Egelric shoved his hands into his cloak and squinted into the wind.

Egelric shoved his hands into his cloak and squinted into the wind. In his hurry to be off, he hadn’t thought that the wind would be all the stronger upon the downs. But the sliver of moon offered too little light to allow him to turn into the woods now, without a torch, and so he could only stay close to the forest’s edge and hurry on.

He had come halfway across the downs with a growing feeling that he was being watched by other eyes than the sheep’s, and finally he stopped and turned boldly to look behind him. Whoever it was would now know that he knew.

He saw a slender form drop and hunch itself low to the earth. Too late! He had seen her.

He had seen her.

He chuckled to himself and turned his face back towards Nothelm. One of the shepherd girls, no doubt. He would walk slowly now, give her a chance to catch up with him… She might take him to her little hut, and then he would have a chance to get warmed up before finishing his walk home. Alred wasn’t waiting up for him, and Baby was surely already abed, so it was no matter if he lost an hour.

He strolled on, wondering which one it was. There was a black-​​haired girl that would have been exquisite if she had better teeth. There was also a red-​​haired lass who wasn’t much to look at but who was ever so much more fun… on the other hand, her father was Red Curran, and he didn’t care to tangle with that old man again.

He didn't care to tangle with that old man again.

He stopped after a while and looked around again. She was nowhere to be seen. Well!

Perhaps he would find a maid still in the kitchen by the time he made it home. Or two…

He turned back towards Nothelm and began to hurry again, but then he saw her fly past, just behind the slender trees that edged the woods. He stopped and stood with his hands on his hips, watching her, but she disappeared into the forest.

He stopped and stood with his hands on his hips, watching her.

He wasn’t in the mood to play games with her. He shook his head in disgust and began to walk again. Sometimes they didn’t seem to realize that they weren’t worth all that much trouble. At least not that sort.

But he was surprised after a while when he saw her trembling behind a bush some distance ahead of him. Had she walked so much faster than he? She must have run.

Well, he would put a stop to this game. She would either come out and speak to him, or she would stop following him. He did not care for spies, especially not of the female variety.

He began to march straight for the bushes, and he hoped his determination was apparent in his walk.

He began to march straight for the bushes.

She did not run, but instead crouched down farther into the bush as he approached.

“You won’t make yourself invisible in that way, my fine lady,” he grumbled. He was about to bark at her as he came around the bush, but he froze when he recognized those eyes – wide and dark and wet as a hare’s.

“You?” he whispered, and then he laid a hand on his knife and looked around for a sign of trouble – Hel, or Druze perhaps. But the moon, though slender, was visible enough.

“Are you in trouble?” he asked her.

Her lip trembled and she shrank away from him.

She shrank away from him.

“Hel?” he asked.

“No, no, no Hel,” she said softly as she began to straighten her legs and stand.


“No Druze.”

“Hmm.” Egelric folded his arms across his chest and stared down at her. He had an uneasy feeling that she was not supposed to be here, and the elves would not be pleased to find her with him.

“You go home,” he said, but she only stared up at him, not seeming to understand.

'You go home.'

“You, home,” he said, pointing first to her and to the woods. “I, home,” he said, indicating himself and the distant towers of Nothelm keep.

“I home!” she repeated eagerly, pointing to the woods behind her.

“Aye, you go home. I go home. Everyone goes home.”

She smiled, and it so brightened her face he couldn’t help but smile back at her. Perhaps it was her halting speech, but she reminded him of a small child, despite being as tall as he.

She smiled.

“I see you, you know,” he said. “I see you,” he repeated.

“I see you!” she laughed.

'I see you!'

“Indeed!” He laughed with her. “I believe you were following me.”

She blinked at him.

“Alas! I believe we have exhausted all avenues of conversation. Now, let’s all go home. You home, I home, everyone home.”

“You, fire,” she said.

'You, fire.'

“Me fire? You want me to build a fire? Oh, no! No fire! I go home, you go home. No fire.”

“No fire?”

“No fire.”

She looked as gravely disappointed as only a four-​​year-​​old can be.

'Good night.'

“Good night,” he said, beginning to back away from her.

“No! What you…” She screwed up her face as she searched for words.

“What I what?”

“What you… call… dis?” she said, pointing at his chest.

'What you... call... dis?'

He looked down. “What – this?” he asked, pinching his cloak between his fingers. “A cloak.”

“No, dis, dis,” she said, stabbing at him with her small finger. “What you call you?”

“What do I call myself? Do you mean my name? Egelric. Egelric.”

“Egelric?” she repeated.

“Aye. Egelric. You?”

'Aye.  Egelric.  You?'

“You, Egelric?”

“Aye. What about you? You?” He pointed at her.

“Sela,” she laughed, pointing to her own chest.

“Ah! Sela. Very pretty. Now then, Sela, let’s say goodnight before your friends find you with me. I don’t believe I’m the sort of company they would like for you. I know,” he sighed before her blank expression. “You don’t understand a word I’m saying. Listen: you, go home. I go home. Egelric goes home, Sela goes home. Everyone goes home. No?”

“I see you ear!” she said, pointing at his head and hopping a little in her eagerness like a child.

'I see you ear!'

“My ear! The devil! You want to see my ear? Well, only if you let me see your… never mind. Here.”

He pulled his hair back behind one ear, and she peered at it intently. He wondered whether the poor innocent had any idea how close that brought her lovely neck to his mouth. Apparently not. He sighed. “Your name should be Trouble,” he said, letting his hair fall again.

She only smiled at him.

She only smiled at him.

“All right, that’s goodnight. Goodnight, Sela,” he said, backing away and waving his hands at her. “You go home, Trouble, before I teach you some words you won’t like.”

Her smile remained as he drew away from her, but it began to quiver as she realized that he really did mean to go.

Her smile remained as he drew away from her, but it began to quiver as she realized that he really did mean to go.

And then she turned and ran into the woods, faster than any woman he had ever seen. She bounded into the trees like a hare and disappeared at once.

Egelric stuffed his hands back into his cloak and continued down the slope towards Nothelm, but slowly now, and thoughtfully.

Egelric stuffed his hands back into his cloak and continued down the slope towards Nothelm.