|"MELASH -- "
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
"Don't say it!", Luvarion shouted.
"What?", Ceolric asked.
Merana interrupted, "Names are power, especially true names, and that is mine. With that word you control me, you control my actions, control my deeds Don't ever speak it without cause."
"You don't deserve to speak it.", Luvarion muttered.
"Shh!", Merana snapped to Luvarion. "Now where was I?" Merana started to speak, then stopped and thought for a moment. Then she continued, "I might as well tell it all. You both know parts of it but if I skip some I'll probably miss something. Maybe it'll help me figure out why I feel the way I do.
Anyway . . ."
As I said, I was walking along the edge of our forest, yours and mine Luvarion, peering out at the curious doings of the humans, (do you remember when we did that Luvarion?), when suddenly I heard my true name spoken. It pulled me towards he who spoke it.
When I finally reached him, it was my "father" -- he forced me to call him that. You've met him already. He was standing in a clearing near here -- this whole valley used to be wooded -- all alone. He wore old, ratty furs, and hobbled with a staff. Before I could approach him, he spoke.
"You will never harm me. You will never show me your true appearance, and you will always obey my commands. And you will never reveal your true self to anyone.", he commanded. And he spoke my Name and bound me.
"Now," he continued, "Go forth and gather all the water from the valley, from the swamp, from the plants, from the very air itself. But not from any of the humans. Bring it with you and hide it. Let none of it escape."
Upon those words I left my master. I became a mist and went to the swamp in the middle of the valley and drained it, taking the water into myself. I have no idea what the villagers who lived in the valley thought as the water vanished, I was too busy to notice them. I drained the streams that fed it -- there weren't many, most of the water was from the ground and I'd drained that with the swamp. Then I began on the plants, leaving behind me nothing but dried husks. I even had to drain the livestock and animals that the humans kept. I had no choice -- he knew my Name. I drained even the air until it became so dreadfully, painfully dry. After a week it was done.
I was so bloated with the water that I could hardly move, could hardly contain it. Where once my form had been transparent, now it was nearly a solid blue mass. I felt I was about to burst, but somehow I managed to return to the clearing. My master wasn't there.
Where was he? I looked around and saw a partially collapsed tower a short distance away. I slowly moved towards it and went inside. My master was there. He was sitting on a log before a window looking out into the withered valley. I could feel the vegetation crying for water.
"It is done.", I told him.
"Good, good.", he said rubbing his hands together. "Now follow me." He began to mumble to himself, "I'll teach those fools . . ."
I had no choice. I drifted behind him down some stairs and into the catacombs beneath. I followed my master into a room that contained, in its centre, a large uncut blue stone on a pedestal.
"There.", he said, pointing to the gem. "Take it all there and let none of it escape. None! And don't leave it until I call." He spoke my Name and I obeyed.
Inside the gem that became my prison I released the water and made walls so that none could escape, as long as I held the wards. And then I waited, drifting back and forth through the water I had stolen, sometimes swimming, sometimes not. Sometimes to the walls of my prison to look out into the dimly lit room, and sometimes into the centre of my prison to try to forget. And all the while I waited to be called, so that I could be free for a little while once again.
"He must have been quite a magician -- ," Ceolric began, but then his teeth chattered and he shivered from the coldness of his damp clothes and the lake water that still dripped from them. He grabbed another piece of driftwood and tossed it into the fire where it hissed and steamed.
"Humph," Luvarion snorted. "You humans and your sensitivity to temperature."
"I think I liked it better when you acted the dumb beast.", Ceolric said without turning around.
"Now, now, don't fight. We're safe and we're free," Merana said.
"At a cost.", Ceolric muttered.
"They're only humans.", Luvarion muttered.
"Luvarion! My brother knew when to keep quiet."
"And why are you still in that form?", Luvarion then asked.
"Because I choose to be."
Merana turned away from the two of them and looked out across the lake and the wreckage that drifted upon its surface. For a long while there was only silence interrupted by the sputtering and sparking of the fire. Finally Ceolric spoke.
"You really aren't cold?", he asked of the woman who had been speaking. She stood looking at him, dry while he still dripped water, naked yet oblivious to the cold. Even her waist length hair was dry.
"I really should create myself some clothes, but not right now. I just want to enjoy our freedom."
Luvarion, who was also dry, naked and oblivious to the cold, turned away.
After a moment of thought Ceolric continued, "Your master must have been quite a magician, to create that stone."
"Bah, you just have to get an azurite -- the magic is in the crystal.", Luvarion said.
"He's right," Merana said. "I never saw him do any magic -- all he knew was my Name. All the magic that he supposedly did, I did for him. I wonder if he knew any?"
"I wonder how he learned your Name.", Luvarion muttered.
"Could he have found it in a library somewhere?"
"Who knows. Anyway, where was I?" Merana continued her tale.
This went on for weeks. Every day I was called and sent to gather what moisture I could find. I was sent to gather it and store it in the gem. The villagers who lived in the valley didn't know what was going on. Most left.
Then a long time passed while I was left alone.
Finally my master called. I tried to resist, to stay in my quiet, blue world, away from the dryness outside, but I couldn't. I drifted through the blues in which I lived and left the gem to answer.
He was standing in front of me, holding a lit torch that hid the ceiling of the room in black smoke and filled the room with the stink of burning tar. His old, torn clothes wore gone -- he wore a clean ruby robe; his brown hair was washed and neatly combed for the first time. He finally looked well fed. With new hope, I tried to appeal to him again. As I had every time he had summoned me, I let sadness fill my being, let tears of precious water begin to fall from my eyes. I slumped a little and looked up at him.
"It won't work," he said. "I studied your kind long and hard before I called you. I can never see your true face, or hear your true voice. You can never beguile me. You will no longer try." And I no longer could.
"Why do you still hold me? I have done all you have asked. I have gathered all the water from the valley, I have gathered all the rain before it fell."
"But it's not enough! I want more! I was born in this accursed valley, and was cast out due to a witch's words. They threw me out! Even my own sister!" He turned from me and was silent for a long time before he again spoke. "But enough of my past. Make yourself invisible to all but I and follow." He turned and left. I followed.
We left the catacombs and climbed the stairs towards the light. As we climbed the air grew warmer and dryer. It began to pain me and I would have cried out but he had forbidden me to do so weeks ago. He put the torch in a holder on the wall, removed his velvet robe and tossed it on a dusty wooden bench. He walked a little further and stopped in front of the window that overlooked the valley.
I, too, stopped and looked out. I looked at the work I had done. The forests that lined the valley walls were nothing but ashes, still smouldering in places. In the basin of the valley the swamp was nothing but dried and cracked mud. What few buildings remained could hardly be seen through the clouds of wind-blown dust.
Then I heard others enter the room. I turned and recognized them as from the village. I watched as they bowed to my master.
"You may rise.", he said.
What had happened? Why were the villagers bowing to my master?
A villager spoke. "What are your wishes sire?"
"Where is my sister?"
The villagers looked at each other and then back at my master. One cleared his throat -- the sound loud in the silence.
"Remember? Kitra? The one who cast me out."
Another long silence followed until the leader of the villagers finally spoke. I felt the moisture in his sweat as it rolled down his face.
My master stared at them, his fists clenched. He looked at them one at a time, moving from left to right. No one spoke. Finally my master broke the silence.
"Go. The rain will come tonight. After the planting we will talk again."
My master turned from the villagers as they left. I remained near, unable to leave. Eventually he began to talk.
"Escaped! All my plans for vengeance on her, all the tortures I had dreamed of, useless!" He began to pace back and forth. It was a while before he spoke again.
He stopped, turned and looked out the window. Then he told me, "Take the rain to them. Let it rain on the whole valley. Let the life return. But . . .," he turned to face me, ". . . don't send too much rain. We don't want them to think rebellious thoughts, do we?" He turned back to the window. I remained. "Go!", he told me. I went.
I returned to the crystal and gathered sufficient water into me. Then I left the tower and drifted out over the valley. I again heard the earth crying for water. Now I could finally give it. For two days and nights I let it rain. A soft steady rain. And I heard the ground sigh, and the seeds within start to grow. I watched the villagers dance and celebrate in the rain. When it was done I returned to my master. He was again standing at the window.
I waited until he spoke. "You've done well. The valley is growing green again, and the people are now mine!" He stopped and stared out the window. A long silence followed.
Then he whispered, "But she escaped. Damn her!".
I just stood there and watched him.
Finally he turned. His eyes gleamed. "You," he whispered.
I just stared at him.
"You will be my daughter."
"You will form your being into a human girl 10 years of age. The form will be beautiful as humans understand beauty, with waist length copper hair and dark blue eyes. You will age as humans will. And I will call you Merana." His stare pierced me.
I watched him and did nothing until he spoke, "I'm waiting. Make your human seeming." He spoke my Name and I obeyed. My first attempt didn't satisfy him but he kept telling me what to do and I kept changing until I finally satisfied him. He spoke my Name again and I was bound as his daughter, and I stood naked in front of him.
"Now come, dear sister."
"Oh yes, you look just like her. I have waited so long for this. Come!"
He spoke my Name and I followed him to his chambers. He wouldn't let me leave as he began to whip me. He didn't see the tears that formed in my eyes before I absorbed them back into my being.
"So that is why you wear that seeming," Luvarion said. "But why do you keep it?"
"Because I choose to," Merana snapped.
Then Ceolric asked, "Did he whip you often?"
"Only at first. After the first few months he stopped."
"Its good that he's dead," Luvarion said.
"But why did your scars look so fresh when you showed them to me?", Ceolric continued.
"Because I choose to keep them that way. I kept them so that I could use them to convince somebody to kill him. I had few other options. Anyway, once the valley surrendered to my father, its prosperity grew. He used me to control the rain so that only enough fell to grow the grain and keep the few fruit groves green. He never let me yield enough rain so that the forest could regrow. For seven long years it stayed like that, until you two finally arrived."
I was standing on the balcony of my room when I first saw you, Ceolric. You were riding down the road from the mountains, dressed in dark cloth and wearing a red wide-brimmed hat, and you rode upon a most peculiar beast. I looked at its pale brown hair, its red mane and pole-like tail that stood 10' straight up and was topped with a feather-like red tuft of fur. Finally I remembered that it was a form you liked so much Luvarion -- for it was you, brother, though I hardly dared believe. I watched as you both approached the castle; watched as you rode between the fields of young green grain that filled the valley.
I watched until I heard a knock from behind. I turned and walked to the door. The person knocked again before I could open it.
"My lady," a servant said, "You are commanded to attire yourself for dinner tonight in the great hall. The mercenary dragoon Ceolric has arrived to serve your father and your father desires your presence."
I sighed. "Not another one," I muttered. Then I spoke clearly, "Send my maid to me. It shall be as my father desires." I closed the door.
My maid, her name was Silmeri, arrived from her nearby room a few minutes later. I was warned of her approach by her giggling as she listened to someone else in the hall. She knocked and I opened the door and waited while she bowed.
"Mistress -- you summoned me?"
"I am to dine in the great hall. Fetch the brocaded red satin dress."
"Yes mistress," she bowed again and scurried off.
It was nearly an hour before the robing was done -- I hated that dress but I knew that my father would expect me to wear it. He said it set off my copper hair. He also expected me to use the scents he had gotten for me. I chose the amaranth, at least I could stand that. The hair, too, had to be done up and that took another half hour. I hated bundling it all into that stupid caul.
"Enough!", I finally said. Silmeri would have kept fussing over me till the end of the world if I let her. "Silmeri, fetch Milisar and tell him that I'm ready."
She bowed and ran into the hallway to fetch my father's seneschal. I walked across my chamber and back onto the balcony, the dress rustling along the floor behind me. The breeze outside was cool and a little dry, but livable. At least the scent of the young grain pushed the amaranth out of my mind. Eventually there was a knock behind me.
"Enter," I said, not turning.
"When you are ready mistress," Milisar answered.
I waited a moment before I turned to face him and then said, "Lead on. There is a guest I would like to meet." It was you I wanted to meet then, brother, but I had to wait.
Milisar turned and I followed. He turned down the hall and I walked behind, trying not to shy as we passed by the lit torches, unable to keep from wrinkling my nose at their stink. Shortly we arrived in the great hall.
Milisar turned and bowed, "The great hall, mistress." As if I didn't already know. Milisar had said the same thing every time he'd brought me here. I walked past him.
The hall was large and lofty, its roof supported by huge timbers of imported oak; its vastness lit by torches along the walls. A balcony from the second floor looked out above me. I saw my father near the lord's table on its stage. He was standing in front of the great fireplace talking to you, Ceolric.
You wore robes of plain undecorated brown fabric. You should remember. But what struck me most about you during that first meeting was that you were so tall, taller even than my father, and you know he was not a short man.
My father turned and saw me standing at the entrance.
"Merana!", he called out. "Come and meet our new guard captain!"
"Yes father," I said quietly as I walked over. You must have really impressed him, Ceolric, he hired you so quickly.
I ignored the various servants and other guests in the room who stopped and bowed to me as I passed. One gets used to those things.
"This is your daughter, sir?" Those were the first words I heard you speak Ceolric. "What you told me of her beauty does not do her justice."
"I remember when I first saw you.", Ceolric interrupted. "I even ignored the blinding red of your dress and lost myself within your wondrous blue eyes."
Luvarion gritted his teeth and snorted in disgust. "A stupid human," he muttered.
I didn't know you then, so my first thought was that I had heard this all before. So many had come to serve my father as his valley prospered, and they all sounded the same when they greeted me.
Then you bowed before me and held my hand and kissed it.
"Hello," I managed to say to you as you rose to your feet. At that instant feelings I'd never known tumbled through me. I didn't know what they were. I could feel my face grow hot, but I didn't know why. I turned away because I didn't want to see you.
My father interrupted, "Come, be seated." Then he led you away to a chair beside his at the head of the table. I followed.
The dinner wasn't bad, but I just nibbled at my food. My father ate whole-heartedly, as he usually did, and you ate almost like a man starved. And as you remember, I'm sure, all through dinner my father never stopped speaking to you. All night he asked you about this and that, your thoughts on this and that event, what you thought of this and that, and anything else that entered his mind.
But I heard very little of what he asked because I was trying to think about what your kiss had done to me. It took most of the evening before I gained sufficient control of my thoughts. To remember the stories of human love that I had read, and the similarities in those stories to what I had experienced. But, I thought, I'm not human. How can I love?
"You didn't even think of me once?", Luvarion interrupted.
"I'm sorry dear brother, not even once," Merana responded. She stood up and kissed her brother on his cheek.
Ceolric said not a word, although he did turn away for a moment.
Merana sat back down and continued her story.
After dinner the entertainment began. Somewhere my father had found a minstrel who could almost sing and even knew a song about you, Ceolric. And while he sang I could watch only you. For the rest of the night I watched you talking to my father. Just watching you gave me pleasure. And I still didn't realize why.
Watching you, I lost track of time and didn't realize how late it was until I yawned. Startled I looked around. Most of the guests had already left and I was suddenly very tired. Yes I know Luvarion, I never used to sleep, but my body was human and it needed to. I arose to go back to my chambers.
"Wait!" I heard called. It was you, Ceolric. Then you said to my father, "May I escort your daughter to her chambers? I would like to know her better."
Know me better? Why? Did I want to know you better?
My father thought for a moment and then said, "You may." He knew that nothing could happen between us. He knew my Name.
You stood up and walked over to me. As before, you bowed and kissed my hand. Again I turned away and blushed. That is the right word, isn't it?
Anyway, then you said, "Come my lady."
We stood up and left the great hall and I followed you. For a long while, as we walked, neither of us spoke. I began to wonder where you were trying to lead me. I began to fear that you were going to hide me and ravish me, and then I frightened myself because a part of me wanted you to. I became fearful, yet also eager as you walked down hallways, and opened doors on disused chambers. What were you doing? Then you turned to another door.
"Not that one," I cautioned.
"The lady can speak."
"A little, when I can sneak a word by my father." I don't know why but I suddenly had an urge to giggle, and a little laugh sneaked out. Then you began laughing.
Finally you quieted and asked, "And why not this door?"
"I'm hoping you don't want my maid's quarters."
You laughed again. "Then where are your quarters? This place looks so much smaller on the outside."
"Not far, the next door. I can get there myself." Then I stood up on my toes and kissed you on your bare chin. I remember you jerking back. Then I turned and plunged down the hall.
"When can I see you again?", you called out after me.
I thought quickly, "I go riding in the morning -- meet me in the stables at the beginning of the third watch." Then I opened the door to my room and slammed it shut behind me.
I don't know how I slept that night, what with the thoughts of you, Ceolric, of seeing what might be my brother again, of finally being able to go home to mother.
Merana turned from Ceolric, whom she had been facing as she talked, and looked back at Luvarion. "How is mother?", she asked.
"She's fine, still her old self. She's worried about you though. She finally let me enter The World in the hopes that I could find you."
Ceolric threw another damp log on the fire and leaned into the hiss of apple-scented steam.
I remember my feelings the next morning, eager yet frightened. My horse was saddled and ready and I wore my usual riding clothes. I knew that the two of you had come out when my bay shied and tried to shuffle away. The scent of you, Luvarion, was familiar, though I still wasn't certain that the beast Ceolric rode was you. It took some effort to restrain Meadowlily.
"Good morning!", I called out as I wheeled my horse around to face you. "Did you sleep well?"
"How could I sleep when my thoughts were full only of you?", you called back Ceolric.
This time I know I blushed. I jerked my horse away and started her walking through the gatehouse. I heard the two of you canter up behind.
"Carnim is showing amazing restraint this morning. He must like you," you said from behind me. "He usually nips at other horses to watch them jump."
"Typical." I knew you too well brother. Then you reached over and started snuffling up my leg. This startled me. It even took Ceolric back.
"I had to know if it was you.", commented Luvarion. "I had to get more of your scent then the whiffs that had tantalized me. And it was you. I had finally found you."
"How I wanted to tell you, but then was not the time. Anyway, as I remember it, Ceolric then spoke . . ."
"I've never seen Carnim do that before."
I couldn't think of anything to say in response.
For a while after we walked our horses between the fields of sweet smelling grain that wound away from the castle towards the mountains around the valley. The peasants toiling in the field ignored us just as I ignored them.
Then Ceolric spoke, "Where would you like me to take you my lady?"
"You? Take me?", I motioned Meadowlily into a gallop and turned her off the road and across a field towards a stream I knew. I went to the stream often because it led to a secluded pool at the base of the falls, just like the one we use to play in Luvarion. I called back, "See if you can follow me!"
Riding was one of my few pleasures while I was bound. The feel of a horse galloping beneath me, the thud of its hoofs upon the ground, the force of its body pressing into mine with each step. The wind in my hair filled with the scents of the valley and the moisture carried in it. Often these would make me forget my imprisonment, but not today. Hearing you behind me kept it too fresh in my mind. It wasn't long until you caught up with me. After all, your mount wasn't mortal.
"And where are you taking me my lady? To some secret rendezvous? To where your bandit king lover awaits you?"
I turned and looked at you, slowing Meadowlily to a walk. "No, just to a quiet place that I know. To talk."
"Ah. A secret rendezvous." You leaned closer to me. "My lips are sealed."
Then my poor Meadowlily squealed, leaped into a gallop and almost reached the stream before I could slow her down. It took only a glance to find the bleeding nip that you had given her, Luvarion.
"You couldn't resist, could you?", Merana asked.
Her brother just grinned.
Then you caught up to me Ceolric.
"My lady!", you gasped in a breath. "Are you safe?"
I just looked at you. At your dishevelled hat; at your face filled with panic. Then I looked at myself, at my dishevelled hair and blood streaked leg where the mare's blood had rubbed onto it. I burst out laughing. I'm still not sure why, but for the longest time I couldn't stop. And all the while, as I struggled to control myself, you just stared in astonishment.
Finally, still gasping for breath, I tried to speak,
"I -- ," I coughed and started giggling again but finally forced myself to breathe slowly. Then I swallowed and spoke, "I'm quite safe . . . thank you." I motioned my mount into a walk. "Just follow me, oh brave warrior, we're almost there."
Silently you followed as I allowed Meadowlily to pick her way along the bank of the stream towards the mountains that ringed the valley. And while I rode I pondered what had happened to me. In seven years of captivity, I had never laughed unless ordered to. I had almost never even been happy, until now. Yet, in the last day I had laughed twice, had actually enjoyed talking to someone else. At that instant I realized that I was no longer frightened by my captivity, but frightened at what was happening to me.
"It was love," Ceolric said softly.
"Love!? With what, your pet?", Luvarion placed his hand over his heart. "You, dearest Ceolric, defender of my heart,
who . . ."
Merana turned and glared at her brother until he was silent.
"And I'm still frightened," she whispered.
Finally we arrived at a large pool of water covered with ripples from the short waterfall that fed it. I inhaled deeply, forgetting you for a moment as I just enjoyed the moisture laden air. Then I spoke.
"Just the other side now. Don't worry, its not too deep," I called back.
"My life is in your hands."
Meadowlily had just splashed across when I heard a sudden sploosh from behind and felt a sprinkling of cool water on the back of my neck. I turned around and saw you Ceolric sitting in the stream, soaked to the skin and just staring at Luvarion who I knew was laughing. I couldn't help but laugh as I lightly dropped off my mare and splashed through the water to help you up.
"It not funny," you said.
I kept laughing, "Here -- ," giggle, " -- take my hand."
You took it and stood up. Now it was your turn to blush.
"I thank you my lady. Your rescue was most timely." Then you turned and looked at your mount. "And don't worry, your turn will come."
I helped you to shore and watched you dripping on the grass. "Here, let me start a fire for you."
I don't know why I said that. Fires are terrible, so hot and dry. Yet it just popped out, and it was too late to take it back. Fortunately the stablemaster had packed some flint and steel, even though I'd told him many times it wasn't needed. You helped me gather wood and it wasn't long until the fire was burning strongly.
"I am much obliged my lady." Then you shivered.
"Here, I have some bread on my horse. I'll heat up a bit for you." I reached for a long stick, which I had picked up with the wood, and stuck the bread on it to heat over the fire.
"You know, it probably was funny. My saying I was going to protect you, and then sitting in the water, soaked to the skin, looking up at you."
I just smiled.
And you smiled too.
For the next while the two of us talked about what each of us had done in our lives, although mostly about your adventures Ceolric. Then you began to yawn.
"Tired?", I asked.
"I told you I got no sleep last night for thinking of you," and then you yawned again.
In a moment you had rested your back against a tree, closed your eyes and were almost immediately asleep.
I was content to just sit by the fire and watch you. The instant I realized that, I turned away from you, Ceolric, and stared at the waterfall. I stretched out and became part of the water as it tumbled and burbled over the lip of the falls; as it splashed into the pool and sank to the bottom. I became oblivious to the world as I tried to understand what I was becoming. I wasn't human. Why did your smiles make my heart beat faster? Why did I even care that you smiled? Was I becoming human, even in spirit?
"So that's why you sat there so long staring at the falls. I was beginning to wonder," interrupted Luvarion.
"And then you finally nipped me to wake me up," responded Merana.
"He bit you?"
"Oh don't worry human. It wasn't hard. And we heal fast."
Ceolric turned away from Luvarion, stung by being called "human" instead of by his name. Merana just stared at her brother for a minute, and then continued.
Yes, Luvarion, you bit me. And it hurt. But it did jolt me awake. I stood up and turned around to face you. I started to say your name, but I couldn't. I tried again, but I couldn't make my lips shape the words. I stared at you, watching as you shifted to human shape, and then, in spite of my wishes I turned away. Why couldn't I speak to you?
"Elasthorna?", I heard you call from behind me.
Elasthorna was the name my mother had given me when I was born Ceolric. I tried to answer you, Luvarion, but I couldn't say a word. I felt you put a hand on my shoulder.
Why couldn't I talk to my own brother? Then, I knew. I could feel the binding that had trapped me bearing down. I remembered my master's words ". . . will never reveal your true self . . ." Those simple words kept me from speaking to you, for that would reveal that I was your sister. You were here and I couldn't say a word to you!
I couldn't stand it anymore. I ran over to Meadowlily and leapt onto her, yanked her head around, and kneed her into a gallop. I ignored the splashing water as I crossed the stream and even ignored the tears that filled my eyes. I realized that I was actually crying. I was even releasing tears, giving water up from myself. What was I becoming?
Ceolric began to talk softly, "I woke from my rest to the sound of your horse splashing across the stream. I didn't know why. I couldn't imagine what I had done. I called your name but you didn't answer."
"I didn't even hear you," Merana whispered.
"And now I know I was the cause. I'd brought your human form life and brought you only sadness."
"Elasthorna! He's only a human!", Luvarion shouted.
Ceolric and Merana stopped and turned to look at Luvarion.
"I prefer Merana," Merana said.
She was silent for a long moment before she continued.
I galloped home, heedless of all I saw, and just left my horse behind in the yard. I ran through the castle and to my chamber and slammed the door behind me.
I remember little about the next few days. I remember eating. I remember seeing you, Luvarion, but I still couldn't say a word to you, or even acknowledge your existence. And I remember you, Ceolric. All the times that you tried to see me and I just fled from you. I don't know how long it was until I finally came to terms with myself.
I don't know exactly what brought me back to reality, whether it was you, Ceolric, or you, Luvarion. But I woke up one summer morning and was calm. A realization filled me. My master was the cause of my fears, of my uncertainty. I would escape. And I would kill him. Now I knew how to do it. I'm sorry, but it meant acting as though I was falling in love with you, Ceolric.
I called for Silmeri and asked her to help me get into my riding clothes. She was pleased to see me -- she'd been worried.
After the final braids were in my hair I asked her, "Where is the knight Ceolric?"
Silmeri looked pleased. She said, "He's probably out in the stables. He gave up trying to see you a few days ago."
"Well I want to see him now."
And so answered I walked down the stairs and out into the courtyard. I ignored the various greetings and walked to the stables. Then I stopped before the entrance. I swallowed, and walked in.
I walked through the stalls and the smell of the fresh straw reminded me of how long it had been since I had last rode. It also reminded me of the condition I had left poor Meadowlily in. Then I saw you Ceolric. You were brushing my brother and neither of you saw me. For a moment I couldn't think of what to say but then I decided that simplest was best.
You dropped your brush in astonishment Ceolric, "My
lady . . ."
"I apologize for my behaviour during the last few days. I was taken aback by the strength of my feelings. Would you like to join me riding?"
You just stood there, your jaw open, while I saddled Meadowlily. The grooms had kept my foolishness from harming her. You finally closed your jaw Ceolric, shoved a saddle on my brother, and followed me out.
The rest of the summer just seemed to run together into one long holiday. A holiday of endless joy. You and I, Ceolric, went riding almost every day. When we weren't riding, we were talking and laughing together. I remember walking hand in hand with you throughout the castle, not saying a word, ignoring the whispers of the servants behind us. Somehow being with you made me forget my captivity, but I thought that was just because I was finally working for my freedom.
The only thing wrong with the whole summer was Luvarion. As you and I spent more and more time together Ceolric, he became more and more irritable. He would bite the stablehands and sometimes even lunge at you. It got to the point where no one would approach him but you, and even you only very carefully.
It boiled over that evening, two weeks ago. You remember it Ceolric. I had retired to my chamber after spending the day with you and had just kicked Silmeri out after she'd helped me remove my evening dress -- such a stupid thing, needing help just to get out of it. Anyway, after Silmeri left, I barred the door, wrapped a robe around myself, and walked out onto my balcony to take a last breath of air before retiring.
Just as I reached the balcony, you flew in Luvarion. I was startled. Wouldn't you be if an owl suddenly whispered past you and alighted on your bed? I turned around just in time to watch you change back to your human shape.
I wanted to call out your name, Luvarion. I wanted to run and embrace you. But I couldn't. The binding wouldn't let me. So I just stood there and watched you. I watched you stand up. I couldn't speak a word. I just kept watching until you finally spoke.
"Elasthorna . . ." you whispered.
I remembered the name my mother had given me at birth. I remembered the last time you had spoken it Luvarion. I took a step backward, my eyes wide.
"It's me. Luvarion." You paused, waiting for an answer that I couldn't give. "It really is me." Your voice began to waver.
How I wish I could have answered you then. I clenched my fists together and tried but could only force out the word, "Who?"
"Elasthorna, it's your brother. Luvarion. I've looked all over these lands to see where they'd taken you. I took the form of that beast, you remember, the one I saw in a book once centuries ago? I took its form and debased myself to be the beast of burden for a man!"
You were beginning to shout. All I could do was take another step back. At that moment I hated the mage that had enslaved me but all I could think of him as was my father. At that instant I swore he would die, at my hands!
"All summer I've watched you, and that human. That damned human who seems to hold your fascination so. Why not me! Your brother! Five years debasing myself to his every wish for love of you and you just forget me when I finally find you! Why! What does he have that I don't?!" Then Luvarion whispered, "Why won't you talk to me?"
I felt the moisture that represented people approaching. They must have heard the shouting. I couldn't let them find you, Luvarion. My father would find out and know that you were around. He would make me tell him your Name and enslave you too.
"No!", I screamed out. "Go away!"
Those words struck you like a cannonball. I knew as I said them that they hurt and I was sorry. I still am. But I had to chase you away.
I jumped onto my bed and wiggled under the covers. I made sweat appear on my forehead and arms.
I screamed wordlessly and heard banging on the door.
"Merana!", I heard Ceolric call from the other side of the door.
You spun to face the door, Luvarion. "Ceolric," you said.
I screamed out again. Then I called out, "Ceolric!"
That shook you Luvarion. You turned away from the door, and me, and began to walk towards the balcony. I heard the roar of a musket fired in the courtyard to awaken the castle.
I called out again, "Ceolric!"
And finally you answered, "Merana! We're breaking down the door!"
Then I watched you, Luvarion, as you turned back into an owl and leave my room. I could only stare after you.
There was a loud crash as the door was forced open and Ceolric ran into my room followed by five of my father's guards, their rifles and bayonets ready. I lay on my bed and closed my eyes. Then I screamed again. I heard you run up to me Ceolric and grab me.
"Merana!", you shouted. "What happened!"
I blinked my eyes open. "Ceolric?", I whispered.
"What . . . ?"
"We heard you scream. Two of the guards think they heard someone else."
"I . . . I was dreaming. I think. I don't know. I don't remember."
Then you looked around the room Ceolric. There was no damage. No sign of anybody else. The only ways in were the door you had broken through and the balcony.
"But those voices?"
"I don't know. I don't remember anyone." Oh Luvarion, I did remember you. But I couldn't say. I had to keep your presence secret from my father.
Then you pulled me close to you Ceolric and held me. I began to let tears flow from my eyes onto your shoulder and listened as the guards turned and left.
The next morning you were gone from the stables Luvarion.
"I couldn't stay Elasthorna. One moment I knew it was you, another I didn't. I had to run. To wander around the hills and think. I knew it was you. I knew those humans had done something to you. I had to think."
"I'm sorry if I treated you as an animal. To me you looked like one, acted like one. How was I to know?", Ceolric apologized.
"Shut-up human! Once I liked you, even admired you, but not now. Don't even speak to me! I spend years serving your whims and you take my sister!"
"Luvarion? Please stay. I'm sorry about what happened. I didn't want it to. I was glad when you came. I'm glad you found me after the flood. I still love you," and Merana ran up to her brother and hugged him tight.
For long minutes they just stood there, holding each other. Ceolric turned away and stared into the fire. Merana and Luvarion whispered to each other about their youth, about the animals they had played with, been, and birthed, about the joys they'd had together.
Finally Merana let go and turned back to Ceolric and said to him, leaning close, "I'm happy you're here too."
Then she continued her story.
The next day Ceolric discovered you were gone Luvarion. He looked surprised, and pained. The rest of the stablehands looked relieved. I was shaken by your visit Luvarion but couldn't let it show. You, Ceolric, were still my hope for freedom. That day I spent with you, quietly. We didn't leave the castle but just wandered about it talking. By the end of the day Ceolric had forgotten about my dream, and I almost had too.
The next two weeks passed swiftly. Ceolric and I were always together, and I was happy. It was only a couple of days before Ceolric and I began riding again. At first Ceolric looked awkward on a horse, but he soon remembered how to ride normal animals.
Finally today arrived. Ceolric, you and I were again out riding, but instead of talking we just rode side by side holding hands. I don't know why today was the day, but it was. Maybe it was the smell of fresh cut grain in the fields, the feeling of the last of the warmth of summer on our backs, or maybe just the sweetness of the birds singing. Whatever the reason, today was the day.
We rode back to that same clearing I had taken you to on that first ride and there we dismounted. I sat on the bank and watched as you took off your clothes and dove into the pool for a swim. Then, on impulse, I crept away and took off my clothes and dove into the pool behind you.
You spun around at the splash, but I was already under the water and swiftly reached you before surfacing and spraying you with water. I leapt up and held onto you.
"My lady . . . Merana . . ."
"Shh. There's no-one here and I'm not telling."
Then you smiled and wrapped your arms around me. Finally you were holding me naked. The wounds that I'd kept fresh all these years would finally play their part. I winced a bit as you rubbed against the sores.
You were silent for a long time before you spoke. "Who did this?"
I became frightened and tense.
"These scars on your back. Who Did It?"
"My father," I finally whispered.
You slowly loosened your grip on me and I slipped into the water. Then you walked onto the bank, sat down, and just stared back into the valley.
"Ceolric?", I called.
You wouldn't respond so I followed you onto shore. I stood for a moment and then sat beside you.
"Clever. A big act and he was putty in your hands." Luvarion said.
Ceolric didn't say a word.
"It started as an act, but it didn't end as one." Merana turned away from her brother and looked straight at Ceolric. "The whole summer was like that."
For a long time we sat together. It wasn't until I began forming tears that you held me close.
From then it was swift. When it was over we lay together, sated and happy, the sun warm on our backs, and the smell of our pleasure strongly around us. After a while I got up and walked into the pool to wash the blood off. I came back and let you hold me and warm me.
"I'm going to take you away from here, with me, tonight."
Yes. Finally! "Away from my father."
"Far away. So far that he will never hurt you again."
Then I was forced to speak these words: "You must never see my true self." My voice sounded forced and unnatural as it fell into silence.
What? I only needed to say that if I were in love. But I wasn't! I was not. Then I remembered. If any of our kind is taken, even against our will, we must remain with the lover until the condition is broken. Then I saw that you were staring at me, awaiting an answer.
"I have to state a condition on my love."
"It's my nature."
"What do you mean by 'your nature'"
"I have to. Now promise."
"And if I do see your true self?"
"Then I'll have to leave you forever."
Ceolric interrupted, "Is that true?"
"Yes it is. Just as you are human and must eat, we must put conditions on our love. I had no choice. Those words were indeed forced out of me. If you ever do see my true form, I will have no choice but to leave you, no matter what my desires."
"Well at least it's an easy escape from this human when you tire of him," Luvarion said quietly.
Then Ceolric answered, "Then for you, I promise. Solemnly."
"This is serious."
"And so is this: Will you marry me?"
"If that's what you want. But my father . . ."
"I don't care what he wants. He doesn't care about you. Whatever he desires, I'll still take you away from him, as I promised."
"You can't! He won't let you."
"We'll see. We'll go to him. Now."
Saying that, you got up and began to dress. Finally, freedom was at hand. I put on my riding clothes and mounted Meadowlily and followed behind. Neither of us spoke as we slowly rode back. I couldn't speak because the thought of finally winning my freedom filled me. The hoof beats echoed against the walls of the castle as we entered the courtyard. I shivered in the sudden cold. Soon I would no longer have to hear that sound.
Neither of us spoke a word as we dismounted in the stables, and you didn't unsaddle your beast. Then we walked hand in hand through the castle and up the stairs that wound around the outside of the main tower. My father hadn't been feeling well for the last few days so we went to his private chambers first. It wasn't long until we reached them. Soon . . . soon.
"Now don't say a word and let me talk. We'll be out of here by dusk," you whispered. Then you knocked on the door and waited.
"Who is it?", my father called out.
"Your servant Ceolric. I wish to speak to you."
You pushed the door open without a sound. My father liked his castle well maintained.
I had never seen my father's room before. It was much smaller than I thought, containing only a simple bed and a worn desk. And it was full of books. More books than I had ever seen before. More books than my mother owned. Then my father shouted at me.
"Merana! What are you doing here? Go to your room."
He was as red as the red robe he was wearing.
"Stay," Ceolric said to me.
My father just raised his left eyebrow.
Then you addressed him, "Sir, your daughter and I have agreed to marry and wish to depart for the city of Mandalor today."
My father just stared and then slowly said, almost to himself, "You? Her?"
Then my father laughed. You stared at him in astonishment, choked down some remark, and then simply waited for my father to speak.
Finally he stopped laughing, "And why is that?"
"Because we love each other."
Then you looked at me, but I couldn't think of anything to say. So I just nodded, slowly.
My father chuckled, and then spoke, "She doesn't love you, you know."
"But she's not even human!"
"It doesn't matter."
"She can't love you. She's just a water sprite. She's not human." My father spoke the next words slowly, as though talking to a simpleton: "She has no heart, no soul."
"I don't believe you. She loves me. I know she does. I know she's human."
"You poor fool." My father shook his head. "I'll show you. Merana! Show this fool your real self. I release you from your binding."
Then the mage spoke my Name. And thank the gods you remembered your promise for you turned your face away and covered your eyes.
"Free!", I shouted. Then I turned and drew all the water from the mage into myself.
"Free!", I shouted again as the dried husk that had once been a living man fell to dust.
"Free!", I shouted for a third time. I was so happy I forgot all about the wards that held all the water I had gathered over the last seven years. When I felt it burst from its prison, I rejoiced that it was free just as I was.
I opened myself to the roar of the water as it burst out of the dungeon and blew the castle right out of the ground. I pushed the rubble away from me as the water swept me up and through the valley.
Then I felt a great pain in my chest. Why? I was free. Surrounded by wondrous water. Then the pain started to draw me towards where the castle had once stood. Then I realized. The pain wasn't pain, it was a call. It was the call of a new spirit within me for its father.
"What? You mean you're having my child?", Ceolric burst out.
Then Merana just smiled. She stood up and walked over to Ceolric and hugged him. "Our child."
"Oh how sweet. The happy couple reunited. The poor human, drowning in the roaring water rescued by his lover. And now they're having a child. Enough of this! Its only a stupid human!"
"Shut up!", Merana shouted. Then she looked up at Ceolric and finished her story, "I couldn't leave you. I remembered that I'd left you, and this time it was I that felt pain. Now I know I cannot live without you. Now I can no longer deny it. I love you. At least I think it's love. I hope it's love. Thank the gods I found you and brought you from the ruins so that we can be together. Yes, now I know. It is love.", and Merana hugged Ceolric.
"And now that you've done your sweet stuff, why don't you just show yourself to that human so we can go home.", Luvarion spat out.
"But I love him."
"Sure. You really do. And if you do, what will you do when he dies. Just 50, maybe 60 years and then what. How can you love this . . . ?"
Then Ceolric entered the conversation, "She does. Didn't you just hear her?"
Ceolric turned away and stared out across the lake.
Merana spun to stare at Luvarion, "You shut-up Luvarion. I've had enough of you."
Then Ceolric changed the topic, "And what about the rest. The peasants, the villagers. They never hurt you." As he said this, Ceolric kept staring at the lake and at the wreckage that floated upon it.
Merana slowly turned back to look at Ceolric, "But they're only human."
"And so am I. Do you really love me?"
"Of course I do." Ceolric still didn't turn around.
"This is for your own good.", Luvarion whispered. Neither of the other two heard him, or saw him change into a pure white unicorn. "Its only a human. Its not important. It'll pass."
"You feel no remorse? None at all?", Ceolric asked.
"But they were only human," Merana whispered.
"And so am I!" Ceolric turned around and stared down at Merana as he continued, "You felt remorse for me!" Ceolric's voice quieted. "I don't know if I dare love you any more."
"But I -- "
Before he could finish, Luvarion leapt over Merana and onto Ceolric. The force of seven feet of gleaming ivory horn piercing his body thrust Ceolric backward. For an instant no one spoke. The only sound was the dripping of blood off the end of the horn.
"No!", Merana screamed.
Luvarion tilted his head down and let Ceolric slide off his horn. Merana shoved him out of her way and ran over to Ceolric. She caught him and lowered him to the ground. Merana was sobbing, the tears flowing freely and unregarded. She saw Ceolric's lips move and leaned closer to hear him.
"I . . ."
Merana leaned closer, ignoring the blood that dribbled out Ceolric's lips and into her ear.
". . . love . . ."
Then Ceolric's body relaxed and Merana just stared at it. She sensed Ceolric's spirit depart to the Gods.
"There. Can we go now? We'll laugh at the fun you had with your pet." Luvarion was back in his human form, immaculately clean.
Merana slowly turned around, Ceolric's blood still drenching her arms. She could barely whisper. "You. You killed him."
"It was for your own good."
Merana just stared at her brother. Then she stood up straight. Her face tightened. "Go away from here. Never see me again. Never come near me again. I name you," and Merana said her brother's Name, "and so shall you be gone!"
"Elasthorna! No! It was only a worthless human."
"My name is Merana! Now begone!", and she said his Name again.
"No . . .," Luvarion wailed as a gate opened behind him. Water roared out but he was slowly pulled through. The instant Luvarion disappeared the gate vanished, its presence marked only by the ripples in the lake where the water had tumbled into it.
Merana turned and looked at the dead form of Ceolric.
"I won't forget those I killed. I won't forget you," she whispered.
Then she turned and walked into the depths of the lake.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at email@example.com