Lor stopped again and listened.

Lor stopped again and listened. It was not that he had heard something, but rather that he had the idea that there was something he should be hearing.

He heard only the chattering and the scolding of the birds, who had been convinced by the last two balmy days that spring had already arrived. He heard only the deer who fanned out across the men’s fields in the pre-​​dawn hour. He heard only the wind, which after gusting all night from the southwest had suddenly turned northwesterly, blowing his hair into his eyes from behind.

He walked on.

He walked on. He did not have time to waste on imagined dangers. He was hungry, and during the night he had saved one of the men’s dogs from choking on a bone. In the convenient code of conduct invented by the young elves, such a good deed merited a stolen trinket or loaf, and Lor knew a baker who made a sweet, fruit-​​studded bread. The baker should even then have been putting it out to cool. Never mind that the baker did not own a dog.

He heard nothing unusual until the last instant – a scrabbling amongst the scrubby, budding stems of brush at the forest’s edge – and then something heavy fell upon his shoulder, and powerful arms wrapped him round.

Something heavy fell upon his shoulder.

He cried out in shock, doubly surprised, for elves were unaccustomed to the possibility of ambush. His arms flailed wildly at first, and in that moment his attacker drew Lor’s own knife from its sheath and flung it into the weeds. Now he had nothing but his own strength and his own magic to defend himself, and his attacker was stronger than he.

His attacker also had magic of his own. His every attempt at a ravaging fire was met by a gust of cold wind.

The other pressed his face into Lor’s hair and growled softly into his ear: “You’re dead, elf. I just ripped you open with your own knife.”

'You're dead, elf.'

Lor struggled convulsively, but he was in a poor position for wrestling, with his arms pinned before him, elbow-​​to-​​elbow, and the weight of another elf on his shoulder, swinging him back and forth and preventing him from balancing on his own two feet.

“How does it feel to be dead?” the elf purred. “You might stop the bleeding, but you can’t stop your guts from falling out all over your feet.” He chuckled softly.

Lor twitched a last time and then found himself paralyzed with the horror of what the elf was saying. He hadn’t felt a thing. Was he dying?

The elf’s voice was suddenly cold and commanding. “Stop your squirming. I’m only here to talk to you.”

Lor had stopped squirming in any case. The elf released him.

“How dare you?” he gasped. “Who are you?”

Lor was not prepared for what he saw.

Lor was not prepared for what he saw. The elf had the coarse, nasal speech of the wild elves, but he was tall and slender, and his face had a handsome refinement that made Lor himself feel crudely put-​​together.

“I am Lar, son of Nidala,” the elf smiled. “Do you know the name?”

Lor did not. Nor did he know of elves that referred to themselves by their mother’s name rather than their father’s. Nor had he ever heard of a lady being given a name that meant “pain”. He supposed the creature thought he was being clever.

“And I am Lor, son of Ris,” he growled. “Do you know the name?”

'Do you know the name?'

Lor was further angered by having let himself be fooled by that fine face into addressing the creature as “you” like an equal.

“Dog!” he added to appease himself.

“I know it,” the elf nodded. “I sought you out, Lor, son of Ris, son of Dru.” He leaned closer and murmured, “Brother of Miria.”

'Brother of Miria.'

“I will not hear my sister’s name pronounced by the slobbering mouth of a dog!”

Lar bowed his head, but the head was magnificent enough to rob the gesture of all humility. “I won’t speak it again. I simply notice that your sister has been robbed of a husband, and it does seem a shame.”

Lor thought it was worse than a shame, but he was revolted to think of these miserable creatures knowing about his sister at all. He could not bear so much as the idea of Miria being dragged through their filthy minds.

“That is not the concern of this stinking dog before me.”

“It is, and I’ll tell you why. You know that the unnamed elf will be welcomed home as soon as – ”

Lor flung wide his arms. “What does this elf know of any of this?”

'What does this elf know of any of this?'

“Shut up!” Lar barked.

Lor bristled with the reflexive resistance of an eighteen-​​year-​​old elf to authority – and he bristled doubly when he saw he was reacting as if this base-​​born creature had authority over him.


“Listen to me, or I’ll see if you listen any better with a hole in your head! My knife is still where it belongs and so are your brains. Help me keep them there!”

'Help me keep them there!'

“This elf wouldn’t dare!”

“Ask the elf Vash what I wouldn’t dare! Now listen to me! Your unnamed elf might come home before many winters have passed us by, but he won’t come as long as he has a wife among the men. Now, you want the unnamed elf for your sister – is it not so?”

“She is for him,” Lor grumbled.

“And I want the woman Catan for myself. Do you understand?”



Lar laughed. “Have you ever had a woman, young elf?”

“Of course not.”

“Then you wouldn’t understand why.”

He shook his head pityingly, and Lor felt his anger rising again. He did not know how such a creature could dare to have disdain for him. It made him wish he had had a woman – though it was an abomination – merely to prevent this dog from having any sense of superiority over him.

“You know how the unnamed elf came to be bound to her,” Lar continued. “I tried to kill her once – ”

“That was you?” Lor gasped. “This – this dog before me?” he corrected himself.

“That was me,” Lar chuckled. “I tried to kill her once, but the unnamed elf prevented her death. The second time I do not intend to fail.”

“If she dies violently it won’t do my sister any good.”

Lar swung his tall body around to loom over Lor again. Lor cringed away, sickened for no reason he could define.

Lor cringed away.

“She won’t die violently,” Lar whispered. “I have better ideas.”

Lor did not know what the creature meant, but he did not think he wanted to be associated with such “better ideas”. On the other hand, if the woman Catan lived too long, his beautiful sister would be bound to some síkhón choral singer or candle-​​lighter, and her children would be the lowest of the high – a nursemaid, perhaps, and a guard, instead of the wife of the next Khor and the father of the next Khir’s wife.

Only the woman Catan stood in their way. And this creature desired to lay her low.

This creature desired to lay her low.

“Why is this elf telling me this?”

“For the simple reason that I can’t get anywhere near the unnamed elf. His magic is too strong for me. But he knows and trusts you. You are his friend.”

So reminded, Lor drew back his head.

Lar leaned closer still. “And his friend must want him to return to live among the elves. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He can’t help it – he’s bound to her. But it’s an abomination, isn’t it? You don’t want that for him, do you?”

Lor caught himself shaking his head in agreement.

The creature had leaned so close that Lor felt his breath blowing across his cheek when he spoke again.

Lor felt his breath blowing across his cheek.

“Only think about it for now,” he murmured. “Let’s think about how we can help each other.”

“I have no interest in helping this dog!”

“Shhh…” Lar soothed. “I said think about it. I knew you wouldn’t agree today. But you’ll see the advantages of it. You can get rid of the woman Catan without getting her blood on your hands.”

Lor did not know what to say. The elf still loomed over him, breathing on his face, and so long as he was there Lor would not have the chance to think.

“I think you are already beginning to see,” Lar said in a taut whisper. “Think about it. But don’t tell anyone you spoke to me, if you want to remain blameless in the affair. Hmm? Our secret.”

'Hmm?  Our secret.'

Lor hesitated again. If only as a matter of pride, he resented the idea of sharing a secret imparted so gracelessly upon clipped consonants and that nasal twang – even if the creature did have the outward appearance of nobility.

“Think about it,” Lar whispered again. He was leaning so close now that he lifted Lor’s hair away from his ear with every breath. “And kindly greet your grandfather for me.”

'And kindly greet your grandfather for me.'

“Does he know you?” Lor murmured weakly.

“He may know the name.”

“But if I’m not supposed to tell anyone I saw you?”

Lar chuckled, blowing Lor’s hair well back. “I don’t think he’ll tell anyone. He likes secrets.”

Lor had not realized how close he had allowed the creature to get to him until he felt something warm and wet sliding up the inner arch of his pointed ear.

He felt something warm and wet sliding up the inner arch of his pointed ear.

It was a tongue.

Lor howled and shoved Lar away with the mindless reflex of a body that was being burned.

“Monster!” he snarled. “Filthy beast! Shit-​​eating dog!”

Lar threw back his fine head and laughed.

Lar threw back his fine head and laughed.

“Don’t worry, boy. I only wanted to make sure you didn’t forget to think about me. Now I may have to send someone to get you to stop.” He winked.

“Begone!” Lor trembled with outrage.

Lar bowed, though there was more mockery than humility in the gesture. “I’m gone.”

Lar backed into the trees, and Lor was too busy rubbing any dampness out of his ear with his thumb to watch where he had gone.

He stood shuddering a while afterwards, laboring against his revulsion. Long minutes passed before he had slowed his breath to a normal pace, though he had not even struggled with the creature. Or perhaps that was why.

He stood shuddering a while afterwards, laboring against his revulsion.