Illaden sat in his padded leather chair, a single claw idly tapping at the armrest beneath it as he listened to Antania bustling to and fro about their homestead, hanging snowflake and snowmen decorations in nearly every nook and cranny for Winter's Veil. He knew she had busied herself for weeks with embroidering each of them out of silken threads and iridescent beads and could not help but chuckle lightly behind his mask at the thought of her toiling so for something so frivolous. "Yet," he mused, "it keeps her home. Where she belongs."
Though he would never admit it, he abhorred those evenings when the summons came from afar, whisking his Antania away from the sanctuary of their home and into the midst of such locales as Mount Hyjal or the Black Temple. In her absence, he would pace, clutching her soul shard to his
chest disquietingly, prepared to sense the slightest change in her condition. Not a moment's peace would he know until she returned to him, and even then, seeing his frail wife enter the door battle-weary and disheveled did little to soothe him.
He did not doubt her abilities; no, he trained her himself and in many aspects, she had come to surpass him, though she was gracious and modest enough to profess otherwise. He did not wish to prevent her from amassing greater power either; he readily encouraged her to study his tomes. As Antania's gentle humming wafted to his ears from the kitchen, he nodded to himself with a smile behind his mask and thought, "I simply cannot lose her. She must stay here where it is safe."
The sensation of Antania's velvety lips pressing against his cheek pulled him out of his contemplations and he turned to behold her, noting the beaming smile she wore. "Yes, my dear?" "Dinner is ready, Beloved," she replied, and gently took his skeletal hands in her own, leading him to the table, which was lit with silver candles and nearly packed to the brim with food, their aromas mingling pleasantly in Illaden's nose. Once they were seated, Tangnak began to serve the meal and together they dined on mushroom soup, sweet potato pancakes with apple chutney, a leafy green salad with an orange vinaigrette, striped bass, spiced fritters, and berry sorbet.
After dinner, Antania rose from the table with a giggle and scurried into their bedroom. Tangnak quickly followed his mistress, knowing what was to ensue. When they emerged, Antania was carrying a small, wrapped box while her voidwalker was nearly hidden due the height and width of all the wrapped boxes he held in his grasp. "It is time for presents, my love!" To that, Illaden could only chuckle and nod. "Yes, yes, my dear. Let us open them."
Antania, bouncing with excitement, held out her small box to Illaden, which he took between his bony hands and opened slowly, his clawed fingers running over the top of the box's contents until runes on the surface glowed to reveal "Chronicle of Dark Secrets." Grinning behind his mask, he said, "I know where you procured this tome. It is rare indeed." Nodding, Antania replied, "I hope it pleases you, Beloved." She then took a larger box from Tangnak and gave it to Illaden. "This is also for you, my love." As he opened it, he felt cloth beneath him. "A nethervoid cloak, Beloved," Antania explained with a wide smile. Illaden set it neatly in his lap with a contented laugh and said, "another rare gift. You are spoiling me, my dear." "But of course, my love," she replied and picked up a tiny box, which she placed in the palm of Illaden's hand. "Your last present!" When he opened it, he felt a band of metal inside, along with a strong aura of power. With a squeal of delight, Antania declared, "That is a Loop of Forged Power! I had it made just for you!" Carefully, Illaden slipped it onto a finger, feeling the power course through him. With a cackle, he wrapped his arms around Antania and pulled her down onto his lap, kissing her.
"Now, my dear, it is time for your gifts," Illaden stated and motioned for Tangnak to give Antania the last two boxes he held. She began with the smaller one, her small, bony fingers deftly opening the paper to reveal a hinged black box. "I believe you will like what is inside the box, my dear," Illaden declared with a small laugh. Carefully, she opened the box, her goldenrod eyes widening as they caught a glimpse of what lie inside. "It is beautiful!" Jubilantly, she lifted the box's contents for Tangnak to see: a crown forged of khorium, each shadowsong amethyst topped spire filled with diamond-encrusted filagreed hearts. "I love it! I love it!" "Why do you not place it upon your head, my dear?" Gingerly, she sat the crown atop her head and threw her arms around Illaden's neck, covering his cheek with a bevy of kisses. With a chuckle, Illaden said, "You still have one gift left." Antania nodded and opened her second gift, squealing as she saw the black netherweave gown overlaid with deep violet lace lying inside the box. "Oh, Beloved! It is gorgeous! Thank you! Thank you!" With that, she lifted his mask with her nose and pressed her cold, soft lips to his shattered mouth, kissing him deeply.
Together they now sat upon Illaden's padded leather chair; Antania nestled on his lap, her crowned head resting upon his shoulder, her insubstantial arms coiled about his waist. "Beloved," she purred to him, "I have one more gift for you. One that could not be wrapped." He tilted his head slightly to gaze down at her, a claw now stroking her silken cheek. "Oh?" She nodded. "No longer shall I venture forth in exploration. I shall remain here in our home. Anything I require I shall send Zigpad or Tangnak to procure. Let others explore and have their adventures; let others risk life and limb for silly causes. I shall remain here beside you. If there are sights to see, then I will see them with you and you alone. You are all that is important to me." He smiled at her words and kissed her forehead gently, then wrapped his arms around her and rested his head against hers. Both now sat in perfect silence; both thinking this was the best Winter's Veil ever.