Egelric lay fully-clothed and half-awake on the bed.

Egelric lay fully-​​clothed and half-​​awake on the bed. He had thought he had drunk enough to allow himself to sleep, but it had only sufficed to paralyze him in a queasy stupor. He had not lit a fire in the bedroom, and he was cold, but his face and hair and clothes were still soaked with sweat. He thought it must have become a reflex upon entering this room. It would take some time for his body to learn that it was no longer necessary – or to forget it ever had been.

The wind blew furiously outside and shrieked in the pines. He could hear the door shuddering on its hinges in the front room as the wind tried to force its way in. It was a tempestuous night, and all he had wanted was peace. He wanted sleep and dreams and forgetting, ale and forgetting, death and forgetting…

All he had wanted was peace.

His bed seemed to be rocking slightly beneath him, and he tried to imagine that he was on a ship. He had never sailed on the sea, so it was easy for him to pretend that the gentle rocking was the waves, and the wind he heard was only the wind in the sail, and the knocking of the door in its frame was – what could make such a sound on a ship? The oars? He didn’t even know. But it seemed such a pleasant idea… flight and forgetting. Why could he not do as his cousin Malcolm had done and flee across the water? Go where the people did not even believe in elves, and stay until he no longer believed either?

The door to the bedroom rattled suddenly, and he tried to explain it away, too. Another rower? Where were they taking him? But he was in his house, and he realized that the bedroom door should not rattle unless the front door had opened.

He locked neither, of course. He, alone, feared nothing from anyone, and he would not lock it so long as she might return.

Then he remembered – it was the night of the new moon. If she did return tonight? If she tried to return? Had someone entered the kitchen? If it were she, then he was terrified for her – terrified at the thought of the danger she had braved and that had not yet passed. And if it were not she – if it were not Alred–

He would have no peace now until he went to see what had caused the bedroom door to rattle.

He would have no peace now until he went to see what had caused the bedroom door to rattle. He cursed himself for having left his knives on the table, though he thought himself savage enough these days to kill with his bare hands. No doubt it had only been a gust of wind sneaking down the chimney, but he almost believed he could strangle the wind if it were not sufficiently polite with him. He staggered to the door and threw it open.

A tall figure stood boldly before him with its back to the fire. He recognized the silhouette now, with its pointed ears.

A tall figure stood boldly before him with its back to the fire.


He had nursed a seething hatred for the elf and his kind for the last two days, but he was overjoyed to see him now. Perhaps he had brought news – perhaps he had changed his mind–

He only noticed the cowering form in the corner when it lurched towards him momentarily before cringing away again. It was Sela in her soft dress that was the color of fallen oak leaves – Sela with her blue-​​white skin, and with her dark eyes opened wide in the terror of a trapped animal – Sela who longed to go to him and who feared to move.

It was Sela in her soft dress that was the color of fallen oak leaves.

He had no such fear, and he ran to her and tried to pull her to her feet. This she would not allow, and so he dropped to his knees and held her there, on the floor. She did embrace him, she did allow him to kiss her all over her face, but she still shuddered with terror, and she would not speak in reply to his questions or his murmured nonsense.

Then he remembered the moon, and he turned his head to look back at the other elf, who now stood staring down into the fire with his back to the two of them.

He stood staring down into the fire with his back to the two of them.

“Ears! She’s terrified! You took her out on this night of all nights!”

“This night of all nights?” the elf cried in exasperation. “Of course this night! It is the only night no one could have stopped us! Do you think my – do you think the elves decided to let her go back to you?”

“Hel could have stopped you! Look at her! She’s terrified.”

'Look at her!  She's terrified.'

“She knows Hel could not have harmed her,” the elf said darkly. “We came with Druze.”

“Druze?” Egelric laughed, disbelieving.

“Shall I invite him inside?” he snapped.

“No. No!”

“Get up off the floor,” the elf said impatiently. “That is no place for you. I have no time for this. Druze is not my footman to be kept waiting, and I do not care to see you fawning over her.”

'I do not care to see you fawning over her.'

“You shall not take her away from here!”

“I do not intend to take her away from you,” he sighed. “Get up, Egelric. I remind you that I have saved your life twice, and now I have brought her to you in open defiance of my father. You are deeply in my debt. You owe me more than your life.”

Egelric stood, somewhat chastened, and Sela shrunk away against the wall.

“Do you wish to keep her?”


“There is only one way, and although I find the idea repugnant, I suppose you will be only too pleased. If I simply leave her here with you, the elves will return for her tomorrow. You must be bound to her, as an elf to an elf – as a true elf,” he added with a sneer directed at Sela. “It is a travesty,” he muttered. “But I shall do it for you, because I am a fool.”

'I shall do it for you, because I am a fool.'

“Do what?”

“It is like the thing you call marriage – ” He stopped and sniffed. “As little like it as a wolf is a dog, but the closest thing you have. She will not be able to live without you, unless the bond is released by your death. I do not know what effect it would have on a man.”

“I can’t live without her.”

“You men say that so easily and forget so soon,” he scowled. “And you wanted to give me lessons about love.”

'You men say that so easily and forget so soon.'

Egelric glared at him. “What does this involve?”

“A simple rite, which I am about to desecrate. Afterwards the elves will forgive neither you nor me for our impiety, but they will not dare take her away from you.”

“Sela, do you want this?” he asked gently.

Sela still cowered in her corner and stared at the floor.

“She would not dare speak in my presence,” said the elf, “but she can no longer speak in any case.”

“What?” Egelric cried.

“I could not allow her to come back to you if she could speak – certainly not if she could speak your language.”

“What did you do to her?”

'What did you do to her?'

“Nothing painful. I took her words away,” he said, unable to hide a slight, self-​​satisfied smile.

“You did what? Sela!”

“I think you men would silence the braying of your asses if you could,” the elf said with a low chuckle.

Egelric’s arms trembled with the suppressed desire to strike his insolent face, but he did not dare risk angering him now, and he knew he would not succeed in any case.

“Another thing – I have told her who your daughter is. She will not dare go anywhere near her now. But I repeat my warning – neither she nor any of your half-​​breed children are permitted to see or be seen by Iylaine. I shall have bound you – I shall be able to separate you. That is my condition.”

“How shall I explain that to either of them?”

'How shall I explain that to either of them?'

“It is of no importance to me. You will find a way, if you love this Sela as you claim, and wish to keep her.”

“Sela,” he said, turning back to her, “is this what you want?”

“She can’t speak.”

“I know that! Sela, Sela-​​elf,” he coaxed, “come to me if you want to stay with me. Do you want to stay here? This is your home? Sela’s home and Egelric’s home?”

“She won’t rise until I give her leave,” the elf said, and Egelric could hear the smile on his lips.

“The devil! Then give her leave!”

The elf spoke to her at length, and after a while she rose hesitantly and came to stand at Egelric’s side, though she still hung her head.

“She wants to stay with you. Now, I – ”

'She wants to stay with you.'

“Tell her I love her,” Egelric said suddenly, remembering his request of two days before. “Did you tell her? Tell her that, and tell her I want her to be happy, and if she would be happier away from me, then she may go. But only if she likes – not because you like. Tell her.”

The elf frowned impatiently for a moment and then sighed and began speaking to her again. “She wishes to stay,” he said afterwards. “Now – ”

“Teach me how to say it.”


“Teach me how to tell her I love her in her language.”

'Teach me how to tell her I love her in her language.'

“I shall not!” he cried. “I shall have committed sacrilege enough for one night as it is! Now, shall we proceed before I change my mind?”

“Sela,” Egelric began hesitantly, but he didn’t know what to say to her. She would not look at him. She could not answer. Would she ever speak again? Would she ever laugh?

Meanwhile the elf pulled a small knife from his belt, with a short, two-​​edged iron blade and a handle of horn. It looked very much like the knife Egelric wore in his boot, but the horn, rather than being stained and dark with use and age, shimmered like the pearls his lady sometimes wore on her ears.

Sela held out her hand at once, and the elf slapped the flat of the blade against her palm. He gestured impatiently at Egelric, and said, “Yours now.” Egelric hesitantly lifted his hand, and the elf grabbed it and pressed it against Sela’s, with the cold knife between them. He squeezed them together with his free hand, and Egelric saw Sela wince in anticipation just before the elf twisted the blade slightly to press the edges against their skin and then yanked the knife away, slicing their palms open.

Egelric swore, and Sela cried out – and despite it all he was relieved to hear that she still had a voice – but the elf held their hands together so tightly that Egelric feared he would crack her bones. He had closed his eyes and was murmuring something that Egelric could not understand.

He had closed his eyes and was murmuring something that Egelric could not understand.

What he did understand was that Sela was whimpering in her throat like an animal in pain, afraid to cry out again.

“You’re hurting her!” he barked.

The elf murmured on, and Egelric could feel their palms growing slippery. A trickle of hot blood was beginning to run down his wrist and into his sleeve. And then the elf released their hands, and the three of them stumbled apart.

Sela held her bloodied hand in the other as if it were a wounded bird, staring down at it with a tremble on her lips. Egelric threw his arms around her and crushed her, hands and all, to his chest, little heeding the blood he spread across the back and the front of her leaf-​​brown dress.

Out of the corner of his eye, in some corner of his mind, he was dimly aware of the elf cleaning the blade of his knife in silence. When Egelric finally looked up at him, he saw that his face and lips were pale and his eyes were stunned. He had lost all of his sneering arrogance, and was only a boy who saw he had gone too far.

Sela had stopped her whimpering and let him hold her. Indeed, she seemed relieved that her arms were trapped between them and she needed only let herself be held. Egelric was moved with a great tenderness for her. She was his now, it seemed, but he did not yet understand at what cost he had bought her. She had already paid with her tongue.

He did not yet understand at what cost he had bought her.