'Kiv doesn't have violet eyes, does he?'

“Kiv doesn’t have violet eyes, does he?” Lady Gwynn’s father asked Sir Egelric.

“I did not notice the color of his eyes,” Egelric muttered.

“Then they could not have been violet. That’s a relief to this old pater,” Alred said with a wink for his daughter.

Gwynn giggled back at him.

Gwynn giggled back at him, but in truth she was no less interested in this Kiv even knowing that his eyes were not violet. She had never seen a real elf before, besides Iylaine and Egelric’s half-​​elf boys, and these two had the additional and utterly fascinating characteristic of being young males.

Gwynn could not believe her luck. She and Margaret and Emma and Britamund had often talked about the elves, and many times they had played in Queen Maud’s old overgrown garden and pretended that they were elf maidens. Even more fun had been the times when they had pretended they were young ladies in distress, and elves had come to rescue them, just as they had rescued Iylaine from her captivity.

But pretending was nothing. Meg and Emma and Brit could go on pretending, but Gwynn was about to meet two real elves, of the dashing sort that did indeed rescue fair young ladies from distressing situations. And one of them was, she was told, hopelessly in love with Iylaine, which made it even more romantic.

Gwynn did not know why Iylaine had wanted her to be there that afternoon.

Gwynn did not know why Iylaine had wanted her to be there that afternoon.

She supposed she was there in the guise of Iylaine’s friend, though she was five years younger. That too was rather romantic: Lady Gwynn, as the daughter of a Duke, outranked the wife of a knight, but she didn’t mind pretending she was Iylaine’s lady-​​in-​​waiting for the afternoon. A modest maiden never met her lovers without the company of her lady-​​in-​​waiting.

But the waiting part of it did seem to be the hardest! Gwynn could scarcely wait for them to come, and yet she thought she would scarcely know how to wait until they had gone again, so that she could rush to the King’s castle at the first opportunity and tell the princesses all about it.

At last she heard them coming up the stairs.

She was certain that the queer feeling she had in her stomach just then was the butterflies of which one spoke.

Lady Gwynn was only ten years old and had never had a lover – except for Britamund dressed up as a boy for their games of pretend – but she was certain that the queer feeling she had in her stomach just then was the butterflies of which one spoke. Of course, she told herself, she was not meeting her own lover but rather Iylaine’s. And yet in stories it often happened that the hero’s companion fell in love with the heroine’s lady-​​in-​​waiting…

They knocked, and her father went to open for them. Egelric stood with his back to the door, tall and proud and grim in that way he had that made Gwynn shiver in frightened fascination. But that was nothing.

Oh, they were magnificent!

Oh, they were magnificent! Tall and proud and exotic… and they were indeed handsome, as all elves were said to be. She supposed the first one was Vash by the fact that he recognized her father. She was not certain that Kiv was not the handsomer of the two. He had a devilish look in his eyes that she liked, even if they were not violet.

Her father greeted them in his usual merry way, which should have put them at ease. But Iylaine turned her face away, and Iylaine’s father still stood with his back to them all, as if the fire were the only thing of interest in the room. She did not know how Egelric expected anyone to be at ease if he meant to stand like that.

“Won’t you come in and have a seat?” her father asked the elves. “May I introduce you to my daughter, the Lady Gwynn?”

That was what Gwynn had been waiting for!

That was what Gwynn had been waiting for! The elf Kiv merely bowed before her, but Vash smiled at her and said, “Iylaine has told me about you.”

“She hasn’t told me about you!” Gwynn blurted.

Iylaine stared at her lap. Indeed, Gwynn did not think she had looked up from her lap since the elves had come in.

Iylaine stared at her lap.

Meanwhile Gwynn’s father had brought more chairs up to the fire. “Won’t you sit down, Egelric?” he asked when Egelric did not move.

“I prefer to stand,” Egelric said coldly.

Gwynn told herself that Egelric needed to be reminded of his manners. She had the feeling that he was making everyone uncomfortable, and that was the very definition of poor manners.

“If a lady asks you to?” she asked pointedly.

“A lady would not,” Egelric replied.

Gwynn was abashed. Egelric was never anything but deferential with her. But she was somewhat comforted when the elf Vash looked over at her with a gentle smile. Oh, he was handsome!

Vash looked over at her with a gentle smile.

In the hope of another such a smile, she looked up at Kiv, who was sitting directly across from her on the other side of Egelric. But Kiv looked at no one, and he did not smile.

Kiv looked at no one, and he did not smile.

“Good day, cousin,” Vash said softly to Iylaine.

He was as gracious and gentle as a fairy tale knight, but Gwynn could tell he was feeling awkward. She realized that this was not at all the appropriate setting for such a meeting: Gunnie Hogge’s prosy kitchen, with Iylaine’s father and her own father standing by! Gwynn thought they should be meeting at twilight, in the shadow of a wall, perhaps, or lost among the trees… And she and Kiv would step away to give them sufficient privacy, and perhaps they would talk together as they waited…

“I am only your cousin today?” Iylaine said in a peevish little voice.

'I am only your cousin today?'

Vash was not discomfited. “I thought it would be more polite,” he murmured. “But I could say: Good morning, my beloved, my wife, my life. Avé íslén karrím aléla dal.

He was too romantic! Of course Gwynn loved Malcolm, but Malcolm’s greetings to his sweetheart had rarely been more poetic than a hearty “Good morning, my fine Baby!” and he usually managed to call her a stupid girl at least once within the first five minutes of their meetings.

Gwynn thought her heart would melt if anyone spoke to her as Vash spoke to Iylaine – and in the elf language! She did not know what he had said, but she was certain it was melt-​​worthy.

“Vash,” Egelric interrupted, sounding as peevish as his daughter, though he still did not turn around. “I don’t know what you wanted to say to her today – although I now hope you at least meant to say it in English. However, I do hope you will wait until I have had my say, because afterwards you may want to tell her something else entirely.”

'As you wish.'

“As you wish,” Vash said.

“Show him your hand, Iylaine.”

Iylaine stared into her lap, whereupon lay both of her hands, palms downward.

“I did not see it myself until just this morning,” Egelric said. “I daresay she has been hiding it from me thus far. Show him, Iylaine.”

'Show him, Iylaine.'

Iylaine turned up the palm of her right hand, and Gwynn realized that it must have been the first time she had seen it since Iylaine had returned. There was a festering gash all across the hollow of her friend’s palm, made all the more hideous by its incongruity with her delicate, pretty hand.

Vash looked horrified. “What did you try to do, Iylaine?” he whispered. When no one answered he asked, “Did you think you could cut it out?”

“I don’t think she thought that at all,” Egelric said. “I had a look at Malcolm’s hand after I saw that, and wouldn’t you know? He has one of his own!”

“Never!” Kiv cried in outrage.

“What did you do, Iylaine?” Vash asked hoarsely.

'What did you do, Iylaine?'

“I did as you said,” she muttered with a sullen defiance.

“Oh, Iylaine…” he breathed.

“And I want to know what it means,” Egelric growled. “You tell me what you did to me and Sela, and what you did to her when she was a baby, and what she tried to do with Malcolm. I don’t believe it’s any wedding ritual!”

“Wedding!” Vash said with a look of stunned helplessness. “It’s the best word I can find…”

“It’s time to find a better one! We have a poet here if you need a little help. So what was it? Some sort of magic? Something to ensnare my daughter?”


“Or was it all an elaborate lie meant to trick me so you could steal my daughter away later? Threaten to take my Sela away if I didn’t do it, and take her speech away so she can’t warn me?”

“No!” Kiv cried. “They are married, if you like that word. But the better word is bound, tied together, knotted together – ”

'They are married, if you like that word.'

“But what is it?” Egelric interrupted. “I don’t believe it’s your idea of a marriage. What about your friend Shus?”

“What about him?” Vash asked.

“He has no such scar, though he claims he was married last summer!”

“That’s different,” Vash said absently.


“Shus was bound by a different rite. Iylaine…” he murmured and leaned closer to his cousin. Gwynn noticed only then that she still sat staring down into lap, though now her hand was open upon it, and now her cheeks bore the traces of tears.

“Why?” Egelric asked.

“He was bound according to his nature. It is an older rite and leaves no trace on the body. Iylaine…”

“Don’t do that!” Iylaine shrieked. “I don’t want you to dry my tears!”

'Don't do that!'

Gwynn had only looked away for an instant, and she did not have the impression that he had moved to touch her, but Iylaine’s face was suddenly quite dry. Gwynn was sorry she had missed it, for she would have liked to have told the girls about it. It had always seemed so romantic to them to have one’s tears dried by one’s lover.

“Don’t touch her!” Egelric barked.

“I – am sorry,” Vash said.

The elf was looking ever more anxious, but it was no wonder: Egelric still refused to do more than turn his head in Vash’s general direction, and Iylaine was staring at her hand and sniffling, and Kiv was scowling, and Gwynn’s father was uncharacteristically silent. All together it did make the situation seem a little less romantic.

“I still don’t understand,” Egelric grumbled.

“You couldn’t,” Kiv sniffed. “You may consider them married, since that is all you seem capable of understanding. They are more than married, but they are at least married.”

“That is an elf marriage,” Iylaine said disdainfully.

'That is an elf marriage.'

“Yes, Iylaine,” Vash murmured and leaned closer to her again. “And what did you try to do?”

“What does this mean? What she did?” Egelric growled. “I want to know.”

“I have never heard of such a thing,” Kiv said.

“But you don’t even know the ceremony,” Vash said to Iylaine.

“I did as you said,” she snapped. “I held our hands together with the knife, and cut our hands, and let our blood come together. As you said.”

'But you didn't have another elf with you to perform the ceremony.'

“But you didn’t have another elf with you to perform the ceremony,” Vash said with a tender patience. “You didn’t speak the ceremony. And your Malcolm is not an elf, Iylaine.”

“Neither am I,” Egelric protested.

“It can’t work,” Kiv said. “You were already bound to Vash, you didn’t speak the ceremony, and you were alone. It can’t work.”

“Sometimes it was done as two alone,” Vash said to him. “In stories.”

“Stories!” Kiv sniffed. “But in stories they still speak the ceremony as two alone.”

“Forget your stories! What does this mean?” Egelric cried. “I want to know what will happen to her now?”

“I don’t know,” Vash said.

“Nothing!” Kiv said. “It is nothing.”

“No!” Iylaine sobbed. “You said I was not married because it was only the marriage of men. But now we are married as elves too! Malcolm married me as a man, and I married him as an elf! Now you can say nothing.”

Vash looked as if he had been kicked in the stomach.

Vash looked as if he had been kicked in the stomach, which was not a very romantic look at all, even for a handsome elf. And Kiv’s pale eyes held not the merry devilment of one such as Eirik or even her own father, but only a menacing defiance.

“Can’t you respect her wishes?” Egelric pleaded. “She wants to be with Malcolm.”

“It changes nothing,” Vash said slowly. “I know that much. Iylaine, if you were no longer bound to me, I would know it, and so would you.”

“I’m not,” she mumbled, but she did not sound convinced.

'I'm not.'

“There can be no one else for me. There can be no one else for you.”

“Hasn’t this ever happened before in your stories?” Gwynn’s father asked after a moment of painful silence. “It seems like the sort of situation for which storytelling was invented.”

“It is unthinkable,” Vash said to him without taking his eyes from Iylaine’s face. “It is impossible. It is absurd. It might seem possible to you men, who take wives and separate and take other wives, but for us it is unthinkable.”

'It is unthinkable.'

“It is disgusting,” Kiv said.

“It’s your own fault!” Egelric cried. “You shall not blame her! All you elves ever did was abandon her and confuse her and lie to her! All her life she has had to live knowing that the elves didn’t want her and most of the men didn’t want her either! So you shall not blame her if she falls in love with a man who loves her and wants her. It’s more than you’ve ever done.”

'It's more than you've ever done.'

“That isn’t true,” Vash protested in a voice that was creaking with the strain of holding back tears. “I have always loved her and wanted her.”

“You never told me,” Iylaine whimpered. “You never told me once.”

“Iylaine!” He laughed as if it hurt to laugh. “If you knew how I longed to! And Kiv has never believed I had the strength not to do it. And I did say too much, cousin. Don’t you remember? When you were a little girl, I gave you a kiss and told you I would ask to have it back someday? And I gave you a ring of plaited grass and told you it would be a long time before I could give you another?” He laughed again, still more sadly. “But you were too young to understand.”

'But you were too young to understand.'

Gwynn was not too young to understand. That was quite as romantic as a girl could desire. She did not know just how much of a “little girl” Iylaine had been then, but if a boy had said such things to her now, at ten, she would certainly understand.

“It’s too late to say it now,” Iylaine muttered.

“It isn’t,” Vash whispered. “I love you and want you.”

It was romantic, Gwynn thought, but somehow it was painful to watch. She was waiting for it to end happily as stories always did, but she could not see how it could be managed. No matter what happened, someone would be hurt, and none of the characters in this story were evil enough to deserve being hurt. Even the glowering, snappish Kiv did not deserve it, for he nevertheless looked at Vash with the loving, helpless eyes of a friend who wants to spare his friend some pain, even unto wishing he could take it on in his friend’s place.

“Can you at least do something about her hand?” Egelric cried impatiently. “Malcolm says Shus healed his nose. And I think you helped me when I was ill long ago.”

'Can you at least do something about her hand?'

“I can. If she will allow me to touch her hand.”

Iylaine jerked her hand away at first, and then hesitated, and finally lay it in his.

Gwynn leaned closer, trying to get a look at this uncustomary activity, which must have involved some sort of magic. The girls would be dying for the details. But there was nothing in the way of spell-​​casting to see, and indeed Gwynn was soon absorbed in merely observing the great tenderness with which Vash held and caressed Iylaine’s little injured hand between his two.

Vash held and caressed Iylaine's little injured hand between his two.

It should have seemed very romantic, and it would have if Gwynn had only seen their hands, but their faces were as unlike the gesture as was the dark wound unlike Iylaine’s pretty hand. She had not seen such hopeless misery since her mother had died and her father had mourned for her.

She had not seen such hopeless misery since her mother had died and her father had mourned for her.

Vash suddenly sobbed, “Kiv!” as if the pain had grown too great to bear, and Iylaine’s face was wet again with tears, but they sat together a while longer. The trembling of one of those hands caused the other to tremble with it, but Gwynn could not tell whose it was. It should have been romantic, but it seemed only very sad.

Vash croaked, “It will heal well now,” and then he laid Iylaine’s hand back on her lap with such slow gentleness that they were all startled when he stumbled up from his chair immediately afterwards and went to stand before the door, gulping down sobs in a very unromantic way.

He stumbled up from his chair immediately afterwards and went to stand before the door.

Kiv rose at once and went to lay an arm over his friend’s shaking shoulders. He softly spoke a few words to him in their elven language, and then he asked Egelric, “Did you have anything else to say to him?”

'Did you have anything else to say to him?'

“No,” Egelric said.

“Then we shall go,” he said curtly and opened the door.

“The peace of God on you, Vash,” Egelric called just before Kiv pulled the door closed. It was his grand farewell that Gwynn had rarely heard him speak.

Gwynn thought they should have felt some relief.

Egelric’s words seemed to hang on the air and lock them in that moment, even though Gwynn thought they should have felt some relief – or some change, at least – after the elves had gone. But Egelric still stood before the fire as if it was the only thing of interest in the room. Her father still wore that expression of haughty indifference that she knew he affected when he was trying not to cry. And Iylaine still stared miserably down at her injured hand that lay open upon her lap, trembling.

Iylaine still stared miserably down at her injured hand that lay open upon her lap, trembling.