'We should start with the bread.'

“We should start with the bread,” Kraaia announced breathlessly. “What is its nature?”

She hurried past Lena without waiting for a reply. Lena turned to follow her and asked meekly, “What kind of bread?”

Kraaia ducked beneath the counter and pulled out one of the bowls of dough that had been left to rise. She whipped off the towel and said, “This kind! No, wait!” she yelped. “Let me guess!”

She held out the bowl and darted to the table, and Lena turned dizzily half-​way around again.

Kraaia banged the bowl down, and then, suddenly dignified, she laid her hand reverently on the soft, swollen ball of dough, and averted her eyes.

She laid her hand reverently on the soft, swollen ball of dough.

The seconds passed. Kraaia was so very disappointed when she was wrong—as she almost always was—so Lena bit her lips together and thought “Fire!” with all her might. Even Benedict stopped banging and turned to look at whatever had silenced the ladies.

“Fire!” Kraaia whispered.

Lena squealed, “Yes!” and clapped her hands. Benedict laughed and banged with his wooden doll, and Kraaia hopped up and down on the tips of her toes.


“I knew it!” she gasped. “I could feel the fire!”

On her last hop she sprang away to the shelf, leaving Lena behind in a whirl of blonde hair. Lena laughed again out of joy at seeing her bounce. Ever since Edina had gone out and left the three of them alone, Kraaia had scarcely seemed bound to earth at all.

“What else can we have?” she begged. “We need—water nature!”

'We need--water nature!'

She tossed her head back as she turned it towards Lena, deftly flinging her hair behind her shoulder without lifting a hand. Lena had never seen her do anything like it: Kraaia was always scowling out at people from behind her hair. Oh, if only Osh could see her!

After a moment she realized Kraaia was staring expectantly at her.

Lena blurted, “We can have bread and soup!” and grinned at her cleverness.

'We can have bread and soup!'

She thought she would know how to make a vegetable soup, if Kraaia took care of the soup part of the business and left the vegetables to her.

But Kraaia whirled the rest of her body around and shouted, “No!”

Benedict recognized the word, and he paused in trepidation and looked between his doll, his mother, and this girl who seemed to be scolding him for some mysterious crime. Lena was feeling a little uncertain herself.

“We cannot have bread and something,” Kraaia said. “We must have bread… something.

Benedict ventured a giggle.

'We must have bread... something.'

“That was not a joke, my good man,” Kraaia sniffed, making Benedict laugh aloud, and herself break into a warm smile in spite of her attempt at gravity.

“I mean,” she said eagerly to Lena, “we must have something of each nature in every bite. If we are to be refined,” she intoned.

“We can have a soup with every kind of veg-​e-​ta-​ble!” Lena proposed.

No! I mean something on the bread!

“Ahhh… a sandwich!”

'Ahhh... a sandwich!'

Kraaia groaned, “Nooo!

Benedict flopped back onto his behind, the better to laugh.

Kraaia said, “Something cooked with the bread. We are making a new recipe, Lena. A new elven recipe!”

“Can you make a new recipe, Kraaia?” Lena breathed. “Which no one ever made?” It seemed almost as amazing as making new songs.

'Of course!'

“Of course!” Kraaia turned abruptly and dashed for the pantry. “Come!”

Lena lifted her hems and hurried after her. “But elves do not eat bread?” she protested weakly.

“You and Osh and Paul do, and you’re elves! It’s a recipe for elves, but made with men’s food, since that’s all we have.”

She yanked open the door and pulled up short before the ham and sausages that hung from the rafters. Lena slid to a stop behind her.

“Not that I miss llakhúmín,” Kraaia added dryly.

Skins of boiled toads,” Lena snickered.

'Skins of boiled toads.'

Kraaia smiled in spite of herself, but she demanded, “Now what are the natures of these meats, Lena? We need something with water nature, earth nature, or air nature.”

Lena looked up. “Ham has fire nature, and the hot-​dry sausage also it has.”

Hot-​dry sausage?” Kraaia laughed. “Isn’t there a cool-​wet sausage too? What about these?”

She tapped the taut skin of one of the blood sausages the cook had recently brought in from the smokehouse. Even dried they seemed to have lost none of their bloated mass, and with the creases and lobes pressed upon them by their bundling-​twine, they reminded Lena of nothing so much as the bodies of enormous maggots—black maggots that had fed almost to bursting on blood and promptly died.

She opened her mouth with difficulty, as if it had been pasted shut with something that had coagulated and dried. “No no, no blood sausage!” she gasped and panted.

Kraaia drew back her hand and asked warily, “Why?”

Lena swallowed a pasty mouthful of nothing. “Elves do not eat blood sausage…”

“You and Osh and Paul do.”

'Elves do not eat blood sausage...'

Lena shook her head with all her might. “No no! Never never. Elves eat no blood, never-​never.”

“You never do?” Kraaia asked. She turned her head slowly.

Lena swallowed again and braced herself. She was learning the hidden ways of Kraaia—her way of challenging everything—of always demanding explanations…

“Why not?”

“Because, Kraaia, it is forbidden.” She added softly, “Forever,” hoping that so conclusive a word would silence her.

'Because, Kraaia, it is forbidden.'

Kraaia frowned. “What if you eat meat and it’s not quite cooked and it’s still bloody?”

Lena shook her head. “We do not eat this bloody meat.”

“What if you don’t know and you take a big bite and it’s bloody inside?”

“We spit out this big bite,” Lena whimpered. Her throat convulsed, trying to swallow without swallowing anything down, and her tongue rolled beneath the weight of imagined or remembered flesh.

“What if you cut your finger or something? Can’t you suck on it to stop the bleeding? What if you bite your tongue and it bleeds?” Kraaia challenged, flushed with the might of an unanswerable argument.

Lena could only shake her head pleadingly. She bit her lips together and prayed, though neither teeth nor pleas nor prayers had ever saved her.

But Kraaia finally shrugged and tossed back her hair.

Kraaia finally shrugged and tossed back her hair.

“That’s all right, Lena. I don’t like bloody food all that much anyway.” She opened a small sack and peered down inside. “Just because I pick my scabs doesn’t mean I eat blood,” she confided. “I don’t think I’ll pick them anymore anyway. What about mushrooms?”

“Mushrooms!” Lena gasped. “Earth nature!”

She felt hot and dizzy and sick, but Kraaia’s keen mind had already moved on. Lena felt as if a boot had been lifted from the back of her head.

Kraaia swept up the sack and tucked it beneath her arm. “Mushrooms it is! And what about air nature? That always seems like the hardest one…”

'Garlic, it has water nature.'

“Onions, they have air nature,” Lena said shakily. “Garlics, they have water nature. That is every one.”

“Bread and mushrooms and onions and garlic!”

Kraaia scooped up an onion, pulled down the braid of garlic, and dashed back into the kitchen. Lena did not move until she heard Kraaia groan, “Oh, Penedict!” Then she ran.

Benedict was sitting back and smiling sheepishly, but before so much silent scrutiny he was finally shamed into sticking the feet of his little doll into his mouth—and then his eyes lit up with pleasure.

Look at what he did to these pears!” Kraaia demanded.

'Look at what he did to these pears!'

Lena laughed. “Penedict is making our dessert! He can mash every kind of fruit!”

Benedict pulled his doll out of his mouth to laugh with his mother, and he promptly returned to pounding away at the bowl of pears with the doll’s little wooden feet.

Kraaia flung down her sack and onion and garlic braid and lifted Benedict straight up off the table. “Oh no you don’t!” she cried. Then she plunked him down in the big copper pot.

Benedict was dumbfounded. He looked to Lena to see whether he ought to laugh or cry, but Lena was already shaking with giggles.

“Tonight for supper we have Penedict soup!” she squealed.

'Tonight for supper we have Penedict soup!'

Benedict laughed as if it was the funniest joke he had heard in all his life, as he did several times a day.

Kraaia scowled and huffed and did her best not to smile, finally grumbling, “That baby laughs more and cries less than any baby has any right to do.”

“That is because he thinks we are so silly, which we are,” Lena said pertly. “Aren’t we silly elves and men?” she asked him, and Benedict began laughing all over again.

Benedict began laughing all over again.

“Well I’m a hungry elves-​and-​men,” Kraaia announced, “so let’s get cracking. You slice these mushrooms and onions,” she commanded Lena, “and I shall see about the bread.”

Lena’s laughter trailed off into a nervous titter. She dutifully took the onion and the sack of mushrooms over to the counter, but she did not feel quite right about handling a knife so soon after that conversation in the pantry.

“Do you know what we’re going to do?” Kraaia asked from the table behind her. “I’m going to stretch out the dough till it’s flat as a plate, and we’ll put the other things on top of it and cook them all together at once. Almost like a flat pie. Then we shall be certain to have something of each nature in every bite.”

Then we shall be certain to have something of each nature in every bite.

Lena had no idea how or whether this would work, but she faithfully said, “That is a good idea, Kraaia.”

She decided she would start with the onion. She did not like fiddling with the papery skin, and the odor stung her eyes, but there was something weirdly fleshlike about the mushrooms, with their round and rubbery little caps and their stiff, boneless stems. She did not want to cut into them just yet.

“We shall need a hot fire, Lena,” Kraaia cautioned behind her. Lena heard the dough thumping lightly on the table beneath her hands. “You will have to make it extra-​hot for us.”

Lena bobbed her head meekly. “Yes, I can make.”

“And do you know what? I think we could go around a second time and add something with each nature again. We ought to have some kind of meat. I should like some sausage after all. But not blood sausage,” she said reassuringly.

Lena said nothing. The first fumes of the onion were pricking her eyes.

Lena said nothing.

Kraaia thumped her dough for a moment. Benedict quietly sucked his doll’s feet and watched her.

“After you’re done,” she said to Lena, “perhaps you can go get one of the hot-​dry sausages and cut us some thin slices.”

“Yes, Kraaia.”

“And what else can we have? What about cheese? Or—wait, shísím. That has fire nature.”

She was trying to sound dismissive of her own idea, but her voice was taut with secret pride. Lena did not know whether the lords would be pleased to learn she had taught Kraaia any of their words, but she could not resist making this unhappy girl a gift of one of the few things she had to give.

“There is also shísrú,” she said. “Water-​cheese.”

Kraaia banged down her dough and dashed to Lena’s side. “Shísrú!” she gasped. “Vash didn’t tell me about that! Of course! Soft cheese! Goat cheese! Oh, Lena,” she moaned, “this is going to be so good! Melted cheese on top!”

'Melted cheese on top!'

Lena wrinkled her nose. “Melted cheese?

“Haven’t you ever eaten melted cheese before?” Kraaia demanded. “Oh, Lena, you don’t know what you’ve been missing!”

“Now I shall know,” Lena smiled.

“Never had melted cheese,” Kraaia said dazedly. “What do they eat around here?”

Lena blurted the first thing that came to mind—“Groats!”

“Oh, I’ve noticed!” Kraaia groaned in companionable misery. “Poor Lena—a year of groats!

'Poor Lena--a year of groats!'

Lena laughed—it felt surprisingly good to hear someone else side with her on the subject of groats. She was not accustomed to complaining, and still less to having her complaints seconded.

“Penedict does not like groats too,” she added. Benedict crowed at the sound of his name, though it sounded very much like hearty agreement on the subject.

“That settles it!” Kraaia said. “We shall never eat groats in our house!” Immediately she grabbed Lena’s arm with a tight grip that squeezed like pincers. “Lena!” she gasped. “Oh, Lena!”

Lena laid down her knife, out of fear that Kraaia’s clinging would make her cut herself and bleed all over their food.

“What, Kraaia?” she asked anxiously.

“Oh, Lena! Couldn’t we do it? Couldn’t we have a house of our own, truly? Just you and I? And Penedict and my wolf?”

'Couldn't we?'

Lena was so unprepared for the idea that she quickly determined she had misunderstood the English.

“A what to have?” she asked.

“Our own house! You’re a grown lady, and you have a baby, so you’re almost like a widow. I mean to have a house of my own when I’m grown, but we could have one right now if you wanted to. Couldn’t we?”

Lena wondered so long that Benedict grew bored and began to bang against the side of the pot with his doll.

“Please, Lena?” Kraaia whimpered. “You’re just like me—you don’t belong to anyone here, they just let you live with them out of charity. But you could have your own house—we could—and we would just live there. And nobody could send us anywhere—because it would be our house. And we wouldn’t have to let anyone inside whom we didn’t like.”

Lena fluttered her eyelids and tried to collect her thoughts. Her friend the reeve’s wife had once suggested that Aengus was certain to give her a little house someday, as rich men did their mistresses, but Lena had found the idea inconceivable, and time seemed to have had proven it was. Still less could she ever have imagined she might simply have a house of her own.

'What will Osh say?'

“What will Osh say?” Lena whispered. Osh had come to love the girl… but then again even Osh’s ears could not hear the things his wife said when he was not there. Lena feared Osh had underestimated the jealousy of Flann.

“I’ll probably have to live with him a little while,” Kraaia admitted gruffly. “At least till my pup’s weaned. But that will give us time to find a house! And fix it up if we had to. We could almost build one ourselves if we had to—it doesn’t have to be fine. Couldn’t we, Lena?” she begged.

Lena wiped her hands on a towel and turned to look at her son. Benedict could not have known what they were discussing, but he gave her such an encouraging smile…

He gave her such an encouraging smile...

Why couldn’t they? Even a year on, Lena still oftentimes forgot that she was free, and could do whatever she liked, within her power.

Her own house. She would answer the door herself, and she would not retreat into the shadows at the arrival of visitors—for any visitors would necessarily be coming to see her! At last she would be able to invite her friend the reeve’s wife, and she would lay her own table, and cut her own bread, and set out her own little bowls of jewel-​colored jam, and say “Please won’t you take…” and “You’re very welcome…” instead of “Thank you, thank you, thank you…”

At last she would be able to invite her friend the reeve's wife.

And there would be Kraaia for company—this wide-​eyed, bouncing, laughing girl that she could be when the weight of mistrust was lifted from her head. Wild Kraaia would teach her what it was to be free, and perhaps Lena could teach her that it was sometimes quite comfortable to be tame.

At that very moment, as if in answer to her wondering prayers, Lena began to hear a jingling and a creaking of tack in the cold air, and the muffled crunch-​and-​thumping of four trotting hooves punching through the the crust of ice on the snowy road. It might have been Osh even then, coming early to surprise them. Perhaps, at the sight of Kraaia’s exuberance, he would be the one most surprised.

“I think we might do it,” Lena whispered.

Kraaia leapt straight up, but Lena added, “We must ask Osh,” and Kraaia howled when she landed.

'We must ask Osh.'

No! We don’t have to ask anyone! He’ll just say no! Adults always do!”

“I am an adult,” Lena said softly, “and I did not say.”

“I know, but you’re my friend!”

Kraaia stiffened and threw back her head, struck squarely in the breast by her own words. Her brows arched up and scowled down, her nostrils flared, and she clenched her teeth to dam up a torrent of cruel words that she would release all together in a flood.

“Thank you, Kraaia,” Lena murmured. “Not many-​many people say those kind words to me.”

'Not many-many people say those words to me.'

Kraaia deflated. Her face flushed a shocking red, and she looked right and left and anywhere but at Lena. Benedict grew concerned after a moment and babbled some soothing nonsense at her.

Finally Kraaia said gruffly, “Well, you can always count on me, Lena. They don’t know what they’re missing.”

“Such as melted cheese,” Lena giggled.

Kraaia tossed back her hair, raised her fist, and cried, “Down with groats!”

'Down with groats!'

“It is up with melted cheese!” Lena laughed.

“It is nowhere with melted cheese if we don’t get cracking!” Kraaia sighed. “Come on, Lena. If Osh comes while we’re still standing around a pile of raw dough, he’ll be sore.”

“I do not think he will be sore,” Lena reassured her. By now she heard the horse quite plainly coming up the road towards the house, trotting briskly through the snow.

Kraaia poked dubiously at her soft circle of dough. “Perhaps he can help us think of what else to put in our recipe. Bread, onions, garlic, mushrooms, sausage, melted cheese, and what else?”

'What else?'

Lena looked around the kitchen. “Something with air nature, something with earth nature…”

“It seems like it needs some kind of sauce, doesn’t it?” Kraaia asked.

“Ahhh… gravy?” Lena proposed.

Gravy?” Kraaia groaned.

Lena giggled and tried to think of something stranger still. “Ahhh… plum sauce?”

Plum sauce? Lena!”

Benedict laughed.

“Penedict says pear sauce,” Lena snickered. “He will make.”

“You elves are disgusting. I mean something savory but light…” Kraaia said airily.

“Sauce of boiled toads?”

'Sauce of boiled toads?'

“Sauce of—” Kraaia grabbed the straps of Lena’s apron and pretended to shake her. “What a ninny-​nanny! I swear to God, if Vash ever comes to dinner at our house, I will make him eat boiled toads! And you too!”

Lena spluttered with wild laughter. “With—melted cheese!” she choked.

“Stuffed with groats!”

Outside the horse turned in at the gate and slowed to a mincing walk as it began the steep descent to the house. Lena’s laughter faltered. Somehow she did not think it was Osh. She did not feel the sheltering shadow of his presence. On the contrary, she felt a sort of dull heat, like the radiant warmth of dark stones even after the sun is hid.

“We shall have no groats in our house—you promised!” Lena laughed weakly.

“All right—no groats. But I mean it about the toads. Do you think he’ll come, Lena?” she asked plaintively.

The rider dismounted just before the house. Lena felt a flush of heat, a flare of passion that enveloped the house in billows.

Lena felt a flush of heat.

She thought of Feradach, and the dark fire he had flung out in rings when he had come head-​to-​head with Paul. Lena had privately thought it very foolish of Paul to stoke the man’s lust for Kraaia by branding it an act of defiance against himself, but Lena was not accustomed to questioning lords.

Now she feared she should have spoken up. Her arms were strong, but the man would have knives and know how to use them, and Lena was not certain her fire would stand against his.

“Don’t you?” Kraaia begged. “Someday? If we invite him?”

Lena remembered vaguely something about Vash… something that already seemed to have come from another life. Vash was so distant as to be untouchable, unreal, like the stars.

Meanwhile, outside, a pair of real, high-​stepping boots was punching crisply through the snow to stamp the earth like the feet of a wrathful god, divine heels shod for crushing humbled heads.

“Kraaia, someone is here,” she whispered.

'Kraaia, someone is here.'

The feet stomped onto the porch.

Kraaia paused, disoriented by the change in subject, and Lena saw her last thoughts of Vash skimming over the blue of her eyes like the shadow of a cloud before a moon. Then she brightened and said, “Osh? Good Lord! and we haven’t even started cooking yet!”

“I think it is not Osh,” Lena said softly.

In answer to her fear, the heavy knocker banged three times against the door, and a fourth time, softly, as it was dropped by the divine hand.

“Osh wouldn’t knock,” Kraaia shrugged and leapt up in a whirl of blonde hair. “I’ll go see!”

Lena barked, “No!”


Benedict was so startled that his doll fell out from between his clenched teeth and clattered down into the kettle. Kraaia staggered back against the wall.

“Please stay here with Penedict,” Lena ordered softly, “and I shall go to the door.”

Kraaia frowned. “Why? Who is it?”

Lena walked out. Benedict held up his hands to her as she passed, whimpering a plea, but Lena did not turn her eyes aside.

As she passed the cellar stairs, she thought of the knife she had left behind with the onion and the mushrooms, and she wondered whether she could at last with her own hands wield a knife to the grim purposes that she knew.

Before she had made up her mind, she rounded the corner and left the knife behind like the relic of another life.

Just before she reached the door, she heard Kraaia scoop Benedict out of the kettle and dash after her in a maneuver the disobedient girl had perfectly timed.

Lena could not scold her now.

Lena could not scold her now and reveal the almighty fear she had imagined for her. She would have to open the door and meet it herself.

Lena lifted the bolt and held it fast as she pushed the door slightly open with her other hand. She peered through the crack.

She saw that it was not Feradach at all. This visitor was necessarily coming to see her.

This visitor was necessarily coming to see her.