Malcolm never had trouble falling asleep.

Traveling with four enthusiastic boys—one of whom had never even left his natal valley—was an exhausting enterprise, and Malcolm never had trouble falling asleep.

Remaining asleep was proving more difficult. It seemed that every time he sank fully into sleep’s cool depths, a cruel hand would drag him spluttering and struggling to the surface again. He could not stay down.

Certainly his cousin Egelric’s snoring was not helping matters.

His cousin Egelric's snoring was not helping matters.

Malcolm flung out an arm and smacked the back of his hand across Egelric’s chest. The last snore was strangled off into a wet choking sound still more hideous.

Must you be snoring so?” Malcolm growled. “How does wee Lili bear the carcass of you lying next to her?”

Egelric opened his bleary eyes and peered up at him. “Was I snoring?”

'Was I snoring?'


The eyes fell slowly shut again. “Sorry…”

“No!” Malcolm smacked him again. “You stay awake at least until I fall asleep.”

“Go to hell,” Egelric whined.

“Aye! And the screams of the damned will sound like the heavenly choirs after lying next to you!

Egelric’s big hand came up to pat the back of Malcolm’s wrist in an infuriatingly paternal gesture. “Can’t sleep?” he cooed.

'No, I cannot sleep!'

Malcolm flung off the hand. “No, I cannot sleep! And keep the filthy hands of you to your own self!”

“You’ll wash,” Egelric snickered.

Malcolm raised an arm to strike him, but he remembered the futility of the gesture and let it fall. In the last days he had inflicted upon his cousin every sort of physical abuse short of punching him outright, and still Egelric went on placidly teasing him.

'My snoring never bothered you before...'

“My snoring never bothered you before…” Egelric mused. “You must have something—or some–one—on your mind…”

Malcolm could bear it no longer. “What do you want?” he snarled. “Me to be riding back there and slinging her over my shoulder and carrying her off? Will you be leaving me in peace then?”

'Will you be leaving me in peace then?'

“I would not recommend it,” Egelric said gravely. “Next time you so much as look at her, the brother of her is likely to burn off your eyebrows.”

“Caterpillars,” Malcolm huffed.


“Nothing!” Malcolm sprang up and scrambled out of the low tent on hands and knees, jostling Egelric as much as possible on the way. “I’m going out,” he growled.

Egelric flopped over onto his side, laughing into his pillow. “Keep your hands to yourself!” he called as Malcolm stood.

The urge to knock the tent down around his cousin's head soon passed.

But the urge to knock the tent down around his cousin’s head soon passed, after Malcolm had spent a moment out in the cold air with only the stars above his own head and the fire at his feet.

They still had a day or two to ride before they reached the lands of his clan, but today at evening they had entered into the hill country. This was already home. By the time the sun rose to reveal it, he was certain he would already be feeling more like himself.

Here the lichens grew thicker than the grass, hardy and tenacious, surviving on nothing more than rock, water, sunlight, and air. Like lichens, the men of his country carved out a living in a place where God had intended nothing to grow.

Here the few scrubby oaks and stands of broom leaned into the wind, tearing at it with their thorns as it passed. Like the men of his country, they could not afford to spend their strength on show. Their branches were stunted and their leaves were small and waxen, but their gold and bronzy blazons of some seasons were worn proudly, for they were hard-​won.

Like the men of his country, they could not afford to spend their strength on show.

Here there were few streams but many hidden springs, and lakes whose sources no one could explain. These last were dark and bitter, heavy with liquid rock, and so deep that they never gave up the bodies of those who drowned or cracked through the ice. Like the tarns, the men of his country kept secrets and grudges and promises forever.

It was not a country for soft and spoiled elf-​maidens.

Malcolm laughed savagely at the wind as it passed southward on its way to more luxurious lands. He simply caught the hair it whipped behind his head and tied it with a thong of raw leather. Such fickle forces as wind and women could not ruffle the likes of him.

He simply caught the hair it whipped behind his head and tied it with a thong of raw leather.

He bent his face down into the tent and announced, “I’m going for a swim.”

“What?” Egelric groaned. “You’re mad!”

“No, brother,” Malcolm smiled. “I’m only now coming to my senses.”

'You're mad!'

Egelric snorted, but he did not dispute the fact, either because he believed it likely or because he thought it impossible to convince a madman otherwise.

Malcolm stripped and went down to the water, leaving his clothes and his cousin and the fire behind.

Malcolm stripped and and went down to the water.

The moon spilled a sheen of light on the surface of the tarn, but Malcolm knew how black it was beneath. If he stayed too long, death would come seductively in the guise of sleep.

At first, however, the icy water simply seized him and sought to squeeze the life out of him. His entire body contracted: his legs cramped, his jaw clenched, and all his organs drew up into the space ordinarily occupied by his lungs.

Still, bold and defiant as the men of his country, he marched down into the water until his feet had lost the bottom and he was keeping himself afloat with jerky strokes and kicks below the surface.

He told himself he did not mind the cold.

In spite of his shivering, he told himself he did not mind the cold. He was only sorry he had not risen an hour later. The moon was sinking into the southwest, and he might have been spared the sight of her. No matter where he swam, she left a trail of light across the water that stretched from him to her.

She left a trail of light across the water that stretched from him to her.

Finn had told him that “las” was the elven word for “moon”. Now that he knew it, Malcolm would never be able to talk to another girl without speaking her name. Nor would he ever see the moon without remembering her pale face, gleaming with rain and glowing with as much bliss as he had ever brought forth in a woman.

Lasrú” meant both “water moon” and “waning moon”, and though the moon in the sky was only a few days old, if she saw her reflection in the water she must have believed herself dying away. Malcolm could shatter it with a stroke of his arm, but the mirror always returned when he and the water fell still.

The moon in the sky was only a few days old.

He was perhaps a little mad to go for a swim at midnight in mid-​October, but what the men and women of his country wanted to do, they did, in spite of everything. They did not stand whimpering with indecision while the train of life rode them by.

By staying behind, the elf-​lass had merely proven herself unworthy to follow. Malcolm was free.

Malcolm was free.

The moon could travel the length of a moon in less than half an hour, and her pointed chin already rested on the horizon. Malcolm thought he could bear the cold long enough to see the tarn go dark, and afterwards surely he could soundly sleep.

And as he kicked and shivered beneath the surface, he could prevent any second water moon from appearing before his face. With the back of his arm, he shattered every new-​formed mirror into a trail of shards that rippled her light from his lips to the southern shore.

With the back of his arm he would shatter every mirror.