Title: Of Mortal Glory
Summary: Celleriant ponders service of a mortal woman.
Disclaimer: If I was Michelle West, I wouldn't be writing fanfiction.
From a distance, unseen and unheard, he kept watch over the woman chosen as his mistress for this lifetime. Her slender frame was bent in supplication over the secluded altar and her unruly curls tumbled over it, hiding her expression from his view. In all ways, she looked small and weak. If it were not for her fine clothing and golden jewelry, she would look a mere servant. Servants had no power to speak of against the standards by which he knew how to judge power.
Bitterly, he gripped the hilt of a sword that also held no power until his knuckles were white. That was the only expression he allowed himself. No frown crossed his lips and no grimace marred his smooth brow. The privacy of his thoughts was a different matter completely.
What was he supposed to do here?
This world was so weak. It was diminished, in every way, from the world he knew and gloried in. A light breeze caressed him and he tilted his face up into it. It was a fine night for a hunt. For the Hunt. In his memories he could hear the horns blow as Arianne gathered her host. His brother's laughter, so rich and loved, danced with anticipation. The stars shone brighter than a torch and even the mounts' eyes gleamed with excitement. But the Lady…ah, the Lady shone like a goddess, beautiful and terrible and glorious to behold. Her hair was a brighter silver than the stars and smoother than the finest silk. Her eyes were more alive than the very earth beneath them. When she stood in her stirrups and called the Hunt, she transfixed all of the Arianni in her train.
She had mesmerized Celleriant from the first moment he ever heard her and all he wanted was to serve her and glory in her for the rest of his immortal life. He strove, as every other he knew, to prove himself worthy of Arianne, to be Arianni. To serve her, in any way possible.
He bit back a wild laugh. He had wanted to serve; well, he was serving now. It was not a mistress of his choice, although the mistress of his choice consigned him to this fate. This woman, this Jewel, stood against Arianne close to the fullness of her Hunt and held her against the road She had chosen. In the end, Arianne acceded to the woman's strange demands and chosen Celleriant as the one to bear the burden of the price.
Oh Lady, he thought. Strangely, the thought held no real anger, although he considered himself bitter and abandoned. His brother had offered himself instead, he remembered with a sudden jolt of pain. Mordanant had offered to take the exile so that his younger, beloved brother would not have to be exiled from the Host. No matter how Arianne worded it, all knew that exile in the service of one mortal was tantamount to utter failure. The great princes in the days that the Firstborn walked this earth fared poorly at the challenge; what chance did a mere Hunter have? Yet Mordanant was turned away and Celleriant given to this strange woman.
At every turn, Jewel ATerafin confused Celleriant. Where he would recommend a show of strength, she folded into demands made of her. Where he would tread carefully, she forged ahead recklessly without thought. Where he would offer a veiled threat, she offered consideration. In all ways, Jewel was a puzzle to one of the Arianni. Power spoke through her in abundance but she did not move to its pattern.
How could someone that consistently moves away from power be one? How could he swallow his pride and simply serve such a one as her?
Celleriant closed his eyes for a brief moment as he inhaled fresh air. He missed his brother. He missed the host and the hunt. He missed his life.
He touched the hilt of his sword once again. This time, there was no anger, no tension. The sword of his soul lay sheathed inside of him; he was bound from drawing it unless danger threatened his mistress or she commanded him to. This sword of metal and leather held no fire and spoke with no music. It was not a part of him in the way he was accustomed to. However, its dance in his hand was the only part of this world that resonated in any way within him.
"I cannot grant you what you had with the Arianni," Jewel said softly in his memory. "And you cannot be what you were within the bounds of Avaantari. There is no way here to replace what you have lost." There was a long pause as the woman studied him. He had never met a seer before but even untrained as this one was, her eyes seemed to see right through him. Her expression spoke of knowing and her words pulled at his very soul. "You do not see yourself as one of mine, but until your Lady reclaims you, I would have you at my side in honor." She held her two small hands perfectly steady underneath a long steel burden. The sword was finely made for this land and had her House symbols etched into its cross guard. "If you choose, you shall be one of my Chosen. You shall serve me and protect me for the good of my House and my land. You shall bear this sword with honor, with privilege and dedication."
She fell silent then and Celleriant thought she was finished, but she was not. She spoke again and her voice was that of a seer's: hollow and certain. "Celleriant, you left your family and your Queen at Arianne's own bequest. You fear you have lost everything. I say you have gained everything. Celleriant, should you agree here of your own free will to serve me, you will have lost nothing and achieved glory such as you have never imagined." Her eyes blazed with the fire of absolute conviction. Her voice was that of truth and there was no darkness within it.
Celleriant found himself on his knees before he could even think about her words, the sword held in his hands. "Jewel Markess ATerafin, I shall serve and protect you of my own free will. Winter court or Summer, my honor, my blood for you and yours." He bowed low over the sword.
"What might we have wrought with such a one at the peak of our days?" Celleriant did not realize he spoke aloud until the words hung in the silence of the night air. "What might we have done?" he whispered to himself again. Possibilities played themselves out in his thoughts before he pushed them aside. In this, as in all things, Jewel proved herself to be beyond his ken.
No, he did not understand her. He did, however, respect her as much as he had ever respected anyone.
At the other end of the garden, Jewel ATerafin rose from her bowed posture and stood upright. With a final respectful bow of her head toward the House Shrine, she started down the path toward the manse and her rooms.
This was not the path he had thought to take, but he would dishonor neither his Queen nor his mistress. A small, grim smile parted his lips and in the darkness of concealment, Celleriant bowed low as his mistress passed him.