'Did you know some elves went to live with Cat and Girl-Flann?'

“Did you know some elves went to live with Cat and Girl-​​Flann?”

Iylaine’s voice was high and breezy, as if she had only asked him whether he had noticed a family of sparrows had built a nest in the pine beyond the kitchen window.

Malcolm did not lift his head from his letter, though she must have heard his pen stop its scratching.


“Well, nobody saw fit to tell me,” she sniffed. “Even though I heard they were there since before Lady Day.”

“Somebody must have told you, Baby,” Malcolm muttered.

'Somebody must have told you, Baby.'

I had to hear it from Lazy Beth, when she brought up the wool.”

Malcolm sat up in his chair. “Gossiping with the peasants, are we now, my fine Baby?”

“I have to talk to some–body. My father was here, and he never told me. And Gunnie and Ethelmund and Gyth were here, and they never told me. And Lady Gwynn. And – ”

'I see.'

“I see,” he said, interrupting her litany.

Malcolm meticulously threaded his quill between the fingers of his left hand, precisely over and under the last set of knuckles. Something was queer about this sudden statement of hers, and after a moment he saw what it was.

“Didn’t Lazy Beth bring the wool last week?” he asked.

“Aye. I was simply waiting to see whether anyone who supposedly loved me would ever tell me. And no one did. You never told me.”

“I didn’t think the affairs of that family were any particular business of ours.”

'Cat and Girl-Flann are your father's own cousins.'

“Cat and Girl-​​Flann are your father’s own cousins.”

“Aye, and I wish them well.”

He slid the quill up to the next knuckles and waited for what would surely come next.

“And Paul is my cousin,” she said. “So that means so are his father and sister.”


“You would think they could at least once call on me,” she pouted.

'Perhaps they think they're not welcome here.'

“Perhaps they think they’re not welcome here,” he said low.

“Well, are they?”

“Baby,” he sighed, “must we discuss this now? I’m trying to write a letter to my brother.”

“Oh, well, he’s more important than anything,” she grumbled.

At last the hollow shaft of the feather buckled and bent over his finger, spoiling his quill. Malcolm tossed it down in disgust.

Malcolm tossed it down in disgust.

The difficulty in writing to his brother was precisely in that he was not more important than a certain number of things, and Colban resented it. He had not been pleased by Malcolm’s decision to remain in Lothere, for he had always imagined them inseparable as adults, as their father and their cousin Malcolm often were. But he had not been able to forgive Malcolm’s announcement that he could not, as far as he knew, ever leave the valley again so long as the elf Vash lived.

Malcolm had not been able to attend his twin brother’s wedding. He would not be able to attend his first niece or nephew’s christening in the coming summer. He would not meet any of his youngest siblings until, perhaps, they were grown enough to make the journey themselves. And, most unforgivably, he would likely never see his mother again on this earth.

He would likely never see his mother again on this earth.

Iylaine might not have realized it, but she had chosen a very poor moment to feel sorry for herself because a few elves she had never met had not yet bothered or not yet dared to call on her.

“Have you seen her?” she asked when he did not begin writing again.


“I’ve heard she is very beautiful,” she sniffed. “They say she is invited to Nothelm and to the castle and everywhere she likes to go. They say the Prince is mad about her.”

“What nonsense!” he snapped.

'What nonsense!'


“The Prince has never been ‘mad’ about a girl in his life. With his father away, he’s too busy to be chasing after any girl. I don’t think she’s been to the castle above two times.”

“Well, perhaps His Highness spends a lot of time at Nothelm then, because they say she’s a regular fixture there. They say Dunstan spends more time with elves than with people these days. Yesterday they say – ”

'Yesterday they say--'

“Is that what this is about?” Malcolm shouted.

He slammed his palm down upon the bruised quill, pushed back his chair, and stalked around the half-​​wall into Iylaine’s fireside nook. Duncan, who rarely saw his father shout, had dropped his block and stared up at him.

“What?” Iylaine asked, startled herself.

“You were gossiping with someone this morning and heard that Vash was at Nothelm yesterday with his henchmen! That’s why you bring it up now!”

'That's why you bring it up now!'

“What?” she cried.

“I should have known you would have kept playing this ‘will he tell me?’ game for weeks, all the better to wallow in your self-​​pity when I finally mentioned it. I should have known you wouldn’t have brought it up on your own unless something was rankling you like a thorn!”

“What?” she shrieked, aghast.

That’s what you can’t bear!” Malcolm smacked the back of his hand into his palm. “Everyone and the devil’s aunt gets to see Vash except for poor – little – you!”

'Everyone and the devil's aunt gets to see Vash except for poor--little--you!'

“How dare you?”

“What’s rankling you, Iylaine? Is it because you think he doesn’t care to see you? Or is it because your damned husband is standing in your way? And I can’t even go away for a few weeks and leave you two alone, because if I did he would die!” Malcolm tried to laugh ironically, but it came out as more of a choking sound.

Duncan began to wail.

Duncan began to wail.

“How dare you? How dare you? How dare you?” she panted, pink with fury. “This baby doesn’t even know what you’re saying, and you make him cry! Are you proud of yourself now? I wasn’t even going to say anything about Vash, so there! I wasn’t even thinking about Vash! So there!”

'So there!'

Malcolm’s arms dropped, and he bent over, trying to catch his breath. He did not know what had just happened to him. It left him feeling as if he had just suffered a long fit of coughing, but what had gone before?

He was the one who had a thorn tearing and gnawing at his heart. He was the one who had brought up the subject of Vash on his own. Perhaps she had truly never meant to mention him at all. Perhaps she was simply hurt that her own cousins did not visit her.

Was it possible that he, of all men, was jealous?

Was it possible that he, of all men, was jealous? That he, of all men, could be so jealous as to lose his self-​​control?

In front of his wife? His six-​​months-​​pregnant wife? Pregnant with his own child? Surely?

Pregnant with his own child?  Surely?