He came upon her as silently as the swoop of an owl.

When her cousin arrived, Iylaine was still staring at the pink stone she held, reverently now, in her hands. He came upon her as silently as the swoop of an owl, but when she first saw him, he seemed to be as surprised as she.

“Iylaine!” he gasped. “What – how do you say?” Then seemed to realize he should not have spoken aloud. “Were you waiting here for me?” he whispered.

'Were you waiting here for me?'

She was still gaping at him. She almost wished she could run – almost wished she had never come – but now that he was here…

His hands met hers and found the stone. The stone he took and tossed away, but the hands he kept. He seemed very tall, standing so near.

The stone he took and tossed away, but the hands he kept.

“I can’t stay long at all,” he whispered. “All of my cousins are waiting for me. I wish I hadn’t told them I would come! I would rather stay with you. I never dreamt I would find you here.”

He was standing so close to her that there was scarcely space between them for his hands and hers. Finally he pushed them away and wrapped his arms around her to hold her against his chest. At last she had found something that did not reek of the charcoal fires! He smelled only of leather and moss and spicy ferns.

He smelled only of leather and moss and spicy ferns.

“Say something,” he whispered with a little, nervous laugh that shook his body and hers. “I was beginning to fear you wouldn’t come any longer. I was beginning to worry about you.”

“Is that why you left the pink stone?”


“Was that truly urgent?” she giggled.

He leaned far enough away from her that he could smile down into her face. “Now then, I never told you that I couldn’t leave the pink stone only because I missed you. You must learn the sad truth about me, Iylaine, and it is that I think I may permit myself to do whatever I like, because I like.”

'I think I may permit myself to do whatever I like, because I like.'

“So do I!”

“No, I think you are better-​​behaved than I. At least you obeyed me when I told you not to leave a pink stone only because you missed me – unless you didn’t miss me?”

“Oh, no! I did! I did!”

“Say it!” he whispered.

“I missed you!”

“Yes! And I missed you.” He spoke quickly, as if it truly were urgent. “Oh, how I wish I could take you with me tonight! The fun we would have!”

'The fun we would have!'

“What will you do?”

“It will sound silly to you if I tell you. We shall simply have a fire and music, and dance and tell stories.”

“I wish I could come.”

“So do I! And you would dance with me, and I wouldn’t have to go begging for a partner.”

“You don’t!”

“I do! All of the others have a sister or a cousin to dance with, but I’m the odd one. It’s a wonder they invite me,” he laughed. “I am always stealing their girls. But I steal from everyone equally, so there are no jealousies,” he winked.

“I thought you had many cousins.”

'I thought you had many cousins.'

“Oh, but you have the same word for all kinds of cousins. My father has no brother or sister, and my mother had only your father as a brother, and you are your parents’ only child. So you are my only kóna–it is this kind of close cousin.”

“And you are my only kóna too!”

“No, I am your ésón… and you have other close cousins. Don’t forget your Uncle Mustache! But I shall explain all of that another time.”

Ésón…” she repeated.


“Ah, I like to hear you say it,” he smiled. “But all of our cousins are waiting for me, kóna dal, so tell me only: are you well? Are you unhappy?”

She did not know how to reply. She lost her smile in her confusion, and he saw it and pulled her head against his chest so that she would, at least, not have to look into his face. It was like laying her head on a pillow of moss in a bank of spicy ferns, but her hair was pressed against her cheek and nose, and the lingering odor of the charcoal fires made her feel ill.

He stroked his hand over her smoky hair and spoke softly, but aloud, and she could feel the hum of his voice in his chest. “Are you only unhappy, or unhappy for a reason?”

'Are you only unhappy, or unhappy for a reason?'

Iylaine felt her body go as rigid as a post. His voice was gentle, but it was the same gentle voice her father had used to speak to her these past days, and she was certain that it meant that he knew – he only pretended to ask a question: he knew the reason.

She spoke without thinking, but with an instinct to strike out and wound. “I only miss my cousin Malcolm,” she said.

“Ahhh,” he said, and he too stiffened and stopped stroking her hair.


“And my friends Bertie and Dunstan and Eadwyn,” she added quickly, again without thinking. “And His Grace.”

“They’ve been away a long while,” he said with a voice that had grown distant.

She lifted her face and looked up at him. Everyone said she had grown that summer, but he was still far taller than she. His very head seemed distant and dark. “They should be home again soon,” she said. “When the leaves fall.”

'They should be home again soon.'

“And then you too will be able to dance with your friends.”

“You aren’t angry because I do?”

“It would be selfish of me to be jealous, wouldn’t it?” he said coldly. “You see me for a few moments twice a year, and – ” He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.

She realized that he was not merely tall--he was a man.

She could only look up at him from below, and she saw the broad muscles of his neck and the shadow of beard across his jaw. She realized that he was not merely tall – he was a man.

When she leaned away from his embrace, he looked down at her for a moment, as if he had forgotten she was there, and then he let her go.

When she leaned away from his embrace, he looked down at her for a moment, and then he let her go.

“I am angry, Iylaine, but not at you. I am angry at my father, because he will not allow me to see you, kóna dal, kón’anín dal. You’re unhappy and lonely, and we’re all dancing and laughing… Now I must go and dance and pretend to laugh, and all the while I shall be thinking that perhaps you have gone away to cry alone.”

'All the while I shall be thinking that perhaps you have gone away to cry alone.'

The muscles of his neck moved as he clenched his teeth again, and Iylaine had the idea that he himself was perhaps trying not to cry.

“I don’t think I shall,” she said. “I have seen you tonight, and that makes me happy for a long time afterwards.”

'I have seen you tonight, and that makes me happy for a long time afterwards.'

“Does it?” he asked with a twisted smile, and he stroked his hand down her hair and over her ear again. “Then I am not sorry I came tonight.”

“Doesn’t it make you happy?”

“I might not have needed to pretend to laugh tonight if I hadn’t come. But I am not sorry I came.”

'But I am not sorry I came.'