Lena was dizzy and delirious from so many things.

Lena was dizzy and delirious from so many things: fatigue and loss of blood, certainly; fear and relief; a great love she had never imagined; but also a sense of freedom that had never been hers before this night. Most dizzying was the thought that she had only had to step outside on a dark night to claim it.

She had come to the woods alone: no one had granted her permission. She had borne her baby alone: no one had helped her. She and he had learned together how to nurse: no one had showed them what they must do.

She knew what she was supposed to do now – half-​​blood elves such as she were never permitted to keep their babies anyway, and she and he were almost certainly fated to die – but she realized for the first time in her eighteen years that she could do other than what she was supposed to do.

Lena pulled her opened gown back over her breast as best she could with the one hand. Her baby was not sleeping, but he seemed to have tired of nursing, and now he only stared up at her face.

Now he only stared up at her face.

She had never dreamt she would be permitted to see him at all, so it was all the more astonishing to her the way he would look at her. She had recognized him at once, and she had cried aloud in joy at this first glimpse of his father’s face hiding in his. But he too looked at her as if he recognized her. He knew her for his mother. Now she knew what she had to do. She would take him to see his father.

She did not know where the man Aengus could be found, but she had learned a few words of the men’s language. She would go among the men and ask them, “Where is Aengus?” until someone could show her the place. She was free now. If only she could think of a thing, she could do it. This was the first thing she would do.

This was the first thing she would do.

She was tired and dizzy, and her legs were weak and trembling from squatting so long, but she still walked in slow circles around her fire. She would savor the squirms and the tiny meows of her baby until he fell asleep, and then she would follow the sounds of the stabled horses she heard nearby to reach the closest dwelling place of men. She knew that the man Aengus had horses – perhaps it would even be his home.

She walked in slow circles, her eyes closed to better hear and smell and feel her baby, humming one of the soft songs the high-​​born ladies sang to their children. She had never known love like this. She had never known such hope, and she had never known such happiness. Her mistake was in opening her eyes.

Her mistake was in opening her eyes.

She was surrounded by a gang of four elves. She spun around once, but there was nowhere for her to run. Three of them had the stunted bodies and crude faces of the base-​​born elves – perhaps even those untamed elves who lived in the forests and chose their own mates for reasons other than beauty alone. The fourth was tall and magnificent, and she turned instinctively to him, as to one who had blood as good as or better than hers.

“Give me the child,” he growled.

The sight of this imperious elf had briefly caused her to forget she was free. She told herself she did not have to listen to him. She pressed her baby against her body, covered his little head with her hand, and cried, “No!”

“Give it to me or I’ll take it!”

'Give it to me or I'll take it!'


She tried to turn away, but they were all around her. The smallest one was behind her, trying to grasp her hips. The tall one had a painful grip on her shoulder. She did not understand what was happening to her; she did not think the Khir would send such creatures as they to fetch her home again. Were these villains the cause of the ban that should have kept her indoors on this night?

She was not yet familiar enough with freedom to stand up for herself, but she would fight for her son. “It’s not your baby!”

The tall one grabbed a fistful of her hair and snarled, “I know that! A half-​​breed mongrel it is!”

'A half-breed mongrel it is!'

“Man-​​lover,” the small one chuckled behind her and slid his hand up her belly and onto her breast. When he found the top of her gown still unlaced, he cried aloud in glee and yanked the half of it open. “Doesn’t know what she’s been missing, is all!” he laughed.

Lena dared not remove her hand from her baby’s little head, so she could neither fight his hand away nor cover herself again. She could only squeal in fright, and her baby began to cry.

“Quit it!” barked the broad-​​shouldered one behind her. He was the only one who was not struggling with her. “She just had a baby, Imin.”

'She just had a baby, Imin.'

“Ohhh, that wouldn’t be much fun for anyone,” the little one giggled and pulled his hand out of her dress.

The tall one released her hair, only to begin tugging on the hand that covered her baby’s head. “Give – me – that baby!”

“Aengus!” she screamed in desperation. “Aengus!”

“Shut her up,” the red-​​haired one muttered.

At once the breath was stopped in her lungs. From toes to throat her body stiffened in terror, though she did not let go of her baby.

Thus she learned that the tall elf had power over air.

Thus she learned that the tall elf had power over air. He had blood as good as or better than hers.

“Give me the baby,” he said coldly, “or it will be the next to die.”

“Let me take it,” said the elf who had spoken for her earlier. “I won’t hurt it. I have a little baby at home.”

The little one snorted. “Shut him up, too.”

'Shut him up, too.'

But it seemed the tall elf did not use his power against him, for Lena felt him tug gently at her arm. She was growing dizzier than ever, and she knew she had only a few moments before she would lose hold of her baby anyway. She closed her eyes and let the elf take her child from her. Then she waited to die.

After a moment the elf who had taken her baby announced grimly, “It’s a boy.”

The tall elf released her shoulder, and Lena dropped to her knees.

“Let’s go.”

'Let's go.'

At once Lena could breathe. She opened her eyes in time to see the elf’s long legs pass before her. The one who held her baby was already walking into the trees.

Lena was dizzy and delirious from lack of air. She did not know what to do. She was alone. She feared she would drown in pain.

But she was free. If only she could think of a thing, she could do it. She could only think of one thing now.

“Aengus!” she howled. “Aengus! Where are you?”

'Aengus!  Where are you?'