Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 04 | By: Wayne Edward Clarke | | Category: Full Story - Fantasy Bookmark and Share

Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 04

There was a long silence, then Mark hesitantly addressed the elves.

“I’m sorry, I know this is very difficult.  I don’t…  I mean I don’t understand why you’ve come to my camp for this, or why you would discuss these personal matters with me, or show me Talia’s memories like that.”

As he spoke, Talia stood and faced him, visibly trembling.  Her expression was one that none there had ever seen before.  “Mark…  The curse… You must…”  Her eyes fell.  “I cannot say it.  Please, someone tell him, and then the rest of you must go, quickly.  It is fully upon me, and it is unbearable!  It must happen soon!  And I could not bear you seeing it!”

“Sweet source, how could I have so shamed myself?” Alilia murmured.

“Mark, Alilia cursed Talia to be raped by you until the end of days.” Nemia quietly stated.

Mark stared at her, his brows up and his mouth open.  Then he shook his head firmly.  “I won’t do it.” he stated flatly.

You must!!!” Talia shrieked, and now her face held only agony.

“I CAN’T!!!” Mark yelled in return, his voice a mighty roar.

“See here!  I must make you understand!” Yazadril quickly told him, desperate at Talia’s increasing distress.  “The power that Alilia put into the curse was enormous!  Enough to cast a Concussion spell that could reduce a small mountain to gravel and throw it all for a hundred miles in every direction!  Look at that mountain there and think about that!  And all of that power was passed into Talia with Alilia’s blow!  And now it is affecting her, and it will do so increasingly, torturing her, and it may force her to do things that she does not wish to do, and it may affect reality in other ways until the curse is fulfilled!  I dread this as much as you, but you must do it, or even more terrible things may happen until you do!”

I can’t!” Mark returned, equally desperate to make them understand.  “Look at her!  She’s…  She’s adorable, damn it!  You may as well ask me to torture babies with red hot pokers!!!  I couldn’t do it to save her life, I couldn’t even do it to save my own life!!!  I just, can’t, do it!!!”

Nothing you do can harm me, and nothing could be half as horrible as what I’m feeling!!!” Talia wailed as she stepped up to him and clutched two handfuls of his shirt in her shaking fists.  “At least hurt me!!!  Please!!!”

Mark stared at her, dumbfounded.  Though he was seated cross-legged on the ground and she was standing, they were eye to eye.

Talia’s whole body shuddered.  “I know that when a child of your people is violent or destructive, they are punished with blows upon the buttocks.” she gritted through clenched teeth.  “Do that to me now.  Do it hard.  I’m begging you.”

“What?  Spank you?” Mark asked incredulously.

SPANK ME!!!” Talia screamed, and slapped his face with all her strength.

He was caught by surprise, and the blow snapped his head to the side a bit.  “GODS!” he cursed.

She drew her arm back for another slap, and drew breath for another scream, but he was having none of that.

“FINE!” he yelled as he caught her arm and grabbed her around her waist, threw her face down across his thighs, and spanked her hard.

She screeched in pain, and instinctively tried to cover her behind with her hands as she thrashed upon his lap, but he seized her wrists and held them with one hand, pressing them to the small of her back to hold her down, then continued until he had given her twenty smacks.

When he stopped, she continued to thrash and cry out for another moment, then she suddenly relaxed exhaustedly and panted to catch her breath.

Mark then realized that her reddened cheeks were almost completely exposed, as most of the white strips that had covered her there were awry.  He also realized that the ‘dress’ of gauze strips was the entirety of her clothing.

“Stars above!  You’re practically naked!” he exclaimed in completely mortified embarrassment, and whipped his hands away like her skin had burned them, then slapped them over his own eyes.

Talia actually chuckled a bit.  She rose to her knees, still catching her breath as she tried to hug him, but her arms went less than halfway around him.  She giggled and stood, so she could wrap her arms around his neck and lay her head on his shoulder.

“Thank you.” she murmured sincerely.  “It’s over.  For now at least.  I know it will be back, though I know not when.  But for now I am free of the curse.  Thank you so very, very much.”

“Please, don’t thank me for that.” he muttered, embarrassed and ashamed at what he’d done.  “I’m glad you feel better.  I’m sorry I lost my temper.  I’m glad I didn’t have to… you know… do the other.   Ahf!  I feel like a clod!”

“I’m so sorry, Mark.  I’m sorry that I struck your face.  I’m sorry that you have to do this for me.  I did not enjoy the spanking you gave me, but the powerful relief I felt when you took the curse from me was heavenly.  It’s as if you had a dislocated shoulder that hurt a great deal, and you went to a Healer who resets the joint for you.  The moment when the joint is popped back into its socket is when the pain is greatest, but then it fades almost completely and the feeling of relief is strong and pleasurable.

“You have to be my Healer, Mark.  You have to give me pain, because it is the only way to end the other pain, like you were setting my dislocated joints.  And my joints are weak, so you will have to set them regularly.

“You must accept this!  We must keep the curse from acting!  The very best we can hope for is that we find a way to live with this, and accept it, and somehow find a kind of happiness together.  Only then can we know that we are still wholly ourselves, that the curse is not influencing our thoughts and behavior without our realizing it!  In order to prevent that, you must…  You must give me my treatments as soon as I notice the activation of the curse within me.”

“Well, thinking about it that way, I guess I can spank you when you ask me to, if you wore a bit more clothes.” he mused, his rumbling voice still muffled behind his hands.

“No, that will not be enough.” Talia told him firmly.  “I will need you to spank me sometimes, and I think I will need you to do… other things.  I do not know what, and I do not know why.  But I know that most of the time they will not stop the curse.  Most of the time you must rape me.  You must, I know it, for that is the crux of the curse that we both suffer from.  If you do not, the curse will torture me, and cause horrible things to happen, and still, somehow, one way or another, you will end up raping me anyway. 

“If you can do this of your own choice, the curse will only directly affect us in one way.  It will give us immortality, for I am cursed to be raped by you until the end of days.  We have eternity, and if we can find happiness at least most of the time, it will be a blessing.  And we will not grow old, for that was not what was in Alilia’s mind when she cast the curse.  She pictured the person I am now being raped by the person you are now, until the sun no longer rises, and that is how it shall be.  The curse is deep down in my bones now, and I feel the truth of that.  Already I have proved that it will not let me die.”

Mark was softly crying behind his hands now, overwhelmed by the enormity of what she was revealing.  “But it all makes no sense!” he sobbed.  “How can I rape you if you’re willing?  And what else will I have to do to you?  And why was I chosen for this?!  I don’t understand that at all!”

“Those are fair questions.” Talia murmured after a moment’s consideration.  “Alilia?  Can you answer them for us?”

Alilia had to clear her throat and swallow twice before she softly spoke, her tear-flowing eyes downcast..  “I’m not sure.  It was… impulsive, and over in a moment.” 

“You must try, Alilia.” Hilsith gently prompted.  “Try to remember exactly what you were thinking at the instant you cast the curse, at every level of your mind.”

After a moment Alilia whispered: “I will try.  I will need to think about it awhile.”

Minutes passed, then Talia murmured into Mark’s ear.  “Please don’t hide your face from me.  This garment is perfectly acceptable among my people, if a little daring, but I promise I will wear more clothing after this, so you will not be uncomfortable.”

Slowly, Mark lowered his hands, to gaze into Talia’s eyes from a few inches away.

Talia gave him a brave little smile and tried to brush some of his hair away from his forehead, but it fell back to the same place, and she giggled a bit.  “You have beautiful eyes.” she whispered.  “You are so big, and so male, and your voice is wonderful.  Would you give me a hug?  Please?”

Moving slowly, as if mesmerized, he carefully placed his arms around her and closed his eyes.  “Ahh, Talia, you are so tiny and soft and warm and pretty and young.  Your scent is wonderful.  How will I ever be able to hurt you… that way?” he asked, speaking privately and intimately, as she had done.

“The curse protects me from all injury.  I will be all right.  We both will.” She assured him.  “We will face it together.  It will be hardest at first, but one can get used to anything, after a while.  Besides, I am not that young.  I am twenty-nine years old.”

“Twenty-nine?!  Yazadril said you were about the same age as me!  But then, I guess we are about the same age, compared to him.”

“Yes.  And elves mature more slowly that your people.  I am at the age when I am most like a human girl of about seventeen years.  And I judge you to be about twenty-five, so we are fairly well matched that way.”

At that moment, Mark did not feel like telling her his age.  Then he marveled again at what he’d learned.

“We’ll truly be together forever?  I mean, really, for all eternity?”

She nodded, and placed her palms on his beard-covered cheekbones, looking intently into his eyes.  “Always.” she whispered.  “I swear to you, Markhan Reginus Longstrider the Fifth, I shall always do anything and everything I can do to bring you happiness.  For I fear you will never be rid of me.  Ever.”

He shared her gaze for a long moment, and smiled.  “You glowed brighter when you said that.”

“It was an elven vow.  It has it’s own power, and it was not given lightly.” she told him seriously.

He closed his eyes and gently moved his arms, and his hug became the embrace given to one who is truly cared for.  They spent a long time like that, with the rest waiting silently, before he spoke again. 

“I think I’m starting to accept it.” he murmured.  “It’s a beautiful feeling, knowing that I’ll never have to be alone ever again.  These past few months have been very hard that way.  And it’s another beautiful feeling, knowing that in the strangest way, I’ve found the girl I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”

He shook his head, then looked into her eyes again.  “Talia, I was raised to believe that certain things are honorable, and necessary.  I know it’s not fair to ask you this, as we hardly know each other, but…  if we’re going to be together as we’ve discussed, I need for you to be my wife.”

Talia stared at him, thunderstruck.

Just then Alilia spoke.  “I know what I was thinking.  And they are ugly thoughts.”

“Just a moment Alilia, if you could hold that thought please?” Mark asked as he rose to one knee and took both of Talia’s tiny hands in his huge ones.  “Talia, I would be forever honored if you would be my wife.  Will you marry me?” he asked sincerely.

Talia paused for a moment while a smile grew on her face, and fresh tears gathered on her eyelids.  “Yes, Mark.” she softly answered.  “I will gladly marry you.”

They threw their arms around each other in happy and emotional embrace.

Alilia stood and approached them.  “Please, let me give you this.” she said as she held her palm up.  There was a bright flash from her hand, and then she was holding a tiny and exquisitely beautiful ring with five diamonds in a delicate and swirling gold setting.  “It is magically enhanced, in it’s sparkle, and in that it always fits perfectly.  It cannot be scratched or marred, and it is almost indestructible.”

“Thank you, Alilia.” Mark told her as he carefully took the ring between his fingertips, and gently slid it onto the third finger of Talia’s left hand.  Her breath caught at the beauty of it.

“I deserve no thanks, as you will know when I tell you what I have realized.  It is truly the least I can do.” Alilia said as she resumed her seat.

Mark also resumed his cross-legged seat on the grass, and Talia settled sideways in his lap.  He gently put his arms around her, and she put her arms around one of his and leaned the side of her head against his chest.  He marveled again at her delicate beauty, then Alilia regained his attention.

“When I cast the curse, foremost in my mind were the words I spoke; I curse you.  Beneath that were the terms of the curse; I curse you to be raped by him until the end of days.  As to exactly what I pictured happening when Mark raped Talia, I was thinking of Yzandra.

“Yzandra was a young elf of my people, in her second century, when she mysteriously disappeared without a trace about fourteen hundred years ago.  When she finally returned, I became intimately involved in the case, because there were diplomatic repercussions.

“I learned that she had been kidnapped by one Milishak the Blue, the Royal Wizard to the Court of the Kingdom of Iktra, the human realm bordering on the lands of The People of Life to the north-west.  Milishak abducted Yzandra so that he could give her as a sex slave to his liege, Melcom, then the reigning king of Iktra.  She was chosen for this because she lived beside the border and she sometimes crossed it to gather herbs, and because she was among the weakest of my people in her ability with the power, lacking enough strength to even light a candle with it.  It was done by Milishak in order to turn Melcom to evil ways, and in this it partially succeeded.

“Knowing that this abduction could lead to war with my people, a war they had no hope of winning, Milishak and Melcom held Yzandra in a magic cell with no physical entrance, deep beneath the deepest dungeons of their palace, reachable only by a keyed Translocation plate in the royal apartments.  Her cell was luxurious, but small, and lacking any windows or doors.  Only they knew she was down there, and the Translocation plate was made so that it would function for Milishak or the reigning monarch of Iktra, and no others. 

“Melcom used Yzandra as his sex slave for the rest of his life, some forty-three years, and upon his death, he gave her to his heir in his private will, like she were a possession!  And when the next king died, he passed her down as well!  Damned Source above!  They did this for nine generations!  For two hundred and seventy-one years did the kings of Iktra hold Yzandra in that sunless cell, raping her and tormenting her regularly!!!”

Alilia fell silent, her fists and face clenched in rage, and the rest waited patiently while she regained control of her emotions.

“Finally a king of Iktra died leaving no male issue.  His eldest daughter, Rellin, was strong and at least half-decent in character, and she had cultivated the commanders and officers of her royal military.  Milishak opposed her, favoring a male cousin with militia of his own, and they were backed by the other nobles of the realm.  Rellin countered Milishak’s power by hiring wizards from the human wizards’ guilds, down in the empires.  Though there was civil war for almost two years, in the end Rellin held the throne, and Milishak and his contender were dead.  Only then, after Yzandra had dwelt in her cell in absolute solitude for two more years, did Rellin read her father’s private will, and learn of Yzandra’s long imprisonment and torment.  Rellin set her wizards to freeing Yzandra, then personally escorted her home.

“After that, we spent many days counseling and interviewing Yzandra and treating her, and many were the hours she told me of her torments.  In the end, it was decided that there was little else to be done about it, since all the guilty were dead, though Rellin did offer sincere apology and any restitution we might ask for her family’s crimes.”

Alilia fell silent, then she continued, her eyes still downcast.  “When it seemed that Talia had raped my son by trickery and caused his death, Yzandra’s ordeal seemed a fitting punishment.”

Now she resolutely lifted her tearful gaze to meet Mark’s.  “I chose you as the instrument of Talia’s punishment because no elf could do such a thing, and because you were fresh in my mind, since I had been discussing you with Yazadril only moments before.  As well, I now realize that I wished to prove to Yazadril that you were just like almost every other human male I have ever met, and that your seeming decency was an act, concealing a core of cruelty.  When I gave her to you to rape, I thought that you would consider it a prize beyond measure, and thus would your evil heart be revealed to Yazadril.

“So, I am forced to realize that I am not only vindictive, I am petty, and a bigot.”

Mark considered her words before replying.  “No, I think you were vindictive and petty.  I think that realizing the enormity of your mistake has cured you of those traits.”

She nodded.  “Perhaps you are right about that.

“Though Talia has the worst of it, she is right in that I have cursed you as well.  And everything I said to her of the inadequacy of my apology, and my desire for atonement, all applies to you as well.  I am so very, very sorry.  And if there is anything at all that I can do for you, you have only to ask.  If you desire to see me punished…  I will endure what you decree.”

“So the fulfillment of the curse is based on the ordeal of Yzandra?  Everything that was done to her, I’ll have to do to Talia?”

“Yes.”  Alilia nodded tearfully.  “Each and every detail of it is too much to hold in one’s mind all at once, still it is true to say that the totality of her experience, as she told it to me, and most importantly, the impressions and thoughts of it that my mind experienced as she told me of it, form the basis of the requirements of the curse.”  She paused.  “Though perhaps not exactly.  When I cast the curse, I did not picture you keeping Talia in a cell, so you will not be required to do that.  I pictured her with you as you went about your life.”

She suddenly stomped her foot a bit like a child in anger.  “Damned and broken Source above!  This language is so completely inadequate!  Were you anyone else, I would simply cast Tongues upon you so you could speak Elvish!”

Mark shrugged a bit in embarrassment.  “Sorry.” he mumbled.

“Please do not apologize to me!” Alilia told him in exasperation.  “You are like a good child, and I have wronged you horribly, damn it!”

“Alilia!  I need to know how long I will be free of the curse!” Talia stated determinedly.  “What was the frequency of Yzandra’s torments, and what did you imagine mine to be when you cast the curse?”

Alilia’s brow tightened in concentration.  “The kings of Iktra were not consistent in their depredations.  The worst of them was at it almost every day, and for hours at a time.  One, only once or twice per month, and another was satisfied after only a few minutes on each occasion.

“To be as specific as possible, I would say that Yzandra was tormented on more than half of the days of her captivity.  Make it three days of every five, and over the years ahead, I expect that to be the average of days that the curse will come upon you.  Over the short term, you should have until tomorrow at least, and most likely you will not feel it for two days, though you may have as long as a month.

“When the curse does come upon you, it may be satisfied with a few moments of torment, as it was this first time, though it may demand as many as six hours.

“It may be wise to completely hold the curse at bay by fulfilling it’s requirements before it activates, rather than waiting until you begin to feel it’s effects, in case it starts to affect reality before that becomes apparent to you.  In order to be at all certain to do so, you should have him torment you for an hour and a quarter, every second day.”

Mark considered that, and the thought almost moved him to tears again.  Talia sensed this, and caressed his face reassuringly to soothe him.

“As I said, I know that most of the time he will have to rape me, and that sometimes he will have to spank me.” Talia stated as she turned back to Alilia.  “What else will he have to do, and how often?”

Mark’s gruff interjection came before Alilia could answer. “Now hold on!  No offense against the rest of you fine people, but these will be the details of…  I mean, it’s bad enough that I have to do these things, things that no decent man could be proud of doing, but I don’t see why anyone else needs to know what Talia and I will be doing during our intimate moments as man and wife!  If we don’t have to do anything else till tomorrow, I don’t see why Alilia can’t tell us the rest of that later, with only her and Talia and me present!  And I ask the rest of you to avoid learning the details of what happened to Yzandra, and to not let anyone else know that Alilia’s curse is based on Yzandra’s ordeal!”

“Quite right.” Yazadril nodded.  “We understand completely.  You can be certain that we will do as you ask in this.”

The others nodded agreement.

“You should know this too, for I have wronged you more than you realize.” Alilia stated bitterly.  “We were in the Council Hall of The High People today when Yazadril asked of the nature of the curse I had cast upon Talia.  Though I gave no other details, I loudly declared that I had given her to you, to be raped by you until the end of days.  There were many present, of The High People and my people as well.  By now everyone knows of it.”

“Well, isn’t that just great.” Mark bitterly declared a moment later.

Hilsith cleared her throat, and spoke.  “I am here in my role as a Healer, to try to minimize the suffering that will be caused by the curse.  As our people have an innate ability to heal normal physical injury, most of my work deals with the healing of minds, and emotions, and injury caused by magic.  I welcome you to seek my council on these matters, and recommend that you do so.  If you do, you can trust my confidentiality as a sworn Healer.

“Beyond that, there seems little more that I can do here right now.  Though there is a treatment that may help a little, I need to do some research before I reveal or apply it.  The course you have set for yourselves is likely the healthiest possible way to deal with the curse, over the next few days at least.  And so, I will offer my congratulations on your engagement, and take my leave.”

“Thank you, Hilsith.  I hope you come to my wedding.” Talia said as she turned on Mark’s lap to exchange a fond embrace with the Healer.

Then Hilsith hugged Mark as well, or rather hugged his neck, saying: “Be well, young Mark.  Though you could not have foreseen this fate, you could not have found better to be your wife than Talia, or any better than Yazadril and Nemia to be your family.  All of you will need all the care that you can give each other, to recover from your losses.  If not before, I will see you at your wedding.”

“You won’t have long to wait.” Mark told her, and tried to smile.  “We have to be married before the sun sets.  We can’t take the chance that the curse will strike again before we’re married.”

“He’s right.” Talia nodded.

“In that case, is there anything I can do to help with the preparations?”

“We just want something small, I think…” Mark mused, then stopped at Talia’s hurt expression.

Then she realized how she looked, and dropped her eyes.  “Ah, that would be fine.” she murmured.

“Uh, then again, I’ve always wanted a wedding that was more… uh, traditional?” he ventured.

She lifted her eyes to his, smiling hopefully.

“Perhaps something grand and beautiful?” he continued, his growing smile matching hers.  “It’s hard to describe.  And us men don’t really care much about the details of such things anyway.  Perhaps if you have something nice in mind, my intended bride, you could help me out with a few ideas about it?”

“Oh Mark, you are so sweet!” Talia beamed, and knelt up on his lap so she could throw her arms around his neck and kiss him full upon the mouth.

“He will be a great husband for our daughter, Nemia.” Yazadril chuckled as he hugged his wife.  “You must admit that was a brilliant bit of husbanding just now!  Masterful diplomats could not have done it better!”

“I agree!” Nemia laughed.  “He is indeed a perceptive gentleman.”

Suddenly Mark broke the long and deep kiss by gently but quickly lifting Talia a bit and sitting her back in his lap.  Before she could ask what was wrong he whispered in her ear; “I’m sorry, but your kiss has… aroused me, and I didn’t want everyone to see it.”

“Oh.” she said in surprise.  Then, struck by curiosity, she wiggled in his lap a little like she was trying to get more comfortable, so she could see what it felt like.  “Oh my!” she said, and upon realizing that he was blushing scarlet, buried her face in his chest and giggled.

“Who traditionally plans the wedding in your culture?  And do you hold a reception afterward?” Mark asked the group.

“The mother of the bride plans the wedding.” Nemia chuckled.  “And I already know what Talia would prefer in that regard.  And if by ‘a reception’ you mean a huge celebration with feasting and music and dancing, we do indeed do that.

“You must realize that among our people, weddings are a very rare and special event, because of our low birthrate and longevity.  And because elves almost never divorce, and so almost never remarry unless they are widowed.  You should also know, Mark, that the vow of an elf is magically binding, and that the vows of marriage are the most profound and powerful of all.  The presence of other elves adds power to the binding.  It helps to insure the happiness of our marriages, that the power of the attendees adds to the power of our vows to love each other and to strive to bring happiness to our marriage.  For all these reasons, we tend to invite as many as possible to the wedding.”

“That sounds like good thinking.” Mark nodded.

“The wedding that all of us have always envisioned for Talia,” Nemia continued, “Would be attended by all of the High People.”

“But… Yazadril said that there’s thousands of you!”

“That is correct.” Nemia smiled.  “But only a few thousands.”

“Don’t worry.” Yazadril chuckled.  “I’m the one who has to pay for it, and not you!”

Mark laughed, and shared a smile with Talia.  “Then that’s the way it must be.”

“Thank you. “ she whispered, and drew his head down for another kiss.

“Well, since they must be married tonight, we are short of time.” Yazadril stated.  “To save a bit of it, I will send a Speaking to all of my people, rather than inviting each of them in person.  And since I lack the power to cast a Speaking to so many, Alilia, could I presume upon you to lend me a bit?”

“Certainly.” Alilia nodded.

Talia had ended her kiss and was smiling up at Mark, and he noticed at that moment that Yazadril’s glow became markedly brighter.

“Source above!  Not so much, Alilia!” Yazadril laughed.  “I don’t need to shout their ears off!  Though I must say, that always gives a feeling that would be easy to get used to!”

Alilia slowed her flow of power to him, and his glow diminished a bit.

“That’s about right.” Yazadril nodded, then hummed a short melody, and cast the Speaking.

He spoke in his native tongue, and Talia quietly translated for Mark.  “People of The Nine Valleys, it is I, Prince Yazadril.  We have concluded an investigation into the deaths of my daughter Dalia, and of Bezedil, son of Alilia, Princess of The People of Life.  It was overseen by Theramin of the Council, and by Dilimon, Second Captain of the Sentry Corps, as neutral parties, and witnessed by Hilsith.  We have found that my other daughter Talia is entirely blameless in those deaths.  She has agreed to become the wife of Markhan Reginus Longstrider the Fifth, invested Ranger of the Forests of Shinosa Valley in Finitra.  Due to necessities of honor, they must be married this very evening, despite our grief at our recent loss.  Though all our hearts are sorrowed, we ask that sorrow be set aside for a few hours, and that you all attend, to join us in making this evening’s nuptials a happy and joyous event.  The ceremony will of course be held in the wedding chapel in Laylas Valley, one hour before sunset.  Your attendance will mean a great deal to us.  Thank you, we hope to see you there.

“Thank you Alilia.” Yazadril nodded, as his glow faded to its previous brightness.

“You are welcome.” Alilia nodded wearily.  “Now, I think I will go, and take Bezedil home.  I will…”

“No.” Talia thoughtfully interjected.  “Please, you must attend my wedding.  And call all of those you care for, and extend them my invitation as well.  You will be my bridesmaid.  Actually, you will be my maid of honor.”

“Your maid of honor!” Alilia gasped.  “Surely there must be one you care for who would be a more appropriate choice for that honor!  After what I have done to you, it would not be right for me to even attend!”

“This marriage is of your doing, Alilia, and if it brings us an eternity of joy and happiness, then that is of your doing as well, and to your credit.

“Though it should help you to know, my intentions in this are not as purely noble as that.  Diminished you may be by the casting of the curse, still you stand an order of magnitude above any others of our peoples in pure power, and I think your recovery is almost complete already.  I would have you be right beside me, so that your ambient power can most effectively reinforce our vows.

“Mark, my father would usually conduct the ceremony, as Prince of our people, but tonight he has his role as father of the bride, so by procedure and by my preference, Theramin will conduct our wedding.

“It would please me if you would have Dilimon as your best man.  He is a good friend, and he is strong in the power.”

“Sure!  He and Theramin and I struck up a friendship last night, and I would be pleased to have him if he agrees, and besides, he’s the only other male elf I know besides Theramin and Yazadril!”

Suddenly he sobered, and his countenance fell.  “Actually, he’s the only other male I know.”

“You poor boy.”  Talia softly caressed his face.  “I am shamed that I had forgotten until now, that your tragedy was so much worse than ours.”

The others silently reflected on the truth of this, for where they had each lost a loved one, and Talia had lost two, Mark had lost so much more, for he had lost all, and in a far more horrible manner.  All his loved ones, his friends, acquaintances, his home, his entire people.  Now that they knew him somewhat, they empathized with his loss much more powerfully.

 “But now, we must try to find happiness.” Mark said, and smiled bravely.  “You were saying?”

“I was agreeing to be your best man, and thanking you for the honor, I think.” Dilimon laughed.

“Yes.” Talia agreed as she resumed her train of thought.  “And thank you.

“Mother, we are allowed twelve bridesmaids and twelve groomsmen.  I ask you to choose them and to offer them the honor, selecting the most powerful of those who will attend.

“Father, when all of our people attend a wedding at the Laylas chapel…  Drat!  I have translated that word so badly!”

“Then break it down by concepts, my child.”  Yazadril advised fondly.  “For there is no exact word match in this language.”

“Ah” she nodded, then turned to Mark.  “It is; ‘The Place of Gathering with Greatest Joy and Deepest Respect For The Joining Of Lives In Love and Harmony’.  But ‘chapel’ doesn’t really apply, both because it is an open place of trees and moss, and not a building, and because it has nothing to do with gods or divinity or worship.  It is beautiful, and used for weddings almost exclusively, and it has become… charged… with the power and the joy of the many elven ceremonies and vows.  It is highly magical, and lends it’s own power to the gathering.  But I will refer to it as ‘the chapel’ in this language, for convenience.

“As I was saying, Father, our people do not fill the chapel or even close to it, even when everyone dances.  How many could attend?  How many is there room for?”

“Well, that’s hard to say.  I see where you’re going with this.  Under normal procedures, we are limited by the number that can be seated to feast, about three thousand.  If feasted in a picnic buffet style, with only a few tables for the main party and the rest reclining upon the moss, perhaps six thousand if everyone must dance at once.  If we set aside a dance floor for perhaps half to dance, we could have eight thousand, without diminishing their enjoyment of the event.”

“I think you’re being conservative, Yazadril.” Theramin mused.  “Our people won’t mind mingling a bit closer than that.  I’m quite sure that over ten thousand could have a grand time as you’ve described it, especially at such a unique event.  And there’s plenty of room to dance beneath the trees.”

“You’re likely right.” Yazadril smiled, picturing it.

“Alilia, there are over four hundred thousand of your people.” Talia pointed out.  “Perhaps eight thousand of them would be willing to attend a wedding upon such short notice?  Preferably eight thousand of the most powerful among you?”

By now Alilia had caught Talia’s line of thought as well, and she smiled smugly.  “Perhaps they will.” she agreed.  “If it was necessary, I would command them to do so, but they will be glad to come.”

“Uh, Talia, you’re starting to make me nervous here.” Mark admitted.  “I mean, ten thousand of the most powerful elves?  Why?”

“My betrothed, this marriage must save us.” Talia told him earnestly and hopefully.  “Without it, perhaps we can be happy in a way, despite what you must do to me for the curse.  Perhaps you will not come to resent having to do it, or to resent my constant presence and needs, or come to hate me.  Perhaps we can do that for an entire human lifetime.  Perhaps we can do it for an entire elven lifetime.  Perhaps we could do it for a hundred thousand years, or a million!  But we must find a way to be happy together for eternity.  I have a horrible fear that sooner or later the worst may happen, and we would be trapped in a completely hellish existence together for millions of centuries, hating each other.

“And if your people shared our customs, and placed no disapproval on mating outside marriage, you would never have asked me, despite the curse, and I never even imagined that you would.  For though there may be something special growing between us, we do not love each other.

“But when I stand upon the podium with you and take the vows of marriage, I will swear to love you.  And even if I do not love you before I take the vows, as long as I am sincere in truly wanting to love you, and I am truly and honorably determined to do so, the power of the vow will make it so, and I will love you, I truly will, with all my heart!

“But magic does not affect you.  You may not be bound by the vow.  Yet you can see our power glowing, so the power must affect you at least a tiny bit in some way.  And so I hope that with so many of the most powerful elves in attendance, lending their power to the vow, that you will be affected by its power, enough that you will truly fall in love with me.

“And since we will be married, you must see that we should love one another.  And we will be saved from a hell of our own making, no matter how long we are together.”

“Wow.  That’s good thinking.” Mark nodded.  “All this power and magic still strikes me as very spooky and strange, but you’re right about all of that.

“I just hope that you forgive me if I get really shy.  I’ve never even seen more than fifty people in one place before.”

“I, of all people, understand shyness, my betrothed.” Talia smiled, ruffling his hair.  “Though I think this ordeal has cured me of most of it.  My former fears now seem so inconsequential.”

A moment later Nemia briskly broke the silence.  “Well, there is much to do.  Mark, you must be barbered and tailored, and the rest of us must prepare as well.  There is a feast to be prepared, and the chapel must be made ready.”

“And I must pass on eight thousand invitations, and prepare my wedding present.” Alilia thoughtfully agreed.  “Perhaps if Theramin will assist me, it can be a present from both of us, for I intend to build them a home.  Mark cannot spend his wedding night in one of ours, for he could never stand up straight in one.”

“I would be delighted, Alilia.” Theramin beamed.  “I take it you have something in mind?”

“I do, and it will take both our talents.  And don’t worry, it will fall within the construction strictures of The Nine Valleys.

“Yazadril, Link with me please.  I send you an image of the home we will make for your daughter and Mark.  Tell us where we should locate it.  And the front entrance must face south.”

“Ah!  Beautiful, and so perfect for both of them!” Yazadril exclaimed at their private vision.  “The land already set aside for Talia’s hometree will be perfect!  See!”  He hummed a note, and sent her and Theramin his image of the land with the home complete upon it.  “And if you were to accept my help, and Nemia’s, we could do it thus!” he said, and modified his image.

“Ahh!  Yazadril, you are a masterful artist!” Theramin breathed in admiration.

“Indeed.” Alilia had to admit.  “Your grasp of complexity and detail astounds me yet again.”

“Pardon me for interrupting.” Mark said as he stood, effortlessly holding Talia in his arms.  “I’m sure that most of what needs to be done can be better accomplished elsewhere.  Why don’t we go to your house, Yazadril, so these ladies can prepare in comfort?”

“Why not indeed?” Yazadril nodded with a smile.

“An excellent idea.” Nemia agreed as she stood and began bustling about, collecting the cups.  “Here Mark.  I feel a need to do a bit of mothering, so I will pack your possessions, and you can continue cuddling with Talia.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate that very much right now.” he quietly rumbled, and took a moment to close his eyes and concentrate on the wonderful sensations of the tiny elfess in his arms, seeming so trusting, so affectionate, so obviously and desperately hoping to find love and happiness with the completely unusual stranger who was now destined to be her eternal tormentor.

He opened his eyes at the same time as she did, so that he just saw her eyelids finish opening, and then their gazes seemed to fall into each other, and the eyes of the other seemed to take up all of reality.  It seemed a fateful moment, and Mark felt a need to say something good and right, something as profound as this moment.  And as he recognized the need, he said the first things that came to mind, before the fated moment was past.  “Talia, I will never fail your trust.  Ever. I swear it.

He turned and carried her to the edge of the glade, under the shade of the trees, and spoke intimately.  “And I would not have us start with any hidden truths of importance between us.  I did not tell you my age because I was a bit embarrassed that you’re older than me.  I’ve lost track of the date.  My birthday is the second day of the ninth month.  If that hasn’t passed yet, I’m still sixteen.  If it has, I’ve turned seventeen.”

“It is the twenty-eighth day of the eighth month.” Talia told him with a smile, still holding the intense eye contact.  “In four days you turn seventeen, and that seems just right to me.  Are you still growing?”

“I think I am, but I think it’s almost finished.  Your father asked the same thing.” he revealed with a smile as bright as hers.  “And there’s something else you need to know.  Something I ask you to keep between you, me, and Yazadril, who already knows because he discovered it.  Yesterday he found a way to make magic affect me a little bit, though he had to use a lot of effort.  He said that no one else would ever think of it.  I don’t want anyone else to know because I’ve never encountered real magic before yesterday, except for the disaster at home.  You elves have such amazing power, so much that you take it for granted, and… it frightens me.  As long as they all think that I can’t be affected by magic, then we’re even, because I have no magic to affect them either, and I can be comfortable among them.  But if they find out that there’s a way to affect me with magic, then I’m defenseless.”

“I understand, and I will keep your secret.  You realize that you can still be affected by magic indirectly?  That a rock thrown at you by magic is not in itself magic, and will hit you the same way as if it were thrown by hand?”

“I know.  But I’m fully trained as a Ranger, and I have my own ways of being physically dangerous, so we’re still even.

“The most important thing is, Yazadril might be able to do it at our wedding, so that the magic of the vows affects me.  Hopefully, without anyone else realizing it.”

Now she finally took her eyes from his so she could hug him tight in thankful joy.

“Take your father aside as soon as you can go someplace private to talk, and ask him about it.” Mark advised as he carried her back to the group.

“I will, right away.  Don’t worry, no one will think it unusual or suspect anything.  Set me down, please.”

He did so as he noticed that the rest were gathered around a huge padded brown leather reclining chair, more than big enough for him, mounted on a slightly ornate hardwood platform that was polished to a deep shine.

“Yazadril pointed out that you could be neither Translocated nor Levitated.” Alilia told him as Talia made her way to her father’s side and whispered in his ear.  “And I do not wish to walk, and we are short of time.” Alilia continued.  “Thus, I have made you a conveyance, to your measurements, which Yazadril provided.  The chair is mundane, but the platform it is bound to has had a keyed permanent Flight spell cast upon it, which is Levitation combined with Movement.  And to answer the question I can see on your face, it is easier to cancel the weight on a body by Levitation and then Move it, than to lift the weight with Movement while also using that spell to direct your motion.  Since it cannot be keyed to you, I suggest that Talia be given control of it.  The seat is big enough for you both, or she can sit in your lap.”

“Thank you, Alilia.” Mark said as he nervously inspected the flying chair.  “I’m not sure if I can use it, though.  I’m not afraid of heights, as long as whatever’s supporting me seems solid and safe.  But if it doesn’t, I have a big fear of falling.  When you’re my size, even a short fall can be dangerous.”

“Well, we can fly along just above the grass.” Talia assured him.  “It will take slightly longer, but we’ll get there soon enough.  You can trust Alilia’s work to function safely, and I’m an experienced flyer, with good control of my own Flight spell.”

“I will key it to you now.” Alilia told her, and nodded.

“Thank you.” Talia nodded in return as she felt control of the platform pass to her.  She turned her right palm up and lifted it a bit, and the platform smoothly rose a foot.

“My betrothed, your chariot awaits!” she announced with a giggle and a sweeping gesture of presentation.

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