He had gathered his Four together in his chamber.

The Khor apparently considered the fault grave. As Dara had said, he had gathered his Four together in his chamber despite the hour, and he sat fully dressed upon his throne. But he had always made a ritual out of chastising his son.

Only Vash and Shosudin had been summoned, but Tashnu had chosen to come. Now, truly, they were only three. Shosudin had never understood why Vash had not wanted to take a fourth when Kiv had been unnamed, but he realized now that Vash had always counted Kiv among them regardless.

The proof was that Vash had proposed sending for young Lor tonight. Tashnu had seemed relieved that he would at last suggest it, but Shosudin had decided him against the idea. There would be time enough to see Lor in the morning. Tonight Kiv would be with them one last time, present in the emptiness his absence left at Vash’s side.

Tonight Kiv would be with them one last time.

Vash dropped both knees to the floor and said, “May the earth welcome your footsteps, my father.”

Sorin did not respond in kind. “Whereforth have cast these two their feet tonight?” he barked.

The Khor was poetic even in his anger, and Shosudin thought it the source of so much of the bitterness between Vash and his father. Sorin would have better handled such situations by coming to Vash’s room, pinching the tip of his ear, and shouting at him a little in their simple, everyday tongue.

Vash leapt to his feet, straight-​​backed and high-​​headed. In anger and even in grief, he could match his father verse for verse after so many years.

“Alone I strayed, and after called the elf Shosudin to my need. Mine is the blame.”

'Mine is the blame.'

“So shall you bear it. What trouble and where went you this new moon night to find?”

“On this earth laid bare by law I sought solitude alone. Solitude I found, and in truth the earth laid bare, but by crime.”

“What crime beyond this one whereof I speak?” Sorin murmured.

'What crime beyond this whereof I speak?'

“Mine is not the crime.”

“What crime?”

“Seven elves went forth this night the ban to scorn. Two have wandered home, and four to flee their crime I wit not where. Beneath the wind-​​whipped pines the last still lies: the moveless, most beloved one, and him in his long rest no loving arms enfold. In truth, the greatest crime is mine.”

His son was dead.

There followed a hush as hollow as the spot where Kiv should have stood. Out of the corner of his eye Shosudin saw Osh lean slowly back against the wall, silent still, not daring to speak out of turn – but he understood. His son was dead.

Sorin too seemed to understand, for he shifted uneasily on his throne. But his voice was cold when he spoke. “The murder of a criminal is no crime.”

'The murder of a criminal is no crime.'

“By his own hand was this deed wrought, his own life not to take but to give.”

“I ask you not the deeds of this elf to defend, but yours. The ban is not to be defied.”

“No!” Vash howled. “No! Kiv is dead! And you want to punish me for going out past my bedtime!”

'Kiv is dead!'

“There is no elf Kiv!”

“My friend Kiv!”

“You dare speak this name before me!”

'You dare speak this name before me!'

“Kiv! Kiv! Kiv is dead and alone, and here I am indeed – before you!” Vash sneered.

“There is no Kiv! There was no Kiv!”

“No, no, my father! That won’t be enough! You’re like a lot of children in here!” He jammed his fingers into his ears and sang, “Na na nai! I can’t hear you! There is no Kiv!”

'Na na nai!  I can't hear you!'

“I see one child in here!”

“It’s not enough to stop speaking his name! Nor shall I! Kiv, Kiv, Kiv! I shall tell all the children about Kiv! And how he gave his life to save another’s!”

“There is no Kiv! That elf was already dead and damned!”

“Will he be damned for acting out of love only?”

“He spilled the blood of an elf! There was but one punishment for him!”

'There was but one punishment for him!'

“That is a law from another time!”

“There is but one time and but one law!”

“Do you believe that, my father? Do you believe that?”

'Do you believe that, my father?'

“I – ”

Almost instantly the knife melted into a slippery jelly in Vash’s hand, but Sorin had acted an instant too late – Vash had already sliced open the other hand from palm to wrist.

Shosudin did not understand what was happening until he heard it – blood splattering thickly on the tiles, and then blood splattering into blood. Vash was bleeding more quickly than his heart beat. He was driving the blood out of his body.

'Do you believe that, my father?'

“What is my punishment, father?” he panted.

“Stop him!” Sorin howled.

“I can’t! I can’t!” Morin cried. “What can I do against him?”

“What is my punishment?” Vash repeated.

'What is my punishment?'

“Stop this!” his father roared. “Will you spill the blood you had from your mother?”

“What is my punishment? There is one law! There is one law! Or is there another for your son?”

“You are nothing but an unruly child,” his father sneered. “Enough of your theatrics! You make me ashamed to call you my son. There is one punishment for you, indeed! You shall go to your room and stay there, like a little boy of five. And if you flout my commands again, you shall go to bed without your supper.”

“Will you so mock me?” Vash sobbed. Straight-​​backed, high-​​headed Vash was crumbling before his father’s scorn. “My friend is dead!”

'Will you so mock me?'

“So long as you defy me like an infant! To your room! Until I send for you again!”

At once the flow of blood stopped, and only a few last drops fell from Vash’s fingers as the three marched for the door.

“May your mother forgive you!” Sorin called after him, shuffling along behind them until he stood nearly in the puddle of bright blood Vash had left behind, there in the empty place where Kiv should have stood.

He stood nearly in the puddle of bright blood Vash had left behind.