One-legged, lame, Malcolm toppled back against the chimney.

One-​legged, lame, Malcolm toppled back against the chimney as if shoved.

“Where were you getting that?” he howled. “Where were you getting that?”

If the woman had laughed he might have run screaming, one-​legged and lame though he was, but she seemed as startled as he. They both held up their arms, each trying to defend himself from the sudden depravity of the other.

They both held up their arms.

“What? What?” she wailed.

“The necklace!”

“The necklace?”

“The necklace!”

“I found it!” she pleaded. “Britou found it! We never knew it was yours!”

'We never knew it was yours!'

“It isn’t mine! The devil!”

The thin arms she held against him were chapped as far as her rolled-​up sleeves from wind and weather and washing.

“We didn’t know! We didn’t know!” she bleated. “We found it on a bird!”

'We didn't know!'

“On a bird?”

He tried to lower his arm, but she dodged it like a swinging fist and cringed her head down meekly between her shoulders, seeking to protect her sensitive ears. Her fright of him frightened him, until he saw how neatly the crepey skin of her neck pleated itself into rings like a turtle’s, and he realized it was a practiced gesture.

She dodged it like a swinging fist.

“On a gull!” she gabbled. “Britou found it this morning tangled in a net. Its leg was caught in the necklace, and the necklace got stuck in the net… We didn’t steal it, I swear!”

Malcolm whispered, “A gull?”

She nodded eagerly, begging him to believe her. “On the nets! Sometimes we find things on the beach and sell them, but we aren’t thieves! I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I wore it just till Mihael got home, and Britou said I looked so—”

'Britou said I looked so--'

Her voice broke, and her shivering mouth moved on without it, lipping words she dared not say.

Malcolm tried to read them. “Beautiful, Mamm,” he whispered thoughtfully, wondering whether such a woman appeared beautiful to her son. Malcolm’s imaginary mother had been beautiful indeed.

Drileu’s jaw shivered a last time, convulsively, as though she would have corrected him if she had ever learned how to correct men.

Instead she only quavered, “But you can have it back if it’s yours. We aren’t thieves.”

“For the love of Christ, it isn’t mine!” he seethed. “It’s hers!”

Then his own jaw stuck fast, quivering only faintly like an arrow struck deep into its target. Hers! He was stunned as a fledgling god first witnessing the potency of his Word. Hers! Hers!

'It's hers!'

It did not occur to him to say who She was, but nor did Drileu need to be told. With timid politeness she asked, “Did you drop it on the rocks maybe?”

With mention of the rocks Malcolm suddenly remembered the world outside—the whole broad world that he had run to its end—

He leapt at the table, catching himself by the edge to spare his ankle. Drileu shrieked as he sent a wooden trencher flying, but he could not stop another instant.

He howled, “She’s here!” as he hopped crablike around the edge of the table. Drileu followed him around the other side, leaning perilously over it to swipe bowls and cups out of his reach as he passed. She was not quick enough to meet him at the end, however, and he was forced to head for the stairs with neither table nor arm on which to lean.


He could not wait another instant.

“She’s here!”

His momentum carried him out through the door and as far as the sand, though pain shot from his ankle up his spine like lightning from a lake. He felt it, but he paid it no more heed than a man on the rack minds his hungry stomach. His heart was screaming.

His momentum carried him out through the door and as far as the sand.

He squared his weight over his flinching feet and howled from the depths of his lungs, “Lass!”

The rain slapped his face and beat his bare shoulders like little hands, but there was no reply. Even his echo was whipped away by the wind.

To be certain she was not merely offended or coyly pretending to be—oh, the little minx! laughing behind a rock he imagined her!—he shouted, “Lasrua!”

The wind shrieked in his ears and tore at his hair like tiny fists, but no one answered. The rocks were naked, endlessly scoured bare by storm and sea, and glazed with rain. Nothing moved upon them but rivulets of foam.

Malcolm staggered a few more steps, bobbing like a pigeon on his old bad leg and hopping like a blackbird on the new.

He staggered a few more steps.

He stared down the slope to where the sea met the sand a ways below. A black line of tousled seaweed marked the edge: land’s end, truly. Beyond it the gloomy gray-​green of the water receded into whitecaps and into fog, and into an indeterminate horizon that folded itself back over his head as heavy clouds.

He could go no farther. He had not gone far enough. He had come too far.

He could go no farther.

He shouted, “Come out!”

He waited as long as a man could permit himself to await a woman’s reply, and longer. He tipped back his head until the rain nipped at his bare face and neck like tiny teeth and ran over his teeth like tiny tongues, but he heard nothing, nothing—only a hissing of wind and water all around, as though unseen little hands had come to cup themselves over his ears, or he stood in the heart of a shell.

He heard nothing.

His pride buckled, and he howled, “Please!”

His knees buckled and he crumpled onto the gravelly sand. He could go no farther.

“I don’t think she’s here, friend,” Drileu said. Though she stood so near that her head cast a shadow of ease over his rain-​pelted shoulder, she had to cry aloud to be heard over the din. Still, her voice was kind. “The necklace was awfully dirty when we found it. I think it was on that bird a while.”

'I think it was on that bird a while.'

Malcolm pressed his fists to his brow and did battle against a sob that raged deep in his lungs. He stared fixedly between his forearms at the wet, untrodden sand before him. Every raindrop burst into a brief half-​moon halo where it fell, and left a ringed dimple in the sand like the prints of tiny toes.

The woman stroked her hand over his slippery shoulder. “Come in, friend.”

“She’s not here!” he quavered.

Drileu wrapped a hand around each shoulder and tried to lift. “You will find her again,” she soothed.

Obediently Malcolm began to rise. Drileu stepped beneath his arm before he had even tried to lay his weight on his injured ankle, and she lifted him up.

She lifted him up.

His arm around this ordinary, earthly woman, Malcolm felt all his ordinary, earthly pain now. His ankle burned when he lifted it and sparked when he set it down. His bladder was achingly full. Now his heart lay coldly oozing in his chest like a broken animal, too dead to bleed.

“I bet a gull can fly a thousand miles,” Drileu said reassuringly. “She’s probably safe and snug at home just waiting for you.”

Malcolm’s heart stirred. “Where else would she be?” he whispered.

Drileu twisted her head with the reflex of a fisherswife and tried to glance over their shoulders at the sea.

Malcolm’s heart leapt up again and howled. “No, no,” he panted. “No, no, she cannot be drowning. It’s water magic she’s having.”

“Oh, then,” she chirped, “she probably just sent the gull with the necklace as a message to you. She can do that with her magic, can’t she?”

'She can do that with her magic, can't she?'

“A message?”

“She’s probably afraid you forgot about her,” Drileu tittered. “Poor thing—if only she knew!”

“A message!”

A message! What if she needed him? What if she was in danger? What if she had been calling for him all this time, while he’d been running away from her faster than gulls could fly? What if it was too late? What if she was dead?

He flung Drileu aside and staggered up to the house with the woman hopping nervously around him like a bird.


He could not wait another instant.

He grit his teeth and thumped up the stairs, finally dropping to his knees before the chest at the foot of the bed. The master’s meager wardrobe had been cleared out the night before to make room for Malcolm’s own ragged affairs, and still Malcolm pawed through the jumble of cloth with the shivering agitation of a first-​time thief.

Malcolm pawed through the jumble of cloth.

Drileu wiped her cheeks with both hands and asked, “Are you looking for a towel, friend?”

“No, no,” he said shakily, though the rain still trickled down from his heavy brows and dripped from the tip of his nose.

He tossed his limp purse aside, with its worthless burden of thin pennies and crumbs and bits of whittled wood, and pulled out his woven belt.

“Are you in a hurry to go?”

“Aye.” He slammed the chest closed and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.

He slammed the chest closed and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.

Balancing on one leg, he twisted the belt back over his fingers and began popping coins out of the cheap woolen webbing. Gold, silver, silver, he counted; skipped a gold; and pulled out silver and silver again.

Then he hopped and shuffled his way past Drileu, flung his body down onto the last chair, and smacked the coins down onto the table.

“Give me that necklace.”

'Give me that necklace.'

“Are you looking to buy it?” Drileu asked uneasily.

“Aye. And it isn’t worth as much as that to any man but me, so it isn’t worth holding back, and it isn’t worth bargaining. Now give it me.”

“But I can’t sell it to you if it’s yours,” she said.

“It isn’t mine, for the love of God!”

“I can’t sell it if it’s hers either,” she said stubbornly. “Here…”

'I can't sell it if it's hers either.'

She lifted her hands halfway to her neck before Malcolm slammed his fist down on the table, making the coins clink and the oil slosh in the lamp. Meekly Drileu let her arms settle at her sides again.

“What’ll your man be saying when he comes home and learns you gave it away?” he demanded. “Britou’s bound to tell him, and he’ll be wanting to sell it!”

“I’ll tell him you knew its rightful owner,” she said simply. “We’re not thieves.”

'We're not thieves.'

Malcolm hesitated, flustered. “Then he’ll think I am!” he protested. “Listen, tell him it’s a reward.”

She glanced at the coins on the table with the same grim-​faced dread she had turned over her shoulder towards the sea. “Then he’ll think I took advantage of your—your madness,” she said. “That’s a lot of money for just a necklace.”

'That's a lot of money for just a necklace.'

“The devil! Must you people be so honest? Tell him it’s a reward for saving my life! The Lord knows it isn’t worth the price of the hide that holds it, but…”

Drileu stooped over and inspected the coins with the wariness of a sea-​wife encountering a new and possibly poisonous species of urchin, but her cheeks flushed, and she licked her lips as if she hungered.

Drileu stooped over and inspected the coins.

Malcolm was suddenly sickened at himself, so often had he sneered at the pomposity of rich men who slung money around to make up for a lack of manhood. These coins were worth more perhaps than her husband had earned in his lifetime—it was unlikely she had ever even seen a coin of real gold before—and Malcolm had slammed them down upon her helpless poverty with no thought but the reflex of pride.

He shook his sheepdog head to empty it and tapped the edge of the gold coin, careful not to hide the face with his fingertip.

“That’s Philippe of France,” he said. To save her pride he would pretend she was only wondering about the figures.

She nodded eagerly.

One by one he slid the silver coins beneath her nose. “That’s Robert of Flanders. That’s Robert of Burgundy. That’s William of Normandy.” He slid the last over and announced, “And that’s Malcolm of Scotland, of my own country.”

“Scotland!” she smiled.

“You’ll remember all these? To tell Britou.”

'You'll remember all these?'

She giggled, “Especially this one.” She patted the last affectionately.

Malcolm snorted, and then, before he could stop himself, he lifted his belt out of his lap and held it up before the lamp to peer through the webbing in search of one face in particular. Drileu watched gravely as glimpses of silver flashed all down its length, but he had little left to hide from her and little left to fear.

At last he plucked out the coin he was seeking and inspected it front and back in the lamplight before laying it on the table, apart from the others.

“That’s Sigefrith of Lothere,” he said. “I want you to hide this coin from your husband, and give it to Britou when he’s grown. You tell him, if he ever wants to kiss an elf-​girl, simply show this coin to a ship’s captain and tell him he wants to go to this country. It ought to pay for the trip too.”

'It ought to pay for the trip too.'

Drileu licked her lips and nodded.

Malcolm flipped the coin over to reveal the simple cross on the back and slid it in nervous circles over the tabletop, scraping the face gently over the wood.

“And if he’s wanting to hear a better story than I can tell,” he said softly, “tell him to ask the men there whatever happened to the man who loved the first queen of the place, and the son they had.”

“Was she an elf?” Drileu asked.

“No. And—”

'No.  And--'

Malcolm’s voice broke, and he hurried to fumble with his belt again, as though he had only just remembered something. In a soft, empty stretch of the webbing he easily found the gold coin he had skipped, and he pulled it out and laid it beside the Lotherian silver.

“And you hide that too,” he said hoarsely. “You give that to Britou when it’s time for him to be a man—whenever that day’s a-​coming. I’ve a boy just a bit older than he, and he’s… he’s never knowing no more than a fisher’s son will his father ever be coming home on the tide.”

Malcolm finished in a creaking gust and banged his head down onto his folded arms. He could hide his face, if he could not hide the shaking of his shoulders.

Malcolm finished in a creaking gust and banged his head down onto his folded arms.

He was not even the father he had wanted to be. He was so unlike the magnificent father he had imagined for himself, he supposed his son might have been happier with him dead. Perhaps Colban thought so too. He had a finer father in Sigefrith.

“I knew you had a boy,” Drileu said gently. “By the way you were with Britou. You know just how to talk to a boy.”

Malcolm grunted and lifted his head just high enough to mutter, “My brother would say it’s because I still am one.”

Drileu giggled and leaned closer. “Will you be going home to your boy, then?”

Will you be going home to your boy, then?

For answer Malcolm only ventured another grunt. He had not even had the courage to say goodbye to his boy and face his questions. He did not know how he would ever greet him again, nor how he would explain.

Drileu asked softly, “And to your elf girl?”

Malcolm sighed and nodded his head no more than the wet hair plastered to his shoulders would allow. He drummed his fingers on the back of his arm until he felt a light breath on the back of the other, and he froze.

'Will you tell her about me?'

“Will you tell her about me?” Drileu whispered.

Malcolm rolled his head to the side until her breath just brushed his cheek. He could see nothing of her except the glow of her pale skin like a light over his shoulder.

“I want to be a part of such a love story,” she said shyly. “Even just a little part.”

He sat up and stared at her in surprise. Her cheeks were as pink as roses.

“A love story?” he whispered.

The thought made him giddy, and a laugh burbled out of him as though a little boy were still trapped inside this middle-​aged boy’s body. Drileu giggled with him until he stroked a finger down her cheek and chin, and she stilled and bloomed as beautifully as before.

“I’ll tell her about you,” he promised. “Drileu, woman of Brittany.”

'I'll tell her about you.'