Beloved Stranger

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Faerie Path series

Copyright: Frewin Jones

Eden was a powerful woman, a princess, second only to her father Oberon in her mastery of the Mystic Arts – yet helpless to save the man she loved.

Yes, she loved him; she realized that now, late as it might be.

In all their years of marriage, Earl Valentyne had meant the world to her – not as a passionate lover, as Tania's Edric was, but a wise teacher, partner and friend. They had managed the affairs of their estate, Mynwy Clun, together; they had sat up late into the night, reading poetry out loud and debating on everything from the care of tame unicorns to the consequences of immortality. She remembered his sly smile of triumph when, as so often, he had out-talked her; she remembered coaxing him to go to bed at night when he couldn't tear himself away from some ancient scroll. When she mastered some new spell he had taught her, he would glow with pride and order her favorite dessert; when he fell into a fit of gloom, as he sometimes did when the long centuries of his life overwhelmed him, she prodded him with sarcastic, teasing comments until he was himself again.

Their lives had been interwoven like threads in a tapestry; if his thread were pulled out now, she would unravel.

"My lord," Eden whispered. "Can you hear me?"

No response.

Her husband slept, his eyes twitching behind their lids as if his dreams were uneasy. When she placed a hand on his forehead, it was hot to the touch; he was burning inside. The lines and hollows of age in his face stood out starkly in the flickering candlelight; so fragile...so vulnerable.

After losing her mother and youngest sister to the dangers of the Mortal World, Eden had locked herself away in her tower room for five hundred years. Half insane under the burdens of guilt and grief – after all, she had sent the Queen through the portal herself – Eden had become a white-haired, tight-lipped ghost haunting her workrooms. Valentyne had pounded on her door for weeks, coaxing, pleading, and threatening by turns – and she had not let him in.

"Forgive me," she whispered.

It was her fault they were such strangers now; they had missed out on five hundred years together, in which their relationship might have deepened and grown like an oak tree reaching for the sun. She held on to his hand and leaned over him, her eyesight blurred with tears; all her centuries and the mature reserve they had brought fell away until she was a little girl again, sobbing.

"My lord...Valentyne...please, do not leave me."

It was the first time she had ever called him by name.

Then she felt it – the light squeeze of his hand in hers, bringing back an endless stream of shared memories. He was still with her – and somehow, he always would be.