Men did not die like deer.

Druze had been wrong, or Druze had lied. Men did not die like deer. It was not enough to still the blood or stop the breath: there was still life in the body, and Kiv was not savage enough to chase it out. It was like killing kisór. If he had known, he would have brought wolves to rend the body. But if he had known, he would not have come. He was not bold enough to make demands of wolves.

The heart beat like a murmur and the breath came as a sigh, but there was still life curled up at the body’s core. Kiv would have to wait it out. Now he was sick and trembling and helpless. Hatred was only of use when there was need for action. He had not come girt to wait.

He sat and rocked himself, waiting, too distraught to watch with the silent gravity of elves attending a death. He had tried to clean his hands and the bright knife, but without water he could not wipe all the blood away. Hands and knife lay upon his lap, and the creases of his hands and the crevasses of the knife were stained dark with the blood of the man, with the blood of Iylaine, and with the blood of his dearest friend.

He had spilled the blood of elves.

He had spilled the blood of elves, though he had found it in a man. There was nothing in their laws or in their history for this. He did not know whether it was a crime. He had come to it as to a rite.

If any doubt had remained in his mind, he knew now that Iylaine had been bound to the man. He could hear her shrieking like a trapped hare some distance away – perhaps at her house. He could hear the shouts of men as well, and he thought they would know how to hold her. It would not be Iylaine to find him here.

But if he could hear her, other elves could hear her, and he did not know how long the Khor’s command that she be left alone would stand in the face of such heart-​​rending cries. If her father was near, surely he would not be able to resist, and there were her uncle, her many cousins, and all the elves who loved her. They might leave her to the men, but they would come to see what had happened and find him here.

However, he had been certain that it would not be Vash to find him.

He leapt to his feet in time for Vash to knock him down again with one swipe of his powerful arm.

He leapt to his feet in time for Vash to knock him down again.

“It is not permitted for this elf to stand in the presence of the Khír,” he snarled.

“Vash!” Kiv sobbed.

Never had Vash addressed him as if he were only a miserable servant. Even miserable servants were not often so addressed by Vash.

Never had Vash addressed him as if he were only a miserable servant.

Vash bent to take the knife that Kiv had let fall when he stood. Its lustrous handle multiplied the moonlight that it reflected, but there was blood in the crevasses of the spiraling horn. It seemed a monstrous, momentous thing to Vash, and he stared at it in horror.

He stared at it in horror.

Kiv crawled away to sit at a respectful distance. “Vash,” he whimpered. “How came you here?”

He had not chosen this night by chance: he did not see how Vash could have come all the way from the lake in only a few minutes.

Vash shot him a look that seemed a reminder that Kiv was not permitted to speak to him, but he replied.

Vash shot him a look that seemed a reminder that Kiv was not permitted to speak.

“The Shalla noticed her knife was missing. We had thought this elf had called to mind the story that two alone could bind themselves together. We had thought this elf had meant to take the elf Miria before her time. But we had not dreamt of this.”

Vash stepped over the body of the man and went to kneel by his head.

Vash stepped over the body of the man and went to kneel by his head.

“I did it for you, Vash,” Kiv said. He had never understood why Vash had not done it for himself.

Vash did not answer. There was silence between them, but Iylaine’s screams still rang out. They were filtered into soft cries by the many trees, but they came down pure and terrible from the sky.

Kiv watched uncomprehending.

Kiv watched uncomprehending as his friend cut deeply into his palm with the ancient knife and then laid his hand over the man’s wound.

“What are you doing?” His voice had been squeezed to a whisper beneath the weight of a grim foreboding. “Vash?”

“I shall see whether I have blood enough for two.”

“Vash! It is a desecration! You might be bound to this man!”

“I already am.”

'I already am.'


Kiv had not imagined this. No one could have imagined this. His crime had been unspeakable, but this was a monstrous, momentous, inconceivable thing. He tried to creep closer, but Vash held up his other hand in warning.

“Stop this!” Kiv wailed. “What if you both die?”

“Then it ends with me, Kiv,” Vash murmured, speaking to him again as a friend. “Because of you.”

'Then it ends with me, Kiv.'