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On the Written Expression of a Heart's Desire
Chapter One: Poetic Inspiration
She was cold as ice, which doesn't surprise
In all the dreams where I confessed my mind
But here in this life, will she be nice?
Or be the reason one more thing dies?
Anxiety has stricken me for far too long
I dig my grave with each day that passes with words unsaid
Will it ever relent, this awful love?
If it dies, I with it, to Sun above.
Tal sighed and put down his pen and ink. He wished for what seemed the thousandth time that crafting the perfect words to sort our his dreadful love were as easy as making a stairway of light with sunstone magic. Or perhaps a hand, he thought. That's a bit more challenging. But at least it's something I can do!
"The rhythm is a bit off, and surely you can think of something more colorful than that?" Tal groaned, and turned to find his trusty great-uncle at his side. In the dead of night.
"What're you doing here?"
Ebbitt ignored him and continued his harsh critique: "A bit more green perhaps? Some indigo weaves... And I would not read that to your dearest, it's certainly not too flattering..."
"Ebbitt, it's not for anyone!" Tal cried out, a bit harsher than he had intended. He was grumpy with fatigue.
And who could blame him? He'd been up late each night for weeks. Not due to stress from the recent commotion caused by more free shadows and renegade Chosen and former Underfolk alike - though that was quite enough to worry about. Nor because of the impending amends to the treaty between the castle dwellers and the Icecarls, thanks to loopholes that were almost terribly exploited by a most nasty sort of rebel Icecarl band - though that, also, was quite enough to worry about. It wasn't the treaty itself that crept into Tal's dreams while he slept or while he was waking. It was the one he would be signing and discussing the treaty with.
"Milla does not strike me as the poetic type, either."
"Ebbitt! It's... it's not for Milla. That's ridiculous! This isn't even about me!" Tal crumpled up the parchment he had just soiled with the words of his frustration and tossed it across the small study.
"Flowers would be much better... it's a shame we can't go to Aenir anymore to get any..."
The Mountain of Light and the people contained therein were now in the fourth year of the rule of Tal Graile-Rerem, meaning the people of the ice were enjoying their fourth year of rule under the War-Chief Milla Talon-Hand. Peace had been sustained between the two peoples - for the most part - the entire time. Tal had begun to institute a program that was integrating all people of the castle into the orders of red through violet, including the Freefolk. Unsurprisingly, many Underfolk were still resistant to the idea, as were a handful of renegade Chosen. Such things kept Tal busy enough, but most of imperial focus went to reinstating the old governing ways that existed in the days of honorable and true emperors and empresses in the Castle. Ebbitt, with Malen, and a team of wise Chosen and a select few Icecarls with exceptional knowledge of creatures of the ice, were busy exploring the Seventh Tower day by day. Its many rooms held more secrets than Aenir itself, it seemed. With every new discovery Tal had enough on his plate to forget any personal life entirely. But the War-Chief of the Icecarls was not so easily forgotten, it seemed.
Tal was blinded. Not by sunstone light as he had been temporarily so many times before. And not by the intense light of the Sun above the Veil. He was blinded by love. Blind, sick, and hopeless. All of these describe his state. This was a love that seemed much more real and powerful than any Sun.
He knew he was in love. What he did not know was how to deal with it. How to cope with it. He and Milla's relationship had changed in a way over the passing of the last four years, but it had mostly just grown as they had. For Tal, it had grown. Into love. He did not know what she thought of him. Not directly, anyway. The best he got were fleeting looks in her eyes and a flash of a smile that he, for the life of him, could make no sense of.
The last time Milla had been at the castle was four months ago. At that time, Tal had attempted to tell her how he felt. But he kept tripping over his words and the result was an awkward situation for all involved. Milla had merely looked at him strangely and left, as always getting to business. To business, to business, Tal thought. If only he could focus on business.
He had the idea of a poetic confession of his love the hour after she'd left the castle. Of course he couldn't just go running out into the ice alone in search of Milla Talon-Hand and poetically confess his love to her then, though. Oh, he was more than ready to run naked through the ice in search of her, if it came to that – it's just he still had no words to woo her with.
Nothing much had changed in the past four months.
Milla had been outraged at the group of her people that had attempted an attack on the castle. Four years ago she would have killed them outright, but she had learned responsibility in her time serving as war-chief. They were tried. They demanded a copy of the peace treaty between the castle dwellers and the Icecarls be brought forth, and the Crones allowed it. They then began attacking the treaty's structure with a legal knowledge and a fury rarely seen in an Icecarl towards anything not involving a battle. In retrospect, it didn't surprise Milla. The treaty was weak, constructed primarily by she and Tal four years ago when they both had little knowledge of politics or ruling. Milla also had little experience in anything remotely close to literature.
As a result of the incident with the treaty, the Crones had contacted Malen and other members of the in-castle embassy and scheduled a date for Milla to arrive to discuss amends to the treaty. To discuss amends to the treaty. With Tal.
Why the "with Tal" part of the whole ordeal stuck out to Milla she did not know. She had learned and changed much in the four years of her rule, and since meeting him, but one thing remained. She would not let herself believe in dependence on anyone. She was an Icecarl – no, the War-Chief of all Icecarls. She was Milla Talon-Hand, in the line of Danir, since the ruin of the ship.
It wasn't bad, at first. Her first arrival to the castle after the saving of the Veil had arrived a little over a year after she had left. She and Tal met like old friends and their interactions were like they had been when she had left. Happy, friendly. No bitterness. Just old friends, bound by blood. No more.
It seemed the year at work as Emperor and War-Chief had filled their heads with thoughts of things other than each other. But Tal still managed to have thought of Milla every day since she had left. She remembered she had thought of him, too.
Because he is an old friend. Bound by blood. She told herself. No more.
She had seen Tal more frequently since then, every few months. Though she would not admit it to herself, the pair grew closer with each visit in a way quite unfamiliar to Milla. But then, no endeavors with the boy had been anything but one of a kind, since the beginning. Thus all previous visits could be perceived as normal enough. Except the last one.
The last time Milla was at the castle, four months ago, Tal acted extremely strange. At first Milla almost took offense to the way he was treating her. He seemed to be avoiding her until the end of her visit, when it was time for her to leave. He then embarrassingly called her away from her party of fellow Icecarls for a moment to speak in private. How dare he, she had thought. Not speak to her all week and then distract her from her duty.
The boy had stumbled over his words for a while, then eventually just given her an awkward goodbye. She nodded in farewell, and clapped her fists in salute, and left.
While this incident disturbed her, she and Tal had built enough trust that their friendship had not been harmed. It was just, terribly curious. What hadn't he been able to tell her?
Milla, it seemed, like Tal, was also blind. But she was blind to his love, rather than by it.There was her duty as the War-Chief. That was all there was. That was all there ever could be. Her people, her way of life – all she had ever known – depended on it.