Chapter One (The Gates Forever Closed)
- By Darrell Walker
Westenmor, A Kingdom of Arcadia.
What humans called The Age of Enlightenment, but the Fae knew as the height of The Shattering.
Arcadia slept. A large, full moon shone over the rolling hills and thick forests. Wispy clouds sailed the night sky, casting dark shadows on the land below. All was quiet, peaceful--or so it seemed.
Far below the moon's pure radiance a city sprawled over the rolling land. It was a beautiful thing, a gargantuan thing. It was a city of legend, of mystery, and of unsurpassing beauty. It was a city of the Fae.
Within the Inner City, where those of Noble Sidhe lineage dwelt, rose the majestic spires of House Fiona. As was fitting of one of the oldest of the Noble Houses, the House's main stronghold and residence was a breathtaking and awe-inspiring thing to see. Gleaming white stonewalls reached dauntingly high into the air. Fine veins of blue and purple worked their way through the impregnable walls. Scores upon scores of towers and spires stretched beyond the comforting embrace of the surrounding walls--reached so high as to seem to touch the sky itself.
This bastion of Faerie Nobility was an edifice of power, of control over the Dreaming and over its subjects. The Fiona required only two things of their subjects: obedience and respect. All who were wise gave these things readily, willingly, and abundantly. Very few were foolish enough to try the Nobles' patience, for just as the Fae ruled Arcadia, the Nobles ruled the Fae.
King Reginald Stormbringer paced the throne room like an enraged griffin. His wife, Elnora, watched worriedly. She'd never seen him this angry before. Elnora paused a moment to admire her husband. He was beautiful, there was no doubt about that, but where Elnora had an elegant, almost fragile beauty, Reginald's beauty spoke of pure unbridled power--and more than that, the ability to use it. His hair was the purest white, long and silky, with a braided lock at each temple. He was a tall man, powerfully built, immovable; but the distinguishing feature of his countenance, indeed the feature that had prompted Fae to name him Stormbringer, was his eyes. The color of a deep lake in winter, Stormbringer's eyes were usually cold; however, on rare occasions as these, they crackled like lightning with his anger. Elnora had seen even the proudest of knights stammer like children in the face of Stormbringer's mighty anger. Elnora only hoped he could maintain control, for this time it was one she loved who had brought on her husband's ire--someone she loved more than life itself.
He was her son, product of her own womb, and he was hers. The Fae had constantly been in a state of retreat before the force of banality in the world since the beginning of the Sundering. Now with the Shattering, humanity’s disbelief was slowly destroying the dream that was the Fae. Because of this, there were fewer and fewer births each generation. Births within the Noble Houses were even more rare. Times were hard for the Fae, and the future looked even more bleak...
"Where is that damn boy?" Stormbringer shouted, rounding on his wife."I told you to send for him!"
"I did send for him, my husband. Please, be patient. I'm sure Aerinn will be here soon." Elnora's crystalline voice cut through the king’s anger like a sharp blade. His features calmed, and his eyes did not flash so brightly. Elnora sighed in relief. Now, perhaps, he would listen. "Reginald, perhaps we should discuss some more about what to do with him--"
"We've discussed it enough! You agreed." Stormbringer pointed a finger at his wife, "You agreed this is the way it must be. Don't go getting soft on me now, woman!"
Elnora felt her back stiffen, and her own eyes flashed with fire, "I will not tolerate that tone from you, Reginald! I need...no! I demand your respect!"
Stormbringer moved to his wife, and put his arms around her. "I’m sorry, love. I just don't want to be made out to be the bad guy on this. We must present our son with a unified front--"
Elnora sighed. Did the man see everything in terms of warfare and conquest?
Stormbringer’s eyes narrowed. A man did not survive centuries of marriage without learning the meaning of every sound, every gesture his mate made. "You know what I mean, and you do tend to have a soft heart towards the boy when he needs a firm hand."
"Aerinn is not a boy!" Elnora flared up, ready to defend her son, even against his own father. "He is a grown man, and you must recognize this!"
"I must recognize nothing!" Stormbringer shouted, making the very walls of the room shake. "A man does not do the things he has done! A man would not disgrace our family--our house in such a way! You have gone too far! I will not allow you to shield him from my wrath any longer! I have had it!"
Elnora's lips tightened. So, that was it, was it? As she bowed her head to her husband, a part of Elnora wept for the rift growing between them But when it came to her son, no one, not even her own husband, his father, would keep her from her motherly duties; and right now her son needed her more than he ever had, for his father had decided on the most dire of punishments for Aerinn’s irresponsible behavior.
Tomorrow night her son would be banished from Arcadia.
Lightning flashed in the courtyard as the two men danced about each other, wielding slender blades of shining steel. Or rather, they appeared as men, from a distance at least; but a closer inspection revealed they were anything but. Both were tall, regal--their fine-boned faces were beautiful to behold, even locked in concentration as they were now. Both men had pointed ears that tilted back slightly on their heads.
There the similarities ended. One was dark and handsome, with long, thick black hair that fell in waves down his back. He was powerfully built, a warrior, and wielded his weapon with skill--his body moving with the grace, confidence, and precision obtained only from years of diligent practice. His dark eyes glittered from their sockets, searching his foe for weakness...it wasn’t hard. His foe had a great many weaknesses, and he seemed to almost be flaunting them this night.
The second figure seemed almost an opposite of the first. He was tall as well, but thin, graceful. He was fair of skin with long golden hair, and eyes of the deepest blue seemed to radiate kindness. He watched his opponent warily, parrying and dodging. It would have been immediately obvious to a watcher with any familiarity in the ways of war that this man had neither the heart, nor the skill of true warrior.
The swords sent out peals of pure, ringing sound and flashes of Glamour as the page hurried into the courtyard. He took one look at the combatants, and wisely decided to wait with his important message for the duel's conclusion.
Aerinn was tiring, and his opponent knew it. What little grace and form he possessed was being outdone by his weariness. He was throwing everything he had into just keeping his opponent's blade from him--wild parries and last-minute dodges were all that was keeping him from defeat. Aerinn blinked as sweat ran into his eyes, blurring his vision, and barely sidestepped a vicious lunge. His eyes narrowed. If that was the way his opponent was going to fight....
Devon blinked as his exhausted foe suddenly lashed at him with his sword, taking the offensive. Devon hurriedly assumed a defensive stance and deflected the strikes. He smiled slowly. His opponent fought much better when impassioned, but he was too tired to keep this up for long.
Aerinn's arms felt like lead, and he knew his swings were slowing. His sword felt indescribably heavy in his hands.... He almost saw the strike in time--his opponent had feinted and then lunged, his blade coming right for Aerinn's heart. There was nothing he could do....
Devon's blade speared through Aerinn’s heart like a hot knife through butter. Aerinn gasped as cold numbness soaked into his body and dropped to his knees.
Devon pulled his sword from Aerinn's chest and threw it across the courtyard disgustedly. "What the hell was that Aerinn? That was a simple maneuver; you should have seen through it! Get up!" Aerinn was still on his knees, grasping his chest, trying to breathe. Devon knew well the bone-gnawing ache such a strike from a practice-sword left in one's body, but he was in no mood for sympathy. He grabbed Aerinn's arm by the shoulder and hauled him to his feet roughly. Aerinn groaned, swayed, but stood. "If I am to teach you, you must practice, Aerinn! Look at you! You can't defend yourself, let alone that little tramp you've been having your way with--"
Devon knew as soon as the words left his mouth that they were a mistake. Aerinn's slack body went rigid, his eyes burning with cold anger. Devon's world shook as Aerinn's fist struck him in the jaw like a hammer....
Devon looked at the night sky curiously, watching the clouds cross the moon, almost a full-moon...maybe tomorrow night...A concerned face staring at him broke his thoughts--it was blocking the moon.
"Are you all right?" Aerinn looked at his friend worriedly, he'd hit his head on the paving stone of the courtyard. "I'm sorry, Devon, I shouldn't have hit you. I lost my temper..." Aerinn held out his hand and helped Devon to his feet.
Devon rubbed his jaw, winced at the pain in the back of his head."If I'd known you could hit like that, I wouldn't have gotten so angry with you, Aerinn."
"Yeah, well," Aerinn blushed, "I've told you, you can learn a lot from humans if you only listen." Aerinn steadied his friend, who was swaying slightly on his feet. "Maybe you should have the Healer look at that--"
"What? And have everyone in court know you knocked me down? I think not! That was a good punch, though." Devon worked his jaw. "Why don’t you study the sword with me? Not just whenever, but I mean a full apprenticeship. You have talent, Aerinn, and passion. You just need to apply yourself more."
Aerinn waved his friend off. "No, Devon, you know how I feel. Fighting is for men who aren't civilized enough to settle their disputes reasonably."
Devon rolled his eyes, snorted in exasperation. "Yeah, but what are you going to do if one of these uncivilized men come and want a fight?"
"I'll give them what they want."
Devon turned away, fed up, then spun back around. "You’re impossible, you know that? You're living in a delusion! You can’t just give people what they want when they come to take something by force! And what are you going to do if they want that human of yours? She's quite lovely, Aerinn, and I know quite a few lords who wouldn’t mind having her for a chambermaid."
Aerinn fought the anger that surged within him, tried to maintain calm. Even so, he could not keep the coldness from his voice, "You demean things you don't understand when you say such things, Devon, and if you are so dense, I wonder why I call you my friend."
"Now look, Aerinn, there's no reason to get all upset about this! You should listen to me--I'm your friend. I'm trying to help you out here! Talk to the girl, walk with the girl, make love to the girl, Aerinn. Enjoy her, that's what humans are for; but if you start talking this romantic nonsense where the King can hear, he'll have you drawn and quartered!"
Aerinn sighed. "You don't understand, Devon--"
"No, it's you who doesn't understand, Aerinn. Humans and Faeries don’t mix--they never have, and they never will. And there's good reason for it. Humans make good servants, good play-things, but that's all, Aerinn--"
A polite noise from the page interrupted Devon. "Yes, what is it?"Aerinn asked impatiently, wanting to defend himself and his lover to his backwards friend.
"The King, your father, has requested your presence in the Main Throne Room, Prince Aerinn." The page's voice was perfectly-moderated, perfectly neutral, giving no indication of his feelings or opinions about the argument he must have overheard. Aerinn snorted. He was a good page. Aerinn caught Devon looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Devon shook his head slightly.
"Very well, then. You may tell my father that I will be with him shortly."
The page bowed low, walked backwards five steps, then turned and fled the courtyard.
Aerinn met Devon's eyes after the sound of the boy's steps had faded."What do you think?"
"It doesn't sound good, Aerinn. It's the middle of the night. Your father is usually long in bed by now."
"No, it doesn't look good at all..." A sudden thought occurred to Aerinn. "You don't suppose he knows do you? About Selene?"
Devon sighed. "Aerinn...everybody knows."
Aerinn's face went dead white. "Sweet Luna," he breathed, then grabbed his sword, Arbingsol, from the wall and fled the courtyard.
Devon watched his friend leave, knowing he would never see him again. He shook his head sadly, sighed, then took up his blade, going through the forms, trying not to worry about his lost friend.
Aerinn hurried down the corridor, his sword banging against his legs with his long strides. Stormbringer's palace was huge, almost obscene, and no expense had been spared. The Fae of House Fiona were known for their passions, and Reginald Stormbringer's passion was luxury--luxury he had earned after countless years of war.
Aerinn barely noticed the ornate tapestries on the walls, or the beautiful silk rugs on the floor. He'd seen it all before, countless times. To him it seemed empty and lifeless compared to the beauty he found in the forest....
Thoughts of the forest inevitably led to thoughts of Selene, as they always did. Aerinn blushed hotly as he strode through a large, columned archway, glad of the late hour so no one would notice his embarrassment. Selene...her name whispered like a spring breeze through his mind, filled every pore of his being.
Aerinn remembered the day he’d met her as if it had been an hour ago. He had been spending a day in a large forest in a country humans called England...he thought that was it. He wasn't very good with names, especially human names--they changed so quickly. He had been strolling through the forest, enjoying the smell of the wildflowers and the warmth of the sun on his face. Aerinn found Earth beautiful. Most Fae believed Earth was no more than a dim reflection of Arcadia, and surely sometimes it seemed so. Aerinn found the muted colors of Earth strangely inspiring, and he especially loved the springs in England. He loved the somber, cloud-covered days, the rain that seemed always to be somewhere between a heavy fog and a light drizzle. The dreariness seemed to lift his spirit, and made the sunny days seem that much more beautiful.
Aerinn leaned against the wall of the hall, closing his eyes, allowing the memories to fill him, to become real in their clarity. His father could wait; Selene called...
Aerinn walked along the forest path, the sun warm on his face. The brilliant green of the leaves above him were set against the most beautiful, deep blue sky he had ever seen. Aerinn breathed deeply, allowing the clean, spring air to fill his lungs.
The music so perfectly fit the mood of the day, that at first Aerinn wasn’t consciously aware of it; then the sweet melody pulled at his heart-strings, and he stopped, holding his breath, listening. It was a woman singing, not far away, and she had the voice of an angel. Aerinn felt his heart would burst if he could not see her, could not watch her quietly, unseen, as she filled the air with such beauty. Almost before he realized he'd made the decision, his feet were leading him toward the voice.
She had no idea he was there. Aerinn's mottled-green cloak blended with the trees and underbrush perfectly, and he knew how to move within the forest. He watched her in awe. She was beautiful; he had known that would be the case, but hers was a beauty that took his breath away, quickened his heart within his chest. Long, raven-black hair fell over her shoulders and down her back in silky waves. She was fair of skin and had the darkest eyes Aerinn had ever seen. Even at a distance as he was, they pulled him in. She was dressed in peasant clothing, which did little to enhance her womanly curves, but Aerinn knew she was beautiful. Aerinn listened to her bittersweet song; it was a dirge of some kind; he had the feeling she'd made it up herself. Though there were no words, the music her voice made seemed to speak to Aerinn’s heart. It told of a woman, heartbroken, alone, searching for a love she'd begun to lose hope of. Aerinn's heart broke at the song. He realized then that he must speak with her, for he could not live without her another moment....
Aerinn came back to the present with a start as the palace trembled around him. He quickly cast a Seeing cantrip, and saw the massive creature landing on the roof, right above him. He smiled wanly. Whitegold, my friend, you have come when I need you most...as always. Aerinn did not speak, but sent his thoughts toward his friend.
A voice deep, strong and confidant, with the wisdom of millennia spoke in his thoughts. I heard there might be trouble. I am here for you, as always, my Prince.
Aerinn smiled. I will be with you shortly, old friend, I must go speak to my father.
Aerinn pushed himself from the wall and started running towards the Main Throne Room. He had kept his father waiting. He would be furious.
Aerinn stood before the huge double doors and swallowed hard. His father, and his fate, lay on the other side of those doors. He slowly reached his hand for the knocker—
"Aerinn, Prince Aerinn," the hurried voice stayed Aerinn's hand. He surprised himself by sighing in relief.
He turned toward the messenger, "Yes?"
"The Queen wishes to speak with you immediately, Highness."
"Tell her she must wait; I have in audience with the King, and I mustn’t keep him waiting."
"Begging your pardon, Highness, but she commanded you come immediately."
It was an easy decision, really. At this moment he'd much rather face his mother's cool compassion than his father's blazing anger. "Very well, then, take me to her."
Aerinn entered his mother's receiving chamber. She rose from the couch and gestured for him to sit. "Would you like something to drink, Aerinn?"
Aerinn shook his head, "Father's waiting on me, Mother, so if you could make this quick...."
Elnora smiled. "My son, you should know me better. No matter how long we talk, you will leave my chambers at the exact instant you entered them. Besides, I am with your father now. I'll make sure he keeps a hold of his temper."
Aerinn shook his head in amazement. He still wasn't used to it. His mother was a very well-respected wizardress, and it was widely rumored that she was a Master of Chronos, the Art of Time. Aerinn knew that the rumors were true. He really didn't understand the Art, but he knew that she was capable of being in many places at once. She had once explained to him that she really wasn't in more than one place at once, but Aerinn had understood very little of her speech on the nuances of space-time.
She also had the ability to make time slow, stop, or speed up at her whim. Aerinn had overheard a conversation between his mother and Morgonn, the Court Wizard, about Chronos. According to Morgonn, His mother had done things with the Art that no one else could. Aerinn had never been able to get her to admit it, though. She was modest almost to a fault.
"In that case, I will have a drink. I could use one." Aerinn sat and took the offered glass of sparkling wine from his mother. He sipped it slowly, allowing its warmth to soak into him.
"Your father knows, Aerinn."
Aerinn blinked. "Knows about what, Mother?"
"Don't play games with me, Aerinn!" she snapped.
It was then that Aerinn noticed the redness in her eyes. She’d been crying. He instantly moved closer to her on the couch and took her into his arms. His heart sank as he held her. "What is it, Mother? What is wrong?"
Elnora looked at her son and the tears welled forth anew. "He is banishing you, Aerinn. As of tomorrow, you will no longer be a Prince of Arcadia, and you will never be allowed within its gates again...." He voice broke and she sobbed violently, brokenly against him. Aerinn held her close, his world falling out from under him.
"Banished..." His voice held disbelief, awe, and pure terror."Sweet Luna..." He held his mother tightly, and began to cry into her golden hair.
Aerinn walked into the Main Throne Room with dread heavy in his heart. His mind was so preoccupied with his fate that he didn't even blink an eye at the sight of his mother speaking with his father in a low voice, even though he'd just left her minutes ago down the hall. His father rounded on him, anger flashing in his eyes. Aerinn dropped gracefully to his knees and touched his forehead to the floor. "I have come as summoned, Father."
"Get on your feet!" Stormbringer roared. "I will not have a son of mine groveling, no matter what he's done!"
Aerinn got to his feet. "If I could just explain--"
"There's nothing to explain! Not only have you been fraternizing with a human, but you lied to me!"
"You lied to me, Aerinn! I will not tolerate dishonesty, especially not from my own son!"
Elnora moved as if to interrupt, but Stormbringer stayed her with aglare. She settled for folding her hands in her lap and looking at her son worriedly.
"You have spent too much time on Earth, too much time with humans. I have been too lenient with you, I realize that now. But it is much too late for corrective measures, Aerinn. You were forbidden to return to Earth. Still you went." Stormbringer's eyes bored into Aerinn’s like angry daggers. "Then the gates began to fail, the trods became unsafe, and travel between worlds in general was forbidden, and still you went!" Stormbringer was reaching a rage, his voice thundering throughout the chamber, the walls resonating with its power.
Reginald turned from his son and paced angrily. Aerinn swallowed hard, tried to think of some kind of defense for his behavior; but his Father was right. He had been barred from Earth, but he had still gone to visit Selene, even knowing the danger of letting banality into Arcadia. Not only had he disgraced his family and House, but he had put all of the Fae in danger. He could fight his father's anger, but he could not combat his own feelings of guilt.
"But these things, these things I could have forgiven. 'It is youth,' I would have said, 'a phase, it will pass.'" His father turned back towards Aerinn, looking him hard in the eyes. His next words came out in a hiss, but Aerinn heard every one as if it were shouted, "But you dared to take an Oath with this, this human beggar!"
Aerinn choked, the words, "You know about the Oath?" escaping his lips before he could think.
Stormbringer sneered, "Yes, I know of the Oath--an Oath, made binding by the Dreaming itself, an Oath made to a mortal! You swore the Oath of Joining with a human, Aerinn. That itself is expressly forbidden!" Stormbringer spat on the floor. "It is sacrilege! Blasphemy!"
"I love her, Father, I've always loved her, and I always will."
"I don't want to hear your drivel, Aerinn. I've already heard quite enough of it from the court gossipers!" The King's majestic face twisted with disgust. "It is ridiculous to say you love a mortal; they’re not even capable of returning it! No, you have renounced what you are by involving yourself in such scandalous behavior. You have betrayed your family, your House, your King, and you have betrayed your people!"
Aerinn flinched before his father's uncontrolled rage. He'd had no idea it would be this bad; he had hoped to reason with the man, but Aerinn could see that his father was beyond the reach of any kind of reason.
"You shame me, Aerinn. And you will shame me even more before this is over. Kor will escort you to your chambers, and you will remain there until you are sent for. Tomorrow you will be taken to King's Grove and you will receive your heart's desire. There your will be stripped of your Title as Prince, and your rights as my son. If you love this Earth so much that you would put to risk all that you are supposed to represent, then you can have your blessed Earth!"
Aerinn paled. "King's Grove," he breathed in disbelief. King’s Grove held one of the more powerful Gateways in the city. Just last week the Freehold on the other end of the Trod had been lost to banality. The Trod itself had been deemed unsafe. Sending him through the Gateway in King's Grove was worse than a banishment--it was a death sentence. When Aerinn visited Selene, he never left the faerie forest, knowing he could not survive the banality of the outside world. He would be devoured by banality as soon as he left the trod. Fear and guilt were quickly drowned by righteous anger, "I thought my punishment was to be banishment! You have sent me to the headsman! Do I not even deserve a merciful death, as your son at least if not a prince? Instead you sentence my very soul to the ravages of banality! I will be lost! For what?!! Loving a human?!!" By the end Aerinn was shouting, standing against his father with angry pride.
The King smiled a thin smile that did not touch his eyes. "Oh, you will not be claimed by banality, my son. I made arrangements with our servants on the other side. They will have a body waiting for you to enter." Stormbringer watched with a small measure of satisfaction as Aerinn's face turned a sickly green.
"Never. Never!" Aerinn hissed. "I will never commit such an atrocity! Body-snatching! It's a horribly evil thing!"
Stormbringer's expression hardened, "As you wish. You may choose between your precious human bitch and your lofty ideals!"
Aerinn reeled as much from his father's tone as from his words. His father's voice held nothing but contempt, disgust, and shame. Aerinn didn’t know what to say. Off to the side, his mother cried quietly.
Stormbringer nodded with satisfaction. "I do, however, care for you, my son, and am willing to make allowances. You will be spared your fate, and will only be stripped of your title if you but give up this woman." For some reason his father's cold, reasonable tone chilled Aerinn to the bone; he steeled himself. "...Oh, one more thing. In order that we can be sure you will not be tempted to continue this atrocity after your punishment, the girl will have to be destroyed. I’m sure you understand, Aerinn. If you truly love humans so much, and are willing to be banished for one, then you can surely find another."
With that, Stormbringer turned on his heels and strode out of the chamber, motioning for his wife to follow him. The door thudded shut behind them, seeming to signal the sealing of Aerinn's fate. Aerinn breathed for the first time in minutes, it seemed. Alone with his thoughts.
Aerinn was jerked out of his tortured thoughts by the weight of huge hand on his shoulder. He looked up at Kor; he hadn't even heard the massive troll come in. "I am to escort you to your chambers, my Prince," Kor's deep voice rumbled. "I have been ordered by the King himself to kill you if you try to resist. Please don't resist, my Prince."
Aerinn mutely followed the troll out of the Throne Room.
Morgonn stood in the shadows where he had watched the exchange between husband and wife, and then father and son unobserved. A slow smile spread across his face, and he nodded with satisfaction. With a muttered word, he was gone, leaving only shadows.
Somewhere in the palace, a clock struck four times.
Aerinn dreamed, tossing and turning on his bed, moaning softly. His body was entwined with his blankets. Finally, he rolled of the bed, not even awaking when his body hit the floor....
...The music called him, drew him as surely as her beauty. She didn’t hear him approach, wrapped up in her song as she was. He took a moment to admire her unnoticed. His eyes hungrily memorized every line of her face.......Aerinn cleared his throat, the sound echoing through the silent emptiness of the forest. Her eyes rose to his....
...She looked at him accusingly, scorn and contempt twisting her face,"What have you done, Aerinn? You swore an Oath to me. You have forsaken your people, and for what? For me? I can never return your feelings. You're not even human; you're a lost spirit, damned for all I know! No, Aerinn, you have forsaken your people, and you have forsaken me. I could never love a man who would take another man's body!"
Aerinn just stared at her, his body numb, his mind unable to comprehend the reality of what was happening. He tried to think of some defense for his actions, but could find nothing but guilt and confusion. After all he had gone through, she would only reject him if he could ever find her again....
Aerinn started. He was back in the forest, walking toward Selene, about to talk to her for the first time....
...Aerinn cleared his throat, the sound echoing through the silent emptiness of the forest. Her eyes rose to his....
"Hello there." Aerinn's heart leaped as he recognized her inflections. She had not the speech of an Englishwoman.
"Good afternoon, my lady," Aerinn said in Gaelic, taking a gamble. "Might I join you for a moment?"
The lady smiled at him warmly. "Of course, please sit down...."
Whitegold smiled to himself in his sleep, sensing that his old friend's dreams had taken a turn for the better. He usually didn’t interfere with the Prince's dreaming, but Aerinn had a great deal to face tomorrow; he was going to need his wits about him.
Whitegold let his massive eyes drift shut again, slipping even more luxuriously and deeply into his slumber, listening to the heartbeat of the world beneath him, aware of the tumult of voices around him. The voices of the Dream.
The din of voices intimidated Aerinn more than he would have liked to admit. He shifted nervously between his two troll bodyguards. Kor’s eyes moved to Aerinn, flicking over the sword at his side. Aerinn sighed, did they really think he'd try to fight his way out? Aerinn drew a deep breath and looked out over the large mass of assembled Fae.
He stood in a large park. Faeries of all kiths swarmed everywhere between the ancient trees, talking, socializing. They acted as if it were a party. His mother and father stood on the large wooden dais that had been erected earlier that morning. King Stormbringer was the epitome of royal majesty and power, while Queen Elnora was serenity made flesh.
It seemed all the Fae in the city had come to King's Grove to see the fallen Prince. Aerinn laughed at himself bitterly. At least someone was being entertained by all this.
A warm breeze swept through the grove, carrying with it the scent of summer. Aerinn closed his eyes and let the breeze wash over him, carrying him away....
"It is such a beautiful afternoon!" Selene gazed rapturously at the deep blue sky.
Aerinn had been busy staring into her eyes, drinking in the sight of her. He had to bring himself back to the moment and recall what she had said. "It sure is," he said softly, smiling at her.
Selene blushed. "So, I've told you about my family. What about yours?"
"My family? My family is very far away, but they are well. I come from Ireland as well."
"You do? I don't notice the sound of home in your speech."
Aerinn smiled, "I've traveled a lot. One tends to pick up a rather interesting accent after wandering the world."
"You've seen the world?" Selene laughed, "Are you serious?"
"Well, no, I haven't seen the _whole_ world, but I've seen the parts that interest me."
Selene sighed wistfully. "I wish I could travel like that, but this move to England was the most I could manage."
"Why can't you travel?"
Selene laughed bitterly. "There are so many reasons. Father would not allow it for one; he would say it is improper for a lady to go traipsing through foreign countries. Then there's money, which I have none." She looked at Aerinn, "I do not have the resources that you obviously do."
Aerinn chuckled, "What makes you so sure I have money? I own nothing except that which I carry, and the forest is my home."
Selene smiled, "I wasn't talking about the money, Aerinn. I know what you are." She laughed at his surprise, "Oh come now! I know the legends, and surely no man looks as you do!" She reached up and stroked his delicately pointed ear gently.
Aerinn tried to talk around the sudden lump in his throat. His voice felt strained, "So what is it, exactly, that you think I am, if not a man?"
Selene smiled warmly, and Aerinn relaxed visibly. "You're an earth-spirit, of course. A watcher. You watch the forest, that is your purpose."
Aerinn smiled at her, "It's not just the forest I watch anymore, Selene. I watch you now as well...."
The sudden silence around him brought Aerinn to his senses. The crowd was perfectly silent, perfectly still. Not a bird chirped, not a leaf rustled. Time itself seemed to have stopped. Reluctantly Aerinn brought his eyes up to his parents.
The King and Queen shone with majestic grandeur, their faces beautiful and powerful. Light seemed to come from their very pores, illuminating them in pure Glamour. Even Aerinn was awed at the sight. After a seemingly endless moment, Stormbringer spoke, his strong baritone carrying through the grove and reverberating off the trees. Not a single Fae there missed his words.
"It is a sad day this day. A day when a King must punish one of his subjects, a day when a father must chastise his son. My son, Prince Aerinn, has been repeatedly caught associating with humans in a most improper manner."
There was a soft murmuring in the crowd as those informed told those uninformed exactly what the King met by "improper." Aerinn saw more than one look of outrage, of disbelief. Aerinn felt his face burn in shame; it took all his force of will to meet the crowds gaze, to not look at his feet, or the ground, or the sky, or anything other than all those disapproving faces.
"As you also know, I have been lenient on him. Time and time again I have let his misjudgments pass. Just a few weeks ago, travel to Earth was forbidden, the trods deemed unsafe. We have lost more and more trods and freeholds every day, the result of what our sages call the Shattering."
A chill seemed to sweep through the crowd, and Fae hugged themselves and tightened their cloaks as if to keep out the cold. Many faces drained of color, and more than a looked as if they might faint.
"I found out yesterday that Prince Aerinn has disobeyed my direct command, not once, but countless times. He has used a Moon-Trod to travel to Earth, with no regard for the rest of us. He has risked us all, risked Arcadia itself for this selfish lust of his for some human woman."
An angry grumble moved through the crowd. _How quickly they turn,_Aerinn thought.
"Normally, the punishment for such treasonous behavior would be death, but it is forbidden to lay a hand against royalty, and even I, as King, cannot bring about the execution of a Prince. I have decided on a different sentence." The crowd hushed in anticipation. There had been countless rumors flying through the city all morning, but no one knew for sure what was about to happen.
"Aerinn is to be ceremonially stripped of his title as Prince, and his rights as my son." The crowd stood in shocked silence for a moment, and then chaos ensued as each tried to determine from his neighbor what was going on. This was unprecedented. Very few lords were stripped of their titles, and never had such a thing been done to a Prince.
Stormbringer grimaced at the noise and motioned at Morgonn impatiently. The wizard hurriedly cast a cantrip, and when the King spoke again, his voice boomed like thunder, shaking the very ground beneath them. "There is more. Aerinn will be banished from Arcadia. He will be sent to the world he so loves, and there he will make his own fate.
Fae talked to Fae worriedly, fear in their eyes. Arguments began, and some started to get violent. All knew that banishment meant almost certain death, for the banality on Earth was too strong for all but the most powerful of the Fae, and even they could only stand it's corrosion for a limited time. They stared at their Prince in horror. Aerinn was well-liked by the people, loved, and though most disapproved of his behavior and thought he should be duly punished, none had dreamed the punishment would be so severe.
"Let this be an example to you all. These are desperate times. The first cold winds of Winter have blown over our hearths. Everywhere the eternal flame is snuffed. The Dream is fading, and we will be taken with it unless we take precautions. My son has committed the highest offense known; he has risked the very Dreaming itself with his foolishness. In desperate times as these, such behavior cannot be tolerated. Bring him forward."
The trolls motioned with their halberds. Aerinn sighed and stepped up to the dais, kneeling at his father's feet. He heard a sound from his mother and saw her out of the corner of his eyes, fighting off her tears. Aerinn spoke loudly enough for the crowd to hear, "I come before you, my King, a humble subject. I accept your judgments of me and wish only to bear my sentence with dignity and honor. I await your pleasure."
Stormbringer favored his son with a grimace. "Stand up." As Aerinn regained his feet, Stormbringer motioned to Morgonn. "Initiate the binding."
Morgonn stepped to the front of the dais, facing Aerinn. He stretched his arms out to his sides and began chanting in along-forgotten tongue. A rustle went through the crowd as Glamour streamed toward the wizard, passing through all the Fae present. Aerinn gritted his teeth as the wizard began the Binding. Morgonn’s chanting rose in volume steadily, until all on the dais could hear his words. Aerinn shuddered as he recognized his True Name amongst the gibberish. He felt the Glamour move towards him, felt it bind his will and Dan to the will of the wizard....
Everyone, even Stormbringer himself, gasped as the Glamour around the Prince flickered and died. Stormbringer rounded on Morgonn. "What has happened?" he demanded.
A look of shock and fear strained Morgonn's face. He swallowed hard."I don't know, my King. The Cantrip failed. I can't bind him," he said the last with awe in his voice.
The crowd shifted, the murmur growing to a dull roar. Morgonn was the most powerful wizard in the realm. The idea that he couldn’t bind someone was impossible to imagine, but it was happening, before their very eyes.
Stormbringer whispered to Morgonn harshly, so no one beyond five feet would hear. "That's impossible!"
"Yes, it is, my King," Morgonn replied just as softly, looking at Aerinn uneasily. The Prince just stood there, looking confused. "But it has happened. I suggest you try the Binding my King, the Glamour will respond to you."
"Very well." Stormbringer placed himself before his son, looking at him sternly, then he began to chant. The ground quaked and thunder rumbled as the very elements themselves responded to the will of their King. Glamour passed through all present, taking a minuscule bit from each to add to the power of the Binding.
Aerinn felt the Binding clamp onto his soul like a set of iron manacles. He dropped to his knees with a groan, a dull ache spreading through his body. He shivered to his core, knowing his will was no longer his own.
Stormbringer smiled in satisfaction. "Open the Gate, Morgonn."
The crowd followed the procession through the trees, moving in little clumps, talking excitedly. Aerinn walked between his troll guards, his heart between his feet, barely aware of his surroundings. His thoughts were filled with Selene. He would never see her again; he knew that now.
Stormbringer brought the procession to a halt before a huge oval gate crafted of silver and gold. The gate appeared to be two winged-serpents twined about one another, forked tongues flicking out of their open mouths.
Morgonn stepped before the Gate, and prepared himself for the powerful magic he would have to weave. Aerinn felt his throat constrict as the wizard raised his arms, hanging his head back, looking into the sky.
At the back of the crowd, to one side, people began to shift, a murmuring carried over the still air. Aerinn and the other Fae at the gate watched as the crowd split, opening a path. A man strode towards the gate, and as he passed, every Fae bowed low in reverence, placing their foreheads to the ground.
The man was tall, broad-shouldered with gleaming white hair, hanging in waves down his back. It was impossible to put an age to his face. He looked to be young, barely a man, but his gleaming silver eyes held wisdom and power. His skin gleamed as strange silver color, it seemed almost metallic. The man wore flowing robes of the finest silk in colors of brown and green.
Aerinn went to his knees in reverence. Morgonn bowed with respect, Elnora curtsied deeply, lowering her gaze. Aerinn's troll guards both saluted the man, then bowed low. As the man's eyes moved to King Stormbringer, the King himself bowed low in respect and homage. "You grace us with your presence Great One."
The man's handsome face broke into a quiet smile. His voice was deep and rich when he spoke, "I had to come, my King. My friend is in need."
Stormbringer grimaced. There had been much excitement at Aerinn’s birth. It was said by the Seers that his son was Favored of the Dreaming. Stormbringer and his wife had been very proud, but they had not realized the full implications of Aerinn's Dan until the day he met Whitegold. Stormbringer still winced a little at the name. Aerinn had been very young, and had not understood what his new friend was. He had grasped one word, Whitegold, and had chosen that for his companions name.
Whitegold was a product of the Dreaming, much as the Fae. Most of the creatures and monsters in Arcadia had been created by the dreams of humans and Faeries. Whitegold was a dragon, but he wasn't just any dragon. Whitegold Dragons, also known as Arcadian Dragons, were living manifestations of the Dream. Their origin couldn't be linked to a dream, or even many dreams. No one knew where they came from; some said they were older than the Fae, but few actually believed that.
The fact of the matter was that Whitegold Dragons were wise, and very, very old. They lived forever, and there was not much that could destroy one. They were also rare; it was generally accepted that there were only seven still in the Dreaming today. Arcadian dragons worked together with the Fae, but preferred to deal with Faeries on a one-on-one basis, so they usually picked a worthy Faeries their companion, speaking to the rest of Arcadia through that very fortunate individual.
Most Arcadian Dragons chose Kings and Queens of the Realms of Arcadia, though a few chose Princes and Princesses. For a King or Queen to be considered worthy of such companionship was a great honor; for a Prince or Princess it was even more esteemed. A Prince or Princess having such a companion was guaranteed the succession. Now Aerinn's Whitegold had showed up, and if he demanded Aerinn's release, Stormbringer would be hard-pressed to refuse him.
The crowd had settled back down, and now watched the proceedings silently.
"I have heard of my friend's transgressions," Whitegold stated with his powerful voice. "I understand our King's reasons for exiling Prince Aerinn, and I acknowledge my King's wisdom and authority in the matter."
Stormbringer sighed in relief.
"However, Aerinn is my friend, and I have Chosen him. I do not regret that Choice, even in lieu of present circumstances." Whitegold looked to Aerinn, and Aerinn blushed, unable to meet the Dragon's eyes. Whitegold caught the Prince's gaze and held it, smiled a small smile reassuringly. "I will accompany the Prince on his voyage."
The crowd rose as one, exclaiming disbelief. Stormbringer silenced them with a gesture. "That is impossible, Great One. The banality of Earth will not accept you. It will slowly tear you apart, and even one great as yourself will not survive it's undoing forever."
Whitegold bowed his head. "I know this, my King. I will therefore wait for Aerinn in the Dreaming."
"Whitegold, no." Aerinn walked up to his friend, looking at him pleadingly. "I do not regret what I've done, but I won't drag you into this. I will survive or perish on my own."
"I am your friend, Aerinn," Whitegold said softly, "and I will do for you what you would do for me. Give me your sword."
Aerinn blinked, then pulled Arbingsol out of it's scabbard and handed it to the Dragon. Whitegold held the sword aloft, and began to chant, pulling Glamour from the earth, from the very air around them. He began to work the magic into the blade, weaving, changing, empowering. Morgonn's eyes widened. Elnora gasped, not believing her eyes. Whitegold finished his work, and handed the blade back to Aerinn.
Elnora grabbed Whitegold's arm, her shock making her bold. "You can’t do that!"
"Can't do what, my dear?" Whitegold asked mildly, widening his eyes.
"That!" Elnora pointed at Arbingsol. "What you just did! It’s's...it's impossible!"
"Impossible for you, my dear, but not for me." Whitegold then took Elnora by her shoulders and spoke softly in her ear. She nodded dumbly, amazement clear on her face, then retook her place at the King's side.
"This sword will no longer be known as Arbingsol, for that is the name of another. From this day hence the blade will be called Soulguider."
Aerinn nodded solemnly and sheathed Soulguider.
Stormbringer motioned to Morgonn. "Let's finish this."
Morgonn called the Glamour, directing it into the Gate, awakening its power. Slowly the air inside the Gate began to ripple, to shimmer. The trees seen through the Gate on the other side undulated and swayed, then faded as the Gate awakened, it's surface shimmering like thick water.
Banality poured from the Gate in a wave, bleaching color from the park, taking the collected breath of the gathered crowd of Fae away. Morgonn quickly summoned a shield of Glamour and placed it over the Gateway, keeping the banality from passing through.
Stormbringer stepped before Aerinn, the Glamour responding to his ceremonial words. "Prince Aerinn Moonwater, Anarmoesse Lunlanesque, Knight of House Fiona, on this day, in the presence of these witnesses, and by the will of a King of Arcadia, and under the watchful eyes of one of her own, you are charged with endangering the Dream. Risking that which is with you so strongly. You are absolved of your nobility. Your Princehood is revoked, and all but your most rudiment of affiliations with our House are severed. You are lost, both to the Dream, and to your own. You are hereby banished from Arcadia, doomed to walk the Earth as best you can. May the Dreaming be with you, and may you follow your Dan with dignity and honor."
Aerinn shook under the assault on his Faerie soul, the horror of having his very Name used to alter his being. Whitegold watched sadly, silently. Morgonn smiled a small smile to himself, caught the Queen's eye and nodded. She smiled a small smile, looking a little comforted. Stormbringer noticed none of this.
Aerinn walked and stood before the Gate, gazing into the maelstrom within it's depths. He would lose all he was when he exited on the other side.... A hand gripped his shoulder comfortingly, Whitegold smiled down at him. "You don't have to do this, old friend. I don’t expect or require you to. Find another...someone more worthy."
"I have chosen you, Aerinn, and I shall stand by my decision. I will wait for you in the Dreaming."
Aerinn took a deep breath, looked one more time at his beloved Arcadia. Elnora ran forward, throwing her arms around him. Aerinn held her tightly, crying with her, her tears breaking his heart. "I'll be alright, Mother, I promise..."
"I know you will, my son, I know you will." The words might have sounded convincing had she not been sobbing brokenly.
Aerinn squeezed her hard. "Promise me you will forgive Father, please."
Elnora sighed. "I am sorry, Aerinn, but I can't."
Aerinn held his mother for minutes more, but it didn't seem enough time had passed before the trolls were prodding him towards the Gateway. Kor nodded to him. "Hold to your heart, Aerinn. Never forget the fire that burns with in you. You have my respect." The massive troll bowed low, bringing a murmur from the crowd and a frown of disapproval from the King.
Aerinn turned towards the Gate, turned towards his fate, and stepped through....
Aerinn looked around him in confusion, not really aware of anything but the pain tearing through his body, through his very essence. He didn’t know where he was, he didn't know who he was. All there was was the pain.
He tripped over something, looked down to see a blond-headed human, lying unconscious at his feet.
"Take the body, you fool!" a rough voice shouted from somewhere. "You're being undone!"
Aerinn looked at the poor human in disgust. As if he would ever do such a thing.... An image of a beautiful woman flashed in his mind. "Selene..." Aerinn moaned. He couldn't leave her, he couldn't.... Aerinn's capacity for thought was quickly being eroded away. He moved towards the body, flowing into it like water down a drain....
Aerinn stood up, looking around him in confusion. His thoughts were blurred, he couldn't remember anything very well. A course unshaven man walked up to him. "Almost thought we lost you there!" He spat on the ground. "What the hell were you doing, smelling your flowers." Aerinn didn't know what the man was talking about, so he decided to ignore him.
A low humming sound brought Aerinn's gaze to the Gateway. The sound slowly rose in pitch and intensity, building to a shrieking wail. Aerinn thought he could see something inside the Trod. A large serpentine creature of the purest white....
King's Gate exploded in a burst of Glamour, momentarily pushing back the banality. The banality retaliated, converging on the Gate, rushing in with the sound of a thunderclap, throwing the two men from their feet.
Aerinn climbed shakily to his feet, his head throbbing. He gingerly touched his hand to his temple; it came away stained with blood. He looked at the smoking, twisted remains of something. Something that had originally been made of gold and silver. He shrugged. It obviously important.
Aerinn wandered away, hoping there was a town nearby, someone to tell him who he was. Someone to recognize him.
Lying amidst the rubble, Soulguider glowed fitfully, flickered, then winked out of existence.
Stormbringer stared at what was left of the Gateway. Had Aerinn made it. He turned to Elnora, she was crying, sobbing wretchedly. His heart went out to her. What had he done? He reached for her, "Elnora, I'm so sorry--"
"Don't touch me! Don't you ever touch me!" Elnora shrieked at him. She looked wildly at the assembled Fae, looked toward Morgonn, then disappeared in a flash of Glamour.
Morgonn smiled to himself. Things had gone just as he'd hoped. His plan had worked perfectly....