Iylaine sat dreaming beside the small pond.

Iylaine sat dreaming beside the small pond in the hills behind the Nothelm stables. She never swam in it, of course, but she told herself that she loved it. She couldn’t say why. The water was always so still and clear, and it reflected the sky and the willow branches like a broad mirror.

Sometimes, when she felt adventurous, she would lie on the steep bank, sick with nervous excitement, and look down into the water. Sometimes she even dared pull her hair back behind her ears and look at her little elfin face. She tried to inspect her ears, but as she had told Vash, one could not really look at one’s own ears. But she secretly liked the little points on either side of her head. She thought they might be pretty, for elf’s ears.

Today, however, she sat at a safe distance from the water and stared up into the sky.

She sat at a safe distance from the water and stared up into the sky.

She liked this spot because the other children so rarely came here. Her little pond was so small that it wasn’t much fun for swimming. There was another down the road from Nothelm castle, larger and closer, and that’s where the other children went to play on such hot days. But Iylaine didn’t care to play with the other children, and indeed they didn’t care to play with her.

More and more, she liked to be alone with her thoughts. She liked to wonder about things, and except, perhaps, for Dunstan, who also liked to think about things, this was far easier to do if one could be alone.

This was far easier to do if one could be alone.

Today she had an idea that the elves had a name for many things that men could only describe with several words. Sarim was a wildfire that moved quickly, Vash was still and dark and cold water, and Illira was a wind that came to lift the leaves and announce a coming rain.

The elves could say each of those things in a single word. She liked that. She wondered what it told about them. Did they pay more attention to such things? Did they find it important to easily say what kind of wind there was outside?

She wondered what the wind today would be called. It was a hot and lazy breeze that brought out the smells of things. Vash said he would teach her the language of elves someday. She would remember to ask the name of this kind of wind.

Suddenly Iylaine saw that she was not alone after all, as several pairs of legs came into view.

Several pairs of legs came into view.

She sat up. These were boys, and these were not her friends. Worse – there was Anson, a big boy who liked nothing better than to torment her. No doubt he had brought his friends along for the show.

“Hallo, Baby! Run off and get lost again?” Anson asked.

'Hallo, Baby!'

“What do you want?” she asked, standing with difficulty, for the boys had already formed a tight circle around her.

“We just want to see your ears.”



“Come on, Baby,” Eglaf said. “We can’t remember whether they look like pig ears, or dog ears, or donkey ears. You got to show us, ’cause we made a wager.”

“You are not going to see my ears,” she hissed.

“You going to stop us?” Anson asked. “I guess your precious sweetheart Malcolm isn’t here to stop us today.”

“I’ll tell him you’re bothering me. I’ll tell my Da too!”

'I'll tell him you're bothering me.'

They all began to laugh. “The little Baby is going to run to her papa!” Alfred cried. “Boo hoo hoo!”

“Your precious Malcolm isn’t here today, and your precious Bertie and your precious lordships are out riding. So you just have to play with us, I guess,” Anson said. “Now what shall we play?”

“How ’bout we go elf hunting?” Alfred proposed.

'How 'bout we go elf hunting?'

“What do we do with the elves when we catch ‘em?” Anson asked eagerly.

“We do like what the elves do with the people they catch,” Alfred said. “We cut ‘em up like pigs!” Alfred was the biggest boy among them, and Iylaine was already terrified of him before this day.

“You better not hurt me!” she cried, turning, trying to find a way out of the circle pressing in around her.

'You better not hurt me!'

“Oh, we aren’t going to hurt you, you stupid pig-​​head donkey-​​head dog-​​head elf,” Alfred said. “We’re just going to play with you a while.”

“Show us your ears!” Anson commanded.


“Show us your ears or we’ll lift up your skirts!”

“No!” she shrieked, pressing her dress down around her legs. The boys laughed and laughed.

She pressed her dress down around her legs.

“Come on, elf!” Anson yelled. “Show us your ears!” The other boys were laughing and calling her names.

“No! You leave me alone!” No matter which way she turned, the boys closed in to block her path.

'You leave me alone!'

“All right,” Alfred said, “if your ears are too precious, you can show us what you got under your skirt. We don’t care which.”

“Let’s make her eat dirt!” Hennuf suggested to Anson. “Like what Malcolm did to you that one time when you was chasing Baby.”

“That’s right!” Anson laughed. “You can eat some dirt and tell your beloved Malcolm how it tastes so he might think twice next time.”

Anson laughed.

“And you tell him,” Alfred said, “from now on, everything he does to us, we’re going to do to you! Even harder!” The other boys shouted in agreement.

Iylaine ran desperately, trying to break through their circle, but Hennuf and Leof caught her easily between the two of them and thrust her back in the middle.

Hennuf and Leof caught her easily betwen the two of them and thrust her back in the middle.

She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. She began to cry.

“Ohhhhhh boo hoo, crybaby! Baby girl! Where’s her papa now?” Hennuf taunted as the other boys laughed.

“Aye, where’s her wee Scots sweetheart with his wee sword?” Alfred asked, mocking Malcolm’s accent.

“Leave me alone!” she sobbed.

'Leave me alone!'

She had thought the fight had gone out of her, but when Hennuf grabbed her roughly by the hair and yanked her head back, she began to struggle again. He had a handful of dry dirt, and though he could not make her open her mouth, he rubbed it all over her face.

She felt sick. After he let her go, she stood still, docile, waiting for it to be over.

She stood still, docile, waiting for it to be over.

“What’s a matter?” Leof laughed. “Look at her! I think she liked it!”

“Maybe you should put some dirt in her ears,” Eglaf suggested.

“Naw, there’s not enough dirt in the whole world to fill those enormous elf ears! Pig ears!”

Iylaine clenched her fists and waited. She only hoped they wouldn’t hit or hurt her, or try to lift her skirts.

Iylaine clenched her fists and waited.

“I know what’s the matter,” Anson said. “Mistress Precious Baby thinks she’s so fine, since she lives in a castle, she just don’t know what to do with herself now that she got a little dirt on her face like a peasant girl. She’s just that upset!”

“Why don’t you go wash it off, Baby?” Leof laughed.

“That’s right!” Anson said. “Let’s go wash it off in the pond!”

“Oh, no!” she cried in panic.

'Oh, no!'

“That’s right! Baby’s scared of water! Poor baby!”

“I don’t know how to swim!” she protested desperately.

“Oh, you stupid elf!” Alfred yelled. “You don’t need to swim. That water don’t come up to your chin. Come on! Grab her arms!”

Terrified, she began to run and managed to burst out of the circle, but the boys ran close behind. They chased her heedlessly right where she most feared to go: towards the pond.

They chased her heedlessly right where she most feared to go: towards the pond.

They didn’t even need to touch her. She slipped on the grass of the steep bank and went sliding down feet-​​first into the reeds.

She slipped on the grass of the steep bank and went sliding down feet-first into the reeds.

The boys were right – the water was not so very deep. At the edge, where she stood, it only came up to her waist. But she could feel how the mud sucked at her little feet, and how the silty water came swirling beneath her skirts and around her legs.

It was a nightmare. She stood trembling, her arms lifted above the water, and her shoulders hunched as if she expected blows to come raining down upon her from above.

But the boys stood on the bank, laughing at her and calling her names.

But the boys stood on the bank, laughing at her and calling her names.

She could feel the water soaking into the fabric of her dress and climbing up along her body to where the surface of the water did not reach. And the part of her dress that was wet and out of the water clung to her and made her skin crawl. It was a nightmare. She had always thought it unpleasant enough to go swimming without any clothes, but standing in water fully dressed seemed even worse to her now. How she hated the water!

Still, she did not dare climb out of the pond. The boys were still there, and who knew what they had yet in store for her? They did not seem to care to follow her into the water. And so she waited, shuddering against the caress of the water and the cling of her dress, until they tired of laughing at her and ran away.

After they had gone, she waited until she could no longer bear the water, and then she scrambled out onto the steep bank and stood.

She scrambled out onto the steep bank and stood.

The water streaming down her legs nauseated her. Her soft summer shoes were soaked, and she thought she could feel mud squishing between her toes.

She began to cry again in sheer misery as she went trudging up the hill to where she had been sitting so peacefully – and dry! – so short a while before.

She went trudging up the hill.

But something strange happened as she walked. Her skirts, which had stopped streaming and merely dripped now, suddenly began to gush water again, and within moments her dress and shoes and body were quite dry.

Within moments her dress and shoes and body were quite dry.

Stranger still, the puddle of water that had run out of her dress onto the ground did not merely soak into the earth, but went sliding down the hill and back into the pond, almost as if it were alive.

“Oh!” she gasped, trembling again. It was like magic. But no – the water was already in her dress. It had only been made to come out again. It was elf magic.

“Are you here?” she cried, her heart bounding. “Come out, please! Please, come out! Only for a moment! Please!”

'Please, come out!'

She looked desperately around her, but all she heard and all she saw was the wind shaking the long, drooping branches of the willows by the pond.

“I know you’re here!” she squeaked, feeling as if she would cry again in disappointment. “Please!”

There was not a sign – only her dress, impossibly dry.

She waited, holding back her tears until she knew he would not come. But he would not come, and so at last she let them fall.

She let them fall.

And here again something strange happened. The tears did not make it halfway down her cheeks before she felt them disappear into the air. She gave a gasping sob that mixed loneliness with joy, and then she closed her eyes and cried as long as she could, only for the delight of feeling him dry her tears.

She closed her eyes and cried as long as she could.