Egelric laid a warning hand on his lord's arm.

Egelric laid a warning hand on his lord’s arm. Despite his languid melancholy, the soldier in Alred was instantly alert.

Alred could not have recognized the body that lay in the shed, half-​​hidden by a bale of hay, but Egelric knew the strange garments and the long legs at once. It was Ears.

Belsar lifted his head and grinned at them, but he only dared wag the tip of his tail for fear of waking his sleeping friend.

Egelric’s horse was less polite, and he stuck his head over the door of his stall and whickered. The elf was on his feet at once, seemingly almost before he was awake. It was a few moments before his face fell in a ludicrous expression of dismay as he realized that he had been surprised, and by whom.

He realized that he had been surprised, and by whom.

Egelric grinned at him. “Lying down with my dog again! Tss! But I’m only surprised that I caught you at it.”

“I’ve been fasting for three days,” he muttered defensively. “I suppose I fell asleep.”

“Fasting! Whatever for? I hope the occasion has passed, for I have procured the wine I promised, and I shall be all the happier to share it with the both of you.”

'Fasting!  Whatever for?'

Egelric introduced the two of them. Alred met the elf with his usual gallantry, but none of his usual good humor. Ears, he noticed, was studiously polite, as if he had learned the formalities of men but had never had the opportunity to practice them.

Will you come in, I hope?” Egelric asked the elf. “Is there something you needed to say to me? Any trouble?”

“No, I…” He glanced at Alred.

'No, I...'

“Alred doesn’t mind,” he said.

“Certainly not,” Alred agreed. “I would be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Sela might mind,” the elf muttered.

“Nonsense,” Egelric said, and his eyes narrowed into a challenge. “She won’t be the least bit disturbed by your presence.”

The elf looked briefly at Alred again. Egelric wondered whether he were not asking himself how brazen he could permit himself to be before a lord of men.

“No, I hope I won’t trouble her,” he said softly.

'No, I hope I won't trouble her.'

I’m certain you will be no trouble at all,” Egelric said, and he went to sling an arm over the elf’s shoulders. “You’re hungry, I gather? I suppose Sela knows how to cook for elves.”

Ears wrinkled his nose slightly but did not disagree.

“You will eat with us? It would give me a great pleasure.” He leaned his head closer to the elf’s pointed ear and said, “My lord lost his wife a few weeks ago. I would be grateful for a distraction for him.”

The elf’s green eyes were suddenly soft and wide.

“You did once tell me you knew what love is?” Egelric whispered.

He nodded.

'You did once tell me you knew what love is?'