'Where is everybody?'

“Where is everybody?” Imin cried. “Smell me coming?”

“I sent them out,” Lar said coldly. “I want to speak to you alone.”

“Well, I’m here!” he grinned. “Let’s chat! Have a seat, Lar.” Imin bowed and waved a hand at the low throne against the wall.

'Have a seat, Lar.'

He knew Lar would not sit in it. Lar claimed that it was because he did not intend to set himself up as a lord over these elves, but Imin knew the true reason. Lar and Dre had disputed that chair, and Lar had backed down. Lar could not enter this room without staring at it. He had been staring at it when Imin had come in. He was staring at it even now.

“Or if you won’t, I shall,” Imin chuckled and pretended to head for the chair.

Lar grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

“What were you thinking?” he shouted. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

'Did you think I wouldn't find out?'

Imin shrugged. “No.”

“When I forbade it!”

“I know what a busy elf you are, Lar,” Imin smiled sweetly. “I’m just taking a little of your work off your hands.”

'I'm just taking a little of your work off your hands.'

“When I want your help, I’ll ask for it!”

Lar leaned over him, but it had been many years since Imin could be intimidated by mere height and mere shouting.

“But that’s just it, Lar. You were never going to ask, were you?” Imin’s smile began to sour. “You wanted that woman for yourself. After you kept the rest of us from getting a fair chance at her the first time.”

“Is that what this is about?” Lar cried. “Stinking Mother! I’d forgotten once again that the sun and moon and stars revolve around your cock!”

'Is that what this is about?'

“It is not always convenient for me either,” Imin tittered. “But, jealous as you are of her, you will be pleased to know it was disappointed this time.”

“I don’t care about her!” Lar howled. “What happened in there?”

“In that case, depraved as you are, Lar, you will be pleased to know that the unnamed elf must surely have come home to find his wife in hysterics and his cousin lying gutted by her sister’s hand. And his own sword.”

'And his own sword.'

Lar’s mouth dropped open. “Her sister killed the elf Lor? With his own sword?”

“Should’ve been there, my friend! I said to myself, that’s a woman for Lar, that is! The Cat-​woman just squeals like a piglet, but the other one picks up a sword and fights like a man. Which is more than I can say for the Lor-​elf.”

“What happened?” Lar breathed.

“What happened was, the Cat-​woman let out one peep and the Lor-​elf promptly shit himself. And the man-​woman pulled a knife out of her dress and stabbed him, and when that didn’t kill him, she drew his sword and sliced his belly open.”

Lar's gaze drifted away from Imin's face.

Lar’s gaze drifted away from Imin’s face as he imagined the scene, but Imin did not fail to note that it drifted back onto the chair.

Imin clapped a hand on his shoulder and shook him. “Should’ve been there! Then everyone could’ve gone home happy. Of course, I could’ve had the man-​woman while her sister stood in a corner and screamed, but it was the Cat-​woman I wanted. And I needed someone to watch my back!” he laughed. “Next time, my friend—”

'Do you truly think there's going to be a next time now?'

“No!” Lar shoved him away. “That’s just it, Imin! Do you truly think there’s going to be a next time now? You’ve ruined everything!”

“He’s bound to leave her alone some time…”

Imin tried to slip around him, but Lar followed.

'That's the point, Imin!'

“That’s the point, Imin! With the elf Lor, I didn’t need him to! He would have trusted her alone with Lor.”

“So find another Lor.”

Lar shoved him roughly again, and he followed right along as Imin stumbled away, his face nearly in Imin’s face. He was using more than his height to intimidate now.

'There isn't another Lor!'

“There isn’t another Lor! Don’t you get it? It takes a sick elf to go along with a scheme like that. Lure your cousin’s wife away to deliver her to a lot of rapists and murderers? If he was half as sick as his father and father’s father he probably couldn’t keep his hands out of his pants for thinking about it.’

“I like to hear you talking about sick,” Imin grumbled to hide his growing unease.

“I have better things to do with my hands, Imin. Like beating the shit out of lying, sneaking little hellrats like you. This is your warning, my friend. Next time there won’t be a ‘next time’.”

'I have better things to do with my hands, Imin.'