Emerie's Song
672, Age of Ascent, Early Spring

"What makes you think that you can trust anyone but yourself?"

-Attributed to Saeran, Ender.

"Emerie! Put down the flute. We have to attend Lord Elandir's arrival."

Emerie set aside the flute and joined her mother, smoothing her gown over her hips carefully. Sometimes it rucked up around her when she sat down, and she wanted to be sure that she didn't embarrass her mother when Lord Elandir arrived by being improper in her dress.

It seemed that she didn't have to worry. Her mother nodded slightly, but judiciously, when Emerie stepped out of her room. "You look well," she said. "Almost as pretty as an Elwen."

An old resentment flickered to life in Emerie at that, but she had spent a lot of time quenching that flame, and it didn't burn for very long. In a very few moments she could duck her chin and accept the compliment in the spirit that her mother meant it. "Thank you, Mother," she said.

Adella smiled at her. Emerie could almost feel her thoughts, as if she really were the Elwen her mother had compared her to. Her daughter wasn't going to embarrass her, and thank the gods for that. "Come," Adella said, holding out a hand. "You should walk beside me when we go to greet the Lord Elandir. He will want to see you. You've changed a lot in a year."

Changed, thought Emerie as she walked beside her mother out of the house and into the street, could mean many things.

It seemed as though the whole village of Chybara had stirred itself to meet their Lord. Emerie saw more flashes of bright color in the street than she normally saw in the course of a whole year. Women wore their best gowns, men their best tunics and hosen. Even the children too young to keep their clothes clean all day wore at least a few swatches of blue or red or purple cloth. They seemed to realize the importance of the day, and didn't run and shriek quite as much as they usually did.

Emerie wished for a moment that she were still young enough to join them, young enough not to realize what this day meant. But she had had her chance among them, and time that had passed didn't return. She had seen fifteen summers. That was enough to realize that the course of her life wouldn't change.

And soon, soon, she thought she could extinguish the last spark of her resentment about it.

She fixed her eyes ahead, down the single street of the village, and walked with sedate grace to the palisade, where the gate opened and let out into the forest. Her mother walked beside her all the way, gripping her hand most of the time, and Emerie could almost feel her pride. Just last year, she had despaired that her daughter would ever understand the need for dignity.

Emerie smiled a little. She had seen the need. It had just taken her a little while.

The forest was stirring when they stepped out through the gate. New buds had unfolded into leaves within the last day, and Emerie's heart lifted to see the delicate, fresh green. She would work that shade into the song she was composing, if she could just find the notes.

"Here he comes!"

Emerie turned her head, feeling her mother squeeze her fingers hard, almost to the point of crushing them. Horse's hooves sounded through the forest, and most of the villagers stood up as straight as they could, quieting the shrieking children and stilling their own murmurs.

Lord Elandir rode through a gate of trees, poising himself with what Emerie knew had to be deliberate care. His horse, a fine, high-stepping beast, shone the color of autumn leaves, as if polished by the air all around him. The long black mane lay across Lord Elandir's skin, which, heavily tanned, was only a few shades lighter. That could have made him look ordinary, but his silver hair, blue-violet eyes, and preternaturally beautiful face removed all danger of that. He was Elwen, a child of the stars, heir of beauty and grace, gifted with powerful magic and long life. Emerie knew that he could feel the emotions of all those about him, hear the thoughts of the trees- those had to be all of praise, the way they swayed and reached out to him- and would see perhaps three hundred generations of her people live and die.

She had finally made her peace with that, and would accept it for the final time tonight.

"Welcome, my lord," said Adella, stepping forward and bowing, drawing Emerie with her. "I greet you, and present my daughter, Emerie Dyanda, who is to marry this day."

Lord Elandir's eyes turned to her. Emerie bowed, knowing he could feel her emotions, not sure what he thought about them.

"Greetings of the spring to you, aralie," said Lord Elandir, giving her a compliment in his own language. His voice sang like bells. "You are agreeable to marrying this young man?"

Adella stiffened at her side. It was a slight movement, but Emerie felt it. She had become sensitive to such things in the past year, ever since she realized how much she hurt her mother.

"I am, my lord," she said, looking up and smiling into eyes that shone like stars. "I have realized my duty, and am content with it."

The Elwen's eyes narrowed as he continued to gaze at her. "I wonder," he murmured.

"What, my lord?"

"Can you be sure that your chosen deserves you?"

Adella shifted anxiously, not wanting to contradict the Lord, but not wanting her impertinent daughter to say anything wrong either. Emerie would have smiled at her, had she dared to look away from Elandir. Her mother didn't need to worry. Emerie had forsworn open expression of her emotions in any way but song, and come tonight, that, too, would be done.

"I am sure that he deserves me, my lord. I know him, a little, and that is enough to content me."

"You did not choose him?"

Adella fidgeted again. Emerie sighed. Elwens were all the same. They would break the humans if her people dared to rise up against their magic-inspired rule, as had happened in the past, but they pretended concern for such minor matters as whether marriages in human villages had been the choice of both partners.

"I did not need to, my lord. I trusted my mother and his mother to make the right choice."

Adella drew in a swift breath. Emerie looked at her mother, and smiled a little at the tears shimmering in her eyes. Adella had scarcely thought that her daughter could do her so proud. Emerie was determined that her mother set new standards for her before this day was done.

"It seems strange."

Emerie looked back at Lord Elandir, a little impatiently. He had come to convince the land to accept new seeds from the hands of the humans, not to concern himself with a human girl's marriage. "I assure you, my lord, I understand the reasons behind my marriage very well. It shall join our two families, and insure prosperity and survival for the both of us."

Lord Elandir continued to stare at her, but whatever he had hoped to find in her eyes, Emerie was determined that he wouldn't find it. She had labored long to get to this point, and learning to ignore her hatred of Elwens was part of the reason it had taken her so long. She wasn't about to let an Elwen start the turmoil in her mind and heart again, even if he was her village's lord.

At last Lord Elandir said, "I must greet the others. I give you both greetings of the spring, ladies." He bowed to Adella, and Emerie didn't think her mother heard the hair-fine edge of scorn in his voice. "An obedient daughter you have, my lady. I must congratulate you."

Adella beamed. Emerie stared at Lord Elandir's back as he moved away, and thought of the chaos she had felt at this time last year-

Then she pushed the thought away. No. She had come to this point, and she would sing one more song, and that would be it.

*****

A sigh of wonder traveled through the people around her. Emerie thought about resisting it for a moment, then joined in. What was the point in not doing so? It was wondrous, what the Lord Elandir was doing, though it would be forever beyond the reach of any human.

The Elwen stood in the midst of the fields that had lain fallow all through the winter, hands held out before him and eyes closed. Swirling tendrils of green light had risen from the soil to greet him, and now swirled and danced about his body, like snakes answering the call to mate. Some dived into the earth again as Emerie watched, and then the field shuddered and broke apart into long, straight, narrow furrows, neater than any plow could make.

Another sigh traveled through the crowd.

Emerie once again joined it.

Elandir extended his hands, and seed fell from them into the ground. The fields appeared to resist it for a moment, then broke open and swallowed it. They would always accept any seed from the hands of an Elwen, bound to them so deeply that he burned if they did. What Elandir asked, for the fields to let humans rather than Elwens plant them, took some persuasion.

But at last the fields were ready, and Lord Elandir's business here was done for another spring. He would work from a distance for the rest of the season, Emerie knew, turning aside storms and mudslides that might threaten the new crops, allowing the rain that might help through, quelling forest fires, encouraging the crops to bloom as abundantly as they could…

All things that humans could never do, all things that kept the rule of Elwens over humans secure.

Lord Elandir turned to them and bowed. Emerie snorted at the tired look in his eyes. As though he had done any real work-

But she put the thoughts aside, locking them in the part of her mind concerned with composing her song, and bowed her head in appreciation along with all the rest.

He did do some work. Not as much as the humans had to do, but enough.

*****

"I love you, Emerie."

Emerie smiled into Shunol's eyes and took the delicate chain he offered her, undoing the clasp and fastening the wooden chain around her neck. "I love you, too, Shunol," she said softly.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Elandir stiffen. He could probably hear the lie in her voice- another gift of his kind- or imagined he could. Poor Elwen. He might live through many years and understand much, but he would never understand the complexities of human life.

"Will you take me as husband, Emerie?" Shunol asked then, holding out his hands. Emerie clasped them eagerly. They were work-hardened, strong, tough, marked with countless calluses. They should be; Shunol had been laboring in the fields since he was seven, and he was nineteen now.

"If you will have me as wife," she said softly, ducking her head as his smile broke over her like a sunrise.

"In the sight of the seven," said the village priest, his voice ringing almost too loudly into the silence left by Emerie's words. "In the name of Suulta, White Lady and bountiful provider of calm tempers and self-restraint. In the name of Sarastaa, Lord of the Sun and giver of light and warmth. In the name of Mirsun, Lord of Art who grants us all new ways to be good to each other. In the name of Nirnez, Lady of Wind who scatters the seed like blessings. In the name of Mareth, Lord of Running Water who floods us all with his blessings. In the name of Shelsleadal, Mother of the Fields. And in the name of Jvevanni, Lady of Twos, in whom life and death are twinned, as a husband and wife should be twinned." He poured a short libation of milk on the ground after each name, and then held out the draught that was left to them. "Drink, and be joined."

Emerie sipped from the cup, filling her mouth with milk but not swallowing. Then she offered the cup to Shunol, who did the same. When they kissed, the milk in their mouths flooded out and dripped down from between them onto the ground. Emerie, by some adroit maneuvering, managed to avoid soaking her gown, and felt her mother's thrill of pride from the side. Shunol, on the other hand, thoroughly soaked his own tunic, and turned with a sheepish grin to acknowledge the bawdy shouts. The amount of milk he had spilled supposedly indicated how much he would spill tonight on the ground, instead of in his bride.

Emerie waited through it, her hands folded in front of her. Shunol turned back to her at last, and held out his arm. "My lady, shall we to the feast?"

Emerie smiled again into his eyes as she laid her hand on his elbow. She might have felt bitter at this feast a year ago, since it was to celebrate Lord Elandir's arrival as much as anything else, but that was before her mother had announced that she should marry this night. Now she could think of it as her wedding meal, and that made it not so bitter.

"We shall, my lord," she said, and they walked away from the altar in time to the cheers that rose around them.

*****

Emerie whirled out of Camanell's arms, laughing, flushed, and found her arm taken by the bowing Lord Elandir.

"May I, my lady?" he asked, face grave.

"You need not ask my permission, my lord," she said, laying her hand on his arm and whirling into the next steps of the vigorous dance that had sprung up. The trio of musicians, knowing the grace of Elwens and wanting to see Lord Elandir dance, had no doubt chosen it on purpose. He did not disappoint, moving and whirling with a speed that made the others shout and applaud.

The noise was so loud that they doubtless did not hear him as he leaned towards her and said softly, "You are not fooling me with this pretense."

"Pretense, my lord?"

"Stop calling me by that title," said Elandir. "You don't think I deserve it. You hate my kind. I can feel it. And yet you will not give full reign to that hatred, even in mocking and sniping little comments, or envious stares, in the way that the others do."

Emerie smiled gravely at him. "I hated you a year ago, my lord," she said softly. "What you feel are the locked-down remnants of a hopeless emotion. I realized that, no matter how I hated you, it would change nothing. Your kind will ever rule over us, since you have magic and we do not. We could not even farm any land bound to an Elwen, if you did not come and intercede with it for us. And all the best land is bound to Elwens, and all the human villages that I know of without an Elwen Lord or Lady are hideously poor. It's not much of a choice, you know. Endless poverty or endless slavery, and no way to rise out of either."

"That is not true."

"Not for you," said Emerie. "It is for me."

"But you would just give up?" Elandir stared at her with blank eyes as they whirled through another pattern.

"I have not given up. I have made my peace with the inevitable. It's not a very Elwen thing to do, I know, but it is a human thing, and I think that I like it all the better for that."

"I can hear your intelligence in your speech, feel the will in you," said Elandir in frustration, as they danced into the last figure. "Why would you give up your soul like this?"

"I'm not Elwen."

Elandir opened his mouth to say something else, but the dance had ended and Emerie could let go of his hand with some grace. There were others waiting to dance with him, and still others waiting to compliment him on his grace, and her mother was nearly bursting with pride.

She asked her new husband, softly, for a little time to do something of her own before they went to the wedding bed. Shunol granted it without hesitation. Most brides asked for this time and used it to talk to their mothers, but Emerie intended to use it for something different, and headed for her mother's house- and her flute.

It was time to sing

*****

Emerie looked out over the village, noting the light of the festival bonfire in the distant darkness, and the light of the stars overhead. The fire was a human thing, she thought as she lifted the flute to her lips and laid her fingers upon it, and the stars Elwen things. Elwens claimed to be born of the stars.

She began her song with that, a silvery, lilting tone that lifted up to the stars. Once, she had looked up and envied Elwens- their beauty, their power, their magic, their knowledge, their long life. She had heard that among them were some who remembered the beginning of Arcadia. Her people were newcomers here- less than twelve hundred years since had they arrived- and had already forgotten most of the world they came from. And she would never learn any of that history, or to work magic, and never travel across the world as they seemed to.

The flute warbled, a tone of wistfulness entering the silver.

She had learned of all the things that Elwens had done to humans as she grew older. Nearly everyone in Chybara could name a distant, heroic forefather who had died in the last war against the Elwens. It had taken them a long time, but the Elwens had crushed Emerie's people completely, and forced them to accept a humiliating treaty. And they ruled the world. And that would never change.

Emerie gave all that to the flute. The tone grew passionate with anger and glowing strength.

But her hatred had dimmed this last summer, when one day she looked up at the trees and realized that even they answered to their Elwen Lord, that everything she loved here was ruled by Elwens in some way. Her gown came from cotton that had grown on Elwen land. Her mother lived in anxious, fawning fear of them, wanting Lord Elandir's favor. And she ate food that the land grew at all for her only because an Elwen had told it to. In some ways, every breath she drew came at an Elwen's pleasure, since every Elwen born possessed enough magic to kill her in a hundred horrible ways.

The song soared and dipped, her violent hatred and despair raising and casting it down by turns.

She could do nothing, save adapt, so Emerie had chosen that road. If she could not be free of the demands that the Elwens made on her, then she would accede to those demands, and make the choice to give up the part of her soul that would rebel and get her into trouble if she let it.

The song grew soft, and calm.

She was the daughter her mother wanted her to be: placid, calm, dignified, accepting the marriage with Shunol with a smile. She understood the reasons behind it, and she embraced them. It was more than Adella had ever dared hope for, Emerie knew, at least a few years ago.

Emerie had once seen her mother as the enemy. Now she knew better. Her mother was human, just as Emerie was. They had to trust each other, depend on each other as much as they could. There was no one else. Humans might live in the world under Elwens, but in some ways they were free- or could be, if they would learn to depend on each other.

The song warbled and trembled once again, shimmering with the soft green of the leaves that had unfolded that morning.

Emerie let the song pass into silence, laid the flute down, and opened her eyes. For a long moment, she looked on the fire and the stars, and felt almost nothing but soundless peace.

Then she heard the music from the fire, and the laughter of the villagers, and knew that Shunol would be looking for her.

Smoothing her gown again, Emerie rose to her feet. She looked at the flute for a long moment, wondering if she should break it. That music had been the last rebellion of her soul. She wouldn't need the flute again.

But she might have a daughter or son someday, a child who would need to make her or his own peace with the rule of Elwens. In that case, the flute might be a useful tool.

Emerie tucked the flute into the corner of the windowsill, where it would not be in the way, and where she could ask her mother to look for it when she wanted it, then turned and walked out the door towards the bonfire. As she walked, she fancied she could still hear the air trembling with the faint echoes of her song.

It was pleasant, of course, but she knew it was just a fancy.