Egelric stood before his fireplace, but no fire burned.

Egelric stood before his fireplace, but no fire burned. The doors were wide open, and a chill, damp breeze stirred his hair, but it was not enough to cool the man who lay burning with fever in the bedroom.

Matilda was there, in the bedroom, and Father Brandt and the old wise woman Mother Duna, but between the three of them they had found nothing that could halt the rise of the fever.

“Da, I’m scared,” Iylaine said suddenly, hugging his legs. She and Dunstan were there as well.

“I know, Baby.”

“Are you scared, Dunstan?” she asked.

Dunstan looked up at her with anguished eyes.

“Leave his lordship be, Baby.”

'Leave his lordship be, Baby.'

Long minutes passed, and Egelric heard Father Brandt arguing in a hushed voice with Mother Duna, and he heard Matilda sob.

All of this was his fault. He shouldn’t have let Alred come – he shouldn’t have let Alred speak to the elf – and he shouldn’t have let the elf touch him. But he was too weak, and too foolish. The elf woman had been right: one had only to mention his family and he became careless. He had not kept his wits about him. Alred had. And now Alred looked likely to die for it.

He turned as Mother Duna and Father Brandt came out of the bedroom. “How is he?” he asked.

'How is he?'

Father Brandt looked down at Dunstan and said nothing, but Mother Duna shook her head and said, “He’s been in such a fever once before, remember, and he come out of that. But I did all I can. I only have one more idea, but Father Brandt says no,” she said, casting a sly glance at the scowling priest.

“Well, what?” Egelric asked.

“The tea of willow bark is good for fever,” she said, nodding sagely.

“And thou hast already tried it,” Father Brandt said.

“I tried bark from a willow down by the river. That’s not the willow I mean.”

'That's not the willow I mean.'

“None of thy spells, woman!” Father Brandt warned.

“What about Mama’s willow?” Iylaine asked.

“Whisht!” Egelric scolded in a whisper.

“That’s just the willow I mean,” Mother Duna nodded.

'That's just the willow I mean.'

“Well, why don’t you try?” Iylaine said.

Egelric shivered.

“None of thy spells!” Father Brandt repeated.

“Please, Egelric.” Matilda came to stand in the door to the bedroom, her face wet.

Matilda came to stand in the door to the bedroom, her face wet.

“Please, Da!” Iylaine begged. “Mama won’t mind!”

'Mama won't mind!'

“A willow is a willow,” Brandt said.

“No it isn’t!” Iylaine cried.

“Baby, whisht!” Egelric repeated. There were too many of them – he didn’t know which way to turn or what to say.

“It isn’t!” Iylaine said stubbornly. “Mama’s tree is green all the year!”

“I told you not to touch that tree,” Egelric said to Mother Duna, in desperation.

'I told you not to touch that tree.'

“Not even for him?” Matilda pleaded.

“Please?” Dunstan whimpered.

“It’s an elf magic that made him ill, it should be an elf magic to cure him,” Mother Duna said firmly.

“Please!” Iylaine said, tugging on his hand.


The idea sickened him. Somehow he had come to see the tree as a part of her – or as her, for he didn’t even know whether she lay beneath. And now they would scrape the skin from the body.

“Oh, Egelric,” Matilda cried, “I don’t know what else to do. We must try. He’s dying!”

“Only trust in the Lord!” Father Brandt thundered.

'Only trust in the Lord!'

“I do! I do! What is that tree if not a miracle? What greater sign do you need?”

“A miracle or wicked magic! That woman was no saint!”

“I don’t care!” she sobbed. “I would do anything! Anything!”

'I don't care!'

“Wouldst damn thyself or thy husband?”

“I don’t care!”

“Enough, enough,” Egelric said. “I shall go for the bark. It shall be on my head. Mother Duna, tell me how I must cut it.”

“May God forgive thee if this is sin,” Father Brandt said, scowling at him.

“And may my wife, as well,” Egelric said, returning his glare.

'And may my wife, as well.'