The elf did not understand how his own longing for Catan had so far failed to summon her.

Vash claimed that he had on several occasions so lost himself in longing for Iylaine that she had risen up and come to him, without knowing where she was going, nor even that she was going to him.

The elf did not understand how his own longing for Catan had so far failed to summon her. He did not think he could want her any more without being forced to get up himself and go to her. Perhaps what he lacked was Vash’s strength, which would have allowed him to love her more and still stay put.

But she was close. Since the priest had led him away from her, he had never been closer to her then he was this night. She had come of her own accord to Nothelm, knowing that he was no farther from her than the opposite side of the outer bailey. They were safe within the same set of high walls. Perhaps, he thought, now that she was closer, now that she had only to throw on her cloak and run across the court…

He had heard busy feet hustling past his door all evening.

He had heard busy feet hustling past his door all evening, partly on account of the party, and partly because men in castles simply did not live the calm, well-​​regulated lives of elves or ants or bees. He knew the feet did not belong to Catan. He would know Cat was coming long before he heard her.

Thus the latest pair did not catch his attention until they came bounding up the steps and their associated arms threw open one of the great doors.

The elf sat up. He had been told that men were supposed to knock on doors with their hands when they wanted to request entry.

The door slammed, and he heard the Lena-​​elf gasp and tumble to the floor of the loft overhead.

'Who's there?'

“Who’s there?” he shouted. He had already summoned up a sheet of fire ready to be unfurled as soon as he could be certain the intruder was an enemy.

Who’s there?” An achingly familiar, mocking laugh rang out in the hall. “Has the stench of me been so long out of your nostrils that you have forgotten it?” the intruder called in his own language.

He heard Vash gallop back into his corner.

He heard Vash gallop back into his corner, hop onto the bed, ricochet off the wall, and land at his feet. Before his reflexes could spring him away, he was being squeezed breathless.

He was being squeezed breathless.

“Vash!” he gasped with the last of his air.

“I would have looked for you on the face of the moon before I looked here! The idea! Dressed like a man, too!”


Vash stepped back and took him by the shoulders to shake him roughly. “Look at you!” He smacked his bearded cheek and laughed, “You were an ugly elf, but I must admit you do make a respectable goat!”

'You do make a respectable goat!'

He could breathe now, but he could do no more than whisper, “Vash!”

Vash wiped the elf’s tears away with the side of his long hand. “What do you have to cry about, little girl? Got your feelings hurt because I said you look like a goat? I always told you you would!”

“Do I?” he asked with a weak, bleating laugh.

'Do you ever!'

“Do you ever! Worse than I feared. But let’s talk about hurt feelings.” Vash poked him in the chest with his finger. “I sat in my rooms and mourned for you for an entire moon, thinking you were dead, and all this time you were hiding here, probably eating cheese and drinking apple cider every single day and chortling over your luck! Weren’t you?”


“Liar! And I fasted for you, and let my beard grow for you!”

“I bet you looked like a goat, too!”

'I bet you looked like a goat, too!'

“Thanks to you! Cheese-​​eating, cider-​​slurping, wool-​​wearing goat!”

“I eat bread too – with butter!


“It isn’t bad, with the bread.”

“Didn’t I try to tell you!” Vash smacked the back of his head and shook him again. “That’s just like you! You never believe me when I try to tell you something, and when you finally figure it out for yourself, you come to me with your great discovery! Vash!” he whined. “Did you ever notice the sky is blue?

The elf laughed, forgetting his eyes. But Vash seemed to remember and suddenly crushed the laughter out of him.

Vash seemed to remember and suddenly crushed the laughter out of him.

“My friend, my friend…” Vash murmured. He shook as if he too laughed, but he was holding his breath.

“What are you doing here, Vash?” the elf whispered. “You shouldn’t be here with me.”

“I have been looking for the Lena-​​elf ever since the new moon! But the man Egelric hasn’t been at his castle, so I finally came here. And here I found Egelric, and the Lena-​​elf – and you! I thought you were dead, you reeking goat! I could feel you dying when Shus and I saved the woman Catan!”

'I could feel you dying when Shus and I saved the woman Catan!'

“I don’t know what happened,” the elf whispered. “A great bat came for me in the forest and crushed me in her foot, but when I woke again, I was in my cave, and I was still an elf. And there was someone with me, but he left. Or she left. I think it was a woman. But it wasn’t Cat.”


“Out of the water?” the elf asked dubiously.

Vash bent his head still closer and whispered, “The Dark Lady?”

The elf gasped. “I… don’t know…”

“I saw her.” Vash was suddenly speaking Latin, as they had done as boys to hide their secrets from elves who had not learned the language.

“You saw the Dark Lady?”

'You saw the Dark Lady?'

“I spoke to her. Listen: she told me that what was supposed to happen is not happening. Some years ago a man was saved from death on a battlefield, though he was supposed to die. And since then, like ripples spreading on water, it has caused ever more things to go wrong.”

“You spoke to her?” he squeaked.

“Listen to me! Your friend Alred was supposed to die years ago, and as a result, I was supposed to take the elf Iylaina to me. Nimea did not lie, but what she thought was true was wrong.”


“So now anything can happen,” Vash sniffed, returning to their own language. “We are all as blind as you, my friend. Only you and I know it, however.”

“But, Vash!” he whined.

“Don’t start bleating like a goat, too.” Vash lowered his voice and spoke in Latin again: “I did worse than that.”

'I did worse than that.'

The elf did not know whether it was the effect of the foreign language or whether Vash’s voice had truly taken on a sinister taint.

“I spilled my own blood that I had from my mother – in my father’s hall, before his throne. And Iylaina’s with it. And am I blind and unnamed? No, I am not. And I lay with Nimea.”


“What I said! ‘And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her.’ Don’t be such a beetlehead now, after giggling over those parts all those years ago!”

'Don't be such a beetlehead now.'


“And she was hideous!” he snarled, so suddenly vicious that the elf was not sorry he could not see his face. “With her long ears like a bull’s horns, and her cold body like a dead frog! It is her fault I did not escape in time to prevent the marriage of Iylaina to Malcolm! She wanted me for herself!”

“Vash!” the elf whimpered. It was his friend – he had not forgotten the “stench” of him, nor the voice of him – but he was not speaking like his friend.

He was not speaking like his friend.

“She had me! And she shall never see me again! She shall never see me again!” he repeated in their own language.

The elf was too horrified to speak.

“So you see,” Vash said with an abrupt placidity like that of still waters on a windless day, “speaking to you is the least of my crimes.”

Speaking to you is the least of my crimes.

The elf swallowed and tried to compose himself, though he could not do it so suddenly nor so utterly as Vash had.

Vash had changed – but it was not surprising, the elf told himself, after all Vash had endured. He himself had changed through his suffering and sorrow. He could only hope they had both changed for the better.

Vash patted him on his bearded cheek, gently this time.

“Who could blame me?” he asked wistfully. “This chance to call you a hairy goat has been the first moment of real happiness I’ve had in years.”

This has been the first moment of real happiness I've had in years.