The first words he speaks to her are, Marchutan told me to beware of you.
It is a thousand generations before they will become the bitterest of enemies; their world is young, held fast in the bosom of their adolescent god, and the long hard histories they will engender are less than a twinkle in the vast starry expanse of the future. He is a lord, but of men and not divinity, a half-grown creature come early to command, thin and lanky and scars striping his face. She is a lady, but not yet a queen - and she is lovely as the morning mists and direly out of place on field of war, and he paces wide circles around her as she stands unafraid amidst a legion of warriors, both fascinated and cautious, a moth drawn to her light.
She finds him intriguing, for he does not fear her as the others do, and dangerous too, for he moves like the night and is twice as suspicious. She asks, very boldly, why he has been given such a dire warning about her (for she is also half-grown, and will have time to learn to dissemble) and his step falters, as though he cannot believe the evidence of his ears, as if a noble woman-girl has never before found the nerve to defy him to his half-ruined face. She laughs, fluting as a bird. He scowls as black as a thundercloud and stalks away, calling for his lieutenants, claiming he has better things to do than attend the whims of some naive child.
In the end, he allows her to stay; his soldiers hiss behind their hands about the ill luck a woman brings to a warcamp, but she is bright and quick to grasp such things as strategy, flanking maneuvers, the value of cover and surprise and morale. Soon, she takes to blessing the men and their blades on evenings before they march to war, and soon they line up for the privilege. A pale and delicate hand rested upon a bowed head here, a kiss of benediction set upon a forehead there - and he feigns disinterest in the matter as a whole, and when his lieutenants ask him the wisdom of allowing her to do such odd things, all that he will say is that if his men wish to die for a lovely face, then who is he to deny them?
If men will dream, then let them dream of their Shining Lady, who prays aloud for them with her angel's voice, that they may all return home.
Time passes. The legion is successful, and grows fat and famous on bounty and blood. Some die, but many more live, to flock to his banner and her iconic face.
Soon, he too dreams of her, and stares into the water of his wash-basin of nights, tracing the lines of his scars with his eyes before dashing his reflection with his hands.
Comes the night before the penultimate battle; she conducts her small ceremonies in a half-ruined chapel, and every man and woman in his company kneels before her, trusting to her their secrets, bowing their heads and clutching their helms to their chests. One by one they lay their sins at her feet, and one by one they leave, their burdens lightened, hearts unafraid of the coming blood. The procession extends long into the night, and she sways on her feet as the last few depart, the candles burnt low, cooking fires left to smoulder, all sane soldiers of the legion already safely abed.
She is so tired that she does not know him for himself, when he kneels before her, heaume to his heart, sword flat upon the broken stones of the chapel floor, for he has never felt need of her absolution before this night. She speaks the benediction in a wavering voice, her hand soft and trembling upon his shoulder; when she bows to bestow upon him the kiss of blessing, she practically tumbles into his arms, for he is quick as the shadows cast upon the walls, and no force in the world could stay his hand.
Their first kiss is soft and sweet and uncertain, and there is no one to see her trace his hated scars with her perfect fingertips, laughing with tears in her eyes as she asks him, What took you so long?
But it is better to be late than never to arrive at all, and he treasures her laughter, exhausted and uneven and meant only for him. He carries her away, swift and unseen in the shadows of the campfires, and she clings to his neck when he would let her go, fearing what the morning brings, that the tides of dawn will see him severed forever from the mortal coil. They lie together in the small hours, whispering sweet, foolish promises to each other in the way of those who are young and in love, knowing even as they speak the words that they will never come to fruition. But it is a pleasant dream.
She stays with him in his tent until the dawn, when foresighted Marchutan wakes them and spirits her away to the city, that her honor is not ruined by a public humiliation and her life not endangered by the coming battle. They watch each other across the tent, quiet, desperate moments, and it is her uncertain smile that haunts him as he leads his soldiers into the thick of the fighting, for he too is desperately afraid that he must break his oath, and be unable to return.
They are victorious, of course. The enemy is beaten back; the legion marches home, lessened in numbers but made greater by their actions, and as they parade through the city she is standing at the gates, and she rushes out to him and they embrace as a hundred thousand soldiers cheer full-throated, and rattle their spears against their shields and their swords in their scabbards.
They are among the first, to be bestowed with Aion's gift. Many more from that victorious legion will follow in the path that they have laid; but it is he and she who must pave the way, learning to manipulate the aether, the lifeblood of their god, learning to fly, and most of all, learning to face an eternity, either together or alone.
It is difficult. Love's first blush fades all too soon, in the perspective of those who have all of the time in the world. They argue (she is heated and recklessly compassionate, he is cold and inflexibly perfectionistic) for they are in truth unsuited for one another, and lovers become rivals become enemies as the future becomes the present becomes the past.
He becomes the guardian of the North, king over a sunset-people, and she evolves into the queen she was always meant to be, an empress in the South. He is angry with her and she with him, and as the years pass slow as ice floating through the seas they gradually forget why they are upset with one another; and then they move, through clouds, past stars, along hidden paths that no other souls know, and they meet at the center of the Tower. Sometimes it is she who waits for him, or he for her, but it does not matter. They are always waiting, in one form or another, for love or for absolution, or for the moment when they are not so desperately needed by their disparate peoples, that they might go hand in hand down the Long Road at last. (And that is a sweet and foolish promise, for they each know in their heart of hearts that such a day will never arrive. But it is a pleasant dream.)
Sometimes they greet each other with open arms, all their mutual grievances forgotten as they are swept up in their passions. Sometimes they greet each other with the ring of blades meeting cold air, and their duel is a dance orchestrated by the fates themselves, the pair of them moving in uncanny synchronicity, until their weapons and armor fall away and there is nothing between them at all but the weight of their history.
Their reconciliations come fewer and fewer, as the long years grind so slowly by.
And then the Balaur come for the last time, and Israphel and Siel die for the lightning-struck Tower, and there are no more reconciliations at all.
She shines brighter than ever, the Lady made of Light, and she no longer traverses the hidden paths, her presence a clarion call for miles about, alerting every soul connected to the aether whenever she so much as sneezes. (He taught her once that there is a strength in subtlety, but she has never agreed, for it is a Lady's duty to be seen by her people.) But he is still the Lord of Shadow, quick and graceful and unrepentant of the night, and there is no guardian, mortal or immortal, that can keep her from him should he so choose.
The paths have not changed, in all this time, and eluding his own people was more difficult than evading hers as he walks the halls of an unfamiliar keep.
He is waiting for her in the shadows of her bedchamber when at last she deigns to appear; she is alone, and perhaps she knew of him despite all his attempts at subterfuge, because her eyes affix themselves to him the moment the door is closed and barred, and she paces across to him to stare up into his face, expression carved of stone. Their silence spans the length of the millennia, and he decides that it is he who must shatter it (she taught him once that there is value in reckless abandon, but he has never agreed, for it is a Lord's duty to be well prepared) because it is slowly becoming evident to him that she is asking, without words, why he is here. Time does not erode the core of who one is, but rather distills it, crystallizes it. He speaks the only words that can be summoned to his tongue, suddenly awkward, a thousand arguments restraining him, goading him to action.
Marchutan told me to beware of you. It has only taken him these many centuries to divine his lieutenant's meaning.
And she smiles in sudden desperation, tears shining in her wonderful eyes, and it is she who embraces him and draws him close, her lips covering over his scars with her kisses.
What took you so long?
Her inner light makes his shadow grow tall and dark on the walls, and her door is left undisturbed for just long enough.