The elf stroked his finger over the soft spot atop Benedict's head.

The elf stroked his finger over the soft spot atop Benedict’s head, giving the baby a smile that mixed the rueful with the amused. He was blind, and Lena had scarcely ever held a baby in her life, and rather than the one reassuring the other, it was usually the one getting swept up in the other’s fright. The discovery of the hole in the baby’s head had been the cause of but one of many panicked trips across the court to wake the reeve’s friendly – and patient – wife.

Lena came in with the water, silent with the concentration of balancing the heavy buckets, but as soon as she sat them down she began singing again. At once Benedict’s little body went still.

'I told you, Lena!'

“I told you, Lena!” the elf cried. “He knows your voice.”

“How do you know?” she asked, not skeptically but delightedly.

“He stopped squirming as soon as you started to sing.”

“Perhaps he only likes the sound of music,” she suggested.

“I don’t know. I shall sing and we shall see whether that interests him as much.”

“But I’m certain he knows your voice, too!”

“Do you think?” he asked, not skeptically but delightedly.

“Almost as well as mine.”

'Almost as well as mine.'

“But I don’t talk baby talk and nonsense to him all the time as you do.”

“Don’t you?” She violently scrubbed a plate, though the splashing did not quite cover the sound of her giggles.


“Oh!” She dropped her rag into the water and turned around. “I never heard ‘baby talk and nonsense’ in my life until I came here. Where did I learn to talk like that if not from you?”

“From Alred.”

“Alred!” She snorted and turned back to her dishes. “Every time you do something you’re too proud to admit, you say it was Alred.”

He laughed, but he did not deny it.

He laughed, but he did not deny it.

Lena began to sing again, and this time he and Benedict both listened. The baby was doubtlessly content to listen to his mother’s voice, but the elf was thinking how much it all sounded like a man’s house, with the splashing of dishwater and a softly singing lady, the crackling of a fire echoing in a stone-​​walled room, and outdoors the shouts of men, the creaking of wheels, the barking of dogs.

When he and Vash were boys, they would often hide outside men’s houses to listen to their English and to make fun of the dirty, careless way in which they lived. He wondered what his ten-​​year-​​old self would have thought of him now.

He wondered what his ten-year-old self would have thought of him now.

Lena’s song broke off as she shuffled out the kitchen door with the heavy basin, and it started up again immediately following the crash of water upon the frozen ground. The elf noticed only then that it was a song of separated lovers.

“Your people have such sad songs, Lena,” he sighed. “A lot of good it does us to refuse to sing them. It only means we don’t have them when we need them.”

Lena sat beside him on the deerskin, and Benedict began to kick wildly until she touched him.

Lena sat beside him on the deerskin.

“I’m sorry if it makes you sad, Lord,” she murmured. “But it isn’t a song of my people. It is the Khír who made this song out of nothing,” she said reverently, and with a hint of pride. “I heard him make it over many nights.”

“The elf Vash made this song?” he whispered with equal reverence.

“Yes. It is a song that was never sung before. I think he and I are the only elves who ever sang it.”

“I wish you would teach it to me. I need such songs to sing.”

“But your wife does not have another husband.”

'But your wife does not have another husband.'

“That’s not what the song is about. Is it? Only two lovers who are kept apart.”

“That is true.”

For a while he listened to her fingertips stroking across the baby’s skin. Outside was all the bustle of a castle court after the supper hour. He could not hear what sounds came up from beyond the walls – nor what sounds did not.

“Did you see the moon when you went out?” he asked.

“No. It is the night-​​dark-​​moon,” she whispered, as if even speaking of it were a danger.

He grunted. It was as he had thought.


“Penedict!” she gasped. “Already one moon has passed us by since you were born!”

The elf gave the baby’s belly a congratulatory rub, but he muttered, “And since I saw Catan.”

“Oh!” Lena whimpered in compassion, but he knew she would not dare so much as pat his hand.

“I don’t know why,” he sighed, “but I thought she might come tonight.”

'I thought she might come tonight.'

“But it is dangerous!” Lena cried in horror.

“Not for the men, Lena. They come and go as they please, any night of the year.”

“But is the ban not because of those bad elves?”

“I don’t think so.”

“But wasn’t it a night-​​dark-​​moon when she was attacked?”

'But wasn't it a night-dark-moon when she was attacked?'

He remembered well the silence of that night. “It was.”

“Perhaps it is the same bad elves!”

“How can I know?” he cried. “How can I know, Lena? I can’t ask her. All I know of any of them is that she refers to the one who led them – the one who hurt her most – as ‘the tall one’. But all elves are tall!” he wailed in frustration.

'But all elves are tall!'

“Not all,” Lena explained patiently. “Only one of the four who took Penedict was very tall. One was quite short. And Catan is tall for a woman – almost as tall as I. They might be the same. I am only a foolish half-​​blood,” she said, though she sounded rather proud of her deduction, “but I think it is to protect us from these bad elves that the wise Khór made this ban.”


He sighed in exasperation.

He sighed in exasperation at her simple mind, which could believe that the Khór would force all the elves in the valley into hiding one night a month merely on account of a few rogues. Then his own more complicated mind had a thought of its own, and he leapt to his feet.

“Lena – that elf who took Penedict, who was so tall and fine. You said he had air nature?”


“And ‘the tall one’ who attacked Cat – he must have spoken enough English to lead her away.”



He snarled and smacked his fist into his palm, startling Benedict and Lena both.

“Lord?” she whimpered.