The Atlantic Ocean seemed unusually fervent that midmorning, heavy breakers spraying froth over rounded rocks, colouring them black and shining with wetness and sending droplets cascading high up in the air, before withdrawing in a whirl of drenching green flurry. The sea spoke forcefully of restiveness and alteration, of the approaching autumn and the storms to come with it. There was a tang in the air too, a reminiscence of the summer which was coming to an end, a biting chill which nipped the noses and the chins of the man and woman on horseback who were taking the meandering track across the dunes, enjoying the solitude of twosomeness in a way they hadn't done since bygone eras.
"Tell me about him!" Oberon asked and Titania regarded her husband, where he rode his white stallion, back straight as a rod and his dark red cloak with the hood up, hiding most of his face. Still she knew there was no hostility there. No emotions for her to be anxious over. For the first time in years she felt completely safe in his presence.
"Who?" she asked. "Duncan?"
"No, I do not want to know more than I already do about your Human lover. What is done is done. Tell me about the fruit of that love instead! Tell me about your son, Titania!"
"Arianez?" She twirled the reins through her fingers, the name a stab of forlorn sadness in her heart. "What is there to tell?"
"Where is he now? Not in some orphanage I hope."
"He's with friends. People who were friends of mine. A couple I knew back in Briton who couldn't have children on his own. I know he is happy there with them."
"How old will he be now?"
"18 months. Almost. I gave him up when he was hardly one, didn't want him to have any memories of me to plague him with insecurity of his identity. He will be brought up as a human. Live his life as a human. Die as a human. Undoubtedly a very old human, he might reach 130 if he's lucky, but no one may question that. Or he may choose his father's line of work and take up the sword. And then death might see him on the battlefield and no one would know a thing."
"What are they like, his ears?"
"Oh, they were very round. No one ought to tell by his looks that he is of mixed blood."
"He should be brought to Cloud nevertheless," Oberon said.
Silently the King raised his brow and Titania eyed a trio of swans which flew across the sky, one slightly brown, a kid of this year, no doubt the sole survivor of the couple's litter. Titania felt something pain her soul at the sight and she swallowed against it.
"It would break their heart," she resumed. "Marge and Simon, his adopted parents. I cannot take him from them now! They even gave him a human name. Thomas."
"But you can't remain without your own son," Oberon remarked.
"In case you've forgotten, dear, I do have three more of them. And grandchildren, great-grandchildren. It's not that I lack little ones to waste my affection on. And more to come."
"Titania you talk about your own child like... The way you said about him dying in war, I've never known you as this cold hearted. What happened? Or is it me?"
"Don't blame yourself, dear. Don't you think I've cried bucketfuls of tears over my poor child? But true parental love is to give the babe what's best for him. In Arianez' case that is an upbringing of warmth and of love. And it's not like I doubt my ability to bestow him with that, rather that I distrust these surrounding to be the best ones for a half-blood like my Arianez. Our kind can be so racist every so often..." Titania took her eyes off Oberon and looked into the nothingness of the overcast sky and he so wanted to hold her. To get off the horse and cradle her in her arms and said 'everything was going to be all right' and that her child would receive all the love and comfort here. However he knew she was right in that aspect, the discrimination against humans and half-bloods within Elven societies were wide spread and a shameful blight on his society. However there were other considerations to take in mind.
"Still I think the boy would be safer here," he said. "If there is to be a war between humans and elves he'll be in jeopardy in Briton."
"Not if people know nothing of his ancestry."
"But what if his adopted parents change their minds. When he groves up to become different, which he will undoubtedly be, rounded ears or not."
"They won't" Titania insisted. "I know Marge and Simon. They won't stop loving their son just because he might grow a bit taller and more sensitive. And the Britons in general are almost even fairer skinned than the average Elf. Very few would suspect a thing. Especially since I believe he'll get his father's eyes although he has my hair. But Marge is a redhead as well, although in the more humanly carroty way."
"Titi!" Oberon had her facing him again. "Promise me one thing though!"
"Promise me that if there is a war or if anything happens to Marge and Simon while he's still underage or if there's something else which goes wrong, that you'll reconsider your desire to let him remain with the humans."
"If the situation should change like this.... yes I would," she responded thoughtfully.
Then Oberon got something wicked in his face as he raised his head.
"See that black rock over there," he pointed with his hand. "Remember how we used to raise to that one?"
"Yes, let do it," Titania giggled and put her feet into Gallant's sides and the stead took off in a fleet gallop.
"Hey! That's cheating," Oberon called out before he kicked his heels into his ride as well.
They stood on an upstairs landing in Capitaltown, looking out over Regent Square as night was closing in and the last rays of the sun were painting the rooftops in burning gold and while the stars had yet to appear, the vaning moon crescent hung over the skyline. Down in the square Elves were laughing, drinking, and dancing as if there were no cares in the world, but up here in the side street it was calm and silent, only a fountain splashing and frightened pigeons taking off in a flutter as a black and white cat purposefully crossed the cobblestones and disappeared around a corner.
"You know, Orkid," Ariel said and inched closer to him, "I've been doing some thinking. Thinking about us." She hopped on the railing and let her golden hair unravel from the bun on her head. The pale twilight sparkled through her curls. Orkid looked down at the wine glass that he was holding, seeing her reflection in the dark liquid and felt her breath run down his hand. He looked up again and became memorized by her eyes. Those eyes which promised everything.
"Tell me what you've been having on your mind, my love."
She lightly traced his jaw. His skin became warm as she did and he had to fight to keep his concentration.
"I know now how much I need you, Orkid of Saphirion. I have never been a woman known for being content with the little things. I want it all. An affair with you is not enough for me."
"What are you aiming at?" he asked as he put his glass away on the railing, knowing it would magically dissolve either when the drink in it was finished or if it was left along long enough without the warmth of tactile contact. Dissolve to reappear in the kitchen of the bar where they had bought their wine to go about half an hour ago.
"What would you say about entering a consorthood together with me, Orkid?"
"A consorthood?" Orkid placed heavy hands upon her shoulders, regarding the Princess with thoughtful, brown eyes.
"Yes," Ariel sighed and fanned out with her fingers across his back, feeling the rogue textile of his woolen jacket and beneath it firm muscles. He definitely wasn't the gangly boy Ariel had first met when she was a teenage girl.
She recalled how shy Orkid had been when she had first encountered him; how he barely could look her in the eye and speak a complete sentence to her. Now he was completely different. His dark brown hair flitted across the tops of his eyes, his cinnamon-amber eyes pierced hers; sending shivers down her spine. His lithe form towered over her as he cupped her face in his hands.
"What does such a thing really imply?"
"I wish there was a better way. A more honorable way for me to have you. But that is not to be. We are too far away from each other when it comes to status in..."
"Society class! Is that what you mean?" Orkid filled in her dotted line.
"Yes, please, please don't be mad at me, my love," Ariel bit her lips as she felt shame burn upon her cheek.
"Mad? Why should I?" His smile was placid, reflective as his statement got somewhat elongated.
"Because I'm unable to go the whole way. Proposing a genuine marriage. Yet whatever you and I feel, how much we love each other, fact reminds that I am still a Princess of Cloud and you are but a civil servant. Dear Orkid, if you feel resentment at the thought of a consortship you have all the right to do so, for I believe that you as every other Elf one day look forward to marry for real. And I am sorry but I cannot give you that. If you want out of this relation because of this, please say so now and I will let you go."
"Ariel! Such a bourgeoisie way to think! Of course I am not mad. And whatever name you attach to a proposed relation is fine by me as long as it means that we can be together. I'd been content with continuing as your lover, mind you. Content with scraps, that' me, Orkid of Saphirion."
"But you deserve so much better," Ariel pitied him as she stroke his whiskered chin with her thumb and forefinger, felt the warmness of his skin against her slightly cold fingers.
"What I deserve is of less importance to me, what I want is a completely different thing. And what I want is to be with you, my Princess of the light!" As he spoke he began to run his hand up her leg and she giggled in pure joy. She pulled him nearer and kissed him. Her scent washed over him causing him to feel the ground sway underneath his feet.
Fireworks sparkled off somewhere in that very instance, as if it was timed by their actions, and the darkening sky became filled with Catherine wheels and spinning and falling flowers in red, yellow and white.
Ariel broke free from his lips and let go and started to walk again but Orkid grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. She fell into his arms and the herald could feel her trembling; he had thrown her off her course. He had won.
"Princess" he breathed into her ear, "dance with me!"
She took her head off his shoulder.
.." He cut her off by putting his finger up to her lips.
"Just do it, for me!"
"Father! I demand you do something about the situation in Ranoyar!" Arnid's strident voice rang into the living room seconds before the dark haired Prince became visible ascending the stairs. His lapis blue eyes flashed angrily as he took in the merry atmosphere of the gathering by the fireplace and Oberon, Titania, Uriel and Lorelei sitting around a table with beverages and snacks. The contrast here in light of the place he just came from felt like a slap to his face. "The Assembly is in upheaval. It's becoming impossible."
With a sigh, Oberon turned to face his son.
"What could possibly be wrong now?"
"Like everything!" Arnid exclaimed, raising his hands in despair. "Had you never done something as harebrained as declaring a veto, the situation wouldn't be so tense now. Are you really so stupid that you do not realize what you've set in motion?"
"Arnid!" Lorelei protested. "The veto has been withdrawn and the Assembly can vote however they desire when it comes to involving Cloud in the Ranoyar crisis."
"Yeah, and what do you go ahead and do, young lady?" Arnid snarled, turning to his sister in law. "The Assembly wouldn't've been half as indecisive if your party group wasn't instigating incongruity all the time!"
"Refrain from insulting my wife, little brother!" Uriel warned. "It isn't very becoming nor do I appreciate it."
Fuming while drawing breath, wanting to yell at Arnid for his words, Lorelei then felt Uriel touch her hand, wrapping it in his own and squeezing comfortingly.
"It's not worth it," he whispered. Taking a deep breath, she visibly calmed herself. Uri was right. If she worked herself up, she might only prove Arnid right about her motivation.
Titania cleared her throat before things spiraled even further out of control.
"Arnid, please control your manners! There's no need to shout and apologize for what you are implying," she quietly said. "There's never any reason to yell at Lorelei for a partisan choice."
"The Libertarians is her party!" Arnid repeated in astonishment but lowered his voice accordingly as he sat down in an empty coach. Titania had a point; shouting was not the best way to get his message across and only made him seem hysterical. He didn't apologize for his words though.
"Oberon?" Titania asked, turning the judgment over to him. She was going to take Arnid in hand later and explain why he needed to express regret for his words. It wasn't right to take anger out on the wrong individual for it only hurt you in the end. From personal experience, she knew this all too well.
"Arnid, will the Assembly vote 'Aye' or 'Nay' to intervene in Ranoyar?" the King asked, needing a clearer picture.
"What do I know!?" Arnid nearly choked on the question. He couldn't believe that his father didn't bother more with an event that would so clearly affect the future of Cloud. A deep sigh escaped Oberon.
"Have you any idea about the majority standpoint?"
"Not in this case," the Prince sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he could feel the commencement of a headache somewhere behind his forehead. "I cannot make head or tail of the will of the Assembly in this difficulty."
"I see," his father nodded his head." And you fear a Human war coming about?"
"Listen," Uriel began. "As there already is a war brewing, it won't do to let this situation fester. Let the Assembly vote! Let them decide if we are to go to war or not! They are grown up people, they should be able to make the decision best for Cloud and we should act and plan accordingly. In that case no one can come afterwards and blame us."
A martial light entered Arnid's eyes, terrifying to behold as he ignored his brother and focused on Oberon.
"Then you understand my situation. If war comes and I have no doubt that it will, I will pull the Assembly trough the necessary decisions, come hell or high water! Not for personal pride or for Cloud pride either mind you but for what will benefit All Elves in the long run. Our race is in jeopardy against the Humans and we have let it gone too far! We should have dealt with the Humans and their religions earlier..."
"Arnid!" Oberon cut him off. "We have heard this before. From you and from your 'Elves First' party. We do not need a reiteration of these chauvinistic ideas. We do not need a repetition of my father's mistakes."
"Then what guarantee do we have that Cloud remains protected if there is a war with the Humans?" his youngest son asked.
"I will see to that," Oberon assured. "Because if there is a war, not only Cloud but all the Elven nations will be involved. We cannot be purely selfish in this case as you so eloquently pointed out earlier. We have to take inventory of what is at stake here. We have the magic the Humans have the iron and the numbers."
"Can we count on that balance of terror to maintain status quo then?" Lorelei wanted to know.
"There are ways to assure that," Oberon nodded his head. "I cannot say more at the moment, other than as a confirmation that the Humans do not want this war either."
"Say what?" Arnid objected hotly. "You've been conferring with Humans?"
"And of course you have a problem with that!" Uriel injected. "I have tolerated your racist ideas long enough now, but when our society might be under threat we cannot afford this drivel!"
"Boys!" Oberon berated them. "You're jumping to conclusions again! No Elf has been in direct conference with the Humans. But as Uriel is well aware of, since he has deployed them, we have gatherer of intelligence out there. Elves in every Human Court, Assembly and other centres of power. Including the Vatican one of the most dangerous places for an Elf to work in, thus we have the very best of our agents there! And these informers have been gauging the reaction of the other race, and there is nothing which shows that they want a war with the Elves. A war they fear to lose."
"They do?" Lorelei asked disbelievingly.
"Yes, they do," her husband confirmed. "They are overestimating us, both when it comes to numbers and magic abilities. They fear that they will be the ones destroyed in a war between our species."
"Uriel you're probably the one with most intelligence on your hands, what would be your standpoint in this case?" the King asked.
"In between. I believe the truth lies somewhere between our and their destruction. This does not mean that an outright war with the Humans may be anything other than devastating. For both parts."
"And thus you claim that our people should remain hidden?" Arnid prompted angrily.
"Yes I do," Uriel snapped back, clearly irritated his good mood from earlier in the evening completely gone now. "That is something you cannot understand, but a war between our races will be nothing but a lose-lose situation."
"Is that my brother I hear speaking or a coward?" Arnid snarled. "You fear a war with an inferior race? Or do you fear the consequences of such a war the responsibility which comes with declaring the Elven supremacy over this world?"
"Arnid, there is no such thing as 'supremacy' there's only difference," Lorelei tried to reason, she sounded oddly held together, all the same Titania could tell that she too was fuming inside at the insults being dealt to her husband.
"Still we are letting them hold claim over a larger part of the world, pretending we are content with the scraps!"
"Arnid, that's because of their numbers, there are ten times as many Humans as there are Elves and their numbers are growing day by day," Uriel said, sounding oddly calm and reasoning, although his cheek was clamped and his chins being slightly red with anger. "Accordingly they need the greater lands. Besides I wouldn't really call Cloud a 'scrap'. Not with cities like Falias, Avalon, Shangri-La, Xanadu, El-Dorado, Partholania and Gorias within our territories. Or any of the shared cities like Venice, Athens or Kyoto."
"Still, it's not a held together nation," Arnid insisted. "Like Lusitania, Lukotekia or Germania."
"Which is the beauty of the Tírnanog concept," Uriel insisted. "A distributed union. A nation not consisting so much of land but of people living in different corners of the world, sharing the same language, the same history and the same ideas. Wherever there are two or more Elves of our kind gathered there's a part of Tírnanog, no matter how small or for how short duration it might be."
"A distributed nation bah," Arnid's voice got even more scornful. "That's just a coward's new speech for diaspora. And that's what my party refuse to be content with. We believe the Elves should take back what's ours!"
"Like what?" Uriel returned. "What shall we do with stones and bushes? Let us keep our cities instead, hidden from Human eyes to provide us with a safety walls and weapons may not give. I don't understand how that can be cowardice."
"Because you understand so little," Arnid barked as he rose from his place. "Tírnanog is a stupidity. Future generations will blame us for selling out like that. If not my people put a stop to it before it is too late."
"And how do you intend to do that?" Lorelei asked.
"By annihilating the Humans!" Arnid shot back.
"It's either them or us, but that's something you liberals cannot ever understand!" With those words the youngest son of Oberon and Titania turned on his heels and marched out of the room.
Uriel now turned to his father:
"How can you let him bear? He's not only appallingly uncouth; he's getting more and more unrelenting in his racism for every day which goes by."
"What do you expect me to do?" Oberon asked. "Forbid him from having an opinion? Then he'll only keep it in secrecy. Better let he and his partisans act in the open, where we may keep an eye upon them. Making sure they won't get too much leverage for their ideas."
"But their ideas are horrible. An abomination! A shame for Cloud," Uriel almost shouted, still maddened by the argument with his little brother.
"That is true, son," Oberon replied. "Still they are not that many, and most of the time they are arguing between themselves as well."
"About either obliterate the Human race or keep a small portion as slaves?" Lorelei huffed. "None of those ideas are other than repulsive. And I object strongly..."
"I know that, Lori," Oberon said patiently, "since it is far the first time we are having this discussion. But I insist that we won't get rid of those ideas by putting a lid upon them. It might even get worse, because then these Elves come together in martyrdom instead of as it is now arguing with each other openly. Meanwhile most people are regarding them as insane enough to not bother with for real."
"I'm not so sure," Lorelei said as she stood up too. "I'd rather seen them gone from the Assembly."
"Which can only happen if they get voted out," Titania answered.
"I know that. However I'm tired now. I'm going for a swim to calm my heated nerves and then I think I'm going to bed. Coming, Uri?"
Uriel complied, rose and took her hands, whispering something to her before he bade his parents good night.
"You see now," Titania said to Oberon, when they were alone by the fireplace. "Why I cannot bring Arianez here. Ever!"