“Look!” Iylaine gushed. “There’s already a bed up here. Oh!” She threw up her arms and spun around. “I always wished I could sleep here like a guard. I used to play here all the time. This screen wasn’t here before – I know you can’t see – but I used to go out and walk along the beams, and frighten all the guards. How they would shout! And Malcolm would say – ”

'And Malcolm would say--'

She fumbled, and the elf did not pick up the conversation for her.

“I suppose it was rather dangerous…” she murmured.

“Not for one as graceful as you,” he said gravely. “You’re an elf. We used to watch you climbing trees and running along the fences and the ridgepoles, and leaving all the bad children behind.”

Iylaine lifted the hems of her skirts and rushed back to him with long strides. “You and Vash?” she whispered.

“I always used to complain,” he smiled ruefully up at the ceiling. “I wish I hadn’t, though. It was his favorite thing to do.”

'It was his favorite thing to do.'

Iylaine squeezed the folds of fabric she still held in her fists. When she thought her voice would be steady enough, she said, “I suppose he was near to me more often than I ever realized.”

“Quite often.”

“And I was always so lonely, and sometimes angry at him for not coming to see me more often. And he was right there.”

She tried to laugh, but she found that having the liberty of one’s facial expressions did not help one control the quiver in one’s voice. The elf was not deaf.

“Please, don’t be angry at him, Iylaine. There was nothing he wanted more than you. There never will be, so long as you both live.”

He was blind, so she could permit herself to close her eyes and savor this phrase until it settled out of the air like sparkling dust.

She could permit herself to close her eyes.

But the elf went on, dispelling it in a draft. “I admire him more than ever now. Now I know what he has felt all these years, and I don’t know how he did not go mad or simply die. In spite of missing you, he has always been so cheerful and full of hope. He has always brought us joy and hope. He is the noblest and bravest elf in all the world, and you should be honored that he loves you, even if you don’t love him.”

Iylaine nearly protested, but he did not pause. Nor did she know what she could have said.

“And I can only try to be a little like him. And hope I will not have to be noble and brave for long.”


“If only she will have me!” he whispered. “If only she will trust me!”

'If only she will trust me!'

“I know, but – ”

“I shan’t make the same mistake Vash did, though. Not that it was his fault! He was only doing as his father required. But I shan’t let her think I don’t love her. Did you tell her everything I told you to tell her?”

“Aye, but…”

“You must tell me what to do. You’ve grown up with the men. You know what the men must do to win a lady. You – ” He turned his face away and grimaced. “Nai! Nai! You can’t. Iylaine…”

“But what about Vash?”

He turned back to her and found her shoulders with his hands.

He turned back to her and found her shoulders with his hands. “I mustn’t talk to you, Iylaine. Nor Vash either. But not you. Certainly not you. I’m sorry. Iylaina!” He stroked one hand down her cheek. “Mísa llínséa!

“What does that mean?” she quavered.

“I cannot be your friend.”

The clack of the heel she slammed down on the wooden floor of the loft echoed in the empty building. She held her face right beneath his chin and growled, “I shall be your friend! I don’t care what the elves say. I don’t care what you did. You live with us now.”

'You live with us now.'

“No, Iylaine,” he whispered.

She wrapped her arms around his waist, to show him that he could not get away from her. “I shall visit you every day! And I shall call you Kiv!”

“No.” He spoke so calmly that it was a shock to her agitation, and she quieted. “Kiss me, my cousin. It is the last time you will ever want to.”

'Kiss me, my cousin.'

She trembled at the words, but she kissed his cheek and laid her own against his for a moment. His clothes and hair had already begun to smell like the beech fires and tallow candles of the men, but his skin still bore the faint scent of ferns that she remembered from the painfully few occasions when she had stood this close to Vash.

“I told you I tried to kill someone,” he whispered.

Her heart lurched. She thought she understood – it would explain everything. “Was it my father?”

“No, Iylaine. It was your husband. It was Malcolm.”

Iylaine’s heels clattered across the floor as she stumbled away from him. Her mouth did not make a sound, though she thought there was a cry caught in her throat.

Her mouth did not make a sound.

Alred and Lena were still speaking softly downstairs, so the elf continued whispering. “It was the autumn before last. Before your baby was born. I cut his arm and tried to bleed him to death. It seems that he did not tell you, or else he did not know it was I. But it was I.”

“He said – he said he cut himself,” she stammered. “It was an accident.”

“It was I.”

'It was I.'

Finally her cry squeezed out as a moan.

“Iylaine?” Alred called up from below.

The elf ignored him and whispered, “I did it for Vash. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t do it himself. Now I understand. He wanted you to be happy, even if it meant he would never be. I was foolish, and he was wise. But you see, we can never be friends now, Iylaine. You could not desire it. Malcolm could never allow it. And it would be wrong of me to ask.”

“Iylaine?” She could hear Alred walking out into the hall, though he could not have seen them in the loft even from there.

She turned away and croaked, “I’m all right!”

'I'm all right!'

“I’m sorry, Iylaine,” the elf whispered. “The Abbot says you are a good Christian woman, so perhaps you will forgive me. If you ever see Vash again, you must thank him for making my crime less than what I meant it to be. And you must thank him for saving Malcolm for you, for I know it was the hardest thing he ever did, besides giving you up the first time. Or perhaps it was the hardest of all, for then he had lost hope of ever having you.”

Then he had lost hope of ever having you.

Iylaine slowly lifted her shaking hands and spread her fingers out over her stomach. She had lived the past year never knowing that she might have lived it without Malcolm. Her son might have come into the world an orphan. It seemed impossible – Duncan so loved his father and Malcolm so loved his son that she could not imagine either existing without the other now.

Iylaine had never truly understood the necessity of a mother, but she had sworn that her children would never know what it was to long for their absent father. This elf had committed the one crime she could not forgive.

This elf had committed the one crime she could not forgive.