(Author’s Note: I cannot for the life of me remember Islimah’s family name! Thus the striking, I’ll fix it when I find out! 7/8/10 Thank you Isli for clarifying!)
“My lady, he is here!” her handmaiden hissed. Her eyes were wide with terror, causing Lithil’s heart to skip a beat. “He knows!”
The pruning shears fell from her hands, clattering off the tile walkway. By the Light, he knows! He knows! Her heart was in her throat. So many things she had done, so many things she feared he might learn about, might become angry about, might . . . But what exactly does he know?
She took three deep breaths, calming herself. The handmaiden handed her a heavy robe as curious onlookers edged closer, wondering what caused such commotion within the temple grounds. Lithil slipped into the robe, its blandness covering the light, revealing clothing that was the height of elven fashion, and that my son would be more angry to see me in she reminded herself. What exactly does he know?
“MOTHER!” The yell made her tremble in primal fear. Her son was beyond angry, furious, almost hateful in his tone. She tried to calm her racing heart but it was impossible. He had discovered something, he was coming to her now to learn if it were true, and she feared she might die if he did not like her answers. Such horror, to die by the hand of the only person I still love in this world. Still, she didn’t weep. What exactly does he know?
Lady Lithil Llyrandor was the dowager of House Llyrandor, and she had striven ever since overcoming the grief of her husband’s death to make her son as great and powerful a man as she believed he was. She would have done anything for him, from murder to treason, from prostituting herself to dying for him. And she had done most of that. Sarenadia was dead because of her. Sheigh’s exile was because of her. His return, equally, was because of her. His exaltation was because of her. But for him to know, for him to see her for what she really was instead of what she portrayed herself to be, would break his heart. And when her son’s heart broke, the terrible rage grew in him. The fires grew. People died. She had thought hiding herself behind the cloak of a priestess would save her from her enemies, but if her own beloved boy was now her enemy . . . Calm yourself. What exactly does he know?
The aura preceded him. A light, a horrible orange and red flaming light grew down the hall from the temple entrance. The fires were upon him, dear gods those terrible fires, all the power and glory of an archmage wrapped around him like a grand fury given vision and form. His face was a mask of rage as he strode into the temple garden, roses wilting and dying in the heat of his anger as he marched purposefully toward him. He opened his mouth, his neck straining as if to scream his rage again, but the fury was contained. He breathed deeply, the fiery aura seemed to shrink around him as he too fought for control over his emotions. “I know, Mother. I know what you did.”
A fool acted. She had been afraid someone would try to interfere, she saw the movement out of the corner of her eye and knew the man was already dead. “Listen here, sir, you must AAAUGH!” With a word her son spoke of immolation and the man erupted in flame. Instinctively Lithil spoke the power word of shielding, watching the poor wretch dance in pain as his clothes burned, his skin already blackened and his hair scorched away. This is a house of healing, he might yet live, Lithil thought, beginning to chant a prayer of healing.
“SILENCE!” Sheigh shouted, and Lithil was stunned into inaction. She tried to open her mouth to form the prayer but found she was unable. The burned man looked up at her in pain and horror, watching in terror as the flames scintillated around the power shield she had thrown up around him, watching as the flames ate through the shield second by second. Lithil was unable to save him, Sheigh had already forgotten he existed. The fires tore through the shield, engulfing him, stealing the air from his lungs so he couldn’t even scream his death. A tear formed in Lithil’s eye. Poor fool, he died for me.
Sheigh stared at her, hatred and rage burning in his eyes. She dared not speak, she dared not move, and the rest of the priests and acolytes in the garden kept a fearful distance. She noticed his sword was in his hand, somehow that had escaped her before now. Will I die on it?
“How . . . how could you?” Sheigh asked. The rage melted into sorrow, into pain and disappointment and disbelief, and Lithil felt her heart tear out of her body at the sight of it. Suddenly for all her fear at the murderous archmage before her, he was once again a little five year old boy, his eyes puffy and red as he cried in pain and showed her where a bee had stung his finger. She wanted to hug him, wanted to hold him and tell him everything would be okay, Mother was here for him, and yet the burning fires emanating from him kept her at check.
She snapped back to the present, remembering that her actions would save her life or end it, and perhaps his own as well. Her crimes against him were many, but he was nothing if not a pragmatic nobleman himself, perhaps she could explain her reasons and he might see the truth from her point of view. Or perhaps it would buy her time to stop him from doing anything worse. Powerful he might be, but she knew enough magic of her own to get by. “I did it because I love you, and I did it because it was best for you.” That might draw the discovered secret out.
His rage flared – she hit the nerve. “And what of Father?” he screamed at her, the blade rising menacingly in his sword arm. “Did you not love him, did you not care for him while you were whoring yourself to Deh’Lorei?” He lowered his arm. “You sold yourself to him. You sold me to him.”
All the strength, all the fear and adrenalin rushed out of her. She eyed his sword, willed it to strike, willed it to bring the end before the eruption of pain his words would bring to her heart, but it did not. All her betrayal of her beloved Rhaedd, of her little boy Sheigh, of her wedding vows and her promises to her husband’s grave, tore down her emotional defenses. Her face contorted in agony and tears burned down her cheeks. No, no no! This is not how I am supposed to feel! her mind screamed at itself, but her emotion could not be stopped.
“How could you?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
She fell to her knees, buried her face in her hands and curled up into herself so she could not see him, could not see the world. She cried, sobs wracking her body. I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! Rhaedd, I’m so sorry! The wedding band of her lost husband felt cold and lifeless against her eyebrow. Forgive me, I’m so sorry! Father, I’m sorry! Daddy, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to, I had to for my son! Her throat felt raw from her sobs, but she could not form words. Sheigh, oh Sheigh, my darling baby boy, I had to for you! I’m so sorry!
Strong hands pulled her to her feet, but she refused to look. His hands singed her robes, heat like a fireplace emanating from the body as it pulled her against it, powerful arms holding her tight. She buried her face in his robes so he could not see her eyes, sobbing apologies into his chest, shameful, heartbroken, every bit of her deceit and malfeasance, her iron persona, gone at the revelation of the one act she prayed he would never discover.
She had been lonely, so lonely since her Rhaedd died. She lied to herself about it, hated herself for it, but she was still a woman, still young in the lives of the Sin’dorei, still beautiful. She saw their eyes, she basked in their attentions, she dreamed of being with someone else again. She had centuries of her life ahead of her and to remain alone, to remain untouched, tortured her into wanting to know a man’s touch that much worse. Yet her heart belonged to her husband, and she could not bring herself to break her vows to him. Not even seven years after he died.
She wanted to say he seduced her, but she knew the opposite was true. Duke Deh’Lorei was the one vote on the Council of the Moon that her son needed to have his exile overturned, his rights and properties returned, for the good of House Llyrandor and for the good of all the Tuar’annwn. Her father had been a great nobleman within the Tuar’annwn, and it shamed his name as well as her husband’s that her son had been exiled. She had promised her father’s grave, her husband’s grave, her father-in-law’s grave that she would save her son from his punishment, for crimes that she, not he, had committed.
She entered Duke Deh’Lorei’s’ carriage that night to change his mind with one final argument, the one trump card she still had left – her son’s hand in a marriage that would bring prestige to the Deh’Lorei line. Even in disgrace, the name Llyandor was ancient, powerful, and most importantly rich. Marry a girl of his family to her son, she would say, and the Llyrandors would cover some of the outstanding debts of his own family before they were made public. That is what she meant to do.
She had dressed revealingly because she was an ambassador by trade, she wanted his mind to be in two places at once while he struggled to make the decision. He was a married man, so a bit of forbidden fruit would only make him less focused, more eager to please a lovely lady, anything for attention from a beautiful woman who wasn’t his wife. But once she was in the carriage with him, alone in the dark next to him, only faint lantern light outlining the strong features of his chiseled, matured face, the heat of his body so close to hers, the scent of his hair, the warmth of his breath as it touched her face . . . She knew he wanted her. She knew he would do anything to have her. She knew she wanted him, too. So she made the deal.
Sheigh spoke, breaking her reflection. She didn’t hear his words, she was still crying in shame, still burying herself in her son’s robes and unwilling to face him or anyone else, but she realized they had been walking, he was guiding her somewhere. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she repeated as a mantra into the tears-whetted silk of his robes. Finally she looked up as she realized they were outside the temple gates. She couldn’t bear to look at him, he looks so much like his father I couldn’t stand to see him, oh gods my love, I am so sorry!
There was a carriage waiting for them. Knights, fully armored knights squared away with the temple guards, both groups seemingly eager for violence, both groups stepping down as they saw the crying priestess and her archmage son. She did not look at them, did not look at Sheigh, but climbed into the carriage and lay down on one of its upholstered benches, grabbing a pillow to cover her head in shame. Her son entered behind her, taking a seat opposite her, and the carriage started rolling. He did not speak, and as the carriage continued her sorrow and shame turned to fear. What does he have planned for me? Her heart raced.
Sheigh folded the letter neatly, dripping wax from a candle onto the last fold. He watched it cool, reflecting everything the letter meant. Pressing his father’s signet into the wax, he thought of his mother. Of course he would forgive her, in time, he had no choice. But she had to be punished, and he needed to think of something appropriate.
Sheigh Llyrandor was not a commodity to be bought and sold. He was not a prize to be won. Whatever good intentions his mother may have had, they demeaned him, made him a pawn. He was no pawn, not for weak men like the Duke. The letter made that clear. There would be a reckoning. The marriage to Islimah, and it hurt his heart to admit it because he loved her in a rare, special way and knew her heart would break at the news, was postponed. Perhaps it would be off altogether.
“What we do for love,” he whispered to nobody in particular, before getting up to deliver the letter to a courier. What we do for love, he reflected, and what we do for honor. And which should win out in this case? His heart ached, his mind raced, and he knew it would be no easy decision.