'Have a girl waiting for you?'

“Have a girl waiting for you?” Lar muttered, breaking their brief silence.


“You seem to be in a hurry to get out of here.”

Surr planted both his feet on the floor to stop their fidgeting. “Not if you want me to stay.”

'Not if you want me to stay.'

Lar snorted. “I have a girl waiting for me. Which is why I am in no hurry for you to get out of here.”

“Don’t you like her?”

Lar lifted his head, briefly revealing that sickly half-​​smile Surr’s father had always dreaded.

Surr had spoken mechanically, producing the same sort of question he would have asked one of his friends. One of his friends would have replied, “Of course, but…” and given some rambling excuse about being tired, or about her nagging possessiveness, or about a preference for some other girl.

But Lar simply said, “No,” in a chilling voice that made Surr feel grateful he was not the girl.


Nevertheless, the girls all but lined up at Lar’s door, and Surr himself was finding his recent proximity to Lar to be a personal boon, as some of them seemed to hope to reach their leader through him.

Such was not the case of the girl who was waiting for him, but as fond of her as he was, as much as he longed to see her, his duty and his desire to help his father’s friend was strong enough to still his anxious feet. “Now it is you who must take care of him,” his mother had said – and this, after Lar’s own tearful promise to take care of him and his brothers.

“There she is, I think,” Surr said when the sound of footsteps arose in the corridor.

'There she is, I think.'

Lar listened for a moment. Soon it became clear there were two: one plodding and the other tripping lightly. “Did she bring her father?” he chuckled.

“Maybe her sister.”

“Then her sister walks like a bear. You want her?” Lar lifted his head again, but this time his grin was real.

“As long as she doesn’t look like one.”

“It doesn’t matter in the dark, pip.”

“As long as she doesn’t smell like one, then.”

It was, however, neither a pair of girls nor a pair of bears, but Imin and Llen. Lar swung himself off of his bed, laughing.

“We heard you coming and decided it was a girl and a bear!”

'We heard you coming and decided it was a girl and a bear!'

“Is that what you ordered for the evening?” Imin cackled. “Who was the bear for?”

“The bear was for the boy.”

Imin winked at Surr and whistled. “The things I don’t know about you, kid!”

Surr did not smile. His father had rarely invited his friends into his home, and now that Surr was often with them, he was beginning to understand why.

Surr did not smile.

Imin did not wait for a smile, but turned immediately back to Lar and said, “We aren’t stupid enough to stand between you and a girl or between this boy and a bear, but if you have a moment, we just heard something interesting.”

“Anything!” Lar groaned.


“Better than anything! That Iyyis just came wandering in, and he – ”

“Wait! Iyyis is the one in the Khor’s kitchen?”

“That’s right. And he’s sleeping with the girl who takes the laundry in the household of the elf Dru, and she is friends with the girl who dresses the Lady Madra.”

“And she says…” Lar asked, leaning dramatically to the right.

“And she says that there are a few nasty tongues in that household,” Imin giggled.

“And they’re saying…” Lar leaned to the left.

'And they're saying...'

Surr should have been pleased to see Lar so animated. However, he could not help but feel uneasy about any animation that was inspired by Imin.

“And they’re saying that it’s such a shame that the elf Miria won’t get the husband she was intended for, and it would be convenient if the Cat-​​woman were accidentally to die.”

Lar straightened. “What would that help? The elf Miria can’t take the unnamed elf.”

“They think the Khir will welcome him back once his father is dead. He still hasn’t taken another fourth.”

“They’re fools if they believe that.”

'They're fools if they believe that.'

Imin shrugged. “So much good fortune for us.”

Lar slowly smiled the malevolent half-​​smile. “What do you have in mind?”

I wouldn’t mind having a second taste of the Cat-​​woman. But that–

Lar seemed to grow taller in his anger. “That is not – ”

'That is not--'

That is not worth mentioning, I know, I know,” Imin said, gently interrupting Lar’s outburst. “But think of this, my friend: The elf Lor wants the Cat-​​woman to die so his sister can have the unnamed elf. He wants it badly enough that he might even be convinced to help her along, a little. Now, wouldn’t that be humorous, if the unnamed elf found out about it?”

'Now, wouldn't that be humorous, if the unnamed elf found out about it?'

“That would,” Lar nodded slowly.

“But, more to the point, what if she didn’t die? Suppose she was only captured by a lot of criminals such as… well, such as us?”

“Suppose she was…” Lar smiled.

“The unnamed elf would come after her.”

“He certainly would.”

'He certainly would.'

“And you can think up the rest yourself,” Imin cackled. “Meanwhile I have another thought.”


“I seem to recall that the elf Dre is looking for a Scot-​​woman to get a baby out of her.”

“Now he says he doesn’t care whether it’s a half-​​elf child or not.”

“No? Well, if he changes his mind, you may tell him that I will generously provide the elven half.”

'You may tell him that I will generously provide the elven half.'

“That won’t be necessary, Imin,” Lar growled. “Don’t tell me you’ve got a taste for women now.”

“You must admit, there’s something so endearing about how weak they are, and how pitiful their struggles,” Imin sighed. Suddenly his voice took on an edge that sliced like steel. “Besides, my friend, by the time I got to her, she was already dead. And I did not appreciate that.”

'And I did not appreciate that.'

“She was obviously not dead, since she is not now.”

“Well, she looked dead and acted dead,” Imin grumbled. “She wasn’t even breathing. Half the fun is in hearing them scream.”

“Shut up, Imin,” Llen growled and prodded Imin’s calf with the toe of his boot.

All three heads turned to look at Surr, too quickly to allow Surr to look away and pretend he hadn’t been listening. He could only shrink away as Imin crossed the room to speak to him.

'How old are you, anyway?'

“What’s the matter, kid? How old are you, anyway?”


“Sixteen! Well, if you’re old enough to have it, you’re old enough to take it. Besides, a woman is a lot more pleasant to lie down with than a bear – and a lot less dangerous!”

'A woman is a lot more pleasant to lie down with than a bear.'

“You know what it’s like to lie down with a bear?” Llen chuckled.

“Only because I slept with your mother!”

“Owww!” Llen howled, clutching his stomach as if he had been run through with a sword.

Imin turned back to Surr and asked, “Why don’t you come with us next time, kid? See the difference for yourself.”

'Why don't you come with us next time, kid?'

Surr looked up at Lar.

“Leave him alone, Imin,” Lar growled.

“Why?” Imin whined. “What are you saving him for? Or is that why he’s always in your room in the evenings?”

Lar swung, and Imin ducked.

Lar swung, and Imin ducked. Imin’s reflexes were faster than anyone’s, and he had had the further advantage of knowing what he was about to say ahead of time.

“Only joking!” Imin wailed. “Don’t get so defensive, or I’ll think it’s true!”

“It isn’t, and you shall not joke about it!”

“Then let’s take the boy with us next time and he can prove it.”

'Then let's take the boy with us next time and he can prove it.'

“There isn’t going to be a next time, Imin!”

“What? Why? I tell you how to get at the elf Dru’s family, and the unnamed elf, and the Cat-​​woman, all at once! And please the elf Dre! And you’re not going to do anything?”

“Oh, I am going to do something. Alone.”

“Alone?” Imin whined.