Alred found the men already gathered in the hall when he arrived at the castle.

Alred found the men already gathered in the hall when he arrived at the castle.

He was surprised at how pale and thin Theobald had become in the past months. The lack of physical labor hardly seemed enough to account for it.

Meanwhile Cenwulf was pale and grim as well, but Alred could explain that easily enough. Lady Eadgifu was terribly ill, and both Colburga and the young heir were coughing now as well. Alred’s faith in his powers of imagination was not so great as to fool him into thinking that he had any idea of what it must be like to watch one’s entire family die off, one by one. Indeed, it was enough to shake one’s faith in God Himself. Alred discreetly crossed himself and thought a prayer.

Finally there was Sigefrith – Sigefrith who was unshaven, flushed, and red-​​eyed. But he always was these days. He had spent so many hours drunk that his face had finally taken on that look all the time, even when he hadn’t been drinking. But it seemed to Alred that he had been, that morning. The man must sleep with a jug of wine next to his bed, he thought with some disgust.

If Theobald were here, it meant either that Sigefrith had had some bad news, or Theobald had. Alred wished he could have stayed in Gunnie Hogge’s kitchen after all. There wouldn’t be many opportunities to joke with this gloomy crew, he thought, and joking was the only defense he had besides his sword.

'The nobility is hereby forgathered.'

“Well, Sigefrith,” Alred said, “with the addition of my humble self, the nobility is hereby forgathered. Now let’s hear the news.”

“The news is Theobald’s,” Sigefrith said. “It was he who asked we all meet – upon receiving my letter, I trust.”

Theobald nodded.

“Did you tell him about…?” Alred began.

“About the elf? Yes.”

Theobald swallowed and closed his eyes.

Theobald swallowed and closed his eyes.

“I thought he might know something about it,” Sigefrith said with some irritation.

Theobald licked his lips. “I may know something.”

“Let’s hear it, then.”

Theobald hesitated.

“Well?” Sigefrith barked.


“Sigefrith…” Alred cautioned.

“Forgive me,” Theobald said awkwardly. “I don’t know much. I was never meant to know… I was never meant to rule. But I shall tell you all I know.”

“It’s about time,” Sigefrith said.

“Sigefrith, let him speak,” Cenwulf said.

'Sigefrith, let him speak.'

“Cenwulf, four people are dead! If he tells me something that could have prevented that, I shall not be pleased!”

“Let him speak first.”

“Very well. Out with it, Baron.”

Alred shrugged and gave an encouraging half-​​smile to Theobald, who took a deep breath and began again.

“My family has not always been a good, Christian family. No, let me begin again,” he interrupted himself, pressing his shaking fingers to his temples. “My family had lived peacefully in this valley for as long as memory tells. They lived peacefully with the elves, I mean. That is what we have been told, anyway. I didn’t quite believe it until I saw Egelric’s little girl. And it seems that with the elves’ protection this valley was perfectly prosperous and secure. But about one hundred years ago, my grandfather’s grandfather – or rather his grandmother… well, you see, it seems that the elves have some kind of magic.”

Cenwulf glanced quickly at Alred. Alred thought he must have been thinking of the way the people went on about Iylaine’s supposed evil eye. Perhaps there was something to it after all.

Perhaps there was something to it after all.

“And my grandmother wanted to have magic as well. And she did – she did everything she could think of to have it. Terrible things, I mean. She could not get the elves to tell her their secrets, so she… she became an unchristian woman. And my grandfather did everything she asked. We believe the thing she wanted was never to die. And she thought that the elves had the secret to that. So when they wouldn’t tell her, she began capturing them, and imprisoning them. And when they wouldn’t tell her, she began torturing them, and doing – I don’t know what kind of things.” He passed his hand over his face, and Alred saw that he was wet with sweat.

“Sigefrith, get some wine for the man,” he whispered.

'Sigefrith, get some wine for the man.'

Sigefrith grunted an acknowledgement and sent a servant out. “Go ahead, Theobald,” he said then.

“I don’t know much more, Your Majesty. Because of her, the elves killed every man in the valley. I mean, everyone – women, children, babies too. Hundreds – thousands, perhaps. They left the people in the hills, and they left my grandfather – their son, I mean, my grandfather’s father, who lived in his keep on the top of the hill, where the clouds always gathered.”

“Thorhold,” Alred said.

Theobald nodded. “That is where I live now. The elves claimed the valley for themselves, and left the hills for the men. And they say that there is a curse, and that if the Baron returns to claim the valley, then we shall all die – the men in the valley, and the men in the hills likewise. That is what my father told me. I believe he told Gifmund more, but I was never meant to rule. I never quite believed it, until I saw Egelric’s daughter. And then – with what has happened lately.”

Sigefrith considered this for a long while. “You have always known this and have never told me.”

'You have always known this and have never told me.'

Theobald hung his head.

“Tell me this: was this your family’s castle?”

“It was.”

“This crypt we found beneath the court, was this your grandmother’s doing?”

“I believe it was. What you described – ” He suddenly hid his face in his hands.

The servant returned with wine, and they all took a cup and drank in silence.

“What you described in your letter,” Theobald continued afterwards, “was what I see in my dreams. The lion statues, the bodies, the pedestal with the star and the floating sphere. I have seen all of that. Even before you told me. I have been having these dreams since my brother died.”

“And you never told me,” Sigefrith muttered, shaking his head – sadly, Alred thought.

'And you never told me.'

“Forgive me! I did not think it could matter. I left the valley as soon as I learned I was Baron. I would not even claim my farm here. I thought it would not matter, so long as I left.”

“But you were in the valley when your brother died,” Alred said. “You were here, on your farm. You didn’t know you were Baron, but I suppose you were. And that night the earth shook, and that is how we found the crypt. You knew all of that, too.”

“Forgive me,” Theobald said miserably.

“Did you understand from my letter,” Sigefrith asked, “that the elf we found was already dead? I mean, that he was dead and still walking around and talking and killing – did you understand that?”

'Did you understand that?'

Theobald nodded.

“Alred thinks that he may have been imprisoned in the crypt, and we released him. I told you there were two people seen running out of there when we went down. Is it possible he was one of them?”

“I have no idea. I cannot explain any of that.”

“But you’re telling me that this crypt was used to imprison and torture elves, are you not?”


“The bodies we saw were elves, were they not?”

“They would only differ in the ears,” Alred said. “And the skeletons’ ears were long gone.”

'They would only differ in the ears.'

“We gave them Christian burials in the cemetery,” Sigefrith said. “Was that wrong, if they were elves?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know! Any of this!” Theobald said, pacing. “All I know is what amounts to a legend, or a story you tell to children! If there were more details, I shall never know them! Gifmund may have, but I never shall. I have told you all I know. But I fear now that it is all true – to the great dishonor of my name.”

“It’s all right, Theobald,” Alred said. “‘The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.’ And I don’t believe anything you have told us could have saved those four people. Do you, Sigefrith?”

Sigefrith scowled. “We might have gone more carefully into the crypt. We might not have let those two – creatures – whatever they are – escape.”

“I didn’t know about the crypt, your Majesty. Only my dreams,” Theobald said softly. “It wasn’t until later, when you described it to me in your letter, that I recognized it for what I had dreamt.”

“What do you think, Cenwulf?” Sigefrith growled. “You’re terribly silent.”

'What do you think, Cenwulf?'

“I know not what to make of it,” he replied gravely. “The elves may be our enemies. Or they may not have a quarrel with us at all. It was only this one who had, perhaps, a quarrel a hundred years old with all men. I pray he shall find rest now.”

“But he spoke of Egelric’s son,” Alred said. “He knew Egelric for the father. Doesn’t that mean he has been with the other elves?”

'That is more than I can say.'

Cenwulf shrugged. “That is more than I can say.”

“What shall we do now?” Alred asked the King.

“What shall we do now?” Sigefrith repeated, his voice mocking. “That is more than I can say.” He turned away from them and took another cup of wine. “Leave me. All of you.”

“Sigefrith, if you would like me to – ” Cenwulf began.

“Go! By God, I would rather face William and his army today than the lot of you, with your elves and your magic and your deception. Get out.”

“Theobald,” Cenwulf said softly, “perhaps you might come with me to Bernwald. It would do Colburga good to see you again.” He took Theobald by the arm and turned to lead him out of the hall.

Alred stared at Sigefrith’s back for a moment, and then followed after them with a sigh.

Alred followed after them with a sigh.