A/N: What to say about this one? Well, two nights ago, I was sitting around and I got a random visual image in my head of a woman lying in a field of lilies upon a dark world, which I immediately knew was the World Beyond (see my other novels/stories). I had no idea what I was going to do with this image, but it wanted to be a story. It nagged at me until I decided to take the prompt and run with it. Eventually, I deduced who the lady and her companion were. When I did, I realized that this would make a good preface of sorts to my sixth novel. I am resisting the urge to write said novel, for the nonce, because I am currently already writing four novels. I don't need to worry about five.
You may notice the emphasis on "singing" in this short story. This is due to the fact that, on the continent of Felerziel, singing is the key to using magic. There are some other aspects of this story which you may wonder about, but I won't spoil their meanings. This is supposed to be a mysterious story, one full of symbolism, and it's up to you to interpret that symbolism as whatever you will. Enjoy!
She lay there, in that place, where the sky was empty save for five moons and the stars, and where the white lilies bloomed. Her hair fell around her body, spreading outward, splayed about the lilies. Mostly, there was silence, but life stirred occasionally. There was sound, as of a waterfall nearby. Water tumbled over the rocks of this other world, and Aelùvandellë exhaled.
Both of her arms, white like the lilies, rested beside her head. One was at each side. She moved her hands, fingering her hair, making triangles out of the spaces beneath her elbows. Her eyes sparkled with dusk, with starlight, and her lips moved, though no sounds exited. Silently, she recited a poem of magic, but only because it held beauty for her. There was little power to be found within this place, except from the stars, and she would not call upon those. Hours untold passed, until there came to that place the shadow of a man. He stood there, beside Aelùvandellë, and he looked down upon her. She did not stir.
"The war comes," he reminded her gently. "It comes, whether you wish to be there or not. I would advise that you return with me to fight."
"I do not see why I should," she answered. Her voice was filled with music, tinkling like wind chimes. "Why should we fight the inevitable? All must die. From starlight we came. Into starlight we shall return. Dust here or dust there, dust in us, or dust in space, it matters not."
The man turned, and Aelùvandellë perceived that he looked upwards, gazing at the stars and the nebulae above them. "That may be so, but even they fight their ultimate demise. They fight with such force that the universe is often ripped open from the strength of the will that they exert, yet you, a child of the stars, wish to lie here and die, while Ansana continues to fight."
"I wish to lie here and live, in fact."
Though his face was shadowed, Aelùvandellë could discern that he was in awe. "You have been dreaming again, then?"
Aelùvandellë pressed her lips together. A wind tossed several strands of her silver hair. She hesitated, listening to the sound of the nearby waters. "I have been dreaming, yes. I have dreamed of the first Dance. I have dreamed of death. I have dreamed of starlight, and beauty, such as this."
"When was the death?" the man asked, ignoring her other words. His voice, like her own, held the ethereal echo of the Music, though it was not so prominent in his timbre as it was in hers.
"Soon, should I return." She stopped touching her hair and lowered her hands to the ground. Her fingers were long, thin, and very white. "I shall return, in time, though I wished to live a little first. Death could come, even here, though here it is so quiet."
"Death is death, and a death in battle is glory. You are the empress. We need your magic. We need the gods that you can call."
She smiled faintly, and storms surged within her eyes. "Yet you, the emperor, whose power rivals mine, comes here to seek me, also abandoning the battle. Why?"
"Ivory Lady, you'll not bring guilt to rest upon my head." He strode forward, walking past Aelùvandellë, though the feeling of his lingering shadow remained with her. "I chose you and your music, even when I could have perhaps waited for a kwemban to be born. You'll not repay me with such rebukes. You shall spin your words in battle, or not at all. If you hide from your fate, then you have sinned against the gods, the goddesses, and the stars, and I shall give you Silence for that."
Aelùvandellë held her tongue. Her eyes were upon the moons. Each was different. Some were full, while others waned into nothingness. Save for the lilies, the field was bare, stone and shimmering ice. The World Beyond was a world of ice, lit by ghostly lights that slid along the ground, and by the five broken moons. Only in some strange, surreal places did the lilies bloom. Some force must have upheld them, though Aelùvandellë knew not its name.
Always did Tùriallyilios remind her of his choice. In her private times, Aelùvandellë would rub her fingernails along her palms, wondering if she appreciated the choice or not. Her parents had told her that she should have been honoured, given how rare it was for any emperor to select a bride who was not a kwemban. In her younger days, Aelùvandellë had been proud to the point of being haughty. She had worn Tùriallyilios's choice as a circlet about her head, even as the landscape had changed and the days had passed.
Now, she was not so grateful. When he reminded her of the Silence that she could be given, then Tùriallyilios filled Aelùvandellë with as much dread as did the demons and the monsters that their continent waged war against. Death was not terrible, but Silence was. Death, at least, had promised starlight, and moons, and the cool darkness that was not so unlike what surrounded her now. Death had a friendly face and a warm embrace. Silence did not. Death was inevitable, even though for a time at least, Aelùvandellë wanted to lay among the lilies. She could not lay there forever. She wished Tùriallyilios would leave.
Aelùvandellë clutched a handful of lilies, squeezing them tightly as she blinked beneath the moonlight. "I am with child," she said gently, tensely. "I heard the infant's voice. My body is changing. Do you wish for me to go to the waters?"
"I do," said Tùriallyilios. He did not turn to face his wife. "Stay amid them, and have the child there. Let him swim, until the war is over. The sprites and the gods shall be with him, as the gods of your family have ever been. You'll not escape the war by virtue of your body, my bride. Come with me, and let us sing together. We'll weave a spell, and if we die, then I shall die with you. I'll not abide your cowardice, though, and neither shall my gods."
Aelùvandellë closed her eyes. "I wish to sing with you, but I wish to remain here for a time, as well. My next battle shall likely be my last. My dreams have not held you within them, so you may yet live. I am uncertain."
Her eyes opened once more.
Tùriallyilios stepped close to her, crouching downward so that his face was almost at a level with Aelùvandellë's. His hair was not like her own. It was largely lavender, with some white and orange, dark blue in its highlights, and pink in places. It was up to Aelùvandellë to add silver to the child's mane. Each colour of Tùriallyilios's hair signified a different important bloodline, every one of which had passed along genes for the next emperor or empress.
Tùriallyilios had a remarkable violet complexion. Purple had always been the colour of many of Felerziel's lords and ladies. Aelùvandellë thought that her white skin might lighten their child's flesh to a hue of lavender.
"I hope that his voice is spectacular," said Aelùvandellë, fingering the heavy jewelry about her neck.
"You have heard it. He shall have some of your blood, and therefore some of your voice. Perhaps the gods may answer him better than they have answered you or I. The stars, as well. Have you spoken to the stars, of late?"
"I am doing so now, husband. You have not spoken to the stars in such an age that you have forgotten how to do so. You have lost that language. It is not a spoken one. Listen for a time, and hear that the air is full of Music, more poignant even than ours. You forget to listen to the stars, when you hear only the clarion call for war."
Tùriallyilios looked at her. He brushed the back of his hand against her face, and his own visage wore a look of surprise. "Why do you hate me so?" he wondered aloud.
Aelùvandellë felt his hand move lower, brushing against the chains at her neck. He pulled on them. The metal shook, clanking together loudly, and overtaking the sound of rumbling water upon the rocks. Tùriallyilios hesitated, staring at her eyes, attempting to force her into meeting his eyes with her own. She did so, at length, and then he pulled. His fingers had wrapped securely about the chains and the stones that she wore. With one hard tug, the heavy collar and its accompanying necklaces shattered. The royal jewels spilled upon the ground, tinkling with their own music. The chains rubbed against Aelùvandellë's neck, scraping the white skin raw. It was already beginning to redden when Tùriallyilios gave another jerk, effectively removing every bit of metal from Aelùvandellë's throat.
"I do not hate you, Tùriallyilios," said Aelùvandellë. She saw light, and shadows, and, to the sides, she glimpsed the lilies. She heard water, and her husband's breathing. The air was filled with the fragrance of flowers, as well as the cold scent of metal. "What upsets me about you, however, is that after all of our time together, you still do not know me well enough to ascertain this. How can we sing together, if our notes do not match? We shall produce only discord."
"And perhaps that is why you are doomed to die soon. I cannot help a woman who refuses me in her own subtle ways."
"One alone would not do, but a refusal often goes two ways." Aelùvandellë watched as silvery clouds covered one of the moons. Her breathing stiffened. "My time to return grows nigh. Shall you give me no solace?"
"You ask for solace apart from me, and you wonder why I have supposed that you hate me."
The air was stirring with chirps, as swarms of small insects buzzed upwards, moving toward the moons. The clouds passed. Aelùvandellë's eyes were a dark swirl. "I wished for solace before the battle. I wish this still. I wish to be alone, because I have so little time that is mine that I do not have to share."
"You are not alone, if a child is within you. Which waters shall you give him to?"
"Elhlyyehllhï, the mere beside the thllarian stairs. The mere is within a valley that is mine by inheritance. The waters there are warm, and filled with life, as well as magic. They shimmer with colours, with ahmé far below the surface. I think the child could live amid the reeds there. The water holds enough magic for him to ingest. The child is not who I am worried about. The dreams of him have shown naught but good, yet how shall he fare without me to raise him?"
Tùriallyilios tossed the jewels aside. Aelùvandellë barely glanced sideways to regard them, noting how they shone. Clusters of dew-freckled grass surrounded each jewel, making their unnatural qualities all the more apparent. "The child may have me. When you die, if I still live, I shall not take another wife. Despite all of the ways in which you have dishonoured me, I shall not do that. I am a man of honour, no matter what you may be."
"I am a woman of honour," Aelùvandellë replied calmly. "I have never strayed."
"Physically, no, you have not. Emotionally, you were never there to begin with. One cannot stray from a place that they have never visited."
There were many things that Aelùvandellë wished to say to that, mainly that the touch of ice could transfer the cold, or, more practically, that it was difficult to feel warmth for a man who had threatened her with Silence. However, none of those words could be used. Tùriallyilios was her liege as much as her husband. Therefore, Aelùvandellë said only, "I shall go where you go, and when. I wished to lie here for a time, yet I think that this cannot be so. You are standing in such a way that many stars and a moon are concealed by your body."
"And you are lying in such a way that your body is useless for the war. Return with me now. I have grown tired of your indolence. You have magic enough to speed the birth along. Do so. We must make further war, and tonight. How can you lie there, doing nothing, and remaining so conscious of this fact? Further, how can you stand to do so? You must have no pride, wife of mine. Use your magic. Have the child tonight. Then, take my hand, and into battle we shall go, and death and glory shall be yours, and perhaps mine as well. I can think of nothing more wonderful than that."
"Death promised me starlight, such as this. Do you suppose that it was lying? When I die, I wish to continue seeing the stars."
"You shall more than see them, Aelùvandellë." Tùriallyilios wrapped his hands around his wife's, and Aelùvandellë felt the warmth of his flesh. Such warmth she had not been expecting, though when she pondered this, she knew not why. The World Beyond was a world of ice, and Tùriallyilios was a man filled with blood made hot by the thought of war. When Tùriallyilios pulled Aelùvandellë to her feet, the last jewels fell away from her. She was free of the chains. Whatever that meant to their marriage, she did not presently care.
Tùriallyilios's hands fell away, returning to his sides.
Aelùvandellë looked at the physiognomy of her liege, and she smiled, starlight reflecting within her eyes, undimmed by the shadow of Tùriallyilios. She admired his courage. He was a fine lord, indeed, to go so boldly into what was likely destined to be his final battle. He was a fine lord, indeed, to be so willing to die beside her, and to offer as much aloud, where beneath the stars it might become a promise. As an emperor, if not as a husband, Aelùvandellë even appreciated how stern Tùriallyilios had been with her, and how he had never pardoned her transgressions. If Aelùvandellë had ever been anything but dutiful, then Tùriallyilios was always there to chastise her harshly, and to condemn her, if necessary. She respected this about him, though she did not love it.
Love would have been forgiving. Love would have allowed her to remain beneath the stars for a while, so that she could feel the grass and smell the lilies and listen to the singing of the heavenly bodies above. Love was patient, and kind. Love, then, was not a good leader in a time of war. Tùriallyilios was.
"You shall more than see them," Tùriallyilios repeated. The words were rhythmic, almost carrying enough of a certain cadence to hold magic in their own right. "You told me this yourself, wife. From starlight we came. Into starlight we shall return. Your dust shall find its home someday, amid the innumerable stars, and your soul shall rest in the upper spheres of the De'eash. So, be contented. Take my hand. Let us dance the dances and sing the songs, and inspire the De'eash and the stars to follow in our wake, such that this war may yet be won, and such that the forces rising against us may yet be quieted."
Aelùvandellë touched her throat, remembering the bite of the jewels, and the brief, choking pain that Tùriallyilios had given her when he had ripped them from her. That pain had been sharp, yet to Aelùvandellë, it had also been preferable to wearing the jewels. They had been a burden, and nothing more. She turned, regarding each, and she held no love for any of them, quieted though they now were upon the ground.
Tùriallyilios held his hands outward. Aelùvandellë watched, transfixed in wonder. Always, he had taken her hands and pulled her along. Always, even from the star, even from the very first time that he had taken her hands in their wedding beneath a canopy of water, when they had stood atop the greatest lake within Felerziel.
"I thought that you might enjoy the choice," Tùriallyilios whispered. "Death is inevitable, as is your return, yet still, I thought that you might appreciate it if I allowed you to place your hands into my own in your own time. It is a small gesture, a little thing. You may think naught of it."
Aelùvandellë reached forward, lightly placing her hands within those of her husband--and her liege. "You are a man who deals in broad, sweeping gestures. Everything you do is grand and magnificent. Small gestures are rare from you, and the rarest things are always the most precious. I thank you for your attention to a minute detail. It shows that you did think, and that you did care."
"I do care," Tùriallyilios corrected. Something like a smile played about his lips. "Are you ready to die? Are you ready to return to the place from which your dust came? Are you ready for battle, and glory, and for a chance to preserve our realm?"
"Almost. As soon as I have the child, then I shall be ready for all of those things." She looked up, giving the moons one final glance. "I am also ready to bestow death upon our enemies. I am ready for that more than anything else that you listed. I am ready to end the war, if possible. I am ready to sing."
They walked together, hand in hand, voice in voice, with Tùriallyilios's dark robes falling and flowing and softly brushing the gossamer of Aelùvandellë's gown. They left that place, where the stars were bright, unhindered by the atmosphere, and where the lilies bloomed. It was a strange, fertile warm place, surrounded by such eternal coldness. The planet sighed, and the stars were never silent.