Lar knew the church-man's walk by now.

Lar knew the church-man’s walk by now: the soft tread of a weary, discreet man who wishes to expend no more energy and make no more noise than necessary. Such a walk could not hope to command respect. Lar did not bother to rise.

He did discreetly close his book.

He did discreetly close his book.

For a moment he believed the church-​man had not seen him, for the calm, quiet pace did not falter. Steadily it came on and stopped just below the torch.

“Good evening.”

'Good evening.'

His eyes were as blue and placid as lakes, and even his brows lay low over them instead of arching up in surprise. He gave the impression of having expected to find an elf in his cloister all along.

Lar was already annoyed. He did not return the greeting.

“I want to talk to you,” he commanded.

'I want to talk to you.'

“And I to you. Let us go into the calefactory, where there may yet be a fire.”

Lar did not know what or where a calefactory was, but he would not let the church-​man know it. He could sense a fire behind one of the walls. He rose without a word and walked past Aelfden, his head high above the man’s, his back straight, his stride bold, as if he knew perfectly well where he was going.

He rose without a word and walked past Aelfden.

Aelfden followed.

This so-​called calefactory was a warm, wood-​paneled room that smelled strongly of men’s crude leather and the fats they used to grease it, though there was not a scrap of leather in sight. Lar was wary and prepared for anything, however, so this did not alarm him.

Lar was wary and prepared for anything, however, so this did not alarm him.

“Will you stay long?” Aelfden asked. “I shall add wood.”

“Add wood.”

Aelfden went meekly to the fire.

On his knees… his back to an elf he knew for a killer… All men were fools, but this one was a fool among men. Lar would not even have to draw his sword. One well-​placed boot sole to the back of the head, and the church-​man would fall face-​first into the fire.

And it was to this that Lar had come in search of aid. He snorted and turned his face aside so that he would not be tempted.

He snorted and turned his face away so that he would not be tempted.

“How can I help you this evening?” Aelfden asked as he prodded the log into place.

“I did not say I want help!” Lar barked.

“I beg your pardon.”

“I want… you to teach me reading a book.”

He glared at Aelfden as the church-​man rose and brushed himself off, defying him to point out that he was asking for help after all.

Aelfden’s gaze locked into his own, but he did not take up the challenge.

Aelfden's gaze locked into his own, but he did not take up the challenge.

“If you come no more often to study than you do to pray, we shall be fortunate if I teach you the alphabet before I die.”

“No alvobet. Reading a book.”

“We must learn to crawl before we can walk,” Aelfden sighed.

Lar frowned. He already knew how to walk. This little man with his bowed head and absent-​minded shuffling had nothing to teach him in that regard.

“Read-​ing a book,” he repeated slowly. “I can learn. I am kalever.”

'I can learn.  I am kalever.'

Aelfden stared at him.

Lar’s jaw clenched around the last word. He had specifically asked the twins how to say “intelligent” before he came. He knew he was repeating it correctly. But perhaps they had not been able to let pass the opportunity to make a fool of him by teaching him the word for “stupid” in its place.

“Kalever.” He tapped the side of his head, glaring so ominously at Aelfden that it must have seemed a threat to the man’s own sanctity of skull. “Strong-​mind.”

“I do not doubt it,” Aelfden said calmly.

'I do not doubt it.'

Lar did not know “doubt” either, but unless the man had a boundless hidden courage, if he could look Lar in the eye and say it, it could only have meant the opposite of “believe.”

“What book did you bring?” Aelfden asked him. “A book for summoning demons?” he added dryly.

'What book did you bring?'


“What?” the man gasped.

“You teach me this book. No alvobet.”

“What is it? Where did you find it?” Aelfden asked, suddenly stern.

'What is it?  Where did you find it?'

“It is mine!”

Nevertheless, Aelfden reached out for it with such self-​assurance that Lar, to his bewilderment, let him take it.

“It is a book of my people!” Lar protested.

'It is a book of my people!'

But Aelfden was already carrying it over to the table. With the book tucked securely in the crook of one arm, he lit the candles with the other.

“We shall see,” he muttered.

Lar watched helplessly until he recalled that he could at least sit beside the man and guard the book with his presence. It was not yet truly out of his possession.

He could at least sit beside the man.

Aelfden carefully opened the book to the first page.

“Not here!” Lar tried to flip the pages directly to the back. “Here is demon Dre, far, far!”

Aelfden nudged him aside with a well-​placed elbow. “So your people read Greek, do they?” he muttered.

“My people do not read! You teach me.”

'My people do not read!  You teach me.'

Aelfden gently peeled the first few pages aside until he reached the first drawing: an elaborate scrawl of lines and angles and fragmentary circles.

“And Hebrew…” he breathed. He tucked the book into the palm of his left hand, and with his right touched his forehead and shoulders as he had once taught Lar to do.

Lar mimed the gesture impatiently. “Demon Dre is here, far!”

'Demon Dre is here, far!'

He tried to thumb the edges of the leaves, but Aelfden swatted his arm away again.

“Look! Here.” Aelfden planted a finger on a series of blocky squiggles at the top of the page, and which were the same as those at the top of every page in the long first section of the book. “Hebrew. That’s one alphabet.” He pointed at a thicket of scratchy lines beside the drawing. “That’s Greek. That’s two alphabets. And you still won’t be able to read English or Latin.”

'And you still won't be able to read English or Latin.'

Lar scarcely understood. “Read… English…” he repeated cautiously.

Aelfden snorted. “Precisely what did you think you could do with this book?” he muttered as he flipped the pages.

Lar did not know. He needed to know what it told before he could decide.

“It tells killing demon Dre?” he asked.

“It tells nothing of the sort,” Aelfden grumbled. “It tells how to summon demons and how to command them.”

“Command them?” Lar cried. “You teach me to read this alvobets. Now.”

'You teach me to read this alvobets.  Now.'

Lar put all of his majesty behind the word “now”. He knew how to command. He could even command demons if only one taught him the words.

Aelfden did not seem impressed. “This book is nothing but a trap for fools!” he snarled, whipping through the pages in disregard of the aged vellum, and scarcely glancing at the drawings as they flickered past. “This book was surely written at the behest of the demons themselves!”

“I am not fool!”

'I am not fool!'

“There is only one who can command demons, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. If you try to use this book, then you are a fool. You have a book that can help you against demons, and that one I shall teach you to read. The Bible. Not this—abomination!”

He looked back at the book.

Aelfden’s hand halted, hovering over the book like a storm cloud. The pages he had meant to turn slipped one by one over his fingertips and fell with the hushed patter of distant whispering voices.

Aelfden himself whispered one word: “Shaba!”

Lar leaned closer to peer between his fingers. He had reached the shorter second section of the book, in which the blocky symbols at the tops of the pages varied and were written in red ink.

Lar leaned closer to peer between his fingers.

Here the drawings were far simpler, starting with nine pages of nine-​pointed symbols, eight pages of eight-​points, and so on, ending with two pages containing only a straight line and a half circle respectively, and a single last page that was ominously blank in the center, with text written entirely in red.

Lar had also noticed that the blocky symbols at the tops of the pages were the same according to the number of points on the drawing.

He was quite proud of his deduction, and bold enough to show it off.

He was quite proud of his deduction, and bold enough to show it off. After quickly counting the points on this particular diagram, he patted the symbols at the top of the page with his fingertip and said, “Seven.”

Aelfden’s face was as white as cloven chalk.

Aelfden's face was as white as cloven chalk.

“Who told you this?” he whispered hoarsely.

Lar smiled his most mysterious smile. “Kalever…”


“Who gave you this?”

“We found this book. It is a book of my people, many, many winters past. Give it to me. I show you demon Dre. He is Eight.”

Aelfden closed the book with a thump like the distant sound of a fallen body. “This book is a danger to you and to me,” he murmured.

'This book is a danger to you and to me.'

“No! It is mine!

Lar tried to snatch it back, but Aelfden stilled him merely by raising a hand between them. His eyes were closed and his frail body shook with every heartbeat, but somehow he had sensed Lar’s movement before it had fairly begun.

His eyes were closed and his frail body shook with every heartbeat.

“You are a church-​man,” Lar said. “You are enemy of demons!”

Aelfden opened his eyes and said painfully, “If by ‘church-​man’ you mean ‘man of the Church,’ so I am. But I am not a church in myself and of myself. I can only… only…”

“You have church magic!”

Aelfden bellowed, “There is no church-​magic!” and slammed the old book down on the table.

Lar leaned back on his stool, briefly stupefied.

Lar leaned back on his stool, briefly stupefied.

Aelfden stood and kicked back his stool, animated by some force that could hardly have originated in his emaciated body.

“I tried to tell you! There is no church magic! There is only prayer! And helplessness! And begging all our lives for mercy from a distant God, and never knowing until we are dead whether He is listening at all!”

He hid his face in his forearms and tore at his hair with his spidery fingers, sobbing.

Lar laid an arm across the table to steady himself a moment before he rose. He felt sick and a little dizzy. His hand lay inches from the book, but he no longer desired to touch it.

He had not understood the half of that outburst, but he understood the anguish and the helplessness evident in its expression. It was the one thing he had not expected.

'But the demons are real!'

“But the demons are real!” Aelfden moaned. “They show us their faces! Do they not?”

He looked suddenly to Lar, and his blue eyes were wild.

Lar croaked a feeble, “Yes…”

Aelfden buried his face in his hands again. “And we can only pray, and we are so weak…”

'And we can only pray, and we are so weak...'

This was what Lar had not expected. For all he had tried to despise him for it, he knew that the bowed head and the quiet walk could have been the mark of a man who had nothing to prove. The willingness to turn his back to a murderer could have been born of a courage surpassing any mortal danger.

All of Lar’s old fear and respect for the mysterious, miracle-​working church-​man had returned, just in time to be dashed by the sight of him weak and sobbing. This was not how it was supposed to be.

Lar felt sick and dizzy, and he put out an arm to steady himself against the shoulders of the shuddering man.

He put out an arm to steady himself.