Introduction

Perhaps there are those among you who know the story, and then again, perhaps not. If you are of the former, it may be the version of the tale you have heard has been exaggerated from what it truly is. If you are of the latter, then I have the great pleasure of relating to you one of the most delightful, beloved love stories in our world.

It is one that mothers use to lull their little ones to sleep abed, one that young girls dream about as they wistfully plan their futures. Boys make sticks into swords, fingers into claws, playing out the masterpiece with their unlimited imaginations. It is one that I have recalled to, over and over again, at the request of my own dear little son. And once I have related such a story to you, I hope you shall share it, in your own way, with your loved ones, so that the tradition never ceases.

My name is Nomoreto Butterbrig, a Grand-Master of Engineering and a practiced scribe, called genius by my wife, though she is prone to legendary delusions of grandeur. And all that you have heard about me is true. I have met them. They were real, both of them living, breathing, bleeding persons who stood here as ordinarily as you and I do. They felt joys and sorrows; they experienced the mundane and the supernatural.

Who on earth are you talking about, old Nomo, do you say? Well, do not think I have forgotten you new bloods. I shall tell you all the story, not a fairytale, not a documentary, but the honest to Goddess, true story.

The story of Mendingwall Starborne, and his beloved bride.

Shall we begin?

Chapter One: Omen

Butterbrig's Note: As I know most audiences shall be of a mortal, dare I say, human nature, I will try to relate immortal life spans as best I can so that you may understand.

The night Bellthaine Moonrunner was born, it was said, the stars glowed brighter than they had in two millenia. And Darnassus, the largest and most prosperous Elven city in the world sheltered under the long-stretching branches of the World-Tree, spent the next morning in grand celebration. Festival colors of purple and silver decorated banners with the insignia of a crown, and were hung upon every lamp post. Kal'dorei children raced each other down cobblestone roads, while men and women drank and toasted to the infant's health. Merry music could be heard from a mile away--and such grandeur could be justified. Her birth was near miraculous. She was the High Priest's firstborn, his heir apparent, pride and joy. Not only that--she was worth a fortune.

And it was that morning, when Mendingwall first met his fate.

Of course, young Mendingwall was barely the age of two at the time, and had no inkling whatsoever of his own destiny. He was balanced, hands wrapped around a small leather ball, upon his mother's hip--and when the Lady Nemariel held him up to behold the tiny girl, asleep in a round cradle adorned with aurora silk and moon-cloth lace, he held little interest. He could not touch her, or carry her around like a toy doll--so what, in any two year old child's mind--was the point of an infant?

Instead, his mother handed him over to his older brother, Manolios, who had just become of the age for schooling, and was instructed to stay out of trouble.

The Lady Nemariel Stormherald, born of what many would consider the highest of Elven nobility, was by far the most beautiful woman in the procession to meet the new arrival. Her hair, dark like navy sea water, was woven in a long braid that fell down to her waist. Despite having two sons, she was slender in figure compared to others, and wore thin white linen that accented her waist, small chest and rounded hips. She was tall, normally so for a Night Elf, and olive-skinned with eyes that glowed dimly silver, revealing nothing except the tiniest hint of feigned contentment.

Once she had seen off her two sons, she was joined by her husband, who brought his arms around her waist and pulled her lovingly against him. "I thought I'd never get you alone," he remarked with a mischievous grin, and softly kissed her slender neck.

Nemariel giggled and pushed him away, only to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him in closer. "Welcome home." She whispered, and they shared a kiss that reflected both compassion and relief.

Mendingwall's father was Kuja Stormherald, a strong and confident man only a year younger than his wife. He had broad shoulders, powerful hands and an even more overwhelming sense of duty that commanded respect from everyone around him. He was silver-haired and pale-skinned, with jaunt cheeks and piercing eyes. It was rare that anyone saw him out of armor, for usually he was plated from head to toe, weapons at his side, but that day, the Captain of the Sentinels was dressed simply as a civilian.

It had been two years since Nemariel had seen him last; and a heart-withering two years it had been. Kuja was often away at war, taking his most skilled warriors and battling with alongside the Elven Allies in unknown lands against the enemy. The enemy, at that time, were the Scourge, as Lordaeron had just recently fell, it's king slaughtered by his own son. She feared every day would bring her one of those letters, sent in black envelopes with a golden seal that spoke of death in battle, but instead she lived upon Kuja's letters, which he had religiously sent to her every day--although they were often delayed and delivered in bulk--that she had hidden away in a small chest underneath her bed.

"Where is my son?" Kuja asked in his boisterous voice, one that could carry across a battalion, if need be.

Nemariel pointed to Manolios, who stood with his friends, holding his younger brother with much difficulty as he squirmed and fussed, wishing to be set loose. Kuja's eyes lightened with realization and pride at how much his firstborn had grown. "He is so much like you." Nemariel said fondly. "He takes charge of the other children and does well with his teacher."

"Who is he torturing?" Kuja asked, half-laughing as he watched Manolios vainly try to subdue his ward.

Nemariel faintly smiled. "That is Mendingwall, your son."

Kuja said in disbelief. "Surely you jest!--"

"He celebrated his second year last week."

Husband and wife then shared a knowing look, one that any onlooker would not have been able to explain. Their voices became soft, and expressions changed. Kuja was filled with concern as he scanned the crowds. "So, you went through with it, then?"

Nemariel's answer was full of pain, as if she had been wounded by his question. "Yes, my Lord." Her eyes were upon her youngest. He looked so much like her, the same navy hair and captivating smile. It tore her apart inside.

Kuja pulled his wife closer to him affectionately. "It must have been difficult for you."

"Difficult?" Nemariel stared up at him in disbelief, hurt by his words. "You have no idea what the last two years have done to me." She said through clenched teeth, holding back tears. "It nearly killed me. You have no idea what it was like, keeping such a secret--and if Staghelm would have found out--"

"I don't care about Staghelm." Kuja said fiercely, and sat Nemariel down on a vacant bench, kneeling before her. "I know it must have been hard, but you are a strong woman. And it had to be done. It was foretold--"

"Don't give me your prophecy; I don't want to hear it." Nemariel interrupted heatedly. "How could you ask me to do something like that? How could you put your family in jeopardy for some drunken priest's farce? It was an absolute nightmare, if you must know. I question myself to this day, why I believed in your superstition. I live every day walking on egg shells--"

"Your son is healthy, my love. Nothing went wrong." Kuja reassured her, setting a strong hand on her soft shoulder. "We'll talk about it later."

"Father!"

With joy, Manolios ran towards Kuja, arms spread as wide as they could go. Kuja scooped his son into his arms and held him tight against his chest, laughing. "My boy, you've grown since I last saw you, let me look at you!" He sat him back on his feet and looked down into the hopeful eyes of his firstborn. "Your mother tells me that you wish to become a hunter one day."

Manolios' eyes sparkled with adoration and his mother smiled as he beamed, holding out his chest. All Manolios had spoken of for the past week was seeing his father again, and he desired nothing more than to be just like him. He stood tall, straining to look older and said in a bold voice, "I've been studying hard, father. I'm top in my class."

"As you should be," Kuja ruffled his hair and chuckled, "we Stormheralds have our names to make, don't we?" He knelt down before Mendingwall, who shied behind his brother nervously. "And you must be little Mend. What an odd name your mother gave you."

Nemariel watched as Mendingwall peeked around Manolios' legs, and crossed her arms, indignant. "It is a wonderful name. There is no other Mendingwall in the city, and besides, it's suits him."

"I suppose it does. Shy little thing."

"Don't be frightened, Mending." Manolios hissed as he nudged his brother in front of him and held him still for Kuja to see. "This is our papa."

Mendingwall did not seem so convinced and looked at Kuja's open arms warily, golden eyes wide and hands held behind his back. Kuja smiled gently. "It is all right, I know I've been away for too long. The first time your brother met me, it was the same way. There is something far more comforting in the appearance of your mother."

And then Kuja's attention was elsewhere. His shoulders tensed and he stood to his full height menacingly, staring across the street. "What is it?" Nemariel asked, coming to his side, and then she too fell silent. After a moment, she looked to her sons. "Go play with your brother, Manolios."

A lone Sentinel, armored for war, stood not yards away from Kuja. He had removed his helm to reveal long, navy hair that fell in two braids across his chest and narrow, golden eyes that could pierce through the darkest veil. His jaw was set, but there was no evil intent in his face, or hatred. There was not a fool that would dare challenge his own Captain, and tales of Kuja's strength and valor had preceded him. No, there was no anger or flame in this Sentinel's body. He stepped forward and bowed to Kuja in reverence.

Kuja stepped in front of his wife protectively. "Please," the Sentinel begged his superior, "I need to speak with--"

"How dare you, Elhadin." Kuja hissed. "And in such a public place? Must I punish you to avoid suspicion?"

"Please," Elhadin's attention was on Nemariel. "I need to speak with you."

In fear, Nemariel shook her head and moved back. In her eyes there was more suffering than any mortal could imagine; her body shook with it. "I'm sorry." She whispered. "You must leave."

Elhadin looked as if she had speared him through the stomach. The handsome young man crumbled, shoulders slumped, and retreated into the crowds. Kuja hushed his wife and hugged her closer than ever before. Her face buried in his chest, Nemariel's shoulders stiffened a sob.

~*~*~*~

The Stormherald estate was small for such grand standing, but it suited Lord Kuja and his wife perfectly. The curved rooftops of the manor-house pointed towards the stars--the family emblem of a swirling thunderstorm was inscribed upon the twin doors that swung open into the kitchen. From the kitchen there was a view of the gardens, which burst in violet bloom with the Lady Nemariel's favorite flowers. A single willow tree graced the peaceful terrace, its branches fluttering in the quiet breeze. The hallways were open, with railings separating smooth wooden floors from the arbor, and each door was a bedroom.

It was late evening and their children were finally asleep. Nemariel had spent the rest of the day in silence after the stressful meeting in the street. Kuja did not try to console her and accepted that she wanted to be left alone; in his heart, he knew there was nothing he could do, and he could not blame her for it. In other circumstances, perhaps--but in this particular situation, she was without blemish.

She sat alone on a wooden bench, underneath her willow tree. Kuja passed her by and noticed she was without warmth in the cool night air. Hesitantly, he brought her a robe, and came to join her. "Are you all right?" He asked at last.

Nemariel accepted the robe gratefully, draping it around her shoulders. She stared at her feet, as if she were afraid to look Kuja in the eye. "I suppose." But her front was useless. She was an open book. With a sigh, she rested her head upon her husband's strong shoulder and he kissed her hair. "No, I'm not all right." She whispered. "This was too hard. I'm sorry, Kuja. I tried, for you, I really did. I couldn't help myself. I couldn't control...I couldn't stop how...how I..."

"I understand." Kuja reassured her.

"Are you angry with me?"

"I could never be angry with you, Nemariel. The pain will heal itself in time." Kuja smiled faintly, although he could not deny that he shared the same agonizing ache, a feeling of betrayal, guilt--and even though he knew it was petty--jealousy. "I'm only sorry I could not return to you sooner. Maybe I could have prevented all of this. I could have stopped it when you couldn't."

There was a rustle, the slight creak of wood floors. Kuja turned to the hallway and stared in utter disbelief. He rose to his feet in the manner of a bear, bristling with rage. "How--dare--you--" he sputtered.

Nemariel gasped and shrunk away, like a small child to an animal. Elhadin Blackbough, the Sentinel from earlier that morning, stood before them both, wearing his own clothes. His face was twisted with misery and he bowed before Kuja, as he had so many times before. "Forgive me, Kuja. But I couldn't stand another day--"

"You fool." Kuja hissed through clenched teeth. "You risk all of our lives by showing your face here, you know it is forbidden."

"I came to see Nemariel." Elhadin implored. "If you could just give me one moment with her, just one..."

"You knew you were on borrowed time, you both did." Kuja declared flatly. "Nemariel has accepted it, now you must."

Elhadin shook his head fiercely. "I can't, I can't just forget, and accept."

Kuja breathed in sharply and calmed himself down, looking to Nemariel apprehensively. She hesitated, and then rose to her feet. She touched her husband's arm and nodded.

"Very well, as she wishes it." Kuja growled. "But every moment you spend here, you bring us closer to doom."

Kuja strode away, his boots falling loudly upon the ground. Once he was out of sight, Elhadin burst towards Nemariel, wrapping his arms around her tightly, desperately. The moment he touched her, she began to cry, and tears rolled down her face uncontrollably. "Why did you come here?" She asked, sobbing. "I told you to stay away, why couldn't you listen?"

Elhadin's mouth vehemently crushed against hers. Had it been a year before she would have surrendered to him and embraced his passion, but his kiss only brought her more grief and she pushed him away. "I told you it was over, we did what we were supposed to do. Why can't you just let me go?"

Elhadin stared at her sadly, at the distance between them. "Was it so easy for you to forget me?" He asked, wounded by her words.

She bit her lip, trying her hardest to stifle her own emotions while fighting off her desires. "Of course not," her voice broke, "I think of you every day."

"Let me take you away with me. Please, Kuja will understand, I know he will. He said so himself. I heard you both talking." Elhadin wiped at his eyes, lip quivering. Nemariel hated seeing him so vulnerable. When in uniform he stood strong and fast, like a stone wall. When she had felt his embrace, the power of his arms was nearly overwhelming. And yet, before her he seemed so weak, like a child reaching out for relief--but there was nothing she could do.

"You know we can't do that. Staghelm wouldn't stand for it. And, my son--"

Elhadin's eyes flickered at his mention. Nemariel turned away from him and struggled to speak. "I want more than anything to go with you, but my life is here. My sons are here. My husband--Kuja cares for me very much. He has never treated me less. I cannot disgrace him, and all that he has done for me, by abandoning him. I cannot abandon my children. Never, could I do that."

"I love you, Nemariel." Elhadin's voice was suddenly daring. His words were true, and struck through the air like knives through water. "Can you look me in the eye and say that you don't love me?"

Nemariel turned to him weakly, and did as he asked, her silver eyes stained with tears. "I'm sorry." She whispered. "You must go."

She left him standing there, shattered, and fled to her bed, where she flung herself upon the silk blankets and sobbed.

It did not take Kuja long to return to Elhadin, who was far too shocked to move his feet. Perhaps he had thought for certain that she would run to him and agree to elope, far from Darnassus, abandon everything for him. Foolishly he had dreamed of such a happy ending from the first moment when he had learned of their fate. Whatever the reason, Kuja's anger had been sated. He placed a hand upon Elhadin's shoulder. "You must leave here, now. I'm sorry."

"She chose you." Elhadin muttered. "After all this...I cannot believe--I thought her--"

"Don't be foolish." Kuja interrupted heatedly. "I would gladly give an arm, a leg, an eye for the way she looks at you. She will never be able to look at me like that, ever."

The brothers-in-arms stood tall and silent, but only for a moment. "Nemariel is very wise, Elhadin. She does not live only for herself now. Remember that. Remember why all of this happened in the first place. It is not in her nature."

"I don't know why I convinced myself otherwise." Elhadin admitted, and sighed. It was easier for him to breathe when she was away, but the pain had not subsided. "I don't know why I let you talk me into this."

"I did nothing. It was fate." Kuja shook Elhadin's shoulders as if to startle him awake. "And now your fate lies with me. We leave at the end of the week for war. I need you beside me. For the sake of Nemariel, and for all that we three have been through, can I rely on you?"

Elhadin Blackbough bowed in respect and walked away, leaving behind his heart, feeling numb. He did not know what the future would hold for him now, without Nemariel, without all he held dear. Poor, poor Elhadin Blackbough, he then was the Sentinel of Sorrow. He did not know that in a week, he would be deployed under his commander to the front, or that he would be promoted in his friend's place. He did not know he would be given the responsibility of telling Nemariel her husband was dead. He did not expect her reaction.

He did not know her last words to him would be, "I will never forgive you for what you have done."