'I know, baby.'

“I know, baby,” Leofric pleaded, “but you simply can’t run off like that alone. Not all men are as nice as Wyn. What if one of them tried to hurt you instead of bringing you home?”

“Then I would simply kick him hard and run away as fast as I can, as I always do.”

'Then I would simply kick him hard and run away as fast as I can, as I always do.'

“But what if you meet a man who’s strong enough to hold you or fast enough to catch you?”

Kraaia shrugged. “I never have yet.”

Leofric sighed and turned to Egelric. “That’s what passes for logic among women,” he grumbled. “Listen, baby: my brother went into battle many times, and he never got killed. Until the last time.”

'Until the last time.'

“Then I shall simply stay home the last time,” Kraaia smirked. “Besides… you got killed, and you’re still here.”

“I know, but… Wait! What is that supposed to prove?” Leofric cried.

Egelric began to chuckle. This was not women’s logic – this was Kraaia’s logic. It had often enough bludgeoned him into a stupor that it was a pleasure to see it turned against another man’s head for a change.

“It proves… that…”

'It proves... that...'

Kraaia’s voice trailed off, but Egelric did not suppose it was because she was at a loss for words. She was clearly distracted by the sounds of commotion in the entry, as they all were.

“What the devil?” Egelric asked.

Leofric’s left hand came up reflexively to make sure of his sword. “That sounds like trouble.”

“Trouble?” Kraaia squealed, quite as if she had been saying, “Presents?”

She was through the door before either of the men could stop her, much as she had promised.

She was through the door before either of the men could stop her.

There was more than a commotion in the entry. Egelric could not make sense of the situation, between the laughing and squealing of his boys, the panicked pleading of his steward, and shouting of his guard.

He did not understand until Kraaia howled, “Mad dog!” and whirled about to run back into the study. She only succeeded in ramming her blond head into Egelric’s stomach as she attempted to charge.

She only succeeded in ramming her blond head into Egelric's stomach as she attempted to charge.

Egelric was therefore speechless for that first moment, and it was Leofric who drew his sword amidst the crowd and shouted, “Get back, you idiots!”

“No!” Wulf placed himself squarely between the sword and the dog. “He is not mad. He is a very nice dog!”

'He is a very nice dog!'

The dog, however, seemed intent on proving his madness, for he immediately lifted his head and howled.

Egelric shoved Kraaia aside and pushed past Leofric, only furious and not yet afraid.

“Who let this damn dog into my house?” he roared.

'Who let this damn dog into my house?'

The guilty look on Wulf’s face as he pulled the boy to safety answered his question better than Ethelwyn’s frantic babbling.

The dog – a big-​​boned, grizzled mastiff – lost his last remaining signs of sanity at the sound of Egelric’s voice. His forequarters bowed down in an invitation to play, his hindquarters attempted to leap into the air, his tail wagged in circles, and his head lolled from side to side in a slack-​​lipped, dangle-​​tongued, cross-​​eyed fit.

His head lolled from side to side.

Egelric’s fear finally caught up with his fury. He would have to kill this dog without being bitten, and it was clearly a dog bred to bite and not let go.

Then the dog attempted to bark excitedly and howl at the same time, producing a sound that spanned five years: “Woo-​​woo-​​woo-​​wooooo!”

“Belsar?” Egelric cried.

The dog managed a proper bark and rolled over onto his back, squirming in ecstasy even before Egelric could touch him.

“Belsar! You old devil! Idiot dog!”

'Belsar!  You old devil!'

“Belsar!” Wulf gasped.

“Belsar!” Gils echoed, and both the boys began to dance.

A red-​​faced Ethelwyn began straightening the books and quills on his table as if nothing had happened, was happening, or ever would happen.

Leofric put away his sword. “Son of a serpent,” he said dazedly.

'Son of a serpent.'

“You know this wild animal?” Kraaia huffed, as if it was an insult to his dignity or hers.

Egelric did not answer, for he was too busy delivering the full range of slaps and smacks, ear-​​pulls, head-​​wrestles, and every other form of abuse that dogs loved. He hadn’t been present when the elf Paul had regained his sight, but he thought he could say he had seen a miracle now.

“Can we keep him?” Gils asked.

'Can we keep him?'

“Keep him?” Egelric cried. “The devil! This is my dog!”

“This is our dog,” Wulf corrected. “You still had him when we were babies.”

“Where have you been, you old devil?” Egelric growled. “You have more gray in your beard than I do, you dumb animal! Take that!”

'Where have you been, you old devil?'

It was inexplicable. A dog of this size and this strength could hardly be held against his will for five years. The only person who had ever come near Egelric in Belsar’s affections was Vash, and Vash certainly hadn’t taken him.

However, the dog had disappeared in circumstances that Vash had never explained to Egelric’s satisfaction. Egelric had always believed he had been killed that night. If he had not, there was no telling where he had been or what he done or seen – that night, or in the years since.

There was no telling where he had been or what he done or seen.

And there had been another tragic night, far more distant, but fresher in Egelric’s mind these past weeks. Now, face-​​to-​​slobbering-​​face with a creature returning to him from the Unknown, he could not help but wonder.

“Belsar,” he whispered. “Have you seen my boy?”

'Have you seen my boy?'