Egelric felt rather cruel for not telling Iylaine who awaited her in his study.

Egelric felt rather cruel for not telling Iylaine who awaited her in his study, but he wanted to see her first, honest reaction.

He knew now that she had been meeting with elves for years. This treachery hurt him far more than she would ever realize, he thought, because she did not know that his greatest fear had always been that he would lose her to the elves. Now he was inviting his fear into his home and introducing it to his daughter.

Now he was inviting his fear into his home and introducing it to his daughter.

“Da?” she whimpered in confusion.

He could not bear to look at her. “Iylaine, I believe you have met my friend Vash.”

“He calls me Ears,” Vash said softly.

“You know one another?” she squeaked.

Egelric only busied himself with the fire.

“I have known your father for several years, Iylaine,” Vash said. “I have probably spent more hours with him than I have with you.”

“But why didn’t you tell me? Either of you?” She sounded frightened and angry. Egelric supposed that was what he deserved for having surprised her in this way, but he could bear her anger. His fear had been that she would throw herself at the elf.

“There are a number of things that he and I didn’t tell you,” Egelric said, “for various reasons. Though the Lord knows I regret it now,” he sighed.

“I shall explain,” Vash said. “Will you sit a while with me?”


“Da?” she asked.

“Let him explain, Iylaine. I shall remain here.”

He had also remained with her when she had met Malcolm upon returning to his castle. Malcolm had looked as if he could have eaten her alive, but Egelric had allowed them only a little time together in the hall. Iylaine had seemed more relieved than disappointed at the brevity of their meeting, so exhausted was she. At least Egelric hoped it had only been exhaustion.

At least Egelric hoped it had only been exhaustion.

That too had been cruel, though mainly to Malcolm. It was Malcolm who had taken her cloak off of her to reveal her filthy, ragged-​​hemmed wedding gown that now reeked of death. It should have been Malcolm to have taken the dress off as well, and help her bathe, and put her to bed, and lie down beside her, and help her forget. But Egelric could not allow it, because it only would have made what was about to happen to her all the more difficult for everyone.

“Where’s Malcolm?” she asked warily.

Egelric felt a surge of relief. She had seen Vash, and one of her first thoughts was to wonder where Malcolm was. “Malcolm is with the King and his father this afternoon,” he said.

“Won’t you sit with me, cousin?” Vash asked gently.

'Won't you sit with me, cousin?'

Egelric thought that the elf, with his soft, murmuring voice and his poetry, had a real advantage over plain-​​spoken Malcolm and his burr. He had to hope that Iylaine was not as sensitive to such things as girls of her age tended to be.

Egelric heard them sit.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked accusingly.

“I have wanted to tell you and tell your father that I knew you both,” Vash said. “I have wanted to tell you so many things that I could not, out of obedience to my father, and for other reasons that I cannot tell. And there are still so many things I cannot say.”

“You had better tell her the truth now,” Egelric growled.

'You had better tell her the truth now.'

“I shall tell her all I can, Egelric. It will be too much, and I fear it will also be too little. I shouldn’t tell her now at all, but what has happened should not have happened. She is too young.”

Egelric felt a twinge of guilt: he had occasionally reproached himself for hurrying Iylaine’s marriage. But it had greatly pleased Malcolm, and Iylaine herself had seemed happy about it in the end. With her recent illness, the urgency had seemed well-​​founded, but now that he knew its supposed source, he wished he had waited a while.

And yet… he could not have known! He had quite forgotten the little scar on her tiny hand, for it had long since faded. And he would never have dreamt that it had come from so savage a cause as this elven wedding ritual. The memory of his own was a memory of shock and horror. He could not imagine anyone – any parent – inflicting that on a child of two, who could not begin to understand.

“What is this about?” she asked nervously. She could tell that the two of them had some secret from her. How he wished it could remain untold!

'What is this about?'

“I want to tell you a little about yourself, cousin,” Vash said. “About being an elf.”

Egelric did not like to hear the elf call her cousin. For nine years he had heard the word on Malcolm’s lips. One would have thought Malcolm didn’t know her name: whenever he spoke of her, it had always been “My Cousin Baby” with a proprietary pride. Now, though, she was simply “My Wife,” and never had a man sounded more proprietary or more proud.

“Do you remember,” Vash asked her, “when you went away to your father’s country and were feeling ill? And you returned and found that I had been ill as well?”

'And you returned and found that I had been ill as well?'

Iylaine was silent, but Egelric supposed she had nodded, for the elf continued.

“And do you remember how ill and weak you felt when you were imprisoned by those bad elves? And how ill you have felt since that time?”

“I thought I would die,” she said slowly. “Do I have an elf disease?”

“No!” he laughed softly. “There’s nothing wrong with you. And you’re beginning to feel better already, aren’t you?”


“You only felt weak and ill because you were far from me. It was because you missed me in ways you can’t imagine.”




They were silent for a moment, and then Iylaine asked, “Because you are my cousin?”

“No, Iylaine.” He too sounded proud and proprietary, but to Egelric’s ears it was the malevolent pride of one who had stolen something unfairly and who held it forever out of reach of its rightful owner. “It is because you are my wife.”

'It is because you are my wife.'

This silence was far heavier than the last. It was broken when his frightened little girl wailed, “Da?”

“Tell her, Vash,” Egelric said.

“You are my wife, and more than my wife: you are my life. In my language it is the same word. It is the same thing. Without you I am dead.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Yes, Iylaine. When you were a very little girl, while you still lived with us, we were bound together.”

“By magic?” she squeaked.

'By magic?'

“No, not by magic. It is not magic. It is like the fire that is in the wood. It is the life in you and the life in me that are brought together and mingled. Some of my life is in you, and some of your life is in me, and without one another, we cannot live.”

“Tell her how, Vash,” Egelric said.

'Tell her how, Vash.'

“Did you ever notice a long scar on the palm of your right hand, when you were a little girl?” Vash asked her.

“No,” she whimpered.

“I think it faded long ago. But your father has one, because he was bound in the same way to his… to Sela. When you were a very little girl, and still had soft, funny hair that stuck out all over your head, our parents brought us together, and we were bound – or married, as you might say.”

'We were bound--or married, as you might say.'

Vash’s voice, which was already soft, had mellowed further to the gentle, caressing tone one used to tell fairy tales to small children.

“My father held a knife between your palm and mine, and pressed our little hands together, and pulled the knife away to cut us. And our blood flowed together, and in the blood there is water and fire, and so it is how we two were bound.”

Iylaine was silent, so Vash went on in his murmuring story that seemed intended almost to hypnotize her.

“And you cried and cried, and I cried too because I had begun to feel how you were hurt and frightened. And our mothers cried because they were happy to see us bound, and sad because they knew you would soon be leaving us. And then they gave you some applesauce with honey, which was your favorite thing to eat, and they let me hold you for a while until you fell asleep. I remember. I was very happy and very proud, because I thought it was a fine thing to be married at eight years of age. But in truth it has been very hard, as I think you know. I miss you unbearably at times. And you know I must see my cousins who can talk and play and dance with the girls they will marry, and I am always alone.”

'I am always alone.'

His voice trembled with a weary sadness, and for the first time Egelric felt that Vash too was a victim in this, and not the culprit. He had been a boy of eight. Egelric remembered eight very clearly, for he had been eight when his father had died. It was Vash’s father who was to blame, and Iylaine’s unnatural parents, who had also abandoned her and stolen his own son from him. A boy of eight and a girl of two could not be blamed for what they had endured – and not even fully understood at the time.

“Sometimes they feel sorry for me,” Vash said, “and let me dance with their girls, but I am always, always alone. Always missing you. Don’t you ever feel that way?”

'Why didn't you tell me?'

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Iylaine asked at last. Egelric could hear that she was crying.

“I would have told you in a few years, when you were older. When it was time for us to be together. I shouldn’t tell you now, but your father says I must. My father mustn’t learn that I have told you. Only Kiv and Shus and Nush know that I have seen you, and that I will have told you. And Druze. And I am certain Shus will tell his wife. And so we must – ”

“But I am Malcolm’s wife!” she cried. Egelric could not decide whether it was a cry of despair or a cry of anger.

'But I am Malcolm's wife!'

“You can’t be,” Vash said. “That isn’t the same thing. You are an elf. You are my wife. My life. My éla. That is more important than the church of men and the rituals of men.”

“But we were married before God!”

“That is the God of men,” Vash explained with an aggravating patience. “And you are not his wife, because Druze took you away before Malcolm could take you to his bed.”

“That doesn’t matter! Tell him, Da!”

'Tell him, Da!'

“It does matter. That is what your father told me.”

“I told you that the Church might annul the marriage on those grounds,” Egelric said. “I did not tell you that it would, necessarily.”

“It must. She is already married to me.”

“Not before God,” Egelric said. It was rare he had occasion to be thankful that there was such a being, but at that moment he was pleased enough to cross himself.

“Even if it doesn’t,” Vash protested, “that does not change the fact that – ”

Egelric heard a sudden rustle and then the sound of the door being thrown open.

Egelric heard a sudden rustle and then the sound of the door being thrown open.

“Iylaine!” Vash called.

“Don’t! Don’t go after her,” Egelric warned. “I expected something like this.”

Indeed, he had hoped for something like this. He had left Alred and Ethelwyn chatting in the entry to prevent her from running outside, and Lady Gwynn and Lady Lili were upstairs to meet her. She would be distressed, and he was sorry for that, but it was preferable to seeing her overjoyed by the elf’s news.

Vash came silently to stand with Egelric beside the fire.

Vash came silently to stand with Egelric beside the fire.

“I am surprised you didn’t expect it,” Egelric said. “Perhaps it shows how little you know my daughter. She does love Malcolm, you know. She had a lot of pretty dreams and hopes with him, and you have shown them very little regard.”

'You have shown them very little regard.'

“But it’s nothing compared to – ”

“It is not nothing to her. You were a fool not to tell her. Whatever your father says. Your father is a fool as well. Or very cruel. I don’t suppose either of you care whether you are being cruel to Malcolm, since you seem to treat anyone who is not one of your own family as if we were little better than dogs. But you have been cruel to her as well. All her life. And I shall not blame her if she doesn’t forgive you for that.”

'I shall not blame her if she doesn't forgive you for that.'