Alred had been struggling with the wind all the way across the downs.

Alred had been struggling with the wind all the way across the downs. When he had gone out that morning, the sky had been full of flocks of tiny, wooly clouds. By afternoon the wind had blown in storm clouds from the sea, and the shepherds had already brought the sheep and their tiny, wooly lambs in to shelter.

He had left his horse at Sigefrith’s castle, and now he was risking the rain for a chance to return home on foot. He delighted in his combat with the wind – the struggle made him feel alive, and it seemed to force its way into his lungs and fill him with the clear, cold sea air.

And this very combat was a greater challenge to a greater enemy than the wind, for he had not forgotten how Alwy Hogge had died upon the downs. If he could choose any way to die, he thought he would like to die as Alwy had. Certainly he had taken the name of Jupiter in vain often enough in his life to have tempted the old man to strike him down with one of his thunderbolts. At that moment, he thought he would welcome it. He was feeling very old.

He was feeling very old.

He had dined at Brede’s manor and had spent some time in conversation with Brede and his brother-​​in-​​law. Brede was ostensibly celebrating the birth of his new daughter, Finna, but Alred could tell that he had been disappointed that she had not been a son. And Eirik, whose child had not yet been born, was not shy about proclaiming his great desire for sons, either. He said he thought he would not live long, and he wanted to have sons soon.

Brede was a few days from his twenty-​​first birthday, and Eirik a few months. Alred remembered twenty, and he knew the futility of telling them they had their entire lives ahead of them, and that they would have many sons.

But he was a few months from his fortieth birthday, and he would have no more sons. He was grateful that the three he had were magnificent, and he recognized that the sixteen years, one month, and seven days he had spent with Matilda constituted more happiness than most men would attain if they lived twice forty years.

But his sons were growing up; Matilda was no more; his happiness was over. His great fear now was that he would live another forty years without them. And already he was feeling very old.

Nevertheless, he was delighted when a tall figure came out of the trees.

Nevertheless, he was delighted when a tall figure came out of the trees at the edge of the downs and struck out with a long, graceful stride along a path precisely calculated to meet his own some distance ahead. He knew it was an elf, and he supposed he knew which one.

“Ears!” he cried. “A thunderbolt would not have surprised me more.”

“Good afternoon, Alred,” the elf said with his precise politeness. “Where are you going today?”

“I’m only attempting to get home before it starts to rain.”

'I'm only attempting to get home before it starts to rain.'

“Do you mind if I walk with you on the downs?”

“It would be a pleasure to walk with you, sir, if my stumpy legs can keep up.”

“I shall keep them in mind,” the elf smiled. “But it won’t rain, you know.”

“No, I don’t know. It looks like rain to me.”

“You may believe me. It won’t rain today.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty years old,” he laughed. “Why?”

“It figures,” Alred sighed. “If you had been nineteen or twenty-​​one, I would have told you that I have been on this earth approximately twice as long as you have, and I know rain clouds when I see them. But instead I shall tell you what I should have told my young friends earlier today, to wit: you still have your entire life ahead of you, and you will have many sons.”

'You will have many sons.'

“You know no more about me than you do about rain clouds. Those clouds won’t rain, and I shall only have one son.”

“Is that so?”

“My people don’t have dozens of children as you do. Most of us have two children: one son and one daughter.”

“But then there will never be more of you.”

“That is why.”

“Oh.” Alred thought this rather queer, but he could not find an argument against it.

“I’ve been wanting to speak to you,” the elf said with uncharacteristic awkwardness.

'I've been wanting to speak to you.'

“I wish you would contrive to meet me, in that case,” Alred said. “I do enjoy talking with you.”

“As do I,” he smiled.

“Looking for books? I have some new ones from the continent.”

“No. Or – perhaps. Perhaps you have books about it. I wanted to ask you about jealousy.”

“Jealousy?” Alred felt his face flush. “Jupiter! Have you been talking to Egelric?”

'Have you been talking to Egelric?'

“Egelric? No. I don’t think he wants to see me. Why? Does he know about it?”

“Egelric? I don’t know. He only has to look at a woman and she climbs into his bed. I was simply wondering who told you I was the expert on jealousy.”

“No one did. Are you?”

Alred sighed. “And if I told you my wife died giving birth to another man’s child?”

“I… didn’t know. I’m sorry. How does it feel?”

“Young man!” Alred stopped walking.

“Does it make you angry?” the elf asked, turning back to him.

“Do you know, it’s easier to demonstrate than to explain?” Alred laughed bitterly. “Why don’t you show me where your sweetheart sleeps, and I shall introduce you to jealousy?”

'Why don't you show me where your sweetheart sleeps, and I shall introduce you to jealousy?'


“Why do you want to know, anyway?”

“I’m trying to understand men.”

“Don’t elves ever get jealous?”



“No. We don’t.”

“So if another elf takes your lady away from you, you don’t mind?”

“No elf would take another’s lady.”

'Is that so?  A wonderful, well-organized society you have there.'

“Is that so? A wonderful, well-​​organized society you have there. Two children per couple, and everyone knows who the father is. Let’s go,” he snapped and started off again. “It’s about to rain.”

“It won’t rain.”

“Humor me!”

The elf walked alongside him for a while before asking, “Does it make you so angry you want to hurt the man?”

“Hurt him? Jupiter! You do need to ask Egelric about this. He knows all about that. He has had any number of jealous men wanting to hurt him during his life.”

“He has?”

“He is quite a hand at taking men’s sweethearts away from them. But he’s a big man and good in a fistfight. He usually wins. But – do you know? He never really wants the girls at all. That’s what’s so sickening about him. He breaks men’s hearts for no reason.”

'That's what's so sickening about him.  He breaks men's hearts for no reason.'

“I thought you were his friend?”

“I am!”

“You walk quickly for a man with ‘stumpy legs,’” the elf observed.

“Simply don’t wish to wet my head.”

“It won’t rain.”

“Humor me! Jupiter! What an annoying, pointy-​​eared bastard you are, after all! It’s no wonder Egelric doesn’t want to see you. Did you know he has a new wife?”


“Ah! A pretty one. Ought to get yourself invited.”

'A pretty one.  Ought to get yourself invited.'

“So soon?”

“So soon!”

The elf snorted his scorn.

“I suppose elves don’t remarry either?” Alred asked.


“You have the right idea. Perhaps I shall become an elf in my old age. But he didn’t intend to marry her, if that’s any consolation to you. Only sleep with her.”

“Sleep with her?”

“Are you surprised or confused? Sleep with her: that is to say ‘know her,’ if you will recall from your Biblical readings. As if she were any common slut.”

'Why did he marry her then?'

“Why did he marry her then?”

“Because he had to! Because she spent the night in his bed.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Didn’t that ever happen in the Bible? A man has to marry a lady if he lies with her. Although, ideally, one marries her first.”

“But I thought Egelric…”

“Oh, Egelric! But those weren’t ladies. Only common sluts, as I previously observed. Lili’s father was a knight; therefore she is a lady.”


“I suppose elves don’t do that either?”

“It’s different.”

“But, mind you, it’s more a matter of degree. A king would not be obliged to marry a knight’s daughter, and I suppose a farmer’s son would be obliged to marry a farmer’s daughter. Some people apparently believe that a duke would not have to marry a knight’s daughter either! Though I think he should. However, you may be certain a knight can’t escape a knight’s daughter once he has lain with her – particularly if she has a brother-​​in-​​law who is also a knight, and better with a sword than our man.”



“Even if he doesn’t care for her,” Alred added.

“Then he shouldn’t lie with her in the first place.”

“That’s what I think! But I’m an idealist, Ears. Are you certain you don’t want to come home with me? I’m in the mood to get drunk.”

“I wish I could. But I think I should leave you here.”


“I saw there was no one on the downs, but I’m afraid of being seen if I go farther.”

“There’s no one on the downs because it is about to rain, I remind you.”

'There's no one on the downs because it is about to rain, I remind you.'

“It is not about to rain.”

“Damn you!” Alred laughed. “Humor me!”

“Trust me.”

“How much will you wager?”

“I wouldn’t, Alred. It would be unfair. I would be certain to win.”

“You are the twentiest twenty-​​year-​​old I have met today, and that is saying a lot.”

“How old are you?” the elf asked him.



“You begin to make me feel sorry for you.”

“Why? Because I am a doddering old forty-​​year-​​old who grumbles about the weather and wants to get drunk and thinks you’re an annoying, twentyish, pointy-​​eared bastard?”

The elf only laughed.

“Ah!” Alred crowed and slapped his own cheek. “A drop! I felt a drop!”

“It won’t rain.”

“Another!” He held up his hands. “Quick! How much will you wager? Still certain you’ll win?”

'Quick!  How much will you wager?'

“It won’t rain, Alred.”

Alred laughed as several more drops hit him. “It already is!”

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Liar!” It was a light shower, but the rain was definitely coming down.

“I don’t.”

Alred looked at him, and he did seem either dry or stoic in the face of rain. But on closer inspection he seemed dry – and indeed, Alred could not see the rain at all, but only the few drops that fell directly before his eyes. He could certainly feel the others that fell upon his face and arms, but he was beginning to have the queer impression that the rain was falling precisely on him. He reached a hand out towards the elf, and found that it remained dry.

“Holy Mother Juno,” he breathed.

'Holy Mother Juno.'

The elf laughed. “I was feeling sorry for you. You were so certain it would rain!”

“Can you make it rain?”

“Only on you.”

“Damn you!” Alred laughed and tried to drag him into the rain. “Smug, pointy-​​eared bastard!”

'Smug, pointy-eared bastard!'

“Still want to get drunk with me?” the elf asked as the rain slowed and stopped.

“Now more than ever! Can you turn water into wine, too?”

“No, but I can walk on water.”


“How much will you wager?”

“I shan’t risk it,” Alred said. “I should be certain to lose.”

“Now you are showing the wisdom of forty.”

“Smug, insufferable, twenty-​​year-​​old, pointy-​​eared bastard! What did I forget?”


“And annoying too!”

'And annoying too!'