Chapter 14: The Gift of the Third Crown Piece

Nuada found Caoimhe sitting weakly, under the care of Loro and the watchful eyes of his father and sister. She looked up with joy, tears springing to her eyes, as he appeared. Her face lit up, despite the shock shaking her limbs and threatening her consciousness. He crossed to her with quick strides, pulling her against his body, rocking her and singing into the strength of her silky hair. Simultaneously, he transported them to the privacy of his subterranean home, soothing her verbally and mentally, letting the shock roll over her and dissipate. Caoimhe clung to him, shaking, trying to control her tears. When she had mastered herself – more quickly than Nuada expected, drawing again on the core of power the crown piece had provided her – she raised her head to meet his golden gaze, smiling radiantly.

They stared lovingly into each other's eyes for long seconds, spellbound by the fire of their unfettered emotion. Simultaneously, they both twitched, and Caoimhe leapt up to kiss Nuada at the same second that he lowered his head to kiss her. He was staggered by the power of the kiss, and overjoyed at the emotion Caoimhe radiated, all her doubts and fears put aside. The crown piece rewarded him with glorious song, filling both with rapture.

"Nuada."

Nuada growled, raising his head to glare at Balor, with full guard in attendance. Was he never to be allowed to make love to this darling girl? He refused to release Caoimhe from his tight hug, but controlled his ardour, forcing his hands to still on her back. Caoimhe heaved a deep breath, bright red.

His father met his furious gaze with majestic determination, a slight smile showing that he was all too aware of his bright son's thoughts. Nuada knew fully well what his father would say in response: that he was not some animal, slave to his desires; that he could wait a few more moments before he acted on his hunger for the woman hot against his body.

"Congratulations, Son. You have served your people brilliantly," Balor said, drawing closer. He nodded at Caoimhe as well. "And you, Guardian. Now, to your reward…" Smiling, he touched each with his good hand in turn, singing softly under his breath. Caoimhe couldn't quite hear the words; she raised a puzzled face to Nuada.

She found her prince staring at Balor with immense pleasure on his face. Nuada hugged her more tightly, holding his father's gaze as the song unfolded. Caoimhe was aware of how their hearts thundered in unison – Nuada was profoundly affected by his father's words.

Balor stepped back with a beaming smile, murmuring, "Now you can act like an animal, my son!" so softly that only Nuada heard him. Nuada grinned like a wolf, rocking Caoimhe. Balor grinned back, blessing each again, and left them. A cadre of his guard remained, protecting the pair.

Nuada picked Caoimhe up with gentle hands, swinging her around with a delighted laugh. He quickly carried her to his bedroom, depositing her on the bed. Drawing back with a smile full of lust and love, he trailed his fingers along the elegant line of her cheekbone before turning to one of his ornate cabinets. He returned with a pair of lovely rings, intricate and sparkling with jewels. Stroking her face, he spoke directly within her mind, *My love, my queen, you agreed to marry me. Are you still willing, Caoimhe? Will you be my wife, allow me to care for you, guard you, honour you with my mind and body, my thoughts and actions? Will you be mine?*

Caoimhe felt as if she would explode with joy. Nodding vigorously, she thought back, *Nuada, I live for you! Yes, please! I love you, I want you,* She blushed adorably at the thought, catching her breath, *I am yours already, Nuada. Heart and soul, mind and body, yours.*

Nuada slipped the ring on her heart finger before closing the matching ring in her palm, holding her hand in both of his and kneeling down to kiss her. When he released her, she marvelled at the beauty of the rings. Keeping her eyes on Nuada's, Caoimhe kissed his ring and slid it onto his heart finger, pulling him forward to press her lips hungrily against his.

Nuada returned her kiss avidly. *My father kindly married us just now, by ancient elfin bindings. You are now my wife; I am now your husband.* He grinned radiantly, standing up. *We are free to act on our love, Caoimhe – without my father or Nuala or anyone else trying to hold us apart and reminding us about bloody decorum! Will you… have me?*

Caoimhe nodded vigorously, though Nuada could sense the touch of anxiety behind her rapture. She stared adoringly up at him, breath quick with desire. *Yes, yes, yes! B-but, I was being honest when I told you that I don't have a lover. I've - I've never had a lover, Nuada. I'm a… a…* She blushed, her courage failing her.

*You're a virgin, yes; I understood what you were telling me, despite my foolish anger. Don't worry my love, I will fill you with nothing but pleasure! Trust me, where I was your enemy before, I am now your champion! I will never willing hurt you – I live for you, for your happiness and safety, my darling.*

Beaming, Caoimhe stood up, running her hands tentatively up Nuada's body, studying the armour he wore. He caught them in his own hands, squeezing them reassuringly before gently settling them on his hips. He pulled her close and kissed her passionately. She relaxed into his arms, thrilled with the strength of his body. Nuada released her from his tight embrace, opening her body up for his caresses. He kissed her while sliding his hands along the neckline of her dress, ghosting them past her breasts – Caoimhe whimpered, both from desire and nerves – to glide along her ribs and over her stomach, where he could feel the concentrated power of the third crown piece, shimmering and singing joyously. She ran her hands in turn up his torso to caress his face, stroking his white-blond hair back, her lips glued to his.

Caoimhe avidly helped Nuada unstrap his armour and swing it over his head. He tossed it carelessly aside, his golden gaze fixed on Caoimhe's big, brightly shining eyes. Her hands got in the way of his as he undid his weapon belts and unwound his sash, making him laugh with delight at her impatience. He pulled his ornate tunic off, pleased as she gasped with a big smile, looking hungrily at his body, reaching out to him immediately. She bit her lip, looking between the muscular expanse of his chest and his eyes as she stroked along his muscles.

"W-wow!" Caoimhe grinned, swallowing nervously as she stroked him, enjoying the little growls of pleasure that rewarded her exploration. Looking up to gaze adoringly at him, she bit her lip, slipping her dress off her shoulders and shimmying it down her body, leaving it in a puddle at her feet. Nuada was delighted to discover the image of the One Tree on the smooth skin above Caoimhe's heart, marking their union. It sparked subtly under his fingertips, sending delicious shocks through him. He nuzzled her temple, realising that the One Tree now graced her forehead as well, binding her mind to his. She was a marvel to him, filling him with deep rapture.

Nuada pushed her back toward the bed, moving his caresses down her body. She stared up at him with such desire that he caught his breath with excitement, amazed that he could feel more aroused. He was aching for her! He grinned, kissing her and joining her on the bed.

It was some time later that the pair were finally still, satiated and content. Caoimhe had been nervous, but quickly forgot her fear in the soaring arousal he induced in her, and shared with her, through the joining of their minds. She had proven to be a hungry, appreciative lover, delighting in Nuada and in the power he had to make her skin sing. He lay beside her, holding her tightly with a delighted laugh. She rained kisses onto his chest, holding him as tightly. They drifted into sleep that way, as close as possible in the large bed.

As they slept, magic shimmered over them like the aurora borealis. The ghost of the third crown piece fired the couple with her love and power. Now that Nuada had learned to love the human she had chosen to bear her, now that her beloved hot-head of an elf would stop and think before he struck out, it was time to reveal her plan. She concentrated her power on Nuada, shaping his dreams.

You're standing above the Earth, suspended in the currents, floating effortlessly where the birds of prey circle. The world lies before you, like a giant map, dotted with the lights of human habitation. You feel frustration as their lights fire most of the land, like a cancer, infiltrating the territory that rightfully belongs to the magical folk, to the Kingdom of Bethmoora, to your royal father. This image emphasises how the humans have forgotten the Treaty, or are wilfully violating it in their greed. You feel your anger building, and the desire to strike out at mankind, to reclaim what is rightfully yours, for your people. Too long have your people kept hidden, making what life they can in the forgotten corners of the vast steel and concrete forests created by humans.

The lights start winking out! Startled, you watch as darkness infiltrates the human sprawl, and then, amazingly, a luminous glow blossoms where the humans once tried to banish the dark. All over the Earth, large areas of land are returned to magical folk, and humans retract into the remaining cities. Barriers are raised, both physical and magical, to protect the newly regained territory. You watch as even the air changes, to guard those within the luminous, magical lands now spreading through all the human nations. At long last, the Kingdom of Bethmoora stands proud again.

You look within the remaining cities, within the concentrations of humans. You expect anger, fear, greed; a determination to strike out at the magical folk; to deny that any other creature might deserve space to breathe. You expect the hue and cry that magical folk have stolen the human holdings, and that the humans must regain them by any means necessary. Instead, you find that all the reclaimed lands are legally bound to your people, through human laws and jurisprudence. Lawsuits rage in the courts, international and national, but the contracts that bought your people the freedom to walk in the sun are too well designed, using human terms and bindings, to be broken. The humans' hands are legally tied.

At the same time, you find a growing wealth of people who support your kind and wish you well, against their own people's greedy hunger for the land you now occupy. This movement has its start with the children, who tell their parents and all the adults alike that the earth must be shared, that these lands must be returned to the magical folk. The adults protest at first, laughing at their children, but the simplicity and depth of the children's conviction convinces them in the end. And as these children become adults, they raise their own progeny with respect for other peoples, with the understanding that the earth is not solely for the use of mankind.

As your people regain their hold on the land, you watch as more human lights dim and extinguish, as more land is returned to your father. Under the care of the magical folk, agricultural lands blossom beyond human imagination, bearing enough food to feed all people, magic or no. No person goes hungry under this new order, and the humans start to realise that what they thought was good practice and stewardship was little more than rape of the land. The world begins to appear as it should have, as it would have, if only the humans had been strong enough to honour the Treaty.

Only those humans who cannot give, cannot share, cannot let go of their xenophobic little lives are left complaining. Between the cultural revolution, the new wealth accrued in trade with your people, and the legal bindings, most of those who would strike out at you are ineffectual.

An underground movement is born of a small group of humans who can only hate, who have hearts of stone and who care for nothing but their own greed. You are amazed to find that human governments attempt to quell this stream of malcontent violence. What they are unable to contain, you find child's play to counter.

You hold the threat of the Golden Army over the humans, though even if you could, you would not need to wake them. You are more than capable of protecting your people. While you know that mankind is mindful indeed of the deadly force at your command, you are pleased that this enlightened version of your age-old enemy does not need to be held by fear. They are in thrall with you, celebrating elves as godlike beings, marvelling at other magical folk, engaging in commerce with you, upholding your rights as they uphold the laws that they themselves created.

"This is the world you can help establish, my love, if you keep your faith and let the Golden Army sleep, as a threat hanging over the world of men."

You turn, finding your darling wife beside you. And yet, not your Caoimhe. Rather, a Caoimhe clothed in gold; Caoimhe as a living golden statue. She looks adoringly at you, and you notice that she is as much Fey as human, a subtle union of your two races.

You hold your arms open for her, smiling radiantly, your heart alive with joy. You seek her in the mutual beating of your hearts and in your pleasure at occupying the peaceful garden of her mind. And yet, she is closed to you, even as she walks forward and presses against you. She is tall enough now to lay her head beside yours, to look you in the eye as she gazes adoringly at you, to kiss you without you leaning down or she straining to reach your lips. But despite that, her golden lips are those that you seek, that you lust after, and her throaty laugh of desire is the song that fires your veins.

"Nuada, my golden prince, my love, you must allow Caoimhe to act as I have always intended her to act, to serve you and our kingdom alike," your wife says, her hands relaxed on your hips, her face serious. "I raised her to help bring about a lasting, viable peace between the magical folk and mankind. For millennia, your father and I have sought a solution to the conflict. We have studied the enemy, finding mankind's weaknesses, the way in which they will be tamed by their very nature."

Your golden wife looks ruefully at you as she continues. "I am afraid that I have deceived you and your father, my darling. I led you all to believe that the Golden Army can never be revived. You know that Caoimhe still bears my essence, even if I chose to relinquish my metal shell. Through the magic I wove into Caoimhe, we can join with my siblings and recreate the Crown, should you need the Army."

You gasp at this information, amazed by it. The Golden Army is still yours to command! Even as your pulse races, you realise that in studying the Guardian, you have gained the wisdom to accept that declaring war on mankind is not the answer. You understand that there are humans who would rather destroy the earth than relinquish it, though you hope that the vision your lovely wife has provided you is indicative that such evil will one day be conquered by mankind itself. But in the interim, mankind has weapons of such destructive power that none would survive, should you enter into war. You thank your ancient gods for this insight, chilled at the thought of the holocaust you would have unleashed had you followed the plan you have hungered for, for millennia.

All the same, the fury that has been your faithful ally in your exile flares through you, together with your old frustration that mankind was not buried in extinction centuries ago. Your father should have been strong enough to finish what he began, when he had mankind on its knees and could have ended the conflict once and for all! You would damn your father, but your shimmering wife puts her fingers to your black lips, silencing you. The expression on her lovely face startles you. It is not one you've ever seen on Caoimhe's sweet face. It is rather a primal bloodlust; a fury mirroring your own.

"I understand your anger, Nuada," your magical wife bites out, her gaze turning inside. "I shared it. The master goblin goldsmith who forged the Royal Crown pounded his hate and his hunger for vengeance into our red-hot shell with every fall of his hammer. We were born of rage to destroy the world of man. You cannot imagine the pleasure I took in setting the Golden Army onto the humans, my darling prince. Or the fury I felt when your father chose to show mercy, and then dared exile me into the hands of the enemy! You saw this as weakness. I did too, at first, but I quickly learned that I had misjudged Balor."

She meets your gaze again, her stern look chastising you. You feel your anger mix with puzzlement. This means you misjudged your royal father as well. How? Calming yourself, you study your wife, seeking the wisdom she gained. You know that you and your father both understand all too well how being willing to commit genocide tears at the soul. You faced that choice millennia ago, and decided that you would bear that guilt, that torment, if only it meant your people were safe. You know that that ripped at your father's soul as well, and that he was strong enough to bear that pain many times over. This isn't what caused him to stop the Golden Army.

Keeping your frustration from clouding your thoughts, you cock your head. Each time you have challenged your father with this very question, before your exile and more recently, he has held stubbornly to his conviction that elves must act according to their nature, just as humans do. You hate this argument, as it suggests that elfin nature is to hide in shame, to abase yourselves as pathetic pets. You grit your teeth, seeking to understand how this belief absolves your father.

What then is elfin nature? To be honourable. Yes, that is at the core of your strength and your devotion to your people. To treat the earth with love and respect, as the great mother of all life – something humans fail to do, with their parking lots and shopping malls. To be devout, unlike the empty humans who have forgotten the gods.

And then you know! Your father understood that to exterminate another race was to break faith with your gods, and to shame your people in their eyes! In all the long years of your exile, you never once pondered the strength it takes to choose to fade, if staying bright means that you lead your race away from your ancient gods. You suddenly understand that your father wasn't weak when he put the Golden Army to sleep and broke the royal crown, but that he choose to accept the possibility of death with a pure heart rather than condemn your people to a tainted life with the blood of all humans on your collective hands. You shake your head, now understanding that you have been ruled by your warrior's code for too long, blinded to the greater implications of your desire to see your enemy wiped from the earth. Your father was correct in urging you to seek wisdom, to balance your passion.

Your wife nods, pleased that you have come to this epiphany. She caresses your face adoringly, her anger gone as well. "I chose to give up some of my magic by giving up my physical form," she continues, "because I realised that the Book of Avardal had been found. Nuada, be forewarned: the Book of Avardal contains the means to force the Royal Crown to turn on you, my dearest, and your family. In melting in molten earth, I excised those evil spells, while safely anchoring my true self to my sweet human, out of her love for me. My kin are still vulnerable to that fate: you must guard them very carefully. As you must guard the Book. It holds the knowledge required to activate the myriad spells secreted within us."

Your lovely wife pauses. The sadness on her face makes your heart howl.

"The goblins that created the Royal Crown of Bethmoora and the Golden Army were not completely honest with your father, my darling prince," your golden wife continues with a sigh. "The spells they hid within us are proof that they desired dominion over the magical world. Perhaps they still do – why else would the Book of Avardal, lost for so long that it was but a legend, suddenly fall into the hands of the enemy? Why else would it whisper to those greedy humans, teaching them the way to enslave your family? Find the goblins behind this act of treason, my love, but view them with mercy. I would also counsel you to involve goblins more in your rule. Give them their voice, their due as the race that once ruled all magical folk. In this way, you may be able to ease their discontent, and heal the rift that must still exist."

Again you gasp. Would goblins seek the end of your rule? Could there be such discontent in your kingdom? You will have to study this possibility, and decide how to ensure that all your people are happy. Avardal fell before you were born, but ill will must still be present. You have much to consider!

Your lovely wife recalls your attention, kissing you lingeringly. "Caoimhe is the culmination of some of the plans I developed to solve the conflict between Bethmoora and mankind, as is this union between she and you, my darling prince. Together, you and she are two facets of the answer, Nuada, but you will need to calm the warrior within, to ease your instinctive hatred and suspicion, if you are to allow the wheels of justice to turn. As you are beginning to understand, mankind is finally mature enough to peacefully share the earth. You will see the Kingdom of Bethmoora come out of the shadows, I promise you. You have waited thousands of years, dear one: be patient, and wait a little more. Within a handful of short human generations, Bethmoora will stand proud, free to live without fear of humans. Deal with the discontent within the goblins, and it will rise strong and potent, to last all the ages of the earth."

Despite your joy at this revelation, your heart is pierced with great pain. Yes, human generations are short to you, and that reminds you that your time with your darling wife will be painfully brief. She will wither and die, despite your best efforts, despite your father's promise to determine how to extend her life. She will age quickly while you do not. Your love for her will never falter, and in watching her age and die, you will die a thousand deaths with her. And then, you will face eternity without her, your heart beating alone.

Your golden wife strokes your hair back, caressing your face, catching the tears that stand in your eyes. She smiles radiantly at you, understanding clear in her glittering eyes. She leans her forehead against yours, making soothing noises. "Hush, my love. Do not despair. Do you really think that I would create your perfect lover, and gift her to you for only such a brief interlude? For only a golden afternoon, of perfect pleasure? No, Nuada, I raised Caoimhe to be your life's partner, to stand beside you for all the long ages of your life. And here is my wedding gift to you both: as long as Caoimhe bears me, as long as we are not needed to recreate the Crown of Bethmoora and raise the Golden Army, I will keep your soulmate strong. She will age with you, and will have the lifespan of an elf. Your children will have the same long lives and elfin benefits, though Caoimhe's human blood is not to be shunned or denied in your progeny. Together, we will have remarkable children!"

Your heart sings with joy at these promises, beating strongly and passionately. Dimly, you feel your beloved human's heart pound as well, and have the sudden sense of her warmth against you, pressed as close to you as she can. She is rapturously happy, dreaming of you even as you dream of her.

"Go to her, my darling prince. Go to her and love her. Love… us. Trust us, and trust your heart. All will be well, I promise you…"

The end.

Author's notes

My thanks go again to my wonderful sister, Sylvia Volk, who very generously allowed me to use the names she created, Nightimmering and L'oro Leste. When we were children, she taught me to weave stories, and I am grateful for that gift. Thanks also to all of you for reading this story, and for posting reviews and encouragement. Special thanks to Cyber Keiko for her thoughtful feedback and for discussing story writing and character development with me. Special thanks also to LA Knight for sharing her passion for the world of Nuada and his kin, as well as her insight into their personalities and motivations.

May I commend Gwenfarr for the idea of the magical folk buying lands from humans, and binding them to the Kingdom of Bethmoora by human laws. That is a brilliant solution to the conflict, better than trying to win the land back by war. The idea of using the enemies' psychology and culture against them isn't new, and is beautifully used by Timothy Zahn in "The Thrawn Trilogy" (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and the Last Command). The idea of children not taking on their parent's prejudices and hatred can't be new either, though I haven't seen it used in the stories I've read. Finally, the idea that humans find economic incentives to tolerate the magical folk is my own, but I cannot imagine that others haven't thought of it as well.

Special thanks to Gabby (GabhMoLeithsceal) for allowing me to use her breath-taking portrait of Nauda, "Sight Unseen" as the cover image for this story. Your skill and your passion are amazing.

Cheers, Ya Nefer Ma'at.