"She looks like you," Ico observes, "But she has her father's magic, I can feel it." In Auberon's absence, Ico has taken it on herself to help raise the fairy child. But like Auberon, she prefers to stay out of sight of Uvie's tribe, and meets with her and Evenfall only outside the village. "What do you tell your people about her?"
"They don't ask me," Uve laughs, "My mother used to frighten people on purpose, to keep them in awe of her powers. I wanted to be different, but every time I use Auberon's magic to help them, it puts more distance between me and them. They are far more frightened of me than they ever were of Aven. It's Ardax they ask about my blue-skinned, blue-haired winged daughter. He has a way with people, he makes them feel safe, like he can be trusted, and they believe whatever he tells them. And what he's told them is that I'm particularly favored by the spirits and that my child is a gift, not just to me but to the whole tribe, who share in the favor I've garnered. He won't lie outright, but as he sees it, there's a kind of truth to that."
Uvie hesitates before broaching the subject most on her mind. But she'll never know if she doesn't ask.
"In months of dreaming, I have not seen Auberon," she confesses, "Is he...?" Uvie cannot finish her question, fearing that some harm has befallen him, but even more, fearing he simply has lost interest in her.
Ico gives her sad sort of smile, "Nothing can harm in in his current state, " she says, "Time moves differently where he is. Perhaps it doesn't move at all. And you know Auberon, he's easily distracted."
Uvie frowns. What distraction is more attractive than their love?
"Don't fret on it," Ico says, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, "He loves you, even if he isn't always present."
Ico has watched over Evenfall since Tania tried to take her, and she's seen the power the fairy girl will one day wield; she is a true inheritor of her father's magic. It will be some time before Evenfall can use the power that glows inside her, but when she does...she could free her father, Ico realizes. And her conversation with Uvie today reminded her of something she'd long forgotten. Summerdream has the ability to enter any world, real or imagined; that was how she found Auberon and brought him to this world. Ico does not have this ability, but when she and Auberon were lovers, he taught her a way to come to him in his imaginary realm, where they would make love out of Tania's sight. Just as she used to do, Ico lays down in the waters she calls home, closes her eyes and asks them to take her to Auberon.
"Ico," Auberon greets her as she sits beside him, "I did not expect to see you here."
"Well, you can't come to us, so we must come to you. You are greatly missed."
"My daughter? She is well?"
Ico nods, "I see her often. She has your power, Auberon. I will do my best to train her, but a time will quickly come when she exceeds what I will be able to teach her."
"Thank you, Ico, for watching over them."
"You don't ask about Uvie," Ico observes.
Auberon smiles, just he slightest turn of his lips, "I don't have to. I'm with her, always."
"She doesn't know that," Ico says, "She misses you."
Auberon says nothing, looking away over the water.
"When she comes of age, Evenfall will have the power to undo Tania's curse," Ico continues.
Auberon turns his attention back to her. "No," he says.
"No?" Ico asks, surprised by his response.
"Ico, train my daughter, teach her everything you can, but do not let her wake me," he says with an urgency most unusual for him.
"I don't understand," Ico says, "You wish to remain trapped here? To not be with Uvie, to leave your daughter to be raised without you?"
"What I wish is not important," he says, "Come, I will show you something."
"When they dream, mortals create little worlds inside them, worlds known only to themselves. But I've learned of late, trapped in the imaginary realms, that they have an unexpected power to dream a collective dream, and to bring that dream into their reality. In some ways, it is much like my own power, though theirs works indirectly and unconsciously," Auberon says as he brings Ico to stand before a great stone statue of a woman. "The mortals are starting to dream a new dream, and I have been witness to it since its inception. I'm only just now beginning to grasp its significance."
"You want to remain here to watch this dream unfold?" Ico asks.
"No, I must remain here or this dream will not unfold as it should," Auberon says. Pointing toward the statue, he continues, "You see this? That is Uvie, not as she is now, but the image of her that grows in the dreams of her people. In time, this image will become reality, and through it, Uvie will gain immortality."
"But, unless the curse is broken, if Uvie does not die, you will never awaken," Ico says.
"Uvie will die eventually, as all mortal creatures do," Auberon says, "But unlike the rest of her kind, she will live on in a new form. Long after she is gone from their world, her people will continue to call on her, to pass down stories of her, and most importantly, to believe she is with them, protecting them."
"I still don't quite understand," Ico says, "Nor do I see why you must remain under the curse."
"I've seen the path this dream takes, Ico," Auberon says, "And my part in it is done. If I were to go back to the world, she would turn too much toward me, and that would take her off this path and onto one that ends in her simply dying as any other mortal, unremembered past a few generations."
"And so you will stay imprisoned here so that you may be reunited with Uvie once she's died and become immortal?" Ico asks, trying to understand.
"This is no prison, not for me," Auberon says with a smile, "Nor am I certain we will be reunited once she's become part of humanity's collective dream. But, yes, I will do all in my power to see her to this destiny. Even if I must lose her."
Ico return's from her mind's journey with a chill in her heart. Is it truly noble to sacrifice love for the sake of the one you love? she wonders. Could she make that choice?
Needing his warmth, Ico presses herself against her dragon. "I won't lose you," she says with grim determination, "I would never give you up."
"I thought that was understood," Aymeri answers, surprised by her ferocity, "Has something happened to trouble you?"
"I've seen what you are becoming, my love. Tegan has joined you, your brother Kirwyn and his mate have pledged themselves to you, and asked for your protection. I cannot see the future, but I can see the path you are on, and it ends with you being a great leader of your kind. Maybe some of your people will question your relationship with me, a fairy. And maybe it would be in your interest for me to give you up so you can be more secure in your position. And I'm telling you now, I won't do that. I will stand by your side no matter what hardships it causes."
Aymeri laughs, "That may be the strangest declaration of love ever made, Ico. But I'm glad to hear it."
Uvie watches as Ardax puts Evenfall to bed,
"You've been a real father to her," she says when he joins her by the fire, "You've done so much for us."
"I love her like she was my own," he says.
"Ardax," she says his name with a soft sigh, leaning her head against his shoulder as she wraps her arms around his chest. They lived together chastely since before Evenfall was born, and their friendship has grown into a deep bond that both have come to cherish. "I know your heart will always be with your Thari," Uvie whispers, caressing his hand, "But do you think it's possible that we could become mates in more than name only?"
"I've tried to live in my memories," he answers, "When I'd close my eyes, I could feel her touch, hear her voice. But memories, like pain, fade over time. When I close my eyes now, Uvie, it's is another's touch that comes to mind."
"It has been the same for me," Uvie admits, sliding around to sit in front of him, to caress his face and touch her lips to his, "I watch you, your hands, your arms, as you go about your work, and I imagine your arms around me, your hands, touching me."
She has seen his gift as a healer, he touches a person and the body reveals itself to him, telling him of its needs. He uses it to determine the source of an illness and find its cure; Uvie now learns that his gift for understanding a body also makes him a skilled and obliging lover, knowing at every moment what will most please her, how to both arouse a need and satisfy it.
She rests her head against his chest as they fall asleep in each other's arms, listening to the steady beat of his heart.
He's there waiting for her as soon as she enters her dream. She feels a stab of guilt, but Uvie doesn't know which of her lovers she feels ashamed about loving.
"There should be no shame, no guilt in your heart," Auberon says as he sweeps his arms around her, "I am here to give you my blessing, my little love, to tell you that I am happy for you."
"You want me to be with Ardax?" she asks, "You aren't jealous?"
"I am part of you, Uvie, and your happiness is my happiness, your love is my love, even when you love another. And the child you've conceived tonight, he is your man's, but he is also mine. My magic has become so much a part of you that it will pass to all your children, and they shall pass it to theirs."
"Child? I am with child?" she asks, smiling to hear it. Ardax will be pleased to be a father again, she thinks.
"Yes," Auberon smiles with her. "Know that I will always love you, and always be with you. But you must not live for these dreams, Uvie, you must live out in your world, with your man, have children and serve your people."
"Will I never see you again?" she asks sadly.
"Never is too long a time. I will come to you whenever you have need of me." It will not be as often as he might like, but he does not tell her this. Letting her go is not easy, but it must be done.