CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT
Kythorn 25 1277, Year of the Beholder, the Great Forest of Tethyr
By centuries-old tradition the annual feast of Faradome was held on the spacious green lawn in the middle of the Queen’s Gardens. In preparation for this notable event, the Faradome Green had been swept clean and decorated for the occasion by industrious wood sprites and pixies. Queen Ellesime’s covenant with the sylvan creatures of Tethir had made her the ruler and protector of all the Forest folk, including such shy and exotic beings as dryads, centaurs, and even lythari. Many of them attended the final night of the Faradome festival, although most lingered in the shadows, rarely wandering into the spotlight.
Owing to the magic of the mythal, the capricious Tethyran weather held no sway over the skies above Suldanesselar – hence the tables, abundant with festive fare, had been laid in the open, beneath the summer sky. The feast was about to begin, and the first attendants spread in lively disarray across the sparsely-lit festive grounds, while the evening breeze carried the rich fragrance of honey, spice, and lush summer blossoms. The quiet music of elven harps and flutes poured from the small arbor, hidden among the fruit-laden plum and apple trees, and decorated with multicolored lampions.
King Errilam’s human eyes were not accustomed to the twilight of the elven celebrations, sparsely illuminated by floating faerie fires and arrays of tiny magical lanterns, so he could only guess at the variety of strange creatures, gliding and fluttering past him in the semi-darkness of the shortest night of the year, snatching a sweet summer apple from a wooden bowl here, or a handful of glazed almonds from a plate of sweetmeats there. Sometimes, he would hear the quiet murmur of high-pitched voices and a flutter of pixie wings, then a quiet exclamation of surprise or a child-like giggle. Yet, for all their playfulness, the pixies remained elusive and never let him see them.
As they drifted through the energetic throng of Suldanessellar’s citizens and their guests, Bodhi did her best to maintain a lively conversation, yet the King remained inattentive and depressed. He had expected different company tonight, and that was the main reason for his spleen. Alas, Ellesime was not only a woman but a ruling monarch, and it was conceivable that important religious holidays such as Faradome implied some special duties and rituals obligatory to the Queen. Surely, Ellesime would appear in due time and infuse the evening with the quiet joy of her presence. Until that time, Errilam trudged among the banquet tables, peeved at the delay, and anxious as a small child about to receive his nameday gift. His melancholic mood soon passed to his companion, so she abandoned her attempts to brighten his spirit, and simply trailed along by his side in sullen quiescence. Eventually, they reached a more illuminated spot, not far from the musicians’ pavilion, where Errilam caught a glimpse of a familiar face among a small group of celebrants.
“Astalder, is that you?” the King exclaimed with some relief. The awkward silence stretching between him and his lovely escort made him feel ill at ease.
“Lle creoso, heruamin, tula, vasa ar' yulna en i'mereth.” Astalder Goldfeather tilted his cup in salutation. His five brothers, all dressed in similar gray and brown hunting leathers, broke the quiet conversation they were having between themselves, and greeted the newcomers with more or less convincing degree of sincerity.
“Greetings, melloneamin,” Errilam replied with that mixture of restraint and good humor which he always adopted when conversing with elves. He had known the lord constable’s sons for many years, and Astalder was, perhaps, the closest thing he had ever had to a friend among Ellesime’s subjects. But despite Errilam’s best intentions and many years of acquaintance, the invisible wall of alienation was always there – even when both sides made visible efforts to overcome the cultural barriers.
Duke Menerlim’s sons were a splendid bunch: lean and graceful as wild cats, with dark dreamy eyes that were perhaps their most notable family feature. Yet despite their striking physical resemblance, each brother possessed an individuality of his own. Astalder, the eldest, with his lion’s mane of golden curls and perpetually cheerful smile; than Lirimaer, the second boy, tall and slender as a willow-tree; Devyan, small and agile as a monkey, Cestrel and Cormillon – the fair-haired twins who always made fun of each other; and finally, Elhan, the youngest – dark, pale, and moody as a crescent-moon on a stormy night.
“It warms my heart to see you all in good health and spirits,” the King addressed them with a genial smile. “And ready for tonight’s hunt, I see.” He nodded at the six siblings’ plain, practical attire, and noticed that tonight they had a seventh companion – a skinny elven youth with raven-black hair gathered in a pony tail.
“Who is the young one, Astalder?” Errilam asked in slight puzzlement. “He looks like one of your blood, yet I thought I knew all of lord Menerlim’s children.”
“Sovalidaas is their father’s sister’s son,” Bodhi’s honeyed voice spoke softly into King’s ear. “And tonight will be his first Great Hunt, if I am not mistaken. Why did you not let the boy enlist with the Green Spears, Astalder?” She inquired teasingly. “I would have taken personal care of his training.”
“Oh, I have no doubt about it, lirimaerea.” Astalder’s face was a mask of polite respect, yet his eyes were full of hidden mirth. The twins made strangled sounds that a less polite person could have taken for giggles, and the object of the discussion shifted from foot to foot, trying to hide behind their backs.
“Are you proficient in the art of the hunt, my lady?” Errilam asked in complete bafflement.
That was the last thing he would have expected from a courtly beauty, yet elven society was so different from human that he had long swore off presumptuous judgments. Errilam had visited Suldanessellar before, but had never stayed for more than a day. Owing to his good fortune, (or lack of thereof), he had not met Bodhi in his previous visits, and, due to his assignation with the Queen, had missed her ‘grand entry’ into Suldanessellar after the Spears’ last mission. Ellesime had introduced the dark-haired maiden as her ‘dear friend and relative,’ and Bodhi had not been very forthcoming with details about herself, choosing instead to tease and bemuse the King with frequent views of her alabaster neck, tantalizing glimpses of her cleavage, and the alluring sway of her slender velvet-clad figure.
The King’s question though, drew the most unusual reaction from the Goldfeather brothers – they began to chuckle among themselves exchanging brief and pointed exclamations in Elven that were too swift for Errilam to follow. For her part, Bodhi looked peeved but amused. However, before she could open her mouth to reply, one of the siblings came to her support.
“Heruamin, Mistress Bodhi is the chosen leader of the Company of Green Spears – the most successful troupe of scouts and fortune-hunters this side of the mountains,” Lirimaer answered in her place, shifting his eyes away from Bodhi’s face, whose alabaster-white paleness was accentuated by the frame of dark tresses.
“Hush, silly one,” the huntress gave the second boy a bright smile, full of contentment and a hint of hidden promise, and the golden hoops in her ears tinkled gently as she shook her head in pretend denial. “The Spears simply serve the Queen – to the best of our humble capacity!”
“And to your great benefit and glory,” Astalder nodded his agreement. His voice was too leveled to suspect insincerity on his part, and Errilam’s night vision was not good enough to spot Lirimaer’s boot on his elder brother’s toes.
“But why aren’t you wearing your hunting gear tonight, Seler’elle en tirithil?” One of the twins inquired laughingly, pointing at Bodhi’s splendid evening gown. “Will not the finest huntress of Suldanessellar be joining the Great Hunt?”
“The Queen has asked me to take care of our guest,” Bodhi answered lightly. Yet the slightest shade of a frown marred her delicate features. “Her Majesty was concerned that King Errilam would feel lonely without company, since the entire city would be out in the woods hunting orcs.”
Errilam started to protest, but the brothers seemed to find the explanation plausible, and the conversation switched to discussing the finer details of the upcoming night. Much to King’s astonishment, Bodhi demonstrated great appreciation and knowledge of the fine art of chasing and killing one’s prey – something he found disturbing yet fascinating in a woman. The eagerness with which she discussed the best strategies for singling out and eliminating the weakest of the pursued horde was slightly upsetting. Alas, the brothers showed equally small, if not nonexistent, concern over the fate of their ancestral enemy. Orcs certainly were nasty critters – Errilam could not argue with that – yet he thought that Suldanessellar was strong enough to protect herself from the weak local tribes without resorting to annual massacre. However among elves, orcs seemed to be universally considered a vermin, not worthy of living.
Eventually, it was laughingly decided that since Errilam and his fair companion could not share in the pleasures of tonight’s chase, a special event should be planned to compensate the human, and allow him to demonstrate his prowess in the noble and manly art of the hunt. Devyan half-jokingly suggested a rabid owlbear that by rumor haunted one of the local valleys. Elhan objected, but at that very moment the music flowing from the nearby pavilion switched to a more spirited tune and the heads of every person on the Faradome Green turned in one direction – Queen Ellesime and her small entourage had appeared on the grand staircase leading from the Royal Palace to the gardens.
Bodhi felt bored, slighted, and ignored through most of that long evening. However after King Errilam dropped all pretense of politeness and rushed to be the first to greet the descending party, her disgust at her dubious position and his indifference turned to outrage. She had spent two days working her charms on the vermin-king, yet the human paid her as much attention as one pays a servant or a domestic animal. In fact, both his retainer and his mount had received more consideration, because the King continuously asked about their wellbeing, whereas Bodhi’s flirtations were met with mild indignation and mistrust.
To be fair to the unlucky seductress, it should to be mentioned that her failure was mostly Queen Ellesime’s fault, exacerbated by King Errilam’s inherent stubbornness. Having rejected his proposal of marriage, the Queen had been reckless enough to suggest that he might yet fall in love with another elven woman. Alas, that innocent proposition had produced the most regrettable effect, for Errilam had guessed the purpose of Bodhi’s hasty appointment, and had been deliberately ignoring her allures, even though it took some serious self-control on his part.
To make matters worse, Bodhi was too egocentric and impatient to take any consolation in the fact that she was competing more with an abstract ideal of perfection than with a real woman. Her own arsenal of spiritual and emotional contrivances was nearly empty. True, the huntress’ physical charms were usually sufficient to snare a desired male, but afterwards, her interest in a new lover rarely lasted for more than a few days, as she had always found them lacking in power, intelligence, or the ability to please her bodily. Also, with all Ellesime’s shortsightedness with regard to her lover’s sister, the Queen had been right on one account: Bodhi always mentally compared her paramours with Jon, although not out of sisterly affection or family loyalty.
Over the decades of trying to best Joneleth at the game of power and intrigue, (played primarily in her imagination, as more often than not Jon simply ignored her attempts to capture his attention), Bodhi’s obsession with her brother had grown deeper than a lover’s passion, and more personal than a sworn enemy’s hatred. He was everything that she was not: the firstborn, adored and spoiled by their mother, while his sisters received pitiful crumbs of her affection, the celebrated master of the Arcane, much-admired by the People and famous well beyond the boundaries of Suldanessellar; finally, the consort of the immortal Queen, valued as her trusted adviser and protector of her city. Yes, Joneleth had it all, but on top of the mortal sin of being disproportionately and dastardly lucky, he also wore her face – and that final offence turned Bodhi’s envy of him into a bizarre, supernatural passion.
It ought to be mentioned that by some strange joke of Nature, both of lady Nyonin’s elder children had inherited their father’s features. The uncanny resemblance was so strong that if not for the difference in hair color, they could have been mistaken for twins, although Bodhi was a decade younger than her brother. Even their demeanor was alike – and seeing Jon’s lips curve in a smile that was almost an exact copy of her own made Bodhi gnash her teeth in frustration. (Yave had been very lucky to be born a pale and watered down copy of her elder siblings – it spared her the worst aspects of her sister’s personality.)
Bodhi adored her own face, deeming it an important asset in the never-ending struggle for influence and success. When she was younger, she had often spent hours before the mirror, studying every subtle shift of her own features, trying to imagine what expression and pose would best fit her ambitious and not-so-innocent schemes. She had tried her best, often without success, yet Jon had managed to strike those precise poses and profiles naturally and effortlessly.
Watching the taller, smarter, and plain luckier male copy of herself reap the unjust rewards dispensed by the treacherous Fate had been the curse of Bodhi’s youth, but ever since Joneleth’s final return to Suldanessellar, her woes had multiplied. Lately, even Bodhi’s most devoted admirers had taken to calling her – seler’elle en tirithil – a name that she loathed with all her heart, yet could not refuse without casting a suspicion upon herself. Needless to say, she had been forced to swallow the insult and pretend that she liked being called her brother’s pale shadow, but her resolve to best Joneleth in their undeclared competition had become stronger than ever.
The moment she had overheard Ellesime’s conversation with the high priestess, Bodhi had jumped at the opportunity to become involved. Fishing in the murky waters of political intrigue was her favorite occupation, but of course her major goal had been ‘restoring Joneleth’s trust’ – a task at which she had failed many times before, ever since the unfortunate incident with the drow ring. This time, Bodhi had no doubts that the seed of jealousy and suspicion, which she had planted into the fertile soil of her brother’s mind, was going to bear plentiful fruit. Vanity was Joneleth’s most grievous weakness, and by dallying with the human, Ellesime had given her an opening. Now Bodhi could pose as a loving sister and true heroine – the one who had atoned for her past misdeed by saving Ellesime and sacrificing herself for the sake of her dear brother.
As for King Errilam and his fate – Bodhi had never given him much thought. At some point, he would have to be disposed of, setting her free of his annoying presence. The huntress was not even sure if she wanted to become a human Queen before that – the notion of bedding the round-eared brute was disgusting enough, but bearing his child would have completely ruined Bodhi’s reputation among her followers. (Truly, there were limits even to her brazen ingenuity.) Besides, the prospect of keeping the power was dubious at best – the humans were notorious for their superstitions. So, tempting Jon with visions of rule over a unified Tethyr had been no more than a splendid piece of declamation, as in reality Bodhi had had only a very vague idea of how that could be accomplished. Consequently, it did not matter much how Errilam’s final elimination was achieved, as long as it was done in such a way that nobody but Joneleth suspected Bodhi’s personal involvement.
The main benefit of the whole scheme was, obviously, the weakening of Ellesime’s power, by virtue of destroying the Queen’s alliance with humans, at the same time sabotaging Joneleth’s bond of affection with his royal lover. Nobody could ever accuse Bodhi of timidity, but not even her brother ever knew the full scale of her ambitions. Of course, toppling the semi-divine Queen and usurping her power was a crazy plot that no one in her sane mind would entertain lightly. However, with the help and encouragement of a true goddess the task appeared less impossible.
Following her conversion to Kiaransalee’s faith, Bodhi had spent decades trying to gain influence over her brother and undermine the Queen, but so far her achievements had been piteous. True, she had acquired a small group of followers – fools who were ready to do her bidding without weighing the consequences of their actions, but most of them were primitive oafs, incapable of making intelligent decisions. For Bodhi the Green Spears were blade-fodder by and large, although at least two of them – her closest lieutenants and paramours – were slightly more capable than the rest. But if her current intrigue was to succeed, she would gain one unwilling ally, whom she hated and desired most: Jon was the ultimate trophy in her risky game, and although the implications of failure were worrisome, the prospect of winning was exciting.
If Bodhi was lucky enough, her brother might inadvertently approve of Errilam’s assassination – even after her supposed betrothal to the King – thus putting himself in a perfect position for future blackmail. If not, the plan would go ahead regardless, and then Bodhi would claim her innocence, while hinting at her complete understanding of his position. Certainly, the human could not be trusted to stay away from Queen Ellesime, even after marrying Joneleth’s sister! It was a near perfect plan from any angle, although to prove her loyalty to the Queen, counter any future suspicions, and tie her brother up into her schemes, Bodhi had to compel the human to ask for her hand in marriage. A task, which had appeared simple at first, yet now seemed near impossible to complete.
Scanning the festive crowd for a trace of her human quarry, Bodhi scowled at the sight of a small troupe of youths already forming around the Queen and her group. Young elven warriors, attending their first Faradome, were flocking to receive the Queen’s blessing. King Errilam’s blood-red cloak stood out among the subdued green and brown tones of the elven clothes like a flame tongue among tree leaves. Bodhi was not a devoted worshipper of the Seldarine, nor a great champion of Nature, but the dissonance was disturbing enough to make her cringe. Certainly, the human was nothing but trouble, and he thoroughly deserved what was coming his way. But regardless of his not-so-bright future, tonight she had to follow Errilam around, pretending to enjoy his company.
The great feast was drawing to an end. Queen Ellesime had already declared the winner of the annual bard contest, and the crowd of bright-eyed, scantily-dressed elven warriors – most of them decorated with black and green war-paint – had abandoned the tables laden with food and drink, turning their attention to the dance-circles, which began to form all over the Faradome Green around individual groups of musicians and bards. As the dance progressed from the slow, monotonous rhythm of the traditional leitha to the fierce unstoppable beat of the oht-chiant, the circles swirled and evolved, merging with their neighbors and forming one grand entity that was soon ready to swallow every last participant of the Faradome festival.
Only a few chosen guests and clerics were excluded from the dance – these congregated around the Queen, forming a small circle of their own. Ellesime looked frail and tired. Deep shadows lurked in the hollows of her radiant face and around her weary eyes, but in the shifting, illusory stream of moonlight that flooded the forest it was hard to tell if her perceived sadness was a mere phantom of King Errilam’s imagination. The music grew louder and the chanting of the elven dancers turned into a monotonous hum of swarming bees, ready to fly out of their hive. The Queen swayed under the assault of many troubling emotions and the forceful beat of the music, and taking a step back leaned on the promptly offered hand of her consort – a near instinctive move that nevertheless made Errilam grind his teeth. Ellesime sighed, as if sensing the hot pressure of his stare, and lowered her chin, making a sign to the high priest of Corellon Larethian – an elderly elven cleric in azure robes, embroidered with silver half-moons.
“Sii'!” The priest’s face lit with an expression of fierce, primeval joy that beggared mere verbal description. “Young hunters of Suldanessellar – go with the Seldarine’s blessing! Honor the Protector and Preserver of Life! Honor the blessed Brotherhood! Let the Great Hunt begin. Come back at dawn, bringing tales of your victory, and the daughter of the Great Oak will greet you at the front gates, crowning you with glory!” His hands went up, rising the slim golden cup of the Goblet of Life to the pale disk of the moon.
“Tenna' san'!” A few hundred throats exhaled in unison, filling the night air with keen reverberations of their voices.
Then the crowd went quiet, and the music stopped sharply, plunging the glade and the forest beyond into an abrupt, frightening silence. The floating globes of magical light began to fade both on the Green and up among the suspended bridges and railed talans of the tree city. All of a sudden, the forest became a dark and foreboding place, illuminated only by the bleak light of the moon and full of silent shadows that streamed out of the clearing and disappeared into the woods with the swift, frightening efficiency of natural-born hunters. A huge, pale shape glided overhead, moving beyond the dark ragged line of trees without a single flap of its bat-like, diaphanous wings. Errilam blinked and closed his eyes – he could swear he saw a reflection of the moon shining on the bright metallic scales of something that looked like a giant flying fish. When he opened them again the first face that floated into his view was that of the woman whom he loved more than life.
“Tula yassen amin,” Ellesime said simply, beckoning him to follow her down the narrow forest trail.
Bodhi swore under her breath, yanking the heavy skirt of her evening dress that had nearly caused her to trip over and reveal herself. Stalking prey in a velvet gown and dainty silk slippers was ridiculous, if not outright impossible, but one could not always pick and choose her means. She was lucky that the ludicrous duo she was shadowing were too preoccupied with their conversation to notice her blunder. Still, the huntress decided to let them gain a few dozen steps on her – she was now certain that they were headed towards a particular spot, and there was no need to ruin her chances of overhearing their exchange by rushing after them. She would do much better by retracing her steps and then taking a shortcut, to arrive at their final destination only slightly behind the Queen and the human.
On top of the fact that she was furious at being left in the dark on the subject of Ellesime’s mysterious assignation, Bodhi’s head was buzzing with questions and ideas. What was that all about? Had the capricious royal diva changed her mind about the human King and his proposal? Was she about to give Errilam a different answer? And after Bodhi’s failed efforts to seduce the King! If Ellesime had indeed altered her course it could mean an end to the current game and to the Queen’s long-standing romance with Joneleth, which admittedly was not a bad thing in itself, since it would give Bodhi another excellent opportunity to ensnare and instigate her brother.
The Queen’s actions appeared rash and unpredictable, and certainly deserved an investigation – if Bodhi could prove to Jon that Ellesime was cheating on him with the human, the consequences would be delicious! For a split second Bodhi wondered where her brother could be – she had not seen him since the moment the dance circle was broken, signaling the beginning of the Great Hunt. Joneleth had simply disappeared into thin air, which was not very difficult considering the chaotic nature of the event.
Finally deciding to abandon her fruitless speculations, Bodhi hitched the folds of her velvet gown, tucking them under her belt, and ran down the half-hidden path, unfailingly picking the turns that led in the right direction. Soon she reached a small clearing in the middle of a dense spruce brush that was marked with a giant head, carved from porous grey stone. Here the secret path that Bodhi had followed disappeared among the trees, and the only available trail was the one that the Queen and her human ‘friend’ had picked at the Faradome Green. Bodhi could already hear the voices of the wretched couple – indeed they had reached the Elder Grove a few moments before her. Now, if she could only sneak up on them undetected... The huntress was ready to proceed with her plan when a patch of shadow beside a nearest tree blurred, solidifying into a tall figure clad in grey robes. The man, whom Bodhi immediately recognized as her missing sibling, bowed his head and stepped out onto the trail in front of her.
“You!?” Bodhi’s voice broke into a snake-like hiss. Trust a wizard to use an invisibility spell when he needs to stay hidden! She swallowed the angry remark that was ready to jump from her lips and tried to mould the look of irritation and astonishment on her face into a visage of sisterly concern. “My poor Joneleth... have you followed them along?”
She expected a fit of anger or, perhaps, a bout of scalding sarcasm, but her brother’s demeanor remained maddeningly calm, except for his eyes that had lit up with the most inappropriate sparkle of merriment.
“It is remarkable how predictable you are in your assessments.” Jon finally deigned to reply. His lips curved up in a derisive smile. “I was following you, my little snoop. Yet now, I think, that we should move our discussion to a more appropriate place, as I do not wish to distract Ellesime from arranging your nuptials.”
Bodhi opened her mouth to reply, but before she could argue her case Joneleth had turned on his heels and strode down the original trail leading her away from the entrance to the Elder Grove and the Queen’s secret meeting. What was she to do? Following Jon meant admission of defeat, but she had no choice, simply because she was extremely curious to find out the meaning of his last pronouncement. Before running after him though, Bodhi swore that he would pay for this fresh humiliation, adding yet another line to her mental score of his numerous offenses.
She finally caught up with him at the forest edge where the trail forked. Joneleth confidently picked the branch leading towards the riverbank. Bodhi cringed inwardly – this particular spot was the last place she would have chosen for an important conversation. Yet there was no way she could refuse to follow him without provoking unwanted questions, and so she went along suppressing her unease.
He stopped only a few feet away from the edge, where the dark waters of Suldanesse rushed past them in their long and pointless quest down to the Trackless Sea. Bodhi shuddered, but her brother’s voice was as cold and indifferent as the river stream, which, many years back, had carried away the carcass of her unlucky paramour.
“Now this looks like a good place to seal a bargain.”
“What bargain?” Bodhi tried to sound confident and self-assured, but her voice quivered like a broken lute-string. “Why have you dragged me here, Joneleth?”
“Do you have anything against this location?” A silver eyebrow crept up in a show of mild surprise. The voice sounded soft – too soft for her liking. “I thought you liked the river... and the opportunities it can provide.”
“I don’t quite understand what you meant by that,” she replied cautiously. “And I care little for your mental games.”
“Do you now? I am most displeased. I fancied that playing games with me was your favorite entertainment. Do not bother to reply,” Joneleth stopped her angry retort with a lazy wave of a pale hand. “I have brought you here to offer a bargain, not to dwell on your past misdeeds. Will you listen to reason, sister ‘dear’, or should I summon the two stooges whom you have employed to carry out your latest dirty trick? I wonder if they are aware of their upcoming fate,” he nodded in the direction of the rushing water, “after they exhaust their usefulness to you?”
“If you have summoned me here to throw wild accusations and empty threats...”
“My threats are never empty, foolish one, and you know this only too well. As for my accusations... let me assure you, I would rather forget half the truths I know about you. Alas, my divinations do not lie. Whatever I know, however, is sufficient to have you banished without respite. Did you not order your two cronies to eliminate the human boy, right after offering yourself as a bride to his master?”
“I never gave anybody such an order!” Bodhi’s forehead wrinkled in genuine puzzlement – she had not spoken with her two lieutenants since their return from the mountains, and had not bothered to check what they had been up to. Yurick’s fall she had attributed to natural human clumsiness, yet now she remembered her own vaguely expressed desire to get rid of the boy. But that had been before she had decided to tackle Errilam herself. “What do you take me for – a nincompoop?” She snapped back at Jon in near panic. “Whoever did that never consulted me!”
“And you expect me to believe your word over theirs? Let me tell you this much – not only have they bungled the job, they are now ready to sell you off to the highest bidder!”
“I am surrounded by traitors and maladroits!” Bodhi hissed, pacing back and forth across the patch of hard, brittle grasses. The hard stems of sagebrush snapped under her feet, filling the night air with bitter smell of long-forgotten treachery. A gust of wind, carrying the moist, chilly breath of the river tugged at her dark locks, plastering them to a brow, damp with perspiration. “What do you want of me?” She stopped in her tracks, spitting out her protestations with the viciousness of a cornered animal. Her eyes flashed with blue electric sparks, the hair on her head nearly stood up like the mane of a big cat. “If you want me to leave the humans alone, I shall concede. Know however that I was only trying to help you neutralize your rival! Is this how you are going to repay your one and only ally – by accusing her of heinous crimes, and ruining her in the eyes of your deplorable petty queen?!”
“I care little for humans.” Joneleth frowned at the sudden ferocity of her defense. “But I would warn you against insulting the Queen in my presence.”
“I don’t care for a judgment from your divine doxy!” Bodhi cried out in frustration. “And if Zyruil or Dueilil accused me of plotting to kill the human underling – they are lying! I might be many things you don’t even suspect, but stupidity is not one of my many sins. As for you, I wish you luck with your devious lover, brother dear. Even now she might be despoiling herself with the human!”
“Do not sully Ellesime’s name with your filthy tongue, brazen one.” Joneleth hissed through his teeth. Yet there was a minute hesitation lurking in his voice, even though his eyes were as cold and distant as chunks of blue ice. The moon chose that moment to roll behind a ragged patch of clouds, and the river wind blew strongly onto the shore, carrying the faint stench of decay. “I might yet decide to be generous and spare you the disgrace of the Exile,” he declared suddenly, “if only to protect the family name. Although Seldarine are my witnesses – there is nothing left to protect! Yes, I might let you go ahead with your rotten plan, and marry the human to become a lawfully crowned human Queen. Honestly, the human pest deserves you as much as you deserve him!”
“Then why did you torture me with your unwarranted allegations? And what do you plan to do with my supposed co-conspirators?”
“Nothing at all,” Joneleth waved a hand in dismissal. “They are not worthy of my attention. Your meddling in my affairs, on the other hand, is not only annoying but dangerous, on account of the complete asininity of your latest schemes. Therefore you should be punished, by means of pulling out your venomous fangs and letting you enjoy a long and – no doubt – miserable matrimony with the human King.”
Bodhi breathed a sigh of relief, even as a knowing smirk began to pull at her lush, red lips. However, after her brother’s final remark she frowned, trying to read the message behind his harsh words and the icy expression on his face.
“What are you planning to do?” She inquired nervously.
“I told you, I was going to offer you a bargain.” Joneleth strode to her side, taking her chin in a steel grip of his long-fingered hand. However appalled she was at this treatment, Bodhi did not risk trying to wiggle out. “So far my intention has not changed,” he said lightly, stroking her smooth cheek with the forefinger of his other hand. “Ellesime is negotiating your marriage to the King, even as we speak. I am very confident that she will succeed. And however drastically your true nature differs from her idea of your character... I have no desire to distress my beloved or ruin her plans.” Joneleth’s face was so close now – Bodhi could sense his breath, slightly tinted with the herbal fragrance of Evermead. “Therefore I must take care of this delicate matter in a more decisive way. I shall put you under a geas,” he whispered into her ear, suddenly letting go of her chin. Bodhi gasped, breaking out of his hands and spitting the kind of expletives ladies should normally try to avoid, but her brother ignored her distress. “A spell that would tie you to Errilam stronger than a bridle binds a horse,” he concluded laughingly. “Not only shall you stay faithful to him and be forbidden to plot his demise – you shall be compelled to protect him from any accidental harm, physical or mental, or risk slow and painful death of the nastiest kind.”
“You would not dare to...” Bodhi muttered in panic.
“Try me,” the cruel mocking light in his eyes burnt her to the bone. “It is either a geas for you or the Exile – your choice! For not only will I tell Ellesime how the human boy lost his amulet, and regardless of your actual involvement in that distasteful prank it was your paramours’ desire to please you that incited them to act – I might also ask her to re-open the investigation into the disappearance of Keth’roen Thistleleaf, who, if my memory does not deceive me, vanished from this very shore a few decades back.”
“You are a monster with no sense of decency!”
“Am I?” He inquired with the sweetest smile plastered over his pale, arrogant face. “Well, maybe it runs in the family. No doubt Rielev could give you a long lecture on the topic of inherited traits. In the mean time, shall we proceed with the enchantment, or shall I give you an hour to put your affairs in order before seeking out the Queen?”
“I ... you... fine! Tie your sister to the lowliest scum on Toril! Bind her and give her away to a monster, unable to protect herself from the dirty hands of the round-eared barbarian!”
“Need I remind you that this marriage was your own suggestion? Don’t worry, the geas will not be activated unless the King accepts Ellesime’s proposal. Mind that I am only protecting you from making the costliest blunder of your life – trying to kill the man who is the only barrier that separates us from a full-scale war with humans.”
“Curse you, Jon, and curse your dirty treacherous ways! You shall burn in the Abyss for what you are doing to me!”
Yet, in the end, she had no other choice but to submit, as all her pleas and curses touched him less than the dull buzzing of a fly.
Her brother’s eyes took hold of hers, rooting her to the ground, robbing her of free will – of all her hopes and ambitions. The fierce biting chill of that blue stare touched Bodhi’s very soul, filling it with misery and despair. Truly, she felt like a rat mesmerized by the stare of a hungry snake! He began to mutter incantations, and the enchantment felt as if it lasted forever, with every next step more torturous than the last. But even as the numbing syllables of the spell bound her limbs, Joneleth’s eyes continued to eat at her spirit, bending and twisting her will, branding the words of his command into the very depth of her soul. When it was finally done, Bodhi was so worn out that all she could do was collapse on the cold grass, and cry out her misery in a series of long, tearless sobs.
Lle creoso, heruamin, tula, vasa ar' yulna en i'mereth. – (elv.) Welcome, my lord, come, eat and drink of the feast.
melloneamin - (elv.) my friends
heruamin – (elv.) my lord
lirimaerea – (elv.) lovely ones
seler’elle en tirithil – (elv.) little sister of the bright moon
leitha - (elv.) free
oht-chiant – (elv.) war shapes
Sii' ! – (elv.) Now!
Tenna' san' – (elv.) until then
Tula yassen amin – (elv.) come with me