By the table in the Royal Breakfast room, beneath huge chandeliers with a few candles burning, Princess Aziel was sitting with her sister Princess Alselane and their cousin, Prince Iardanel. They were talking yesterday's festivities over, as Uriel walked into the room, retrieving a china plate from the buffet and starting to fill it with food, before stopping and regarding his son and nieces.
"Morning," he paused and became greeted with the same word from the trio by the table.
"You look tired, uncle," Aziel went on, tilting her head as she regarded Uriel while he finished gathering breakfast and sat down opposite of the others.
"Guess it became late. Then I was affected with the energy levels of the palace. What exactly has been happening around here?"
"The usual," Alselane rolled her eyes. "Elves fucking like rabbits!"
"Mind your language," Aziel berated her younger sister.
"But it is true, so don't be so prudent, sis!"
"I'm not..." Alselane began before Iardanel cutting her off.
"So who's been doing it you think," mischievous brown eyes gleaming across the table.
"Would you like a list?" Oberon's voice asked from the doorway, his arm securely around Titania's waist. Blond hair flying about his face, the familiar predatory gleam in his eye - it was quite apparent to the four by the table that he'd had an eventful night and morning. In contrast to the King, Queen Titania appeared utterly and completely composed. No wrinkle marred her dress and her red hair was perfectly coiffed. But there was a look of happiness and contentment in her green eyes that hadn't been seen by them in ages.
Actually, none of the elves in this room had ever seen it, save Uriel. And then it hadn't been directed towards the man whose arm held her now. Tilting his head in query, he became gratified to see a smile of acknowledgment cross his mother's face. Uriel did wonder if she'd told Oberon the truth about Colonel Duncan Pershall but dismissed the idea since the Cloud Court Palace was still standing. Oberon would never have tolerated Titania straying from him in such a manner.
"Well..." Iardanel said, completely flummoxed that his cousin had been right. There was no way he could deny that the king and queen had the afterglow of fervent and wild sex about them. At least to him that felt entirely unanticipated.
Oberon shrugged carelessly and guided Titania to her chair, pulling it out for her. Once seated, his hand lingered on her shoulder and she looked up at him, a gentle smile on her face. It took him a moment to fight the urge to kiss her, settling for a peck on the cheek before he stepped back and walked up to the buffet. It became obvious that he was sampling his wife's breakfast as well, not bothering with the surprised looks he was getting both from Uriel and from his grandchildren.
Meanwhile Titania turned to her granddaughters:
"Your mother, she's not up yet?" she enquired and while Alselane was merely shrugging her shoulders, Aziel had news to give.
"Grandma, I don't think mother slept in her own bed tonight."
"And what makes you assume that?" The Queen asked as Oberon hesitated a curious second before putting down the plate by his wife's place.
"A little bird told me something," she said and glanced over at her grandparents. "Actually, mother left the castle with a lover. I don't know who it was, but I saw them departure. About an hour after midnight it was."
"I see..." Titania said thoughtfully, her assumption had been correct when it came to Ariel then. There was a man involved. Then she was seeing something else in her granddaughter's eyes. A knowing look that startled her and made her wonder just what she had missed that night. Glancing at Aziel curiously who semi-acknowledged her look, she shrugged it off. She'd find time to talk to Ariel later, though.
"Well, that's good news," Oberon exclaimed with a grin. "Ever since her divorce, the girl has been far too unsullied. Some new love or even an affair might do her good. Release some tensions within her."
"That depends solely on who this man might be," Titania protested and glanced over at Ariel's daughters. "And how deeply she's become involved. If it is as you call it just an affair, I wouldn't worry the slightest. But I know Ariel as I know myself. She gives it all, and I wouldn't want to see her hurt. Not again!"
Alselane and Aziel exchanged a look, the latter ready to defend their father, but Titania waved it off:
"This is not in any way aimed as criticism against Lord Eskiar. This is more like a mother worrying over her children. You'll learn that when your own daughter becomes a bit older, Alselane."
The younger of the sisters looked down in the table. Her Nisa was still too young to even begin to look after boys, so she considered herself lucky - for the time being. And Titania felt it was due time to change subject. She waved off a servant's offer of more tea with a smile and then she turned to her grandson.
"Is Elanna all right? I don't believe I see her."
"She's not feeling particularly well," Iardanel admitted, holding out his cup for the servant to fill.
"Oh?" Alselane smirked. "Too much wine yesterday?" Iardanel shook his head.
"No. She's just been feeling queasy in the mornings. Usually by the afternoon she feels fine again."
Titania smiled at him, gently. She could see that while he was trying to hide it under a mask of calm, he truly was worried for Elanna's health.
"You know, Iardanel, It's nothing that nine months won't cure."
are you saying that
" he trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.
"Congratulations are in order," she nodded, almost laughing at his blatant surprise.
Iardanel sat there, stunned into silence for a moment, thinking of Elanna.
"Would you excuse me?"
"Of course," Titania shook her head gently as she watched him hurriedly leave, almost stumbling over first his chair, then the carpet and finally nearly running into his cousin Ailel who was entering the breakfast room with his young fiancée Elantha on his arm. Feeling eyes on her, Titania looked up to meet the questioning expression of Oberon. Elanna is with child, she mindspoke him.
"Lorelei will be thrilled," he responded, voice completely ironic. Perhaps he could convince Titania to go on a second honeymoon immediately, the kingdom business be damned. He really didn't want to be here for the explosion that was sure to occur when the Lady Lorelei found out she was to be a grandmother. She'd already had several fits over becoming a mother-in-law.
"It's not nice to gossip about me when I'm not around to defend myself!" her retorting voice was suddenly heard. Striding into the room, she walked to the far side of the table to join Uriel. He held out a chair for her and she smiled at him, before asking:
"Did I miss anything particularly juicy?" Still it was clear Lorelei was already somehow aware of the juiciest part of the morning's events.
Oberon exchanged looks with Titania, noting with fondness the soft blush colouring her checks.
"Not much has been going on, just the usual business," he said, picking up a croissant and begun smearing it with jam.
A soft knock on the doorframe to her studio, made Ariel looking up, meeting the emerald eyes of her mother. The Princess was a bit surprised to see the Queen, not due to having forgotten their appointment but there was something about the Queen's aura. A radiant sheen of wellness, as if the heartbreaking sadness and fatigue which had plagued Titania ever since her return to Cloud had vanished almost completely. Yes, the queen looked worn, spent but it appeared to be in a positive way.
"Mother!" Ariel's voice betrayed her astonishment as she put down her quill and beckoned with a hand for Titania to enter.
"Mind if I sit down?" the Queen indicated the visitors' chairs standing in front of her working desk and Ariel nodded her head.
"Certainly not. You look great!" Ariel exclaimed as her mother took a seat. "Like you just won the National Lottery."
"Well, I almost did," Titania replied in her trademark mellowness. "Although there's no ticket with my name on in that game. No, it's more like I placed a large bet on the roulette table of my private life. And it came up with my number. Your father and I have reconciled."
"Ah Congratulations!" A genuine smile was now gracing Ariel's sweet face, lighting it up like the sun cracking trough rainclouds on a day in early spring as true happiness for her beloved mother were flushing through her veins and rosing her cheeks.
"Yes, I never thought it was attainable. One consequential lesson learnt from this is do never scorn real love! It's rare and should be treasured. So that brings me to you," Titania passed the cue over to Ariel, who not unexpectedly failed to catch it.
"Yes you. I'm aware that you've been seeing someone. Now, who is it?"
Ariel sighed, not surprisingly did she hesitate with spitting it out immediately. Knowing her normally so secretive daughter Titania hadn't expect so either.
"It is true, never does the gossip of this place rest," Ariel sighed as she folded her hands in front of herself on the mahogany desk, ringless fingers sliding across each other with ease.
"No, it does not, that's one proper constant in this ever changing world. Mind telling me about your affair? Or do you regard is as being not my business?"
"Mother..." Ariel hesitated and her eyes darted off to her left. There stood, Titania noted, an easel with a painting hidden under a linen blanket, and the queen's intuition told her that it was a painting of the man in question. A try by Ariel to immortalize him beyond these days of passion and into eternity. That the painting was hidden did not surprise the queen though, since her daughter had always - ever since she was a young child - been reluctant to show her unfinished work. She claimed a work in progress didn't do the idea of the artwork any real justice.
"You don't have to reveal who it is, if you feel you want to keep it private. Just enlighten me how you feel for him and perhaps I can offer some advice."
"Well actually," once again Ariel hesitated. Then she raised a hand, a flicker of magic and the door to her studio closed silently, providing the women with some privacy. "It started out as an affair. A pastime. Not unlike those games of randomness I've been playing since my divorce from Lord Eskiar. But then it became - so much more. We... I... I fell in love. Like nothing I've earlier experienced. Not even Eskiar was ever this beguiling. Oh, mother, he is absolutely divine. And he loves me too. Oh heavens, what am I going to do?"
Titania reached out and took her child's hand.
"And there's a reason for you to hesitate with going further?"
"Yes there is," Titania nodded slowly.
"Which would be?"
"He's not - even of the nobility. Nothing a Princess can marry to pull it bluntly." Ariel looked away in the distance and Titania understood that she was picturing a face in front of her eyes. Her beloved, that man living constantly on the border of her mind these days.
Titania smiled gently, recalling an English soldier. A human with the kindest brown eyes.
"So that's the sticking point, Princess?"
"Yes - and no, it's not like he's a peasant or something. He's wealthy, he's intelligent and educated. He's a civil servant. One of father's employees. A man of the world. He has seen so much more than Cloud, he has so many tales to tell."
"And you believe you love him?"
"I truly do, mother!"
"Ariel," Titania kept on holding on to that elegant hand which was so much alike her own a younger version of her own, as she regarded the fire which burned in the cerulean eyes of her daughter. Her oldest daughter had always been the more intense, the more ferocious in her emotions. Her younger sister Cloë was much more mellow and considerate. Thus Ariel had constantly been the one who got in trouble and who got burned by her actions. Still, Ariel kept playing with fire. She always had.
"You know there might be a way around that. A way for the two of you to be together which might be acceptable for most parts. Perhaps not for him, if he has hoped for a marriage, but if he's as intelligent as you say, he should know a marriage to be unfeasible. But it would be a way for you to be joint on a lengthier term basis and not having to hide."
"And that is?" a faint sparkle of anticipation flickered for a short moment in the eyes of Ariel. Did she dare to hope?
"An old status of relationship," Titania revealed. "Making this man a bit more than a lover yet a bit less than a husband. A consort."
"I recall such a thing, yes." Ariel replied thoughtfully. "But I don't know much about such a relationship."
"Back in the old days it was not uncommon for Elves of higher status to take a consort, either as youths, before they married for real. Or, like you, Ariel, after a divorce. It was usually the man or the woman these noble elves really loved. A partner they could not have in marriage because of their different elevation in status. So that other one became a consort. A registered partner. Some Elves even kept their consort during their real marriage a marriage of convenience in most cases. Children of consortships never got the same status as children in the regular marriage. They never became Princes or Princesses, although it did happen that a Monarch named a consort's child their heir. Although this was very uncommon and it did certainly not become seen with benign eyes, especially not by those legitimate children who felt side-stepped. Assassinations of such heirs did happen more often than not. Finally the consort didn't per default receive any of the estate with a death of their partner, so that one had to leave a will in case of death."
"Well, my beloved is quite wealthy, so that wouldn't be any problem," Ariel smiled. "Besides, Uriel is still the presumed heir-to-be, and even if it should by any strange chance become me in his stead, I already have three children who are all more or less able to one day become my heir. I even doubt I want to have more children. Not with this man or with anyone else."
The Ariel suddenly stood and walked over to the easel. As she removed the linen cover, Titania recognized the fine features of Orkid of Saphirion - the herald. And she smiled inside. She should have known. Titania had always dreamt of travels and adventures, felt Cloud bordering on confining and secretly envied her diplomat brother Sandro. So Orkid must be the dream man of hers, an infatuation. And even if it didn't turned out to be a lasting love, it might as well do Ariel good to enter consortship with this man and to then do some travelling with him. Some honeymooning. Should it not last after Ariel having slaked her travel's desire, a consortship was always easy to annul. It didn't take that much difficulty as it did dissolving a marriage.
Regarding the face on the easel, the Queen nodded her head.
"Ariel, dear. You have my blessing for consortship of this man. But first I advise you to speak with the family."
"They can change nothing of how I feel."
"I don't expect so either, dear daughter. But they do have the right to know."
If then true lovers have been ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny:
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.
[William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 1, Scene 1]