He was dragging her head back and forth across the wall as he shouted at her.

Lar heard Dre howling at Hel long before he reached her cell. He found him clutching a fistful of Hel’s dull red hair, dragging her head back and forth across the wall as he shouted at her.

“What’s going on in here?” Lar roared over Dre’s shouts and Hel’s squeals.

'What's going on in here?'

Dre spun on his heel and turned to Lar, already smiling a calm, cold smile. “Lar! I beg your pardon! Did we wake you?”

“What are you doing down here?”

“Merely scolding your friend Hel for a few lies she told you.”

'Merely scolding your friend Hel for a few lies she told you.'

Lar felt a chill prickling on the back of his neck. He had not told anyone about that conversation. Only Hel herself could have told Dre what she had said, and Dre had not been near her since.

“How did you find out about that?” Lar asked, trying to match the coolness and calm of his regard to Dre’s.

Dre clucked at him. “If what she told you was true, I am capable of ‘finding out about that’ on my own. Think about that.”

Lar hesitated.

“However, it is very kind of you to remind me that I did have a reason for coming here tonight.”


Lar permitted himself to inhale a deep breath of relief. If Dre had come for some other reason, he might have simply extracted the secret from Hel by banging her head against the wall.

“What?” Lar barked, snappish because he could already hear Imin’s boots tapping down the long corridor.

“Ah!” Dre clapped his hands in delight. “I believe our amusing little friend Imin is arriving in a great hurry. He seems to be afraid that I shall have thrown you… across the room… and he will not have been here to… defend you?” he chuckled. “Isn’t it?”

'Isn't it?'

Lar’s heart began pounding again as in a nightmare.

Imin came skidding to a stop just inside the door.

“Greetings, Imin!” Dre called cheerily. “You’re just in time.”

'For what?'

“For what?” Imin growled.

“To say goodbye to Hel.”

Hel squealed in terror.

Hel squealed in terror.

Dre shook his head and sighed. “I haven’t even told you where you are going yet, my dear. I merely intend to let you out of here.”

“What?” Lar cried. “You can’t do that!”

“Can I not?”

'Can I not?'

“She’s a killer! I won’t allow her to kill any more elves!”

“Well, if you believe you can contrive to stop her…” Dre shrugged. “But you needn’t worry, my friend. She won’t be killing ‘any more elves’. She will be killing one elf in particular, for if she does not, I shall give her yet another reason to wish she could die.”

Hel moaned.

Lar barked, “Who?”

“Not you, Lar!” Dre laughed.

'Not you, Lar!'

Lar hesitated. He had not even thought of himself. Did Dre know it? Did Dre wish to terrify him further by pretending not to know and making him wonder?

“This elf is no concern of yours, my dear Lar. I am certain none of your friends would do anything to provoke my anger.” He winked.

Imin muttered, “They might if you did something to provoke theirs.”

'Thank you, Imin.'

“Thank you, Imin. I shall remember the warning, and take care.”

“Who?” Lar asked again.

“Only the elf Dru, son of Sov,” Dre sniffed and studied the back of his hand. “And, truly, is it such a crime to kill a killer? And…” He paused and pressed his fingers to his temple. “Ah! But… Ah, but, Lar! How dreadful of me! Is this elf a concern of yours after all?”

'Is this elf a concern of yours after all?'

Lar’s heart was pounding. Surely he was in a nightmare. Dre knew his thoughts. Dre knew things he had scarcely told anyone in all his life.

Worse, Imin was one of the few who knew, and Imin would only think that Lar had told Dre, as if Dre were one of his own dear friends.

“That is a private matter,” Lar growled.

“Yes, I see,” Dre murmured. “Hmm… I see. But have you not wished him dead all these years?”

Lar gasped, but he tried to make it seem he had only taken a deep breath before shouting, “What is your quarrel with him?”

'What is your quarrel with him?'

“You will laugh,” Dre chuckled, “but for the first time in his life, the elf Dru has acted to prevent the death of a pretty young girl. And it so happens I wanted the girl to die.”

“What girl?”

“Ah! Now that is a private matter. You must forgive me, Lar, but your slow vengeance is not to my taste. I want him dead on the night of the next new moon. And if he is not…”

'And if is not...'

He turned to Hel, who cringed miserably away from him as her victims had surely always cringed away from her.

“I can’t allow you to let her out of here,” Lar said.

“You can’t allow me to let her out of here, or you can’t allow me to kill your father? Which is it, Lar?”

'You can't allow me to kill your father?'

“To let her out,” Lar said immediately, unflinching.


Dre laid his hand over his heart and took a step closer to Lar.

“For I understand,” he murmured. “I know how it feels to be hated by one’s own father. Nay, not hated – how it feels to be despised by one’s own father as unworthy even of the great passion of hate.”

'I know how it feels to be hated by one's own father.'

“My quarrel with him has nothing to do with what he thinks of me,” Lar growled.

“No? Hmm…” Dre stepped still closer, tapping his temple with his fingertips. “Your mother, is it?”

Lar’s gasp hissed through his teeth.

Dre chose just that moment to lift his hand and run a finger along Lar's collarbone.

Fortunately Dre chose just that moment to lift his hand and run a finger along Lar’s collarbone, providing an excuse for it.

“Don’t touch me!”

He had always pretended to ignore Dre’s caresses in the hope that Dre would give them up as being entirely ineffectual. Now he realized that Dre had always known just how disturbing they were.

Dre in his turn ignored the protest.

Dre in his turn ignored the protest.

“As long as I am making these intimate confessions to you, my friends, I suppose I may tell you that my mother never loved me at all. Who can say whose pain is greater? Ah, but wait! Perhaps I can.” Dre rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. “I believe yours is greater, Lar.”

Though Dre had scarcely touched him, though he was still clothed, Lar felt naked and violated as he had only once in all his life.

This was worse than any obscene caress.

Or never, perhaps. This was worse than any obscene caress. This was worse than rape. Dre was rifling casually through Lar’s own stacks and sheaves of pain.

“It is odd that you cannot forgive him,” Dre whispered. Hel might not have heard, but Imin could. “You know what it is to have a son whom you despise, not only for what he is but for how he came to be. You know what it is to kill… perhaps not the mother of your son, but the only mother he had ever known.”

Dre laid a hesitant hand on Lar’s arm, and when that was not swatted away, he slid the other around Lar’s waist. Lar was long past caring what Dre might do with his body.

He slid the other around Lar's waist.

“And yet like you he hesitated when it came to killing his own despised and worthless offspring. You two are so much alike. But perhaps that is what you cannot forgive him?”

Lar did not answer. He did not see the purpose of speech in any case, if this dae-​​mon could hear his thoughts.

Lar did not answer.

“I admit I had no idea how you felt about this elf,” Dre murmured. “If I had, I would have come to you and not to the woman Hel. Clearly you should be the one to slay him. It is only just. After all – surely you must have a few questions you wish to ask him before he dies?”

'Surely you must have a few questions you wish to ask him before he dies?'

Lar lifted his head, wondering.

“Haven’t you always wondered what he’s truly like? And haven’t you always wondered what he would do at the sight of you, who so resemble him? Surely you must wish to meet him face-​​to-​​face once in your life? If only to tell him what you think of him before you kill him?”

Lar lifted a hand to slow Dre in his speech. He needed time to think over what Dre had said already. Did he wish to meet his father face-​​to-​​face once in his life?

Did he wish to meet his father face-to-face once in his life?

But he already had. He already had met his father, and he had asked his questions, and he had had his reply – the only sort of reply a monster such as his father could give, then or now.

But he had never told anyone what had happened that day – not his sister, not Dartesas, not even his wife. That day did not exist except in his mind. And yet it seemed Dre had not seen it.

“No.” Lar stepped away, shedding Dre’s silken embrace. “I have nothing to say to that elf. I have no desire to see him. You can send the woman Hel for him if you promise she will kill no others. I don’t even care whether he lives or dies.”

'I don't even care whether he lives or dies.'