The elf Vash was composing a new song.

The elf Vash was composing a new song. It was what he often did in the evenings, but this was the night of the night-​​dark-​​blue-​​sky-​​moon, and Lena never knew whether he would stay in or go out for these. The fact that he ventured out during the night-​​dark-​​moons made him seem all the more godlike to her. Truly he must have magic that no elf could imagine.

But she was almost as impressed to know him as a composer of songs. Before she had come to dwell with him, she had never known – nor even wondered – where songs had their source. Since then, on several occasions she had heard coming up from the courts far below the strains of some new song she had previously heard him maundering in the evenings. He had made it.

Making a new song out of nothing seemed another sort of magic to her.

Making a new song out of nothing seemed another sort of magic to her. Still, even for godlike creatures, songs did not flow from one’s mouth in a placid stream. He would hum a few notes, murmur a phrase, back up and replace it with another, and often, often return all the way to the beginning to start again, though he might have added but a single word since the last time through.

But she knew that she would never hear the song he was currently composing on the voices of the singers in the courts below. This was a song of sorrow and loneliness, and his kind did not sing such songs. If they did, it was only as he did – alone in their rooms – and she would never know.

If they did, it was only as he did: alone in their rooms.

Lena’s people, however, sang such songs, and she liked to hear them now. Listening to him create a new song was not the same as listening to a song simply sung, but there was something right about the fits and starts of it, about replacing one sorrowful phrase with another, about starting over at the beginning and going through all of it again, though only the last, lonely word had changed. It was like tragedy, she thought, when the wheel of time did not smoothly turn, but caught and jerked and disordered everything.

Such were the songs she too sang now.

Such were the songs she too sang now. In the daylight hours, when the elf Vash was away, she would climb up on the roof and sing until her voice failed. Her baby would settle down to listen, and she herself hoped that the wind would carry her song away to someone who was trying to hear.

Sometimes, as tonight, the elf Vash seemed to hope the same thing. Sometimes, when a new sad song was close to completion, he would stand in the window and sing it, always looking out dawn-​​ward where, she supposed, his wife slept. He would sing softly until his voice failed beneath the strain of tears.

He would stand in the window and sing it.

Tonight, though, he stopped while he could yet sing. He stood silently at the window long enough that Lena lost interest, and then, instead of returning to his bed, he stepped around it to stand before the fire.

She was certain he was looking into the flames.

Lena kept her eyes carefully averted, but she was certain he was looking into the flames. The elf Vash liked a fire in all seasons, though it could never be hot enough for him. Certainly he scarcely noticed Lena herself at all, except as something else to walk around.

She was so certain he was not looking at her that she dared commit the crime of looking up at him. She was horrified to see that he was staring at her indeed.

He was staring at her indeed.

She sucked in her breath and turned her eyes away, but that glance seemed to have been the signal he was awaiting. Without a word, he walked around her and lay down on the rug beside her.

Never had he done such a thing. It was what Lena had been expecting the first night she had been brought to his room, but she had been ignored for so long that this expected behavior was a terrifying aberration for her.

For a long time he lay silently beside her.

For a long time he lay silently beside her. Though she dared not look at him, this time she did not lose interest after a while. Her heart pounded and pounded and pounded, never calming as hearts did when an anticipated danger failed to materialize.

Her heart pounded at the mere presence of this godlike being beside her, who braved the night-​​dark-​​moons, who made songs out of nothing, who possessed magic that no elf could imagine. Such an elf did not have water nature. Such an elf was water nature. Merely lying beside him, she could feel it rushing over her like a flood.

He was Vash, the first water, before the air opened above it, before the sun shone upon it, before the earth rose from out of it. He was the dark water of the world.

When at last he moved, he turned onto his side and touched her.

When at last he moved, he turned onto his side and touched her. Wherever his hand moved on her body, it called up a howling vortex of fire beneath it. All of the fire in her body came roaring up to meet his hand. She had never felt anything like it. She had never imagined anything like it. She had never been told of anything like it.

He moved over her and kissed her, his mouth to her mouth as was forbidden among her people, and as was supposed to be an abomination between his and hers.

He moved over her and kissed her.

She could never have imagined anything like it. Soaring columns of fire leapt up from her mouth into his, more fire than she had ever known she possessed; mighty torrents of water gushed from his mouth into hers, great cataracts of roaring water beating her down, submerging her, drowning her.

Before she died – before she even understood that she was about to die – he lifted his mouth from hers, leaned his forehead against her own, and sighed. All the weight of his godlike head lay on hers, but there was no more fire than the crackling of burning tinder, no more water than the dripping of springs in silent caves.

She could hear his heart pounding, and his face was wetter with sweat than hers. After a moment he fell back onto his side, and again only his hand lay on her body. Now, though, there was only the throb of dying embers beneath it.

For a while he stroked it up and down her side, cooling her.

For a while he stroked it up and down her side, cooling her. Her exhausted heart began to slow in its pounding. Then the hand came to rest on her belly, ominous as a storm cloud. Her heart began to flutter again.

“Whose child is this?”

The sweet, gentle voice she had heard singing at the window had grown low and hoarse. His face was not a menace, but his voice was. When she did not answer, he lifted his hand and leaned away from her.

“It is permitted for this elf to speak to the Khir,” he said mildly, almost as he would have spoken to one of his own kind.

'It is permitted for this elf to speak to the Khir.'

This was not why she had not spoken. If she told him the truth, he would know her crime, and there was only one punishment for her. But one did not lie to a godlike creature such as he.

“The man Aengus,” she whispered.

“Do you love the man Aengus?”

Lena was confused, and petrified with fear. Never had she been addressed as “you”, as if she were the equal of the likes of him. Stranger still, he had used the word for “love” that was never applied to her kind: her people did not love, they took mates.

Lena knew it had to be a trap.

Lena knew it had to be a trap. He was leading her to confess her crime, and to compound it by presuming to use words like “love”. But he had all the proof he needed in her belly. It made no sense.

Still, one did not lie to such an elf. “Yes.”

“Do you know he has a wife?”

“I… understood it.”

“He is with her tonight.”


'Possibly lying closer to her than I am to you.'

“Possibly lying closer to her than I am to you. Do you suppose he loves you nevertheless?”

It was a trap. Surely, surely…

“It does not matter to me,” she murmured. “I still – ”

He waited for a moment. “Say it.” His voice and face were both gentle. She reminded herself that he was not known for cruelty.

His voice and face were both gentle.

She had not said the forbidden word since she lay in the dark with the man Aengus, certain she would never feel the full light of the sun on her face again.

“I still love him.”

He did not smack her for her insolence, and she felt such a giddy rush come over her at the sound of the words spoken aloud that she could not prevent herself from smiling. To her astonishment, he smiled back at her.

To her astonishment, he smiled back at her.

Lena was young and inexperienced, but never had she dreamed nor had she heard the other girls say that such things were possible. One was not kissed, one was not addressed familiarly, and she did not believe that one was even permitted to look upon a smile. But neither was one sent to sleep on the floor for months before one was addressed at all. Perhaps the elf Vash was simply an elf unlike any other.

“Did you give yourself to him?” he asked. “As your people do?”



She smiled again at the memory: Aengus, still clean, still merry, babbling at her and making no sense at all until he pointed up and announced, “It is up for you, up for me!” All her trust was in him.

The elf Vash leaned back into the cushions and stared up at the ceiling. “I wonder whether he even knows it,” he sighed. “You know, Lena, the men don’t understand our ways – yours or mine. But perhaps it is no matter. He loves you in his way. The way of men.”

'He loves you in his way.'

Lena wondered why he would say so – or even how he could. She had not known that the elf Vash had heard of the man Aengus at all – but he was an elf unlike any other.

He drummed his fingers on his belly as he did when he was composing a song. “But he has a wife already. Your husband has another wife, and my wife has another husband. Do you understand that? In all the world… and you don’t know how vast the world is, Lena. It is a thousand thousand times the size of our valley. And in all that world, there are only two elves who suffer as we do. You and I alone, in all the world. What do you suppose will become of us?”

She knew that there was only one punishment for herself and her doomed child.

She knew that there was only one punishment for herself and her doomed child, but the elf Vash had committed no crime. It was strange to think that such a godlike creature could not take his own wife to himself, but his kind were bound by magic she did not understand.

She did not know what would become of him, at least, and so it was no lie when she said, “I do not know.”

The shadows of the firelight moved over him, but his beautiful face was as still as the first water before the first wind ever blew. Just when she was certain he would not speak again, he whispered, “Neither do I.”

'Neither do I.'