"I heard a call from a mortal boy," Ico tells Auberon as she emerges from the waters of the ancient fae's domain, "He believes I can rescue his grandfather."
"The prayers of the mortals have become a clamor of late," Auberon muses, "They plead for safety, for mercy and most of all for protection. Something is happening in their world, and they are all afraid of what is come. But why you, Ico? You have never made yourself known to the mortals."
"The boy called to me from the small pond where I spoke to Sterren while we were planning Morvyn's rescue. It's possible he saw me while we were speaking. I don't know why he chose to call on me and not you, I only know he was desperate and terrified. He fears for his grandfather's life, but I could not no clear understanding of the source of the danger. I don' know what aid I could give him."
"Perhaps his fears are just part of whatever this unease the mortals are experiencing," Auberon says, "But perhaps it's something more. And I am interested in discovering why he thought to call to you, Ico. I could send Tania into his mind..."
"Or Jennicor," Ico suggests.
Auberon's lips press together in an amused smile, "Of course, Winterdream is more suited to the task. I'll send her to the boy, and perhaps she can learn what troubles him, what is troubling them all."
"Gaelle took ill the morning after we were nearly attacked by wolves," Treveur explains while Sterren examines the trembling young woman, "I thought it was just the terror of the night's events, but the illness has persisted."
"This illness has a different cause," Sterren says, keeping her voice level as she speaks the lines she and Gaelle composed together for this performance, "You are with child, Gaelle."
Gaelle feigns surprise, gasping, "Oh, Treveur!" as she runs into his arms.
"A scare such as you have suffered could have ill effects on the child," Sterren continues, glad that Treveur's eyes are closed as he comforts his betrothed, so the he cannot look into her eyes as she tells this lie, "The fright could have disturbed the child and you may deliver early than is normal." The fright the couple had experienced had been real enough, but could of course could have no such effect on Gaelle's pregnancy. But the women had between them concocted this story as a better explanation for why GAelle's child would be born earlier than Treveur would be expecting.
"Truly?" Treveur asks, "With our farm being so close to the edge of the forests, my family has been no stranger to the occasional wolf attack. My mother never had any problems with her pregnancies."
"Your mother was strong, and long accustomed to these dangers. Gaelle has lived a more sheltered life, and the fright has affected her more deeply," Sterren explains, surprised by how easily the lie came to her when it was needed.
"We should marry as soon as possible," Gaelle interrupts, hoping to distract her betrothed from further questions, "Before the whole village can see my condition."
Her ruse works, as Treveur turns to her with an affectionate smile.
"I am ready to officiate at your wedding, whenever you like," Sterren says, smiling as she thinks of her own impending nuptials.
After leaving her shop in the village, Sterren goes straight to Taran's house, not officially her home until she is his wife, but where she's been unofficially living since they became lovers in truth. Finding her betrothed in his garden, she leads him out to the sheltered grove behind the barn, where an ancient statue still stands, the last remains of the place where her family had venerated the Lady in generations long past.
"I would like for us to be married here," Sterren says, taking Taran's hands, "Rather than in sacred grove in the village."
"That will be perfect," Taran agrees, "Have you heard any word from the Penguilly priestess?" There can be no marriage until they have someone to officiate, otherwise Tarn would take his vows right now and finally call Sterren his wife.
Sterren nods, "She should be here in a matter of days."
Something in her voice, in the wrinkle of her brow and the turn of her lips worries him.
"What is bothering you, my love?" he asks gently.
"Nothing I would burden you with," Sterren tries to dismiss his concern.
"Sterren, please, I would share in your worries as well as your joy," Taran insists.
"I've become party to a deception, and I'm keeping a secret for someone," Sterren answers, "That is why I cannot tell you.
"Do you not trust me?"
Sterren sighs unhappily. Keeping Gaelle's secret from Treveur is bad enough, letting Gaelle's situation come between herself and Taran is another matter. "I trust you more than anyone," she says.
Sterren leads Taran over to the nearby benches, and tells him of Gaelle's affair with the wilder, and her pregnancy, and the sorry part she herself had played in tricking Treveur into believing the child was his. Taran holds her hand in his throughout her long confession, gently caressing it in support.
"Poor Brannon," Taran sympathizes with the deceived lover when Sterren's tale is done, "But what you did is for the best. For the sake of the child. If Brannon knew he wasn't the father, even his love for Gaelle might not be enough for him to raise the child as his own."
Sterren frowns, conscious of the similarity of Taran's situation to Treveur's. "Do you think it would have been better for me to lie to you about the child I carry?" she asks.
"Are you comparing Brannon's situation to mine?" Taran asks, genuinely surprised.
"You are both marrying women who are carrying another man's child, and you'll both be raising them as your own," Sterren says, pointing out the obvious.
"Brannon loves a woman who deceived him, taking another lover while accepting his courtship, and then she lied to him again when she seduced him and then told him the child was his," Taran says, "Our situation is not the same at all. You have never lied to me. I knew you were pregnant, and by whom, before I asked for your hand."
Taran rises, pulling Sterren up with him in a tight embrace, "And I will not be raising another man's child, my love. This child you carry is and will always be ours."
Jean ran all the way home, to his father's smithy. Instead of the usual noises of hammer on anvil, the boy hears only the soft sobbing of his mother as he stops outside the shop door.
"The Landgraabs have completely outlawed all worship of the Lady," Melisenet sobs, her tears falling on her husband's neck, "The word is they mean to make an example of my father, force him to forswear the Lady or burn."
"I've heard that your father's friend, the priestess from Avendale, summoned a demon, right in the Watcher's church, and that is was a demon who killed the Lord Diedericx. Now all who follow the Lady are suspect, your father most of all, as he is her priest."
"But that's foolish. My father cannot summon demons!" Melisenet protests.
"I know that, my love," Gillis says, stroking her hair, "But the Landgraabs aren't looking for the truth so much as they are looking for someone to blame. Perhaps they could make a show toward your father if he repudiated the Lady..."
"You know he will never do that!"
"I know," Gillis' whisper is resigned. "If he does not, my love, for the sake of our son..." The young smith lets his sentence go unfinished, as the drop in his wife's shoulders tells him she understands his meaning.
"Yes, I know," she murmurs, "We can't let this suspicion hang over Jean all his life. We will join the Landgraab's church, and renounce all ties to the Lady. I wish my father would do so as well."
As she puts Jean to bed that night, Melisenet wears a cheerful face to hide her fears, but her son is not so easily soothed.
"I asked the fairy lady who lives in Papa's pond to help," Jean says, struggling to hold in his tears, "But she didn't come."
Melisenet's lips tremble and frown at her son's words, "There is no fairy in Papa's pond," she says harshly. Her son was always prone to these flights of fancy, taking his grandfather's stories too literally, and much too close to his heart. It was an endearing trait before, but now his careless words could bring real danger to their family.
"But I saw---"
"You didn't see," Melisenet insists, wishing she didn't have to scold the boy, "You imagined. And you must never, ever speak of such things. Do you understand? Not to anyone."
"Yes, Mother," Jean says, agreeing just to stop the scolding.
Melisenet smiles gently and kisses her son's forehead as she tucks him in for the night. "Sleep well, my darling boy," she whispers, and rushes away before he can see her tears.
Jean dreams he's in his grandfather's yard, playing when he's visited by a sparkling, giggling pixie who chases and teases him.
"I want to see you," he says.
"Here I am," Jennicor says, appearing before him.
"You aren't the pond fairy," Jean says, surprised.
"I am Winterdream," Jennicor introduces herself, "And you are dreaming that I'm here."
"You aren't real?" the boy asks, his disappointment obvious in his voice.
Jennicor chuckles, "I'm real, child, and I am part of your dream. But it doesn't truly matter, since you will remember none of this." Unbeknownst to the child, as she converses with him she also delves into his recent memories, watches through his eyes the arrest of his grandfather and the conversation between his parents.
"Hold out your hands," she instructs the boy, and Jean reaches out to her with cupped hands.
"Fairy dust," she tells him as the sparkling dust pours from her fingers to his hand, "It won't protect you from all that you fear, or all that might harm you, but it never hurts to have a little magic at your disposal."
After hearing Jennicor's report about what she learned from the child's memory, Auberon goes right to Ico with the news. "I made a grave mistake, appearing as I did when I rescued Sterren from her captor," he tells her, "All who serve in Uvie's name are being persecuted, and that is why this boy's grandfather was taken."
"Will you help him?" Ico asks.
"What about Sterren?" Ico suggests, "She helped rescue Morvyn."
"Ico," Aymeri speaks just her name, but the low growl in his tone says so much more. She left him alone after Talfryn's death to help rescue Morvyn. Now she's carrying his child, and has new fears and worries for her safety.
"I won't go this time," she whispers a promise to him.
"The mortals blame us for the dragon's release now, too," Auberon informs them.
Morvyn, tending the flame fruits nearby, listens to their conversation, which ends with no decision. He doesn't know this old man who has been taken prisoner, but he was somehow involved in his rescue. It's only right that he try to help him, if the fairies won't. When he's done in the garden, he quietly slips off to find Moth, to have the fairy deliver a message for him.
"At least let me come with you," Taran pleas as Sterren tries to take her leave, "The roads aren't safe at night, especially now, with war brewing."
"The wilders are shy about meeting our kind," Sterren explains, "You might scare him off if I brought you. And you don't need to worry, Moth will be with me."
Taran glances at the moth fluttering around her head, and tries to accept that it has enough magic to protect his beloved from bandits or worse.
"I have my dagger as well," Sterren adds with a slight smile.
"Don't worry about me, my love," Sterren gives him a soothing caress on the cheek, "I have long been accustomed to walking to the stones alone, even at night. I'll be home by evenfall."
"I will be waiting," Taran promises, letting her go on her mission with a goodbye kiss. He knows she cannot be deterred, so he can only let her go on her way now so that she might be back before it is too dark.
The wilder that Moth told her wished to meet with her is waiting for her in the circle of stones when she arrives.
"I never thanked you," he says, "For rescuing me. Or for speaking up for me when the dragon slayer took me captive."
Sterren takes note of the way he calls Reinier 'dragon slayer'. Many people do, of course, since Reinier's reputation has been built on such feats. But she can't help but wonder if his suspicions are true, if these wilders don't have some connection to the dragons. "There's no need to thank me. I would not see a man unfairly taken prisoner. Whatever you might know about dragons, Reinier had no right to capture you or force you to speak," she says, hoping but not really expecting that the wilder will reveal to her the secrets Reinier had wanted to get from him.
"Well, he's dead now," Morvyn says grimly, "But his kind are still taking prisoners."
"Reinier is not dead," Sterren informs him, "Your...friends?...killed the wrong man, Reinier's brother."
"The dragon slayer still lives?" Morvyn asks, frowning as Sterren nods in answer. "Well, then it's the dragon slayer who holds your friend prisoner."
"My friend? What are you talking about."
Morvyn tells her what he knows about the old priest's captivity. "The fairies won't act," he concludes, "And I thought I owed it to you to offer my help, if you wanted to rescue him as you did me."
Sterren's immediate impulse is to run off and find a way to help her friend, imprisoned in part for his relationship to her. "I couldn't have freed you without the help of the fair folk," she says in dismay as she tries to formulate a plan, "And at that time, I had free access to the Keep. My family and Landgraabs were on friendly terms, and I was a welcome guest. Now, there is war brewing between us, and I could not be seen in Odet without being taken prisoner myself," Sterren says with frown, knowing that her words don't begin to convey the danger she'd be putting herself in if she stepped foot in Reinier's domain now.
Danger to herself would be worth the risk to save her friend, but she cannot do anything alone now, she thinks, unconsciously rubbing her hands in a protective gesture over her stomach as she thinks of the child she carries.
"You are with child," Morvyn notes, understanding her gesture.
Sterren nods, "I want to help Fransez," she says, "But, the danger..."
"I understand," Morvyn answers, "I'm sorry I couldn't help you more."
"I...I should go," Sterren murmurs, repressing the urge to tell this wilder the secret she keeps, that he is going to be a father himself soon. It's his right to know, she firmly believes that, but telling him could have so many repercussions she doesn't want to be responsible for, and all she can do is flee from his presence now before her sentimentality makes her say something she'll regret later.
"You were meeting with a mortal," Kelyn accuses, stopping Morvyn on his way back to the nest.
"She's not just any mortal," Morvyn explains, "Sterren is one of Auberron's charges. She rescued me from the dragon slayer's prison."
Kelyn scowls at him, angrier than she should be, he thinks. "I don't know what the humans are like where you're from," he says gently, trying to calm her wrath with his own calm, a healer's trick he learned from his father, "But here, they are not normally hostile. They keep to themselves as we keep to ourselves. We never had a dragon slayer until this Landgraab came from the north."
"Whatever they are, they are not our kind," Kelyn answers, "And our law is very clear about showing ourselves to them."
"I know the law, Kelyn," Morvyn says, "Sterren, like all the other mortals here, believe we are human, too. They call us wilders. They don't know what we are."
Kelyn shifts her weight, "The dragon slayer took you captive because he suspected what we are," she says.
He turns away from her then, holding himself like he carries a great sorrow. "He couldn't have captured me if I hadn't been betrayed," he whispers.
"Betrayed?" Kelyn asks, "By whom?"
Confessing his crime to Aymeri had done nothing to alleviate the guilt Morvyn felt, and still feels, for Talfryn's death. "There was a girl, mortal girl," Morvyn begins his story, fully expecting Kelyn's wrath, and maybe still hoping for someone to punish him for what he did as he feels he deserves. "She was my lover. Talfryn knew, and he kept my secret. She betrayed me to the dragon slayer, telling him where we were to meet. After I'd been captured, Talfryn came for me alone instead of getting help, in order to keep my secret. I watched him die, Kelyn, and I could do nothing."
"You didn't kill Talfryn," Kelyn says, "The dragon slayer killed him. And he paid with his life, for all the deaths he's brought on us."
"Don't comfort me," Morvyn says, turning from her as she reaches a hand to caress him, "You of all dragons should know I don't deserve it."
Words don't come easy for Kelyn, especially when it comes to speaking about emotions. In this moment, all her feelings, her attraction, her jealousy, her sympathy, all drive her to action, and she throws her arms around his neck, meeting her lips to his in a passionate kiss.
If he had been paying attention, he might have seen this coming, but he's been too lost in his own thoughts to pay heed to anyone else. Taken by surprise, he takes her kiss and gives her his own, letting his tongue tease hers.
"Wait," he whispers, pulling back from her, "Stop. We don't know each other well enough for this."
"How well did you need to know your mortal lover?" Kelyn asks, stung and bitter at his rejection. "How well did she know you?"
"That's different," Morvyn answers, "You're a dragon."
Kelyn breaks out of his grasp and runs, too embarrassed by her impulsive action to stay and listen to whatever excuse he's going to make up for rejecting her. She was a fool to think it would be any different for her than it was with any of the other females who'd sought his favor.
Auberon's Rock Garden is by Pet'ka Falcora.