p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Inspiration / Notes:/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""There's a special place in hell for me-it's called the throne."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Princess is kept at home and under supervision by her mother. The High King allowed Princess to be courted by two of his courtiers but the Queen objected and moved her daughter away from court. Queen keeps a "court" of keepers for her daughter, young women who are loyal to the Queen. The court of keepers try to balance being Princess' friends and being loyal to the over-protective Queen. As one of the few hobbies the Queen will allow Princess is allowed to grow flowers. Princess grows the deadliest flowers in the world and is always trying to breed new, more deadly blooms. One day, while out searching for more wild nightshade to add to her garden.../span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"
/span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Princess Sharae, do you really need more nightshade?" one of the fluffs asked as we meandered through the woods. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Do you really need any of this?" one of the other fluffs muttered under her breath. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I used the last of my pure nightshade clippings to splice a new flower with the new purple, bell-looking flower mother brought home to me," I explained, truthfully, "I want nightshade that hasn't been mixed with any of my other greens. I'll just take a few clippings and then we can go back to the meadow and have our hair braided and decorated with the others."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"That wasn't really my plan. There were three more fluffs, my nickname for them, that we had left back in the meadow. I'd left them braiding laurel flowers into their hair. I knew the fumes from the fresh-cut branches would put them to sleep eventually. They apparently didn't realize what plant I had given them from my garden or else they didn't realize laurel was incredibly poisonous. Finding the other three asleep would delay the fluffs running to my mother. I hoped I would have enough time to explore the deep cavernous place where nightshade grew so abundantly. The nightshade I'd taken from nearby the cavern had been highly poisonous, more so than any other cuttings I'd found. When I'd found it the fluffs hadn't even let me get close to the opening. I tried not to hold the fluffs mixed loyalties against them. My mother is Queen of this realm and she gave me the fluffs for companions after I was whisked away from the High King's court. I knew that they were meant to be her spies. Mother called them my court but I thought of them as my court of keepers./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Gardening is one of the few hobbies that she approves for me. I tell my mother that I am intrigued by rare plants and flowers so I keep a few rare, unusual plants and flowers in my greenhouses and gardens. I grow rice in soil enriched with arsenic, curare vines, a nux vomica tree, the poisonous flowering carrot called hemlock, deadly nightshade bushes, and other poisonous flowers and plants. I cultivate poisonous flora. I make it my own by attempting to make more poisonous and deadly flowers. Ideally, I'd like to make the most beautiful and deadly flower in the world someday. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I tied up the long, flowing fabric of my chiton and peplos impatiently as the forest became thicker with trees, bushes, and vines. The only clothes my mother provided were made for form over function. Sometimes I thought perhaps the robes she brought to me were designed to intentionally impair my freedom of movement. It wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility. I found the frilly pants beneath my dress to be far more comfortable and easy to move around in./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I didn't think about escaping. I knew that wherever I went my mother would find me. The harder I fought her for my freedom, the tighter she held me close. Perhaps if my father had not been taken from us then she would not be so controlling. She thought of me as her baby daughter even after two hundred years. Once I had reached womanhood, more than fifty years ago, the High King Eishziel had summoned us to his court. There I had learned a love and knowledge of herbs and poisonous flora from another Queen. Two among his court had pursued me delicately, despite fear of my mother. Eventually my mother realized that the High King sought a husband for me and she had removed us both from court without regard for my objections. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"We eventually came upon the mysterious cave that beckoned me. Even in the brightest part of the day the cave seemed immediately dark. It was intriguing. Deadly nightshade protected the entrance to the cave but I was an immortal creature and I knew my way around poisonous shrubs. There was a break in the shrubbery just large enough for me to slip through. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Princess, don't get so close," one of my keepers objected. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I was used to ignoring them. I knew from some experience that they would not follow me. The darkness seemed so solid just inside the cave's entrance. As soon as they lost sight of me, they would run back to the others. It had taken us long enough to get to the cave from the meadow that they would find the other girls asleep. I didn't know for certain if they would try to awaken the others or if they would go straight for my mother. In either case, they would hesitate and any delay would give me that much more time to explore. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"After taking a few cuttings I surreptitiously slipped inside the deadly nightshade shrubbery carefully but quickly. The darkness that had hidden the light inside the cave also hid the outside world. I barely glanced back but there was no noon-day light inside this cave. I had crossed some threshold, I realized with excitement. My mother, Queen of all that was light and life, would not allow a place so cold and dark to exist in her realm. I had left her realm of never-ending warmth and sun./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"The cavern was not the perfect pitch black darkness I had been expecting. Somehow, soft light allowed me to see the jagged, rocky walls around me. I stepped into a taller, more open part of the cavern where the roof of the cave was higher. A strange green glowing creature, a kind of worm, lived on the limestone rocks and fireflies shimmered ahead of me. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"This place is full of shadows and darkness, I thought happily. The blue-green glow did little to light the entire cavern. There was a great sense of emptiness the further in I ventured. Some part of me felt how large the cavern opened up around me. I walked carefully along the edge of the cavern, avoiding the water. I had crossed some magic barrier and I did not wish to find out yet what magic the glowing blue water might hold. I followed the river through the cavern. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""You do not belong here," the cacophonous, hissing voice told me fiercely. I had come upon a boat with a shrouded person whose face I could not make out in the dim light. The black himation was pulled up and over the person's head. All I could see were eyes glowing beneath the cowl with flashing grey-blue light. I felt that keen gaze pierce me. My back was already straight but I tilted my chin up under the angry stare. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I belong wherever I please," I responded with superiority and disdain. I was the daughter of the immortal Queen Sariel. I was an immortal goddess of magic in my own right. The list of those who could speak to me in such a tone was very short and this wraith acting as a ferryman was not the High King Eishziel or my mother, Sariel of Rathia./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Those who wish to cross from the shore to reach the gates must pay the waterway toll to the ferryman," the shade with eyes like blue fire told me. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I considered what I had brought with me, with was close to nothing. I had the basket where I'd put some clippings of nightshade and a few flowers. I wore a himation that I could stand to lose. Unlike the ferryman's thick wool cloak mine was delicate and decorous silk, a garment that reflected my mother's sense of style. It was a violet color, a pastel purple to indicate youth and royalty. There were small gold hoops sewn into the lightweight cloth and the border of the . /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""My himation is many argenteus worth of silk and gold," I proposed, "I will trade you my himation for safe passage to the gate and back."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"The ferryman's eyes of chilly, pale fire regarded by with a strange coldness for a moment./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I promise safe passage to the gates but the return voyage will cost you than you know," he told me cryptically, "You will make the trip safely, to the end of the river and back, but I will not be your escort when you leave."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I was excited but I tried to hide the energy of my joy beneath the layers of authority and restraint that I had learned at my mother's knee. With apparent nonchalance I unpinned my shawl and held it out to him. He swept his arm, clothed in many layers of the blackest fabric, over my hand and the garment disappeared. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I stood well back from the ferryman and hoped I would not need to pay any further fares. I pinned the brooch that had held my himation over my shoulders to the capelet-like overfold of my peplos. The narrow boat was silent as it glided through the still water. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""The diamond gate is guarded by the dog," the ferryman told me. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I was promised safe passage." I gave the back of his cowl a dark look. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I promised safe passage on the river that holds the gods to truth," he said, obviously irritated, "The river compels me to tell you that the dog can be overcome with song."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Thank you."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I stepped onto the shore. I stood at the precipice of a journey that had already lasted longer than I had intended. I was about to face a dog guarding a gate. I wasn't even sure why I wanted so badly to see what lay ahead of me. I turned back to face the ferryman on his boat, ready to ask to return to where he had found me, but the words died on my lips. I knew what lay behind me and it had driven me this far. My mother might not let me out of my room for fifty years after this rebellion. I might as well follow the road as far as it led. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I found that the river I'd been taken across was only one of five rivers in the place. The five rivers seemed to run out like spokes in a wheel from this swampland. I started to cross through the marsh but something stopped me. My feet sank into the soft mud and I could not move them, though I knew I should be able to walk. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Did he warn you of grief?" a sad voice asked./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Did he warn you of fear?" This question was spoken with a quaver./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Did he warn you," a cough interrupted the words, "Did he warn you of disease?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Did he warn you of old age?" a fourth voice asked, more hoarse than the others./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""The ferryman only warned me about the dog," I answered truthfully, looking around for the source of the voices./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""The three headed snake dog guards the gate," the sad voice answered. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I felt weary in my bones. The thought that my mother might be afraid for me struck me. Tears pricked at the backs of my eyes as I thought about how my disappearance would hurt her. She was my mother. What kind of daughter leaves her mother to grief as I had done? I felt the pain she would feel as my own. I felt the pain of the loss of my father. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I wiped the wetness away from my cheeks. I knew these thoughts were not my own./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What grieves you?" the first voice asked me./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I grieve the life I will never have if I go back," I told the voice, "I grieve for the woman I will never be if I allow my mother to dictate that I remain a child forever. I will never be a woman in her eyes or in her realm. I will never live as a woman under her rule. I will never love as a woman. I grieve at the thought of going back and losing myself. She will grieve only at the loss of a daughter she doesn't see clearly. She doesn't know me because she doesn't allow me to be myself. She will grieve only for a vision of a girl who does not exist."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Oh," the voice of grief, for that was who it was, "You are more sad to return, too sad. I would let you pass to face the dog."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Suddenly I wondered why I had bothered to come this far. The dog would surely kill me. No dog could be defeated only with the power of song, surely not a dog that guarded the gate to wherever this place led. My hand shook as I moved to hold myself tight. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What frightens you, little girl?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Perhaps if she had not called me a little girl I might have turned back at that moment. I knew that these thoughts were also not my own./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I am afraid of my mother's vast reach and the finite space of the chambers she will lock me in if I return to her," I answered, "I am more afraid of confinement than I am of any dog."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Especially not a dog who can be defeated with a song, I thought to myself./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""If you do not fear to go forward then go forward you must," the quaking voice broke near the end./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"There was a cough, "Not yet. She still lives. You will not turn back for grief or fear but one must still to pass through this realm. What ails you, child?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"Whatever magic this voice possessed, I could not feel it. There were some benefits to being an immortal goddess of life. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Nothing ails me," I laughed at this voice, "Except my mother's spies, perhaps. She has gifted me with a court of keepers who she calls my friends. They are loyal to her above me, of course. Here I am free of this disease."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I cannot touch you with disease," the confused voice coughed, a great hacking cough, "You cannot be made ill. You may pass."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""You appear to be young," the last voice said, sounding amused, "Perhaps you would trade years for passage and meet the dog as a spectre? If you died of old age, the dog would let you pass."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I laughed again./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I am not some mortal creature whose years you may steal. I am a goddess, the daughter of a Queen, and I am immortal. I have both eternal life and eternal youth," I began to sound proud and haughty again, "What I do not have is eternal patience. I will pass through this swamp and I will pass through the gate. I will pass. Now."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Goodbye, immortal princess," the voices whispered. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I felt my feet being released from whatever magic had bound me. I expected the dog was next so I began to sing. I was in many ways still my mother's daughter, for all the ways that I was not my mother. I had the gift of a fine voice though it was not the most beautiful voice at the High King's court. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Where is the home for me? Am I to be set in the sea," I sang, "Or in Paphos' isle, where the rainless meadows smile?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I saw a single, dark elm tree growing with dusty spider webs clinging to the backs and bottoms of every leaf. I walked near the edge of the trees reach, looking up into the leaves. I was struck by the memory of nightmares I had long-forgotten, dreams of the endless monotony of life under my mother's stern hand, and the terror of dreaming of a death which would never come for an immortal. I passed from under the tree and felt the weight of those dreams leave me. The bit of song carried me through and my shoulders lifted. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""He did not warn me about the tree, either," I murmured to myself./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I stepped to the edge of the swamp and I felt eyes on me. I looked and I saw something that was not at all a dog. It looked like a giant scaled salamander, with three dog's heads. It was lying on the ground in front of a gate made of black diamond. It was the only thing in the entire realm that I had seen glitter so far. I began my song again./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Where is the home for me? Am I to be set in the sea," I sang, "Or in Paphos' isle, where the rainless meadows smile?"/spanspan style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"br class="kix-line-break" /br class="kix-line-break" /span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"The three headed, snake-like dog's flaming eyes watched me carefully. His ears had perked up at the sound of my voice but it did not stir from its post. I walked past the dog, still singing, and I was finally through the diamond gate. I looked ahead of me toward the tall spires of a giant castle built within the large cavernous realm. The gray stone formed stately, pointed arches and sweeping windows. The tall, ornate towers were propped up to create a taller, wider, and nobler scene. I wondered what royal immortals lived in this wonderful, dark place. I shivered as I smiled./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I crossed a long, narrow bridge and approached the large doors of the castle. The great, wide tall doors opened for me. I passed through a courtyard and then through another set of large doors which led into the great hall. I saw an empty throne and I wondered who lived in this sunless realm. I searched the castle. It felt full but I saw no one. I walked past a room with a large, long table. There were plates filled with food but I knew that to take food not offered was a grave offense. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I walked to the next room and found a side entrance that led out to the stables and carriage house. The first horse was at least thirteen hands high with slate grey eyes. He was a muscular horse, his mane and tail coarse, and entirely black with a green shine in color. The next horse was jet black with eye sockets filled with pale blue flames. The third horse was black but he spit red, hot flames at me and I shushed him impatiently. His feed smelled strongly of human flesh. The fourth horse I saw before turning back was jet black in body, with hollow and empty eyes. This horse looked like a skeleton and its white mane left frost on my hand when I went to stroke him. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I returned to the castle, searching. I found many rooms on the first floor. Finally I tried up the stairs in the great hall. On the second floor I found a balcony and a library. I found books I had never heard of before and I began reading. I fell asleep in one of the chairs in the library, with a book in my hands. When I woke, still tired, I went to one of the empty bedrooms I had found and curled up to rest. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Someone has been sitting in my chair," I heard a masculine voice rumble in a low tone, "Someone has been reading my books. Who is this, still sleeping in my bed?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I sat up in the large four poster bed and stared, unsure of what to say./spanspan style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"br class="kix-line-break" /br class="kix-line-break" /span/p
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""A beautiful young woman has come to my realm of the dead still living," he spoke softly, a whispering voice that was rough and deep. I felt the fullness of that voice rasp over my nerves like the water organ that I had heard played at the High King's court. The male figure was dignified, dressed in darkest purple, but his face seemed gloomy. His pale complexion appeared nearly translucent, framed as it was by black curls and the black fur lining of his cloak. This was the immortal whose realm I had entered unknowingly. I tilted my head down and held out my hands in greeting. It was a sign that I had brought no weapons with me. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I walked in through a cave," I answered honestly, though he had been polite enough not to ask a question./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""What a well-made basket," the fundamental grandeur and majesty of the sound of his voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I had set my basket of deadly flowers on the bedside table. He inspected the nightshade./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I have a few flowers in my basket," I answered him slowly, "Most of the flowers are deadly nightshade. I will give you my flowers gladly as a guest gift."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"If he accepted the flowers as a guest gift then the rules of hospitality dictated I would be treated with hospitality. I would not be polite to ask for any amenities but it was the responsibility of the host to offer food, drink, a chance to bathe, and perhaps a gift upon leaving./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I will accept your guest gift," he answered, taking the basket, "This may be your room while you are here. I will use another. The bathing room is to your right, through that door. I have run a bath for you."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I appreciate your kind hospitality," I told him./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"He disappeared quickly through the door I had used to enter. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"-/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"As King Surriel of Dardael, I was one of the immortal gods, descendants of the first living creations of the unnamable deity. I had been tasked with the responsibility of watching over and managing the ever expanding realm of souls and lost dreams. I watched the young, beautiful woman who had wandered into his realm. The castle Dardael was in the center of the Underdarkland and I had watched her from the moment she entered, even going so far as to send one of my horses in the guise of a ferryman to escort her across the river that bordered the outer edges of my realm. I had been pleased when she had asked for safe passage. I hadn't expected her to pass the tree, the shades, or the three headed dog that guarded the entrance to my castle and the heart of my kingdom. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I was entranced by her beauty and her bravery. She was relatively slender, with wide hips. Her body was soft, curved, and full of youth and light. Her skin was tawny beige satin. Her red-brown hair and the natural streaks of honey and gold framed a heart shaped face, round eyes, and high cheekbones. The color that graced her cheeks, a warm coral, had no place in my realm. Her eyes were a kind of hazel, gold with a ring of dark green on the outer edge. I did not recognize her but she looked like a young Sariel, who I knew to rule over the endless summerland of Ratha where the flowers always bloomed and even the rare rain was warm. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I noted which books she chose after she wandered into my library. Eventually she moved on and settled into my bed. I realized that she smelled of honey, lemon, sandalwood, and witch hazel. My black satin pillows pooled around her while she slept. I spoke softly. I did not want to frighten her when she woke to find me standing over her. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"After she woke I offered her the use of my bed and my bath. I left quickly. It would have been customary to offer a guest food but to eat the food of my realm was to be forbidden to leave the Underdarkland. Until after she ate, which she would have no reason to do, it would be impolite of me to ask her any of the questions that haunted me. Who was she? Why had she come to my realm? Most importantly, would she ever want to stay?/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"-/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"I bathed, pleased with the hot temperature of water although it smelled strongly of salt and sulfur. After I finished the large bath and dried myself with a large black towel I found clothing waiting for me in the bedroom. There was a new cloak as well made of rich satin the color of the sky at twilight's last breath. I dressed in the deep, impossibly dark blue. I exited the bedroom to look for my host. He was lounging on the balcony that overlooked the great hall, staring down at the throne. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I do not often have visitors," he spoke low and slowly, "I am aware of the custom in other realms of offering food as a good host. However, this is the realm of the dead and the lost. If you consume food of my realm you will never be able to leave."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I must return then," I said, full of sorrow, "I will grow hungry eventually."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"He looked startled, turning to me, "No, you will not. Time does not pass here as it does in the other realms. You will not know hunger. You slept because it is your habit but you will know no weariness and no hunger for as long as you dwell here."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Do you eat?" I asked, curious./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""Yes," he smiled, "I have few pleasures as the King of this realm. I eat for the joy of the tastes. I bathe for love of the experience. I sleep perchance to dream."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""You were not born here, if time does not pass here," I told him./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""No, I was born in the High King's Court. My mother lived there rather than stay here with my father," he explained, "I came here once I was of age to take my father's place. He lives in the High King's court with my mother now. It is our tradition and the only way for my line of kings to produce children. No one can be born in the land of the dead."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""You have no siblings?" I asked, feeling sorry for this figure, "Who keeps you company?"/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I keep myself company in the library of lost books," he shrugged, "I keep myself busy with my duties, managing the souls of the deceased and the spirits of the lost and abandoned. I keep immortal horses; they like to be tended."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"He looked at me inquisitively, then carefully said, "You had flowers with you. My realm hosts a range of gardens filled with extinct blooms."/span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I would love to take a walk," I smiled. He was still carefully not asking me questions./span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I am Surriel of Dardael," he told me, as he offered my his bent arm. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""I am Sharae of Rathia," I carefully put my hand under and around his forearm. /span/p
div dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;" /div
p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"span style="font-size: 14.666666666666666px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;""It is my pleasure to meet you, Sharae," he whispered, "You are enchanting."/span/p