'Who the devil can that be?'

“Who the devil can that be?” Egelric asked. “You and Malcolm are the only characters that ever visit me out here.”

“I hope it’s no one looking for me,” Alred said.

“If it’s the devil, I shall tell him you’re out,” Egelric said as he went to the door.

'If it's the devil, I shall tell him you're out.'

Wulf and Gils sat transfixed at Sela’s feet, wondering over the unfamiliar occurrence of a knock at their door.

“Oh!” Egelric laughed once he had the door open. “It’s only someone looking for wine. Don’t tell me you can’t stay, this time! I insist!”

Dunstan leaned forward in his chair, trying to see who could bring a joyful reaction from Egelric and one of panic from Sela, who was already scooping up the babies. He feared it would be Leofric.

Dunstan leaned forward in his chair, trying to see who could bring a joyful reaction from Egelric.

“I might stay a while,” the man outside said. His soft voice bore an odd, whispering accent. It was not Leofric. “I see Alred is here – oh!” He stopped short in the doorway when he saw Dunstan.

The man was very tall and strangely dressed. Dunstan thought he could only have been the elf his father had met several times before.

“This is my eldest son, Dunstan,” his father said as he went to greet the elf. Dunstan rose with him, but he wished he might slip away as Sela seemed to want to do. Iylaine was his friend, and Sela was sweet and kind, but all he knew of the other elves was evil.

Dunstan rose with him, but he wished he might slip away as Sela seemed to want to do.

The elf held out a warning hand to Sela as she attempted to go cringing past him, and he spoke a few words to her in his strange language. There was nothing soft or whispering about his voice then.

There was nothing soft or whispering about his voice then.

“What did you say to her?” Egelric asked. His own voice had a hard edge of annoyance.

“I simply told her she might stay,” the elf replied, softly again.

“Stay, Sela, stay,” Egelric coaxed. “This is your house.”

“Ears!” Wulf cried and pointed at the visitor.

“That’s right!” the elf laughed. “Did you teach him my name?” he asked Egelric.

'Did you teach him my name?'

“Not especially. I believe he is simply admiring your ears. Pretty ears!” he said to Wulf and took him from Sela. “Like Mama has, and Wulf and Gils have.”

Sela cuddled Gils and turned miserably away from the men and the elf.

Sela cuddled Gils and turned miserably away from the men and the elf.

Dunstan stood apart from them and looked up at her. He understood precisely how she felt. How often had he been asked to stay with people when he longed to be alone!

He sat beside her when they all sat again, determined to smile at her if she ever looked at him, but Sela seemed just as determined to stare all night into the fire.

“You and your priest may be of another mind,” the elf said after the men had settled in with their cups of wine, “but we’re grateful for whatever happened three moons ago. Three moons now and no more elves have been killed.”

“Hmm! I suppose that’s good news,” Egelric said.

'You suppose!'

“You suppose!” the elf laughed.

“I wish I knew how the appearance of a demon in our church could be the cause of good news for anybody.”

“Perhaps the woman killing the elves was its enemy?” Alred suggested.

“That’s what worries me,” Egelric said. “A great evil comes and destroys a lesser evil – should we be celebrating?”

“It depends on what the great evil has in mind.”

“And that’s what worries me! We might wish a return to only one elf per month.”

'And that's what worries me!'

“Don’t say that, Egelric,” the elf said. “We are already very few, and I have lost members of my family, whom I loved. And I do wish I knew what happened to Hel.”


“What will happen to Druze and Midra now, if she is gone? They hoped that if she would die, they could too.”

“Perhaps we could convince the demon to kill them too?” Egelric suggested with an ironic chuckle.

Dunstan sat back in his chair and closed his eyes.

Dunstan sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Something profound, he thought, must happen when a boy became a man to allow him to discuss such matters with such equanimity. At least he hoped so, for if there were no transformation in his future, it was clear he would be a miserable excuse for a man.

“Although I am not convinced it exists,” Egelric continued. “Father Aelfden is the only one who has seen it.”

“Don’t you believe the word of a priest?” Alred scolded.

'Don't you believe the word of a priest?'

“You know better than to ask me my opinion of priests,” Egelric growled. “But that one is half-​​mad, if you want it anyway.”

“Ah!” Alred sighed. “So are you, Egelric, and yet you are both remarkable men. I wish you could meet him, Ears, though he would probably waste the evening trying to convert you. If I ever wanted to have an interesting discussion with intelligent men while I was in Denmark, I had only to mention that Aelfden of Lund was my parish priest, and I was swarmed by ecclesiastics and philosophers.”

“Is he so well-​​known?” the elf asked.

'Is he so well-known?'

“He’s brilliant. Everyone on the continent has read his On the Seen and the Unseen. I shall bring it here for you next time I come. And while I was away he neatly solved a little problem with the nature of time that had been troubling Father Brandt and me for years, and he’s writing it up now.”

“But does he write poetry?” the elf smiled.

“Poetry! Hmm, no. He’s more of a Nathan than a David.”

“Nevertheless he must admire it, if it is in your Bible.”

“I believe he prefers the Bible for its instructional qualities. And you for its poetry?”

'And you for its poetry?'

“Parts of it. I tried to write down some of our poems for you while you were gone, but it was more difficult than I had anticipated.”

Now Dunstan was interested. The elf didn’t seem so frightening after all, and Dunstan could not understand why Sela seemed to cringe away from his every move. Indeed, he seemed quite agreeable now that he had begun to relax with the wine. He had stretched out his long legs until his boots were nearly in the fire, thrown back his head so the hair fell away from his eyes, and now he smiled. He was only an agreeable young man, Dunstan thought, and reminded him very much of young Sigefrith – when Hilda wasn’t around.

Now Dunstan was interested.

“Ah!” his father said. “You have come to know the delights of the translation of poetry.”

“Not only! I already knew that from trying to explain the interest of your English poetry to my cousins. They still do not understand. But I mean the writing of it. We write with brushes, not quills, and I made a mess of your letters, I’m afraid. It’s one thing to read and another to write.”

“Poetry is meant to be spoken, anyway,” Alred said, “and it is dead once it is written, as you have previously pointed out to me.”

The elf opened his mouth to speak, but Egelric interrupted him with a groan. “Do you see how it is, Dunstan?” he asked. “The only fun for me is in watching to see how long it will take them to turn the conversation to poetry. And they can turn any conversation into one about poetry.”

'And they can turn any conversation into one about poetry.'

“You’re speaking to the wrong boy, Egelric,” Alred said.

“That’s so! Damn you all. Ears, I want you to bring one of your cousins who doesn’t understand the interest of poetry next time you come. So I shall have someone to talk with me.”

“I saw Belsar outside…” the elf smiled.

“Damn you, I said! At least tell me you weren’t attempting to write down Druze’s poetry for him.”

“Druze?” he laughed. “No. That’s far too elegant to ever be expressed in your English language.”

'No.  That's far too elegant to ever be expressed in your English language.'

“I was hoping he would give me some of his own,” Alred said.

“Mine?” he gasped. “What makes you think I write poetry?”

“Anyone who loves it as you do must have at least tried it.”

“I love it too much to so dishonor it,” he smiled, but Dunstan thought he had the look of a man who was only trying to be modest.

“Come now!” his father said. “At your age! You must be a fountain of foolish lyrics over some girl or several. ‘Nunc scio quid sit amor,’ and so forth.”

'You must be a fountain of foolish lyrics over some girl or several.'

“Ah, no. I told you – we elves are few, and I am difficult to please.”

“You must be, if they are half as lovely as Sela here.”

The elf gave a sharp laugh, as if his father had meant it ironically. “Have you ever seen any other elven ladies?” he asked.

“Only my dear Midra. And Iylaine, of course! Now she is a lovely elf. Isn’t she, Dunstan?”

Dunstan shrank away towards Sela. Everyone was staring at him now but her. Even Wulf had looked up at him upon hearing his name.

The elf leaned over to look at him. His hair had fallen back over one eye, and the other was weirdly green – Dunstan thought suddenly of the venom of serpents, though he had never seen any – and its gaze was not kind. “Are you composing foolish lyrics already at your age?” he asked.

'Are you composing foolish lyrics already at your age?'

“No!” Dunstan gasped. It was not quite true – he did not think they were quite foolish, anyway – but if he wrote poetry for Iylaine he never told her about it. He certainly wouldn’t admit it to this keen-​​eyed stranger.

How he wished Malcolm were there! Malcolm would know what to make of him. Every time he started to feel at ease with him, the elf would do or say something that would chill Dunstan to the marrow.

“That’s the correct answer to give before her father,” Egelric grinned.

“Don’t get too complacent, old man,” Alred said. “Someone will if Dunstan won’t. Although I don’t think Iylaine is a girl to be wooed with pretty words.”

'Don't get too complacent, old man.'

“Oh, no?” Egelric laughed. “And how would one go about it?”

I know of no other way. If you want to know, watch your cousin Malcolm.”

Egelric grunted and took a drink of wine. The elf had sat back in his chair again and was staring down at the fire, or else at the toes of his boots at the ends of his long legs. Neither seemed to see the joke, but his father sat a moment shaking his head and laughing softly to himself, alone, as he very seldom did.

Neither seemed to see the joke, but his father sat a moment shaking his head and laughing softly to himself.