Vash hesitated, trying to read the look on his friend's face.

Vash hesitated, trying to read the look on his friend’s face. The news he brought was not overwhelmingly good, but perhaps it was too late already.

“I’m sorry I took so long,” he said. “I suppose I can’t use the excuse of the rain.”

Paul looked up but said nothing.

Paul looked up but said nothing.

Vash decided he would say what he had to say, and let Paul do with the information what he would. What he could.

“Of course the elf Saralla wouldn’t tell me anything, since you don’t even exist. May I sit?”

“There’s room for two,” Paul muttered.

Vash sat. The wood of the steps was still soaked from the afternoon’s storm. He knew Paul was worried indeed if he could sit in the damp without noticing.

He knew Paul was worried indeed if he could sit in the damp without noticing.

“So,” Vash said lightly, “I tried to ask the elf Midra whether she had heard of such a thing in her time, but she… You know how it is with Midra. There’s always some perfectly innocent word or gesture that sets her off…”

Paul snorted.

“So I asked the elf Druze. And he told me to ask the elf Silea.”

“Silea? The elf Talan’s wife?”

'The elf Talan's wife?'

“That’s what I thought, but she had no idea. And Silea the daughter of Saralla has been dead for years. But then I remembered that Druze’s twin sister was named Silea.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Paul grumbled. “Over a hundred winters have passed us by since she died.”

“And she never had any children at all. So I went back to Druze and asked him whether he meant his sister. And he started sobbing as he always does when he remembers her, but I managed to learn that the Bright Lady helped her carry her baby.”

'I managed to learn that the Bright Lady helped her carry her baby.'

“But she never did have a baby!”

“Druze seems to think she did.”

“What became of it?”

“Druze was already dead by that time. But the Bright Lady would know.”

“If he’s not raving,” Paul muttered.

'If he's not raving.'

“He must have meant that the father had water nature just as the elf Silea did. It must be possible. I shall ask Nimea next moon.”

But the moon had been full only two nights before. It would be many days before he could go again. It would surely be too late. And Paul surely knew all this.

Vash threw his arm around his friend’s neck and hugged his blond head. “How is she? How are they?”

Paul squirmed away from his arm and let out an agitated sigh. “Fine. Perfectly fine.”



“Something happened… she did something. My father was watching over them all afternoon, and after dinner something happened. He was lying on the floor playing with her toes, and he could feel the fire in her. And the baby. And then a little while later, she put her feet on his chest, and all the fire was gone. And the baby was still there.”


Paul scratched the back of his head viciously. “The fire is still there, but it’s sealed away somehow. If it were water, I would say it’s locked up in ice. But it’s not water – it’s fire. It is fire with ice nature.”

'It is fire with ice nature.'

“That is… difficult to imagine.”

“You may see her and tell me what you think.”

“Does she know?”

“Flann doesn’t think I should say anything to her yet, but I’m afraid she knows something. After Egelric left, she went up to lie down for a while before supper, which she never does.”

“Egelric was here?” Vash yelped.

'Egelric was here?'

Paul rolled his eyes and fell heavily against him. “Yes, Beetlehead, Egelric was here. I’m as worried as I’ve ever been, and I have to stand up to Egelric and try to defend you and your beetlehead nature.”

“Was it about Iylaina?”

“Of course it was about Iylaina!”

“Is she unwell?” Vash asked anxiously.

He knew that Iylaine had briefly believed him dead, but she had learned the truth the following morning. By now, she knew what it was to be free of him. Nimea had sworn that she would not be harmed.

'Tell me something.'

Paul snorted. “Tell me something: why did you not want the Bright Lady to teach you how to do what she did?”

Vash stared down into his palm. It was as smooth as it had ever been, for he had asked Shosudin to heal over the new wound. It was not a scar he wished to keep.

It was not a scar he wished to keep.

Paul poked him sharply with his elbow. “Why not?”

“You speak like an elf who already knows,” Vash mumbled.

“My father told me what you told him. Tell me anyway. If you had learned, you could have done the same to Iylaina and unbound yourself from her as she is unbound from you. Why didn’t you?”

'Why didn't you?'

“I told your father,” Vash sighed. “I don’t want to lose that, Paul. It’s who I am. I don’t want to be another elf, even an elf who is free from that sadness. And that longing,” he added softly.

“That’s what my father told me,” Paul grumbled, unimpressed. “Now, what would you do if someone – the Bright Lady, or your father, or someone – made the decision for you, and unbound you from Iylaina? Without telling you?”

Vash looked up at him in alarm. “Who?”


“Nobody yet, Vash,” Paul groaned. “Simply tell me: what would you do? How would you feel?”

“Furious,” Vash hissed. “And if it were my father, or someone I loved, or you, I would feel betrayed, too. And I would never forgive you. So don’t get any ideas.”

Paul rubbed his goatish beard thoughtfully. “Furious and betrayed, you say?”

“And hurt and unhappy.”

“That is very nearly what Egelric said to me.”

'That is very nearly what Egelric said to me.'

Vash frowned. “That’s not any affair of his, is it? If he – ”

Then he understood.

Paul passed his arm around his sobbing shoulders and hugged him. “You beetlehead,” he sighed. “I never think before I act, and you think too much before you do, and yet in the end we both act like fools.”

'In the end we both act like fools.'