Alred sighed.

“I would say it’s been worse since Leofric has been here, though I hate to say it, since I am happy to see the man,” Alred sighed.

Egelric and Alred were sitting before the fire in Egelric’s small house, waiting. It was the night of the new moon, and Alred had not wanted Egelric to wait alone. Indeed, his presence here had been a command.

“Because they drink together?” Egelric asked.

“Because they drink together, and when one of them thinks he’s had enough, the other one pours him another. Sigefrith does eventually stop when he’s alone.”

“Doesn’t he seem happier, though, since his lordship came?”

'Doesn't he seem happier?'

“I don’t know. Some kind of happy, perhaps. It’s not the happy Sigefrith I used to know. He was a fine man.”

“Oh, he still is.”

“He’s losing his grip on the reins. I’ve always thought he was one of those men who is simply born to rule, but lately he’s been letting things slip.”

“Luckily he has you and my lord Earl.”

“Oh, Cenwulf isn’t as much help as he appears. He works and works and gets so little done.”

“Luckily, then, he has you.”

“And, luckily, I have you, Squire. I – did you hear something?” he asked suddenly, half-​​rising from his chair and turning to the door.

'Did you hear something?'

Egelric too heard a scrabbling sound and leapt to his feet, his hand searching for the knife at his belt. Before he could draw it, the door burst open and a tall, pale woman in a dark gown stood before them.

“Which one of you is it?” she scowled, looking back and forth between the two men.

'Which one of you is it?'

“It is I,” Alred said.

“You?” she sneered. “No, it’s you, isn’t it?” she said, turning to Egelric. “He looks like you.”

'No, it's you, isn't it?'

“You’ve seen my son?” Egelric cried.

The elf woman threw back her head and laughed. “Druze told me that always gets a rise out of you.”

Her skin was white and waxen, and her eyes were sunken and rimmed with blue shadows, but she spoke in a cool and clear voice and breathed normally.

“Where is he?” Egelric asked.

“What does Druze always say? ‘Where is its son?’” She smiled. “But where is its daughter?”

Egelric clenched his fists. “You shall not have my daughter.”

“Nobody wants your daughter!” she laughed. “Druze knows very well he can’t touch her. He only likes to play with you.” Her laughter broke off suddenly and her face twisted with rage. “Where is he?”

'Where is he?'

“Where is my son?”

“Oh, you think you will bargain with me? Where is Druze?”

“Where is my son?”

She lunged at Egelric’s throat, but Alred caught her by the arms and spun her around to face him. She relaxed slowly and smiled at him. “What a pretty little man it is. What is its name?”

“Jupiter,” Alred replied.


“What a funny little man it is!” she laughed. “And clever. Do you love this man, father of Finn?”

“I do,” Egelric said.

“Then I shall kill him first. I shall kill him before your eyes, and then I shall kill all of the others that you love, moon by moon, until you take me to Druze.”

“You may try,” Alred said.

“You underestimate me, little man. I am stronger even than Druze. Father of Finn, tell him what that means. And I have more patience. Druze kills too quickly.”

'Father of Finn, tell him what that means.'

“Alred, let me talk to her,” Egelric said, and his voice was a quiet warning.

“Yes! Talk to me!” she said, turning to face him in a whirl of dark skirts. “Tell me where is Druze.”

“I have put him back where I found him.”

“No! You cannot leave him in there! Alone!”

“You may join him if you like.”

“Fool!” she hissed, slapping him. “And you will ask me, ‘What have we ever done to you?’ And I shall say, ‘For that alone you and all your race deserve to die!’ Free him tonight!”

'Free him tonight!'

“For him to kill again?”

“I tell you, I shall kill you all if you do not. And since I cannot kill you, father of Finn, I shall begin with those you love. And I think that you will find that this is ever so much worse than death.”

“Why may you not kill me?”

“Because it is forbidden.”


“Free Druze!” she shrieked.

“Bring me my son.”

'Bring me my son.'

“You fool! I cannot bring you your son!”

“You have seen him.”

“Enough!” She turned again to Alred. “How do you most fear to die?”

“I do not fear death,” Alred said coolly, and he held his hands nonchalantly on his hips, but his fingers lay curled around the hilt of a dagger he had hidden in his tunic.

“You are a wise little man. Life is a long thirst, and death is cool water. But you must know that dying can be a terrible thing. How should you most hate to see him die, father of Finn?” she called over her shoulder. “I can make him burn slowly, from the inside out, until he begs for the cool water. But it shall be a long time in coming.”

'How should you most hate to see him die, father of Finn?'

“I do not fear you,” Alred said.

“What?” she cried. “What? Do you think I cannot hurt you?” She drew back her arm and slapped him as she had slapped Egelric, but Alred howled and stumbled backwards, clutching his burning cheek. “That hurts, doesn’t it?” she cooed.

“Leave him out of this!” Egelric shouted, putting himself between Alred and the elf. “What do you want?”

'Leave him out of this!'

“I want Druze! I want Druze!”

“What do you and Druze want? If I free him, what will you do?”

“Punish you!”

“For what crime?”

“For the sins of the fathers, as your book says,” she sneered. “Even unto the third and fourth generations. Isn’t it so?”

“That is for the Lord,” Alred snarled, still crouched against the wall, holding his hand to his face.

“Your Lord will not avenge us,” the woman said. “Those who sinned against us are a hundred years dead. We have waited a hundred years to avenge ourselves. It falls on you.”

'It falls on you.'

“Where is my son?” Egelric repeated.

“Enough!” she howled. “I cannot bring you your son! I cannot reach your son! Ah!” She straightened and smiled. “But perhaps I have something else you might want!” She reached into a fold of her gown and pulled out a small, glinting ring and held it before his face. “Pretty?”

“What is it?” he asked.

“Don’t you recognize it? Have you forgotten her so soon?”

“My wife!” he cried, grasping for the ring.

“Ah ah!” she laughed, leaping away. “Pretty?”

“You took her ring from her poor little hands,” Egelric whimpered, tears filling his dark eyes.

'You took her ring from her poor little hands.'

Alred gripped his dagger and studied the back of her white neck.

“There was little enough left of her poor hands. I should have liked to have brought you her poor little head, but it simply fell apart, and you wouldn’t have recognized it anyway. Mmm, perhaps the hair,” she said, cocking her head coyly. “That was still there. A nice handful of red hair might have caught your attention. But I find the wedding ring rather more poignant, don’t you?”

'But I find the wedding ring rather more poignant, don't you?'

“Give it to me!” he sobbed, lunging blindly at her, but she neatly sidestepped him and he stumbled against a chair.

“Druze said you become careless when your family is mentioned, but I had no idea,” she chuckled.

“Egelric, she’s only taunting you,” Alred warned. “She can’t hurt your wife now.”

'Egelric, she's only taunting you.'

“It’s not his wife I wish to hurt. You see, little man, that there are many ways to hurt. I may not touch the father of Finn, but I may yet hurt him terribly. You may have the ring,” she said, turning to Egelric again, “once you have brought Druze to me. I may even let your little friend live this moon. He is more amusing than you. You are more contemptible than even Druze believed.”

“Let him be,” Alred said.

“Are you still talking to me?” she shrieked. “Are you not dead yet? How careless of me! Watch me, father of Finn.”

She went to Alred with her arms outstretched, reaching for his throat, but as she came near him they suddenly opened wide, and her head snapped back, and she tottered backwards a few steps with a soft moan that seemed more of surprise than of pain.

Her head snapped back, and she tottered backwards a few steps.

Alred swayed but remained standing, clutching the long dagger.

The woman threw open the door and stumbled outside, but Egelric remained, staring at Alred with wide eyes.

“What?” Alred asked, and he felt how his tongue was beginning to swell, and how the sweat ran down his face, and how his cheek burned as if a hot brand were held against it. “Bless you, Matilda,” he mumbled, holding up the dagger with an arm that was already growing limp.

'Bless you, Matilda.'

“What did she do to you?” Egelric asked in a panicked whisper.

“Don’t know, but it’s working,” Alred said. He heard the clang of the dagger when it fell on the floor, and he thought he heard the thump of himself falling beside it, but it felt as if he had been pitched into the fire.