To Melt a Frozen Heart

by

Ambyrhawke Shadowsinger

Copyright March 11, 2000

Disclaimers: There are no copyright disclaimers on this story because it is all mine. This is not a Xena story; it’s not even an Uber. But it is a lesbian faery tale. My characters are not based upon any other characters. So why is this story here? Well, because I wrote it and want to share it with others. That means that I have to put it on web sites where people have a chance of finding it.

Subtext: As I stated above, this is a lesbian faery tale. That means that there are depictions of a loving relationship between two women. If this offends you, is illegal in your state, or you are under the age of 18, then don’t read it! Alas, for those of you looking for explicit sexual scenes, I don’t write those in my stories. If anything I’ve said makes you decide to not read my story, you are free to look for something else. It’s just too bad for you because you’ll be missing a rather good story.

General Info About the Story: In writing this story, I have attempted to create a feeling of something from the Middle Ages. In doing so, I have used a more archaic sounding sentence structure than what we generally read in today’s time. I have also made use of kennings and formulaic adjective phrases throughout the piece. What are kennings? They are metaphors that are used as nouns and are made up of two words. One example from the story is the use of "songsmith" to mean "bard." Formulaic adjective phases are ways of modifying nouns…except that the same phrases are used over and over again, rather than coming up with something new. They were used to a great extent in epic poetry to help the singers remember what came next. Ovid used things like "rosy-fingered dawn" as formulaic adjective phrases…so "dawn" was always "rosy-fingered."

Educational Disclaimer: If you’ve gotten this far, be warned that you just got an English lesson in the paragraph above.

Dedication: Whether I ever have children or not, one of the many reasons I began this story was because I want to have something I can read to my future daughters, and that my friends that want or already have children could read to theirs. I wanted to have a story in which the children could see a couple that looks like their mommies. In extension, To Melt a Frozen Heart is especially for anyone who reads it to a child with whom they have some sort of relationship.

Also to Catherine…happy birthday.

Comments may be sent to Ambyrhawke@aol.com

 

Pronunciations

∆lfwynn : 'Ahlf-wen

Ceinwen : 'Cane-wen

Emric : 'Em-rick

chirurgeons : Kie-'ur-gens (doctors)

 

 

Part One

Once upon a time, there was a small kingdom which had a noble ruler. The king and his queen were kind and well loved by their people. For many years the gentle-hearted queen remained barren, and the royal advisors feared there would be no heir to the throne. But the noble king never spoke the smallest word that would cause distress to his lady, for he loved her more than throne, duty or life itself. She was his world, and he made sure everyone knew it.

The bard of the realm was a close friend of the king's. They had grown up together and kept their friendship in spite of their differences in station. The bard and his lady would often spend evenings alone with the royal couple laughing and singing in the woods where the fae folk gathered.

On one such evening, the four were in the woods with the fae folk listening to the elf bard sing songs in honour of her wise queen. When she paused for a moment, the king's friend stood and asked if he might sing a new song of his own, to which the elf queen eagerly agreed. The man sang a beautiful ballad about the faery ruler which he had toiled on night and day for a full turning of the moon. So delighted was she with the song that she granted him a boon...anything he desired. The bard looked to his friend. He asked for his queen to be blessed with a child, that the royal advisors might stop bothering the couple.

This show of love moved the sovereign of the faeries, and she agreed to give not only the mortal queen a child but also the bard's own wife. At her word, the elf bard knelt before the two women and Sang a Song of Quickening to their wombs.

Thus it was that in nine month's time, on the same day, both the gentle-hearted queen and the bard's sweet wife bore baby girls. The bard's daughter came into the world first and was named ∆lfwynn, meaning "Elf joy," for it was the joy of the faery queen which brought about the blessing. The baby princess was named Ceinwen, meaning "fair and beautiful jewel," for she was as precious as any gem to her parents. Though the advisors grumbled that the child was not a boy, the noble-minded king proclaimed her the heir apparent and said the matter was closed for good

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∆lfwynn and Ceinwen were reared together from the start. At first, it was the king's wish, however, in time the princess would not tolerate a separation from her friend for long. The two girls spent almost all of their time together making mischief, climbing trees, or hiding from their nurses. Most nights found them both sleeping in one or the other's bed.

The four adults doted on the young girls yet never spoiled them. They comprised a solid core of love in which ∆lfwynn and Ceinwen thrived. This core was, in turn, supported by a wider circle of affection from the faeries. All the others in their lives, while not cruel, concerned themselves more with what was proper than with being affectionate.

As she grew up, ∆lfwynn's name became more appropriate than anyone could have imagined, for she was the joy in the elf bard's life. None of the fae folk had seen the wordweaver so happy since the deaths of her wife and daughter three hundred years earlier. This was especially true when ∆lfwynn proved gifted with a voice as silvery-beautiful as the elf bard's own. And well it should be, for ∆lfwynn was a descendant of the wordweaver through her father.

With her father's duties at court keeping him busy, the faery woman saw to the young girl's musical training. In no time at all, her fingers flew over elf-gifted harp strings like a master. She soon spent her days forging songs for Ceinwen's eternal delight

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One day when they were almost sixteen, ∆lfwynn and Ceinwen were walking along in the woods hand in hand. The spring sun shone down on the light green of leaves and grass. Birds chirped in the boughs overhead, and rabbits hopped along the twisting pathways.

The two girls looked like sunlight and shadow as they walked along. The princess was fair with hair equal parts light brown, golden and strawberry. She had deep brown eyes that reminded one of a fawn in their softness. Those eyes now danced in merriment. She wore a long light blue dress edged with silver knotwork embroidery.

The young bard stood slightly taller than the princess. Long waves of ebony hair so dark that it shone fell from her head. Her eyes, slate-grey and often thoughtful, would flash with fire when she sang, seeing worlds that existed solely because of her imagination. For now they drank in everything around her...all of her senses absorbing every detail of the day, storing them until such time as they could be transformed into bits of music or story

They stopped by a small stream where solid beams of sunlight fell upon the great moss-covered rocks. They were talking about their upcoming birthdays.

"Have you chosen my present yet?" the princess asked innocently.

The songsmith's deeper voice queried, "Why? Is there something in particular you crave?" Seeing the brown eyes sparkle, ∆lfwynn smiled wryly, "Let me guess...another song mayhaps?" Ever since they were five, Ceinwen had always asked for a song as her gift, though she would get the song and other presents as well from her friend.

The autumn-gold hair swayed from the princess' shake of her head. "No, this time I want a promise. I want you to swear that you'll never leave me, ∆lfwynn."

The bard looked in surprise at the suddenly solemn expression. She stood quietly for a moment, her face growing sad, "You know I'm going to become a journeyman soon...I'll have to leave."

"No, you won't. I'll have my father assign you to court."

∆lfwynn bowed her head and spoke in soft, sorrowful tones, "A promise like that won't matter in a few years' time."

"What in the world do you mean by that?" the princess asked with an incredulous look on her face."

"Ceinwen," her friend tried to make her understand, "you're going to be the queen someday. I'll just be a bard."

"That didn't matter to our fathers." Seeing the pain in the shadowy bard's expression, Ceinwen stepped back, suddenly unsure. Her words came out in a whisper, "Or is it that you want to leave? Does your heart long for adventure?"

Reaching out a hand, ∆lfwynn raised the sunlight princess' chin. "No, I don't want to leave. I'm afraid that you'll forget me...."

"Promise me. Please," pled the higher voice of the princess.

∆lfwynn looked at her friend and knew that she could not refuse her, nor did she want to. Nodding her head, she agreed, "All right."

Ceinwen's face broke into a smile as she reached up and placed a light, quick kiss on the bard's lips. ∆lfwynn glanced up in shock at the warm touch. The sunlight, it seemed to her, sparkled in the brown eyes a bit differently than it had before.

In her excitement over the promise, the smaller woman grabbed ∆lfwynn's hands and hopped over the trickle of the brook. She smiled and urged her friend, "Promise me. Promise that you'll never leave me."

∆lfwynn caught and held the gaze before her. "I swear by the air, land and sea that I shall never leave you, Ceinwen. I will always play for you. Even if I should die, I'll find a way to bring you music."

Ceinwen gazed up at the songsmith. She spoke her own vow with conviction, "And I swear to you, ∆lfwynn, by the air, land and sea, that I shall never forget you. When I am Queen, I will not ignore you. You'll always be first in my heart."

"And you'll be first in mine," the silver voice added softly. "And if I should be forsworn, then may the sky fall down upon me, may the earth swallow me, and may the sea rise up to drown me."

The autumn-haired princess nodded, "If I should be forsworn, then may the sky fall down upon me, may the earth swallow me, and may the sea rise up to drown me."

The two girls came together, hugging closely for a time, and then began to walk again. Ceinwen linked their hands together. After a few steps, she peeked up at ∆lfwynn from the corner of her eye, "So what kind of song did you write me?"

The bard's musical laughter rose through the wood, a second, higher laugh quickly joining it.

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Three years later in the dark of the night, footsteps were heard pelting down the dimly lit halls of the castle. A door slammed open, and a tall form burst in out of the shadows, skidding to a halt. Black hair disheveled from sleep and the wild run through the hallways framed ∆lfwynn's face. Her tunic, crooked and unbelted, gave further testament to her having been asleep some five minutes previous. She panted for breath as she took in the tear-streaked face before her.

The pain in the brown eyes spurred the bard forward in a rush. Ceinwen fell into her arms with a sob, holding on to her shadowy friend as if her life depended on it. ∆lfwynn pulled her closer with soft words, "Lass, I just heard. I'm so sorry...." Tears were spilling down her own cheeks as she stroked her friend's autumn-gold hair

The king and queen had both become ill. All the chirurgeons worked hard to keep them warm in the damp winter air of the high-towered castle, but soon a rattling of fluid could be heard in the gentle-hearted queen's chest. She crossed over to the next world in the night. When she had gone, the noble king just seemed to give up, and he too passed away.

∆lfwynn's parents had both died within the last year. The two women held each other tightly as they slowly realized that, of all the people in the world who truly loved them, only they were left. The princess wept harder than before now that the songsmith was there, for ∆lfwynn had always provided the path to the other woman's deepest emotions. The candlemarks slipped away as they sat together on the bed, shadow cradling sunlight within strong arms.

After a time the king's advisor, Seneschal Emric, entered the room. He was an ancient man who had been Seneschal to Ceinwen's grandfather and her father after him. Lord Emric was tall and stately with flowing white hair. He would have been handsome in his age were it not for the frown he always wore."

If there was one thing Lord Emric believed in, it was absolute propriety. Everyone had a role with certain duties and ways of acting, and these should be performed perfectly. He was one of the people who made sure things got done in life but did not much care if fun was had in the doing. Ceinwen's father had constantly confounded the man with his relaxed method of ruling.

Lord Emric came to a stop out of earshot of the princess' bed. He quickly motioned for ∆lfwynn to join him. The ebony-haired songsmith disengaged herself from her friend's hold, whispering that she would be back shortly. She approached and bowed her head, "Lord Emric...."

"∆lfwynn. You may leave now," rumbled Lord Emric's barritone voice.

The woman's brow furrowed, "I beg your pardon?"

Milky blue eyes looked down at her, "You may leave. Your presence is no longer required."

∆lfwynn glanced back at the bed which held the crying princess and took a step closer to the Seneschal. "I'll not be leaving. My friend is grieving, and my presence is very much required."

"The princess will be getting dressed and leaving for the ceremony presently."

"What ceremony? The king and queen just died a few candlemarks ago, may the gods rest their souls. It's too early for the funeral."

Lord Emric crossed his arms and said lowly, "You don't know what must be done, bard."

Slate-grey eyes flashed with anger, "And you don't care what she's going through right now, Lord Seneschal. Ceinwen's just lost both her parents for Goddess' sake!"

"What's going on here?" The two looked up at the soft words. Ceinwen's eyes were red from weeping, but the tears were dried.

Though ∆lfwynn moved toward her friend, Lord Emric spoke first, "Your Majesty, the vigil for your parents will start at sunrise, and as their only child, you must be there. Harsh though it may be, you are now the queen," he looked at the bard meaningfully. "And duty to your kingdom must come before personal pain."

The princess gazed at the floor for a few moments. When she lifted her eyes and nodded, there was a slight hollowness in her voice, "You are right, Lord Emric."

∆lfwynn quickly turned fully to her, offering to be by her side. Ceinwen caught her hands, drawing them both away from the tall man. She spoke to her friend, "Thank you...but I must do this alone." The expected protests were forestalled with soft fingers against the bard's lips. "I have to appear strong, not leaning against someone else. Let me do what I have to. I'll be all right, ∆lfwynn."

Pained grey eyes searched the brown depths before them, and what they found caused ∆lfwynn a nebulous unease in the pit of her stomach that she couldn't quite understand. "Are you sure?"

The shorter woman nodded, "I'm sure. Thank you for staying with me tonight. Go and try to get some rest."

Reluctantly, the silver-voiced songsmith hugged her friend and took her leave. The unease kept quietly gnawing at the back of her mind.

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The next few years were busy ones for the young-crowned queen and ebony-haired bard. Each had many new duties which demanded their time. They saw each other as often as they could outside of court, but it was never as often as they hoped. In the moments they could steal away from others, they laughed together about things going on in the high-towered castle.

Over time, the silver-voiced songsmith began to notice that the autumn-haired woman's laugh did not come as easily nor sound so freely as once it had. The mantle of rulership proved a heavy burden which taxed the queen's soul. And so ∆lfwynn took up the battle to cheer her friend, listen or provide a shoulder...whatever was needed.

At one such time, Ceinwen asked about the bard's work, "What's this I hear about you not working on songs for Yule?"

"Why should I work on them?" the shadowy woman scoffed. "They have been finished for weeks. Everyone's just stressed because I'm not up night and day like father was."

Ceinwen smiled, "I think you dream your songs, ∆lfwynn. It wouldn't surprise me if you went to sleep at night only to have them appear in the morning like magic."

Slate-grey eyes flickered over in mirth, "Well...there was that one time when your father swore he caught me writing music out with my eyes closed, fast asleep." It was a story she had never lived down, so the silence in the room startled her into looking up fully. Ceinwen's face was set in a distant, trembling mask. With determination, she struggled to regain control of herself.

A thousand clues suddenly locked into place with a jarring force. ∆lfwynn cautiously tested her newfound insight, "It's okay to cry for them...."

The smaller woman stiffened, "It is not seemly for a queen to cry."

"That's Lord Emric talking. Ceinwen...it's me, ∆lfwynn." She gestured to the small room, "We're alone here. You don't have to be 'The Queen' around me, you know that!" She began to dread the other's stony silence. "When was the last time you cried for them?"

The young-crowned queen turned her head away from the silver-voiced bard. ∆lfwynn let out a pained whisper, "Sweet Goddess...you haven't cried since the night they passed away, have you?"

"Leave it be...."

"Lass, you can't go on like this. A person has got to grieve; you told me so yourself."

The brown eyes turned to her in weary pleading, "I don't want to cry. My friend, help me forget. Play me something happy. Please?"

"It's not good for you to forget."

"Please...." The words tore out of her small chest huskily, "If you love me, you'll do this for me, ∆lfwynn."

That statement took the bard's breath away. Tears welled up in the grey eyes, and she spoke fervently, "I do love you, Ceinwen...more than you know. But what you ask of me is no act of love. I can't do it. I won’t do it."

The stony queen's face took on an expression her friend had never before seen. She shouted in anger, "I order you to play for me!"

"No...."?

"Do you forget that I am your queen?"

∆lfwynn's whole body shook with emotion, "I will never forget that I am your friend, Ceinwen. I won't help you hurt yourself like this."

The reply came out in a growl, "If you won't play, then get out of my sight!" The queen turned her back on the songsmith.

A gasp shot out of ∆lfwynn's lungs as tears fell from her eyes like waterfalls. She fled the room, leaving her harp where it sat. The long halls echoed her sobs and footfalls as she made her way blindly through the high-towered castle. Unable to see past her tears, the bard's instinct guided her flight.

∆lfwynn ran out of the mighty, ancient walls and into the dark of the forest. The winter wind whipped the snow about in all directions. It tore through the bard's tunic, and snow seeped into her indoor boots as she stumbled and fell into the white drifts piled high along the pathways. She felt none of the cold, so sore was her heart.

When she reached the glade where she had spent so many happy times with Ceinwen, their parents and the fae folk, she threw herself to the ground. The storm's fury lessened only to be replaced by a keening wail that rose again and again from the figure in the snow. The world had no answer for the heart-shattered question of, "Why?"

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The storms beat down on the land with a fury that grew each day. The winds, a battle-mad monster trying to reach its enemies, buffeted the high-towered castle. All of the people within went about their tasks more subdued than usual. When the mighty, ancient walls would creak and groan under the weight of the assault, fearful whispers could be heard declaring that, surely, the gods were angry.

Finally Yule had arrived, the longest night of the year. Though darkness would reign supreme on this night, dawn would see the rebirth of the god, the Sun-Child. The entire castle and surrounding populace gathered in the great hall for an eve of revelry. All fears gave way to mirth, even in the face of gloom. For how could even gods remain angry with the return of the Sun-Child?

The great hall was ablaze with light from the fires in the hearths and the flames of countless candles. A moving tapestry of colors filled that vast hall as people, finely dressed, sought out their friends with well wishes upon their lips. Laughter was the order of the festivities.

The autumn-haired queen sat upon her finely-carved throne at the head of the hall. Never had Ceinwen looked more beautiful than at this winter's feast. She wore a long, full gown as green as the deepest parts of the pine forest. It had a fitted bodice which laced up in the back. The sleeves were narrow at the top and flared out into long pointed drapes at the cuff. The bottom was bordered by gold embroidered knotwork lions. A gold link belt circled her waist in a V-shape with an extra span hanging down the center of her skirt.

The young-crowned queen's long hair hung loose except for the red-gold circlet which proclaimed her the realmlord. Her only piece of jewelry was a crystal on a chain around her throat. Smokey in color, tongues of fire seemed trapped within, giving the appearance that the crystal lived. A small green stone was set against it as well.

The festive mood seemed to have captured even Ceinwen's spirit, for she was laughing at the antics of a tumbler when she called over her shoulder, "∆lfwynn, play us some music."

The whole of that great hall, from length to breadth, became suddenly silent. Only the wind whipping about the castle's high towers could be heard. When the silence dragged on, the queen spoke again, "∆lfwynn, I asked you to..." her words trailed off as she turned and saw only an empty place where the silver-voiced woman always sat. Looking around, the queen spotted the Seneschal, "Lord Emric, where is ∆lfwynn?"

As if one being, the populace gathered in the vast hall gasped and looked nervously about. For the first time in all remembrance, tall and stately Lord Emric stumbled for words. "Your Majesty...Bard ∆lfwynn is dead...."

"Dead?"

"Y-yes, My Queen. She passed away from a fever and fluid in her lungs a fortnight ago, may all the gods rest her soul."

"Why was I not informed?"

The ancient seneschal twisted his hands, "A message was sent...but Your Majesty was quite busy with affairs of state."

The woman stared blankly at the place where the silver-voiced songsmith once sat. Then she turned back, "Why was she not replaced?"

"My Queen?" Lord Emric's voice squeaked as the hall's occupants gasped again.

The queen's face clouded over, "This is Yule, and I want there to be music." In a voice that filled the space, she asked, "Who will sing me a song?"

Out of that vast emptiness a bold voice, music itself, sounded out, "I shall sing you a song, Your Majesty." All eyes turned to the speaker who stood and slowly approached the young-crowned queen upon her finely-carved throne. Her cloak billowed behind her like ravens' wings. Her tunic was the same shade of piercing blue as the flashing eyes framed by flowing raven-black hair.

Ceinwen recognized the woman approaching her at once and smiled, "Ah, the bard of the elves. It has been a long time."

"Indeed, it has been. Many things have changed since last we met." The wordweaver bowed yet kept her gaze locked on the seated woman.

"But surely some things remain the same, " the queen said lightly. "Your voice is the only one I have ever heard which was sweeter than ∆lfwynn's."

The dark head inclined, "Would that she were here to challenge that claim."

A heartbeat passed before the young-crowned queen answered, "You said you would sing me a song...."

A wide smile broke out on the faery woman's face, but Ceinwen seemed to not notice the iciness within the eyes of blue, "So I shall." She gestured to the sovereign, "One fit only for a queen such as yourself. And when I am done, I shall tell you a story."

"Indeed! What is the story about?"

The wordweaver spoke in a hall-filling voice, "It is a tale of love and loyalty too poorly rewarded."

The autumn-haired queen frowned petulantly, "Should we not hear something more fitting to the mood of the season?"

"Oh, it mirrors the season perfectly, Your Majesty, and its ending is...most satisfying, I assure you." All, except the queen, who saw the elf's face felt their blood run cold.

Settling into her seat, the small woman smiled, "Very well then...sing your song and tell your tale."

The wordweaver stood behind the elf-gifted harp where it sat, ownerless, in its spot on the floor. She began spinning an intricate web of notes on the strings. The music put the entire room in a thrall. The populace fell into a deep sleep while the young-crowned queen became motionless upon her throne. Only then did the elf bard, weaver of words and power, begin to sing....

Still as earth,

Still as stone.

A shell of granite,

Shall be your home.

A heart once warm

Has turned to ice,

And by my song

You'll pay the price.

For closing your eyes

To those who care,

For all the times,

You were not there.

So upon your throne,

Oh haughty queen,

Shall you sit

But ne'er be seen.

A lady of stone,

To all you'll seem;

This nightmarish curse

Spent in waking dream.

Our minstrel friend

With dying breath

Bade me heed

Her last request.

And so I swore

That I would give

Your callous soul

A chance to live.

So, if Love can reach,

Through stony sleep.

And melt frozen heart

Enough to weep

Then grief-filled tears

And nothing more,

Can end this curse;

Your life restore.

When the last notes died away in the far corners of the great hall, the dark elf turned to the throne. The queen sat unmoving. She looked as she had in life except that she was now stone. However, only her body changed...she was a statue robed and bejeweled in cloth and gold.

The wordweaver stepped close to the stone queen. "And now I promised you a tale. 'Tis one which you know half of already. Six years ago, you and ∆lfwynn swore oaths to each other...yes, the Sidhe heard those oaths as you made them. She kept hers to you. She played for you. She loved you more than anything in this world, even her music. And how did you repay her?

"You broke your own oath to her. When she tried to save you from yourself, you treated her not like a friend, but like a slave to take orders. When she refused, you turned her away.

"∆lfwynn fled into a raging storm with a heart shattered by your hate-filled words. That thin tunic you last saw her in was all she had on. When I found her, she was frozen half to death.

"For weeks she was mad with fever. I sat by her side, heard her beg you to forgive her. After the cruel way you treated ∆lfwynn, she still loved you. She pled with you...said that she would play anything you wanted if only you would come to see her."

The elf bard shook with barely contained fury. "We sent you word, but you never came. ∆lfwynn woke countless times, always asking me if you had come. Every time I had to say no, I could see her will to live slip further from her. I even went to you myself and heard you tell the Seneschal that you were too busy to hear about 'the songsmith.' She was your friend, and you didn't even cry for her just now!"

Tears slid from the bard's blue eyes, "∆lfwynn was as much a child to me as was my own daughter, and your cruelty took her away from me. Before she died, I told her you would pay for being the soulless oathbreaker that you are, but she begged me to give you a chance to live again. So as stone you will sit, yet you shall be aware of everything around you. Uncaring Queen, you will learn what it is like to not be seen...to have your cries ignored. Had ∆lfwynn not begged me with her dying wish, I would have made your curse last forever, and I would have been happy to do so. But melt your frozen heart and cry a tear of grief for ∆lfwynn, and you shall live again. That is...if you even have a heart left."

With that, the wordweaver strode out of the great hall, her cloak flying behind her. At the door, she spoke one word before leaving. The people awoke and looked around, bewildered. Eventually they started searching for the young-crowned queen, each wondering how the lady of stone had come to sit upon the finely-carved throne.

As if in a dream, the oathbreaking queen saw and heard everything around her. She called out to the people who gazed at her...but no one seemed to hear.

The darkness deepened as the storm raged even more fiercely around the high-towered castle. Dawn broke the next day, and still the furious winds blew.

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Part Two

A cloaked figure walked along a dirt road which ran northward over the moors. At times a brown-booted foot began kicking a small stone along the path before nudging it off into the grass. Other times, the figure started whistling and humming, flitting between tunes with no noticeable pattern or reason. Suddenly, the sounds would stop for great lengths as a face turned up to watch the flight of a hawk.

This traveler could be as silent as a shadow when she wanted. But on a bright fall day such as this, out in the open, what need was there for silence? No, this was a perfect day for being as free as one wanted and enjoying all the different colors of the forest to the West.

As the sun dipped lower in the sky, the traveler noticed a small cottage up ahead. Almost immediately, a hallow rumble made itself heard. The woman rubbed her belly and laughed in a rich voice, "Stomach, how is it that you know whenever there's hope of food about? I'm thinking I was born with an extra set of eyes. Well, let's see if I can earn a meal and a place to sleep."

The traveler resettled her packs against her back and picked up her pace a bit. Dark brown of hair and eyes, she stood at a medium height. She had a tan on her face and sturdy but well kept clothes which spoke of a life of traveling. And rightly so, for she was a wandering bard, a journeyman for a handful of years now. She liked her life on the roads. Oh yes, someday she might find a place to settle, but for now she loved meeting new people and learning new stories. She traveled to the small, out-of-the-way villages which most other journeymen ignored. It seemed to her that the folk who rarely heard trained musicians made the best audiences. She cared not if they knew the difference between bard and minstrel, for their joy came from the quality of the song rather than the title of the player.

Turning off the road, the chestnut-haired traveler stepped inside the low wall ringing the cottage. She walked carefully as a few cats and waist-tall dogs danced about her, vying for attention. Stopping before the door, she called out in a loud, clear voice, "Greetings to this house and health to its occupants. I am a traveler in search of hospitality. I come bearing no harm and will go if you wish."

After a moment, the door swung open, and a woman emerged. The traveler looked down into the eyes of the oldest person she had ever seen. She stood just a few inches above five feet. The passing years had written their story in the lines of her face, yet the tale was gently and beautifully told.

Bright green eyes looked the traveler up and down with a twinkle, "Well, well, what brings you out here to the edge of nowhere...and just in time for supper no less?" The old lady's voice rose and fell like a playful brook.

Fighting back a grin, the dark-eyed bard replied, "My feet brought me all the way from the middle of somewhere...the whole time led by my nose and the most delicious smelling stew in all the land."

"Either you're a fast walker, or ye have a silver tongue, for I've only been cooking that stew five candlemarks. There's no somewhere that close to be from." Laughing, the young woman held up her hands, "You've found me out good Grandmother. But it was my feet that brought me...I'm a traveling musician."

The old woman crossed her arms and spoke accusingly, "And now I suppose you'll be wanting some of that stew?"

"Only if you have some to spare, Grandmother. I have food of my own...."

"Tcha! You would insult me by eating some dry old leather? I bet it's older than me own skin."

A grin spread over the journeyman's face, "You're probably right."

Beckoning with a wrinkled hand, the old woman urged, "Come in, come in. Put your things down here. If ye've got clean clothes, go in that room and wash the road off yourself. You've got time to do a good job before supper while I get some more water to heat." She cut off a protest at the thought of the old woman carrying water for the traveler's sake, "Nevermind that. Do as I say, young lady, and be quick about it. Supper won't wait forever."

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Completely clean and feeling much more alive, the journeyman sat with the old woman eating dinner. They had exchanged names, but the older lady insisted upon being called "Grandmother," and calling her "Child." "Make an old woman happy...children were not to be my lot in life," she said. The bard didn't mind, for she sometimes missed her own grandmother.

The stew was even better than it had smelled. The young woman's jaw hung slack when, ladling out another heaping bowl of food, Grandmother said, "Do you really think I made this much for myself? The pixies came flying in here on the wind saying I'd have me a songweaver for dinner. Traveling musician indeed!"

As the bard began to eat again, she asked, "Grandmother, what lies on the road north of here

"That would be ∆scford. 'Tis a small village less than a day's travel from here." She looked at the young woman appraisingly. "I heard you humming during your bath. With your voice, ye will do well in that town. You might even want to stay there for the winter rather than travel in the storms. If ye do, I expect to see you visit once in a while."

The songweaver smiled and nodded her head happily. She played with a chestnut lock of hair. "I passed a crossroads today...about a candlemark back. The sign was faded and the road overgrown. Where does it go?"

Grandmother stopped what she was doing and said succinctly, "It doesn't go anywhere."

"Grandmother, it's a road. Surely it goes somewhere."

"There hasn't been anything coming nor going on that road for ninety-nine years."

"Ninety-nine? So precise?" the traveler asked with a smile.

"Of course I'm precise...'twas the winter I was born. My mother told me it was a winter worse than anything seen before or since. One night, a river of people came down the road out of the West. Acting like dragon-fanged demons were on their heels, they were. Some settled in ∆scford; most kept going."

The bard leaned forward, "What frightened them so?"

The old woman shook her head slowly, "I don't know. Them as settled in ∆scford kept their mouths sealed tighter than drums. If anyone asked, they'd be told, 'Don't ask about what you don't know, or else you'll bring the wrath of the gods down on us all!' Whenever the winter winds would shriek and moan out of the West, they'd look affeered and say that the Shining Ones were still angry. And not a one of them would venture near those woods again."

"I wonder what is out there?" the songweaver mused softly.

"Nothing good comes from the West. Forget whatever it is you're thinking and go on to ∆scford."

"From what you say, Grandmother, nothing bad comes from there either. I'm a bard in search of adventure and stories to be told. Where better to find them than where no one will go?"

The old woman shook her head, "At least think on it tonight. If you're still determined in the morning, I'll pack you up some food. Now finish up so I can hear that voice of yours again."

They both smiled.

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After dinner, the two women sat before the fire. Taking her harp out of its case, the bard quickly tuned the instrument while Grandmother remembered the past. "Last time I had a bard walk up to my door it was...almost sixty years ago. Sang right sweetly, she did. Child, do you know any old ballads?"

With that the brown-eyed woman was off. Song after song she sang. She sang of love and loss, life and laughter in a voice that could melt the hardest of hearts. As soon as one song ended, the bard would drift into another, for Grandmother's face seemed to glow with long cherished memories.

The fire burned low now, and the songweaver's voice grew a bit tired. She closed her eyes and let her fingers flit over the strings. Something tugged insistently at her brain. Surrendering to the music, like a captainless vessel she played to the will of the fog-thick currents of energy within the cottage.

When the silver-tongued bard's hands finally stilled, with a reeling mind she opened her eyes to meet green ones staring at her intently. Grandmother's face was tearstained, and she held a hand clutched to her chest as if her heart were ripping in two. Her brow creased and she whispered in wonder, "Child, where did you learn that song?"

The brown head shook uncertainly, "I didn't; I just played. It was as if that song is woven into the fabric of this house."

"I haven't heard that song in twenty years. It was written for me, and no one else ever heard it." The green eyes took on an unfocused gaze, and the old voice sounded distant, "I sometimes hear it on the wind...or in me dreams." She smiled softly at the bard, "Soon my journey will be at an end, and I'll have that song played for me once again."

"Good Grandmother, don't talk like that. You have plenty of years before you."

"Hush now, Child. Don't begrudge me my rest...I've earned it. I love life just as much as you, but when you get to be my age, Death comes as a friend not an enemy. When She comes for me, I'll be ready. But don't fret, the end of my journey is not here yet." The old woman got up slowly, "Bedtime, however, is here. I'm sorry that I have no spare bed, Child."

The bard got quickly to her feet, "That's all right. Those rugs by the fire look like a queen's bed to me."

"Ha! Enough years pass by and your bones will be saying different. Goodnight, Child."

The young woman leaned down and kissed the wrinkled cheek softly, "Goodnight, Grandmother." Then they both moved to settle down for the night.

In the morning, the women once again shared a meal. The songweaver sat as Grandmother prepared a sack of food and drink for her. Green eyes studied her guest. "You're going to look for that adventure of yours," the words were a statement.

"Yes, Grandmother."

An old finger poked the bard's chest, then that same hand cupped her cheek, "Just you be careful. After you've found your adventure, you come back." The old eyes twinkled as she shared a long-held secret. "I've always wanted to know what was beyond that forest."

The young traveler got up with a smile and gave Grandmother a hug, "I'll be careful, I promise. Don't worry, I'll come back when I've found the answers to the mystery."

Grandmother handed over the sack of food. "May the gods watch over you, Child."

The bard shouldered her packs and with a wave started back up the road.

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The songweaver journeyed through the forest for three days. The road had overgrown in the passing years until it was little more than a game trail in the middle of two rows of massive trees. Though she could hear the movement of animals in the distance, the dark forest around her always remained silent. It was not the silence that accompanies the presence of a human but a more watchful sort. It seemed as if everything surrounding the brown-haired bard were watching her, waiting to see what the intentions of the intruder were. Only when she sang or played did the quiet shift from wary and tense to curious and awed.

The next morning, the path began climbing a series of foothills. The weather changed, becoming colder and drearier, but the bard's pace kept her warm.

On the third day, the forest came to an end on the other side of the foothills. The path was easier to see without walls of trees closing everything in. However, the wind picked up considerably without the leaf-clad giants providing shelter. The bard pulled her cloak closer around her. Looking up, she took note of the building mass of iron-grey clouds in the sky. A storm was blowing across the valley quickly. She glanced back at the trees, then dismissed them, for the forest could be dangerous if those clouds held lightening.

Casting her gaze about her again, the bard noticed another path heading off to the North. It didn't seem as overgrown as the one she was on now. The path curved around a tall-standing finger of the forest, however it was also heading right into the advancing storm.

Before she realized it, she found herself traveling up this path. Neither way seemed more promising than the other, so the songweaver kept going forward. Bending her head down, she plodded on. The winds tore at her cloak, often ripping it from chilled hands to fly out behind her. She was getting colder, her body shivering and teeth chattering occasionally.

When she rounded the tip of the forestfinger, the silver-tongued bard glanced up. The wind took the opportunity to snatch the hood of her cloak. Chestnut hair whipped about as the cloth fell back, but she didn't notice, so fixed was her attention upon the sight before her. A high-towered castle rose against the backdrop of the dark storm clouds. She looked up to see the top of the strong walls before a blast of ice-tinged air sent her towards the mighty oak doors in a rush.

When she stood in the lee of the ancient walls, the songweaver called out as loudly as possible, "Greetings to this mighty castle and health to its lord. I am a poor traveler, a bard, in search of hospitality. I ask for shelter from the storm and a bit of food to eat. In return, I shall fill your hall with music long into the night." She waited but received only silence from the castle.

Snow began falling, and the temperature dropped noticeably. The journeyman approached a small entrance off to the right of the main gates. She grasped the frozen metal ring set on the door and knocked firmly. To her surprise, it pushed open slightly. Hesitantly reaching out to swing the door all the way open, and stepping through the threshold, she called out, "Hello! Is anyone here? I come in peace."

A small archway led into the main courtyard of the high-towered castle. Vines grew out of control, and there was not a person in sight. The bard walked across the square and up to the main part of the castle, the whole time calling out for someone. Upon receiving no answers save for the moaning winds she shivered...but not from the cold

Finding a torch, the songweaver stepped up to the main door. Ivy hung down over half of the dark entrance. The air inside was musty and dank, and cobwebs veiled the sides of the hallways. The bard coughed a bit from the dust her feet kicked up with her passing. As she went deeper into the deserted keep, the sounds of the outside became muted down to a low keening of the storm.

Wandering upwards through the empty hallways, the woman eventually found herself stopped in front of a room. Upon entering, it proved to be a fair sized living space. Though two people might feel cramped, one would fit more than comfortably. Thankful that its coating of dust and cobwebs was light, the singer set her things down and lit a few candles.

A large bed took up one part of the room with a linen press at its foot. A fireplace set into one wall had a soft looking chair before it. Near the shuttered window stood a wooden table, upon which sat sheets of vellum, quills and ink as well as wooden flutes and a lute. Next to the table was a music stand. The woman shook her head and spoke to herself, "A whole castle, and I manage to find the room of a music maker."

She walked up to the bed and carefully stripped off the top cover, making sure to trap the dust within it. Though the lower layers were a bit musty, there didn't seem to be any bed bugs in them. Spotting some incense on the mantle, the bard burned enough to make the air thick with smoke. Satisfied that any small creatures in the room had gone in search of less pungent sleeping places, she started a fire. Finally, she got ready for bed and curled up under the covers to fall asleep to the moans of the strengthening storm.

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The door to the singer's room opened softly, and a figure stepped in. Quietly it approached and laid a hand upon the sleeping woman's shoulder. The brown eyes opened and winced away from the candle's flame in the darkness. The figure murmured two words that shot the bard out of bed as if sent by a catapult.

She took only enough time to pull on her boots before tearing out of the room. Down the darkened hallways the songweaver raced, her heart pulling her along with divining-rod insistence. All she knew was that she needed to be somewhere else immediately. The further she ran, the more her gut turned into a writhing knot of pain.

After a short time which took an eternity to pass, the journeyman crashed in through a door. Looking about frantically, she spotted a tearstained face, and her heart tore in half. A small autumn-haired woman fell into her arms with a soul-rent wail.

The singer gasped and opened her eyes to sullen darkness. Wildly she searched the shadows, a battering-ram pulse slamming against her ribs. Another wail keened into her ears as the wind blew past the towered heights of the keep. A shaking hand ran through chestnut tresses. The bard's shoulders slumped as the dream faded and receded back into the night.

With a shiver, she quickly put another log on the fire and dove back under the covers. Closing her eyes firmly, the silver-tongued woman willed sleep to once again take her in its arms

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The singer shivered from the cold draft of air hitting her bare torso. As she started to open her eyes, a small hand quickly laid itself over her face, blocking the view. A light voice a bit higher than hers scolded, "I told you to keep your eyes shut."

"I'm getting cold."

"Well, if you'd be good and keep your eyes shut, I could finish faster, now couldn't I?" the voice asked reasonably.

The bard huffed, "I don't know why I couldn't do it myself."

"Hush...." Warm lips pressed softly against the bard's own, startling her. She forgot all about the chilly air in the wake of the heat those lips started within her. The world seemed to flip over when equally warm hands touched her skin and a small body pressed into her. In a daze, the songweaver leaned into the kiss.

The smaller woman pulled away, chuckling, "That never fails to get you quiet. Now let me finish." The bard groaned in frustration.

There was a rustle, and then warm cloth descended over the journeyman's head. Following the directions given by the soft voice, the woman got into some clothes. She felt arms encircle her waist briefly then felt the hands tying something at her navel. She realized it must be a belt.

"All right, you can open your eyes now."

The first thing that she saw were brown eyes twinkling at her in merriment. Then the small autumn-haired woman moved out of the way, and the singer saw her reflection. The clothes were a gorgeous pair of blue trews with a dark green tunic. The cuffs and hem were trimmed with bands of blue cloth woven with white harps in them. The same material made up the belt, but it had only one harp on each end.

The small woman leaned up and whispered in the journeyman's ear, "Happy birthday, ∆lfwynn."

At the same moment, the songweaver looked at her own face in the mirror. Peering back at her were slate-grey eyes framed by long ebony hair....

The singer sat bolt upright in her bed. Grasping for the remnants of the fading dream, she could only remember the grey eyes gazing back at her. "I heard my name, but that wasn't my face, " she whispered to herself uneasily. ∆lfwynn got out of bed pulling her cloak closely around her. Peering out of the window, she saw that, at least for a time, the storm's fury had abated. The snow fell gently as morning brightened into day.

After dressing and eating, the journeyman took a closer look at the contents of the room. The flutes and lute were still in good repair, though they could stand a good cleaning. She also noticed a harp case; however it was empty.

Next, she opened the linen press at the foot of the bed. The air inside still held a faint scent of lavender blossoms, for there were little bundles of the flowers throughout the chest. ∆lfwynn picked up each garment carefully, not sure of how badly age had deteriorated them. Her hand brushed across a dark green cloth in excellent condition, so skillfully had it been woven. As she lifted it, she became suddenly still as death. Beneath the cloth sat a belt of blue with a white harp woven into each end. Trembling, she stood and unfolded the green cloth, already knowing that she would find white harps edging the hem and cuffs. These were the garments that the grey-eyed woman...no, that she had worn in the dream. Not quite ready to contemplate what was going on, the silver-tongued songweaver decided to explore the silent castle.

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On the first floor of the high-towered castle, ∆lfwynn saw a large set of double doors. Placing her torch in a holder on the wall, she threw her weight against one of the heavy oak panels. Once opened, she picked up the torch and went in.

The flame pierced the darkness for only a few feet. Even holding it high above her head, the bard could see nothing past a small circle of light. She called out into the darkness, and her voice echoed around what must have been a large room. Squeaks and skitterings moved off into the distance, and she spun around towards the sounds. Suddenly she jumped back with a yelp of fright as something hissed and two points of green shone back at her. A loud meow followed the woman's scream before the creature ran off.

∆lfwynn calmed herself with her voice, "It was just a cat, you fool bard! Gods, please let that have been the largest thing in here besides myself."

Instead of stepping into the vast blackness, she went along the wall to the side of the door. As hoped, the silver-tongued bard found a series of torches lining the wall. With each one that was lit, the darkness pushed further back. Before long, it became apparent that the room was the great hall of the high-towered castle.

When almost all of the right half of the vast hall was lit with torches, ∆lfwynn saw something gleaming out of the corner of her eye. Looking in that direction, her breath caught in her throat. In the front center of the great hall upon a dais stood an intricately carved throne of rich brown wood. Upon it sat the most beautiful woman the bard had ever seen.

In a daze, she set the torch into a holder and walked up to the autumn-haired lady who sat silent and still. The throne and woman were the only things so far within the mighty, ancient walls which time and dust had not touched. The dark green gown the lady wore was cut in an old style yet looked as if it had just been made the day before.

Curious at the unnatural stillness, the songweaver reached out her hand to the woman's cheek. She gasped at the cold hardness that greeted her touch. Tentatively, she felt the multihued tresses. Those, too, were hard. ∆lfwynn drew back in wonder. "Stone?" she whispered. "Who could carve such a lifelike statue? Who would dress it in a gown and place it upon a throne?"

∆lfwynn could not tear her gaze away from the stone woman. She looked alive, as if merely asleep, so rosy were her lips and cheeks. That face seemed familiar to the bard, and she furrowed her brows in thought. Then she remembered. This was the woman in her dreams; the one who cried in her arms, the one whose kiss she could still feel whisper-soft upon her mouth.

She spoke quietly to the seated woman, "Who are you? How is it that you came to me in my dreams? You were crying so hard...I wish I knew what hurt your heart so sorely."

∆lfwynn sighed and bowed her head. When she raised her eyes again, her gaze landed on a familiarly shaped object just beyond the carved throne. Stepping closer, she wiped away a thick coating of dust and cobwebs, revealing the golden-brown wood of a harp. Silver strings shone in the light from the torches. Never before had the songweaver seen such a finely made instrument. The frame was one solid piece of wood...a tree that had been carefully grown into the shape of the harp. Plucking a string carefully, it sang out in a voice so sweetly pure that no mortal hand could have crafted it.

Turning back to the lady of stone, ∆lfwynn asked, "This was hers wasn't it? The woman in whose room I slept was your bard, and somehow she had harp made by elves. I heard tales, but I never thought I'd see one with my own eyes." She noted how close the elf-gifted harp sat to the throne.

"You must have loved music...her music, to have her so close. I could play for you, My Lady. I know I'm not your bard, but might I pretend for a little while? I'll play you music and believe that somehow you can hear it." The songweaver's heart clenched in her chest as she spoke, "While I play, may I pretend that you love me as much as you loved her?" Slowly leaning forward, she pressed soft, warm lips against cold, hard ones briefly before pulling away.

After carefully tuning the silver-strung harp, ∆lfwynn took a deep breath and hesitated. She wanted to play her best for the green-clad lady of stone. Clearing her mind, the bard began to pluck the strings. The notes of harp and voice echoed from the darkness of the vast hall. Outside of the high-towered castle the wind once again keened sorrowfully among the lonely turrets.

Silver-voiced ∆lfwynn sang continuously, her fingers blending one song into the next. As has happened in the cottage, she felt a pull guiding her into songs which she had never before played. Yet this time it felt different; the force came from within, and she immediately knew how each song would end. Letting go, the songweaver closed her brown eyes as her fingers flew over the strings.

Without sight, memories raced through her mind. ∆lfwynn remembered the joy of passing time with the warmhearted princess, sunlight and shadow complimenting each other. The music changed as the bard relived her fear for the queen who would not cry. Tears streamed down her face with the memories of a broken heart lying in frozen snow. The sharp-toothed storm shrieked and howled in renewed fury at the mighty, ancient walls as inside the pure-voiced harp sang out the desperation and ache of fever-induced pleas from so long ago.

Candlemarks passed without the bard once stopping her enthralled playing. In time, the silver-strung harp bit into ∆lfwynn's fingers. Blood stained the strings as tears stained the bard's cheeks, yet she kept on. The songsmith played as if possessed by the memories awakening within her. They demanded that she continue, and she had to obey

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It was cold here, but the woman refused to think of it. Thinking would remind her that she was alone. Knowing that she was alone would bring to mind those who had gone and why. That brought on pain which led to tears. There were just too many of them, and the woman feared she would drown if they fell. So instead she refused to cry, refused to even think of the things which hurt. She had gotten very good at this. What good would it do anyway? There was nothing left except darkness and the howling wind.

Nothing, until a warm touch invaded the mists of her dreams. A touch followed by a sound which she knew better than almost any other in the world. A harp as pure-voiced as the elves themselves. A singer added words to the harp's music, and this surprised the woman, for the sound was not exactly what she had expected. It was familiar yet different enough that she began to listen.

The queen hadn't heard music in a very long time, so long that she did not even know how many years had passed by. The songs were all new to her, and her curiosity won over her inclination to hide deep within the cold.

Suddenly the song changed to one she knew all too well. The young-crowned queen saw laughing slate-grey eyes, and this time she did run. She hid behind walls of indifference long ago built around her heart. She couldn't bear to hear that song, for it brought back the memories of all the things she wished to forget.

Everywhere she turned, she was met by music familiar to her. The deeper she tried to hide, the further it would follow. No matter how hard the queen closed off her heart, the storm of emotions held in the songs was always stronger. Everything spun faster and faster around her.

The young-crowned queen finally stopped fighting the music and slowly let herself feel again after a century. She began to remember the songsmith who had grown up with her. A small smile formed on Ceinwen's lips as she thought of all the happy times they had spent together. Oh, how she missed those long walks hand in hand with ∆lfwynn, the shadow to her sunlight.

A voice passed through her mind, "She loved you more than anything...even her music." That brought back images of the times ∆lfwynn forged new tunes, her slate-grey eyes never once leaving the warmhearted princess. Ceinwen could still feel how the bard had trembled in her arms as their lips met on their nineteenth birthday. ∆lfwynn hadn't been the only one to tremble at the touch.

Ceinwen finally realized what her heart had been trying to tell her for so many years...that she was in love with her best friend. The revelation came too late though, for ∆lfwynn was gone, long dead. Not just dead, for snatches of the elf-bard's angry words echoed in her head, "∆lfwynn fled into a raging storm with a heart shattered by your hate-filled words. She would play anything if only you would come see her.... You never came."

"When I am queen, I will not ignore you. You'll always be first in my heart," the sunlight princess' vow now rang accusingly in Ceinwen's mind. She knew the wordweaver was right to call her an oathbreaker. The heartache ∆lfwynn must have felt those last days, sure that her love cared not at all about her, tore the princess in two. This time she didn't run from the pain.

The light from the torches in the great hall sparkled as it caught on a single tear sliding from the bejeweled statue. When a second tear fell, it came from warm brown eyes that blinked slowly, as if awakening. Fingers twitched as Ceinwen took a breath and stopped. The music wasn’t a dream nor had been the touch of a kiss upon her lips.

Trembling, the green-clad woman turned her head toward the sound. There sat a bard, eyes closed, with her own tears streaming down her face. In the firelight, her hair looked ebony. Confused, Ceinwen found enough of her voice to whisper, "∆lfwynn?"

With a gasp, the bard stopped playing and spun around at the sound of her name. There upon the finely-carved throne sat not the lady of stone but the living woman from her dreams. Moments passed in which the two barely breathed. Then a name came to the bard's lips, "Ceinwen...."

Ceinwen looked into the brown eyes of the woman before her. Like an autumn leaf, she sank down at the bard's feet. Could she hope that somehow...? "∆lfwynn? Is it really you?"

∆lfwynn raised a shaking hand to the sunlight princess' face. She hesitated before touching the cheek, fearful that her fingers would meet cold stone. Her heart began to pound when her knuckles felt the warmth of flesh lean into her caress with a sigh. As she stared down into the fawn-soft eyes, the silver-voiced songsmith murmured words she remembered from another lifetime, "Even if I should die, I'll find a way to bring you music."

Ceinwen sobbed anew at the truth those words proclaimed...this woman was her bard! When she spoke, her voice was thick with sorrow, "The world has never known such a true heart as yours. Even through death, you kept your vow to me, yet I did nothing but break mine to you." She took the raw fingers in her hands and placed soft kisses on each one. "You played until you bled...."

"Ceinwen, I should have done so ninety-nine years ago."

"I'm so sorry for everything...turning you away and not coming when you needed me," the princess bent her head toward the floor.

A hand on her chin beckoned the small woman to look back up. The brown eyes held hers softly, "It was another life for me...everything is renewed." Gathering her courage, ∆lfwynn spoke her feelings, "Ceinwen, I fear my heart is no longer my own, for you captured it in my dreams and again here in this hall. I love you. Could you love me as once you loved your grey-eyed songsmith?"

The warmhearted princess searched the face of the bard above her in silence, looking within her own heart as well. Finding her answers, she spoke quietly, "I can see my friend within you, and I know your soul is hers. The part of you that is her I love already. As for the rest...." She glanced around the vast darkness, seeing another time, and sighed, "For ninety-nine years it has been my curse to be ignored by all, just as I ignored ∆lfwynn. I could see the people look right through me. Out of all who laid their eyes upon me, only you saw past the stone and found the woman within. Though you had no reason to, you spoke to me as if I were alive. I heard your words, I heard your music...I felt your kiss. How could I not fall in love with that?" Ceinwen smiled up at the bard through her tears, "I love you, too."

∆lfwynn's breath came out in a sigh as she, too, smiled. Then bending her head low, she met the autumn-haired princess' lips with the reverence of wonder. They found themselves pressing closer together as each of their souls touched and recognized its counterpart. Some time later, they found themselves sitting together in each others arms, eyes closed and faces nuzzled against the other.

Ceinwen did not move when she spoke with a soft smile upon her lips, "∆lfwynn, listen."

The silver-voiced songweaver obliged. "I don't hear anything."

Ceinwen nodded into the chest before her, "That's just it. The winds....they've stopped." The fury of the storm had finally played itself out. The winds shifted to the East and blew lightly around the high-towered castle.

Shadow and sunlight made their way up to the bard's room. The evening passed by without notice as the two women gave form to their love. Late in the night, the lovers, with bodies entwined, fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.

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In the morning, ∆lfwynn and Ceinwen prepared to leave the deserted high-towered castle. There was nothing left there, save for dust and old memories of another lifetime long past. ∆lfwynn wished to go visit Grandmother again. She had a promise to fulfill and a tale to tell. She also wanted to let Grandmother know that something good can, and did, come from the West.

They took very little with them beside warm traveling clothes for the autumn-haired princess. The crystal necklace was a gift from the songsmith that never left her neck. The forest green gown had been worn by the gentle-hearted queen before Ceinwen put it on for that fateful Yule celebration. The gold belt and circlet were given to her by the king on her nineteenth birthday. Other than these things, Ceinwen only asked that ∆lfwynn take the green tunic and blue belt she had woven by hand for her childhood friend. The bard complied.

The day was bright and clear as the sun warmed the cool air. Only the snow on the ground remained, giving silent testament to the bitter storms which had raged down upon the land.

As the lovers approached the great moss covered rocks where they had long ago taken oaths, a woman stepped into the path. She stood with crossed arms, a wordless challenge apparent in her bearing. Ceinwen came to a stop and swallowed nervously. Seeing her companion tremble, ∆lfwynn moved closer to her with gentle words, "What is it?"

"The elf bard...."

∆lfwynn looked closely at the raven-haired wordweaver; the first elf she had ever seen. She recognized the woman from the memories of the day before, so she could not remain completely awed with the experience. She reassured Ceinwen, "I won't let her hurt you."

The princess met the bard's eyes, "You were like a daughter to her. I took that away from her."

"That ∆lfwynn is long dead...let the guilt die, too. If you can say that I would have wanted you to punish yourself forever, then you were a fool to have fallen in love with me."

Ceinwen sighed, "It's just that I'm sorry I caused her pain."

The brown-eyed songsmith cupped a soft cheek. "Then tell her that and move on. I'll be with you."

The women held each other's gaze while strength was freely offered and accepted. The princess nodded, and the two walked resolutely up the wordweaver. Silence descended upon the three for an eternity. It was the elf who spoke first, "I see you've managed to melt your heart."

Ceinwen searched the dirt for words before looking up into the piercing blue countenance. "Yes. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. Can you forgive me?"

The wordweaver's expression softened completely, "I forgave you long ago, Ceinwen...you just had to let yourself feel again." She reached forward and hugged the princess.

Pulling back, the elf bard turned to the second woman. She smiled, "∆lfwynn...you are truly this elf's joy. No matter what form you wear, you will always be the daughter of my heart and spirit."

∆lfwynn wrapped her arms around the dark elf. "Thank you for giving her a chance to live again."

"You're welcome." The elf bard cocked her head to the side, "It seems to me that you forgot something at the castle." ∆lfwynn's heart skipped a beat when she looked where the wordweaver pointed and saw the elf-gifted harp. The voice came from above her, "She is as much yours as she was the day I gave her to you."

"How can I ever thank you?"

"Play her for me someday."

"I will. Thank you." ∆lfwynn gave the raven-haired woman another hug before the wordweaver took her leave

∆lfwynn and Ceinwen journeyed back to Grandmother's cottage. The old woman was delighted to see her friend return. As before, she had a large delicious meal waiting for her guests.

After they ate their fill, ∆lfwynn regaled Grandmother with the tale of her travels. Ceinwen added the story of growing up with the songsmith and everything that had happened to bring the curse down upon her head.

With tears glistening in her eyes, Grandmother said, "Something good indeed has come out of the West. What a sad and beautiful tale." She spoke to the air beside her, "Thank you for waiting until ∆lfwynn here came back."

The bard looked in askance toward the green eyes, "Grandmother, why did you say that?"

"Child, your love is not the only one who has returned." When the young women knelt before her, Grandmother took their hands. "Children, I'll be hearing my song again tonight when I go to sleep."

The bard's brow furrowed as she whispered, "No...it can't be."

A wrinkled hand touched the songweaver's cheek softly, "There, there Child. I'm ready for my rest."

Tears filled the brown eyes, "I'll miss you, Grandmother."

"I'll miss you, too. I won't be far...and I won't be gone long." She wiped away the tears of the woman who had brought such joy to her last days. "These old walls have been without music for far too long. Please say you'll stay here. There would be no one to look after my babies otherwise." She nodded toward the dogs and cats asleep on the rugs.

Ceinwen spoke when she saw her love could not, "We would be honored to remain, Grandmother."

"Thank you, sweet Child. You take care of this one. If she's anything like my bard, and she is, she'll be a stubborn one!" They all laughed, and the mood remained lighter. Grandmother looked at the songweaver, "Now, are you going to let me hear what an elf harp sounds like?"

∆lfwynn played long into the night. After several candlemarks, Grandmother beckoned the harper over to her, "Sit here with me, Child. This last song is not yours to play."

The bard came over and gave the old woman a hug and kiss. She sat and held the wrinkled hand. Ceinwen sat beside her, wrapping her arms around her love.

When Grandmother smiled, they looked at the harp once more. A woman of mist and air sat behind it and began to play a song of love for her green-eyed lady. As she played, she never took her eyes away from the ones which slowly became heavy-lidded. When the song was over, ∆lfwynn felt Grandmother's spirit rise up from her body. Ceinwen held her close as they both cried tears of sadness and joy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

In the spring, ∆lfwynn and Ceinwen sat in a glade on a star-strewn night. They were not alone, for the fae folk were gathered with their queen for a night of revelry. The two women had been accepted into the gathering just as the noble king, his gentle-hearted queen and their friends had been so long ago.

When there was a lull in the music, ∆lfwynn stood up and bowed to the wise queen, "Your Majesty, if I may. It is my Lady Ceinwen's birthday this evening, and I have a present I would like to give her."

The beautiful elf queen smiled happily and bid the bard to bestow her gift.

∆lfwynn spoke directly to her love, "As I have given you every year since we were five, I have written a song as your present, My Love."

Tears of joy and love fell from the autumn-gold haired princess as ∆lfwynn sang....

Westward walked a bard

To a place she'd never been.

Seeking out new stories

But finding only winds.

Winds which shrieked in fury,

Moaning out their despair;

Angered at the queen

Who'd forgotten how to care.

Up to darkened castle

Rising 'gainst the sky

The weary bard approached

And shouting out, did cry,

"Oh let me in your walls,

Give me shelter from the storm.

I'll play long in the night,

I will sing until the dawn."

The mighty, ancient walls

Did not answer yea or nay.

When the bard walked in,

She found darkness dank and grey.

In the castle's great hall

A lady clad in green

With beauty charmed the bard,

Who at once began to sing.

"Lovely lady queen

Sitting high upon your throne,

You have won my heart

Though you are only stone.

Let me play my music

And tell you how I feel.

For one brief moment let me

Pretend that you are real."

The queen had long been cursed

To live in stony sleep

Until her heart could melt,

And she once again did weep.

In deserted castle

With cobwebs all around,

The years passed by until the day

She heard the bard's sweet sound.

The music sounded boldly,

Ringing long and clear.

The queen remembered sadly

A bard she held most dear.

The curse was finally lifted

As tears fell down her cheek.

She knelt before the singer

And soft these words did speak.

"Oh lovely lady bard

I heard all of your words.

And though I lost my singer,

I know her soul is yours.

How could I fail to love you,

Sweet melter of my heart?

I swear to you that from this day

We'll never be apart."

 

The End


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