Alred scowled when he reached the place he had been seeking in the Book of Isaiah.

Alred scowled when he reached the place he had been seeking in the Book of Isaiah. “Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities,” he read.

This seemed clear enough.

He and Father Brandt and Baron Theobald had been engaged in an epistolary debate on the sins of the fathers. Theobald had been able to find three passages wherein the Lord said He would “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” Meanwhile Father Brandt had been able to show that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.”

This latter was what Alred had always believed, or chosen to believe, but he was beginning to wonder. Theobald could be eloquent when damning himself.

And since he was obliged to sit up all the night in case of trouble on the new moon, he had decided to hunt out the passage Theobald had thought he had seen once in the Book of Jeremiah or of Isaiah or of one of the other more melancholy prophets.

He had read for hours to find this passage, but Isaiah was clear. Moreover, the curse of the elves had taken the same form: “Prepare slaughter for his children… that they do not possess the land.” It was eerie. He wondered whether the elves were Christians, or whether they merely enjoyed using the words of the Lord against the Lord’s people.

'That they do not possess the land.'

“What?” he cried, startled by a knock. He thought it must have been terribly late. This could not be good news.

“Jupiter! What happened to you, man?” he asked as the guard led three grooms into the small room. One of the men, a tall blond, had blood on his face and mouth, and his eye was black and swollen.

One of the men had blood on his face and mouth.

“It was an elf!” his groom Wulsy cried. “An elf beat him and tied him up and meant to burn the Squire’s barn down around him!”

Alred gasped. Had the creature escaped? “Wait, wait – you tell me,” he said to the blond. “What’s your name again? You’re one of the Squire’s men aren’t you?”

“Byrtsige,” the man mumbled through his cut and swollen lips. “I’m his groom for his saddle horses.”

“What happened then? What kind of elf?”

“It was a woman elf. Stronger than any man!”

'It was a woman elf.'

“A woman?” Alred asked. Then it was not Druze. Then there were two of them.

“She come up in the loft and dragged me down and tossed me on the floor. And then she started to beat and kick and scratch at me. And I swear she was stronger than any man!” he babbled. “I could’ve licked a regular woman or even a man, but she wasn’t like that at all! And she was that fast, she come at me from three directions at once!”

“Pardon me a moment,” Alred said, and he slipped past to the door to send for wine. And catch up with his racing thoughts.

The men had seen two people come up out of the crypt that day – over a year ago now. A man and a woman, it had seemed. He and Sigefrith and the others had not wanted to believe it after a time – they had only ever seen Druze. And indeed, if there was anything to make him doubt that Druze had come out of the crypt at all, it had been that they had seen no sign of his supposed companion. But perhaps it was these two after all.

“She was asking, ‘Where is your master? Where is your master?’” Byrtsige blurted as soon as he reentered the room.

'She was asking, 'Where is your master?''

Alred took a deep breath. She was looking for Egelric.

“I did told her my master was away, my master was away, but she didn’t believe me. And she did tied me up to the pole and she said that if I didn’t tell her she would burn the barn down around me. And I told her my master was in the hills building a castle, and I swore. And then she said that she would make it so he would not fail to meet her next moon, and she took them big bales of hay – one bale in each hand like no man could ever lift! And she put them bales around me, and she touched ‘em with her hands, and everywhere she touched it caught a flame, and then she stood and laughed at me while the smoke started rising, and I started yelling, and the flames never burnt her – oh God!” He stopped and held his head in his hands.

“Easy now,” Alred soothed. “I’ve sent for wine. Have you two seen her?” he asked the others.

“No, we never did,” Wulsy said. “We were outside and smelled the smoke and went to see. But she mustn’t have been long gone because we found Byrtsige still alive and yelling, not dead from the smoke or fire.”

“She was watching!” Byrtsige moaned.

“Perhaps it’s not too late to find her,” Alred said, his hand already itching for his sword. “What did she look like? Snap out of it, man!”

'Snap out of it, man!'

“I don’t know – she was real white and pale, and her hair was black and her dress was black. And she had pointed ears!”

“A black dress you say?” Alred asked, moving toward the door.

“A black dress like what a noble lady would wear. But all black.”

“Well, I hope no innocent elven ladies with pale skin and black dresses are out tonight, for I shall slay the first I see,” Alred muttered. “When they come with the wine, drink your fill, and then go back to the stables and get cleaned up and go to bed. And let’s keep this between us four, shall we?”

Alred doubted they would keep their silence long, but he hoped at least that it would be he to tell Egelric.

Alred doubted they would keep their silence long.