Father Brandt turned a page in his book.

Father Brandt turned a page in his book. It was late, but as on so many other nights, he was out of bed, reading by candlelight. And as on so many other nights, he was reading Augustine’s City of God. But how was it, if Augustine always seemed to know the answers, he could never find them in this book?

“But all the miracles of the magicians are performed according to the teaching and by the power of demons,” he read.

This was the clearest condemnation of magic that he could find. But what distinguished magic from miracle? How could one recognize a demon?

This was the clearest condemnation of magic that he could find.

It also seemed that the demons loved evil. There was evil enough in this valley. He had seen the dead elf that walked and killed. But if this was so, why would demons create a tree that was green through the winter and whose bark could cure the fever of a dying man? A good, God-​​loving man? Who had been injured by another elf – another demon?

He did not think Augustine knew. He did not think Augustine had seen the like. Augustine had spoken vaguely of a miraculous or magical lamp that could not be extinguished – but he had never seen a walking corpse that could not be stilled. He had never seen a demon.

What would Augustine say? He tried to do and say as he thought his master Augustine would have said and done, but the answers were not here. He didn’t know.

The answers were not here.

This was not the place for a priest such as he. He had not trained for this. He had not desired this.

He had spent the first fifteen years of his priesthood hearing the confessions of noble ladies and dining with their husbands. He had not even had his own church to occupy him. It had been almost as much out of boredom as out of duty to his family that he had answered his sister’s plea.

But she had not prepared him for this.

But she had not prepared him for this.

Brandt rose and put the book away. Still, he wasn’t tired, and he sat again at the table and stared down at the candle.

Things had never been quite right here. Ever since he came, there had been the strange lights and other goings-​​on at the church. And there had been the elf child.

But after that night when they had felt the earth shake and heard the great cracking sound in the earth and had seen both great crucifixes fall and shatter, he had been able to make sense of none of this. Augustine had no words for these things. There were the savage killings, and then there was the male elf, that loathsome demon – and now a female. Decidedly, they had entered into a nest of demons. Perhaps the valley was cursed after all.

Perhaps the valley was cursed after all.

Brandt blew out the candle and turned to his bed.

Cursed? No. He didn’t like the word. It put the power to create evil in the mouths of those who would speak it. But perhaps the valley was inhabited by evil. That he was beginning to believe.

Brandt blew out the candle and turned to his bed.