It started with the girl.
I can't start there, really, I should tell more of the tale, but...for me, it started with the girl. Everything before was just...what happened before, the days in the life, turning into months, and years, and decades...
You see, when I left Lumindor, my heart was broken. The lands I loved had changed; the rulers I'd tacitly obeyed had turned their back on anyone not mortal within their purview. It felt...hopeless, and endless, and...lost.
My Queen knew I was unwell, and took me to a lovely island. It truly was, a stunning place--flower-bedecked pathways, an underwater grotto for swimming, a quaint and ancient graveyard, a dark brooding cathedral. She pointed out the elegant details, room after room of fine attire, and bid me stay and heal.
What I did not realize was when she left...I couldn't. And I couldn't for many, many years.
At first I raged against it...I mean, really, how dare she, ruler or not, take all my choice away? I was not her servant, I was her courtier, her phouka, on occasion her chosen emissary, consort to the Captain of her Raven Guard...
...the rage lasted a good ten years. And I was still stuck.
I swam in the grotto, experimenting with various forms; I explored the shoreline, the cathedral, the graveyard. I discovered secret passages and sunken gazebos and dark towers and meditation spaces. I tried on all the clothes.
That took another ten years.
After that, I started thinking. Why had things gone so bad in Lumindor? Oh, I knew the base of it--political upset, human-first thinking, a score of backbiting back and forth, a traitor in the high court--sure, that much was obvious. But my end of it, you see...I wondered if I had made life harder for my Court, and my Queen...had I made life harder for those who cared for me, like my half-Drow love, like others I cared for? How did my behavior affect them?
That took twenty years, twenty long years, thinking every day, trying to learn, testing out my behavior, going a little mad from hunger, from personal pain, from doubt, from confusion...day after day after day of had I been wrong?
The last ten years I spent on the island were easy, by comparison. Thin as a wraith, eyes haunted, focusing on a set few shapes instead of the multiplicitous profusion I'd favored before, but soul...if one counts the Sidhe as having souls...mostly at peace. I'd forced the fledgling within to reach an accord, and we mostly operated in concert; Lilit and I as a unit, not two fighting spirits trapped in the same flesh.
And fifty years to the day that my Queen had conveyed me to the lovely little aisle...the spell lifted and I was free. I took a ship I'd built in my spare time and ferried it to the nearest section of mainland I could find, and set out to discover how life had changed for all those I'd left behind.
The second surprise was waiting. Only a few months had passed in the world, while I'd been locked far away, wrestling with my ethics and my inner demon. Startling, the realization; somehow worse, to note that few noticed my absence. Fifty years of my days, fifty long, eternal nights; every face I saw still remembered mine, who'd known it before.
And Lumindor still tottered on, though in my absence, Valruna had flourished, the lands now belonging to my former employer, and once adviser to Lumindor's King. She'd extended me--all of the Unseelie Court--an invitation to her realm, but I hadn't taken it...though I did begin to think about it.
I heard from the Captain, his mental voice febrile and unnerving. I heard from a gentle soul I'd nearly forgotten, possessor now of a demon of long-ago acquaintance; he also bid me come to Valruna. I heard from a monk I thought had long forgotten me, urging me to come to the land.
What could I do, so many voices tugging at me? I went. And I wandered, and looked my fill, and....it was so very like my lost Lumindor, the wilds I'd treasured so fiercely...I was not guardian of these lands, but they accepted me, and I walked where I willed, learning, exploring...watching.
I found the camp of the gypsies, and it felt like home. It felt more like home than the Court did, nearly more like home than my lost tree next to the little pond in the wilds. I spent many days there, talking with Rom I'd known and those I didn't, learning about the land, its rulers, the factions, the people.
One night, I told myself, I would wander corner to corner, shoreline to swell of hill, and see what could be seen. I'd climbed for an hour up the very steep side of a mountain sharp as dragons' teeth, when I slipped, half-sliding, half-falling, down the incline to the tower keep below. I quickly hid, hissing over scraps on my arms and legs that already beaded with blood, when I saw a dark figure, and a bright one, move within the structure.
The dark one swirled with an energy alien to my perceptions, but also one I'd known before--the third incubus I'd ever met, he'd felt like that, he'd nearly...looked like that, and I watched him, confused. But if he with his black skin and tendrilled wings was a sight to see, the woman stalking past my position was enough to make him look plain in comparison.
It wasn't that she was pretty; of course she was. Of course she was a vision; pale skin, cloud of pale hair, a red dress cut close to every curve she had. But more than that, she glowed; and by that, I mean she radiated her own scarlet light, throwing rose shadows on the walls of the keep, glittering from her skin, the strands of her hair, her dress.
She stalked past me, and I could barely breathe, watching her, and they both left for the village, and I...I followed. I followed as they went to the castle of the Queen, and I snuck as close as I could to where they stood, to listen. I was so intent on what they said, it was only the sound of swords leaving scabbards that drew my attention away.
And it was a lovely bit of confusion, explaining my actions to four suspicious wood elves, and then all over again to the Queen above, as the argument had attracted her attention...but all was sorted, and off everyone went. And I thought that was the end of it, until two days ago, when I saw the radiant one again.
So...as I said, it started with the girl...
(to be continued)