I must admit that I mistook her for moonlight as I wandered in the frozen gardens of my citadel that night. I caught a glimpse of her as she darted about, pausing to touch the frozen curtains created by the fast freezing of the fountains, and the once vibrant roses that were now ice sculptures.
It was long ago, when the Mountains of the Dawn were new. The Ice-Witch had long since cast much of Edil-Amarandh in to a never ending winter and the losses had been great. In an age, the lands that had only recently had united to form my kingdom, Lirion, had been reduced to a fraction of their former glory. Only the strongest of my people persisted and every new day brought news of more sickness, more pain, more death. My heart had frozen. I was the King of a once powerful and glorious land and yet I could no better protect my people than force the night around me to break into day. I looked up in a sudden rush of anger too impotent even to warm me. The moon was full, and I shouted at it, letting my frustration rise towards the sky like a dark bird after a carrion feast.
"How dare you, uncaring moon! You watch with your eye ever blinking slowly. My people cry to you as much as to me. Does it delight you that they find us equal in our uselessness," I spat bitterly.
"Do not berate her so," a soft voice spoke from behind me, "She morns losses far greater than your own."
I turned around to see her but she moved before I had the chance.
"Who, if I may be so bold as to ask, are you to tell a king whom he may reprimand," I asked sharply.
I gasped as she appeared before me. She was, at first, the stunning figure of woman created from pure light with strange yellow eyes and an unnaturally shaped face. Gradually she shifted, taking the form of a tall dark haired young woman with pale and perfect features.
"What are you," the question slipped past my lips before I could stop it.
"I am many things, and many people. You may call me Ardina. I am older than dust on the grave of your father's father. I could send you beyond the Gates with a thought. Who are you, a simple and impermanent king to rebuke me," She said. Her voice was still quiet but her eyes held a threat.
"Forgive me. This cold has frozen my manners. I am called Ardhor. I welcome you and wonder why you have graced me with your presence," I murmured respectfully, shamed by my ignorance of her.
"I grow tired of this winter and of my solitude and you, I think, could help me to end both," she said, stepping forward and touching my face with a hand that was so soft and warm that my frozen heart jolted with new life. She spoke like a queen.
I looked at her as a king looks at a powerful being who might become his ally.
I looked at her as man looks at a woman more beautiful than any woman had ever been or would ever be again.
"I will try," I said, reaching up to touch the hand that rested on my face, "I promise you, I will try."
Our friendship formed as the alliance took shape between the peoples of Edil-Amarandh and the Elidhu. We stood, at times, as the only force that could prevent war within the ranks. Our separate kinds faced each other with fear and indifference, but in the end it was a combination of hatred for Arkan and desire for warmth and light that led them to a sort of truce. Ardina's beautiful and terrifying eyes staring down anyone foolish enough to threaten the harmony between groups may also have had some role.
It was another night, in another garden, one of the first that had been taken back from Arkan as a result of our alliance, when that friendship grew into more.
She appeared as she always did in those days, as the yellow eyed spirit that seemed to be made of light. She danced like moonlight touching the bushes and trees, still bare from their long exposure to the cold, and they burst into life. Fragrant flowers that had not bloomed since before my birth spilled forth their scents in a sweet and heady mixture. They were stunning, vibrant, lovely, and might as easily have been piles rags for all that I cared once she approached, stopping just in front of me.
"The war goes well," she said softly, " spring is returning to Edil-Amarandh."
"Yes," I replied, " We have been fortunate; particularly so, to be gifted with a leader with such wisdom."
I was trying to be friendly. I thought myself foolish for the feelings growing within me, and arrogant to hope that she might have similar affections.
"You promised me that you would try to end my solitude," she said, tilting her head and assuming her more human form. Her dark hair shined silver in the moonlight.
"Have I not," I asked, wondering briefly if she would choose to do as she'd once warned she could and kill me with a thought.
"Your kingly flattery distances you from me, Ardhor. We have talked much. I believed us to be close. Did I believe wrongly," she asked, her eyes pierced my soul.
"No, you did not," I replied. She stepped closer to me. We were nearly touching.
"Your heart is beating faster and you are starting to sweat. Your face is growing red and even the light that burns in your soul responds to my presence. You think that you, a mortal man, are foolish because you fell in love with me. My time with you will be a drop in an ocean. You will die and I will carry the pain of your loss until the stars rot and I am left floating in a black abyss that once contained all beauty, all knowledge, all light. If you, my love, are foolish then what am I?"
She seemed at once to become both more and less human but after what she'd said, that she loved me, I couldn't stop myself. I leaned forward and tried to kiss her. She pulled back.
"If I am to let you do this, then you must not die. To lose you now would be pain, after this, an agony unbearable. Find a way to live for me," she said with an authority that made me truly believe that there was a way. She sounded almost desperate.
"I will try," I said, leaning forward and letting my lips touch hers as I spoke, "I promise you, I will try."
As the war with the Ice witch began to alter the face of the continent and as death tolls mounted on each side, we married, in a private garden, in a city called Rachida. She became at last the queen that she'd always carried herself as and in the few moments that existed when I was both away from her and not needed in battle, I looked for a way to live for her.
For years the war raged on, and for years I searched but while there were any number of ways to survive the ages, none existed that would have left me whole, and I could not stand the thought of coming to her with less than all that I was. She deserved more and I refused to offer her less than all that it was in my power to give her.
On the night that the alliance between our kinds finally overthrew the Ice-Witch Arkan, we met in another garden.
She approached me in the form that she took most of the time after we were married, the tall form of a dark haired woman who seemed to have aged in the years since we'd met. She could match my age in appearance but I knew, no matter how deeply she veiled it, that she was unbound by time.
"Have you found a way to live for me, love," she asked without preamble. Her bluntness was at times the only sign that she was not truly human. She lacked patience, at times, for pleasantries.
"My queen, I will love you for all of my life," I replied. I walked over to her resting my hand on the fullness of her womb where our first child waited to be born, " I will provide for our children. They shall be royalty and loved greatly, and taught wisely. I will give you all that I am. You, who have the power to make or to possess all, shall have all that you desire before your heart may long for it. I offer you my soul. I will live for you in every other way. Can't that be enough?"
She rested her hand over mine, lifting it and tracing its lines. We stood quietly as a summer rain began to fall on us. I looked up to the sky and saw the moon. It was weeping for us. By the Light, I had been so much more than a fool to fall in love with her. Fools are harmless. I was dying slowly, a victim of time just as my mother, and father, and every other human that existed. She was not dying, and because of that she would watch as I, and our children and their children passed from this life, but all things be condemned if I could bring myself to regret the life, and the love that we'd created.
" My king," she whispered, barely audible above the rain, " You sound as though you've given up. You promised me. There's still time. "
I kissed her slowly, choosing to use the time to love her, to give her something to remember in the eternity beyond our brief moments together. Already I knew that I could not do as she asked of me, so I was not thinking about her desire to keep me forever when I replied, " I will try, my love, I promise you. I will try."
It was an age later, when we sat in the garden for one of the last times before I died. Our children were grown, and our kingdom flourished. Over time Ardina had allowed her hair to turn silver with age, and my own had done so naturally. We had lived a joyous lifetime together, full laughter and love and music, offset by great strife and the occasional argument to remind us of our good fortune. She'd let herself forget more often over the years that that life could not last forever, but that day she spoke plainly.
"I will die with you," she said. Her voice was warm and sincere, for a moment it had sounded like she'd said "I love you". To her, I suppose, they were the same sentiment.
"Has it not been enough to live with me? Is there anything that I have failed to give you," I asked lightly, hoping to comfort her with memories of our life.
"You have given me a small and perfect piece of forever. I could only wish that you could have given me the rest," she replied, kissing my cheek.
"It is the fatal flaw of all humanity that we are born to die like the reeds. Our redemption lies in the deathless glades beyond the Gates, and it is there that I will watch you until the day that you may join me."
If I could not reassure her with memories of our life, I would do so with promises for after it ended.
"If I cannot die with you, can you love me from beyond those gates? Can you come to me in pretty gardens and kiss me? Can you rest your hand on the small of my back while I bloom at your touch as flowers do at mine? Can you whisper sweet words or teach our children to be loving ? Can you make your soul shine so brightly that a being like myself could mistake you for moonlight as you wandered in a garden and decide that you were the cure for her most pressing ills? My love, my king, my Ardhor, Can you?"
She looked into my eyes with such love that it destroyed and it remade me and regardless of the form she actually took in that moment I saw her as the awe inspiring immortal who'd first scolded me in the garden for yelling at the moon.
"I will try," I said, holding her hand so tightly that I wondered if even death could part us, " I promise you, I will try."
We loved before Bards, before the speech had gained proper footing in this world. We loved before Afinil and before the Nameless One. Our love altered a continent, saved my kind, healed the world, and even if she seems to regret it, and advises our most precious descendent to avoid love, it lives on still in her, as it does in me.
I watch her always, in a garden of a different kind, and wait for the day when what seems to be a strand of moonlight will turn out to be Ardina, my wife and my queen, and dearest love that ever knew life will once again be ours.
Thank everyone for reading, and for reviewing my other stories (if you happen to have run across them)
This fic is dedicated to xLaramiex, for motivating me to write it. hope it turned out well.
So, obviously this is from Ardhor's point of view and it's about how I imagine they might have met and loved. Their love was epic and if I've begun to do it justice then I'm more than happy with it. I got most of the canon facts from the appendices of The Naming and The Riddle.
I'm slowly finishing my second reading of The Riddle so my next fic will probably feature Arkan or one of Maerad's relatives from her father's side.
Peace, love, and the generosity to take the time and review (hint* hint*),