Egelric had opened the door and slammed it behind him.

Egelric had opened the door and slammed it behind him before Alred even looked up from his letter. He was not accustomed to unannounced interruptions, but the look on Egelric’s face showed just how little chance the guards had of stopping him.

“What’s this about?” Egelric howled.

'What's this about?'

Alred could guess what he meant. “Egelric…”

“They told me I couldn’t see my son, and they told me to talk to you about it!”



“Was this your idea or theirs?”


“The devil take you! I know my own name!”

“Calm yourself, I mean,” Alred said soothingly.

“For two days he’s been home, and for two minutes I’ve seen him! I never should have let you take me away from there that day!”

'For two days he's been home, and for two minutes I've seen him!'

Alred slipped past him and waved at the couch. “Have a seat.”

“A seat! I just ‘had a seat’ on my horse for an hour! Coming here to see my son!”

Alred sighed.

“They’ve kept him away from me for fourteen years, and they’re keeping him away from me still! And what are they telling him about me? And what lies are they putting into his poor head now? My son!” he sobbed.


“Egelric…” Alred tried to lay a hand on his friend’s arm, but Egelric shoved him away.

“And you’re with them, behind it!”

“I am not with them because they are not against you, Egelric. No one is filling his head with lies. He needs some time…”

Egelric roughly pushed back the hair that had fallen over his face. For an instant his skin was pulled tight over his cheekbones, and his eyes glared out of his head like angry flames in the hollows of a skull. Alred reflexively glanced over at his sword.

“And I need to see him!” Egelric panted. “To see him! To touch him! I can’t believe he’s real!”

'And I need to see him!'

“He’s real, Egelric. He’s home. You shall see him soon.”


“When he is ready.”

“When will that be? With those elves there talking to him?”

“He will want to see you soon, I assure you,” Alred said, trying to calm him with the calm of his own voice. “For fourteen years he has been told you didn’t want him. It will take at least a few days for him to believe the contrary.”

'It will take at least a few days for him to believe the contrary.'

“I want him! I want him! Are they telling him that?”

“I am.”

Egelric took a breath so deep that Alred knew to cringe away before he spoke. “You’re seeing him?” he roared.

'You're seeing him?'

“I’ve seen him,” Alred said softly. “He’s a fine boy. But listen… listen…” he soothed when he sensed Egelric was preparing to roar again. “I want you to think about something.”

Egelric deliberately turned his back on him, but he settled into a sullen silence.

He settled into a sullen silence.

“Listen, old man,” Alred said gently. “I’ve seen him and talked to him. But he never asks me about you.”

Egelric’s shoulders shifted as if he was taking another deep breath, or perhaps preparing to turn about and punch his lord in the face.

“Listen, listen!” Alred cautioned. “He never asks me or Cat or Flann about you, but when he’s alone with the Old Man, then he asks.”

Egelric shoulders sagged. “The Old Man has seen him?”

“Think about it, Egelric. He won’t ask an adult about you, but he’ll ask a nine-​year-​old boy. He wants to know about you, but he’s scared.”

'He wants to know, but he's scared.'

“Scared of me?” Egelric whimpered.

“No!” Alred sighed. “Scared of too much, too fast. You’ve loved him like a son for fourteen years, but he didn’t know you existed until a few days ago. It will take him some time to come to terms with that. And, I must say, Egelric: if you come along as worked up as you were a minute ago, you would scare anyone—especially a frightened fourteen-​year-​old who doesn’t know what’s true or whom to believe any more.”

Egelric finally turned back to him. “How else can I be?” he asked miserably. “I’ve been quiet and good and patient for two days. I can’t bear it. I can’t do anything—I can’t think of anything else.”

'I can't bear it.'

“For his sake, I hope you can for a little while longer.”

Egelric shook his head slowly, and his hair slid down to cover half his face again. His voice rang hollow, having already been filled with and drained of tears many times.

“You don’t know what you’re asking me,” he croaked. “You can’t imagine what it is to lose a son and find him again, only to have him turn away from you when you do.”

“I don’t—” Alred began soothingly, automatically, but his entire body seized up at the words. He knew he had only seconds in which to turn away.

He grabbed the mantel with both hands and gritted his teeth. It was a matter of breathing: if he could control his breath, if he could prevent a sob, it would pass.

If he could control his breath, if he could prevent a sob, it would pass.

With every breath he told himself, “It’s not the same, it can’t compare, it’s not the same…”

“My lord?” Egelric asked softly.

Alred took a deep breath, interrupting his rhythm, and said, “Yware.” He scarcely recognized his voice, but after a few short gasps, he was breathing steadily again.

Egelric was silent. Alred knew he was not the sort of man to ask questions, and he was grateful; Egelric would understand the important things and would not trouble himself with details.

Egelric was silent.

“I didn’t know,” Egelric said after a while.

“I can hardly speak of such things with you, old man, after all you’ve endured.” Alred laughed a brittle laugh and turned away from the fireplace. “It’s not the same,” he said, almost chanting, waving his hand to keep time. “It can’t compare.”

'It's not the same.'

“You may always speak of such things with me,” Egelric said gravely.

He was as immobile as a mountain, as he always seemed when not erupting in a fit of temper. He was strong in silence and strong in anger, and Alred envied him.

He was as immobile as a mountain.

His fluttering hand came to rest on his friend’s shoulder like a butterfly, gracefully and gratefully.

For a moment they stared at one another. By the shadows of the candles, Alred saw again the skull beneath the skin, and imagined he could see through to the fires burning within. Egelric seemed a molten man beneath his granite majesty.

He did not know what Egelric saw in him, but he knew they both were wondering who would break down first.

Egelric did.

Egelric did.