Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 07
At that moment the chandelier’s crystals chimed in a wave from the centermost crystal outward to the perimeter, producing a shimmering descending arpeggio. Through the doors to the deck an orchestra was heard to begin playing at a medium tempo. Their music was so beautiful that for a moment it captured Mark’s entire attention.
Then the enormous crowd was heard to gasp collectively, and some politely clapped their hands in applause.
“Here we go.” Theramin said as Yzell tucked her hand under his arm, and they stepped to the door leading downstairs. “First us, then the groom’s party, Mark first, Dilimon being behind him and to his left. Then the bride’s party, Talia first, then Yazadril and Nemia, then Alilia behind them.”
They lined up behind him and Yzell as he’d described. He took a deep breath and let it out, then opened the door. “All right. We go forth with dignity.” he said, and led the way down the stairs.
As they followed the stairs down and to the left, Mark quietly asked Dilimon over his shoulder; “What were they oohing and aahing and clapping about out there?”
“Until that moment, all the decorations were invisible, and they were revealed as the ceremony began.” Dilimon discretely answered.
The stairs emerged at ground level within a great hall, and they made their way across it until Theramin and Yzell stood before a great double doorway, the doors opened wide. The rest lined up behind them, keeping their formation.
The doorway faced straight down the aisle, which was marked off by white ribbons hanging in gentle curves between gold stands. Adorning the stands were bouquets of white-petaled flowers with gold centers and leaves. To either side of the aisle stood the thousands of attendees, wearing an eye-dazzling array of colorful finery. The mighty trees around them were decorated on the lower sixty feet of their trunks with white and gold flowers, and ribbons placed in fanciful designs, about four white ribbons to every gold one. In the air above a similar collection of long, flowing ribbons danced to the music as if they had life of their own, most of them concentrated over the podium, forming three-dimensional drawings of flowers and butterflies, fawns and unicorns, and other pretty things, each picture dissolving after a moment to soon form another.
The aisle was hundreds of feet long, and at the end of it was the podium, in the center of the clearing. The podium was like seven great disks of gold-veined white marble stacked atop one another, each one foot thick. The top one was eight feet wide, the second one eight feet wider, the third eight feet wider yet, and so on, forming steps with risers one foot high and treads four feet deep. The orchestra was arrayed in a circle on the lowest tier of the podium, which was fifty-six feet wide, the aisle passing between them marked by bouquet stands without ribbon between.
They could see the bridesmaids and groomsmen slowly making their way in couples up the aisle to the third highest tier, where groomsmen went left and bridesmaids right, until they stood in an even circle.Next, the assembled leaders of the elven nations, with their spouses or escorts, moved with stately pace into the aisle from either side at the base of the podium, then up to the fourth highest tier, until they stood in couples in a circle on it.
All eyes then turned to the doorway. Theramin and Yzell stepped forth to a polite smattering of applause and made their measured way to the base of the podium. There Theramin took both of Yzell’s hands and kissed her cheek, she stepped aside out of the aisle, and he continued alone to the top tier of the podium and a bit to the far side, where he turned to face back down the aisle toward the door.
As Theramin had approached the podium, Dilimon had cautioned Mark; “Those out there cannot see in here, because the shadow of the doorway is magically enhanced, so that we will make a grander entrance when we step forth into the daylight. So don’t act surprised at their reaction.
“And know that the podium will start to rotate very slowly when all are in place upon it, and will make one full turn before the end of the ceremony, so that all will have a chance to see you from the front.
“As soon as Theramin is settled in place, go forth, keeping to the center of the aisle. And try not to walk too fast. I’d look silly having to jog to keep up.”
“Thanks.” Mark chuckled, and Dilimon’s light jest was perfectly timed, for it reduced his nervousness a bit just as the moment came to step out onto the soft, dense moss that floored the clearing.
As he emerged, Dilimon behind and to his left, the thousands of voices that were whispering and murmuring to each other suddenly fell completely silent, leaving the music seeming clearer and louder. Then just as suddenly they started up again with greater volume and intensity than before. Many spoke Elvish, but of those he could understand, most exclaimed at his size, though a few females were heard marveling at how cute or handsome he was, and there were more than a few angry grumblings and mutterings as well.
It seemed like a long walk to the podium, and a few along the aisle made impolite comments that he was meant to overhear. Mark tried to ignore it all, and hoped he wasn’t walking funny, unused as he was to the slow, dignified pace Theramin had set. (He was later assured, to his relief, that he’d walked with a very graceful stride.)
He had little attention to spare, as he was awed by the magnificence of his surroundings. The decorations were magical and beautiful, but the chapel itself was even more amazing. Though he estimated the clearing within the circle of gigantic redwood trunks to be over seven hundred feet across, it felt as enclosed as a building, since the lowest branches a thousand feet above him filled most of the space overhead, and the circle of blue sky that could be seen between the branches at the tops of the trees looked very small, some twenty four hundred feet above.
Then Dilimon spoke, barely moving his lips, just loud enough for Mark to hear. “Be careful. I know the lass twenty feet ahead on your right, in the blue striped gown. Her name is Balen, and she has a way with childish pranks, and I think she’s getting ready to do something foolish.”
Mark spotted her, but let his eyes sweep over her and beyond. She was just barely four feet tall and looked to be about twelve years old, with bright red hair in a long braid down her back, and green eyes that were flashing in adolescent outrage.
When Mark was almost even with her she made a hand motion, and Dilimon gave the quiet but tense warning; “She casts!” He suddenly stepped to his right and smoothly bent to pick up one of the white and gold flowers that had fallen, and brought it to his nose to test it’s scent, as if that was his only intention. Thus when the spell passed cleanly through Mark, who had ignored it, it missed him as well. Three elves on the left instantly developed bright green and purple blotches on their faces, though they apparently didn’t realize that.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Balen blurted as she blanched white as snow, then blushed crimson as she reversed the spell.
Mark had to fight not to laugh as he noticed that the two adults with her were thunderstruck at their child’s audacity, and absolutely mortified with embarrassment.
He was just past her when Balen shouted out at the top of her lungs, pointing at him accusingly. “It went right through him! He’s not even real, there’s nobody there! It’s an Illusion!”
Mark stopped, and turned to her with a gentle smile. Still, she stepped back against her mother in fear as she stared wide-eyed up at him. He smoothly went to one knee and held his hand out to her. “Your hand please, my lady?” he asked her pleasantly in his rumbling voice.
She gave her head a tiny shake of refusal.
“It’s all right, I won’t hurt you. You know Dilimon here, he’s a Sentry, and he would never let anything happen to you.” he assured her, still smiling.
She looked to Dilimon, who smiled and nodded to support Mark’s gambit, whatever that was, and silently pleaded with the cosmos to not let this become a fiasco. In a sudden inspiration, he handed her the flower.
She took it, then looked to Mark, who waited on one knee with a smile, his hand still held out to her. Hesitantly she reached out and laid her hand in his, or rather laid her tiny hand over his huge index finger. He slowly raised it to his lips as he leaned down to touch it with a gentle kiss, then covered it with his other hand and gave it a soft caress.
“You see, pretty one?” he asked. “I’m not an illusion. Please don’t think ill of me. After all, it’s my wedding day.”
“I… I won’t.” she stammered, and he gave her another big smile before he stood to continue up the aisle.
Some broke out in spontaneous applause at his gallantry, and many were the females who commented wistfully on how sweet or charming it was.
Finally they reached their place on the second tier of the podium, and all eyes turned to see Talia begin her walk down the aisle.
“Well done, Mark!” Theramin told him at private volume as they watched the bride’s party emerge into the daylight. “You really saved the day there! Almost any other response you could have made would have been a disaster!”
“I know. Thanks. I’m so glad the orchestra played through it.” Mark grinned as he whispered his response. “Nice touch with the flower there, Dilimon.”
“Thanks. My heart was almost choking me at the time.”
“Me too. Why do you think she did that?”
“Dalia was her tutor in elementary wizardry, she grieves as do we all. And you know how adolescents can be; you’re happy and she’s not and it’s not fair, and all that. Still, her parents will have things to say to her later, you can be sure of it.”
“Poor thing. Could you have them drop by our table after the vows? Maybe I can keep her out of trouble.”
“You have a big heart, Mark. I’ll ask them.”
They watched as Talia approached, and Mark marveled anew at how lovely she was. Her choice of a dress of simple yet elegant design had it’s desired effect, visually setting her apart from the many busily-detailed and complex fashion ensembles around her. He also reddened a bit at how much more alluring its form-fitting design was.
When Mark had begun walking down the aisle, away from her, Talia’s heart had pounded harder and harder, for fear that at any moment she would be too far away from him, and the curse would strike. When he’d reached his place on the podium, she knew the curse would not strike, and she thought to herself with great relief; ‘I’ll never let him be farther away from me than this. Ever.’ And then it was her turn.
She moved gracefully, her eyes upon Mark as she walked, except for a moment when she glanced at Balen as she passed.
The incident with Balen had left her initially furious with the girl, then fearful at the shouted accusation, and finally laughing with relief at Mark’s answer to it. Now she had to give her head a shake and chuckle, for in an adolescently mercurial change of mood, Balen was gazing at Mark in youthful adoration as she held the hand that he’d kissed to her cheek, the flower Dilimon had given her clutched tight to her chest in the other.
And then Talia could only think of Mark, and how pivotal and critical the next few moments were going to be. His smile was full of warmth and adoration for her, and she saw pride and love there as well.
When everyone was in their places on the podium, the ribbons swirling in the air ceased their dancing to move together over the podium, forming the outlines of a round peaked roof above them, like an open-air gazebo, with some ribbons hanging down in six places around the edge, like support pillars that ended twenty feet above the ground. As the ribbons stilled, the orchestra finished their piece and fell silent.
As they had each led their parties and turned in opposite ways when they reached the second highest tier, Mark and Talia were separated for the moment by Dilimon, the aisle, Yazadril, Nemia, and Alilia. She shared one more smile with Mark before she gave her attention to Theramin, and then he did as well, when Theramin spoke.
His voice was magically enhanced, so that everyone in the chapel could hear him clearly, and he’d embellished his translation a bit. “Welcome one and all, gracious people of every elven nation, to an event of great joy and importance. We are gathered here today in peace and harmony, in this most revered place, to join two lives into one, and to join two hearts into one, with bonds and oaths of love and honor, proudly sworn in assembly to be witnessed by all.”
He paused before he asked; “Who speaks for the bride?”
Yazadril stepped up to the top tier and bowed to Theramin, who inclined his head in return. “I am the father of the bride, and I speak for her.” Yazadril announced, his voice strong, then he turned so that the crowd knew that he addressed them, and not Theramin. “I am Yazadril, Prince of The High People of The Nine Valleys. For eight thousand, four hundred and seventy-six years I have lived and loved and fought and survived upon this world, and so stand as Third Most Senior among all elves, and Most Senior among those who remain unretired, and in the full of their power and ability. I am First Battle Commander. I am First Wizard.”
He paused for a moment, and gazed intently around at the other Princes and Princesses, and at the circle of mighty wizards who were the bridesmaids and groomsmen, as if daring any to challenge his claims. Instead they all acknowledged his status with respectful nods. Then he returned his gaze to the crowd around him, where many were quietly exclaiming at the sudden change in his appearance and demeanor.
He waited another moment, and an incredible silence fell, so intent were the assembled on what he would say.
“I speak for Talia, my daughter by Nemia. She is fully of age to marry, and she comes to this marriage willingly, full of hope for the future.
“Most of you know some of the reasons for this marriage, but there are things you do not know, and there has been a great deal of foolish speculation. There have been untruths spoken that can lead to great harm, and so the truth must be known.
“The most important thing you must know is this; About one hundred and twenty years ago, a human wizard, acting from the vicinity of The Empire of Thon and The Kingdom of Yazzak, cast a curse upon myself and Princess Alilia of The People of Life. We were cursed that our children would slay each other. Yesterday the curse struck, killing Alilia’s son Bezedil and my daughter Dalia.”
He had to pause then, for a rising uproar of outrage had drowned him out, despite the chapel’s augmentation of the words spoken as part of the ceremony. He let them go on for a few moments, then added his own power to the augmentation and calmly spoke the single word; “Order.” The word boomed out, recapturing the attention of all. He continued. “My daughter Talia narrowly escaped death twice. The first was when she was driven by the curse to leap to her death from our home, immediately after the same had happened to Dalia and Bezedil. Yet she was caught and saved by Nemia, who was heroically aided in this by Jinimin of The High People, and he almost gave his life to help save my daughter.
“Jinimin, please let yourself be seen, for in the rush of events since then, I have yet to thank you for your courageous and selfless action.”
About ninety feet to Yazadril’s left, tiny twelve-year-old Jinimin was proudly lifted above the crowd by his mother to stand balanced on his beaming father’s shoulders as the two steadied him. Yazadril looked to him immediately, so everyone else did as well. He waved shyly to the crowd, a bashful smile showing beneath his light brown hair.
“Thank you, Jinimin, for your courage, and for my daughter’s life.” Yazadril graciously told him.
“You’re welcome!” was Jinimin’s friendly reply, and the crowd gave him a mighty cheer for his bravery and youthful charm. He waved around again, and then his father lowered him from view.
“But perhaps the curse was not finished yet.” Yazadril continued. “As all who were in First Valley saw, we cast a Reading upon Bezedil and were only able to read the last few seconds of his life, which implicated Talia in his death.
“This may have been affected by the curse, for if we had seen only a few seconds more, Talia would have been cleared of suspicion. As it was, Alilia was overcome with rage and grief, and would have killed Talia, were it not for a random factor that our hidden enemy could not have foreseen. And even the extent of Alilia’s rage may have been affected by the curse. It drove Dalia to leap to her death over what Bezedil had done, and Bezedil leaped because of what Dalia had done, so the curse was fulfilled by that, for it could be said that our children indeed caused each other’s deaths. Yet Alilia was filled with rage because of Bezedil’s death, and she almost killed Talia because of that. In the uncertain way of curses, I think the curse would have been fulfilled by that too, because indirectly, Talia would have died because of what Dalia and Bezedil had done.
“If Alilia had tried to kill Talia to revenge Bezedil, Nemia and I would have defended our daughter, with our lives if need be. If that had happened, at least one of us would almost certainly have been killed, perhaps all of us. And if that had happened, it is quite likely that there would now be a state of war between The High People and The People of Life.
“We believe that that was the true purpose behind the curse that our children were to slay one other; to sunder the friendship between Alilia and I, to sunder the alliance between our peoples, and to bring war between our peoples; elf killing elf due to outside interference. I have seen it happen many times before; a war is triggered between two peoples by an outside third party who acts in secret, hoping to be able to step in after the devastation and control all.
“But that did not happen.
“The day before yesterday, the young man who is my daughter’s groom approached the Wards on the border of our lands at the southern pass into First Valley. His name is Mark Longstrider, and he was seeking no more than a high vantage that faced south, so that he could assess the lay of the land in that direction, as he planned to continue traveling that way. At the time, I was near, meditating in my glade of contemplation, and I detected his approach. I also detected that he has completely unique magical properties, and so I observed him without his detecting me, and allowed him to pass within. I cast a Reading on him, and learned that he was completely unaware of his unique properties, and that he was an honest and honorable individual. All who know me can attest to my skill at casting such Readings, and to my judgment of character, and to my record of honesty. Contrary to many rumors I have heard today, there is absolutely no chance that he is other than what he seems, or that he arrived here with a hidden agenda to do any of us harm.
“I approached him, and I asked him to stay so that I could study his magical properties, and he agreed.
“I wanted another wizard who could wield a great deal of the power to help me study him, and so when I returned to my home I called Alilia, who agreed to help me with it. Her son Bezedil came as well, and that gave the curse against our children its chance to strike.
“So our human visitor was still on Alilia’s mind at the fateful moment when she would have killed Talia, and Alilia at that time thought that her son was dead because Talia had raped Bezedil by trickery, by impersonating Dalia. So instead of killing Talia, and perhaps triggering a terrible war between our peoples, at the last possible instant she cursed my daughter instead. As many heard when she revealed it to me later in the Council Hall of The High People, she cursed Talia to be raped by Mark until the end of days.”
He continued without pause, despite the huge crowd’s shocked reaction to this news.
“Alilia cast that curse under an understandable but mistaken impression of what had happened, and almost certainly under the influence of the curse against her and I. She now thoroughly regrets having done so, but it cannot be reversed. It was by far the most powerful and passionate curse I have ever seen cast, or even heard of. To attempt to deny her curse, or to alter it in any way, could lead to a disaster of untold calamity. Only long and careful study of the problem could reveal a practical solution. Meanwhile, we must deal with what has occurred, and try to make the best of a very difficult situation.
“This morning we went to visit Mark, to explain to him what had happened. So that he might truly understand, we took a Reading of Talia, and that is when we discovered that she was completely innocent of all blame in Dalia and Bezedil’s deaths. Later, it was Mark’s insight that led me to thoroughly check for external influences, and that is when I discovered the original curse that led to the deaths of our children, and led to Alilia’s curse upon Talia.
“Because he is a good hearted soul, Mark at first refused absolutely to cause Talia any pain. When we impressed upon him that to refuse to do so would certainly lead to disaster, and that the curse would certainly find a way to make him do so anyway, Mark realized that he had been cursed forever, even as Talia had been.
“They decided that since their lives had been forced together, the least harmful choice they faced would be to accept it, and to try to find happiness together, despite the requirements of the curse of Alilia.
“His people see sexual intimacy with any but one’s lawful spouse to be dishonorable. And since he did not want the fulfillment of the curse’s requirements to be a dishonor in his people’s eyes, he asked Talia to marry him today, since Alilia’s curse may force them to act as soon as tomorrow.
“Affection has grown quickly between them, perhaps even the beginnings of love, and they hope that their marriage can bring them happiness. And to ensure their best chance for that happiness, they chose to invite as many elves to their wedding as could attend within this revered place, to further augment the power of their wedding vows. Thus all of The High People and eight thousand of The People of Life were initially invited. When Mark learned that many more were gathering without, he invited all elves to be part of the proceedings, and Talia agreed.
“And so we hope that all of you will sincerely wish them joy and happiness on this special occasion, and for the many years ahead.
“Thus I speak for the bride, for Talia, my daughter.”
With that Yazadril stepped back down to his place on the second tier.
Theramin let a moment pass before he asked; “Who speaks for the groom?”
Mark stepped up and went to one knee as he made his finest bow to Theramin, then stood, turned halfway around and did so again, to signify that he bowed to the assembled elves. He noticed as he stood that the podium had already rotated several feet.
“I’m Mark Longstrider.” he calmly announced, his amplified, rumbling voice reaching all with its richness. “I’m the groom, and I speak for myself.
“What I most truly wish for is for Talia to have a happy and carefree life. She’s the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met, and she deserves that. Surely she deserves better than me for a husband, but fate has cast us together, whether we will it or not. So I must do everything I can to ensure our happiness together. Your opinions of me will affect our happiness, and so it’s important to me that you all like me, or at least not dislike me, and for that you must trust me, and for that you must know me and understand me, to some extent at least.
“We are very different, yet we have things in common. I have the most in common with those of you who are of The High People, the people of my bride, for I also come from a very isolated mountain valley filled with lush forest. And though the place that was my home lacked the magical magnificence of The Nine Valleys, still it was beautiful and we loved it dearly. Our touch was light upon it, for we nurtured it as much as we utilized it. I’m a Forest Ranger, and I shared responsibility for the well-being of the land and the life around our homes.”
Mark went on to speak of his home, his people, and his family, and his life thus far. His incredibly low voice had a storyteller’s pacing, and a melodic quality that was almost hypnotic.
Then he spoke of the magic atrocity that had slain all he knew and loved. He spoke plainly, describing the events without embellishment, though he revealed greater detail than when he had described it to Yazadril. His voice remained calm, though there was the occasional catch in it. Tears flowed down his face, and he ignored them except to blink them away. It was obvious to all that as he told them this part, it took a supreme effort of will to continue speaking smoothly, and to not weep outright.
Finally, he spoke of his trek south, and how he had survived alone in the wilderness for almost six months before meeting Yazadril.
“If I had known before I started walking up the pass to First Valley that I was approaching the lands of the elves, I’d have gone wide around, for in my almost seventeen years of life I’d never seen an elf before, nor seen any magic at all except for that which killed my kith and kin. I would never have dared to approach any elf, but Yazadril approached me with courtesy and friendship, which I sorely needed. He soon cast a Tranquility upon me, which I was also sorely in need of, or I’d still be weeping almost constantly for those I’ve lost.
“Now you know most everything there is to know about me.
“I know that I have the very profound honor to be the first human who has ever entered The Nine Valleys, and that many of you feel that I should not be here. I understand that, and for my own part I would gladly leave rather than offend any of you or risk the peace. But I promised Yazadril that I’d stay and make myself available for his study for at least five years. Further, if I leave, then Talia must leave as well, since she cannot risk being apart from me, or the curse will torture her far worse than it’s going to make me do. So I pray that you will not begrudge my presence here for a while, for I think that Talia has seldom been beyond The Nine Valleys, and I think it would wound her heart to have to leave her home.
“Thank you all very much for coming to our wedding. I hope you wish us all the best, and I hope you enjoy the festivities.”
He gave a simple bow, and stepped back down to his place beside Dilimon.
Theramin waited a moment while Mark was given a friendly round of applause, then continued. “Let the bride and groom step forth, that they may be joined in matrimony.”
Mark and Talia stepped up and came together before Theramin, facing one another. Mark went to one knee as he took both of Talia’s hands in his, and they shared a warm smile. Mark didn’t even notice that just before his knee met the marble, a small white cushion with gold piping appeared beneath it.
The watching elves could all see the magic field around them intensify as all of their ambient power joined with that of the wedding chapel and roiled around the podium. The anticipation in the air was intense as the swearing of the vows approached.
Theramin’s smile was so wide it was a wonder that he could speak properly. “Do you, Talia, take this male; Mark, to be your husband?” he asked.
“I do.” she answered, and seldom were two words said with such warmth. Her eyes never left Mark’s as she spoke her vows, nor did his leave hers, though he’d seen an intense flash all around them as she’d spoken.
Theramin continued. “Do you solemnly swear to love him before all others, and to strive to bear his children, and to care for him as best you are able, and to seek always to bring him happiness, for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do so swear. HUHH!!!” The power of the binding was incredible, as the cloud of magic around her contracted and intensified, and much of it was drawn into her. It was the most powerful act of magic ever seen by almost all of those in attendance. The feeling of it had driven her breath from her lungs and staggered her, though she was well used to dealing with large quantities of the power. She leaned against Mark to keep from losing her balance completely, then started to slide to the floor as her legs gave out on her.
He was completely blinded by the flash of the binding of her major oath, but he sensed it when she started to collapse, and he hurriedly passed her left hand to his left and held both her hands with his one, so he could wrap an arm around her and support her. The back of his right index finger touched the tine band, still on his left bicep, and his heart slammed even harder as he realized that he still had to put it on his head and remove the velvet covering!
It took her a few moments to get her breath back and her legs steadied. As she stepped back a bit he took the tine band from his arm and put it on his head and removed the velvet cover, trying to do it in one smooth motion that he hoped looked like he was wiping sweat from his brow. He adjusted his belt as he tucked the velvet under it, and asked Talia; “Are you okay?”
“I’m…” She began as she opened her eyes and looked at him, and then she fully felt the effect of the vow. “Oh Mark! Oh Mark! I love you so much! It’s… overwhelming! Oh Mark! I love you! I love you!”
She realized that she was in danger of becoming hysterical, and she leaned against him and closed her eyes again. She concentrated on the calming exercises she used to center herself before casting a major spell, and soon she felt she could continue. She straightened again, took a deep breath, and braced herself for the blast of emotion she knew she’d feel again when she looked at him.
“All right.” she nodded as she opened her eyes once more, and she was saved from being overwhelmed again because she was distracted by the realization that he had a very strange and fearful expression on his face, and that he was not precisely looking into her eyes anymore, or even focusing on her.
“I’ll need a moment or three.” he stated, sounding strange.
“What is it?” Theramin asked.
“I can’t see. When Talia completed her vows, there was a flash like silent lightning striking right in front of me. All I can see are big white spots moving around.” he said as he blinked repeatedly. He tried rubbing his eyes a bit, with no effect.
Hilsith stepped to him and inspected his eyes. “I can’t tell. My diagnostics don’t work on him, but his eyes appear to be undamaged.” she quietly stated.
“Wait a second… I think it’s coming back. Yes, definitely, the spots are fading.” Mark said in obvious relief.
Soon he was focusing on them again, and a few moments later he said; “Okay. I’m okay. Please, let’s continue.”
Hilsith stepped back to her place.
Theramin nodded, and said; “Place the ring, which symbolizes love without end, upon his finger.”
Alilia stepped forward as she handed the ring to Talia, who slid it onto Mark’s finger.
Mark smiled at the beauty of the ring, and gave Alilia a big smile and a small nod of gratitude before returning his smile to Talia. Then he again took both of Talia’s hands in his left one, and covered them with his right.
Now the anticipation was ten times greater, as everyone wondered how the vows would affect him, and their concentration upon him was intense. As Theramin spoke, the power field seemed to become a bright storm of magic that filled the entire glade, intensifying towards the center.
“Do you, Mark, take this female, Talia, to be your wife?”
Just before he spoke, Mark reached up with his right hand, pressed the center of the tine band hard against his forehead with his thumb to hold it firmly in place, and plucked the five tines simultaneously with his fingertips. “I do.” he answered, and as he said it he couldn’t help but squint his eyes almost shut against the expected flash. When it happened, he was glad he’d done so, or he’d have been blinded again. He could feel the magic rushing through him with a sensation that was indescribable.
The onlookers let out a collective ‘Ahhh!’ of amazement, for it appeared that he had absorbed as much of the power field with his minor vow as Talia had with her major one! And still the field intensified, becoming a maelstrom of boiling magic brighter than any there had ever seen!
Theramin asked the question. “Do you solemnly swear to love her before all others, and to strive to give her your children, and to care for her as best you are able, and to seek always to bring her happiness, for as long as you both shall live?”
This time Mark plucked the tines as hard as he dared, holding back only enough of the strength of his fingers to be sure not to bend the steel.
However, there were those among the gathered elves who were not satisfied to simply let their ambient magic reinforce his vows, and chose instead to actively bolster it by casting Compulsion on him at the critical moment.
The total magical effect was staggering. The enormously intensified magic field seemed to get sucked into Mark, all of it and then some, for it pulled some internal power out of every elf present as well, leaving them all noticeably weakened for a moment.
Mark said; “I do so swearAAAAAAAAAARRHHH!!!” His body spasmed like he’d been shot with a crossbow bolt, and he clutched frantically at his left shoulder.
At the same time, Yazadril cried; “NO!!!”, for he and some of the other wizards had felt the Compulsions being cast, too late to do anything about it.
He, Dilimon, and as promised, half the groomsmen leaped to Mark’s aid, even as Talia cried his name in alarm, and Hilsith yelled; “Heart cramp!”, having instantly recognized the signs. “Lower him quickly!” she barked, and even as they did so she had her ear pressed to his chest. As soon as he was down she began striking him sharply over his heart. She did so five times, then listened again. “Damn it, there is little I can do for him!” Again she struck his chest repeatedly, then listened. “Source above, I’m losing him! UHH…”
At that moment Mark spasmed so powerfully that Hilsith, Yazadril, Dilimon, and two groomsmen were thrown aside like toys, and at the same instant Talia screamed; “AAAHH THE CURSE!”, and fell to her knees beside Mark, shuddering violently. But only for a moment. Then she lifted her face in wonder, even as Mark’s seizure ended.
“It’s gone! Already, as suddenly as that! It’s completely gone!” she marveled, then wondered if she was going into shock, and Healed herself against it.
Hilsith scrambled back to Mark and again pressed her ear to his heart. “It… It’s fine!” she stammered in amazement. “The beat is strong and steady! It’s like nothing was ever wrong with him!”
Talia took his hand as his eyes opened, tears pouring down her cheeks.
He looked at her wide-eyed. He tried to speak, but could not. He tried again, and still couldn’t make his voice work.
Suddenly Yazadril’s voice called out in fury, amplified by the chapel’s spell, and cast as a mass Speaking as well. “Who cast Compulsion?!!! You will appear before me NOW!!!” He’d drawn his great sword as he spoke that last, his motion smooth and fast as he reversed his grip in a continuation of the draw, and used both hands to drive it’s point into the marble just in front of his feet as his last word rang out.
All those who had cast Compulsion instantly appeared, even before the awesome CLANK of the impact had finished ringing, for he held mighty Mountainfire, and it’s power would not be denied. They appeared in a huge loose ball of frightened and confused elves floating from ten to sixty feet in the air in front of him, since there was no room for them on the ground.
“Great source!!!” he cried, and cast a quick counting spell. “One thousand six hundred and eighty-one of you cast compulsion on the poor boy AT THE SAME TIME?!!!” he yelled in outrage. “One thousand six hundred and eighty-one!!! No doubt every one of you fools thought you were the only one to do so, but for even ONE of you to pile it onto the power the oath had gathered ALREADY, would OBVIOUSLY risk his life and his sanity!!!
“Know that you are Marked! And if his mind or his body is damaged, you WILL be held accountable!!! Now get out of my sight!!! BEGONE!!!” and at his last word he clanked the great sword against the marble again, sending them all back to the places it had fetched them from.
He turned back to Mark and those gathered around him.
Mark was still trying to speak, and could not. He tried to sit up, but was so weak he could barely move.
“Relax. Gather your strength slowly.” Hilsith said as she urged him to remain prone with a gentle press on his shoulders.
“Ta… Talia…” he finally gasped.
“Sweet source above.” Hilsith softly cursed. “I have always thought there could not be such a thing as too much love, but if there is, he is feeling it now! It will be no wonder if his mind comes unhinged from it! I’ve never seen anyone absorb so much power! What an onslaught! I’d have thought that nothing could live through such an ordeal!”
“He did not.” Talia softly sobbed.
“Pardon me?” Hilsith asked in surprise.
“The vows and the Compulsions killed him, and the curse brought him back to life.” Talia stated tearfully. “Till the end of days. The curse would not let him die, just as it would not let me die. Till the end of days.
“Oh please be all right, my husband! Please! Oh Mark, I love you so much!”
“‘Mallrie’…” he mumbled.
“What? Pardon me, Love?” she asked tearfully.
“Umall right.” he mumbled, a little clearer this time, so quiet that only she could hear him.. “Love you. Lots.” He took a deep breath, then managed a shaky little smile. “Think I’m gonna be okay. Can’t see though. Probly come back in a minute.”
“You… You can’t see?” Talia asked in confusion. “But you’re looking right at me!”
“No. I know where you are. Exactly. Hard to put into words. I just know where you are. Think I always will. I love you Talia. I love you so much. My wife. That’s so incredible. You’re my wife! Oh Talia! Oh Talia!”
He became completely overwhelmed with emotion, and began crying like a child, with no effort to stop.
Talia leaned down and threw her arms around his neck, buried her face in the hollow of his shoulder, and cried as hard as he.
“Ah. This is good.” Hilsith murmured, nodding.
“Pardon me?” Yazadril worriedly asked, and absent-mindedly sheathed his sword behind his back. It was an effortless motion, and he didn’t need to look away from Hilsith as he did so.
“This weeping is a healthy sign.” Hilsith told him. “They desperately need to vent a great deal of excess emotion, and this is a healthy and natural way to do so.
“I think it’s safe to announce that they’re going to be all right.” she added, nodding toward the guests.
“Thank the source.” he stated reverently. Then he turned and realized that millions of elves were anxiously waiting, their faces worried, and some showed that they were deeply afraid for the young groom’s well-being.
He stood and called; “They’re going to be all right!”
This was greeted by cheers that shook the trees, and a few shed tears of relief.
Mark and Talia cried for over eight minutes, then Talia gradually stopped, and she held him while he cried for another minute. Finally, and with great effort, he got himself under some control, though it took almost another minute before his breathing stopped jerking and the lump in his throat went down.
“All right. My vision’s coming back.” he said. “Let me sit up please Love.”
Talia sat back on her heels to give him room.
He sat forward and put his head in his hands. “Whew! I’m glad I don’t have to do that every day!” he declared, and there were relieved chuckles all around.
“Well love, we still have things to do.” he smiled as he dropped his hands. “I guess we’d best get to doing them.”
“I guess we’d best!” Talia laughed.
He rose unsteadily to his feet, then everyone near rushed to support him as he swayed and almost fell.
“Easy there, you big youth!” Theramin laughed. “Take another minute or five. There’s no rush.”
“No, I’m all right now. I don’t think I’ll be going back down on one knee though. We’re almost done the ceremony. When it’s finished we can all go sit down.”
“All right. Places everyone!” Theramin called with a quick double clap. When all were back in their places he continued. “Place the ring, which symbolizes love without end, upon her finger.”
Dilimon handed the ring to Mark, who almost dropped it as his hands were still shaking a bit, and it took him two tries to get it over the tip of her finger. Then it was in place, and he sighed in relief as he realized he’d held his breath.
“And so let it be.” Theramin said with a grin. “Let all present bear witness, for I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Mark didn’t trust himself to bend over far enough to kiss Talia, so he picked her up under her arms and held her close, uncaring if it contradicted elven decorum.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him like their lives depended on it, and so it was a pair of minutes later that they first noticed the roar of millions of elven voices shouting approval, and that everyone else in the wedding party was pulling flowers of every variety from out of thin air and tossing them upon the pair and that the pile was up to Mark’s knees, and that Theramin was waiting patiently with a huge grin on his face, and that the orchestra was now playing a joyous and lively refrain, and that the ribbons overhead were dancing almost frantically to the tempo in beautiful abstract patterns.
“Now let us rejoice with feast and celebration!” Theramin called, and the crowd roared even louder.
As he led them down the podium, it’s aisle was again almost aligned with the aisle on the ground, since it had made a bit more than one complete rotation during the ceremony. To allow people to move freely, the ribbons that marked off the aisle on the ground detached themselves at one end and tied themselves in neat bows on their gold stands, as an Illusion of a double ring of tables and chairs appeared around the podium. Since that ground was still filled with elves, many of them found themselves standing embedded in the middle of an illusory table or chair, and they hastily moved back. Room was available for them to do so, since many were moving out to the tables laden with the buffet feast, set up between the trees around the edge of the clearing.
Suddenly an amazing wave of the scent of the feast washed over them.
“Wow, does that smell great! Suddenly I’m starving!” Mark laughed.
“The cooks held back the scent of their wares, so as to not distract from the ceremony, and now they release all the scent they have stored.” Alilia told him.
“Everyone is clear.” Theramin said. “Be careful Mark, the tables and chairs are about to become solid. You don’t want to be in contact when they do.”
A sudden glow in Mark’s vision, and a shift in the slowly-recovering magic field in the elves’ vision, marked the transition.
Nemia led them a third of the way around the circle of tables, and it was obvious when they came to the one that was theirs. All of the tables were themselves round and each set with twelve chairs of a size to suit elves, and the gold-trimmed white dinnerware was similarly small. Mark’s place had items that matched all the rest, except in size. His dinnerware and silverware were sized for him, much larger than human standard sizes. His chair was also sized to him and situated in a depression in the moss with room for his feet in front, so that the low table would be at a comfortable level.
His table-mates were Talia, Yazadril and Nemia, Dilimon and Yalla, Theramin and Yzell, Alilia and her husband Gorsh, Hilsith, and Prince Jaromer of Thon, who appeared quite pleased to be seated with Hilsith. Hilsith appeared rather bemused by the Prince, gracing him with a raised eyebrow and a bit of a smirk.
Their table was in the outer ring, and the rest of the Princes and Princesses, along with their spouses and escorts, filled the four tables to either side. The rest of the bridesmaids and groomsmen, as well as some of the other senior wizards, and all their spouses and escorts, were seated at the four nearest tables on the inner ring.
The rest of the tables were occupied by those of The High People who knew Talia and her family personally, and by the Council and other senior elves of their people.
Alilia’s husband Gorsh was introduced as they sat, and was the tallest elf Mark had yet met, at five feet and seven inches, a handsome fellow with blond hair and blue eyes wearing a flamboyant blue and yellow suit. He spoke little that evening, alternating between grief for his son and petulance at the scant attention Alilia paid him.
Alilia, for her part, made sure that Prince Jaromer was seated on her other side, for reasons that would soon be apparent.
Talia disdained her seat, leaving it open for any who chose to stop by their table for a few minutes, and instead settled herself on Mark’s lap as soon as he was seated. She introduced six of her friends who would serve at their table that night, and theirs were the first of a great many names that Mark couldn’t remember the next day.
“Well Talia,” one of them teased, “I can’t believe that you didn’t ask any of us to be bridesmaids! You definitely owe us one! Perhaps we’ll forgive you if you share your big handsome husband with us some night!”
“Or perhaps I’ll just have to live without your forgiveness, and keep him all to myself!” Talia grinned, possessively hugging him around his neck.
“Now don’t be petty!” another rejoined. “There’s obviously more than enough of him to go around! Besides, we’re not asking you to give him up him for a night, only to share him, and perhaps we can spare a few kisses for you too!”
“And as I understand it, you have eternity anyway!” a third added. “Out of the millions of nights you’ll have, surely you can share him for at least one!”
“Hmm. Perhaps if he’s been very good, we can arrange something as a treat for him some time.” Talia giggled.
“Great! I suggest the night after tomorrow!” the first waitress laughed. “I think my schedule is open then!”
“We’ll see.” Talia smiled.
Mark, who had been blushing increasingly bright red since this conversation had started, suddenly asked; “Excuse me, do you know where the menus are? I was told there’d be menus?”
One of the giggling elf girls produced a stack of menus out of nowhere, and they handed them around.
“It’s somewhat traditional for the bride and groom to endure a certain amount of ribald teasing.” Talia quietly giggled into Mark’s ear. “Particularly if they wear white, as we’re more susceptible to it.”
“I guess some things are the same everywhere.” Mark grinned as he opened his menu.
It was printed in Trade Common, but that didn’t really help, since he didn’t recognize any of the dishes.
“Just bring me a portion of everything they’re serving, or enough to fill this plate, starting with whatever they have the most of. And a pitcher of apple juice.” He told the nearest server as he handed her his menu. She smiled, nodded, closed her eyes and whispered, and a moment later serving vessels began appearing in her hands, which soon filled the table around Mark, while another server began dishing their contents onto plates.
Every dish was delicious, and new ones arrived constantly, most steaming hot, some warm or cold, a few iced. A few were quite recognizable, like roast beef in a honey-ginger glaze that was called Cyoolian Shining Cattle, and in most cases he could identify the meat, vegetables, or fruits that were the main ingredients, but in some cases he had no idea what he was eating, and enjoyed it anyway. He got the impression that his menu had been hurriedly and poorly translated, since his was the only one not printed in Elvish.
Over the next hour the conversations were short and light, being largely comments on the food between bites. Most had ice-cold fruit juices with their meal, and many had liquor mixed with fruit juices, or wines, or ales, though tea and milk from various herbivores were also popular choices, as well as other beverages whose natures Mark never learned.
The elven royalty, wizards, and High People from the surrounding tables made their way over in groups of two to six, each spending a few moments to be introduced and to offer their congratulations.
The last and most interesting of those was Pimall, Princess of The Warm People, who knew Hilsith personally and who approached near the end of the meal. Like every northern elf Mark met, she had the same blue-tinged white coloring of newly fallen snow. After introductions she had asked; “So, you fine young couple, do you know how many, out of the world’s population of elves, have not attended your wedding today?”
“Well, since I doubt you’d leave your borders completely undefended, I’d guess a few hundred at least, perhaps a few thousand.” Mark speculated.
“Officially, eight!” Pimall laughed. “Three are retired reclusives who never leave home, three are too physically infirm to leave their beds due to magically inflicted injuries, and two are hopelessly insane! And the injured three are receiving long-distance Sendings of the Readings beings taken all over this valley, but of you two primarily, of course. As for the elven sentries and guards, they are following the procedure The High People use for weddings, where they are divided into two by drawing lots, with half attending at any given time in turns! Of course, there are a few elven criminals who dare not show their faces.
“Everyone else is here! And I don’t mind telling you that I find it deeply ironic that the wedding of a human and an elf should have such a hugely unifying effect on elvenkind! Things are happening tonight, both here in the chapel and without, as advantage is taken of this unique opportunity to meet and get to know any other elf, to sign trade agreements and settle disputes, to re-acquaint with seldom seen friends and relatives, to experiment with other cultures’ ways of feasting and celebrating, to make new friends, to play with new lovers, to fall in love with someone exotic from far away! You simply must find time tonight to stroll around the valley! Every elven people have brought their own pavilions to showcase their lifestyle and celebrations! Every product in the world can be had here tonight, for sale or barter or for just a smile!
“I tell you, our peoples have never been as united as they are right now! The results of this night will have a major effect on the world, far into the future!”
“Yes, and there will be a lot of explaining to do!” Jaromer laughed. “By now the human royalty, and that of the dwarves and other races on the other continents, will have noticed the sudden disappearance of the entire elven race, without a word of explanation to any of them! And when they hear that we all came to attend the wedding of a human, their reactions to not being invited will range from miffed to furious!”
“And perhaps it will put them in their place a bit!” Pimall laughed. “They could stand to be reminded that we are a powerful allied force in this world, and that they rule over none of us!”
“Well said!” Alilia said as she raised her glass in salute.
“And by the way, Jaromer, how is it that you sit at the head table, and I do not?” Pimall teased with a smile. “If it’s a matter of seniority, I have you by two centuries, and I’m a better wizard, and my people have by far both the most population and the most territory of all the elven nations!”
“I can only assume that our groom wanted someone at his table who is accustomed to dining with men!” Jaromer laughed.
“I’m just as glad to have you, Jaromer, but I’m afraid it was none of my doing!” Mark told him, enjoying the banter.
“I arranged your seating, Jaromer, through Nemia.” Alilia revealed. “For two reasons. The first is that we had one chair available, and you are the only one of the leaders who is single and unescorted.”
“There you are, Pimall, that is what I have that you do not!” Jaromer laughed. “A rather complete lack of a love life!”
“A rather complete lack of ability to commit to a relationship, you should say!” she returned. “You came unescorted so you could choose from all the available females here, you rake!”
“Ahh, you wound me deeply, though perhaps you have the truth of it.” He said with hilariously exaggerated melancholy, laying his forearm across his brow. “What was the other reason, Alilia?”
“I wish to ask your assistance. It’s a more serious conversation than we should have right now, but when the young get up to dance I will speak of it.”
“I think I can guess, and if I’m right, I would prefer that you not delay.” Talia stated firmly as she hand fed Mark a tidbit of some unknown candied fruit.
“And what is your guess?” Alilia asked.
“We wish to know of human wizards.” Talia answered. “Both the one that cursed you and father, and the one who slew Mark’s people, assuming one did. Jaromer is the obvious person to turn to for information and investigation of humans, and of their wizards. My soul burns for justice in these matters, as much as does yours or anyone’s, and if that is not what you meant to ask of him, then I so ask him now myself. A few minutes of seriousness will not spoil the evening, and our enemies may act again at any moment.”
“That is exactly it.” Alilia nodded.