Paul spoke softly so as not to wake the elves who still slept.

Paul came in almost before Osh had asked him to enter. He spoke softly so as not to wake the elves who still slept.

“I want to ride up to the castle in a hurry. I should be back by the time the ladies have had their breakfast. You’ll tell Cat, won’t you?”

'You'll tell Cat, won't you?'

“Of course.”

“You’ll stay here, won’t you?”

“Of course, Paul.”

Paul stopped a little distance behind him, hesitant before his stubborn back.

Paul stopped a little distance behind him.

“Oh!” Paul softly laughed his bleating laugh. “Sorry. Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Osh sighed.

“Ah… What did I do?”

Osh recognized the sheepish smile merely by the sound of Paul’s voice.

Osh had always been a slave to that smile. Little flaxen-​​headed Paul had always sought pardon for his misdeeds with his overwhelming cuteness. Osh would have to say “Go ask your mother what you did” if he wanted the boy to get the punishment he deserved. He was a coward when it came to hurting his children.

Now he could almost believe he would see the gaps of missing teeth if he turned. It almost made him turn.

He was a coward when it came to hurting his children.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Turn around and look at me then. You look angry about something.”

“I am not angry.”

“What, then? Sad?”

He could not hide in his room and turn his back to his children all day. Even if he could, if Paul began asking him questions about how he felt, he might find himself answering truthfully.

Osh sighed and turned around.

Osh sighed and turned around.

Paul sucked in his breath, horrified. After a brief, stinging silence, he turned and ran for the door.

Osh stared after him in despair, but Paul only closed the door and crossed the room again.

“What have you done?” he hissed.

'What have you done?'

“I shaved.”

“I see that! But what, what, what were you thinking?”

Osh touched a fingertip to his upper lip, as he had been doing all morning. He had forgotten the shallow groove that ran from his nose to his mouth. He had forgotten his chin. Twenty-​​two winters had passed him by since he had last seen his entire face.

Twenty-two winters had passed him by since he had last seen his entire face.

“I was thinking it was time to shave.”

“Time to shave? Time to shave? What is that supposed to mean?”

“I… hope you never learn, my son.”

Osh bit his upper lip in an attempt to hold back his rising tears, but he found no mustache there, and then nothing could have stopped them. He put out a hand to Paul, but Paul swatted it away.

“How dare you? I’m telling Rua!”

'How dare you?  I'm telling Rua!'

“Let me talk to her,” Osh pleaded, but Paul was already gone.

In the time it took for Paul to rouse his sister, Osh had dried his eyes and reassembled his fractured courage. Still, he knew that if it had not withstood his son’s outrage, it would never hold against their combined anger.

It would never hold against their combined anger.

Paul did not even have the generosity to warn Lasrua of what to expect. She stumbled in behind him, sleepy and confused, looking for an instant like the little tangle-​​headed girl who would wake sometimes before dawn and shuffle into her parents’ room, begging, “May I sleep in your bed for a while?” Oh, she had known to which side of the bed she had best address her appeal!

“What have you done?” she sobbed, loud enough to wake not only elves but even perhaps Flann and Liadan in the next room.

'What have you done?'

“How could you?” Paul demanded. “Have you forgotten our mother?”

“No,” Osh whispered.

“Have you forgotten that night?”



“They told us it would be harder on you. But no! I see it was not!”

“It’s that Flann, isn’t it?” Lasrua growled. “That bitch!”

“Rua!” Osh barked.

“It is! Look at him defending her!”

'It is!  Look at him defending her!'

“No!” Paul snarled. “He shall not! You may take her to your bed if you like, but you shall not put her in my mother’s place!”

Osh reached a hesitant hand towards his son again. “Your wife’s sister, Paul…” he murmured.

“What about your wife?” Paul challenged.

“Six winters have passed us by since your mother died…”

“She died! Died! Murdered! And you want to pretend she never existed!”


“Bitch!” Lasrua hissed. “She killed my husband – and now she wants to take my father away from me!”



Here was where Osh found the hidden strength that he could not muster for himself. No one would hurt Flann – not even his own children. She had been hurt enough.

“Flann was the victim that day,” he growled. “Not Lor. Not you.”

'Flann was the victim that day.'

Lasrua was briefly silenced.

Paul, however, was not.

“You cannot do this, my father.” His face was wet with tears and his voice was almost a child’s, but his mouth was ugly and bitter. “We are not men merely because we live in a man’s house and eat bread and butter. We are elves.”

'You cannot do this, my father.'

“Are we?” Osh pleaded softly. “You left much of that behind to be with Cat. I left it behind so that I could share in your happiness. Now won’t you let me have mine?”

'Now won't you let me have mine?'

“I never wanted to leave it behind!” Lasrua cried.

Osh lifted a hand in an attempt to silence her. Lasrua was already unhappy and stubbornly disliked Flann. She would be harder to win. But he hoped that Paul could be convinced – Paul who had already violated many of their people’s customs out of love for a woman.

And indeed Paul hesitated.

Lasrua, however, did not.

Lasrua, however, did not.

“I tell you now,” she threatened, “I will not kiss your face again until there is a beard upon it! And if you dare wear a beard for her–never! Never again! You may choose whom you most want to kiss!”

The door slammed behind her almost before Osh saw her run.

Paul did not move, but nor did he look movable.

“You must understand, my son,” Osh pleaded. “You know how it is… to love…”

“That is precisely why I cannot understand,” he said coldly.

'That is precisely why I cannot understand.'

Osh had always known better than Sora how to dispel Paul’s tantrums, but this grim Paul was one he scarcely recognized. He had only seen him once before, when he had come to announce that he had spilled the blood of an elf and would be damned.

'I loved your mother, Paul.'

He had not known what to do with him then, either. Sora had already been four years dead.

“I loved your mother, Paul,” Osh whispered.



“Love… Paul!”

He did not try to catch Paul’s arm as he fled; it would have hurt too much to feel him yank it away. He did not even follow until long after Paul had quietly closed the door behind him, and then he only made it as far as the fireplace.

He leaned his elbow on the mantel and tried to rest his chin in his hand – but that only reminded him that his chin was bare.

He leaned his elbow on the mantel and tried to rest his chin in his hand.

Still, he told himself it was fortunate that a beard could not be restored in an instant. He had no choice but to continue along the path on which he had already started. There was no going back, and that fact would have to serve him as courage in the coming days. He had always been a coward when it came to hurting his children.

He had always been a coward when it came to hurting his children.