'What are you doing here, Dasi?'

There was no chance of this prisoner escaping, but Lar still pulled the iron gate closed behind him.

“What are you doing here, Dasi?” he growled. “I told you to get one of the girls down here.”

Dartesas ducked his head into his shoulders. “I will.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just playing with him.”

'Just playing with him.'

“Playing with a newborn! Dasi!”

“But he doesn’t want to sleep, Larl.”

“He won’t sleep until you put out those candles,” Lar snapped. “Little fire brat, like his mother.”

“But he likes to have the fire near,” Dartesas whined, “since he can’t have his mother.”

Lar turned away and kicked an imaginary elf – the baby, its mother, his friend, he didn’t even know. The sound of his boot scuffing across the floor startled the child and it began to whimper.

The sound of his boot scuffing across the floor startled the child and it began to whimper.

“Hush hush, little baby,” Dartesas sang softly and stroked his big hand over the baby’s chest.

This time Lar turned and kicked his toe into the real wall. “I should have known better to involve you in anything that has to do with babies! Why don’t you go home to your own babies instead?”

Dartesas finally lifted his head and turned his profile to Lar. “Because I’m in no hurry to get home and tell Khara where I’ve been and what I’ve done tonight.”

'I'm in no hurry to get home and tell Khara where I've been and what I've done tonight.'

Lar gave the floor a last vicious scuff before dropping down to sit on the deerskin beside his friend.

“Khara!” He snorted. “She’s sleeping anyway.”

“Then I should get home and try to sneak into bed,” Dartesas said. “It may be the last time she ever lets me sleep beside her.”

“She’ll forgive you! What’s the matter with you? We did this before.”

“It wasn’t the same, Larl. That baby was older, and his mother was dead, and nobody wanted him. This baby had a mother, and she wanted him.”

“Mother!” Lar sneered. “Man-​​lover!”


“How can you blame her for that?” Dartesas cried. “You put her in that pit for two weeks until she loved the man. And if that hadn’t been enough, you would have done something else to make her do it. You didn’t give her a choice, so don’t blame her for that now.”

Lar scowled and shook his head, disgusted, but he could not look his friend in the eyes for all that.

“What’s going to happen to him now?”

“I don’t know, Dasi!” Lar groaned. “Just like I didn’t know the twenty other times you asked me!”

“Do you think he’ll be hurt or killed?”

“Probably,” Lar muttered. “Do you suppose the elf Dre wants a baby to love?

Dartesas gently squeezed one of the tiny feet in his hand. “Poor little fellow,” he murmured.

'Poor little fellow.'

“Dasi! Poor little half-​​breed monster!”

“That’s not his fault, Larl. He looks just like any other baby.”

“That’s right, except he’s not. And if all of our ladies start loving the men, how long will we elves survive? There are thousands of men in this valley alone, and they say there are thousands more beyond the hills. How long before our blood is lost in theirs? How long before our ears are puny little round things? How long before we lose our magic?”

“I don’t know, Larl,” Dartesas mumbled. “The men used to live here until a hundred winters ago, and we’re still here now.”

“And you know what the punishment was then for loving the men, don’t you?”

Dartesas twitched his nose, but he did not answer. Lar sat back in satisfaction. He had at least made that point.

Lar sat back in satisfaction.

“It’s too bad we couldn’t let the men take him,” Dartesas said after a while.


“We don’t care what happens to their blood. I was just thinking, it’s too bad we couldn’t let the men take him, since they don’t mind these half-​​elf babies. Like your son, Larl.”

“Do not call him my son!” Lar hissed.

'Do not call him my son!'

“Larl…” Dartesas sighed.

“He is not my son! Do you think my father calls me his son?”

Dartesas shrugged.

“So! I am not that creature’s father any more than I am my father’s son. If I spit on the ground, do I call that my son?”

If I spit on the ground, do I call that my son?

Dartesas rolled his eyes and waved his hand.

“So! It’s the same.”

“Anyway, Larl, I was saying, don’t you think we could take him back and leave him with the men instead?”

“What?” Lar gasped. “Didn’t you hear a thing I said?”

“Not really.”

Lar clapped his hands over his face and groaned.

“They won’t even know he’s an elf for months, until his ears start to grow. Maybe they won’t even grow, because his father’s a man. What do you think, Larl?”

'They won't even know he's an elf for months.'

Lar said nothing, which only seemed to encourage his friend.

“Maybe we could take him to their temple,” he said eagerly, “where there’s only men. That way, maybe they would keep him there, and he wouldn’t have children at all. What do you think?”

“Is that what you’ve been doing down here all this time? Thinking up this brilliant plan?”

'Is that what you've been doing down here all this time?'

“I played with him a little, too,” Dartesas grinned sheepishly. “He’s a cute little fellow.”


“I keep thinking about my boys, Larl. What if the elf Dre asked you to give him one of my boys. Would you?”

Lar had found an old scar while brushing his hand over the deer’s skin, a short gash where the fur had not grown back, and he studied it now with exaggerated attention to avoid his friend’s eyes.

'No, I would not.'

“No, I would not,” he said softly.

“So, I think this baby’s mother probably loves him as much as Khara loves our boys. And how would Khara feel if someone took away little Llam, or any of them, and meant to hurt or kill him? What do you think?”

Lar brushed the fur back over the scar and patted it flat. “I think I’m going to bed, Dasi.”

“But Larl!”

'But Larl!'

He rose and turned to the door. “Good night.”

“But what about this baby?”

“I can’t see what you’re doing or stop you from doing it when I’m sleeping, now can I?” Lar muttered.

He went out and turned down the long, dimly-​​lighted corridor, leaving the iron gate swinging open behind him.

He went out and turned down the long, dimly-lighted corridor.