Sela sighed happily as she snatched at Egelric's hand again.

“It is warm-​​bright in de autumn-​​no-​​moon-​​night,” Sela sighed happily after she had caught Egelric’s roaming hand again.

“That’s because we’re indoors,” Egelric murmured. “You like it now, don’t you?”

“I like it in de fire room.”

“The fire room!” he chuckled. “The bedroom, you mean.”

“Bed for you, fire for me,” she giggled.

“Hmph!” he grunted and wriggled his hand away to stroke it down her side again. It always amazed him how her skin remained dry or, at worst, dewy, no matter how hot the room or how strenuous her exertions. The door to the other room was open, so Sela’s “fire room” was not as stifling as usual, but he was slick with sweat, and his hair clung to his forehead. Still, if she did not complain about that, then he would not complain about the heat.

She could be stroked to sleep like a great cat.

He no longer spent the nights of the new moon outside. He could not have wandered all night while the one elf he wanted to protect above all others was alone and undefended. Perhaps she had been all he had ever meant to protect on those nights. It hardly seemed improbable now.

He could feel her body relaxing as she grew drowsy, and her breathing slow. She could be stroked to sleep like a great cat, and yet he did not want her to fall asleep so soon. He was too happy.

“Fire room,” he repeated. “I begin to wonder whether you come for me or come for the fire.”

'I come for you.'

“I come for you,” she laughed. “You make fire, fire don’t make you.”

“Ah, that is very wise,” he smiled.

“What is wise?”

“Wise is what babies and old men and Sela-​​elves are, and what I am not.”

'Wise is what babies and old men and Sela-elves are, and what I am not.'

She only giggled. He knew she did not understand, but neither cared.

He slid his hand down the hollow beneath her hip and over the soft curve of her belly. Her hand followed after to catch it, but this time he caught hers and brought it up to his mouth to kiss. He stopped, though, at the sight of the pale skin and the blue veins that lay beneath it, and the tendons below, and the long bones still farther below, and all at once he saw in the core of it that mysterious substance called life that he had been trying to protect all of those nights of the new moon. That was the one thing without which the rest did not matter. 

He caught hers and brought it up to his mouth to kiss.

At the sight of her hand, he suddenly realized a number of things, and she saw and grew afraid. He realized that her hand had only moved to deflect his when it strayed across her belly, and yet it was precisely to her belly that it was drawn. He realized that it was the soft curve that drew it, unconsciously, and yet he did not think it had been there before.

“Sela,” he smiled hesitantly.


“It is no,” she interrupted, trying to deflect even his thoughts.

“Now, Sela,” he soothed, “you would have to tell me someday. If you were waiting for me to guess, then I have.”

“It is no, no,” she repeated.

“I know you don’t understand me,” he sighed. He tried to lay his hand on her stomach again, but she pushed it away, roughly this time.

“It is no, it is don’t, don’t!”

“Sela, aren’t you happy?” he asked, hurt and confused. “I am. You can’t know…”

“It is don’t don’t for man for Sela-​​elf!” She tried to struggle away, as if she would rise, but he caught her and held her against him.

He caught her and held her against him.

“Listen, Sela,” he said gently, “it is time you explain to me what you mean by ‘it is don’t.’ You tell me it is don’t when I ask you to ride a horse, it is don’t when I ask you to come to the lake with me, it is don’t if I ask you to stay in the house with me, and now, now it is don’t for… for this.”

“It is don’t,” she quavered.

“What do you mean, Sela? Does it mean you don’t want? Does it mean you may not? Is it forbidden?”

“It is don’t,” she repeated.

“I know you don’t understand.” He sighed in frustration and laid his damp forehead against hers. “Aren’t you happy? Couldn’t you be happy with me?”

“I am happy in de summer, happy in de autumn. I am sad in de winter, sad, sad.”


“It is… not happy elf.”

“Aren’t you a happy elf?”

She pulled away from him and turned her face to the fire. “It is elf-​​elf for Sela-​​elf, man is don’t for elf, for Sela-​​elf,” she muttered.

She pulled away from him suddenly and turned her face to the fire.

“Aren’t you happy with me?” he repeated. It was the one thing without which the rest did not matter.

“It is sad in de winter,” she said mournfully, “sad for you, sad for me in de winter elf see me.”

“Are you afraid the elves will see you? We shan’t let them see you. Only stay here with me.”

She did not answer. He felt a great hollow in his stomach, as if something vital had been cut out of him, and he felt a queer sickness all around it. He dared not touch her now. He could not bear it if she pushed him away.

Slowly she rose and went to stand before the fire, and he lay still on the bed until her shoulders began to shake and he knew that she was crying.

He knew she was crying.

He had never seen her cry. He was not surprised to see that she cried as she laughed, with the artless abandon of a child.

“Are you afraid of the elves?” He laid an arm over her trembling shoulders. “You needn’t be. You don’t think I would allow anyone to hurt you, do you?”

'You don't think I would allow anyone to hurt you, do you?'

She did not answer, and he knew she could not have understood.

“Listen, Sela,” he said, and he turned her towards him and held her tightly against him. He would have to explain simply, so that she would understand.

He would have to explain simply, so that she would understand.

“I listen,” she sniffed, and he was relieved. If she only wanted to be comforted, then he knew he could manage it.

“Listen, Sela. Stay with me. Don’t be sad. Stay with me, and we shall be happy in the autumn, happy in the winter, and very, very happy in the spring. Won’t you be happy? I’m happy.”

“Happy is for you in de spring.”

“Happy is for me, happy is for you,” he corrected. “Won’t you be happy? You?”

She hesitated, still gasping occasionally with sudden sobs, but she laid her cheek against his. He was almost surprised to feel it wet. “I am happy for you,” she said at last.

'I am happy for you.'