Chapter 4

Irrylath's nonchalant demeanor diminished as he shot up from his chair. "What is this nonsense you speak of? Of course she is my wife! We were wed when we drank our wedding toast in this very castle! The only way to break the bond is if one of us dies, or one of us were to wed another. Is that why you speak such madness? Has Aeriel wed another?" he cried., his expression had changing from one of dark fury to one of pure anguish in a matter of seconds.

"No, cousin, she has not wed another," Roshka said, looking down as he fiddled with the napkin he had used to wipe his fingers. He dreaded having to speak the words he knew would not relieve Irrylath's pain, but amplify it instead. "I never thought I would deliberately have to break my word to my birth sister, but I cannot keep silent any longer. It has been a little over three years since she left you in the desert and made her way to NuRavenna. I had hoped by now that you would have moved on, letting go of her, letting go of the past, moving forward and taking Sabr as your wife. But instead I hear that you still travel, searching for a way to free her from her oath." He looked up, watching as Irrylath moved to stand in front of the fire burning in the fireplace. Roshka rose to join him by the flames, watching the dancing light as he continued.

"Fynn, one of the trackers I have set to to the task of searching for the thieves, was recently in Orm following a lead. When he returned to Pirs, he told me that he had seen you leaving the city by way of the northern road leading away from the temple. He had spoken to the sfinx, hoping she may have seen or heard something regarding the thieves, and inquired as to whether or not you had paid her a visit while you were there. She told him you had, but she could not give you the answer you were seeking, and sent you on your way." A lone spark leapt from the flames and onto the stone floor, flaring brightly before it went out. Irrylath's gaze didn't stray.

Roshka sighed. "The first time I went to visit my sister, she had asked how you fared. It was before she asked me not to speak of her to you. I told her that you had returned to Tour-of-Kings, but had not yet wed Sabr, insisting you already had a wife and would not wed another." Roshka's eyes rose from the flames to look upon Irrylath's face.

Roshka said, "Aeriel did not take the news well. Her eyes betrayed the tears that could no longer fall. I could see the pain in them as she fought to hide it from me. She turned and bid me follow her into a room tiled in blue and white marble. At the center stood a pedestal, awash in a glowing iridescent light. She guided me to it, and as we drew closer I realized the light that lit the pedestal was coming from a transparent box sitting at the top. She opened the box and took out a tiny glowing fragment from within."

Irrylath turned from his place by the fire and took a seat on the upholstered settee at the edge of the sitting area in front of the fireplace. Roshka followed and sat beside him, continuing on with his story.

"Ariel turned to me and said, 'This is one of the pieces of the shattered pearl that I have found. The power inside will allow you to see me as I truly am.' She took the fragment, touching it to both her skin and the silver chain that hung from her wrist. Her skin became translucent, and a myriad of thin fibers danced and twisted as the power of the fragment spread and her entire body was flooded with the flowing strands." Irrylath's head jerked around to face Roshka. He stared at him with a look of horror and disbelief as Roshka continued.

"It took me a few moments to realize that what I was seeing was not an illusion. 'What is it?', I asked Aeriel. She answered, 'It is what kept me from turning into dust. The pin that the White Witch's rhuk fastened behind my ear was not made to be removed without killing me. When Ravenna pulled the pin from my head, all but a fraction of what I was perished. She created this body to house all that remained: my heart, or Irrylath's heart rather, my eyes, my mind, and my soul.' Aeriel removed the glowing pearl fragment and returned it to the box. Her skin began to shadow, the glowing filaments disappearing as she became solid once again. 'I am a biological composition, a exact replica of what I was before.' Aeriel's face twisted into one of disgust. 'I am a golam.'"

A strangled cry burst from Irrylath's lips. "No!", he roared, standing up to tower over Roshka. "Golams are all gears and wires, unable to generate warmth. She cannot be one of those creatures...I felt her heat as I held her the night we shared before the Ancient enchanted her and stole her from me!" Irrylath's body trembled with fury.

"Not gears and wires," Roshka snapped as he rose in response to the rage directed at him. "That is only how we have perceived them to be. Ariel, like Melkior, is not as the underground machines are. Those are made up of gears and wires." He paused, calming himself before he spoke again. Lowering his voice he said, "Ariel is still flesh and blood, cousin. She is made of skin and muscle and bone, just as we are. But as a golam, she is no longer mortal."

Irrylath sat, shaking as Roshka's words sank in. Aeriel no longer mortal? Was this the reason she chose to leave him? Why she told him to take Sabr as his wife and make her queen of Avaric? He turned to look as Roshka sat back down on the seat beside him. Irrylath murmured, "Mortal or not, she is still my wife..."

Before Irrylath could say more, Roshka shook his head and said with a sigh, "No, she is not. She has not been your wife since the time she took your heart from your chest while you were still a winged vampyre and replaced it with her own." He put his hand on Irrylath's shoulder. "She did not marry you, cousin, she married the darkangel you once were." Roshka's voice carried the compassion he felt for the broken man sitting beside him. "Just as you did not marry her, but the mortal woman she once was." He pulled his hand back, running it through his hair. Weariness hit him like a bolt of lightning. Tears pooling in his eyes, Irrylath sat shaking his head in vehement denial as Roshka rose to his feet.

"I am sorry, my friend. I wished to save you from this sorrow, but I'm afraid this is the reality you must face. Give up on your senseless crusade. Take on a wife and make her queen of Avaric. Your kingdom needs an heir." With that, Roshka strode from the hall to retire, leaving Irrylath to his own thoughts as he sat weeping with his head buried in his hands.

Sabr retreated into the shadows. Quietly, she made her way down the hall and descended the flight of stairs that led into the barracks. As captain of the guard, Sabr's bedchamber was here amongst those of the men. She entered her room, closing the door behind her, a victorious smile lighting her face. She had heard everything.

A fortnight had passed since the night she had fled from the king's rooms. Since then she had spent all of her time in the practice fields, venting her anger and her humiliation through the sword she wielded on her opponents. This eve, as she was returning from a satisfying spar with her second in command, she had heard Irrylath's voice coming from the dining hall, but had stopped short when she realized he wasn't alone. After a moment she recognized the other voice as that of Roshka, the sovereign of Pirs. So, the suzerain had been visiting his sister. It's the only time Roshka ever came to the castle...on his journey home from NuRavenna. She crept to the edge of the doorway, keeping herself hidden as she had listened to their conversation.

Now in her bedchamber, Sabr savored the feeling of jubilant triumph as it coursed through her veins. Irrylath could not deny her now. She was a living, breathing, mortal soul, unlike that of the creature that was now Aeriel. Only mortal women could bear children. Golams were not the mechanical dolls she had thought they were, but they still could not bring life into the world. Aeriel may be flesh and blood, but she had lost the ability for the seed of life to plant itself and grow in her womb when Ravenna saved her from the witch's pin. Irrylath would no longer claim that he belonged to Aeriel, and he would be free to wed Sabr.

Sabr gathered herself and walked back towards the hall. Masking the elation she felt, she silently glided across the room, seating herself in the place beside Irrylath that now lay vacant. Pulling his hands from his face, she gathered them into her own and said, "My king, my Irrylath. Do not weep my love, I am here." She pulled his head to her breast, stroking his hair as she continued. "I know it will take time, but the pain will ease, you'll see. Your heart will mend, and then we can be married. I have waited this long for your heart, I can wait a little longer."

Irrylath froze, Sabr's words breaking through his pain and anguish. He jerked his head from her grasp, bolting to his feet. "How is it that you know of words spoken that were not meant for your ears? The conversation between Roshka and myself was private, and your eavesdropping is a perfect example of your deliberate intrusion into affairs that are none of your concern!"

Sabr did not let his words thwart her. She knew he would be hers now, and once the shock of what Roshka had told him had passed, Irrylath would realize it as well. She rose to stand beside him.

"Love, love, calm down. I did not mean to eavesdrop. I was returning from the practice fields when I heard the pain in your voice as I was passing by, and I got concerned." She reached up and wiped a tear from his cheek. "I am here for you, as I always have been, to love you, to comfort you." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "You felt something for me once, Irrylath. I think all you need is a little reminder." Sabr began to raise her lips to his.

The only reason Irrylath had not shoved Sabr away when she had put her arms around him was solely due to the shock he felt at the liberties she was taking. The shock vanished as he realized she was leaning in. He flung her arms from around his shoulders, pushing her down onto the settee.

"Do not think for one moment that what you heard has changed anything," he spat.

"Of course it has," Sabr scoffed. "Aeriel is no longer living, Irrylath. Her heart beats but not to pump mortal blood." She straightened her vest as she rose to a sitting position. "What is the point of dwelling on a future that can no longer include her?"

"My future does include her!" he fumed. "She could be a spirit wraith floating on the breeze and it would not matter! Mortal or not, wife or not, she is still the keeper of my heart!"

Sabr's mouth dropped at she stared at Irrylath in horror. "How can you feel this way? She can no longer have children, Irrylath! There is no way for her to be in your future, for she cannot bring you an heir!"

Irrylath's icy gaze chilled her to the bone. Bracing his hands on the armrest on either side of her, he leaned forward, stopping within an inch of her face. His voice dropped to a menacing whisper as he said, "Do you honestly believe that matters to me? If having Aeriel by my side means my bloodline ends with me, then so be it. The only wife...past or future...I will ever her." He pushed himself up, turned on his heel and stalked from the room.