The elf stood in the open doorway.

The elf stood in the open doorway, and the slow gusts of wind lifted his hair in passing as they filled the chapel with cold. The damp air carried scents of incense, wax, and stone to him as it rushed back out the door, ruffling his hair again.

His tentative hand felt out the wall on his right, and he took a step into the chapel. As soon as he released the door, the wind grabbed it and swung it shut with a bang and a rattle of its glass panes. The elf winced in embarrassment.

Immediately afterward he heard the scraping of a chair’s legs, the shuffling of soft-​​soled shoes on stone, and then a hearty, “Good afternoon, Friend!” with a trill that was like enough to Cat’s to make him smile.

“I’m sorry about the door…”

'I'm sorry about the door...'

“Don’t worry about the door! Everyone does that.”

“I’m a little glad I did, though, since it brought you out here,” he said sheepishly. “I always get lost in here.”

“That’s all right. Sometimes I do, too. Just follow me, and we shall see whether we can find my office again.”

Father Brude turned and began walking away, and after a moment’s surprise the elf hurried after him. He was accustomed to the loan of elbows when he was being led about in places he did not know well, but he was too proud to ask. Fortunately it was not far.

“Father Aelfden said you wanted to see me…”

“Well, my friend,” the priest chuckled, “you’ve received most of your religious education from a Dane, a Saxon, and a nine-​​year-​​old English boy, but it occurs to me that you are marrying a Gael.”

The elf remembered that there was a bench against the far wall in the priest’s office, and he found his way to a seat without stubbing so much as a toe.

“Is that different?” he asked.

'It's better!'

“It’s better!” the priest laughed. “As a matter of fact, there are some peculiarities to the Celtic church, but since we are in a Celtic diocese, you will likely never know the difference. I merely thought that, since I shall be leaving you in a few weeks, someone ought to warn you what awaits you if you marry a Gael.”

“Warn me?” the elf grinned, too happy and too sure of Cat to be truly frightened.

“That’s right. Otherwise you might be surprised the first time she breaks a plate over your head.”

The elf laughed.

“Nobody has a temper like a Scot, unless it be an Irishman, but nobody loves like a Gael, so you will do well if you don’t run out after that first plate.”

“I promise I won’t. But you must not have seen an angry elf, Father.”

'But you must not have seen an angry elf, Father.'

“Oh, I’ve had a few encounters with Lady Iylaine over the years,” the priest chuckled.

“Has she ever set your hair on fire?”


“Then you have never seen an angry elf,” he said smugly.

“Thanks be to God! But I hear it will be two against one at your house.”

“You mean Lena?”

“No, I mean Cat’s sister. But you’re right – if Lena lives with you, that would make it even again, wouldn’t it? Two elves and two Scottish ladies.”

'That would make it even again, wouldn't it?'

“And Benedict, but he’s half-​​elf and half-​​Scot so that doesn’t change anything.”

“And Flann’s baby.”

The elf hesitated. “You know about that?”

“I’m her priest, Friend. But I don’t mind mentioning it to you, since I believe you and the rest of her family know about it as well.”

The elf smiled to himself at the thought that he would be considered part of Cat’s family already.

“So that’s another Gael for you,” the priest said slowly, “once he’s big enough to throw tantrums.”

'So that's another Gael for you.'

“And plates!” the elf grinned.

“Aye!” the priest laughed. “Unless his father is an elf, of course.”

“I – ” The elf hesitated again. “Is he?”

“That’s more than I can say, Friend. I thought perhaps you might know.”

“How should I know?” the elf gasped. “It isn’t mine!

“I didn’t mean that. I only thought, since you are supposed to be able to tell the wee one is there at all, you might have some idea who the father could be.”

'No, no, it's not like that at all.'

“No, no, it’s not like that at all. I can’t see his face, or what color eyes he has, or anything. I can only see that there’s another nature in her body that is not her nature. But it’s his own unique nature, not his father’s. So how could I say?” The elf threw up his arms helplessly. “Anyway, I know nothing about women and their babies.”

“But what is it like?” the priest asked, almost wistfully. “To see the nature of people?”

The elf sighed. “I have already tried to explain to Alred. You should have been there. It is difficult to explain. You know, I have only been blind for a few years. If you tell me that something is blue, I understand what that means. But how would you explain ‘blue’ to someone who was born blind?”

“I see the difficulty. In my work I must explain many things that we aren’t given eyes to see.”

'In my work I must explain many things that we aren't given eyes to see.'

“So you understand. I can only say ‘nature’ in English, but in our language it is ‘’, which means ‘being’ and ‘existence’ and everything that is essential to a thing. It is something I can perceive, but I can’t explain how.”

“I see. And you have the nature of an elf.”

“No, I have the nature of fire. In that sense I have more in common with Iylaine, who has fire nature, than I do with my friend Vash, who has water nature.”

“And her son has fire nature, too, doesn’t he?”

'And her son has fire nature, too, doesn't he?'

“Yes, because his father is not an elf. And her new baby does too. So I knew it was a man’s baby, but I couldn’t have guessed it was Malcolm’s from that alone.”

“Does Flann’s baby have fire nature, too?”

“I… don’t know…”


“I told you, I don’t know anything about women and their babies. Only elves.”

“You couldn’t tell at all?”

“Well.” The elf crossed his arms and shifted anxiously on the bench. He was dying to talk about it with Vash, but he hadn’t seen Vash in weeks. In truth, he was simply dying to talk about it. “You won’t tell her what I say, Father? You won’t tell anyone?”

'You won't tell her what I say, Father?'

“You have my word as a priest.”

The elf sat up eagerly. “So, you know there are four natures in the world: first water, then air, then earth, then fire. You say God created light on the first day and air on the second day, but we say that light and air have the same nature, because they can both move through fire and water and cannot move through earth.”

“I see.”

“But, Father, I would say that Flann’s baby has air nature, but somehow it does not. It is the same with Flann and Cat – they have fire nature, but it is not a fire that I know. The fire I know comes from the sun. I call Cat’s fire ‘fire’ because it burns, but it is not bright like my fire. And I call the nature of Flann’s baby ‘air’, but it is not really air at all. It is only light. It is not light in air, it is only light. So I don’t know how to explain it in any language. I have never known anything like it.”

He fell back against the bench.

He fell back against the bench, somewhat abashed at having said so much to a man. Vash had always told him he talked too much.

“But I don’t know much about the men, Father,” he added sheepishly, as if that would erase all that had gone before. “Perhaps they are all like that.”

The priest turned without a word and walked across the room.

The priest turned without a word and walked across the room.

The elf listened closely, fearing that he would simply go out. Had he said something wrong? Had he said something unchristian to a priest, of all people?

But he heard a book being slid from the shelf, and Father Brude returned to his side and pulled up a chair to sit.

“Does the Bible have any lessons about dodging plates?” the elf asked hopefully.

“Not that I recall. We shall read the story of the beginning of the world.”

“I know that one! It’s almost the same we tell.”

'I know that one!'

“I gathered that from what you said. But I don’t mean to read from Genesis. I shall read from the Gospel of John.”

“‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’” the elf quoted, quite pleased with himself for remembering. He was also quite grateful to Vash for having forced him to read such passages over and over again, though Vash had been more interested in the poetry of the words.

“Very good. And what comes next?”

“Oh… you would have to ask my friend Vash,” he said with a foolish smile. “He remembers everything he reads. I only remember the first part. It’s usually enough to impress priests. Or at least nine-​​year-​​old boys.”

'I am indeed impressed.'

The priest laughed. “I am indeed impressed. But you shall tell your nine-​​year-​​old lector to read the first chapter of the Gospel of John to you until you both remember it all. It will give you plenty to think about, but there are a few verses in particular that will interest you, and I shall ask you to consider them while I am gone, and when I return – perhaps this winter, perhaps in the spring – you will tell me what you have thought in the meantime.”

“I shall be a Christian by then.”

“That does not mean you are permitted to stop thinking.”

“Agreed,” the elf smiled. “What are the verses?”

“‘In Him was life; and the life was the light of men,’” the priest read. “‘And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’”

'And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.'