Catan smiled hesitantly but fondly.

Catan smiled hesitantly but fondly. The elf was endearing in his excitement over seeing her again: his cheeks were flushed, his features animated, and he hopped from foot to foot as he talked to her.

The elf was endearing in his excitement over seeing her again.

All that lacked was his hands dancing between them. He held them clasped behind his back, and she was suddenly stricken with the realization that he held them so precisely to prevent them from going out towards her.

She could not reach his hands from where she stood, so she threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him, surprising him in the middle of a sentence.

She threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him.

“Cat!” he gasped. “What was I saying?”

“I – I don’t know! I’m sorry,” she giggled. “I was paying more attention to you than to what you were saying.”

“Don’t be sorry about that. I wasn’t paying attention either. I only want to know so I can say it again next time I want a hug.”

She laughed and squeezed him, but as soon as her cold cheek touched his neck he thrust her away.

“Cat! You’re as cold as a snail’s belly.” He took her hand and dragged her into the kitchen. “You come in here and get warmed up,” he commanded. “Take off your cloak and sit down by the fire, and I shall get you something hot to drink.”

Her heart fluttered desperately. “No! Wait!”

'No!  Wait!'

He stepped back and turned his face away. He had meant no harm, but she knew he would be blaming himself.

Cat balled up her fists and wrapped her arms awkwardly around her body. She needed his help, and she was afraid to ask for it. Afraid, and ashamed, because she was afraid to give anything in return.

“Friend,” she whispered.

He turned back to her, but all the excitement had gone out of him. Now he moved with the slow grace of a man attempting to approach a deer. More than that, she thought – he had the grace of the deer.

He had the grace of the deer.

“I can’t stay long,” she said weakly. “I must hurry and speak to my cousin Aengus.”

“Did you ride directly here?” he asked. “Is that why you’re so cold?”

“Aye. I wanted to see you…”

He smiled hesitantly.

“…first. Because…”

She could not leave him standing there, smiling at her, with nothing but the occasional sound of her voice to give him any indication that she was there at all. She stepped close to him and laid her hands on his back.



“Just a moment, Cat,” he murmured. “When you came in here you weren’t shivering, and now you are. Did I frighten you?”


“Because I can’t see you, you know, and I might go too far before I notice that anything is wrong.”

“No,” she squeaked.

“Cat.” He sighed, and his warm breath flowed over her face. “It is better to tell me the truth instead of pretending that nothing is the matter, simply because… I don’t know why. Because you don’t want to hurt me, or because you think you shouldn’t be frightened, even if you are. If I do something you don’t like, you must tell me.”

“That’s not… why…” she mumbled. She had not wanted to talk about this. She still had something to ask, and this would only make it harder.

“Why?” When she did not answer, he leaned his face still closer to hers and asked, “Are you afraid that if you let me do something you don’t mind, it will lead to something else and something else until we arrive at something you won’t like?”

He leaned his face still closer to hers.

She opened her mouth to answer, but the best she could do was to breathe against his own face.

“That’s easily avoided, Cat. I think I’m clever enough to manage that. But it won’t work if you pretend you’re not frightened when you are. Doesn’t that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I can be a patient elf. Haven’t I been?”

She nodded miserably.

“Now,” he laughed awkwardly. “Were we talking about something?”

“I… meant to ask you something, Friend.”


“You said you would do anything for me, and now I mean to find out whether it was true.”

She tried to laugh, but his face grew so silently tragic that she was reminded how easily she might have blundered on and hurt him if she had been as blind as he and couldn’t read it.

His face grew so silently tragic.

“What’s the matter?” she whispered.

“I was thinking that I’m not the elf Vash is.”


“If you asked me to give you up to some man.”

She closed her eyes and gasped. She felt the pain that would have been his as clearly as if it had been hers, and she the discarded one. She sought out his lips in the dark, following the heat of his breath, until she was kissing him.

She sought out his lips in the dark.

It had been her idea, but she had been frightened all the same. Soon she had lost her fear. It was so unlike kissing Leofric that she thought it a shame that the same word should apply. He was simply caressing her lips with his.

Her eyes filled and spilled over with tears, and she could not say why, except out of relief.

When he felt a tear against his cheek he lifted his head and asked, “Do I frighten you?”


He smiled. “That’s a ‘no’ I can believe. So, do I disappoint you?”

“No,” she giggled.

“Do I amuse you then?”

'Do I amuse you then?'


He shrugged and sighed, but happily. “Now, what did you want to ask me, Mina?”


“Mina?” He lifted his eyebrows thoughtfully. “Did I never call you that?”

“No,” she smiled.

He winced. “I should stop talking to you in my head so much. I forget what I’ve told you truly.”

“It would help if I came to talk to you more often.”

He shook her playfully. “I agree! Mína means ‘lady cat’ in my language. It’s also a name for a little tiny lady, so I like it for you both ways.”

“I’m not so little and tiny!”

'I'm not so little and tiny!'

“You would be for an elf. Now ask me what you wanted to ask me before I embarrass myself any further.”

She braced herself against the return of her anxiety, but her request no longer seemed quite so presumptuous.

She took a deep breath and began, “Well, it’s about the sister of me.”


She took another breath. “My cousin Egelric has written to our father, and I fear he will be along as soon as he receives it. And I fear it’s home he will be taking her.”

'I fear it's home he will be taking her.'

“What about the man?”

“She won’t name him.”

“Does he know about…”

“She won’t say anything. It’s married he must be. Or he must have jilted her, and she’s too proud to say. But, Friend… I want to help her. It’s my dearest friend she is. We have always slept in the same bed. We always said we would marry brothers so we would live hard by. I want to offer to help her, but you see, I can’t offer her anything. I live with my cousin Egelric. I don’t have a home to offer her and her child. But…”

“But you could,” he said gravely.

'But you could.'

“No, I never shall. I shall live in your home.”

He tilted his head and smiled. She thought he meant to smile at her, but his eyes appeared to stare off over her shoulder, and he might have been smiling at something far away.

“And eat bread and butter,” she giggled.

“Does your sister like bread and butter?”

'Does your sister like bread and butter?'


“Then you may tell her she is welcome to join us. We shall have plenty of bread and butter.”

They laughed together, but she realized that he might not understand all of what she was asking.

“But, Friend, I should warn you that it’s a shameful thing she’s done. It’s shame she’s brought on the heads of us. And if we take her in, then the people will stare and talk.”

“Cat, my own family cast me out for the shame I brought on them. I shan’t do the same to your sister, who did far less than I.” He smiled and sighed. “Besides, Mina, you are soon to marry an elf who is six feet tall and blind and who looks like a goat. I don’t think it’s your sister the people will be staring at.”

'I don't think it's your sister the people will be staring at.'