Malcolm stalked up the road.

Malcolm stalked up the road with strides so long and so hurried that his entire body bobbed in time with his limp.

The sun was setting behind the heavy clouds, and the air was already as cold as midnight from blowing over snow.

He had not taken so much as a shawl to cover his shoulders. If he had scorched his knees in Maire’s hall, he was freezing them now. Nor had he taken a horse, for he felt he needed the walk. Now he would have to hurry if he wanted to make it to young Malcolm’s house in time for supper.

Nevertheless he paused from time to time to call a nearby snowdrift a bitch and kick the crust off of it with his foot.

He had his eye fixed on another: a tall one, one into which he might sink his leg up to his knee. That would cool it off quickly enough.

But just as he neared it, a dark form darted out of the trees and over the bank, tripping lightly over the surface of the snow like a hare.

A dark form darted out of the trees and over the bank.

Malcolm inhaled a great gulp of cold air in his surprise, and though it burned his lungs, he dared not exhale it for fear she would be dispersed like a fog. He dared not blink for fear she would vanish. His entire body swayed in time with his pounding heart. It was Maud.

It was Maud.

She had run until she reached the road, but then she approached him as hesitantly as a deer.

“Malcolm?” Her voice was high and sweet with disbelieving delight. “Is it you?” She seemed as surprised to see him as he was her.

It was twilight, he reminded himself: that liminal hour between day and night. In his country men knew how thin was the veil that hung before the Unseen, and that it could at such times be pulled aside.

Perhaps he had been careless with his curses.

Perhaps he had been careless with his curses at the moment he had passed through a crossroads. Perhaps he had inadvertently strayed from the world of the living into the world of the dead.

She smiled at him as she approached, shyly hiding her face behind her hand like a little girl.

She was shyly hiding her face behind her hand like a little girl.

Her eyes alone sufficed to transfix him with the blade-​​like intensity of her beauty. As ever, he saw at once that his mortal’s memory could never retain so much loveliness.

As her hand slowly descended, he saw that she had scarcely aged. This did not surprise him. Her beauty had always been more than the sum of her delicate features and her radiant skin. Her eyes and nose and lips were but faintly visible through the misty veil of beauty that wrapped her round. Her cheeks and brow only wavered blue-​​pale beneath the surface, like the face of a woman who had drowned in beauty, staring up at the sky.

Her hand slowly descended.

He whispered, “A chagair…

“It is you!” she breathed.

Perhaps it was because he had just come from Maire’s. Perhaps it was because he had so recently spoken the terrible truth with Sigefrith. When she lowered her hand still further, he was distracted from her beauty by the glint of a ring.

Sigefrith had given her that ring. Sigefrith had buried her in that ring. Even in death, Sigefrith claimed her for his own.

That thought freed him from his stupor.

That thought pierced him more deeply than her beauty. That thought freed him from his stupor, but his helpless fury gave way at once to fear. The hand was coming towards him. Ring or no ring, he half-​​recalled some old story about being touched by the dead and losing one’s soul.

“No!” he shouted and stepped back.

“Malcolm!” She kept coming.


He leapt forward and shoved her away. She fell in the snow at his feet with a sharp cry, as if she had been hurt by worse than the fall.

She fell in the snow at his feet with a sharp cry.

“What are you?” he panted.

“Malcolm!” she wailed. “Don’t you know me? I’m Maud!”

“It’s dead you are!”

“No! No!” she sobbed. “It’s a lie! Sigefrith pretended I was dead so he could marry his cousin! That little girl!”



“He did! Just like my mother! Lock me up and pretend I’m dead!”

Malcolm hesitated. His young cousin had told him the story of Maud’s mother.

“It’s mad you are,” he said.

“No! I escaped, and the elves healed me. The elves cured me. Malcolm!”


She lifted a pleading hand to him. His heart ached to see her groveling before him so. She was a queen. She was, as Sigefrith had said, more than a woman.

“I’ve been living with the elves all these years. I’ve been waiting for our son to come home, Malcolm. And I would tell him the truth, and he would avenge me. But, Malcolm! It’s you I want! And I never dreamt to see you again!”

“Is that why you’re dressed so strangely?” he asked.

'Is that why you're dressed so strangely?'

She wore a long red cloak with billowing sleeves, embellished with pale embroidery that looked almost like a foreign script. She also had a dark tattoo across one cheek, although even that seemed only a supplement to her beauty.

She also had a dark tattoo across one cheek.

“They’ve taken good care of me, but – oh, Malcolm! Can’t you take me with you? Is my son with you? Our son?”

She smiled hopefully, but the slight sob in her voice as she pronounced the words “our son” nearly broke his heart.

“He isn’t here, a chagair. He’s at home.”

At last he took her hand and pulled her to her feet.

“How is he?” she sighed happily.

'How is he?'

“He’s a fine lad, Maud. A handsome lad of nearly twelve. Of nearly… twelve…”

He had been twenty-​​seven when his son was born. He was thirty-​​nine now, and already he had lines around his eyes and gray in his beard. Already his knees and elbows ached when it rained. Already he had lived nearly twice as long as his father.

Maud was only a year younger than he. Beauty or no beauty, she looked no more than twenty-​​five.

She looked no more than twenty-five.

“But there’s one thing I wish you could tell me, a chagair.

“What is it?”

“I gave you a ring to keep for him. I do not know what became of it, and there will never be another such a one.”

“I…” She smiled sheepishly. “I can’t imagine where it has gone. What did Sigefrith do with my belongings after I was supposed to have died?”

“They are still in your bedroom, where no one ever goes.”

“Then it must be there still.”

“But where did you hide it, a chagair?” he asked, sweetly taunting.

'But where did you hide it, mo chagair?'

“I don’t remember.” She laughed. “What do you mean to do? Are you testing me?”


She took a step away from him, seeming surprised he would admit it.

She took a step away from him.

“I know what you did with that ring, a chagair. Only you and I and one other know what you did with that ring. Now tell me.”

“Malcolm!” she cried mournfully. “Don’t you believe it is I? You know, I truly was mad, until the elves helped me.”

“Aye. Perhaps you were. But you must remember the ring. Tell me what it looked like.”



“Tell me what we did together on that first evening when we met in the market square. What did we do there?”

She turned her face away, showing him the cheek that did not bear the tattoo.

“Tell me where we were the first time we made love! Tell me where I never let you kiss me for fear I would laugh aloud!”

'Tell me where I never let you kiss me for fear I would laugh aloud!'

She lifted her hand again and pressed it against her temple, as if her head were aching. He nearly asked her another question, but she began to growl in her throat like a cat.

“What are you?” she snarled. “What are you? You’re no man!”

'What are you?'

“What am I?” he cried. “What are you? Phantom! Devil!”

“No! No!” she shrieked. “You’re not even here! I can’t even feel your fear!”

Malcolm lifted his hand to his forehead to cross himself, but she leapt at him, yowling like a furious cat. Her hands closed around his throat. She was stronger than a man, and he could not yank her arms away.

Her hands closed around his throat.

“Be afraid!” she growled. “Be afraid! Be afraid!”

Malcolm was afraid. She was not Maud. She was not even a woman. If he had not crossed into the realm of the dead, then something terrible had entered into the land of the living.

But if she could not feel his fear, then she could not feel his cunning either. In one quick motion he released his grip on her arms, drew the knife from his belt, and slashed it across her stomach.

She flung him away, but she did not fall. “What are you creatures?” she howled.

'What are you creatures?'

“God help me,” he whimpered, “I’m a Christian man.”

She spat at him and vanished.

His instincts did not believe that she could disappear so suddenly, and for a while he waited, petrified, for her next move. When at last he dared looked down at his knife, he saw there was not a trace of blood on it, nor a spot on the snow, though he had felt the blade tearing through flesh.

He saw there was not a trace of blood on it.

When he fell to his knees, he saw that there were no marks on the snow at all apart from his own footprints trailing away behind him. There were no signs of her feet and no signs of her fall.

Like Maud, he was going mad. She had never been there at all.

Like Maud, he was going mad.