'Da, someone's here!'

“Da, someone’s here!” Wulf announced as Egelric lifted him up into the air.

“Nice try, young rascal!” Egelric said. “What are you doing down here? Where’s your nurse?”

“I want to see who’s here!”

“Your Da is here, that’s who’s here. I wager you weren’t expecting to run into me!”

“Sir?” Egelric’s steward interrupted.

“Let me guess,” Egelric laughed. “Someone’s here!”

“Who’s here?” Wulf asked.

'Who's here?'

“Two elves, sir. August and another whom I do not know.”

“Let me see!” the boy squealed.

“Oh, no,” Egelric said. “That’s business. Would you kindly take this young animal up to his nurse?” he asked Ethelwyn. “And stay there!” he added for the boy’s uncanny ears.

To his surprise, none of the elves had come to him after Iylaine and Malcolm had fled. It had been a relief to him; he was upset and worried enough as it was, without the reproaches or threats of the elves.

They had waited more than two weeks, but it appeared that the day of reckoning had at last arrived. He was sorry Vash himself had not come, and also troubled. If Vash had not come because he was too ill, then it was possible that Iylaine was equally ill…

“Gentlemen,” he bowed when he entered into his study.


August wore his usual look of gravity, but the corners of his mouth turned up enough to count as a smile. As far as Egelric knew, that was as close to a grin as the tall elf ever came.

The other elf appeared far less friendly. He was shorter and clearly younger, with sandy hair cut much like Vash’s, but even with his size and his youth he seemed more menacing than August.

The other elf appeared far less friendly.

“We greet you,” August bowed, though the other elf did not even deign to incline his head. “And thank you for receiving us.”

“What can I do for you, August and …?”

“My name is Kiv,” the smaller elf said. “It means ‘maple.’”

“Shall I call you Kiv or Maple?”

“Kiv, if you please.”

“I don’t recall ever having heard your true name,” Egelric said to August.

“No?” August asked and lifted an eyebrow. “It does not matter now. My name is Shosudin, which describes the earth when it is parched and cracked. But it is also the name we give to the moon which comes in the month you call August.”

'It is also the name we give to the moon which comes in the month you call August.'

“Ah!” Egelric said. He wondered suddenly whether “Vash” meant “Ears” after all.

“But I am called Shus by my friends, as you may consider yourself.”

“It means ‘hole,’” Kiv snapped. “If you had ever seen how much he can eat, you would think it fitting.”

“I hope to have the pleasure of seeing him demonstrate at my table one of these evenings,” Egelric bowed. “Tonight would be an excellent occasion, except that my wife is not here to make your acquaintance.”

“Not tonight,” Kiv said.

“A pity. But the invitation remains open.”

'A pity.  But the invitation remains open.'

“Egelric,” August began, but his slowness of speech put him at the mercy of Kiv’s agitation.

“We are not permitted to associate with men,” Kiv interrupted.

“It has never stopped my friend Vash,” Egelric shrugged. “Do you know him?”

“Know him?” Kiv cried. “He is my dearest friend! My daughter shall marry his son. His and Iylaine’s son,” he corrected.

“You elves marry your children even before they are born?” Egelric scowled.

“You cannot begin to understand.”

“Well, I am pleased to meet you, Kiv, who are therefore… what? The grandfather of my great-​grandchildren? It is not often we men have the pleasure to meet that person. At least not when we do not even have grandchildren yet.”

“Kiv,” Shus said warningly. “Egelric, please understand that Kiv is worried about his friend Vash. As are we all.”

'Please understand that Kiv is worried about his friend Vash.'

“Is he ill?”

“He is ill, and we fear that, wherever she is, Iylaina must be yet more ill.”

“As do I,” Egelric said curtly.

“Do you not know where she is?”

“We suspect they went north to Malcolm’s country. One of our knights left a week ago to go north by ship, and when he arrives he will send word to say whether she is there.”

“And ask her to return if she is?” Shus asked hopefully.

“He will remind Malcolm that he has sworn an oath to our King.”

“She must return,” Kiv said. “You must tell her so. She or Vash will die. We cannot allow either of them to die.”

'We cannot allow either of them to die.'

“I agree, and not only for the sake of our unborn mutual descendents. But you will admit she finds herself in a very difficult and confusing situation for a young girl. You elves were very foolish and, I dare say, cruel not to tell her that she has been bound to Vash.”

“We could not tell her,” Shus said.

“Why not?”

“We cannot tell you,” Kiv said.

Egelric shrugged. “Then we all shall bear the consequences. I, for one, shall never forgive you all if she dies. It could have been avoided.”

“And we shall never forgive the men if either of them die,” Kiv snapped.

“Then let us all hope that they are restored to health. And I propose we all drink to it. Shall we, gentlemen?”

“No!” Kiv snapped.

'I can see Shus wants to.'

“Ah!” Egelric said with a wicked smile. “I can see Shus wants to. I already know he likes it. And I’m thinking he might have a reason to celebrate, too. Didn’t you tell me you were expecting a child in the spring?”

Shus made something approaching a real smile. “Only a few days from now.”

“In that case you will need a drink, if only to steady your nerves. A first baby!”

Egelric had just had a thought, and he was determined to get Shus, at least, to have a drink.

'I think my wife is sleeping better than I at the moment.'

“I think my wife is sleeping better than I at the moment,” Shus confessed sheepishly.

“I’m sorry I can only offer you wine,” Egelric said as he went to pour. “You aren’t the one who likes apples, are you, Kiv?” Egelric asked.

“What?” Kiv gasped.

“Vash has told me a little about his friends,” Egelric chuckled, pleased to have destabilized the elf. “I’m sorry I don’t have any cider. You would like it, if you are the apple stealer.”

“That’s Kiv!” Shus laughed.

“You needn’t tell him so!” Kiv cried.

“Why not?” Egelric said. “It’s quite endearing. Here you are, sir,” Egelric said and held out a cup to Shus, but he deliberately stood far enough away from him that Shus had to reach out his hand to the length of his long arm.

Shus had to reach out his hand.

Egelric took a good look at it before he put the cup into it, and he was intrigued by what he did not see. There was not the faintest trace of a scar across that pale palm.

“I don’t want any!” Kiv said quickly.

“I think that is not polite,” Shus said. “And even if you must refuse, you should say, ‘No, thank you.’”

'I think that is not polite.'

“Now you are giving me English lessons!” Kiv cried.

“It is true your English is excellent, Kiv. Your accent is as good as Vash’s.” He held out a cup to Kiv, but Kiv would not take it.

“Kiv!” Shus scolded.

“I insist,” Egelric said. “You must at least taste it, to know whether you don’t like it. And if you love your friend Vash you will want to drink to his health. And to the health of Shus’s coming baby. It’s not any one of my future great-​grand-​uncles of my unborn second cousins, is it?”

'It's not any one of my future great-grand-uncles of my unborn second cousins, is it?'

Shus laughed. “I do not think it likely.”

“A pity. You have an elegant nose, sir, and I should like to think it would appear on some descendent of mine. But yours is very cute as well, Kiv.”

“Cute?” Kiv choked.

“Let us drink,” Egelric said, “to the health and happiness of my daughter, of your friend Vash, and of the future first child of Shus here.”

This they did, though Kiv grudgingly, and nor did he appear to appreciate the taste of his wine.

“How old were you when you were married?” Egelric asked Shus.

“Shus!” Kiv warned.


“I was bound or… married, as you say, only last summer,” Shus said, ignoring him.

“You wasted no time,” Egelric laughed.

“What do you mean?” Shus asked innocently.

“A wedding in the summer, and a child in the spring. That is fast work.”

“I see. In fact—”

'I see.  In fact--'

“Shus!” Kiv interrupted.

“I only mean—” Shus began again.

Avé Shus, ní dimsúlín aldakhla alsarín,” Kiv growled.

Egelric shrugged. “Never mind. But while we are at it, we shall drink to the health of your wife, who is, I am certain, a lovely creature. And are you married, Kiv?”

“No,” Kiv frowned.

“To your lady-​love, then,” Egelric smiled and lifted his cup again.

'To your lady-love, then.'

It was no matter to him if Kiv prevented Shus from talking now. He had heard and seen enough to know that Vash had not been quite honest with him about certain things.

He did not know what Vash had done to Sela and him, and he did not know what the elves had done—or whether they had done anything—to Iylaine and Vash.

But it seemed that this savage ceremony was not—or was not necessarily—or was not simply—an elven wedding.

It seemed that this savage ceremony was not--or was not necessarily--or was not simply--an elven wedding.