Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 03
The Council Hall of the High People had long ago been a tunnel between First Valley, where Yazadril and his family lived, and Kemsah Valley, the second of the Nine Valleys. Over time the tunnel had been expanded into a great hall, a hemispherical hollow in the bedrock two hundred and twenty feet across and a hundred feet high, it’s floor and the dome that formed the walls and ceiling polished to a smooth light-gray shine, brightened by skylights and glow-spheres.
Today a few hundred elves were within, most gathered into small groups scattered around the vast floor-space, talking quietly among themselves or softly weeping. A few were standing at one of the two gleaming white marble open caskets that had been placed twenty feet apart near the center of the hall, viewing the deceased and paying their respects.
Yazadril and Nemia were offered many subdued greetings and condolences as they slowly crossed the vast floor to Dalia’s casket. Their relatives and Dalia’s closest friends were gathered around it, a few of them crying softly, all with tear-tracked cheeks.
Dalia’s body had been expertly prepared, and at first glance she looked like she was merely sleeping, clad in a white silk robe, her blonde hair softly flowing over a white satin pillow. It was difficult to believe that this was the same flesh that had lain so twisted and broken on the forest floor beneath her window on the previous day’s afternoon.
Nemia would have collapsed at the sight if Yazadril had not supported her, and they were again overcome with weeping.
Nemia drew them away until they could no longer see Dalia, and they cried a few minutes more. Silently, they prayed that Dalia’s spirit had found peace, though they knew that the missing gods would never answer.
Then they made their way to Bezedil’s casket, which was loosely surrounded by forest elves of The People of Life. Those made way for them, and as they drew within sight of Bezedil’s body, they saw that Alilia sat beside it on an ornate wooden chair, her hands folded in her lap.
“Alilia,” Yazadril said, then choked on the lump in his throat. He cleared it a bit, then tried again. “Alilia, we are deeply sorry for your loss.”
“As I am for yours, Yazadril, Nemia.” Alilia calmly told them. Her face was a rigid mask of self-control, though tears still slowly trickled down her face. “And I must apologize for my behavior yesterday. My treatment of you during Bezedil’s Reading was… atrocious, Yazadril, as was my threat to your life, Nemia.”
“We do forgive you that, Alilia, as it was quite understandable under the circumstances.” Nemia softly said.
“Thank you.” Alilia nodded, never looking away from Bezedil’s face.
There was a strained silence for a moment.
“I have lived four thousand, eight hundred and fifty-six years.” Alilia quietly stated. “And during that time, Bezedil was the only child I have ever borne. I am not very fertile. I will probably never have another.”
“I… I did not know that.” Nemia stammered. A moment later, she began softly crying again.
At this, Alilia rose from her seat and embraced Nemia and Yazadril, and all three cried together.
Those gathered around moved back, to give them a semblance of privacy.
When their weeping had subsided, Alilia went back to her chair, and to her contemplation of Bezedil’s face.
Yazadril cleared his throat as he tried to think of a kind way to ask what he had to ask. “Alilia, I… I hate to have to ask this now, but we must know. What is the nature of the curse you have cast upon… Well, what is the nature of the curse?”
Alilia did not answer for a moment. “I was thinking that my son is forever dead because she had raped him by trickery, and so I cursed her to be raped until the end of days. That is her sentence.”
Yazadril and Nemia could only stare in shocked surprise for a moment.
“But… Raped?” Nemia finally asked. “How is that possible? No one could do such a thing, no matter if it was justified or not!”
“No elf could do such a thing.” Alilia quietly agreed, nodding.
Again there was a long, strained silence.
“So, how then…?” Yazadril began before Alilia interrupted him, her eyes flashing to his, her voice tight with anger and bitterness.
“I have given her to the damned human!” she cried, seeming loud in the great quiet space.
A moment later Nemia fainted, and Yazadril caught her, swept her up in his arms.
“He will only live another seventy years, at most!” Yazadril stated accusingly. “If he were any other, I would expect the curse to extend his life to match Talia’s lifespan! But since the curse cannot directly affect him, I expect it will kill her when he dies! So you have sentenced her to an early death after all!”
“She is not sentenced to be raped until the end of her days, Yazadril, but until the end of days!” Alilia barked. “As long as the sun rises above this world, he will rape her! Forever and ever, as far as we are concerned!”
“But… How can that be?”
“How should I know?” Alilia asked, her voice returning to calm, her gaze to Bezedil’s face. “It is not a spell, it is an intuitive curse. It is enough that I said that it would happen, and the curse took enough power from me to make it so. My power may not be fully recovered for a year, or it may never be. A human can live longer than you think, perhaps as long as one hundred and twenty-five years. The curse will last at least that long, for it will let nothing kill him. Perhaps after he dies, it will animate his corpse, so that his dead body can keep raping her, and perhaps when she dies, it will do the same to her. One corpse being raped by another, until the sun eats the world. Or perhaps when he dies the curse will fail. I do not care. It will last long enough that I will see her punished for my son’s death.”
“Your son killed himself in a moment of youthful foolishness, as my daughter did!!!” Yazadril yelled. “Can you honestly say that Talia deserves what you have done to her?!!! That for a few moments of stolen pleasure she deserves to be raped by a corpse for millions of years?!!!”
“No.” Alilia admitted calmly. “It was done in a moment of thoughtless anger, and it was horribly excessive. I do not care. I can do nothing about it now. After I have seen that she is punished by him a few times, you can kill me for it if you wish. I will not hinder you from taking my life, for with Bezedil gone, my will to live is gone with him.”
Yazadril could only stare in shock for long moments, then his eyes hardened. “Perhaps I will kill you, Alilia. Or perhaps I will gather the power to cast a similar curse upon you. You can spend a few thousand years taking turns with my daughter, being raped by the corpse of my friend.”
He waited only long enough to see the shocked fear on Alilia’s face, before turning and carrying his wife from the hall.
Nemia woke in his arms as he left the hall and emerged into bright sunlight. “You have not carried me like this since I was a child.” she murmured. “I knew even then that you were my destined love. I was only eight years old when I first saw you, and I knew in a moment that you were destined to be my husband.”
“Did you?” Yazadril asked in surprise. “Well, you certainly took your time at letting me know about it!” he chuckled.
“Would you have believed me, if I had told you at the age of eight that you were my destiny?” Nemia giggled.
“No, I suppose not.” he smiled.
“When I became an adolescent I rebelled against the idea, as I was so attracted to young males my own age.” Nemia mused. “I convinced myself that you were too old for me, and that my feelings for you were only childhood foolishness. Still, my heart leaped in my chest every time I saw you, and to escape that, I moved to Final Valley to live with my aunt. As far away from you as I could get while still remaining within the lands of The High People. My parents could not dissuade me, so a month later, they moved there as well. And there I dwelt for two centuries, happy but lonely for love. Then came the day you visited, to oversee the renewal of the Wards. The moment I saw you I knew how wrong I had been, and I ran away and cried for all the decades I had wasted. Then I washed my face and brushed my hair, and put on my prettiest blue dress…”
“And you came and told me in no uncertain terms, that you were to be my wife!” Yazadril laughed, caught up in the memory.
“Yes! And you stared at me like I had grown another head!” Nemia laughed.
“Is that what it looked like to you? I was so smitten by your beauty that I could not even speak! Your words filled me with such hope, that I was terrified that you were only teasing me!”
“Truly? I was so afraid that you would reject me that I stepped up and kissed you! I knew you would not reject me after that!” Nemia giggled.
“I remember. I remember it like it was this morning. And from that moment, I knew not one moment of unhappiness. Until yesterday.”
Their mood sobered, and he continued carrying her home, between the widely spaced gigantic trees.
After a while Nemia spoke again. “Yazadril, my love, I know not what will happen to Talia, or what the curse will do to her, but as long as we have each other, I know we can find a way to be happy. I will never stop loving Talia, or stop trying to help her, but even if the worst happens, we cannot give in to despair. Right now I feel more horrible than I ever dreamed I could, but whatever happens, we cannot let it ruin the rest of our lives.”
“I know, Nemia. I cannot lose you. I could not bear to live without you.”
“Or I without you.”
When they arrived home they discovered Hilsith asleep at their kitchen table. Yazadril called to her, then shook her shoulder a little, then more firmly, to no effect. He quickly read her aura, and shook his head in consternation.
“She has had Sleep cast upon her. By Talia.” he pronounced.
“Talia!” Nemia cried as she ran from the room.
Yazadril hurriedly cast Awaken on Hilsith, and hurried after his wife.
He found her hurrying from their bedroom.
“She is not in there!” Nemia told him, sounding on the verge of panic.
“Check her room, I will check Dalia’s!” Yazadril said.
“Talia! Talia!” they called as they hurried from room to room.
“She is here!” Hilsith called from the central room, and they hurried there, then out to the balcony, where Hilsith stood in amazement.
Talia floated in mid-air, four feet past the balcony’s railing, spinning slowly in all directions like a child using her first Levitation spell, with no attempt to control her orientation. Her nightgown was mostly covered with her blood from the waist up, because Nemia’s largest kitchen knife protruded from her chest. It was clearly through her heart, because the handle bounced a little with her every heartbeat. Of course, her heart should not have been beating still, with the big knife through it, but there it was. Talia was softly crying, hanging limply in the air.
Yazadril cast Movement upon her, and gently stopped her spinning while drawing her into his arms. Then he almost fell with her, because the moment she was back onto the balcony the Levitation spell dissipated. Talia had not dismissed it, it simply ended.
Yazadril carried her in and gently laid her on the couch. He discovered as he did so that the knife point protruded from her back, when it cut his arm.
He Healed his wound as Hilsith carefully tore Talia’s nightgown from the neckline down the front. Only a few drops of blood still leaked from around the wiggling knife blade. Hilsith firmly grasped the handle and pulled it straight out. Talia gave a short scream and convulsed a moment. The wound healed as fast as the blade was removed. It was completely gone the moment the tip of the knife came out of her flesh, and no scar remained to show it had ever been there.
“Talia? Talia? Please speak to us my love.” Nemia quietly begged.
“I cannot kill myself!” Talia sobbed. “The curse will not let me fall, it will not let me die, and I will go to him! I will go to him soon, I cannot resist the urge to do so! I am damned!”
“Talia, we know what you are going through.” Yazadril gently told her. “Alilia has told us of the nature of the curse. It is a powerful curse, but I will find a way to defeat it, I swear I will!”
“You should have let me die yesterday!” Talia sobbed bitterly. “I cannot live without Dalia! I cannot live without Bezedil! I cannot live with what I am going to do! Oh sweet Source above, the curse is so horrible!”
“Listen to me, Talia!” Yazadril told her insistently. “You must have faith, my love! In eight thousand years, I have never met a problem that I could not solve eventually!”
“Then kill me! Find a way to kill me! You must, Father! Swear it to me, please!”
“I will not.” Yazadril stated firmly. “Listen to me Talia; Alilia made a mistake when she chose to give you to Markee, of all people! He alone is immune to magic, my love! The curse cannot affect him, and it cannot make him do anything! He is truly a good soul, and he will not rape you! I am certain of it!”
This finally seemed to release Talia from her dark mood a bit. Her crying slowed, then stopped. She slowly sat up and wiped her eyes and face with the hem of her ripped and bloodied nightgown.
She looked up at her father, and he recoiled a bit from the horror and intense pain he saw in her face, then he threw his arms around her and hugged her tight.
“You do not understand.” she told him, and her heart-rending pain was plain in her voice. “He will rape me. I will make sure of it! I will do whatever I must to make him do it!
“The poor boy is damned for eternity! If he truly is a good soul, it is the most tragic part of this entire tragedy.”
She gently pulled back from Yazadril’s embrace and took his hand in one of hers. She held her other hand out to Nemia, who clasped it in both of hers. Tears flooded both their faces, but they managed to not be overcome by weeping.
“I am so very sorry for the death of Dalia.” she told her parents. “She was… She was half my soul.
“And now I must go to him. Father, please cast Tongues upon me, so that I can speak his language.
“Mother, please help me to choose something to wear that might make me appear attractive to a human, if such a thing is possible. I know that it may not be, since we are not even of the same race. But this will be easier for him if he does not find me repulsive.
“Actually, since humans and elves have been known to produce half-elven children, you are of the same species, if just barely.” Yazadril told her. “At any rate, it is well known that many human males find elven females to be very attractive indeed. And you are very beautiful, Talia.”
“That is good, then.” Talia nodded. “Please, help me prepare quickly. The urge to go to him grows stronger by the moment. If you do not help me, I will go to him regardless. You cannot stop me, and I cannot stop myself.”
“Come then.” Nemia said as she stood and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “I have some clothing that I made for myself when I was preparing for my marriage to Yazadril, when I worried that he might be too old to feel desire for me. A needless worry, as it turned out, but the garments are very enticing. And I will enhance your coloring a bit.”
As her bedroom door closed behind her and Talia, Hilsith turned to Yazadril.
“Theramin and Dilimon have requested to accompany you when next you visit the human.” she told him. “And I think it would be wise if I was there.”
“I agree, and I will inform Theramin and Dilimon that we are preparing to go.”
“There is a knight of The People of Life on the ground below us.” Hilsith continued. “I suspect he is monitoring Talia’s whereabouts somehow, so that he can inform Alilia when Talia goes to the human.”
“And Yazadril, I am sorry I was caught unawares by Talia’s Sleep spell. I should have monitored her more closely, as I should have suspected that she may still be suicidal.”
“That is all right.” Yazadril nodded. “We learned from it.”
“We learned?” Hilsith prompted.
“That Talia cannot suicide, and perhaps cannot be killed in any way.”
Theramin and Dilimon arrived a minute later.
“Greetings, Yazadril.” Theramin gently said when Yazadril answered the door. “I have been chosen to represent the Council of the High People in dealing with the question of Alilia’s curse upon Talia. Dilimon here will represent the Sentry Corps.”
“Welcome, both of you.” Yazadril said as he ushered them in.
“We both met Markee last evening, when we explained to him that you would not be meeting him due to a family emergency.” Dilimon told him. “We gave him a few supplies and things to make his camping more pleasant, and visited with him for an hour or so. He is quite a likable fellow.”
“He is that. And he has had a grave injustice done to him.” Yazadril sadly revealed, then related what he had learned of the curse. “We will see what we can do to minimize the suffering that he and Talia face. Time enough to reach judgments after that.”
Soon they were ready. All except Talia had changed into their hiking clothing; stout boots, pants and tunics suitable to walking in the forest, as Yazadril had worn when he met Markee. Nemia carried a large basket of barbering and tailoring supplies.
Talia wore a garment that was as enticing as any there had ever seen on any elven female. Since Yazadril had seen it years before, and had happily removed it from Nemia’s giggling form, he knew that it was composed of a long white silk ribbon with hundreds of strips of almost-transparent white gauze sewn to it’s edge. The ribbon was artfully wound around Talia’s torso from her armpits down to her hips and back up again, where the two ends were tied in a bow over the center of her collarbone, so that when she stood still the overlapping strips of gauze covered her from just below her shoulders to halfway down her thighs. When she moved, the gauze strips moved in the breeze, revealing tantalizing glimpses of her nakedness beneath. Her tiny feet wore matching sandals of white silk ribbon over white leather soles. Nemia had enhanced Talia’s color, brightening the blue of her eyes to an incredible magic sparkle, and deepening the pink of her lips and the blush of her cheeks in a subtle way that enhanced the fine bone structure of her face. Dilimon had stared at her a moment before he recovered his aplomb.
“We are ready.” Yazadril told Talia, unsure how she wished to proceed.
“I will walk.” Talia said, the horror and pain still plain in her voice, though her eyes were now dry. “I must go to him, but I am in no hurry to begin my torment.”
“Then we will walk as well.” Yazadril said, and led the way to the door, then down the many steps to the ground.
When they reached the ground, they found Alilia waiting for them by the foot of the spiraling stairway. Talia faced her, and spoke unflinchingly.
“I sorrow for the death of Bezedil.” she stated quietly. “I would gladly have burned in fire for eternity if it would have saved him.”
“Then you should be glad that I did not think of that, for if I had, that is exactly what would have happened to you.” Alilia calmly returned.
Talia simply nodded, turned, and set her feet upon the path to the pass.
Talia may have wished to walk, but Alilia had no such patience. Without even a hummed note, she Translocated them all to Yazadril’s clearing of contemplation, where they appeared on the grass about six feet in front of Markee.
Who yelled and fell backward off the log as his hands slapped onto his face.
“Markee! What’s wrong?” Yazadril asked in confusion as he and Hilsith rushed to the boy’s side.
“You startled the life out of me! And that light! It’s blinding! It’s like looking into the sun!” Markee complained.
He sat up with a hand across his eyes, and looked at Yazadril through a slit between two fingers. “I’ll be okay as soon as the spots are gone from in front of my eyes. As long as I don’t look over there.” he said as he pointed to the rest of the group.
“Does it hurt? Did the light cause your eyes to feel physical pain?” Hilsith asked.
“No, it’s just too bright to look at!” Markee reported. “What is it?”
“Ah. I imagine that Alilia is the source of much of the light.” Yazadril told him. “You see my power as a glow, but over half of my people have more raw power than I, while Nemia, Talia and Theramin are our strongest wizards. And as I told you, Alilia is exceptional in that regard.”
“Alilia, is it possible to hold less power, or to limit its… its leakage, for want of a better term?” Hilsith asked as she rejoined the group.
“No, and no.” Alilia said, and snorted. “Leakage. That term would be very humorous, in any other circumstance. But perhaps there is something I can do. There. Does that help you, young man?”
“Ah. And now?”
“Yes, that worked, though the rest of you are almost painfully bright as well.” Markee told her as he cautiously removed his hand from his eyes and looked toward the group. And gaped.
“I’m curious as to what you did just now.” Yazadril said to Alilia.
“You are always curious.” Alilia stated, and actually showed a small smile. “First I cast Battle Shield, a blocking spell. It forms a sphere about me that protects me from magical attack. When that didn’t work, I reversed its effect, preventing my leakage, as you put it, from escaping beyond it.”
“Brilliant!” Yazadril smiled.
“Perhaps not. It seems to be having a mesmerizing effect on your young human.” Alilia pointed out.
“What?” Yazadril said as he turned back to Markee, who was staring at the group with his mouth open. “Markee? Are you all right?”
“What? Oh, yes, I’m fine.” Markee stated, as he continued staring.
“It is not Alilia’s inverted shield that is mesmerizing him.” Hilsith giggled.
“No.” Markee said as he tore his eyes away from the group. “It’s… Ah, how can I say this courteously? I mean… Are all the ladies of your people this beautiful? For if they are, I’ll never be able to concentrate on learning anything!”
Even with all the other emotions that Alilia, Nemia and Hilsith were feeling, Markee’s obviously unfeigned and deeply affected admiration for their beauty touched their feminine hearts. All three could not help but smile a little, even Alilia, and Nemia and Hilsith actually blushed a bit!
“Are they all so beautiful?” Theramin mused as he suppressed a grin. “Yes, my boy, they truly are.”
“Thank you Markee, you are truly kind.” Nemia said as her smile grew a bit. “As are you, Theramin.”
Talia had been hiding behind her mother and Dilimon; unable to face the man she now felt to be her master. She chose this moment to shyly step into view, her arms by her sides, her head bowed. After a long moment she found the courage to meet his gaze.
Markee’s jaw had dropped in amazement. His eyes were wide, and shining a bit with moisture, as if whatever he was feeling was so powerful it had almost moved him to tears.
Yazadril looked to Talia, who was staring back at Markee with an indescribable expression. There was a gentle breeze blowing, and it was having the designed effect on her garment.
“I knew it.” Talia murmured. “The poor boy finds me repulsive.”
“What? No!” Markee protested. “I mean… You’re… I never thought I would ever see anything so beautiful in my life! You are so pretty and… enticing… I…”
He suddenly became aware that he was staring, and dropped his eyes. “Please… Please forgive my rudeness. I was… caught by surprise, that’s all.” he stammered as he rose from the ground and sat back down on the log. He squinted as he looked at the group. “You know, the rest of you are still painfully bright, especially with you all standing in a bunch like that. Could I ask you to all move away from each other a couple of feet?”
They complied with his request.
“Thanks. Yazadril, I really wish you’d given me a chance to get cleaned up before you brought me visitors.”
“I’m sorry about that, Markee, but… there have been… developments.” Yazadril hesitantly told him as he moved around the log to stand between the young man and the group, and to one side. He had to swallow hard before he could continue. “They are difficult to speak of. It will be easier, and more informative for you, if I simply show you what has happened.
“But first, introductions. Markee, this is…”
“Excuse me Yazadril.” The young man said as he stood.
His full stature was so imposing that Hilsith and Nemia both stepped back a bit. The young man sadly shook his head at this, then continued, looking to the ancient elf as he did.
“I’ve thought a lot about what you said, about taking responsibility as an adult now. My name’s really not Markee. I was named after my father, and since we have the same name, everyone called me Markee. It’s a child’s nickname, and I guess it’s time I stopped being a child.”
He turned to the waiting group. “I am Markhan Reginus Longstrider, of Shinosa Valley, an invested Ranger of the Northern Forests, and a loyal subject of King Wittan of Finitra.” And with that he executed as courtly a bow as Yazadril had ever seen performed in the palaces of the great empires, sinking gracefully to his left knee as his right arm swept out and across to finish with his head bowed and his right palm over his heart. He held the pose for a short moment, then smoothly rose as he stated: “I am entirely at your service.”
He allowed himself a tiny, smug smile at their surprise at this performance.
“I have made a horrible mistake.” Alilia stated calmly. Though she maintained control of her expression, tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.
“Yes. Ah, be that as it may…” Yazadril stammered, and shook his head a bit while he regained his mental balance. “So, would you prefer we call you Markhan, or Master Longstrider?”
“Master…” Talia murmured, and shuddered as she stared.
The confused young man glanced back and forth between Alilia and Talia, both of whom were looking at him with peculiar intensity. “There’s something very strange going on here, isn’t there?” he asked as he turned back to Yazadril, his brows knitting a bit.
“Yes there is, but we’ll get to that in a moment.” Yazadril nodded. “So, in answer to my question? Shall we call you Markhan?”
“No, that will always be my father’s name, not mine. I think I’d like you to call me Mark. That’s what they call my grandfather, I’m told, and he has the same name.”
“Ah. Mark.” Yazadril nodded. “So you are actually Markhan Reginus Longstrider the Third?”
“The Fifth, actually, if you choose to word it that way.” Mark said. “My grandfather’s grandfather was the first of that name, and now it’s a family tradition for every firstborn son.”
“Ah. Well, you have already met Theramin, senior horticultural wizard of the High People, and Dilimon, Second Captain of our Sentry Corps. This is Hilsith, a Healer of great renown who comes to us from the northern elves of The Warm People.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Mark said as he gave her a polite bow.
“And I you.” Hilsith replied with a small smile as she returned the bow.
“This is the Princess Alilia of the People of Life, of whom I’ve spoken.” Yazadril continued.
“Do not bow to me.” Alilia said to Mark before he could do so.
“All right, though I’m pleased to meet you.” Mark said in puzzlement. “May I ask why I should not bow?”
“Because I have done you an injustice. If you bow to me, you will regret having done so when you learn what has occurred.” Alilia told him, her voice brittle.
This left Mark with no response, and Yazadril hurried to fill the awkward lull in the conversation. “This is my wife Nemia.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Mark said with a bow, which Nemia returned.
“And this is my daughter Talia.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Markee bowed with a broad smile. “Yazadril has spoken fondly of your mother and yourself. And your sister of course. How is she?”
“She is dead.” Talia stated quietly. She finally managed to tear her gaze away from his face as he gaped in shock, and she turned into her mother’s arms as she burst into tears. Soon they were both sobbing sadly.
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…” Mark stammered, ashamed at his unintended insensitivity.
“There’s no way you could have known.” Yazadril told him sadly, and wiped his own fresh tears away.
“How did it happen?” Mark asked, then wondered if the question was inappropriate. “No, I’m sorry, it’s none of my concern…”
“Actually, I’m afraid it is.” Yazadril told him sadly. “And as I said previously, there are matters that are difficult to speak of…”
“Perhaps for you.” Alilia interrupted bitterly, then turned from Yazadril to Mark. “Sit down, it is irritating to have to look up that far. I will tell you what has happened.”
She continued as Mark abruptly sat. “My son Bezedil arrived here yesterday, and quickly fell in love with Yazadril’s daughter Dalia. Twin sister to that one, and nearly perfectly identical to her in appearance.”
She pointed at Talia without looking away from Mark, and continued. “Then, while Dalia was out of the room, Talia came to Bezedil and passed herself off to him as her sister. Dalia returned to the room and found Bezedil and Talia consummating. Dalia was so struck by what she saw as their betrayal that she committed suicide by leaping from a high window. Realizing his mistake, and filled with remorse for what he’d done, my son leaped after her to save her. He was too late, and upon seeing her die from impact with the ground, he was so filled with grief and despair that he did not save himself.
“When I learned this…”
“That is not what happened.” Talia interrupted, quietly but firmly.
Alilia’s head whipped around in surprise as she looked to Talia, then her face contorted with rage. “How dare you say that! All was revealed in my son’s last Reading, as his life was fading from his broken body before my eyes!”
Tears flowed freely down Talia’s cheeks, but her jaw was set with determination. She swallowed hard as she was held by Alilia’s gaze. “It did not happen like that. You made me see the Reading as well. You made me see Dalia die. But you did not see what happened before that. You hate me, so you will not believe what I say, and I… I cannot speak of it. So Read me. Read me so that all can know what really happened.”
“If you are innocent, why did you not declare it so yesterday?!” Alilia demanded.
“There was nothing but grief and pain in me then, overwhelming all else.” Talia stated quietly. “The twin of my soul and my destined love were both dead, and I wanted only to die. I was not listening to anything that was said. I did not care what you did to me.”
“And now you do.” Alilia stated frostily.
“I still do not care what happens to me for my own sake, and it would not matter if I did.” Talia told her, struggling to control her voice. “You have damned me for eternity, and that is all there is to that. But I have regained my thinking enough to consider my parents’ feelings, and they should know that it did not happen as you think it did. Furthermore, Mark will need to know the truth.”
“If you can bear it, we must perform the Reading, Yazadril.” Theramin quietly pointed out before Alilia could retort. “It is her right to defend herself.”
“Ah. It is too late to consider rule of law.” Nemia stated calmly. “And it is too early. We must concentrate on minimizing the harm that has been done, and on preventing any more harm to ourselves or to each other. After that is done, we will deal with legality and diplomacy.”
“You will perform the Reading, or I will, and less competently than you could have done it.” Alilia stated coldly. “But we will know the truth.”
“Uh, if you don’t mind my asking, what does a Reading do?” Mark asked, hesitant to interject, yet driven by his need to understand what was happening.
“It allows the caster to experience some of the memories or thoughts of the person it is cast upon.” Yazadril explained. “In this case, I will cast a variation of it that will read a specific segment of Talia’s memory, rather than her present thoughts, and transmit those memories to the rest of you. We will experience them with all of our senses as if we were reliving our own memories, complete with every thought and emotion that Talia experienced at the time.”
“Oh. And uh, will it work for me?” Mark hesitantly asked. “You said that this affects me, and I’d really like to understand what’s going on.
“No, now that you mention it.” Yazadril admitted. “It is unlikely that you could receive the Reading. Let me think. I could re-cast the vision of the Reading as an Illusion. You wouldn’t be able to see it, since you didn’t see the Illusions of the Wards, but I could use the Illusion as the pattern for a Light spell. Nemia brought some white cloth in her tailor’s pack, and if we stood in the shade of the trees and I projected the light pattern upon the cloth, you should be able to see what we are seeing.”
“And a very complex piece of work it will be, Yazadril.” Theramin said. “Performing the Reading, casting it to us, casting the Illusion of it, and casting the Light projection of it. Only you could do it. However, it still only conveys the visual component of the Reading to Mark, here. I will assist by casting Sound of the audible component.”
“And I will simply relate Talia’s thoughts and emotions verbally, and translate those and the spoken words into your language, Mark.” Nemia nodded, moving to stand next to him. “You will still lack the components of touch, scent and taste, but those are less important, and I can tell you of any important evidence of those natures that occurs in the Reading.
“Theramin, you will have to keep your Sound casting quiet enough that Mark can hear both your casting and my spoken translation of it.”
“Thank you. I appreciate everything you’re doing to include me in this.” Mark solemnly said.
“Fine. Let us have it done, then.” Alilia snapped as she turned on her heel and strode to the nearest edge of the clearing.
The rest followed, and Nemia took a folded white cloth from her basket. Once under the canopy of the trees, she unfolded it to a ten-foot square and Levitated herself to pin it’s upper corners to two branches, so that it hung with it’s lower edge touching the grass.
“Thank you Nemia.” Yazadril said as he moved to face the center of the cloth. “Theramin, let me Read you for a moment while you watch me, would you?” he asked.
Theramin nodded, and Yazadril hummed a short arpeggio and did so, nodding when he had a firm Reading.
“Shared Reading, first test.” Yazadril stated, and clapped his hands three times. “Thank you, Theramin.” he said, and mentally reviewed his spells. He hummed a short melody and cast an Illusion of himself near the cloth. The elves present saw a duplicate Yazadril standing before the cloth. He cast Light upon the cloth, then gradually linked it to the illusion of himself that his eyes were seeing. It gave him a strange double vision of his own image until he had the two perfectly synchronized.
“Tell me what you see, Mark.” he said, as his brow furrowed in concentration.
“There was a big round white light on the cloth, and then it changed, and now there’s a picture of you, from the front!” Mark explained in amazement.
“Good.” Yazadril nodded. “Now I’ll release the Illusion, and it will go back to white light.
“Theramin, I’ll send you the Reading I took of you watching me, while using it as the basis of the Illusion and the Light spell, and you will cast the sound of it, please.”
“Mark, you should next see a picture of me saying; shared Reading, first test, and clapping my hands, just as I did a moment ago, and you should hear me say it and the sound of the clapping, as well.
Theramin’s face set in firm concentration, matching Yazadril’s expression as they cast.
“It works! I can see it and hear it!” Mark told them excitedly.
“Good. It gives me a disorienting triple vision, but it will work” Yazadril stated, a little tensely.
“Well done.” Alilia was forced to admit.
“It gives me quadruple vision.” Theramin stated as he let his spells fade and shook his head a bit. “I see you, Yazadril, and I see you in the Reading, and I see the Illusion of you, and I see the Light projection of you. Thankfully, it will be less complex when we do Talia’s Reading.”
“Indeed.” Yazadril nodded as he turned to his daughter. “I will hold the first moment of the Reading until I have my four spells stabilized, and Theramin has his Sound casting ready. Try to be brave, my child. This will be very painful for all of us.”
“I... I know it will, Father.” Talia quietly agreed. “You should begin the Reading at the moment Bezedil arrived. And end it where Bezedil’s Reading began. You already know what happened after that.”
“But Mark does not.” Yazadril gently pointed out. Talia hesitated, then nodded, and Yazadril gave her a supportive embrace. “All right then. We begin.” With that, he placed his hands gently on the sides of her bowed head, and closed his eyed in concentration.
The light on the cloth changed to a view of the interior of Yazadril’s central room, as seen from the doorway into the kitchen. In it, Yazadril faced Bezedil, who was still holding his palm to the top of Alilia’s dark wood chest, beside Alilia, though the elves present knew it was only her Projection. Arrayed around them were Nemia and the rest of the senior wizards, not all of them close enough to see in the viewing. The moment was frozen, and none of the figures moved.
“Talia feels love at first sight for Bezedil.” Nemia stated quietly. “Her heart races, her throat is constricting so she can hardly breathe, and she thrills to the sight of him. She is aware of her sister Dalia standing to her left, who is leaning close to speak privately.”
“I am ready, Yazadril.” Theramin said.
The scene took on motion, and over the other sounds in the room, Dalia’s voice was heard speaking a melodic language Mark had never heard before. Nemia’s translation came a heartbeat after the spoken words, and with her commentary, Mark was given an understanding almost as complete as that of the elves as the scene unfolded.
“Look at him! He is delicious!” Dalia giggled.
“He is my destined love!” Talia quietly exclaimed her realization.
“Ha! There is no destined love, you silly squirrel, as I have told you many times before!” Dalia laughed. “Love is where you find it! Three times before you have thought that a cute new boy was your destined love! And all three times I have been a dutiful sister, and stood patiently aside when I could have been enjoying his pleasures, while you mooned over him for weeks! And then of course, you finally decide that he is not your destined love after all, though I know not how you could decide such a thing without even sharing your virgin body!
“Well, I am afraid I will not be so generous this time, dear Talia! This one is too scrumptious to pass up, and I will be enjoying him by this afternoon, you can be sure of it!”
“No, you do not understand!” Talia blurted excitedly. “Those other times I thought that those boys might be my destined love, but this time I am absolutely sure of it! More sure of it than I have ever been of anything in my life before! Bezedil is my destined love! I have seen him in my dreams, Dalia, I swear that I have, though I did not remember those dreams until now!”
“Well he is no virgin, I can tell that just by looking at him!” Dalia teased. “So I will not be despoiling him with my pleasure, and you can have him when I am done with him! Besides, the way my heart races to look upon him, I may fall in love with him myself!”
“No! Please, Dalia! I tell you he is truly my destined love!”
“Well then, just walk right over there and tell him so! If you cannot overcome your shyness to save him from my caresses, perhaps he is not your destined love after all!”
Talia gazed at Bezedil, overcome with longing for him, yet the thought of just walking over and speaking with him filled her with overwhelming timidness. “Please Dalia, just give me a few moments! You know how I am!”
“To the bold goes the prize then!” Dalia laughed. “I am sorry, sister of mine. You can go first the next time.”
A moment later Yazadril had finished introducing his wife and the wizards to Bezedil, and Dalia approached them, while Talia stood helplessly.
“You!” Bezedil exclaimed upon spying her.
“My fame precedes me!” Dalia laughed, performing a graceful curtsy
As she rose, Bezedil gently took her hand, bowed low over it, and gently kissed it.
“Ahh, Bezedil, I present my daughter Dalia. Dalia, this is Alilia’s son Bezedil.” Yazadril said, a bit uncomfortable with the intensity with which the two were gazing into each other’s eyes.
“Come. I will show you my room.” Dalia said, her smile bright and her eyes glinting as she took his hand and led him away.
Talia could not help but discretely follow as far as the entrance to the hall, and once Dalia’s door shut behind them she could not help but move to it, her heart crushed within her. A few moments later she heard Dalia giggle through the door, then speak.
“My! You waste no time, do you, my handsome steed?” Dalia laughed.
“I have waited too long already!” Bezedil chuckled in return.
A few minutes later Talia heard her sister’s rising sounds of passion, and she collapsed to the floor and quietly cried.
Under the edge of the trees, her back to Mark and the elves monitoring the Reading, Talia gave a choked sob and tearfully spoke:
“I should not have eavesdropped. I knew it was wrong, but I could not help myself. I could hear them as they made love for the next forty-five minutes, and I assure you that nothing else happened or was said during that time. May we move the Reading ahead, past that time, please?”
“That would be best.” Alilia nodded, barely able to speak.
“All right.” Yazadril quietly agreed, and he let the light and the illusion fade. “I’ve already taken the entire Reading from Talia, so that I could have more concentration available to display it. I’ll quickly skip forward to the next actions or spoken words, and we’ll continue from there.”
He closed his eyes and his brow furrowed for a moment. “Ah. Here it is. If you are ready, Theramin, we will continue.”
At Theramin’s nod, the review of the Reading resumed.
It revealed that Talia lay curled on her side on the floor of the hallway, quietly weeping, and her heart felt like poisoned rot within her.
“Oh! Oh Bezedil, a pause, please, give me a pause!” Dalia was heard to gasp behind the closed bedroom door. “Your passion has exhausted me! I must recover before I can sustain even another moment of pleasure!”
“As you wish, my love, always.” Bezedil chuckled.
“My love.” Dalia said in wonder, and it was unclear whether she addressed Bezedil thusly, or merely repeated his words, marveling that he should speak them to her.
“Oh Bezedil! I have never experienced anything as incredible in my life! My sweet Lords and Ladies, but you are a masterful and inexhaustible pleasurist!”
“I have heard that it is infinitely better with the one who is your destined love.” Bezedil quietly declared. “And now we have some proof of the truth of that!”
“Not you too! You sound like my parents and my sister!” Dalia laughed. “There is no such thing as destined love! Love is where you find it! And perhaps we have found it!”
“How can you say that, you of all people?!” Bezedil teased. “I assure you my dear, destined love is a factually proven phenomenon! I have seen you in my dreams with ever increasing frequency for the last three months, and so I have researched the phenomenon with great rigor! I knew that we would soon meet; there was no doubt! Come, you must admit that you have also dreamt of me, for it could not be otherwise!”
There was a very long moment of silence.
On the floor in the hallway, Talia’s heart slammed up into her throat and almost choked her completely.
“Dalia? Is something wrong?” Bezedil asked in concern.
“I… I must use the privacy!” Dalia blurted, and as her footsteps were heard lightly running to her bedroom door, Talia quickly rose and slipped into her own bedroom.
She had no time to close her door before Dalia emerged into the hallway, still belting her robe, but Dalia took no notice as she quickly moved a few steps down the hall in the opposite direction and entered her mother’s study, which she knew would be empty, as her parent’s voices could be faintly heard from the direction of the central room.
Talia’s heart pounded in her ears so loudly that she thought it might deafen her. ‘Dalia now knows that Bezedil is my destined love! I dreamt of him, as he knew I would! She will tell him! She must tell him!’ Talia thought, the realization filling her with a shining elation, and a blazing hope.
But long minutes passed, and Dalia remained behind the closed door of the study. Talia was increasingly drawn to go to Bezedil, who waited alone in the next room; to reveal to him that she, Talia, was the one who was his destined love, to feel his arms around her, to feel the fulfillment of him, to give herself to him completely, as she had never given of herself before.
Yet at the same time, her shyness rose again within her, and she knew it for what it was; fear of embarrassing and humiliating herself by saying or doing something stupid and inappropriate, and fear of rejection. She prayed that Dalia would return and reveal the truth, but the long moments passed as slowly as the seasons, and still the study door remained closed.
Finally Talia’s need to go to Bezedil drove her forth, and she silently padded from her room to Dalia’s door. She tried to bring herself to tap upon it, to no avail. Then she caught the powerful scent of Bezedil’s passion, mixed with Dalia’s more familiar one, and she noticed that the door was opened a crack.
Seemingly of it’s own volition, her hand slowly pushed the door open enough for her to slip silently into the darkened room from the dim hallway.
Bezedil stood naked with his back to her, peering through a crack between the closed curtains of the open window near the bed, admiring the view while impatiently waiting.
Talia tried to speak his name, but her mouth seemed numbed, and she could not bring herself to speak. Silently and slowly, she closed the distance between them. Again she tried to speak and could not, and again her hand seemed to have a will of it’s own as it rose to caress his shoulder.
She thrilled at the touch of him, and then he quickly turned and took her in his arms as he spoke.
“Ah, my love, you were gone a long time, and still I am insatiable for you!” he chuckled.
‘No! I must tell him first!’ Talia thought in a panic, and with a wrenching effort of will, she spoke, her voice quiet and quavering. “No, wait, I am…”
But he heeded her not, and then he was kissing her fully upon her mouth, and his hands were insistently caressing her, and all thought in her mind fled before an overwhelming onslaught of emotion and sensation.
She had no strength to resist as he gently slid her garments from her body with a few skillful motions, his fiery kiss uninterrupted while he did so, and drew her down onto the bed.
Then the door opened fully and Dalia stood in the dim light of the hallway, her face stricken. Only a moment she stood there before running to leap through the curtains.
Bezedil made a quiet sound, then he scrambled from the bed and leapt after Dalia.
Talia sat on the bed for a moment, stunned. She rose and went to the window and looked out, expecting to see Dalia flying away with Bezedil close behind. She did not see them until she looked down. Incredulous grief hit her like a hammer blow as she saw their broken bodies on the ground far below. She let herself fall forward.
Yazadril let the Reading continue as Talia fell and was barely caught by Nemia, as she was forced to experience Bezedil’s last Reading, as she was punched and cursed by Alilia, bringing impossible horror and agony until Yazadril had finally forced Sleep upon her.
The spells faded, and Mark brushed away his tears, choked with emotion at what he had been shown. All were crying, Yazadril and Nemia as they stood clinging to each other, Talia as she hugged with Hilsith, Theramin and Dilimon and Alilia as they stood alone and failed to be stoic.
“Come back to the camp.” Mark said in a choked, rumbling voice. “I’ll make us some tea.”
The elves followed him, still weeping, and as he busied himself with his brazier and a teapot Theramin had given him the night before. Yazadril, Nemia, and Alilia seated themselves on the log, while the rest sat cross-legged on the grass.
Soon the scent of Theramin’s tea blend became apparent, and they slowly regained control of their emotions.
None spoke until Mark had served them all honeyed tea in the tin camp cups Dilimon had given him, then sat down himself.
Alilia stared into her cup a moment, then spoke without looking up.
“Talia. Never has an elf ever been so wronged by another, as you have been wronged. Mostly by me, but also by your sister, and by my son. Rather than your having raped my son by trickery, it is more true to say that since he did not heed your refusal, he was about to rape you, though you would not have considered it such. You are a fine young wizard, so you know as well as I that my curse cannot be recalled or countered, no more than we can bring Bezedil and Dalia back to life, or cause ashes to become the tree they once were. Such complete changes cannot be reversed, and to apply the power it would take to even try to deflect the curse would almost certainly result in a disaster of cataclysmic proportion.
“Any apology I offer could only seem a pathetic jest compared to the enormity of the wrong I have done you, yet still I do apologize, and no words could convey how sorry I am for what I have done to you. Nothing I could give you or do for you could begin to repay you for what I have done, yet know that from this moment forward I am your servant, and that all I have is yours, as is any service I or my people can render you. Any punishment you wish to inflict upon me, I will gladly endure.”
There was a long moment of silence before Talia replied, her shaking voice barely above a whisper.
“I understand what you did. Your son had just died, and from his last Reading, limited as it was to those last few moments, it seemed that I was responsible. Were I in your place, I also could not let such a thing pass, and I may have done the same, or worse.
“And Bezedil was my destined love. He truly was. And those few moments were all I had of him. He should have been my husband, but I was too cowardly to speak to him before Dalia did. You should have been my mother-in-law, and we should have grown to love each other dearly.
“And… And too, I have to do what Bezedil would have wanted. He would not have wanted there to be dark feelings between you and I.”
She took a deep, shaky breath and wiped away more tears, so distraught that she was barely able to speak.
“I forgive you, Alilia. You owe me nothing, except that there be peace between us.”
Alilia bowed her head and buried her face in her hands. “Please, do not forgive me!” she sobbed. “I cannot bear that you should be so noble, after I have been so vindictive! I cannot simply bear this on my conscience! There must be some penance or restitution, something I can do so that I can feel that I have atoned for what I have done!”
After a moment, Talia nodded. “All right. I leave it to you to decide on something appropriate.”
Alilia dropped her hands to her lap. “I will. Thank you.” she whispered, her throat too constricted to speak fully.
“Wisely done.” Theramin murmured to Talia.