A Warning

This chapter includes disturbing images and events which some readers are voting the worst yet in this story. So read at your own risk. The next chapter will tell at least some of what happened here. 

He was beautiful, as Hila's beloved horses were beautiful.

Yes, Surr!” the dark-​​haired elf laughed. “Tell us! Take us to Lord Lar! Do!”

He was beautiful, as Hila’s beloved horses were beautiful: tall, fine-​​boned, and sleek. He even had a forelock that the wind tossed – the one untidy part of him – crowning his perfection and proving him untamed. He was very nearly the most beautiful living creature Hila had ever seen.

But the high blond head and slow grace of the other were more beautiful still – more beautiful than any mere living creature. His was the beauty of unreachable, unknowable things: the majesty of thunderclouds, of sunsets, and of stars.

Hila's father's father, it was said, had been a mighty prince of olden times.

Hila’s father’s father, it was said, had been a mighty prince of olden times. She had always dreamt that when at last she met his people, they would know her. In her dreams they saw that she was not like the other girls, and they said, “Come with us. You are one of us.” In her dreams she had fine dresses, she rode horses, and she ate sweets every day. No one ever called her a gawky half-​​breed.

Kia whimpered and squirmed, but Hila stood tall, hoping the elves would see her and know her and not be ashamed.

Hila stood still and tall.

At first they did not seem to notice her at all. Surr had put himself forward even as the other boy had dragged the girls back into the brush.

“You take me and let them go,” Surr commanded. His voice had gone high and reedy even though his words were firm. “They’re just kids.”

'Do take us all to see Lord Lar.'

“How brave it is!” the dark-​​haired one gushed. “Why, it’s scarcely more than a fledgling itself.”

“Listen to it cheep,” the blond elf chuckled.

Hila knew that her father was blond. Could it be…? She lifted her head as high as she could, trying to see him over the weeds – hoping he would see her.

She lifted her head as high as she could.

“Sing for us, birdie!” the dark elf crowed. “That’s what your kind do best!”

Surr did not sing and did not stir, but Hila saw how his hands shook, even planted on his hips. He was afraid to sing. She was not afraid. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth, but then the dark-​​haired elf moved, and his beauty took her breath away.

He snorted and tossed his head like a stallion.

He snorted and tossed his head like a stallion, and his hand went up in a graceful arc to push his forelock out of his eyes. Hila could almost wish that he were her father.

But the hand continued on behind his head and swooped back down again, drawing with it one white-​​fletched arrow that he nocked neatly into his bow. He lowered his head and stared down his straightened arm, arching his neck and letting his forelock fall over one eye.

“You can die like a bird or die like a cringing dog,” he growled. “It’s no difference to me.”

The arrow was pointed at Surr’s head. This was a dangerous game. Hila had a strange, sick feeling in her stomach, as when she saw her mother briskly gutting a fish with a knife. If the knife slipped… if the bowstring slipped…

'They're children!'

“You let them go!” Surr barked. “They’re children!”

“Sing!” the dark-​​haired elf howled down the shaft of his arrow. “Sing! Sing!”

Even the stones repeated his command, shattering the stillness of the night over and over, and yet Surr did not sing.

When she could bear it no longer, Hila closed her eyes and began to sing the first song that came into her head, “Hush, hush, it’s time to be sleeping,” until Kia slapped and pawed at her face, squealing in panic through tightly closed lips.

Kia began to slap and paw at her face, squealing in panic.

The elf lowered his bow to laugh. “That’s a good girl! That’s a brave bird!”

“See that, puppy?” the blond elf asked roughly.

In spite of her sickened stomach and Kia’s evident terror, Hila felt a swell of pride. They had noticed her. They had found her brave and good. She was special.

But then the dark elf lifted his bow again and aimed his arrow at her, so directly that she saw nothing but the point, and behind it only the thumb that dented his cheek, so tightly did he draw the string.

Hila’s eyes were wide with disbelief. His were only cruel slits.

Hila's eyes were wide with disbelief.

“She shall take your place, since you won’t sing.”

Surr cried, “No!”

The elf swung his bow back around to point it at Surr. “Then sing, dog!” he snarled.

Surr lifted his shaking hands and tipped back his head.

Surr lifted his shaking hands and tipped back his head. The other boy began to cry, with little, sniffling, childish sobs. Hila looked up at him. He was not brave.

She did not see what happened next. She only heard the first hesitant words of a song she did not know: “When I am gone – ”

She heard the lingering hum of the bowstring, though she had not heard its twang over the singing. But Surr was singing no longer.

Surr was singing no longer.

The beautiful elves laughed.

“Well shot,” the blond elf said.

“Hit him right in the middle of his note.”

They both laughed again.

'Hit him right in the middle of his note.'

Hila saw Surr’s knees buckle, but she did not understand.

The other boy whimpered “Surr, Surr, Surr,” in place of his wordless sobs of a moment before.

“Your turn,” the black-​​haired elf said.

The other, still more majestic elf reached behind his head and delicately plucked an arrow between two fingers.

“How does it go, again?” he chuckled. He nocked his arrow and drew the string so tight that it creased his cheek. “Sing, puppy!” he commanded. “Die singing like your friend, not slobbering like a dog.”

'My brother!'

“My brother!” the boy blubbered.

“His brother!” the dark-​​haired one laughed. “How many are there?” He tucked his bow beneath his arm and tugged carelessly at the fingers of one of his gloves. “By my mother! They breed like vermin.”

“Sing!” the other shouted.

Surr’s crumpled body was slowly stretching itself out, like an enormous inchworm trying to crawl away. But once he lay flat, he did not crumple himself up again.

Surr's crumpled body was slowly stretching itself out.


The boy pawed limply at the air with one hand, reaching for his brother. He did not sing. He could not sing – he could not even breathe without choking on wet sobs, as his brother had until he had stopped making sounds.

The blond elf lowered his bow and spit on the tip of his arrow. Hila imagined he meant to polish it, but instead he nocked it again, still wet, and drew back the string as far as his cheek. He whispered, “Sing.”

Hila looked up at the boy in time to see his body arch backwards and fall.

She saw his body arch backwards.

Now she could not see the point of the arrow, but only the long, white-​​fletched shaft of it.

“That’s one eye that will cry no more,” the blond-​​haired elf laughed lightly.

After he fell the boy did not move, in spite of the apparent agony of an arrow sticking out of his face. At last Hila understood. Elves could be killed like deer – like any animal.

Still laughing between themselves, the elves approached the girls, but they did not lift their bows again. They walked past Surr’s sprawled body without a glance.

'What's your name, sweetheart?'

“Don’t be afraid,” the dark elf chuckled. “We like little girls. What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked Kia.

There was that word again. Now Hila was certain she did not like it – certain she and Kia were not it. “She is not a sweetheart!” she sobbed.

“Isn’t she?” Now the elf looked down on her and smiled, and his beauty and her terror mesmerized her into silence. “You are. What’s your name?”

'What's your name?'

Kia managed to squeak, “Go away!”

“That’s a funny name,” the blond elf chuckled.

The other elf lifted his quiver off his shoulder and laid it and his bow in the weeds. He stood only halfway from his crouch and moved towards Kia. “Not at all,” he laughed breathily. “I believe this one is called ‘Come here, come here, come here…’”

Kia screamed a short, piercing scream, like a rabbit. The elf’s arms were already closing on her like a snare.

The blond elf kicked a fallen branch and muttered, “Let her go, Ris. She’s but a child.”

'I believe this one is called 'Come here, come here, come here...''

“I always do, don’t I?” the elf called Ris whined.

“Let her go.”

Ris stood and nodded at Hila. “There’s one for you, too.”

Hila felt a sudden gust of rough wind, but it blew inside her body, seeming to turn her inside out like an empty dress. She made a queer animal sound and fell with a thump onto her behind. The wind died, and she felt right-​​side out again.

“‘Go away’ there has air magic,” Ris purred. “I think you will like her.”

He turned back to Kia and opened his arms out around her again, fencing her in with his gloved hands.

He turned back to Kia and opened his arms out around her again.

The other elf repeated, “Let them go.”

Ris barked, “So I shall!” Suddenly his crooning voice had become the voice of undeniable, unanswerable things: of thunder, of rockfalls, of wind. He was the true prince of the two.

Majestic as he was, the blond elf bowed his head to him and turned away.

Majestic as he was, the blond elf bowed his head to him and turned away.

He took a few careless steps, and then he seemed to notice Hila huddled in the weeds and came to tower over her. The first stars of evening shone all around his head.

“Go away,” he growled. “Don’t make me do something I shall regret.”

'Go away.'

Kia began to scream short, high-​​pitched screams, over and over, but Hila could not see why. Hila could neither go to her friend nor leave her behind, for that beautiful monster loomed over her, and her terror clenched around her as tightly as a shell.

The elf stomped on the earth before her and barked, “Go away before I change my mind!”

Hila sobbed, “Kia!” from where she sat. Kia sobbed, “Hila!”

The elf lunged at Hila and kicked her shin. She scrambled up and stumbled a few steps deeper into the weeds, but she could not leave her friend.


She stopped and moaned, “Kia!”

Kia only squealed and squealed as the crooning elf caught her and snatched her up. Hila heard a scrabbling like a dozen rabbits in the brush as Kia frantically kicked her dangling legs.

The blond elf leapt between Hila and the others and shook his bow high in the air. “Go away, stupid squab! Go away!” he growled hoarsely. “Go back to your mother!”

'Go back to your mother!'

Her mother. If he was her father, then he had known her mother. It was he who had made Hila to grow in her mother’s belly. Hila and Kia still did not know what was the One Thing the fathers wanted from the ladies and girls, but from Kia’s shrieks she knew it must be a Terrible Thing.

It was not brave and it was not good, but Hila fled, leaping over the young boy’s lifeless body, and leaving her friend behind. Hila flew, and her heart beat frantically in her breast like a caged bird, and her terror beat at her back like wings.

Hila ran.