there, but he did not know what would happen when she had her child and it was found to have fire nature like its mother. He had hoped that Vash had learned his lesson after helping the Sela-​​elf.

“I know why she’s there, but you might as well take advantage of her presence while she is.”

Vash bounced the back of his head against the wall, just hard enough to trouble Tashnu without seeming dangerous enough to warrant an order to stop. “Does it help?” he repeated.

'Does it help?'

Tashnu sighed and stretched out on the couch again. “It is not the same thing. But you don’t even know what the ‘same thing’ is, so you aren’t likely to be disappointed.”

“But it is what my father wants me to do. Therefore it must not be the right thing.”

“Vash! What a trial you must be to him. I’m certainly glad you aren’t my son.”

“I wish you were my father,” he pouted.

Tashnu snorted.

Tashnu snorted.

“I wish you were! When your son’s mother died, you did not lock your door to him.”

“You’re only four years younger than I,” Tashnu muttered, “so you could not have been so fortunate.”

It was not a comforting thing to say, but Tashnu had never known where to find the words that could ease others’ pain. When his wife had been killed, opening his door to his children was very nearly all he in his grief had been able to do.

Vash sat up again, and his hair fell back over his right eye. “I shall not return to the lake,” he announced with a childish determination.

'I shall not return to the lake.'

“Oh, yes, about that,” Tashnu grumbled.

“Do you think it is possible to rape an elf who is willing? I think I might try.”

Tashnu sat up at once. “What are you saying?”

'What are you saying?'

“I think I already did,” he sniffed.

“Vash! Have you been gathering mushrooms in the dark?”

“I am perfectly well in mind and in body. And I think it is best that I not return to the lake. I think the Bright Lady loves me, and I think I hate her.”

Tashnu clutched at the cushions of the couch with both hands. The world seemed to be tipping on its side, and he seemed to be slipping off. “The Bright Lady!” he whispered in horror.

'She's an elf like any other.'

“She’s an elf like any other,” Vash said with a haughty tilt to his head. “She has a body like any other. Except that her ears are very ugly, and she is as cold as a dead frog. There is not even the spark of fire in her.”

“Vash! This is beyond sacrilege!”

“No. She is no goddess. Or, if she is, she is a goddess like the ancient goddesses of men, who liked to lie with mortals. She does – ”



“She does not love us like a mother. You do not know what she did to me, Nush. To us. She told Dre where I was hiding when I escaped.” He pushed the hair out of his eye so that he could fix on Tashnu the glittering gaze of the two. “Only she and I knew that place. She told Dre because she did not want me to escape just then. She wanted the elf Iylaina to marry the man Malcolm first. So that she could have me to herself!”


“And you know what that means for the rest of us.”

Tashnu scowled and shook his head.

“And you still think I should not speak to the Dark Lady?”

'And you still think I should not speak to the Dark Lady?'

“You will lose your soul. It may already be lost, to hear you speak so.”

“It is not lost. I still hold it in both my hands, and I shall hold it with my teeth if they take my hands from me. And as long as I have eyes I shall try to see.” He let his hair fall back over the one, as if the other were already eye enough. “And even if they take them from me, Nush. And even if they take my soul. It is as the Unnamed One said. The less I have to lose, the stronger I am.”

'The less I have to lose, the stronger I am.'