Paul came to a sudden stop at the bottom of the stairs.

Paul came to a sudden stop at the bottom of the stairs. “My father!”

He was quite pleased to see him, but he put on a disapproving smile. His father, on the other hand, was looking suitably sheepish.

“You may use my father’s study if you prefer,” his young lord said. “It’s warmer up there. This fire was just lit.”

'You may use my father's study if you prefer.'

“Thank you, but we can take care of the fire here,” Paul grinned.

“That’s true,” Dunstan smiled. “I shall leave you together.” He turned and bowed to the bench that was hidden in a niche behind the stairwell. “I bid you good evening, my dear, and hope that I shall see you again soon, so that I may be further impressed by your ‘terrible accent’.”

Paul stepped into the room to peer around the corner, wondering idly whether Flann had come down. But he forgot all about Flann as soon as a different young lady leapt up from the bench and threw her arms around him.



He was too stunned to correct her on the matter of his name. He recognized her voice, though it was no longer the girlish squeak he remembered. However, he never would have guessed that the curvy little body he held belonged to the gawky girl-​​elf he had last seen less than two years ago.

“Who is this lady?” he cried. “Father, I told you, I already have a wife!”

“Stupid!” she laughed.

“Well, let go of me so I can get a look at you, already, stupid!”

She stepped back and returned the same searching, wistful gaze he gave.

She stepped back and returned the same searching, wistful gaze he gave.

She was so beautiful, he thought even a stranger would have cried at the sight of her, but he was stricken to the heart. If her hair had been blonde, he thought he might have died.

“My father, have you seen her?” he asked softly. “She looks just like my mother.”

“I see her every day, stupid,” his father said, gruffly so that he would not cry himself.

Lasrua squeezed the tip of Paul’s chin. “And you look just like a goat.”

He smacked her hand away and said, “I’d rather look like one than smell like one, goat-​​breath.”

'I'd rather look like one than smell like one, goat-breath.'

I have stinky breath?” she protested. “Cheese-​​eater!”

Goat cheese!” he grinned maliciously and blew in her face.

Osh turned to Dunstan and groaned, “Ah, my children!” in English. “They see themselves after two winters only one minute, already they fight about who smells most bad.”

'They see themselves one minute, already they fight about who smells most bad.'

Dunstan laughed. “I have two sisters. I know how it is. Excuse me.” He bowed again to the lady and opened the door.

“Kiss your sisters for me, please,” Osh said. “And your pretty stepmother. And your pretty princess promised wife.”

Dunstan paused in the open doorway. “Anyone else?” he smiled.

Osh shrugged. “All the ladies you know.”

“Your father is as bad as mine,” Dunstan said to Paul.

“I want to meet this Duke!” Osh cried.

'I want to meet this Duke!'

But Paul was too busy gloating over his sister to pay his father’s antics much attention.

“Can you believe how she has changed?” he asked in wonder after Dunstan had gone out. “She’s almost grown.”

“I am grown!” Lasrua sobbed. “Today is my wedding day!”

'Today is my wedding day!'

Her distress had been sudden, but it shocked Paul back to reality just as suddenly. There were few things life could offer that would have brought him as much joy as seeing his sister again, but nonetheless it was not a happy occasion.

“I know it should have been, Lu,” he said, “but I think it’s as well it wasn’t, don’t you? You’re still grown up today. And you can still be happy.”



“She’s more in love with the idea of a husband than with Lor himself,” his father murmured.

“I shall never be a mother!” she sobbed.

'I shall never be a mother!'

“That too,” Osh sighed.

“Is there no one…?” Paul whispered over her shoulder.

“Not for her blood.”

Paul did not think this was the best moment to suggest that she could still find happiness with a husband of a low caste – or even with a man.

“Listen, Lu. You’ve always been stupid, but I don’t remember you being one to feel sorry for yourself. Let’s look ahead and not behind. And what’s with this running around with your hair unbound? No wonder you feel terrible. You look terrible.”

“They’re mourning him,” Osh muttered.

“What?” Paul gasped. “Didn’t Vash tell them what he did? Come on, Lu.” He pushed his sister into the chair before the fire. “Let your brother have a chance at your hair. I’m so out of practice the results are bound to make you laugh.”

'They know, but you know Madra.'

“They know, but you know Madra,” Osh sighed. “She insisted he be mourned, and Sorin can’t see why it’s such a terrible crime to attack a couple of women.”

“Aie!” Lasrua squealed as he tugged her hair too viciously.

“Sorry.” Paul stroked a hand over her silky head. “I told you I was out of practice.”

“How is my little daughter?” Osh asked wistfully.

'She's feeling better than I had dared hope.'

“She’s feeling better than I had dared hope,” Paul sighed. “But I’m afraid it’s because her sister is feeling so poorly. She can’t waste her time feeling sorry for herself if she’s taking care of her sister.”

“How is that poor Flann-​​Girl?”

“You know how a horse looks when he’s startled? She’s looked like that for two days now. And she can’t sleep, and she can’t eat. Can’t keep anything down.”

“Why not?” Lasrua asked. “He didn’t hurt her.”

Paul sent an alarmed glance at his father. He wondered how much his sister even knew.

'Because she killed someone, Rua.'

“Because she killed someone, Rua,” Osh explained. “It is a terrible thing for a lady to do. They are not strong enough. And even if she had not, she was very frightened for herself, and her sister, and her baby.”

At the mention of the baby, Lasrua bowed her head again. Paul decided to press the point by saying, “They’re quite worried about her baby. That was a terrible shock to her.”

“Poor Flann-​​Girl,” Osh murmured. “I should have told young Dunstan to kiss her for me.”

“Wouldn’t have helped. I’ve only seen her twice myself.”

“It was a terrible shock to me, too!” Lasrua blurted. “My husband was killed two days before my wedding!”

'My husband was killed two days before my wedding!'

“Lu!” Paul groaned.

“Madra got to her while I was out with Sorin,” Osh muttered. “Rua, we are sorry for you, but you will see that this was a very lucky thing. That is not the sort of elf a sweet lady like you should marry. You are not strong like your father’s sister.”

“What does Madra have to do with it?” Paul snorted. “She has a puppy, not a husband.”

'She has a puppy, not a husband.'

“No, my son,” his father said mournfully. “The elf Ris is a mad wolf, but Madra pulled out all his teeth.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Paul asked.

“They are all like that in that family.”

'They are all like that in that family.'

“Like what?

“Everyone knew what his father and his father’s father were. Once when – ”

I don’t!” Paul cried.

'I don't!'

Osh raised a hand to quiet him. “They promised your aunt that the elf Ris was different. But once, when Lor was still a baby, the elf Ris came home with blood under his fingernails. I don’t know what Madra did to him – ”

“What are you trying to say?” Paul demanded.

“Did you ever wonder why Ris’s father likes to go alone into the forest at night?”

'Did you ever wonder why Ris's father likes to go alone into the forest at night?'

Paul wrinkled his nose thoughtfully and tucked the end of his sister’s braid beneath the knot he had made with it. All the children were frightened of the elf Dru, and around their fires they would scare one another with stories about his supposed abilities to transform himself into foul creatures and to curse one with a look.

“Because he’s strange,” he muttered after a moment.

'Because he's strange.'

“Because he’s hunting,” Osh said. “But not animals.”

“Women?” Paul cried.

“Elves, I mean. Women too, perhaps. His father was the same way. The elf Ris is the same way, but Madra keeps him on a leash. The elf Lor must have been the same way.”

'The elf Lor must have been the same way.'

Paul laid his hands on his sister’s shoulders for a moment, stunned. And then he was angry.

“And you were about to let this beast marry my sister?” he cried. “You let him walk alone with my sister? And you never told me this! I could have invited him into my house!”

As he told of every terror, he kept thinking of new ones, each more frightening than the last.

'I could have left him alone with my wife!'

“I could have left him alone with my wife! Oh, God!” he sobbed in English. He smacked and smacked his head, but it was too late. The idea was inside. “If you had ever told me, I could have warned her not to let him in!”

When he opened his eyes again he saw his wife in the doorway, looking like a ghost of herself. He had said the last in the elven language, but she looked almost as if she had understood.

She looked almost as if she had understood.