Father Aelfden looked up at the blank wall.

Father Aelfden looked up at the blank wall and said a brief prayer of thanks—not thanks that he was home, but that he had been granted the strength to make it all the way to the abbey. His body felt oddly hollow, little more than skin stretched over a frame, and his vision was blurred around the edges.

His vision was blurred around the edges.

“You’re barely alive,” he muttered to himself as he dragged his feet up the steps into the cloister. “You must eat something before Holyrood Day. You’re of no use to anyone if you’re—”

For an instant he imagined he was about to die, such was the look of disgust on the elf’s face.

For an instant he imagined he was about to die.

“Dead,” he concluded.

“You lied to me,” the elf said coldly.

“I do not know how,” Aelfden said. “Moreover, you lied to me. You promised you would return so that I could teach you more about being a Christian. I have not seen you in months. I daresay you have forgotten what I did teach you. Have you been praying as I taught you?”

'Have you been praying as I taught you?'

At his age, Aelfden had already seen every possible reaction to being scolded for neglecting one’s Christian duty. The elf’s soundless snarl did not perturb him, even in his weakened, half-​delirious state.

“However,” he said, “if you think I lied to you about something, I suppose you may be forgiven for having disbelieved the rest of what I told you. Come sit down with me, and you shall tell me how I have misspoken.”

'Come sit down with me, and you shall tell me how I have mispoken.'

“I do not want to sit down!” the elf growled.

“Perhaps not, my young friend, but I do.”

Aelfden left him standing by the stairs and went to sit on the nearest bench, beneath the torches. He did not wait long before the elf stalked up from behind him, nor did he turn his head to see him come. He feared that if he turned his head too suddenly, it would simply keep spinning and drift away like a top.

Fortunately the elf did not strike him from behind, but only sat.

Fortunately the elf did not strike him from behind, but only sat.

“Tell me how you believe I have misled you.”

“This!” The elf yanked at the cord around his neck, lifting the medallion away from his chest to swing free and glitter in the torchlight. “You said this is protect against demons.”

Aelfden closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply. He was in no condition to do battle with demons, even by proxy. He needed to eat.

“He likes it,” the elf snarled. “He says it is—is pretty. It makes me pretty. Like lady pretty! He likes it!” It was almost a sob. He dropped the medallion and clutched his head between his hands.

“I know how you feel,” Aelfden said slowly. He did know—even down to the sobs, the gestures.

'I know how you feel.'


“I do. They are powerful enemies, Lawrence. And I believe this one is mighty. You must not expect him to die merely at the sight of this medallion. It is only intended to make you a little stronger against him.

“It gives me no more magic.”

“I know nothing about magic. Listen: have you considered the possibility that he pretends to like it so you will think it is useless and take it off?”

'He... pretends to like?'

“He… pretends to like?” the elf murmured. “But, no! He thinks I wear it to please him, because it is—pretty!”

“You don’t know what he thinks. Only what he says. They are very clever, Lawrence. Very cunning. Do not believe what he says. Believe me. Wear that. And pray for help. Pray as I taught you.”

Lawrence took a deep breath and sighed dramatically.

Lawrence took a deep breath and sighed dramatically.

“There is no shame in asking for help. You have a problem greater than any man or elf.”

“Yes,” Lawrence said with sudden resolve. “I ask for help. Teach me now how to baptize.”

“How to baptize?” Aelfden gasped.

“The demon wants a Scot-​man which is not baptized.”

“What?” Aelfden gasped.


“It is my task. Man Aengus, Cat-​woman, and others. Not baptized.”

“What about Aengus?”

“Baby of Scot-​man Aengus. This is why we took it. But my friend… my friend…”

'But my friend... my friend...'

“Your friend brought him here,” Aelfden supplied. “And I… I baptized him…”

Aelfden found he was not quite hollow, for there was a heart throbbing painfully at his core. He had just remembered Brother Myrddin’s strange interest in the child that night.

“Now you teach me,” Lawrence said, interrupting Aelfden’s rising panic. “If I find a Scot-​man or Scot-​child or Scot-​baby, which is not baptized, I baptize him. Before demon Dre comes.”

'Before the demon Dre comes.'

“What does he want with them?”

“I don’t know. He does not tell.”

Aelfden began a mental inventory of all the Scots and children of Scots in the valley. They were all baptized, so far as he knew—all but one!

“Lord help me…” he whispered.

'Lord help me...'

“How do I do?” Lawrence asked.

Aelfden sighed. “I shall see to it that they all are. It is better to be baptized by a priest, with members of the church present, and so forth.”

“I cannot do?”

'I cannot do?'

“You can…” Aelfden sighed again. “I shall teach you, of course. We can’t risk souls. But you must not amuse yourself with baptism except in dire emergency, my friend. You should bring your people to me, or bring me to them. It is only the first step in being a Christian. And one should not ordinarily take it without learning about it first.”

“Teach me now.”



Aelfden wiped his sweaty hands on his lap, reminding himself just how scrawny his legs were getting beneath his robe. He would have to eat. He would have to sleep. But he had much to do before he would have the chance.

“There are two essential things: the water, and the words…”

'There are two essential things: the water, and the words...'