The old elf Elara met Lar outside of her little cottage.

The old elf Elara met Lar outside of her little cottage—politely, but it was clear she was frightened to see him. It was no wonder: the elves knew that time was a wheel and life a series of recurrences, and anything that had never happened before was necessarily troubling.

He had never come before.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled. “The last thing I want to walk away with today is a three-​year-​old.”

'The last thing I want to walk away with today is a three-year-old.'

“Oh, now!” she scoffed, grinning at him in relief. “Who’s worried? I could use a rest.”

“A lot of trouble, is he?”

“Oh, now! A lot of noise, is he. I think it’s ’cause these young men don’t hear so good,” she confided in a whisper.

“Still scream all the time?”

“No, no, only when he don’t get his way.”

'No, no, only when he don't get his way.'

“He must be awfully quiet then.” Lar winked and patted the old elf’s cheek, which blushed beneath his hand.

“Oh, now! You think you know me!” she laughed.

He broke a twig off the bush beside him, and he studied it while asking carelessly, “The elf Dre ever come to see him?”

“Oh, now, let me see. He came in the spring, and before that… maybe it was last summer.”

“What does he do with him? Just look at him?”

'What does he do with him?'

“Oh, now, he just picks him up and looks him over and leaves again. Just wants to see how he’s growing.” She asked gravely, “What’s he going to do with that boy when he’s bigger?”

Lar shrugged. “I don’t know. My guess is he just wants a hostage in case the men capture one of us. Then we could trade.”

Lar did not believe it, but he hoped he had been convincing.

Elara did not seem to believe it either. “Couldn’t he just take a man anytime he wanted?”

'Couldn't he just take a man anytime he wanted?'

“Well,” Lar said, “he’s a great lady’s son. They’re not so easy to come by. And worth a lot more to us.”

“That’s true…”

Before she could find another argument, he asked, “Can I see him?”

“Sure! He’s just around the corner there, playing in the sun. He don’t bite, Lar,” she chuckled as she turned into her house. “I know you always was scared of kids, ever since you stopped being one.”

Lar dropped his twig and stared at the corner in question.

Lar dropped his twig and stared at the corner in question, behind which could be heard frantic cheeping and stifled giggling. He knew old Elara had not meant to hurt him. Nor could he explain.

But if he went away now, she would believe he truly was frightened of children.

The little boy who had been playing with them stood his ground.

His long shadow frightened a small flock of chicks into the bushes, but the little boy who had been playing with them stood his ground.

He looked more disapproving than frightened, but he was cautious enough to say nothing until this stranger spoke.

Lar saw that he would not be able to get away as easily as he had hoped. He had only meant to do as Dre did—to have a look, to see how he was growing. He had not expected the boy would want to talk to him.

Lar had only remembered him at all because the boy was the only baptized creature he could safely scrutinize.

“Hello there. My name is Lar.”

He looked more disapproving than frightened.

“That’s a boy name,” the little boy said.

“That’s just as well, since I’m not a girl! How about you? Boy name or girl name?”

Lar already knew his name, but he had forgotten how to make conversation with three-​year-​olds. Omur was nine, and Llam was not yet two, and Lar tended to avoid any other boys under the age of fifteen or so.

“My name is Seven. It’s a boy name.”

It was Dre who had named the boy. Lar had always supposed that it was his idea of a joke. There were elves named Shé, since the word for “six” was also the word for “insect,” and there were even elves named Dre, since “eight” also meant “spider.” But Anshé only meant “seven.” It seemed almost a cruelty, now that Lar thought about it. One did not name children for numbers. Even pets had names.

“Nice to meet you, Six.”

'Nice to meet you, Six.'


“These your chickies here?” Lar asked, for the chicks had decided that the tall shadow was not cast by some new form of hawk and had come wandering out into the sunlight again.

“They’re not chickies!”

“They’re not?”

“They’re my peep-​peeps.”

'They're my peep-peeps.'


“Did you ever have some peep-​peeps when you was a boy?”

“No… we didn’t have chickens back then. But I had a baby goose that followed me everywhere.”

“What happened to it?”

Lar had not thought of that poor gosling in many years, and he was surprised at how fresh the hurt still felt after all this time. It was like coming upon a grave decades later and finding the earth over it still damp and raw.

“Well, she grew up and got married to a gander.”

'She grew up and got married to a gander.'

He hoped that had sounded convincing. In fact, his family had eaten her on one of the many occasions when they had been forced to flee into the caves. Geese could find nothing to eat in caves, and neither could elves, and the consequence had been logical. Hungry though he was in those days, however, Lar had not eaten.

At thirty it was difficult for him to believe that at seven he had willingly starved himself for the sake of love. By the age of twenty he was already killing for less than food.

By the age of twenty he was already killing for less than food.

The boy said, “My peep-​peeps will grow up and get married to a rooster, maybe.”

“Or turn into roosters.”

The boy eyed him skeptically.

The boy eyed him skeptically.

Lar laughed. “I swear! How many do you have, Five?”


“Hmm… I only see three here…”

“No, my name is Seven!”

“Sorry, Four.”

'Sorry, Four.'


“So, if you have three peep-​peeps, I bet you at least one of them is a boy peep-​peep, and he’ll grow into a rooster.”

“What do you mean, bet?”

“A bet. You know.”

“What’s that?”

'What's that?'

“You’ve been living too long with an old lady,” Lar sighed. “No wonder you never thought your peep-​peeps might be boys. Listen, Three, a bet is when—”


“When you have two elves who don’t agree about something, and in the end the one who’s right gets something from the one who’s wrong. So, let’s say we make a bet about your peep-​peeps. If one of them grows into a rooster, you have to give me something, and if you’re right and they’re all girls, I have to give you something.”

'If they're all girls, I have to give you something.'

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. What do you want, Two?”


“Seven what?”

“Seven is my name!” he growled.

'Seven is my name!'

“Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t tease the poor boy, Lar!” Elara called out from inside the house.

“All right, but can I teach him how to gamble, though?”

“I guess boys is boys!” she groaned.

“Good!” Lar rubbed his hands together delightedly. “So, what do you want more than anything? We’ll see if it’s something I can give you.”

Lar rubbed his hands together delightedly.

“Uhhhh.… can you teach me to swim?”

“Swim?” Lar cried. “You’re telling me you live within spitting distance of a great big lake and you don’t know how to swim?”

“Elara don’t like the water,” Seven sighed.

“Well, she’s an old lady with fire nature. But I have air nature, and what’s more, I like to swim.”

“I think maybe I have water nature,” Seven mumbled, “’cause I want to swim so bad.”

'I think maybe I have water nature.'

Lar did not know what to tell him. There was certainly something watery about his blue eyes, though it might have been nothing more than tears.

But the boy’s sudden mournfulness seemed to draw its source from something far deeper than disappointment in not knowing how to swim. Perhaps it came from not knowing his own nature—from not being an elf. Perhaps, at three, he already knew that he did not belong.

Perhaps, at three, he already knew that he did not belong.

“Hmm! I bet you do, Eleven.”

“You bet?”

“I bet! And that will be a bet to tide us over till your peep-​peeps grow up. We can find that out today.”

'We can find that out today.'


“Easy—I throw you in the lake, and if you float you have water nature, and if you sink you don’t.”

Elara shrieked inside the house. “Lar!”

“I’m teasing!” he laughed. “Can I teach him how to swim or not?”

“Oh, now…” she wailed plaintively.

Lar clapped his hands. “Good! Now I have an excuse to be lazy and play this afternoon.”


“Can we go?” Seven gasped.

“We better hurry before Elara changes her mind.”

“Carry me!”

“Oh… I’m not too good at that. How does that go again? I have to put my hand here…” Lar slipped a hand beneath Seven’s arm and tickled his ribs. “And the other one over here… That it, Six?”

Lar slipped a hand beneath Seven's arm and tickled his ribs.

The boy was not laughing too hard to shriek, “Seven!”

“Sorry, Five.”


“Four? Three? Two? One?”



Lar was laughing as hard as the boy, and he was not even being tickled. He did not know what had happened. He had only meant to look. He had not been searching for an excuse to be lazy and play.

He had not expected that the boy would be no different from Llam and Omur and the other little boys he knew. He was the child of a man, and yet with the hair covering his ears, one could not even have said he was not an elf.

It did not make him seem any different.

Indeed, now that Lar was touching him, he did seem to have something elven about him—something even Llam and Omur did not have. Lar would have called it magic, but it was not a magic he knew. Perhaps it was church magic.

Lar did not know what to make of it. He had been disappointed by Dre’s failure to notice anything different about him, and so revolted by Dre’s seeming attraction to the necklace that he had not worn it again until he had made up his mind to come here this afternoon—as if the child could have told him more about it!

Perhaps the problem was simply that he had not prayed as the church-man had instructed him.

Perhaps the problem was simply that he had not prayed as the church-​man had instructed him. He had been told that prayer was necessary, but the rite of prayer began with the words “Our Father,” and he had sworn they would never cross his lips.

But surely the boy did not pray.

Without thinking, Lar blurted, “Who’s your father?”

He should have known the boy would not answer, “The Lord God,” even if he had been taught to pray.

'I don't know.  You?'

“I don’t know,” Seven grinned, too young to be troubled by the question. “You?”

“Oh, no!” Lar laughed and drew his head back from the boy’s smiling face. “Oh, no! Not me!”

It was not what Lar had intended, but the boy’s eyes grew mournful and watery again.

'What would you want a father for anyway, Six?'

It was not what he had intended at all, but he remembered what it was to be asked, “Who’s your father?” and to be laughed at when he could not offer a satisfactory reply.

“What would you want a father for anyway, Six?” he asked, awkwardly trying to undo the damage he seemed to have done. “They mostly yell a lot and don’t let you do what you like.”

'Uhhh... maybe... to teach me how to swim?'

“Uhhh… maybe… to teach me how to swim?”

“I’ll be taking care of that in just a moment, so you see? You don’t need one at all!”

Lar did not believe it, but he hoped he had been convincing.

Lar did not believe it, but he hoped he had been convincing.