Chapter Thirty-Nine First Night, Last Night
The white carriage marked with the crests of Jenh’s temple rolled through the city streets as daylight faded away, the soldiers patrolling the roads making way for it as it passed. Once it reached the temple, with its towers of white stone marbled with lines of green crystal and streaks of gold, an attendant climbed down from her seat beside the driver and opened the door for the riders.
Prince Loracaz stepped out first and reached his hand up for the high priestess. Liriel took it, stepping down slowly, the gold and emeralds adorning her ivory gown twinkling in the quiet that pervaded the city that evening. Through her white veil, she could see that nobody was on the roads; everyone had gone home or into the temples.
Liriel walked at her prince’s side, her attendant following behind, climbing the stairs to the temple doors while the driver pulled away to take the carriage to the stables. Loracaz pulled open the doors for her, which let out the thick aroma of incense and the echoes of dozens of chanting voices. She gazed into the temple to see hundreds of Jenh’s followers gathered there, kneeling in prayer to the goddess.
High Priestess Liriel stepped inside with her prince, and together they walked down the center aisle towards the altar where Yanve stood leading the prayer. As the villagers realized that it was her, and that her beloved prince was with her, they turned and their prayers gave way to excited whispers. Many of the elves called out to Loracaz, and the prince went to as many of them as he could, grasping their hands to comfort them.
By the time he reached the dais and the altar, the great hall was alive with excitement that the prince had come home safely. Some of them were crying out questions to him, and Liriel urged him to address them and explain what had happened. Loracaz held up both hands, pushing back his cloak as he waited for the room to grow quiet.
“My dear people,” he began, “I am honored that you hold me in such high regard. These are trying times for Onsira, and I promise to be here for you all, to defend you from the destruction that Métius would wreck upon our world. Our king, my father, still has not returned to Onsira, but the danger that he’s put us in is already growing.”
“Your prince is the hero of legend,” the priestess told the crowd. “He has the ability to protect all of Jenh’s realm from the darkness. Prince Loracaz shall prove once again that he is the champion of our kingdom and our goddess.”
The citizens cheered for her words, and though a great deal of nervousness lingered in them still, they felt comforted to have someone vowing to protect them. When Loracaz turned to him, Yanve smiled and nodded his approval.
“We are all relieved to have you home,” the old priest said. “Will you intone the evening prayer with us, dear hero?”
“The last prayer of the day?” Loracaz asked. “The words to it are for the high priest and priestess to speak; I don’t know the prayer in its entirety.”
“Jenh has blessed you with all of her powers,” Liriel reminded him in nearly a whisper as she touched a finger to his forehead. It rippled with golden-green light as though a droplet of water had disturbed a still pond. “The words of the evening prayer contain the words of your ancestor, Sir Loracaz I. You know them, my love. You remember.”
As Loracaz stared down into her blue eyes, with their specks of shining gold, he realized that he really did know the words to the chanted prayer that Liriel and Yanve recited each evening. He nodded to her, and together the three of them joined hands over the altar.
The words of the prayer were in an ancient form Loratannh, the common language of the elves, but they flowed from the prince as easily as they did from the high priest and priestess. The people sat quietly on their knees, their hands folded and heads bowed as they listened to the plea and thanks for the blessings of Jenh. It was one of the longer prayers, but that didn’t phase the prince, who intoned every word as perfectly as if he’d been practicing it for decades. It soothed the people, many of whom intended to sleep in the temple for the night, so worried were they about everything that was going on. They had come for Jenh to comfort them, and they got exactly that comfort.
As they said the last stanza of the prayer, the lower priests and priestesses moved through he main hall to douse enough of the lights to allow the people to make ready for sleep without leaving it completely dark. Yanve, Liriel, and Loracaz released their hands and stepped down from the dais just as the last words left their lips. They walked from the great hall together, closing the doors to the wide and open chamber before speaking.
“Is your mother feeling any better?” the high priest asked.
“As well as she can, all things considered. She was preparing to get some rest when I left.”
“She has been through so much,” Yanve sighed. “I am relieved that she is home, but oh, if only Z’Lé had not put her through this.”
“It was selfish of him to make a promise to Métius just to be with her,” Loracaz replied, his voice scornful and bitter. “Wherever he is now, I wonder if he regrets what he did for his obsession.”
“Let them be,” Liriel told her prince gently. “They have suffered so much already– both of them.”
Loracaz nodded, and he and Liriel said their good-nights before parting ways with Yanve and walking to her chambers. Behind her closed door, they sat together as they always had, talking and sharing their thoughts.
“In the night,” she told him after a while, “I can hear the soldiers and paladins fighting the monsters. They attack in any way that they can, but only the paladins can truly vanquish them.”
“And Jenh believes that I can do more than what Kearr’s purity can do against that kind of evil?”
Liriel wrapped her arms around his chest and sighed as she held him tightly. “We all believe, Loracaz. We need to believe if we are to have any hope at all. Your ancestor was able to save the goddess, just as you will be able to save Onsira and all of us.”
“I hope so,” Loracaz said.
“When the time comes, you will find that you have more power than you ever thought you could. Believe in yourself, Loracaz. All of us need you.”
“As my beloved wishes,” the prince replied. “But if I promise you that, will you make me a promise as well?”
“What is it?” Liriel asked.
“When this is over, and Métius is gone, take the Kuetzarrin rites with me. It’s time that we seal our love and come together to restore this kingdom grandeur.”
Liriel blushed, but nodded all the same. “Of course I’ll take the rites with you, Loracaz. We have waited years as it is; I’m ready.”
Prince Loracaz smiled and kissed her forehead. “You will make a splendid princess, my love, and I know my mother will be glad to have you officially join our family.”
“Loracaz…?” Liriel whispered, her voice suddenly tense.
“What will you do if your father does join the battle that is coming?”
He thought it over before before answering her. “It depends which side he is on, Liriel. If he is with us, he will be an important ally, but if he is working with Métius– against us– then I will have to battle him.”
“And if to battle him means to kill him…?”
“I don’t like it any more than you do, Liriel.” he admitted. “I will defend Onsira from harm, and I pray that I will not have to go to far as slaying a dragon in order to keep us safe.”
“As do I,” Liriel said, her voice shaking. “Oh Jenh, please do not let Z’Lé join the Destroyer in His attack on us. I couldn’t bear to see my beloved fighting his own father.”
“We will do what me must,” Loracaz told her, holding her tight and rubbing her back. “For tonight, can we we speak of just the two of us? I have missed you so much while I was away, and I need you to be with me through this night.”
She nodded, and together they sat holding one another for a long while, taking in the quiet of the temple. It was growing late, and everyone else was either asleep or preparing their beds when Loracaz spoke again.
“Liriel,” he whispered to her her. She looked up at him, her eyes sleepy. “I have something to ask you.”
“Shall I ask one of the girls to find a room for you?” she asked. “You’re always welcome to sleep in the temple.”
Loracaz leaned down and gave her lips a light kiss. “That isn’t what I wanted to ask you.”
“Very well. What is it, my love?”
Sighing, the prince sat up straighter and looked her in the eyes. “Liriel… if Métius strikes tomorrow, we may not be ready for it. Even if I go into battle…” he paused to find the right words to explain himself, “it may not go as we plan. I love you too much, Liriel; how can I go into a battle that I may not survive if I have not shown you that love?”
“Loracaz, are you asking…” her words faltered, and she looked up at him with concern. “We have followed the traditions for so long; why are you asking to do this now?”
“Don’t pretend that you don’t understand it, Liriel. My father broke tradition to be with my mother. My brother has taken very solemn rites under Métius, and now the Destroyer is after my father and the kingdom. I was in His presence in Thiizav, Liriel. He is terrible and immense, and I cannot imagine being able to defeat him.”
“You are Jenh’s champion, Loracaz. You will do exactly what you need to do.”
“And if I die in battle, too? Would you have me leave you without even one night together?”
Liriel shook her head, tears beginning to well up in her eyes at the very thought of it. “Loracaz…” She had profound faith that Jenh would give him all the magic and power that he would need, but she also knew that his skill with a sword was lacking, even with Mearrk’hal’s patient training. The prince was so unsure of himself that she sometimes had a hard time reassuring him that he could defeat the evil moving against them all. “I love you so much, but are you sure you want to do this tonight?”
“Would I have asked if I wasn’t certain? I need you, Liriel. Your love has enabled me to come this far, and the thought of leaving you without sharing a night with you is too much to bear. We’ve always known that we would take the Kuetzarrin rites together; there is no reason to wait until we’ve shared the words to share a bed.”
Liriel sighed, then pursed her lips, thinking hard about what to say to him. Before she could speak, he pulled the mist-like cloth of her veil away from her black waves of hair and leaned down to kiss her. His arms held her tightly as she returned his affections, moving onto his lap to be closer to him. Her heart pounded with the passion that he shared with her in that kiss, and when at last she leaned back and looked up at him, she knew what to say.
“My dear prince… you don’t have to fear what tomorrow will bring. You are Jenh’s champion, and all of my heart is yours. I will lie with you, but it’s not because I’m afraid for your life. I feel that it’s Jenh’s will that we should be together, and because of that our love is timeless. The before and after of our rites doesn’t matter.”
Hearing her words, Loracaz smiled. “I’m overjoyed to hear that, dear priestess. What more could a prince ask for?”
Again he kissed her, but this time his hands did not rest on her back or shoulders as they always had. He let them wander over her body, feeling the curves that she hid under her gown of ivory silk. He let one hand linger on her chest, feeling the soft flesh there swell and recede as her breathing grew harder, quickening with longing. Liriel let out a small whimper, which made her lover smile.
He looked over his shoulder, to her four-poster bed, then back to her. He stood, one arm under her knees, one at her back, and lifted her from their chair to carry her across the floor. Liriel clung to him, her heart racing as the anticipation of what was about to happen grew.
Loracaz laid his beloved on the bed with all the tenderness of his love, and he kissed her forehead before walking to each corner of her bed to release the ropes that held open the brocaded curtains. They fell shut with the sound of the thick cloth moving through the air. Liriel could dimly see the candlelight that was scattered around the room through the thick white cloth, but the best sight of all was her prince when he slipped through one of the sides. He knelt beside her on her quilt, watching her for a long time before saying anything.
“You’re more beautiful than any of the princesses who have visited this kingdom, Liriel,” he told her as he leaned down to trace a finger over the jewels she wore to represent her station as high priestess. “I’m so happy that you will soon be my princess.”
Liriel felt the weight of the gold and emeralds melt away as he unlatched each set and slid it off of her body. He reached past the curtains to lay the jewels on a side table before gazing at her form, now pure white, and then laid down beside her. Pulling her close, he kissed her again, letting his hands caress her more urgently, wanting to feel the skin underneath. His fingers found the buttons at the back of her gown and he spent several minutes fidgeting with them to loosen each one.
When the cloth fell away from her shoulders, Liriel shivered from the cold that reached her skin. Loracaz pulled her to lay over him, then rubbed her shoulders to help ease her nervousness. His fingers caressed the porcelain-like skin of her neck, making her close her eyes and smile at the sensation.
Then she gasped, feeling his hand on her bare chest, wandering the spherical curves of her bosom. When she opened her eyes again, he grinned up at her and leaned in to kiss each one. She let a deep sound escape her lips and pulled him closer, her fingers in his hair as she welcomed the feelings that his love now brought her.
Spurred on by the knowledge that she now wanted it as much as he did, Loracaz traded places with her, letting her sink into her thick quilt as he crouched over her. He shed his tunic with little ceremony and proceed to lay kisses down her arms before again giving more attention to her chest. When he descended down to her belly, he tugged at the skirt of her gown, sliding the silk past her hips and losing it somewhere behind him.
“You’re just as beautiful this way as you were an hour ago,” Loracaz told his beloved. She was blushing, nervous about being laid bare before him. “Are you shaking? I promise to be gentle, Liriel.”
Loracaz winked and helped her turn down the quilt so that they could lie together under it. It was still early in the spring, and the nights were cold even with the windows shut tight and the curtains drawn.
Liriel sighed happily, enjoying the feeling of his skin against hers. Twenty was still a young age for an elf, and his chest was still smooth and warm. She let her fingers glide over the muscles of his arms, feeling his strength and power, then across his chest. Even his belly was well-muscled; though his weaponry skill was not as developed as some would have liked, he did practice and train, and was indeed strong.
Remembering that he’d yet to remove his trousers, her hand descended down to the buttons at his waist. “It’s only fair that you remove this,” she whispered.
Grinning all the wider, Loracaz let out a small moan and allowed her to release each button. He moved to let her slide the cloth away and laid back down. His hand guided Liriel’s to where he wanted her, and he kissed her harder, moaning into her lips at how wonderful it felt to have her touching him. Though she blushed, Liriel didn’t pull away; instead, she caressed him more and felt her own need growing.
As they continued, Liriel was able to forget about the evil threatening her kingdom, about what had become of the emperor and even the propriety that she should have been following. All that mattered was that she loved Loracaz with all of her being, that she didn’t want to ever be apart from him. She’d waited so long for the moment when their bodies joined that the sheer perfection of it when it finally came overwhelmed her. She relished the ecstasy that he brought her, and begged him to let it go on forever.
Loracaz, too, couldn’t have been filled with more joy. He gave her all that he could, did everything that she asked until he could bear the passion no more. With one last call, one more powerful movement, he let his essence flow into her, and with his seed thus planted, he collapsed onto the sheets and laid panting beside her.
“My love,” Liriel whispered, clinging to him in sheer joy.
“I never knew how perfectly amazing it would be,” he told her between gasps for breath. “I’ve never been happier to have you agree to anything.”
Liriel smiled back at him, just as happy that she’d agreed to it. She looked forward to years of sharing her nights with him, to growing a family by his side. But for now, for that night, she was content and happy.
As the hours moved on, and they both rested, he made love to her once again before he was too exhausted to do anything more. As the last of the candles sputtered out, Loracaz held his beloved against his body, and together they fell into a sleep more blissful than they’d ever before imagined.