I had my mind on higher things until the maid pulled my hair. I didn't cry out-such a small pain was beneath the notice of a lady of the Sidhe, and anyway, I was used to it. Curly hair may be envied by the straight-locked, but it gets in a damnable tangle. Setting down 'Treatise on Tactics Deploying Mounted Archers', I looked at myself in the mirror. Ah, yes, another evening on display awaited me.
Surely this bosom would stun prospective suitors. Even I was impressed by the way the pearled web of the bodice over the delicate shell pink silk provided an illusion of nudity. And more than illusion, it was cut so low that only precise stitching would keep my breasts in the cups provided that I maintained perfect posture. As tired as I was of the game of dalliance, I admitted to myself with all due vanity that I had a fine pair of breasts. More than one gentleman had given me the impression that he was most delighted to be introduced to the tits of the Lady Liadne ta Farjeon ni Gwydion.
The maid gave me the hand mirror and stepped back as I rose to check the end result of her labors. The hair: curly, as I mentioned, and rich foxfire red--an unfashionable color of late. We Sidhe being immortal, many preferred not to keep to the same appearance and changed themselves to follow the trends of fashion so that one might not recognize a friend from year to year. Wide hips, slim hips; large bosom, no bosom; tall, petite; fair, dark. Why not? Immortal, beautiful, noble: Sidhe never change in these qualities. I was not alone in disliking constant variance. My face and body had been the same through countless seasons. Oh, yes, the body: call it overripe or voluptuous depending on your tastes. Certainly generously endowed at the chest. Call the whole an hourglass and you'll come close enough. The body had been out of fashion for a very long time. Ethereal slenderness was in with a vengeance: the reigning beauty was the Lady Siona ni Eiluned who rejoiced in hair like fleecy clouds with the golden lining glinting through and preferred to drape her minimally curved figure in such gossamer robes that she not only appeared as if a wind could blow her away, she usually looked as if the wind -were- blowing her away. Siona had a gift for clinging to a strong manly arm to avoid this from happening and preferred female trolls as attendants to make herself appear even more fragile by comparison.
The dress? Not ethereal. As I revolved before the pier glass, I reminded myself of a frosted sweetmeat. The waist was high cut below the tightly fitting bodice that left my shoulders bare; the sleeves were also tight to the wrist. The skirt draped in long soft folds of shell pink gossamer, translucent but covered in a lacy web set with pearls. By design, the pearls were beaded most heavily on the outer edge of the folds, so that where the press of my hips spread them out, the inner edge of the folds lay against the skin revealing contours of flesh. A fetching display, if I may say so. I would not lack for dance partners. The thought of that brightened my eyes (predominantly green but with a way of resembling the sea in its many moods. Many denizens of Faerie have changeable eyes) as the maid put the necklace of pearls, shells, and pink-green-blue tourmalines around my neck. I loved dancing. There was spontaneity, an irresistible sensuality, to the marriage of music and motion. Passion lay hidden beneath the strict steps and figures of the court dances and the folk dances could verge on the ribald. Dancing pleased me more than anything else about my life.
I was a rebel. Not politically: the court intrigues were like the turn of the wheel of Fortune: who was on bottom would end up inevitably on top and vice-versa. Not fashionably: I was far from alone in my preference to keep an un-beGlamoured appearance. Not socially: I behaved well, mistress of etiquette and protocol as expected of a member of House Gwydion. My rebellion, quiet as it was, was also more fundamental. My heart rebelled against the sameness of life that I knew. We were immortal, the Sidhe, and did not count year or season, day or hour. Yet paradoxically we had turned Arcadia into a giant jeweled clock such as a Nocker artisans might make. Animated figures to play out the pageant of each passing hour, the same, the same, the same. And like the work of even the greatest Nocker, apt to have a flaw.
I had never taken a lover, though at times I hungered for one. I had kissed the lips of Sidhe lords so handsome their every motion looked like a divine gift. I had danced with Satyrs and felt the touch of bold hands that made my flesh shiver with awakening desire. I had laughed in the company of exotic Eshu who paid me extravagant compliments and told me wild tales of their travels. This and more, and yet when arms would seek to encircle me I fled. Somehow it felt, each time, like a trap. I became a legend for it, the Virgin Rose of Gwydion that no man could pluck. And of course, more ribald versions of this were told though not directly to me.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt treacherous hope rise again. Maybe this time I would meet someone in whose arms I could lose myself. Life was sweet and I was immortal. In the fullness of time, he would come.
Out I went to the ball.
The Sidhe en fete are a dazzling sight, but I had seen it before. As I said, the fashion was ethereality, so that the ballroom was aglow with slim beauties of both sexes with flaxen hair and wearing blue of myriad shades. The area had been decorated with a theme of a castle in the air so that the fashionable crowd looked quite at home like a family of Sprites. I was an out of place Undine and my personal Glamour responded becoming an aura of wavery light like reflections from water. I danced with several archangels. One even had wings, and gently flexed them to the benefit of his pectoral muscles. I danced with him twice for the
pleasure of watching.
Lord Haleron Gwydion ap Gwydion, the House head, sent for me. He gave himself the pleasure (he said) of introducing me to one Paran Arrara ap Eiluned. Paran was not a blond, which just then I found very attractive. Black hair, black eyes gold-rimmed around the pupil, and a body that was wiry rather than slim. He was also on the short side for a Sidhe, and was barely taller than I was. I felt it must be his true appearance, but it would have been rude to ask him. We spent much of the evening together, Haleron's introduction having made it plain that it was my duty as a daughter of the house to see that this guest was well entertained. No, I didn't sleep with him, though that was very nearly customary. My reputation for virginity made it easy for me to avoid such complications.
However, I did have to bathe him. I admit, it had erotic overtones. Most hostesses wind up warming the beds of their guests because of this stricture of hospitality. I didn't have to do it solo, I had the help of maids. I could have made them do everything and just kept Paran company while I supervised, but I enjoyed being able to run the bath sponge over a male body. Or on occasion, a female body. I've never slept with a woman, either, but I have felt the temptation. I felt it again tonight. For this duty, one wears a shift so that splashing and dripping are of no account. In the course of the bath giving the shift becomes damp and clingy and in my case this can be almost obscene. I soon suspected Paran of splashing me deliberately, he certainly was restless in the tub and I was soaked soon after starting. Frankly, this is almost invariably what happens to me when bathing a male guest. Men can't seem to resist wetting down shift-wearing women with large breasts.
I finished rinsing his hair and started to step away to let the maids come up with the towels for him to exit the tub. Paran took my hand and kept me near. "Do not leave me, lady. I know your reputation, and will not press you, but your company is sweet. Stay and talk to me a while yet; drink wine; sing me to sleep," he suggested in a voice touched with laughter.
They always tried. But I felt kindly towards Paran, he had been a good dancer and he asked me to stay with rare courtesy. There had been a few times where I had bathed a guest at night and ended up dueling him in the morning for taking liberties of my hospitality. I've been called a tease, and this may be true, but I have never promised a man something I did not give.
"I can sing a fine lullaby, my lord. I will stay a while." In truth, I wanted to see him naked again. For a woman who desires men, there are few things more beautiful than a lord of the Sidhe naked. I stepped back and he released my hand, then rose from the water like a newborn god. The maids came to meet him, rubbing oils into his skin then drying off excess fluid with the towels. Most Sidhe males have warrior training and are well-muscled, but Paran was as sleek and wiry as a mink. He enjoyed their attentions and my eyes on him; I knew because by the time the towels came away and they started to wrap him in the bed robe, he was erect. Desire stabbed me in the belly, and I turned away, wondering why even as I did so. I poured the wine for him, and gave him the cup as he came to the bedside.
"Won't you join me?" he asked huskily, and he didn't mean only the wine.
My resolve strengthened, I knew not why, and I yielded up the cup and gestured to the bed. "No, thank you, my lord," I said firmly.
He reclined on the bed, his hair still slightly damp. I felt regret then, the desire to touch, but some inner binding kept me back. I walked to the window and looked out at the rising Moon. I sang to him then.
I sing quite well. My voice is low and rich compared, not a silver fluting as is the classic notion of a Sidhe voice. I had rarely sung so well as I sang then the ancient lullaby. I crooned the words meltingly, feeling inside a great hunger for someone to love. As a lulling it failed, for when I ended, Paran was looking at me with a hunger of his own. What did I do?
I smiled at him, then wished him good night and left. I did not sleep well that night.
The next morning, I left the palace and went out to the countryside. I rode horses and walked barefoot in the green grass; I swam in the river and got my hair into such a wild tangle that the maids despaired of ever combing it out. But when I left the river, there was peace in me again. I had wrestled with the current, battled to go my own way while it sought ever to flow on. When I climbed out onto the bank, I was pleasantly tired; and the river was still flowing its own way. The analogy was not lost on me. I returned to Haleron's palace and he told me that Paran had asked for my hand in marriage. I agreed. Why not follow the river? What did battling the current get me? Tired, wet, tangled, and as unknowing of my true heart as ever I had been. A sad state for one of House Gwydion, who should be able to sift truth from lie.
The wedding gown was magnificent, the great hall of the palace was crowded with Sidhe. They were a happy crowd, well oiled already with wine, and looking forward (as the tone of overheard quips revealed to me) to seeing the Virgin Rose deflowered at last.
I was speaking of the gown (yes, it's important. Sidhe clothes are a statement.) It was a dress suited to a woman called the Virgin Rose. It was not white-that is pure, but also sterile. My wedding gown was like a rose of the very palest pink, so that its outer petals are cream white with a hint of pink like the pampered hands of a Sidhe queen, and its inner petals blush like a Faerie princess. My hair was loose, the longest curling ends reaching just below the waist and the tresses scattered with rose petals to match the gown. Besides the tender color, the dress was simply cut as is the tradition for brides. Draped in the antique style, it flowed against my body as simply and naturally as the hair down my back.
Paran was dressed in green, a traditional shade for Sidhe grooms. The color of the Green Man, the Jack in the Green, of Pan of the Woods, Pan Pangenitor, the color of hunters. He reached out to take me by the hand and exchange with me the pledge of marriage and drink the Oathing cup. So we were wed.
Uh, no. Sorry. It didn't happen that way, not at all.
Because Durthorin was there. Who? I know, I haven't mentioned him. I knew him-or rather, of him. We'd never met, he was seldom present in the kind of social milieu I had always known. He was not welcome. Durthorin was exactly the kind of man who made things not go as they were planned, and he had a lot of enemies.
I started to reach out to Paran, and found a stranger suddenly at my side, my hand captured by his. Persephone could not have been more startled to be born off in Hades' black chariot. I looked up into his face and felt my heart leave my breast. Just like that. Only clich�s seem to tell it, but the words do not capture the sweet tearing pain. That you must have felt yourself to understand. He was not nearly as handsome as Paran, this man, though nearly as dark. His eyes were not black, they were hazel green as if he had captured the light of some wild woodland to carry there. Why did the shape of his mouth destroy me? I wanted to kiss him as much as a frog prince ever wished for the princess's kiss and so be remade into glory.
This seeing was instant, and has taken forever. I am still there in that moment and there is my immortality.
"Come with me if you want to be free," he said. I did not know his name, but I knew these words I had awaited all my life.
"I will," I replied.
The world had dropped away, but now it fell in around us. The sound was strange, like being by the edge of the sea in a night so dark that you cannot see the water or the sky. No sight, but sound: the ceaseless booming of the tide like the beating heart of a giant, the susurrus of the foam grinding the sand like the whisper of silk over skin. The skree of gulls and the wind on the beach. All together in a mass that you cannot separate one sound from another. It was the world but it was not real. His hand on my wrist, my hand clasped his wrist and I felt his pulse against my palm. That was real enough to make me ache. I ran with him, I could have flown. Maybe we did: out the window, onto the faerie steeds. Paran's face, black with anger, swam in the corner of my eye and it was no longer known to me. I think we broke the gates with unbound love, may they never lock again. We could have broken the chains of the Fenris Wolf, I think; indeed we left behind us a lesser Ragnarok.
We ran until the world was gone again. This was another place, ours alone. I looked at his face first, then as he released my wrist I caught his hand and held it between mine because I had to look at it. No man had ever had a hand before this. His fingers were long and supple, with callouses of sword hilt and bowstring. I was dying for love of that hand, when he caught me up and kissed me. That finished me off, with the promise of more deaths to come, a fate I was eager to embrace. When breath, light, and reason returned to me, I was looking into his face again. I knew I had waited for this one man all my life, that my soul had been disappointed with every potential lover because none of them was him. I brushed my fingertips over his cheekbone and felt an answering warmth to the warmth in his eyes. "I know your name. Your name has been engraved on my heart since it first began to beat. But I do not know it to speak it."
The heat of his breath touched my cheek and I felt my flesh melt into honey. "Durthorin. I know your name, Liadne. Only I never knew it belonged to you or I would have come sooner."
It was enough talking. Let the minstrels put the flowery words in our mouths. Our mouths were speaking, but the words we said are for no one's telling. Kiss your love and you will know all you need of these words. Minstrels are for telling of how Durthorin stole the bride from the wedding. It is set high among the scandals and misdeeds of the court of Faerie. I was cast out of Gwydion in disgrace, then taken, more scandal, into Fiona. I had failed of my promise if not of an Oath, and that grieves me some. But when you fight the river, you do not expect the stones will be softened for you. I am free now and I will pay the price. We are the Sidhe, immortal. But what does not change dies the death of stagnation. We Sidhe cannot be changeless or we will find ourselves putrefying in the ruin of what were great and beautiful dreams.
And if in the fullness of time, love should die? Unthinkable, inevitable. Terrifying. But I am still in that moment where love found me, and that moment is always. My heart tells me that when the stars are dead and the universe is a cinder, that I will still be looking into his eyes for the first time.