'Now, say that to me one more time--if you dare!'

“Now, say that to me one more time—if you dare!” Wulsy growled.

It was pitch dark, it was cold, and it was the new moon, but those things were of little importance in the face of such grave matters as these. Besides, no one had been killed since the summer, and they weren’t far from the stables, where the other men were still playing their game of dice. Some things were best discussed outside—just the two of them.

Olaf smirked and shrugged. “I don’t mind. I said if you can’t keep her happy, you better at least keep her locked up. I can’t help it if she come to me.

“Oh you can help what you do with her! Or I’ll just come along after and help you help yourself!”

“You got it wrong, man,” Olaf laughed. “You don’t blame the wolf if the ewe come along and lay herself down in his mouth. Or your wife in my bed!”

'Or your wife in my bed!'

Wulsy took a deep breath in preparation for roaring at him, but he stopped suddenly, his fists unclenching. “Do you smell smoke?” Some matters were more important even than what they had come to discuss, and to men who worked in stables, fire was one of them.

Olaf sniffed. “That don’t smell right. That’s not kitchen fires.”

Both stopped to test the wind, and both turned to the north as a breeze blew up from the woods below the keep, where a dark smudge had blotted the stars out of the dark sky above the trees.

“That’s the Squire’s farm down there,” Olaf said.

They ran.

It was the Squire's small barn aflame.

It was the Squire’s small barn aflame—the one close to the house—the one in which his wife had hung herself. He used it only for his saddle horses now, and there was only ever one groom at hand: Byrtsige, Wulsy’s friend.

But if he had not given the alert, then he was either away from his post… or he was trapped in the loft.

“Come on!” Wulsy yelled, dragging Olaf down the hill behind him.

As Wulsy pulled the great door open, they could hear the sound of a man crying out beneath the screams of the horses.

It was Byrtsige himself, surrounded by a ring of burning bales and, it seemed, tied to the post that supported the loft!

Byrtsige was tied to the post that supported the loft.

Olaf could only dance in panic, but Wulsy slipped between two bales and quickly cut his friend loose.

“Get him outside!” he roared at Olaf, pushing Byrtsige into his arms.

Wulsy then went back for the horses, for Wulsy loved horses more than anything, and the Squire’s were lovely creatures.

Wulsy then went back for the horses.

Thus it was Olaf who heard the news first from the sobbing groom.

“She beat me! She tied me up! She asked me where was my master! And—oh, God! She was an elf!”

'She was an elf!'