Iylaine knew of a glade where bluebells grew.

Iylaine knew of a glade where bluebells grew. She had never been as fond of flowers as Wynnie or the other girls, and bluebells were all the more disappointing for being so frail once picked. But she had awoken that morning with such an aching loneliness… 

And it made no sense at first, because her Da was home. She had not even wanted to go riding when he had offered to take her with him to the mill, and this was so surprising that a possible illness was briefly considered. But she felt fine, she said – she only wanted to be alone. Her Da had wrinkled his brow at this request and told her she was becoming a shy one these days, but he had left her alone.

This didn’t make sense either – if one felt lonely, one should not want to be alone. But so it was.

And when she had seen Malcolm riding across the downs with the King and Caedwulf, she had fled the castle. Here, clearly, was the one person she least wanted to see.

She had fled the castle.

So she walked out into the hills behind the stables, aimlessly at first, she had thought, but when she found herself searching a likely spot to cross the swollen stream instead of simply strolling aimlessly down its bank, she knew where she was heading.

She knew too whom she was hoping to see. Perhaps she would find him lying amid the flowers, remembering her, as he said he would. Perhaps if she could surprise him, he would not have time to hide. She walked more quickly.

She could smell the flowers before she could see them. Did her cheeks really smell like that? She had asked Alwy what her cheeks smelled like, and he had said they smelled like kitten fur. But what did kitten fur smell like? That he could not say.

There was no one lying in the flowers. She hadn’t realized how badly she had wanted to see him until she felt the disappointment of not finding him.

There was no one lying in the flowers.

“Aren’t you here?” she cried, heedlessly crushing the little flowers beneath her feet as she trudged into the heart of the glade. That only made the smell stronger. She began to feel sick, as when she ate too much honey with her porridge. He had said her cheeks smelled like honey too.

She remembered that he said he would be watching her, though she wouldn’t be able to see him. Perhaps he was there – perhaps he had already hidden himself. “Oh, please come out!” she cried. “Just for a little while!”

The odor of the bluebells made her dizzy, and she sat. The odor made her want to cry, too.

The smell made her dizzy, and she sat.

She saw that she was lonely because she was the only elf. And when she was with the men, it was like a flaw. She was like a little girl that had turned out wrong – that had oddly pointed ears, and who knew what other strange features and habits? And many of the men hated and feared her for it.

But Vash said that her ears were pretty, and she was like the other elves, and she looked like his beautiful mother, and the elves had loved her. She was not wrong. She was perhaps even better than good.

She pulled her hair back behind her ears folded her hands in her lap. But a moment later, frightened, she hid them again. She had been hiding her ears for so long, she felt as oddly naked with them uncovered as if she had pulled her skirts up around her waist. And in some ways she thought the ears were worse.

She stood again.

She stood again, brushing the bruised leaves and blooms from the back of her dress. There was no peace for her in the glade either. Her loneliness was aloneness. She was the only elf. Some of the men loved her, but she was all alone. And who knew whether she would really see Vash again? Perhaps he had only been a dream–

No. That is what he said she would think, and so she would not think it. Dreams did not accuse themselves of being dreams anyway.

But he had left her no proof – her Da had even lost the little flask in the confusion of getting the bad elf onto a horse and taking her away.

And so she would have to rely on nothing but her own memories, and she knew she would have to endeavor to avoid the trap into which her Da said her Mama had fallen, and that was wanting things so badly that one believed them to be real and true.

She was not the only elf. But she might as well have been.

She might as well have been.