Prophecy Story Index
Return to the Past
"There was ... someone, once, someone that could have been...,
but it just wasn't meant to be. Seth saw to that."
-- Danilon to Andrel, The Prophecy
The blue-grey-eyed, blonde man stood stiffly at the tower room windows, hands folded behind his back, staring blankly out into the courtyard below lit by the mid-morning sun. He watched as the servants cleaned up after the massive midsummer windstorm that had blown through Darcabé yesterday. Tree branches, pieces of flotsam and debris, and various cloth bits, as well as dirt, covered any and all surfaces and corners of the inner palace courtyard. I should go help them or something. But he just didn't have the energy to do so, not today, not now.
And so he simply stood there, watching, trying to blank his mind, trying to ignore inner thoughts, his inner cries of loss, of regret, of pain. Oh, my sweet Elli, why...? Unbidden his mind pulled forth memories, memories he'd been pushing away for the past few days. But they would no longer be ignored and rushed to the surface, forcing him to see again, to feel again, to remember...
Dani pulled in the shutter tightly, fighting the wind and rain that strove to keep it open and thereby soak every last inch of the inner courtyard halls. He finally got it all the way down and latched securely, and breathed a sigh of relief. He wiped at his face, then grimaced as he only succeeded in getting more water on his face than was already there.
He looked up as Fallon, the older head servant, came towards him. "All done?"
Fallon, taller than he, leaner, a perpetual squint in one eye, short grizzled hair matted down with water, nodded. "Aye, and just in time. This storm is big, bigger than last year's."
Dani muttered, "Oh, great, just what we needed. Think it'll flood again?"
Fallon paused a moment, then replied, "Probably, at least in the low lands; snowfall will probably be heavy up farther, ice maybe too."
Dani sighed and rubbed his face again. "Wonderful. I hope you're wrong, my friend. The villages just barely survived last winter. Some couldn't even plant crops the following season, the ground was still flooded out. I don't know if they could go through that again."
Fallon agreed. "Aye, I know, but what can you do against the weather? Especially when it's these unnatural storms."
Dani frowned, blinking. "Unnatural? What do you mean?"
Fallon hesitated, then shrugged. "There's been talk among a few of the servants, about dark magic disturbing nature's true balance. Just superstition, mind you, but ... well, some of the servants are from the high country, where superstition and the like still have a lot of hold on the people."
Dani nodded absently, his mind on something else entirely. "Yes, I ... see."
Fallon saw the preoccupied look on Dani's face, and said quietly, "Well, I need to be getting back home, make sure everything's all right. The wife will be worried if I'm not back soon."
Pushing away inner worries, Dani smiled, waving him away. "Go on, then. Give Salli my love."
Fallon smiled back, replying before he disappeared around a corner. "Will do, m'lord, will do."
Dani bit off his automatic correction, knowing that Fallon would only ignore it, like he always does, and he was out of hearing range anyway. I'm not 'm'lord', I'm only Dani, illegitimate son of Sonall, youngest and least ranked and most ignored member of the Lower Council.
He sighed, shaking his head at those thoughts. As if your position as Seth's half-peasant half-brother was doing you any good, any favors. Oh, get a grip, Dani. It's been this way for 7 years. Why aren't you used to it by now?
His inner voice, always on time, answered his rhetorical question. Probably because people like Fallon and Salli keep calling you 'm'lord', regardless of your protests, telling you that you deserve the title more than Seth ever will, even if you haven't technically been a noble for 7 years.
Seven years. A long time. A lifetime.
Seven years since Gwyna left with Andrel and Arven had been killed by Seth.
Seven years since Seth blamed Arven's death and Gwyna's disappearance on Andrel.
Seven years since Sonall and Seth had Sonall's marriage to Dariella struck from the books and declared Dani to be illegitimate, no longer considered royal enough to be an heir to the Bornathian throne.
Seven years since he was a teenager at 16, seeing his life change rapidly and uncontrollably around him.
Seven years of being without true family, of missing Gwyna and Arven and Andrel, of wondering how Gwyna and Andrel were doing, of wishing things could have been different.
A half-stifled cry of surprise and the sound of a shutter hitting the side of the courtyard wall jerked Dani out of his melancholy reverie. He turned around and strode quickly down the hall. Must be that loose one on the corner again. Fallon and I have got to come with a better way of fixing that blasted shutter. It never stays secured. And it leaks besides.
He went around the corner and saw a slight, petite feminine figure dressed in a dark green, long-sleeved, full-skirted shift, pulling on the shutter vainly, the rain pelting against her, soaking her clothes right down to her skin, he imagined.
He hurried over, saying quickly, "Here. Let me get that."
She jumped back in surprise. "What?!? Oh."
Dani threw a brief, reassuring grin at her before grabbing the shutter and yanking it down, fastening it down as tightly as he could. Have to come back later and check it, maybe see if I can add something to it to keep it locked better.
Satisfied that the shutter would hold at least temporarily, Dani turned back to the woman. "Pardon me for startling you, my lady. This shutter always has problems staying shut during these heavy storms."
She smiled slightly at him, her green eyes twinkling in the dim light cast by the covered lights in the hall, at least the ones that hadn't been blown out by the wind, her low voice amused. "Looks like you've been battering down the hatches, so to speak."
Dani looked down at himself and chuckled. When he'd run into Fallon and seen the older servant needed help with the shutters, he had been wearing a pair of light gray trousers and a heavy white pullover shirt, as well as his indoor boots. Everything on him was soaked clear through, and much darker than they had been to begin with. Clothes can be cleaned, I hope, but I think the boots are probably ruined. Oh, well. He could only imagine what his hair looked like with bits of twigs and grass stuck in it.
He looked back at the woman, noticing for the first time that her blonde hair was much shorter than would be considered proper for any woman in Bornath. In fact, it was cut like a man's would be cut, only more feathered. Or it would be if the rain had shaped it to her head.
She felt his eyes on her and touched her hair hesitantly, making a face at what she found. "Oh, ugh. Michela is not going to be happy about this."
Dani laughed slightly, then raised an eyebrow. "Michela?"
She sighed. "A friend. She keeps track of me, when she can, that is, for my father. He would not approve of me exploring the palace. He'll be less happy when he sees what I've done to my dress."
Dani couldn't help but ask. "Exploring? Then you are not from Darcabé?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm here with my father, from the high country, farther north, Cantorin Province. My father is Lord Rainer. My name is Eliana."
Lord Rainer of Cantorin Province, very powerful, very rich, very influential. Seth did mention he and his daughter would be visiting this week. Trade negotiations, I believe it is what he told the Council. Like any of us believe that. I didn't expect someone like this, though. Oh, I don't what I was expecting.
He inclined his head to her. "My lady Eliana. A pleasure it is to meet you. My name is Dani."
For a moment, she began to smile back at him, then stilled, blinking once in surprise. "Dani? As in Danilon?"
He nodded, answering simply. "Yes."
She didn't say anything more, just continued to stare at him. He couldn't decipher the look in her eyes, but took it as distaste and shock to find that she'd been talking to Dani, the outcaste half-peasant former second heir to the throne.
Withholding a resigned sigh, he inclined his head once more and turned to leave. "I will take my leave of you, my lady. My apologies."
Eliana stepped forward, placing her hand on his arm. "No, wait. It is I who should apologize. I have heard of what Norseth and the King have done to you. I find it to be terrible. I never expected to meet you. I just ... didn't know what to say."
Dani momentarily laid a hand on hers which still rested on his arm. "There is nothing you need to say, my lady. It is what is. It is something which I have had to grow accustomed to."
She shook her head, saying softly, intently, "No one should have to 'grow accustomed' to being snubbed by those who used to be his peers. It isn't right."
Dani smiled, shrugging. "Peers they may have been. But never friends. The friends I have now are much more worthy of being called peers than those who used to be."
She raised one delicate eyebrow, as she folded her hands at her waist. "Who would those be?"
He hesitated a moment, then replied, "There are many of the servants and the 'peasants' in the nearby villages that I can call friends. And some family. You must know that my mother was a peasant. I found her family and have become acquainted with them as well. It's not something the King or Seth likes, but then, they can't do too much more to me than they already have."
Eliana grinned wickedly for a moment. "How true. Maybe I could meet these friends of yours sometime."
Dani started to nod, returning her smile when a shout caught his attention.
Eliana turned, frowning. "Oh, bother. She found me." She lifted her voice, calling out, "I'm coming, Michela. Just a moment." She looked back at Dani. "I have to go. Will I see you around again sometime, Dani?"
Dani took her hand and kissed the back of it. "I will look forward to it, my lady."
She curtsied, threw him a quick smile and dashed off down the hall, lifting her wet skirt to move faster.
Dani watched her, chuckling softly to himself, before turning in the opposite direction, heading toward the tower room that used to belong to Arven that now belonged to him. He'd moved in there just a few weeks after being declared illegitimate. He had thought it best to simply remove himself as much as possible from the view of the nobles in residence in the palace. No use aggravating them any further.
For now, though, all he wanted was a bath, clean dry clothes, and a hot meal. Then maybe he'd come back down and take a look at that shutter again.
The following morning found Dani in the courtroom, awaiting the public introduction of Seth's guests -- Lord Rainer, his daughter, the Lady Eliana, and his retinue. Dani sat back against the wall, arms crossed over his councilor robes. Those sitting around him either did their best to ignore him or nodded neutrally at him. There were a few in the Lower Council that he was actually friends with, but they had mutually decided not to make an issue of that fact in public. Though Sonall and Seth could do little more to Dani, they could do several things to anyone they think was supportive of Dani. Better just to leave well enough alone.
Sonall came in the side door, Seth at his right hand, Zarena at his left hand. Seth and Zarena had married two years ago. Though Sonall's advisors were pleased that Seth had finally taken a wife after the debacle with Gwyna, no children seem to be forthcoming. This did not please them. Oddly enough, it didn't seem to worry Seth and Zarena, or even Sonall, for that matter.
Sonall settled himself in his throne, Seth and Zarena taking their thrones on either side of him, placed just a little lower. Sonall nodded at his Chief Advisor, who nodded at the guards at the double doors at the front of the palace throne room. The doors were pulled open and Lord Rainer's retinue began to file inside. Honor guards, a few of his higher placed councilors, etc. Then Lord Rainer himself strode in, Eliana following close behind him.
Dani eyed the older man, proud and a bit haughty-looking, trying to figure out what exactly he wanted from Sonall and Seth. Oh, he knew what they wanted from him -- support for their latest heavy tax. If Rainer gave his support and approval, then a dozen of the other Provinces would easily fall in behind him, guaranteeing its successful passage over the opposition. But what is Rainer getting in return?
His eyes slid over to Eliana, elegant and mysterious in her filmy dark blue-purple gown, a matching light veil trailing from her short hair down her back. He smirked slightly. A suggestion, most likely, from some of the local ladies-in-waiting. Half the old men in this room would go into shock if they saw a woman with short hair, especially that short. He shook his head, wiping the amusement off his face before anyone saw it and forced his attention onto the scene in front of him.
Rainer bowed deeply to the King. "Your Majesty."
Sonall motioned for him to rise. "Welcome, Lord Rainer. It has been some time since you have visited us personally."
Rainer nodded. "Far too long, my liege. May I present my daughter, Eliana."
Eliana stepped forward, curtsying gracefully, her eyes lowered as was proper, saying nothing.
Sonall smiled. "Ah, yes, Lady Eliana. Welcome to Darcabé."
Eyes still lowered, she said softly, "Thank you, my lord."
Sonall gestured to his sides. "My son Norseth, the Heir, and his wife, the Lady Zarena."
Rainer bowed and Eliana curtsied to them as well.
Sonall waved his hand out. "My court and my people are at your disposal during your stay with us, Lord Rainer, Lady Eliana. I regret that the terrible storm that blew in last night will prevent us from leaving the palace, much less Darcabé. I had hoped to take you on a tour of the local area."
Rainer smiled. "I fully understand. While these storms may not be commonplace for you, Cantorin Province deals with many of these every winter."
Dani frowned slightly from his seat. Sonall never takes visitors touring the countryside. What is he talking about? Some private message between the two of them, perhaps? His eyes shifted to Eliana. And does she know what's going on? Does she know the real reason they're here? She didn't act like the type to support heavy taxing, but... He sighed, shaking his head. Why do I do this to myself?
That inner voice of his answered again. Because you care for the people. Because you don't want to see them suffer. Because you disagree with Sonall. Because...
All right, all right. Enough already. I get it.
He ran a hand through his short hair, straightening to attention as Rainer's retinue, and Eliana, left the throne room. Sonall dismissed the court shortly thereafter. Dani waited until nearly everyone else had gone out before moving from his spot against the wall. He glanced back briefly at the thrones where Sonall, Seth, Zarena, and Rainer were holding a private discussion. He turned back and headed out the door before the guard could do more than glower at him briefly. I wonder what they're talking about. As if there was any doubt.
Dani spent the rest of the morning in the library, doing some minor cataloging, glad of the peace and quiet. Part of his mind was busy thinking about Sonall and Rainer and what they were planning. Another part of his mind was focused on Eliana and what she possibly knew. I almost hope that she doesn't know, that she isn't a part of this. But why would she be here if she didn't know? With a shake of his head and a sigh of disgust at his own negativity, he pushed those thoughts aside and concentrated on the task at hand.
By late afternoon, the rain had died off to an occasional sprinkle and the winds had calmed to a breeze. Knowing it would only a short reprieve, Dani changed into older workclothes and left his tower room, heading for the stables. He wanted to check up on Tejan. A few months after giving Teva to Gwyna, Dani had found another riding mount from a country breeding ranch and used his own funds, little though they had been, to purchase him. Though the creamy gelding was not the same as Teva, he was a remarkable horse in his own right.
Dani slogged through the mud to the stables, stopping to greet the servants cleaning up the fallen tree branches from the mud-covered pathways. Finally he reached the stables and entered through the already open doors. From inside he could hear a few voices, stablehands most likely. Before his eyes had fully adjusted to the darker lighting, a low female voice spoke up, sounding frustrated and amused.
"I know that it's wet outside. I don't care. I want to ride. A little water and mud won't kill me."
Dani smiled to himself. Eliana. He cleared his throat. The stablemaster, a older man named Pertiwent, Eliana, and another young lady all turned to see him. Eliana was dressed in what Dani judged to be the full-skirted riding pantsuit, in a rich dark red, he noted, that he'd heard so much about that were so popular up farther north. She was impatiently tapping a riding crop against one leg, her mouth set into a stubborn frown, while the other young lady glared at her, pale eyes flashing disagreeably. Pertiwent, from the hesitant look on his face, had been caught between two very strong-willed females.
Dani smiled and stepped forward, taking Eliana's free hand in his to kiss softly. "My lady, it is good to see you again so soon."
Eliana's face softened a little. "Dani."
He straightened. "Are you perhaps planning to go riding? I came out here for that very purpose. I would enjoy giving you a tour, if you permit."
The other woman interrupted before Eliana could reply. "Elli, I must protest. Your father would not approve of you riding off into the countryside with some strange man."
Pertiwent about choked at that statement, but recovered, wisely keeping his mouth shut. Eliana replied, "Michela, Dani is not a stranger. Father has always encouraged my riding, no matter where we are."
Dani turned to Michela, remembering that Eliana had mentioned her name last night as a friend. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Dani, member of the Lower Council. Eliana and I met last night in the inner courtyard, while trying to escape the rain. And you are Michela. Eliana mentioned your name when we spoke."
He took up her hand and bestowed a light kiss upon it. She blinked, then blushed, her eyes and head lowering, letting her long light brown hair fall forward around her shoulders. She looked back up at him. "Pardon me, my lord, I was simply ... concerned about Elli's safety."
Dani smiled at her as he released her hand. "As well you should be. And, please, call me Dani. I am not a lord, in any sense of the word."
He turned to Pertiwent. "Perti, please saddle up Lady Eliana's horse. I will saddle up Tejan myself. Then the two of us will take a brisk tour of Darcabé, perhaps get rid of some excess energy."
Eliana smiled at him and touched his arm. "Thank you, Dani."
Pertiwent bobbed his head. "As you wish, m'lord."
Dani threw a reproving glance at Perti's retreating back, but said nothing, turning his attention back to Eliana, smiling down at her. "My pleasure, my lady."
She said softly, "If Michela and I are to call you Dani, then you must call me Elli."
He hesitated, then agreed. "As you wish ... Elli. Now, I must get Tejan ready. I'm sure he is quite tired of being cooped up here in this dark barn and ready for a good long run."
As he walked down to Tejan's stall, he heard Eliana -- Elli -- tell Michela to go back up to their rooms, that she would join her later for tea.
Several minutes later, Dani and Elli were going at a full gallop across the fields behind the stable, heading for the rolling hills beyond them. Tejan was slightly in the lead, but Elli's horse, a spirited young white mare by the name of Ona, was gaining on him. Dani chanced a look back and had to laugh at the sheer delight that is evident on Elli's face. She laughed back at him and hunched down in her saddle. Dani did the same, urging Tejan to go faster.
Dani reached the far side of the clearing just a half-length before Elli did. He pulled Tejan to a walking stop, letting him stamp out the adrenaline rush from the impromptu race. Elli did the same with Ona. A slight smile on his face, Dani just watched her as she gasped for breath, her face red with exertion and from the biting cold of the air around them. She was still laughing, unable to say anything just yet. He shook his head, amused and oddly touched that he had somehow connected with Eliana in such a short time. He hadn't felt this ... alive in a very long time, 7 years in fact.
They both dismounted and walked in front of their horses, leading them by the reins as they cool off, just enjoying the silence of the outdoors.
Dani asked quietly, "So, tell me about yourself, Elli. You know so much more about me than I know about you."
She cocked her head, eyes distant. "Not too much to tell really. I'm the oldest child in a family of five. I like to travel, to see new things. I love to ride horses whenever I can. My father dotes on me sometimes. Mother says he spoils me. Maybe he does. I don't know."
Dani hesitated, then asked, "Why did you come here, with your father, that is?" He had to know, to see if there was any other reason why she would be here.
One side of her mouth quirked up in wry amusement. "My father says it's time for me to marry. I think he hopes to find a suitable husband for me while on this trip."
He was well aware of the fact that most, if not all, females of nobility had arranged marriages. He was quiet a moment, then went on. "And what do you think about that?"
She shrugged, looking down at her feet, scuffing at the grass as they walked. "It is my duty to marry. And I do wish to have a husband before I get too much older. And my father knows what he's doing."
Dani frowned. "But don't you care about who you marry? About the kind of man he will be?"
She looked up to meet his eyes, "Where are all these questions coming from?"
He looked away, flushing. "I apologize, my lady, for my intrusive questions. I..."
She stopped and touched his arm, stopping him as well and bringing his eyes back to her. "No, no, it's all right. I am not bothered by the questions, only curious why you ask them."
He smiled slightly. "My ... sister was very stubborn and I suppose I was mentally wondering what she would say if she were in the same situation as you."
She smiled back at him. "No doubt she would answer very different."
Dani nodded silently.
They began walking again and after a few quiet moments of staring off into the hills, Elli continued. "I was never a rebellious child. I have pretty much done as I was told my whole life. My love of horses is probably the only area where I can drive my parents to distraction. My mother believes wholeheartedly in the idea that the husband and father is in charge and his wife and children must obey him at all times. I guess I just ... absorbed that concept and applied to my own life." She paused for a moment, then went on. "My father is a good man. I trust that whomever he chooses for me to marry will be someone that I can grow to love, that will treat me well."
Dani didn't reply and she glanced over at him, noticing the wistful look on his face and in his eyes as he stared away from her. After a moment, he met her eyes abruptly, blinking, as if surprised to see her there. He smiled and the wistful look vanished. "Well, then, my lady, I wish you much happiness with whomever you eventually marry."
She smiled back at him. "Thank you, Dani. And now, I think I'd like to see some more of this countryside of yours."
They both remounted and took off riding, this time at a slower pace as Dani gave her the grand tour of Darcabé.
Days passed. A week went by. The storms had not returned, at least not in great measure. Dani spent part of his days in court, trying to figure out a way to block this newest tax. He didn't see a way out of it, unfortunately. All of the Higher Council, all nobles that would benefit from it, were obviously for it. More than half of the representatives from the Provinces were also for it. Lord Rainer had given his approval of the tax, which just about sealed its full approval in Full Court later that month. Dani resolved himself to the tax, but determined to find a new way to help the people who would be hurt by the tax.
When he was not in court session or researching in the library, Dani spent time with Elli. Most times they went riding. Other times they just talked. Dani had never been out of Darcabé and was interested in hearing about all the places she had been, as she had traveled throughout most of Bornath. He found himself liking her more and more each day. At first, he thought it was only a close friendship, something he hadn't had the luxury of in a very long time.
However, slowly, he began to realize that he had fallen in love with her. He didn't want her to know and so hid the knowledge from her. He had had a lot of practice at keeping his face and expressions smooth and unbothered after being on the Council for 7 years. He had thought he was doing a more than ample job until the a week after he and Elli met.
Elli put the currying brush away and leaned against the stall door, watching Dani finish up with Tejan. She didn't say anything, just smiled slightly.
Dani finally lifted his eyes from Tejan's coat and met her eyes, getting nervous. "What? What is it? You're watching me like I'm doing something amusing."
She laughed softly, then pushed away from the wall and stepped over to him. "No, nothing like that."
He moved his concentration back to Tejan, continuing to brush him. "Then what is it?'
She laid her hand on Dani's, stopping his movements. "Dani, you don't have to hide how you feel about me."
He stilled, then looked at her after a moment before resuming his brushing slowly. "How I feel about you? What do you mean? We're good friends, at least I like to think we are."
She sighed, then reached over and took the brush from his hand, laying it on the top of the stall door. She grasped his hands in hers and pulled him around to face her. She looked up into his face and smiled. "Dani, please, don't deny what you feel."
He shook his head. "No, Elli, you have it wrong. I don't..."
She placed a finger on his lips. "Sh, sh, listen to me. I love you."
He just blinked at her, then swallowed and said hoarsely. "Oh."
She laughed. "That's all you can say? Oh?"
He flushed, then smiled self-consciously, "Yeah. You sort of caught me by surprise there." He brought both his hands up to cup her face in his palms, lowering his head to hers as he whispered, "I love you, too." His lips touched hers and the rest of the world whirled away...
Dani leaned his head against the glass pane of the window, ignoring the silent tears that streaked down his face. The rest of those few precious memories with Elli rushed through his mind like a wild fire.
Knowing her father's desire to have her marry a man of noble blood, they had decided to marry secretly and perhaps even leave Darcabé, maybe even Bornath altogether. They had found a local priest in the nearest village who had married them two days later. They had spent one wonderful, bliss-filled night together at a small inn.
And then disaster.
The next morning they had been riding in the back hills, talking and laughing and kissing when a group of men, lead by Rainer and Seth had stormed down on them. Rainer had been furious, striking out at Dani, blaming him for the abduction of his daughter. Elli had tried to protest, but to no avail. Seth had just watched from his saddle, looking down at Dani coldly. Elli had told her father about the marriage, but Seth had said that it would be taken care of, erased before it could become a set-in-stone legality.
Dani had been only able to watch in horror and loss as Elli had been hauled on a horse in front of one of Rainer's men, screaming and crying. The last he had ever seen of her was her tear-streaked face as she had called out that she loved him one last time. And then he was alone with Seth, who after a moment of disgust, had turned away and left him in the woods by himself, with only Tejan for company.
There was never a mention made of what happened between he and Elli. His position in the Lower Council remained. He was never punished or harassed about it. It was simply ... forgotten, conveniently ignored, as if not worth the trouble.
Dani had no choice but to do the same. There was nothing he could do to get to Elli. Her father had married her off in the next few days to another northern province noble by the name of Roumal. From what he knew of Roumal, he was a kind man, though at least ten years older than Elli. She would be safe and protected, he knew that. But that did little to comfort his heart and his soul, both of which cried out for Elli.
Dani sighed and pushed away from the window. He turned and looked over at the bed, seeing the two pieces of paper lying there, waiting for him to read again. The first he had received a little under a year after he had last seen Elli. The second just a few days ago. He stepped over to the bed and sat down, taking up the first of the two letters, reading those few words again.
My beloved Dani,
This must be short. Roumal does not know that I write this. He is kind to me, tries to make life easy for me. But he would not want me to write to you. And I feel I must, if only this once.
As you may have heard, I have had a child, a girl I have named Catriona. I wanted you to know. I know that she is yours, that she is ours, our daughter. She has the half-circle birthmark that you carry over your heart over hers as well. No one but Michela knows of the significance of the mark, especially not Roumal.
In my heart, I will always be yours, Dani. Please forgive me for being weak, for not being able to stand against my father.
I love you for always,
Dani touched the her name on the letter. The ink had smeared where teardrops had fell, her teardrops most obviously. Included in the letter were two locks of hair. One he had recognized as the dark blonde hair of Elli. The other was a bare wisp of white blonde hair that she must have taken from Catriona. Those pieces of hair were the only connections he had left of his love and his never-seen daughter.
He folded up the letter gently with the two locks of hair, then picked up the second letter, his heart clenching again as he reread it.
Though we met only briefly, I know much of you. My mistress Eliana spoke of you often, continually with love, warmth, sadness, and regret. Therefore, it falls to me to tell you what has happened. I know of no way to soften the blow. Forgive me.
Elli died yesterday, giving birth to her and Roumal's son Elirand. I was with her when it happened. The midwife could not stop the bleeding. Elli died in my arms, your name whispered on her lips. I felt I must write you and tell you this personally. I am sorry. She loved you greatly. Indeed, she never stopped loving you. Please remember that.
Know that her secrets were known to me. Catriona will be protected and loved and told these secrets when the time is right.
Deliberately, Dani folded up that letter as well. He put both away in a small locked box he kept in his bureau. Then he went to the basin on his nightstand and splashed some of the ice cold water on his face, drying it with a towel. Slowly and carefully he changed into his court clothes.
Once finished he looked himself over in the tall mirror in the corner of the small room. He saw a man of medium stature, wavy blonde hair, fair skin, and blue-grey eyes. His eyes, however, showed that he had seen too much for such a young age, had lived through too much heartache and betrayal. His pain was still too close to the surface, too easily seen, especially by Seth and his supporters, who would want nothing more than to make that pain worse.
He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. He imagined Elli's voice, her laughter, her smile, her exuberance for life. He could almost hear her whisper in the wind whistling outside his window. "I love you, Dani, for always."
He opened his eyes, looking again into the mirror. His face and eyes were now composed, at peace. He smiled. "And I love you, Elli, for always."
And with that, he turned and left the small room. He had things which had to be done. He had people depending on him. And with the memories of his love tucked in his heart, he would find the strength he needed to continue. Elli would have wanted it that way.
- The End -
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