Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 02
"The mountain elves as a group are about the same height as the northern elves, while the elves of the forests and jungles tend to be taller, averaging four feet ten or eleven for males. The plains elves, who have almost entirely joined their cultures with that of the great empires of the humans, tend to be taller yet, with males averaging about five feet two, perhaps five feet three. Females in all our subcultures tend to be about three inches shorter than the males."
"Interesting." Markee remarked, consciously imitating the old elf's manner. "Tell me, what is the average lifespan of an elf? I understand that you are unique in that regard, but what is the general elven longevity?"
"A well phrased question, even if you are being a sarcastic sprout." Yazadril grinned. "Elves don't die from old age. And, since we have an innate ability to heal ourselves, we very seldom die from diseases or wounds. Other than the given possibility of death from magical attack, we only die when we are wounded in the brain or upper spinal column, or when we are killed faster than we can heal ourselves. For instance, the most common natural cause of death among The High People is being struck by lightning, since it's too quick to react to. We are likely to be struck by lightning every thirteen thousand two hundred years on the average, though no one lives that long, and to be fatally struck every fifteen thousand one hundred years. Over time, the dangers of the world kill everyone. By far the most common cause of death for elves is war. Also, since we can choose not to heal ourselves if we are feeling an immensely powerful despair, a few elves have died by suicide.
"Throughout the two hundred and thirty seven thousand years of elven history, our average elven lifespan was about one thousand eight hundred years. But, during this present epoch, which includes the last eight thousand years, it has been relatively peaceful for those of us of the elven race, and we have only been affected by three major wars and seven minor ones. Largely because of this peaceful condition, our average lifespan during that time has risen to two thousand, three hundred years. Generally, if you live to eighteen hundred, you start to get a little extra respect due to your age. The plains elves tend to suffer more fatal mishaps than the rest of us, on average, but that's due to the influences of living with humans."
"I see. And how many of your people are there? The High People of The Nine Valleys?"
"Two thousand, seven hundred and ninety-one since the last birth, a baby boy born just six years ago."
"Your people don't have many babies, for that many people." Markee commented, a little sadly.
"Not compared to yours, but everything has it's price. We have long life, but if we also had high fertility as you do, we would cover this world like flies on a carcass, until everything was consumed, and then we would all die. The same would happen to your people, with their amazing fecundity, if every one of them could be a wizard and live as long as an elf.
"I didn't know wizards lived as long as elves!" Markee exclaimed.
"Ah, they are not as consistent in their longevity as elves. Almost all human wizards manage to extend their lifespan by at least fifty years, but only a few manage to do it as well as elves. Still, there are a few human wizards out there who are more than two thousand years old."
"And what about me? How long will I live?"
"My boy, I have no idea. At least as long as an average human, at any rate."
"Huh. So really, all you elves are wizards, but only the most powerful among you get to call yourselves wizards?"
"Almost all of us can cast the power to a greater or lesser degree, but it is not only the most powerful elven magic users who declare themselves to be wizards. Those who are the most skilled, those who are most knowledgeable, and those who have a special talent in one area also declare themselves to be wizards. It's more of a trade designation, really. Those who choose to devote themselves to the study and practice of magic as their primary interest declare themselves to be wizards, and unless they are spectacularly inept, no one would challenge them about it, even if their personal power was minimal.
"Among human wizards, the title is only bestowed upon those who have served an apprenticeship of four to seven years, and passed certain minimum competency tests which vary from guild to guild. Their trade is organized very much like the other human trades guilds.
"You will be an interesting student. Though I will have no trouble imparting knowledge, your magical transparency may make it impossible for you to actually utilize the power in any way. On the other hand, since you can see my power, the tissue at the back of your eyes is not completely transparent to the power, once it has been taken up and re-released by my body and my mind. Perhaps we can build on that, or perhaps I can teach you something similar to the way I brought myself out of tune in order to make my spell affect you."
"Huh. Well, we have lots of time for that." Markee nodded. "Right now, I'd like to find out more about your people. After all, they'll be my new neighbors. How am I most likely to offend them by mistake? What should I do to get along with them? I notice you have a slight accent. Do all of you speak my language?"
"Ah, such excellent questions!" Yazadril smiled, rubbing his palms together eagerly. "This should be fun! Of course I am helping to instruct my young daughters, and I conduct regular lectures and researches at The Hall of New Magic, but other than that I have not taken a private student for hundreds of years!
"Now, you are unlikely to offend any of my people by accident, as you are quite considerate and polite, and our culture is far less restrictive than yours. In fact, I imagine the most important thing you could do to get along with The High People is to remember to not take offense at our actions. You will probably find that many of us will be intimidated by you at first, not only by your size, but by your unusual appearance and your immunity to magic as well."
"Well, I can't do anything about my magic immunity or my size, but if I had a razor and a pair of shears, and a mirror and some soap, and some clothes that weren't ruined, I think I'd be less intimidating. I'm not too particular about things like that, so I'll gladly wear your people's styles, if it'll help."
"It will, very much so." Yazadril nodded thoughtfully. "I'll arrange for clothes to be made and to have you barbered. Which brings us to the next offenses you will have to brace yourself for. Once my people become accustomed to you, and get beyond being intimidated by you, they will begin to treat you as we treat one another. You will then find that we tend to stand close to each other, compared to your people, and we are much less inhibited about touching one another. You may feel that they are taking liberties with your person. You will also notice that we are much less inhibited about liaisons between lovers. Elven couples are not fertile with one another until they have bonded as husband and wife over a period of years, so liaisons between consenting adults, both before and outside marriage, are not frowned upon or discouraged. And we are less motivated to seek privacy for such play, which may embarrass you."
"I think I can deal with all of that. You just let them know that if any male touches my kilt or under it, I'll... I'll consider it an offense against my honor!"
"Quite." Yazadril nodded, suppressing his smile. "We also do not have such a strong division of labor based on gender, as your people do. Our females as well as our males tend to every task, be it childcare or combat. Every position of authority is open to both genders as well.
"Since we can heal ourselves of almost any wound, the young and hot-headed among us are wont to challenge each other to combat, sometimes with knives or even swords, and occasionally with limited magic. We can afford to do so, since there is little real danger for us, but that's not the case for you, so don't let them goad you into foolishness.
"Many of us speak your language, but you are right in guessing that we have our own native tongue, the Mountain variant of High Elvish. Do not be offended if some choose to speak it in your vicinity. They may be talking about you, but there is little to be done about it, since Elvish is a much more complex language than yours and it may take you half your life to become proficient in it. Rely instead on facial expressions and body language, which have identical meanings for elves and humans.
"Except for all that, just be yourself. You're a very likable youth, and I'm sure you'll get along fine. It will help if you talk and laugh a lot; everyone will love to hear your voice, and if you can bring yourself to sing something pretty, you will have them in the palm of your hand."
"If you say so." Markee nodded. "Will they take my measurements for the clothes? I'm kind of curious to see how tall I've grown.
"Not at all, I have a nice little Measurement spell I can learn such things with. You only have to stand. And since it will probably not work on you, I will cast it upon the particles of dust that adhere to you!" Yazadril stated proudly, and cast it with a hummed note and a careful gesture.
"So, you are between eight feet one inch, and eight feet two inches tall, not counting the thickness of your sandals." Yazadril pronounced. "The way the spell was cast, there was some uncertainty due to the hair on the top of your head. You are certainly the largest human I have ever had the pleasure to meet, though not the largest there has ever been. The tallest I know of topped you by three inches, but then, he lived over three thousand years ago, and you're still growing.
"At any rate, my young friend, I think I will take my leave now. I will return in a few hours with a barber, a tailor, and a few house builders. And at least one more wizard." Yazadril told him as he packed the empty goblets and the bottle of wine in his sack and stood, then he became thoughtful again. "I should limit it to one more wizard, since we will be dealing with dangerous knowledge. On the other hand, I need at least one to assist me in this. It is too important to keep to myself, and though I am the master theoretician, I should include an intuitive, someone who is the finest in skill and power.
"Hmm, when I think about it that way, the choice is obvious. Alilia, Princess of the People of Life, finest wizard among the forest elves and a good friend of mine for most of her life. She would be perfect for this!"
Then his bushy white eyebrows suddenly snapped up to his forehead. "But she is a person you will have to be careful not to offend! Alilia, well, she expects a certain deference from everyone, generally, except me, and we all generally agree that she's entitled to it. It would be wise to be on your most respectful behavior while she's here."
"She's older than you? More powerful?" Markee asked nervously
"Not older, as she is four thousand eight hundred and sixty-six years old, but vastly more powerful. I was only an average wizard until I was over two thousand, and since then I have continued to improve, whereas my contemporaries have died off, until I have reached pre-eminence in my specialties, which are magic dealing with knowledge and information, and with precision.
"Alilia's is another story entirely. Her mother had to work hard to keep her from casting Force bolts during temper tantrums while she was still in the womb! A few seconds after she was born she found the softest birthing blanket to be uncomfortable after the buoyancy of the womb, so she Levitated, perfectly still, just a finger's breadth in the air! Even I don't have that kind of Levitation control today! And though she has little of my vast theoretical knowledge, her skills have become finely tuned indeed! Whereas I and most other wizards must study magic and use it like a tool, with Alilia it is almost entirely intuitive, and using her vast power is as natural as using her hand or her voice.
"She has ended wars and dominated empires with a few gestures. For an elf, she is almost power personified. And beyond all that, she is the ruling monarch of a great nation encompassing vast lands, peopled by hundreds of thousands of elves.
"But, I do not want to intimidate you, I am just a bit enthusiastic about her. And though she can sometimes be a bit... abrasive, I am very fond of her. She can be harsh, but she is fair. If you do offend her, she will only use words to strike at you, but you would not enjoy it."
"I knew this was sounding too good to be true." Markee grumbled. "Does it have to be her?"
"No one else could help us learn as thoroughly, which is important to me, or as quickly, which is important to you. And if you can earn her affection, there is no one who could be a more valuable friend."
"Well, I guess you know best."
"In this case, I do indeed! Farewell, Markee, until late this afternoon or early this evening."
"Farewell till then, Yazadril." Markee returned, and was going to offer his hand again when the old elf bowed. The young man was relieved by this, as he had found it awkward shaking Yazadril's tiny and ancient hand, and he bowed from the waist in return without standing. This seemed to please Yazadril, who turned and paced purposely from the glen, whistling a happy tune.
Yazadril was met by his four Sentries as soon as he was well out of Markee's sight, thirty yards up the path.
"You have heard all that was said?" he asked as they gathered around him, reverting to his native tongue.
"Yes." Yalla nodded. "You are right, he does seem harmless enough. His tale is certainly most tragic. And I admit that I am curious to see how he will appear when he is barbered!"
"Well, I ask you to keep his confidence and to respect his privacy. He does not know that we have eavesdropped, and now that he is an ally, we will cease doing so. Also note that certain matters that were discussed must remain confidential for as long as possible, for all our sakes. We will not be able to hide his transparency to magic forever, but we must hide the theoretical basis for it, and the importance thereof. We will pass it off as a harmless curiosity. None must know that he passed the Wards, beyond those who already know; the senior wizards and your squad! I hate to tell you to lie, but if anyone asks, I passed him through the barriers! We will stress this need for confidentiality, you to your squad mates, and myself to the wizards.
"Two of you keep a distant watch on him, for his protection. Inform me immediately if he leaves the vicinity of the clearing. We will send relief for you when we get to the top of the pass.
"Now, I am not in the mood to waste time trudging home. And since you, Yalla, are due for testing on your Flight skills, I ask that you fly me."
Yalla chuckled. "I know that you have found my rides to be rough and windy. Do not worry, I have become much more skilled at fine control and shielding the wind since the last time you flew with me!"
"I should hope so." Yazadril griped good-naturedly as Yalla stepped behind him.
She hugged him tightly around his chest as she hummed a long, high note to bring them into harmony, then her Levitation field encompassed him, the Movement component of the spell activated, and they lifted off.
Yazadril's home was formed in the side of a great oak tree that was over six hundred feet tall. After a quick stop at the top of the pass, Yalla flew him to his balcony, two hundred and ten feet above the ground. She bade him a quick farewell and flew off, stifling a yawn.
The senior wizards of his people were waiting in his home when he returned. All twenty-four of them were gathered in his central room, chatting brightly about the human and speculating imaginatively about him. Yazadril's wife and daughters bustled about, serving refreshments.
"Were you not informed that I wished you to keep these matters confidential?" Yazadril sternly and loudly asked, and the group suddenly fell silent. "And yet the moment I return I find you in my home, and two of you discussing how the human passed the Wards, right in front of my wife and daughters! Thus, you are needlessly endangering them, and ultimately all of us!"
"Calm yourself, Yazadril." Theramin smiled, smoothing his graying beard down over the front of his blue satin robe. As always, the stout little horticultural wizard was unperturbed. "It was necessary in order to maintain a semblance of normality. The fact that we have a great secret is itself a great secret, and if we act like we are trying to conceal a secret, the fact that we have one is revealed. Thus we meet here, as we would if the human truly were unimportant, rather than in The Council Hall or the Hall of New Magic, where we would be expected to meet if the danger he represents were more immediate. And since we are meeting here, it was necessary that your family be trusted with this, as it would have been impractical to exclude them."
"Yes, yes, I see your reasoning, though you should have consulted me before endangering them with this knowledge!"
"I am sorry about that." Theramin smiled, not looking sorry at all. "At least you know that your home is absolutely proof against eavesdropping, be it intentional or accidental!
"Now please, tell us what you have learned, we are bursting from the suspense!"
"In a moment!" Yazadril snapped, then his manner softened completely as he turned to his wife. She had set her tray of appetizers on a shelf and moved to his side, where she stood patiently waiting for his attention, her light blue eyes glinting with the little smile of amusement that she gave to no one else but him.
As always, his heart soared as she flowed into his embrace, and he knew he was the most fortunate being in existence.
"Ahh, Nemia, I love you so." he crooned into the thick, curly blond hair just above her ear.
"As I love you, my husband. You are well?" she returned.
"Very well, my lovely wife. Though these developments do bring unknown dangers, they bring unknown opportunities as well."
His twin daughters, Talia and Dalia, were practically identical, and very similar in appearance to their mother. Rather than approach their parents upon their father's return, they continued unobtrusively serving cordials in tiny crystal stemware, but they shared a warm smile with their parents by way of greeting. After all, their father had been home only yesterday, and there were guests. And of course, this strategy lessened the chance that they would be sent from the room before the interesting news was delivered!
Yazadril quickly related the gist of the day's events, finishing with his decision to invite Alilia to join him in studying the unique phenomenon that had manifested in their new guest.
There were dubious looks exchanged among the assembled, and again Theramin spoke. The rest, as usual, were content to let others take the initiative in anything that was out of the ordinary.
"That was well done, though you take a risk in revealing so much to your new pupil." Theramin nodded. "But, I think you did not do so well in your negotiations with him. Five years is not so long."
"True, but his wants are modest, and he was resolute. It is difficult to bargain well with such a person." Yazadril conceded. "I gained the right to study him for the rest of his life, and that was the most important thing, even if it means being out in the world."
"Granted." Theramin agreed. "But you may wish to reconsider having Alilia assist you in this learning. The work she does here, with yourself and others, is valuable, but it is also well known that she comes here to do such work because she considers it a welcome vacation from the stresses and tensions of her role as Princess of the People of Life.
"And Yazadril, I can assure you that the majority of the stresses and tensions in the lands of the forest elves are caused by humans. As I am sure you know, Alilia's folk are bordered by three ethnic groupings of humans, each with their own kingdoms, language, culture and customs, who have each hated and mistrusted the others for millennia, with petty wars and feuds unending. This has had a disastrous effect on their cultures, which have become cruel, excessively restrictive, and at times reprehensible. This has been reflected in their dealings with The People of Life.
"Because of this, Alilia's feelings toward humans in general are not kind. To put it bluntly, she despises the lot of them."
Yazadril considered. "You are right in that her opinion of humans will not make this work any easier. But given a few hours in which to get to know Markee, she will see that he is not like that. And she will be able to see the importance of this research. What one can do, others can learn to do, and she will not like the thought of humans walking unimpeded through her Wards, any more than I do.
"More importantly, she is the only one who has the qualities I need to assist me in this, beyond one or two of the wizards of the plains elves, and I must admit that I am unsure that those are entirely trustworthy anymore, since they have embraced living among the great empires of the humans."
"That is all true enough." Theramin agreed. "So I suppose you must ask her, though she may refuse."
"I think I can convince her." Yazadril smiled, and turned to the group of wizards. "Do any of you have anything to add?"
"I will serve as barber and tailor to your young friend, my love." Nemia smiled. "I will gather the supplies for such a task. And Theramin here is the obvious choice to supervise the construction of a house."
"I am." Theramin agreed proudly. "Though I will not grow him a tree outside the valley. I will consult with him as to the style of architecture he would prefer."
"Excellent, and thank you both." Yazadril smiled. "I will cast a Speaking to Alilia now, while we are all still gathered here. She is more likely to control her temper before such a group, I think.
"Alilia?" he called.
Rather than answer his Speaking, Alilia responded by casting a Projection of herself. Her image suddenly appeared before him in all her glory, her bright white hair flowing from beneath a slim gold and diamond tiara, and cascading down over her white silk robe, which was belted with a sash of woven gold thread. These were contrasted by her warm brown eyes and her peaches-and-cream complexion.
"Yazadril! What a surprise to hear from you! And in such august company, too!" she laughed. "You know I am not due there until next spring! There is not a problem, I hope?"
"A potential problem, and a potential opportunity as well, dear Alilia." Yazadril replied, and quickly outlined the developments.
"Kill him." Alilia stated flatly when he had finished. "Kill him now, before he can escape, before the human wizards can learn of him!"
"It may be too late for that. His entire people were horribly killed by magic most foul, and while I think they were merely caught in the crossfire between two distant wizards, we cannot know for sure until we investigate those events." Yazadril stated. "Besides that, even if I were willing to destroy the knowledge and research opportunities he represents, I have sworn that he will not be harmed or impeded by me or mine."
"Which does not include me! So I will kill him!" Alilia insisted.
"I have placed him under my protection, Princess."
"But have you sworn to it?! Damn it Yazadril, I love you like a brother, but you are being as gullible as an unfledged duckling! Can you not see that he was probably sent to breach your Wards, whether he realizes it or not? Can you not see the danger here, the danger to us all? Imagine if this spreads, and suddenly anyone can breach our Wards! We will be engaged in warfare until the sun burns out, simply to hold our lands!"
"I do see the danger, Alilia, and I am not quite as gullible as all that." Yazadril exclaimed patiently. "I can assure you that no one has sent him here by Compulsion, or by any other magical means. Given his condition, such a thing is impossible. You can trust my knowledge on that. We must understand this, so that we can strengthen our Wards against a repetition of it, if nothing else! And it is within my jurisdiction, so it is my duty to deal with this as I think best, for my people, and for all of us.
"And beyond that, he is truly a gentle and honorable person, and so young he is barely adult. He is my friend, Alilia, and I am sworn.
"You see that I need someone of strong power to assist me in this, so that we can completely test his limits, and that assistant must be an intuitive, someone who can act instantly without calculating first, in case one of our experiments goes awry. And I need someone I can trust to keep our findings confidential, should they prove to be as dangerous as we fear.
"You are my dear friend, Alilia. And you are uniquely suited to this task. I will not ask it of you, if you can honestly recommend a suitable replacement for yourself in this project. Think on it a moment."
Alilia's timelessly beautiful face clouded as she considered, her warm brown eyes squinting in concentration. Finally she shook her head. "Damn you Yazadril, why must you be right about absolutely everything absolutely all of the time?" she asked in quiet frustration. "Yours is the best course of action, and I am the best possible choice to help you.
"Give me an hour to prepare things here for my absence, and to assign a regent."
She suddenly turned her head, obviously listening to someone at her location who was beyond the range of her spell. "Yes I am, it is Yazadril. I am off to The Nine Valleys, and it is likely that I will be gone for five years. Yes. Take my travel case there with you, for I will have enough to bring without it."
She turned back to Yazadril. "My young son Bezedil wishes to come visit for a time, as he has never been to The Nine Valleys. He will be there shortly."
As she said the word 'shortly', a young adult elf appeared beside her image, accompanied by the soft 'poof' of a Translocation that had been accomplished with less than perfect atmospheric displacement. Like most forest elves, he was dressed in cotton-lined mottled brown silk trousers and tunic with deerskin boots, and had dark brown hair and eyes. He had appeared in a slightly bent over position, maintaining contact with his hand on an ornately carved wooden trunk. The effect of his presence on the magic field showed him to be a wizard of serious power.
He straightened and glanced around, then bowed with a smug smile. "Greetings, you must be Yazadril! My apologies for the error in displacement, I am afraid that I had slightly miscalculated the volume occupied by Mother's travel case."
"If you have truly Translocated here from your mother's tree in a single step, while carrying that luggage, then you are being overly modest. It was magnificently done, my fine young fellow!" Yazadril exclaimed. "How did you target it, since you have never been here?"
"I followed Mother's Projection, actually. That was the challenging part."
"And it was foolishly done!" Alilia's image snapped in anger. "You know what would have resulted if someone had been occupying that space!"
"And I know that no one would have the audacity to stand so close to you, Mother, or even so close to your image!" Bezedil laughed. "Besides, you could see that the space was clear, and I picked that up from you when I encompassed your Projection as a targeting beacon."
"And you were showing off!" Alilia stated angrily.
"Yes I was, and I wonder where I might have picked up such a trait? Perhaps from a dear mother who would use a full-body Projection to answer a Speaking?"
"Bah! Be more careful, or you will find yourself stuck in the middle of a mountain some day!" Alilia scolded, and turned back to Yazadril. "I will be on your central room's balcony in an hour. Be sure it is clear." And with that, her Projection abruptly ended.
Yazadril realized his Speaking was still active, and ended it.
"Well young fellow, allow me to introduce you to the senior wizards of The High People!" Yazadril grinned, and began making introductions.
An hour later Alilia appeared on the balcony, along with a tall wardrobe full of clothing and several boxes and baskets of personal possessions. She knew the size and shape of herself and her possessions to the thickness of a hair, ensuring that they exchanged places with the air that had filled the space they now occupied without a whisper of sound.
"Be welcome as always, Princess Alilia, to my home, and to the lands of The High People!" Yazadril said in greeting as he stepped out onto the balcony, and they exchanged a warm embrace.
"Thank you, Yazadril. As always, it feels good to be within the tranquility of The Nine Valleys."
Nemia had followed her husband out, and she also exchanged a warm embrace with Alilia as Yazadril stepped back. "Welcome, Alilia. How is your husband?"
"Thank you, Nemia, it is so good to see you." Alilia smiled. "And my husband is a drunken stud with an eternal erection, as always. I will call him here when I desire his presence in my bed, but until then it is best that he stays out from under my skirts. How are your young twin daughters?"
"They are well. Talia is as shy as always, and Dalia is as bold as ever. In fact, one could almost see the sparks flying when Dalia met your young Bezedil, and as we speak, she is 'showing him her room'!"
"Ah, that would be a good match, I think!" Alilia chuckled as they entered the central room and sat. "Of course, at their ages, it is almost certainly nothing more than youthful dalliance, but I thrill to think of the children those two might produce in a century or three!"
"Yes, it is good that our girls inherited their mother's strength with the power, as well as her beauty!" Yazadril chuckled.
"And their father's incredible intellect!" Nemia laughed as she poured cinnamon tea for the three of them. "The thought of our blood being joined with yours through our children is a profound and joyful one!"
"Indeed. Your Bezedil certainly does you proud." Yazadril commented.
"Yes, he is my son through and through!" Alilia laughed. "Luckily, he inherited nothing from his father, beyond his handsome looks. And perhaps his eternal erection, if I can judge by his popularity with the young females, and with some not so young!"
They shared a laugh at that.
"You know, he did not show it from birth like I did, but he is as much a wizard now as I was at his age!" Alilia continued proudly.
"I am not surprised." Yazadril chuckled. "Even if he has less inherent power than you, he has had you for a teacher."
"Perhaps, but his style is different from mine. He can work intuitively, but he enjoys knowing the theory behind what he does as well. Perhaps you could give him some of your time in that regard while he is here?" Alilia inquired.
"I will be glad to." Yazadril nodded. "Though I am unsure of how much time I will be able to give him. I am already committed to teaching my girls and Markee, and this research project is of great urgency."
"That is truth." Alilia agreed. "You know, I simply cannot picture you being friends with such a... person. What is he like?"
"Well, he is well educated, for a human of his age, and very respectful, in his way. Not deferential, mind you, except when he first met me, for then he thought I was a god! But he is respectful."
"A god! You? Why would he think that?" Alilia giggled.
"He said I was glowing. I believe he can see my power, somehow. But he is a good youth. He trapped some small game, a rabbit and some squirrels, and said a prayer to apologize to their spirits for their deaths."
"You refer to his youth. How old is he?" Nemia asked.
"He is sixteen years old, though one would never guess it to look at him." Yazadril chuckled. "Here, let me show you."
He cast an Illusion of Markee, and the young man's image appeared in the center of the room, or at least his image from the shoulders down appeared, since the ceiling was only seven feet high. "That is how huge he is. I will move the image down, so you can see what he looks like."
The image moved down, it's feet and ankles disappearing into the floor, until the top of the head was below the ceiling.
"By the Source! He is a monster!" Alilia exclaimed.
"Hardly a monster!" Yazadril laughed. "He is simply more in need of a barber than anyone else I have ever seen! Nemia has agreed to perform that service for him, which I am sure will leave him in a far more presentable state."
"His body hair is disgusting!" Alilia said with a shudder, and pointedly looked away. "You should shave him from the neck down when you shave his face, Nemia! He is probably infested with lice and ticks and vermin of every variety!
Suddenly Nemia stood and screamed: "Dalia!", and Translocated so hurriedly that she made no attempt to compensate for air displacement. The sudden implosion of air that resulted sucked both Yazadril and Alilia from their seats to their knees on the floor.
Then Alilia screamed: "Bezedil!", and she also disappeared, though she compensated for displacement perfectly, without even considering it.
The horror and terror in their voices struck Yazadril's heart with a lance of panic. Though he was risking his own life and the lives of others to do so, he Translocated to follow, targeting his wife's unknown location without taking the time to project his consciousness there, aiming to appear three feet behind her.
His aim was understandably off a bit, and he appeared a foot above the ground below his home. He fell to his knees in the grass, just as Nemia looked straight up and screamed: "Talia!"
He looked up, following her gaze, to see his daughter falling directly toward them!
Nemia cast Levitate on her daughter faster than Yazadril would ever have believed possible, but Talia was then only twenty feet above them and falling sickeningly fast. Nemia had more than enough power, but it could not be in time! But someone else was also throwing their talent and power into Nemia's spell, and Yazadril thought for a fraction of a second that it might be enough.
Then his shoulder was seized in an iron grip and he was thrown forward to his hands and knees, and Alilia's voice was screaming in his ear: "Read him!"
There before him, close enough to touch, were the twisted, shattered and bloody bodies of Dalia and Bezedil. He gaped in shock.
Beside him, Talia impacted Nemia with a sickening thud and drove her to the ground, as his wife physically caught his remaining daughter. Even with another to boost her, Nemia had been unable to cancel all of Talia's momentum without hurting her.
Yazadril did not even have time to consider whether either of them lived.
"Too late for Dalia! Read him!" Alilia screamed in grief and rage, and she roughly seized Yazadril's head with both hands. Her immense power and will flooded into him, and he had no choice. He cast the Reading, and merged with the sickening remains of Bezedil's dying mind. Less than a twentieth of the young elf's brain still lived, and it would be dead as well in a second or two, but the power that Alilia poured into him was of such immensity that he was able to Read the last few seconds of Bezedil's life. He was later to learn that everyone in the valley was forced to experience it with him, so intense was the power and projection of the Reading.
For those few seconds, he was Bezedil. He was in a dim room, and Dalia was in his arms, her lips soft beneath his in a loving kiss, their bodies about to join, his heart filled with love for her. There was the sound of a door opening, and sudden light from the doorway. He looked up in surprise to see Dalia in the doorway, her face struck with the grief of betrayal. He looked down at the girl in his arms, and realized to his horror that it was not Dalia he held, but Talia. He looked back up as Dalia ran across the room and leaped through the curtains and out the open window. He tried to scream "No!", but his voice could only make a hoarse croak around the lump in his throat as his mind filled with guilt and horror and grief. He sprang from the bed and ran naked the three steps to the window, leaped through without slowing, saw Dalia's sickening and fatal impact against the ground far below. Hopelessness overcame him, and he made no effort to save himself.
Alilia wrenched them both out of the vision before they could experience Bezedil's impact, as the last of the young elf's mind died.
Alilia released Yazadril, and he slumped to the ground as he was overcome by a blinding headache. He vomited violently, and barely managed to avoid choking on it.
Then he was overcome by panicked concern for his wife and Talia. He forced himself to his hands and knees and looked to them in time to see Nemia finish Healing his daughter and herself. Then they both began to cry, with great wracking sobs of utter grief, Nemia on her knees holding Talia, who lay utterly limp and naked in her mother's embrace.
He looked to the shattered bodies before him, and his own eyes flooded with tears as the reality of Dalia's death struck him fully.
"You caused my son's death! Now you will die!" Alilia suddenly screamed, her face awash with tears as she seized a fistful of Talia's hair.
"NO!!!" Nemia screamed as she knocked Alilia's arm away from her daughter and imposed herself between them.
Talia simply lay there limp and crying, and did not appear to have noticed that Alilia had ripped a handful of her hair out when Nemia had knocked the arm away.
"If you kill her you had best kill me too, Alilia, for you will make a Death-Enemy of me!!" Nemia screamed, her sudden rage matching Alilia's.
"SO BE IT!!!" Alilia yelled, spraying the other with spittle, and gathered her power.
"Have mercy!" Yazadril croaked, and spat out the remains of a mouthful of vomit.
"She raped my son by trickery, and because of that he is dead!!!" Alilia screamed as she turned on him. "Why should I have mercy on her?!!"
Yazadril swallowed hard and shook his head to clear it of lingering stars as he struggled to his feet. He forced himself to speak with a semblance of calm. "Have mercy on me, Alilia! I have lost a child this day, as have you! Please, do not take my remaining daughter as well! Do not take my wife! I am begging you, Alilia, for the sake of the friendship we have shared these last four thousand years!
"Talia has lost her twin sister, and her love as well, for she could not have done such a thing if she did not love your son! She obviously did not mean for this to happen, and could never have foreseen such a horrible consequence! She will have to live with this result for the rest of her days, and it hurts her enough that she tried to take her own life! Has she not suffered enough?"
"I cannot let this pass!!!" Alilia yelled as she shook tears from her eyes, and her power gathered to her so strongly that the magic field seemed to boil around her. In a split second, so quickly that Nemia could not impede her, all of her power concentrated in her right fist and she spun and struck over Nemia.
"I CURSE YOU!!!" she screamed as she punched Talia in the face, breaking the girl's nose even as all her gathered power was passed into Talia with a bright flash at the violent contact.
Alilia was left completely drained, both physically and magically, and she slumped to the ground.
Nemia quickly Healed Talia's bloody nose, though her daughter's inherent healing had already begun.
Talia had suddenly stopped crying with the blow, and stared in utter shock at her mother's face as she was Healed.
Yazadril also stared in shock. As overwhelmed as he was by events, he realized that he had never heard of any curse being delivered with a tenth of the power Alilia had used. A tenth?! Not even a hundredth!
Alilia crawled to her son's bloody remains and slumped upon them, crying piteously.
Talia screamed. Her scream was louder and more horrible than was physically possible, as she involuntarily augmented it with her power.
Nemia cast Sleep upon her daughter, to no effect, and the scream went on and on.
Yazadril staggered over and cast Sleep upon her as well, and again, and finally the scream ended as Talia lost consciousness.
He realized that a few of his people had gathered, and four of them were huddled together twenty feet away. The rest stood about in shocked sadness at what had occurred.
Dilimon rose from the four who were huddled, his tears flowing freely, and walked over to Yazadril,. "He will be all right." he stated.
"Pardon?" Yazadril asked in confusion.
Dilimon indicated the three who had been huddled with him, who were now rising to stand, one of them holding a very young elf in her arms. "It is little Jinimin, only twelve years old. He drained himself almost to death boosting Nemia's Levitation spell with his own, to help save Talia. But we reached him in time. He will be all right."
"Oh. I did not know." Yazadril said, almost unable to think. "I... I owe him much, then."
"Yes." Dilimon nodded gravely. "I think he arrived here just before you did, and acted in a panic. An amazing thing, really. At his age, he should not even know how to attempt such a feat yet."
Theramin arrived in the shape of a great eagle, and assumed his own form as he landed. He looked around for a moment, taking in the scene. Then he walked over to Alilia and cast Sleep upon her. She was so drained and grief stricken that she did not even realize he was doing it. He gently rolled her away from her son's body, and straightened her now bloodstained white robe.
He stepped to where Nemia was quietly sobbing as she sat and rocked her unconscious daughter in her arms, and cast Sleep upon her too, catching her as she slumped backward and lowering her gently to the grass.
He straightened and turned to Yazadril and Dilimon.
"Thank you, Theramin, that was kindly done." Yazadril said quietly. "No need for them to watch while the children are... are... By the Source, I cannot even say it! My poor Dalia!" He covered his face in his hands and wept again.
Theramin nodded sadly. "Dilimon?"
The young Sentry nodded, and deftly caught Yazadril as Theramin cast Sleep upon him as well.
Yazadril woke late the next morning in his own bed, clad in a white cotton nightgown. Talia slept fitfully beside him, similarly clad. The tears had been washed from her face, her blonde hair brushed and tied back with a blue ribbon. He could see from the state of the bedding that Nemia had been asleep on the other side of Talia, but had already risen.
He found Nemia in the kitchen, still in her own nightgown. She stood before an empty teapot, the tea leaves spilled on the counter beside it, her head bowed, quietly crying. He moved to her, and she turned into his embrace as his own tears flowed anew.
"Oh Yazadril, how could this have happened?" Nemia sobbed.
"Ah my love, young hearts are wild, and their emotions are strong and sometimes overwhelming." Yazadril told her softly. "And it is not so surprising that Talia and Dalia should fall in love with the same young male. They were so exactly alike in so many ways.
"I have suffered the death of my children before, but the pain is so much greater this time, as Dalia was so young. Her life had only just begun."
"Yes. She was barely out of childhood, and now she is gone. What will we do, Yazadril? How can I live without her? How can I live with this horrible grief?"
"We will cling to our love for Talia, my dearest, and care for her with all our hearts. She will need all the love we can give her. And we will hold to our love for each other."
"What will happen to her?" Nemia cried. "I have never seen such a curse as she has suffered! And I cannot believe that Alilia was ready to kill us both!"
"Alilia was driven to madness by her own pain and grief, my dearest. I cannot truly blame her too much. Mind you, if she had killed either one of you, she would have paid dearly for it."
"Easy to say." Nemia stated bitterly. "But no one among the High People has the power to harm her, as you well know."
"Ah, you are wrong there, my love. I would truly have hated to do it, but I could bring her down." Yazadril sadly mused. "I have never had to face one as powerful as she is in combat, but I have triumphed over others who were far above me in pure power. It takes very little power to kill someone, if it is applied correctly. The outcomes of such encounters can never be accurately predicted. That has never been more clear to me than it is right now."
His voice gained it's own note of bitterness. "She with all her power, and me with all my knowledge, and neither of us could even save our own children!"
"We cannot blame ourselves, Yazadril." Nemia sobbed. "As you say, it was the foolishness and impulsiveness of youth. No one could have foreseen such a tragedy."
The door chime sounded, and Nemia stepped back and bravely wiped her tears away. "I will cry for Dalia at times for the rest of my life, I think, but you are the Prince of our people, and we have our duties." Nemia said as she tried to regain her composure. "You answer the chime, and I will clean up this mess, and make us some tea and some breakfast."
"Thank you love." Yazadril nodded.
When he opened the door, he found Hilsith waiting on the railed lifting platform that served those who wished to visit his home without flying, Translocating, or climbing the many steps that spiraled up the outside of the trunk of the great oak tree. Hilsith was an immigrant from the northern elves, and she was the most skilled Healer among the High People, though she was only seven hundred and sixteen years old. Her hair and her skin were both pure white with the slight blue tinge of new snow, and had been so since the day she was born. Her eyes were such a light gray they were almost white as well, and she was dressed this day in a simple blue smock.
"Greetings, Prince Yazadril. I have come to check on you and your family, especially Talia." she said as she stepped inside. "And I must offer my most heartfelt condolences on the passing of dear Dalia."
"Thank you, Hilsith." Yazadril nodded as he led her to his bedroom, and a sob escaped him, though he tried to contain it.
Hilsith wrapped him in a warm hug and let him cry on her shoulder for a moment, then he stood back and tried to regain his composure. Hilsith let herself into the bedroom without another word, and closed the door.
Yazadril rejoined his wife in the kitchen, where she was preparing flat cakes manually, without the aid of the magic she would usually have used to speed such a task. Recognizing that it was wise to busy themselves in such activities, he began arranging sausages in a pan for heating in the oven.
When Hilsith entered the kitchen they had filled their plates and poured tea, only to find that neither could bring themselves to eat a single bite.
"Talia will sleep for a few hours yet, if none too restfully." Hilsith reported as she seated herself and was handed a cup of tea. She waved away the breakfast she was offered with a polite gesture. "There is little to be done for her right now, especially without knowing the nature of the curse that Alilia has cast upon her.
"Dalia and Bezedil have been prepared for their final ceremonies, and lie in state in the Council Hall. You should go there to see Dalia and mourn her. Your last memories of her should not be as she was last evening.
"And Yazadril, Theramin asked me to tell you that he has conveyed your apologies to the human out by the border, for your having missed your meeting with him last night. Apparently, he also consulted with the human as to his preferred style of dwelling.
"You both must eat, even if food is like ashes in your mouths. Especially you, Yazadril. At your age, if you do not keep yourself up, your body and your spirit could fail in an amazingly short time. One cannot live on self-healing alone, and if you try to, you will soon lose the will to do so."
"I still have a beautiful young wife, and a beautiful young daughter, and my duty. I will not fail them, you can be sure of that." Yazadril stated. He hesitated a moment, then forced himself to eat.
"Was it you who cared for us as we slept last night, Hilsith?" Nemia asked.
"It was." Hilsith nodded.
"Then I thank you. It could not have been easy or enjoyable."
"I have cleaned and bedded down many sleeping and unconscious patients." Hilsith said with a dismissing wave of her hand. "It is a common duty for Healers."
"Of course, but I thank you nonetheless. How... How fares Alilia?"
"About as one would expect. She woke early, and has recovered her physical strength already. And even as expended as she was, her power recovers quickly as well, more quickly than I ever would have guessed. She is in the Council Hall now, viewing Bezedil and mourning him."
"Ah. We should follow her example before too long, so that we can return before Talia wakes." Nemia murmured sadly.
"That would be best." Hilsith nodded. "I will remain here, in case she should awaken before you return. If you can, speak with Alilia. Ask her to tell you the nature of the curse she has cast upon Talia. It is the opinion of the Council that Talia does bear some small responsibility for the suicides of Dalia and Bezedil. But for the most part, it is thought that they chose their deaths of their own will, and with insufficient provocation, especially Dalia. It is also recognized that Alilia, in her disconsolate state, may have meted out a punishment that is unjustly harsh. If so, well, there may be little to be done about the injustice of it, but that will be decided by wiser minds than mine. Primarily yours, Yazadril. If it is decided that the curse is unjustly harsh, it will be my task to try to minimize the suffering it may cause to Talia. With your assistance of course. And possibly Alilia's."
Yazadril continued eating without reply.
Nemia took a bite and chewed. She tried to swallow, but choked on it and had to spit it back onto her plate as she was again overcome by weeping.
Hilsith embraced her just before Yazadril did. They rubbed Nemia's back and murmured soothing words, to little effect.
Finally Nemia rose and tearfully excused herself to dress. Yazadril decided he had choked down enough food, and did the same.