Alred and Sigefrith headed out towards the road.

Egelric closed the barn door behind them after they left, and Alred and Sigefrith headed out towards the road. Egelric, Osric, and the priest had stayed to take care of the body, while Alwy had left earlier to take Gunnilda home after bringing her to confirm that this was the man she had seen.

“Do you suppose we can trust that man of Alwy’s?” Sigefrith asked. “He’s the only one I don’t know.”

'We can trust him.'

“We can trust him.”

“If word gets out, we shall know who told,” Sigefrith grumbled.

“I said we can trust him. All anyone will ever know is that we found and killed the killer.”

“May I come home with you?” Sigefrith asked once they had reached the road, where Sigefrith’s men and his horse awaited him. “I have nothing planned for the morning.”

'May I come home with you?'

“What about Cenwulf?”

“He wasn’t to come today, although I suppose I should go see him later.”

“His baby still sick?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What about Colburga?”

“Still coughing, too.”

“Damn. I had better go see him myself. Had my mind on other things lately.”

'I had better go see him myself.'

“Well, may I come home with you?” Sigefrith said impatiently.

“Of course you may.”

Sigefrith sent his men home with the horse and he and Alred turned up the road towards Nothelm. 

The sky was paling into a rosy dawn behind the hills at the far end of the valley, but it would be some time before the sun climbed above them. The land still lay in shadow.

'Are you certain we didn't dream this?'

“Are you certain we didn’t dream this?” Alred asked after a while.

“I’m not certain Egelric didn’t.”

“And Alwy and Osric too? Sigefrith – think about it: an elf,” Alred began, ticking the strange events off on his fingers as he went, “who is dead and still walks, who savagely kills some of our men, who chats with Egelric about his son and daughter, who only comes out on the night of the new moon… I’m out of fingers, but I could go on. Would you believe it if you hadn’t seen it?”

'I'm out of fingers, but I could go on.'


“So tell me this, old man: you never believed in the curse that is supposed to hang over this valley. Now do you?”

Sigefrith thought for a moment. “I don’t know. This is only one strange happening in seven years. It doesn’t seem like a curse, exactly. And why now?”

'And why now?'

“I don’t know,” Alred mused. Suddenly he stopped and laid a hand on Sigefrith’s arm. “When did it start?”

“What – the killing? In January.”

“No – all of it.” Alred wandered over to the pasture fence, where one of the great black geldings that pulled the plow had come to inquire whether it was already time to begin work. Sigefrith sighed and followed.

'It started with the animals, remember?'

“It started with the animals, remember?” Alred said, letting the horse snuffle his palm with his soft nose. “We thought it was wolves, but we never found any signs of wolves. It started with the first new moon of December.”

“Perhaps. I don’t remember. All of the animals were yours or Cenwulf’s. All of the people were yours as well. It’s been quiet over in my lands.”

'What happened just before?'

“I haven’t forgotten that,” Alred said, turning back to his friend. “But think about it, Sigefrith: the first attack was in early December. What happened just before?”

“Why don’t you tell me, since you already seem to know the answer to your own questions?” he snapped.

“It was that crypt beneath your court. We went down there in November, do you remember?”

“I remember. And you think doing so ‘unleashed the curse,’ or whatever you’re trying to tell me?”

'I don't know.'

“I don’t know. But what if that character was down there? What if it was him that we unleashed?”


“This morning he looks to be three days or a week dead. Yet he was walking around a few hours ago.”

“So he died three days or a week ago and has been walking around dead ever since.”

'He has been walking around dead ever since.'

“Sigefrith, once you admit that this corpse, who appears three days or a week dead, was walking around last night, then you admit the possibility that he has been walking around, appearing three days or a week dead, for months, killing. And then it’s possible that he has been walking around, three days or a week dead, for years. And so it’s possible that he has been walking around, three days or a week dead, for centuries.”

“And he was ‘alive’ and waiting in that crypt all this time?” Sigefrith frowned. “And we let him out?”

'And he was 'alive' and waiting in that crypt all this time?'

“It’s possible, old man. Anything’s possible. And if that’s so, then it’s bad – very bad.”

“Why? Egelric killed him – you saw it. He’s dead now if he wasn’t dead before, and he won’t go walking again once the priest is through with him.”

“But Sigefrith – there were two of them that ran out of there. There were two of them.”

'There were two of them.'