Lady Iylaine was not satisfied with the effect.

Sir Sigefrith had suggested that she fill a basket with golden flowers and set it on her hearth, but Lady Iylaine was not satisfied with the effect. She thought that there must be something men did not understand about fire if they thought it could be replaced with flowers. There was something airy about the nature of flowers that was not at all like the fiery nature of fire.

Holly branches might serve, perhaps, or the flaming orange of maple leaves in the autumn. If she must have flowers, then she thought she could bear to look at clumps of gorse. But Malcolm had not had the time to walk to the flame-​​cleared meadow that was the old Selle farm, and which was all golden now with gorse and broom. He had not understood why the masses of buttercups and yellow flag from the yard were not an acceptable substitute. And she could not make him understand. Nor did she understand.

Malcolm was working, as he did in the after-supper hour.

Malcolm was working, as he did in the after-​​supper hour. She could hear the scritch-​​scritch-​​scratch of his quill as he wrote, and the pause when he dipped it in the ink, and the scritch-​​scritch-​​scratch again. She could hear the occasional fat drop of wax fall from the candlestick onto the table. She could hear the wind rustling the leaves outside. She could not hear human voices, and that was a silence worth listening to.

'Uh oh!  I see a blonde head over there.'

“Uh oh! I see a blonde head over there,” Malcolm said. “Still awake, Babe?”

“I’m waiting for you.”

“I shan’t be long. What did you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Couldn’t we take a walk outside?”

“I don’t know about that, Baby. It’s dark.”

“I know, but I like it.”

“I don’t. I’m afraid of running into goblins.”

Goblins! She thought he was afraid of running into elves.

“But it’s so warm and pleasant tonight,” she said.

'But it's so warm and pleasant tonight.'

“Well, then we shall go sit outside a while, and you can play with the bunnies or deer or whatever comes to visit you tonight.”

Malcolm was still awed to see the animals come to her, though Iylaine was quite used it by now. It had sufficed to leave the other men behind. For some reason the animals did not mind Malcolm – perhaps because she did not.

“Perhaps it will only be a badger,” she said saucily.

“No badgers!” he warned. “You promised. And no turtles, either! I’m not ready to welcome any turtles just yet.”

“Turtles always take their time anyway.”

'Turtles always take their time anyway.'

“And give a man a bit of a warning aforrow, or so I have been told.”

He waited expectantly, it seemed, but Iylaine did not know what to say. He was talking about turtles all the time lately.

“I shall only be a little while longer,” he said, and the scritch-​​scratch began again.

Iylaine listened to the pen, the ink, the wax, and the wind, but gradually she became aware of another sound detaching itself from the others and growing louder.

“Malcolm!” she gasped.


“Aye, Baby?”

“Someone is coming. On a horse. At a canter.”

Malcolm sighed and dropped his pen. “That’s either important news or the idiot Prince set out to break his neck in his father’s absence.”

Iylaine’s heart began to pound in time with the beating of the hooves. It was an elf on horseback. She knew it. She did not know how, but she knew it.

“Is it one horse or two?” he asked.

“One. A big horse.”

“Then it isn’t Caedwulf. He wouldn’t have gone out without Selwyn. I hope it isn’t bad news.”

'I hope it isn't bad news.'

Iylaine knew it had to be bad news if it was an elf. At least for him.

She tried to sit calmly, but her arms were shaking and her hands were growing damp.

Meanwhile Malcolm calmly put away his pens and parchment. “Shall I get my sword, Babe?” he asked carelessly.

“I – don’t – know!” she gasped.

“Now then, my fine Baby,” he chuckled, “I have two knives on me, remember. One for each hand. And I can bite with my teeth.”

“No, Malcolm!” she wailed.

“Baby!” he laughed. “I’m certain it’s no one on his way to hurt us. Only some news.”

'I'm certain it's no one on his way to hurt us.  Only some news.'

“He’s almost here!”

“Then I shall rise to greet him.”

Iylaine was startled by the heavy tread of the rider when he dismounted in the yard. She had never heard an elf walk so gracelessly, but he seemed to be in a hurry. Perhaps he was not paying attention to his walk. Perhaps he was very angry.

“Be careful, Malcolm!” she cried, but it was too late – Malcolm had already opened the door.

But it was only the Earl. Iylaine sank back against the cushions in something that wavered between relief and disappointment.

“My lord!” Malcolm greeted him with a smile.

'My lord!'

“Malcolm,” Cenwulf said softly, though of course Iylaine could hear, “we need you to ride to Raegiming at once. The King has been injured.”

Malcolm knew better than to waste anyone’s time with exclamations of surprise.

“Alred and young Sigefrith are getting ready to ride with you,” Cenwulf continued. “I shall stay here with the Prince in case he – ”

Iylaine choked.

Iylaine choked. The Earl did not dare finish his phrase, but it was enough to call her back from wondering why she had thought of elves. If the King were to die, then Malcolm’s “idiot Prince” would be king.

But somehow they all felt that the kingship, being Sigefrith’s own invention, was bound to him. No one truly knew what would happen if Sigefrith were to die. Iylaine almost thought it possible that they would all disappear. Perhaps they were all a part of Sigefrith’s dream.

“Is it so bad?” Malcolm asked.

“He fell from his horse while hunting and struck his head. He lives, but he does not wake. And that was hours ago.”

“Hunting?” Malcolm cried. “But it’s already dark! Did it take them so long to send word?”

“It seems he was hunting in the evening,” Cenwulf said dazedly. “Drunk.”

'Drunk!  The devil!'

“Drunk! The devil!”

“I blame Leofric.”

“I blame the Queen!” Malcolm growled.

“The Queen!” Cenwulf gasped.

“Where are we meeting? At the castle?”

“They’re expecting you there.”

“Are you heading there?”

“After I leave here.”

“Then I shall ride with you. I shall be but a moment.”

'I shall be but a moment.'

Malcolm went back to the bedroom, and the Earl came into Iylaine’s little fireside nook and bowed to her.

“Good evening, Iylaine.”

“Good evening, my lord,” she replied automatically.

'Good evening, my lord.'

“Those are very pretty flowers you have.” He did not understand. An elf would have understood.

“Thank you.”

Their conversation continued upon equally trivial matters until Malcolm returned and pulled Iylaine to her feet, though not roughly.

'I must leave you alone all night, Baby mine.'

“I must leave you alone all night, Baby mine,” he said softly to her. “It’s the first time.”

“I know.”

“You aren’t frightened?”


“That’s my girl! But you shall sleep on my side of the bed tonight. There’s a knife under the table there.”

'There's a knife under the table there.'

“I know.”

“And anyway,” he whispered, “if anyone comes, you will simply snap your fingers at him and set his hair on fire.”

She giggled.

“Be good. That means no badgers in this house!”

'That means no badgers in this house!'

“No badgers,” she promised. “And please be careful, Malcolm.”

“Baby!” Her solicitude was too much for him; he could only kiss her, and then he lifted his head said firmly, “We must go to the King,” as if scolding himself for his own foolishness.

Iylaine waited until the sound of cantering hooves had faded away again into the rustles and whispers of night in the forest. Then all the men were gone. Then there was only the sound or silence of a single elf.

Then there was only the sound or silence of a single elf.

When she could bear her own silence no longer she rose and took a candle into the turtle room. It is what she always did when she first found herself alone: when Mother Curran went home after her morning work, or in the afternoon, after Mother Curran had finished cleaning up after dinner and Malcolm had returned to the castle. The first thing she did in the confusion that came with solitude and silence was to go into the turtle room.

She did not know what drew her to this room.

She did not know what drew her to this room. At times she thought it was the lack of furniture. She did not know how the elves lived, but she thought they must live in rooms that were not so densely packed with dark wooden furniture.

And yet at other times she could not bear its barrenness, and she would carry in all of the blankets and cushions and pillows in the house and build a great, soft pile against the wall. She thought perhaps the elves slept not in beds but on great, soft piles of blankets, cushions, and pillows. She would nap there a while, and when Mother Curran came in to prepare supper she would cluck over her like a fat hen, but she would not scold. And Mother Curran always put the bedding away before Malcolm returned.

And other times Iylaine would simply stand and stare out the window.

Iylaine would simply stand and stare out the window.

That is what she did on this night, or what she tried to do. The candlelight in the room and the darkness outside combined to turn the glass into a dim mirror. She saw her own face more clearly than the trees, and she felt more stranded than ever in the men’s house and the men’s world.

She stared at herself for a while, at her thin face and her shadowed eyes, and most especially at her pointed ears. Thinking that it pleased Malcolm, and thinking that it better suited a married woman, she wore her hair bound every day now. She no longer cared who saw her ears: she had Malcolm to protect her, as indeed she always had. And now she did not care who knew she was an elf. It had become very important to her that no one forget it.

She stared and stared until the pieces of her face that were formed by the irregular diamonds of the panes began to shift and appear to belong to different faces.

She stared and stared until the pieces of her face that were formed by the irregular diamonds of the panes began to shift and appear to belong to different faces. She did not quite recognize herself. Everyone said she was getting pinker and fatter. Everyone said married life was agreeing with her. But even with her pointed ears she did not know herself.

She stared and stared until the dim, shifting mirror brought up that feeling of drifting queasiness that came and went all throughout her days since she had come home with Malcolm. Perhaps she truly was a dream being with no reality of her own. She hoped it was so.

She turned back into the empty room. Her vision no longer wavered, but her stomach was no steadier. She would bring the blankets and cushions and pillows in here to sleep, she decided. And Malcolm’s knife.

She turned back into the empty room.