Argent Stag, Silver Rose

Chapter Six: Divine Intervention

The moment we enter the trees, I can feel almost a sense of welcoming peace and anticipation. She's waiting for us, and my midnight-black stallion knows the way. Closing my eyes a moment, I loosely lash the reins to the saddlehorn, giving Sable his head. My hands free, I wrap my other arm around my precious sibling and hold her close as we trot through the forest on a path I swear wasn't there before.

The woods look the same, the same thousands of shades of browns and greens marked here and there by the brilliant specks of berries or wildflowers. The scent is the same clean, crisp outdoors smell, a smell that is one of the reasons why I enjoy the hunt so much. As we make our way deeper into the tall trees, I get a sense that civilization and towns and fortresses are all merely dreams and this is what will be eternal . . .

Sable seems almost eager, coltish, as he trots into the depths of the forest. I nestle against Malaquin as he slips his other arm around me; the sense of warm welcome and expectation surround us. The scents of the wood are familiar, comforting.

I make a soft sound as I glimpse a familiar clearing; there's the pond, and the low earthen mound of the cave where I had lain beneath my brother in the sacred mating. But surely it wasn't this close to the castle? . . .

She said it was beyond this place, farther into the forest than where the spirit of the King Stag had filled me and I had stepped into adulthood with my twin at my side. Not sure what Madule's sound was for, I nuzzle her in worry. "Are you okay? Am I hurting you somehow?"

Sable keeps going, kicking up his heels in an almost eager way. I have to wonder about that. I've heard that the Goddess sometimes takes on the aspect of a mare. In fact, there's supposed to be some special anniversary coming up soon over in Graywinds that happens once every century that has to do with the white mare cut into the chalk topsoil of White Horse Valley and the Mother Mare aspect of the Goddess.

I shake my head a little, watching as the clearing falls away behind us, vanishing into the forest. It's so strange that we came upon it that quickly.

Time doesn't seem to matter, though. There's a peaceful, eternal sense here beneath the trees of this ancient forest; it's as though nothing could touch us here.

I'm wrong, though. I begin to cough--harsh, tearing coughs that shake my entire body in Malaquin's arms. There's a dreadful note to those coughs, and I feel a wild sense of fear; what if I die before we can reach the waterfall?

Madule's wracking coughs alarm me. I plunge a hand into my belt pouch and pull out whatever packet of herbs comes to my searching fingers. Balancing the best I can, as only a man training to fight from horseback since he was fourteen can, I open the packet and start pressing the ground herbs into Madule's mouth, though I must confess it's not a very elegant operation due to the necessity of the moment.

Still, I trust the Great Mother. No, she wouldn't let us get this close, only to snatch my beloved twin away. I know She can be cruel sometimes, but it's always for the best interests of all when she is.

Sable continues on, sure of his path through the greenwood.

I manage to grab Malaquin's arm and keep him from stuffing the herbs into me, giving him a disgruntled look through watering eyes. I'm the one trained in herbcraft and healing, and he's certainly using the wrong stuff there. I manage to get hold of the water flask at his saddle and put *that* into his hand instead, then poke weakly inside his belt pouch until I find the right little packet.

I must confess, I'm not exactly the most polite or genteel of men when I'm anxious or frustrated. When it's obvious that I've grabbed the wrong thing and get the water flask shoved at me instead, it's all I can do to not growl, Well excuse me! at her.

The most I know of healcraft is first aid on a battlefield.

I feel like a complete dunce. "Sorry . . . I was trying," I do finally manage to mutter.

I manage a shaky smile at him, then begin coughing again. Unable to handle the flask and the herbs with my shaking hands, I motion weakly for him to put a pinch of the ground leaves into the bottle, then let me drink from it.

I nod, still feeling like a dunce. Taking the herbs from her and wrestling open the flask--not an easy task on a moving horse, even for a knight in training as I am--I manage to get some in there and close up the flask again, swirling it to mix the contents up better.

I then hand the container to my sister. "There. I hope this helps you."

I can't hold onto the flask; I have to wrap my fingers over Malaquin's to keep it steady as I struggle to drink some of the herb-laced water. After a few sips, the coughing stops; feeling utterly exhausted, I lean against him again, my hands dropping into my lap.

"Malaquin . . . I'm scared . . ." I whimper, my chin falling to my chest. "So scared . . ."

"Please, Madule, please," I beg her, my voice breaking slightly. "Just stay with me. It can't be much farther. Oh Goddess . . . Please . . . I can't lose her, I can't . . ."

The peace and welcoming feelings are still there, promising. What, I'm not sure, but I must have hope. I must trust in the Goddess that saw fit to accept me as the Horned One, the incarnation of the Consort.

Then I lift my head up. Am I dreaming? Or is that the sound of running water in the distance? It seems to come from where Sable's heading.

I close my eyes at the pain in his voice, that plea to the Goddess. I feel so weak, as though the air and light that had given me that brief burst of strength is now leeching it away, draining it out of me the way the priest had drained my blood so many times.

I had almost died before, when we were children. Though Malaquin had retained the strength to cry, to ask for food or water, to respond when someone spoke to him, I had been unable to do anything but lie still in our bed, listlessly taking water or soup when it was given, not even crying over the pain of my throat and mouth.

I feel like that again, coming closer and closer to a terminal weakness.

Despite the awful effort, I force my hand up to touch Malaquin's face; then my fingers tremble and fall away, my hand dropping into my lap again as a terrible cold creeps into me.

My eyes won't open, but I hear my beloved brother's gasp and see the sudden brilliant dazzle of light on my eyelids as Sable steps out into the clearing. There's a wondrous, tinkling music . . .

I hope it's not too late after all, the hope and promise of everything being all right once again dangling there before me, only to watch it slip away even as my fingers curl around it to grasp it.

The rocky outcropping is nearly ten feet high, stretching to the back and sweeping around the sides of the clearing. The waterfall gushes from very near the top, spilling down over rounded ledges of shimmering, crystal-speckled stone to fall, frothing gently, into the deep, startlingly clear pool, ten feet across. For a moment, as the destrier comes to a halt, the pool reflects as a vivid, intense emerald-green.

I feel tears in my eyes, from the panicked sadness to the heartrending beauty of this place. If I had thought ill of the people of the Church desecrating the spot where the feis was held, I know with a sense of deep awe that this place is even more precious, more easily shattered.

I would never wish to give this wondrous place to oblivion. As I dismount, pulling my unresponsive twin with me, I can't help but wonder if somehow we've crossed over into Faery.

Still, I'll gawk at the natural beauty around me later. I need to get my sister into the water, that mirror-bright liquid that for a moment seemed to be as green as our eyes. To hell with stripping off our clothes; I hope someone had the foresight to make sure we both had a change stuffed into Sable's saddlebags.

My haste and my growing unease make me unusually inelegant, my natural grace failing me. I stumble from my perch atop Sable, then stumble more trying to get to that glistening pool of water at the base of the breathtaking little waterfall. The only concession to not getting my clothing wet is kicking off my riding boots on the move. I know they'll be *hell* to dry out if I step into the water with them still on.

"Daddy . . ." It's such a sad, pitiful whimper; sounding so very far away. Is that my voice? Is it me? "Mommy . . . Mommy . . ."

I'm so hot--and so cold at the same time. It's so hard to breathe; a terrible weakness crawls through me, my body going limp and useless in my brother's arms as my voice grows fainter.

"M-Mal . . . aquin . . . Malaquin . . ."

I feel him stumble, jarring me; the ache leaps into a sharp pain that jolts through me, wringing a soft, whimpering moan from my swollen throat. Goddess, it hurts . . .


It's a soft, soft word, delivered in a beautifully clear and musical voice.

The woman's standing near the edge of the pool, beside the rocky rise that births the waterfall. She's slender, her form clad in a simple white gown with a silver belt; silver, too, is the magnificent hair that falls down over each shoulder in a thick braid. Long, heavy locks hang loose at either side of her face, veiling her features; those locks shimmer and stir as she lifts a willowy white arm to point a slim finger at the pool.

"Hurry, young prince . . .


The lady in silver certainly didn't have to urge me on; the growing weakness and encroaching darkness, the barely audible whimpers of my beloved--they're all I truly need to know that time is so fleetingly short. But the shimmering pool isn't that far away . . .

Water splashes around me, rainbows glimmering within their tiny prisons as my slightly violent entrance into the pool sends droplets flying from me to add to the cadence of the silvery sound of the falls themselves.

I don't stop once the cool liquid covers my feet, or even when its wet embrace clings to my knees. Though the weight pulls on me as my clothing drinks up the water, I'm used to carrying far heavier loads and forge on ahead. Loath to let my sister go, I wade out into the pool with her still in my arms, making my way deeper in until the water comes up to nearly my shoulders and the ends of my raven colored locks are swirling in the pool around me.

Then I stop and stare at my dear twin's still-beautiful face, equal measures of hope and dread within me. "Madule? My princess?" I softly ask, almost holding my breath in suspense.

I can feel coolness lapping around me, soaking the back of my head, tickling my ears. It feels . . . so good, a coolness that soothes the fever-heat and moderates the creeping ice . . . but it's not enough. Not enough . . .

"Let her go, young prince." Such a beautiful voice. "Put your trust in the Goddess to restore, and in your sister to return to you . . ."

I choke on my gasp, then turn to look at the lady in silver standing there. Let her go, to sink into the depths of the pond? At least I manage to close my mouth--it had fallen open in shock--as I turn my head to look at my dear sister again.

I do trust the Goddess and my twin both. So why am I crying as I make my trembling hands let her go? A sob escapes my control as I take a step back, my vision swimming with unshed tears as I watch Madule as best I can slip from my embrace into that of the water. Despite the assurance and my belief that I won't be left all alone, I feel almost as if I've just buried her at sea . . .

I feel his arms slip away from me, and a horrible fear sweeps over me; is he giving up? Abandoning me? Oh, Malaquin, *no* . . .

The weight of my waterlogged garments pulls me inevitably down, down, and the coolness flows over my face. I try to hold my breath, reaching blindly for the surface again, but I can't--I can't.

The water surges into my mouth and nose, flooding down my swollen throat, into my inflamed lungs. Instinctive terror makes me struggle as I sink; weak as I am, the mortal threat galvanizes me. I feel one hand break the surface, then fall back as the water pulls me down again; I know that my twin can feel my consuming fear.

Then . . . I feel so peaceful. It's almost comforting here, quiet and dim, a gentle tingling seeping out through my ravaged body.

The tears spill down my cheeks to splash into the pond, lost in that sea of liquid, lost in Madule's body's struggle. Her hand breaks the surface, clawing for air, for salvation, the animal part of her not understanding that this is the path to that promised salvation.

She's terrified. So am I, to be honest, yet, there's a part of me that *knows* it will be all right in the end. As I turn my watery gaze to look back at the lady in silver, I'm reminded of the feis and what I went through.

I close my eyes, reaching out with my awareness, letting her know that I'm still there, waiting for her to return to me. This is something she must face herself, but I'm there. I'm there. "Trust Her," I murmur, perhaps to us both.

The silver lady rests one hand against the rocky wall, tossing her head slightly to get those thick locks out of her face. Above eyes of vivid emerald green, a shining crescent moon rides upon her brow, held by a slim circlet; she watches in silence, a slight smile on her surpassingly lovely face.

The silence, the peace . . . I feel as if something's missing. Something important.

"Trust Her."

Malaquin--it's not right because Malaquin's not with me. But he can't follow me; he has to be the prince. This land needs him, and he needs me. I have to go back to him, but I don't know the way!

I struggle for the surface again, my whole world contracting to one thought, one driving goal. I have to reach Malaquin. I have to reach Malaquin. I have to . . .

"I'm right here, my beloved princess, my sister . . ." I say it to the surface of that pond, now something far more solid than just the division between water and air. I can sense Madule trying, though the feeling seems to come from far, far away. I stretch my hand out, palm upward, fingertips almost brushing the glimmering surface; I'm frozen in place, unable to do more. Though I stand in the water up to my waist--my steps backward as I had let Madule go had taken me toward the shore--it's a world I can't enter, not yet. Not yet . . .

I have to stay here, to see to the welfare of Her people, to be the Horned One that protects the Tribe, to be the one that puts his life on the line for the peace and prosperity of the realm.

I promised not to leave him. We promised that we'd always take care of each other. He's done as much as he can for me, bringing me here; now I have to keep my part of the promise and return to his side.

As I become aware of my body again, I feel the swelling of my throat and mouth subside, the infection leaving my lungs with every exhalation of water; strength comes back to me as the ache drains away, as the erosion of my flesh is reversed.

My hand touches his from the other side of the water's surface, my fingers lacing through his. He lifts his arm as I rise from the depths, water sheeting off of my face and slicking my hair.

I know that I'm healthy again, and I watch his face as I surface to stand with him, our hands still joined.

Like the most perfect of miracles, my beloved's hand once again breaks the surface of the water, twining her hand with mine. I pull her to me, my restored princess, my precious love, the tear that falls to mingle with the water one of purest joy.

It's one of the very few times I have cried for any reason.

I hold her tightly against me, pressing my face to her shoulder, waiting for the intensity of the emotion to lesson somewhat. "Madule . . . Ah, Goddess, Madule!" I call out in joy and relief, my voice raw with emotion.

I bury my face in his shoulder as well, clinging to him, feeling a vast surge of relief. I'm with him again, and both of us are safe; it's something that makes my soul sing.

"Malaquin . . . oh, Malaquin . . ." I murmur the words against the side of his neck, joy and love thickening my voice. "I was so afraid that you wouldn't come to me in time . . ."

"I'm so sorry. I knew something was wrong somewhere, but I couldn't tell anything beyond that. Forgive me, my love, forgive me. I would never have allowed such poor treatment to continue . . ." I lean back, bracing her beautiful, beautiful face between my hands, just drinking in the sight of her, her health and rosy glow restored to her.

I'm so thankful. I don't have to be alone . . .

"It's not your fault," I murmur softly, then smile at him as he lays his hands against my cheeks. I feel so much better just knowing that I'm no longer wasted and pale with sickness. "I just kept hoping that you would come home."

The silver lady smiles as she watches.

"You knew I would. You've been ill for a couple of weeks. I returned home from Westmarch as scheduled, though I did make the trip home in something of a rush. Elaine met me in the inner bailey, yelling that I needed to get to you right away," I offer by way of explanation.

I fall silent, content to just stare at her until at last I give in to the impulse that's been prodding me ever since I pulled her up from the embrace of the gleaming water.

My eyes fall closed as I lean down, the wind from the water ruffling my raven-black hair as I give my sister a kiss that's far from the chaste one one would expect from a brother.

"It was hard to figure out the passage of time . . . there was never anything but candlelight in my room thanks to that priest. I just didn't know how long it would go on, but I *had* to wait for you . . ."

I shut my eyes, lifting my face eagerly for his kiss. I don't care who's watching or what they might think; I *love* him, and I've been longing for him ever since he rode out of Hart Castle over a month ago.

Goddess, how I've missed her! I press her wet body to mine, marvelling anew at how perfectly we seem made for one another. I coax her mouth open, then slip my tongue in to twine sensuously with hers.

My heart shines with joy, my soul singing with love. I fear she's in my very blood, because I couldn't stop thinking about her at all. Needless to say, there are a few men in my entourage that are beginning to wonder about me--at least, I think so from their expressions.

I don't think telling the camp follower to get the hell out of my tent's pallet really proved to the other knights my manliness. Hell with them.

I fit myself against him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders, burying my fingers in his dampened hair as I answer that delicious kiss eagerly. I missed him, missed him so much--every day, when I had been organizing the castle, I kept wondering what he would think. And wondering if he was meeting other women--after all, he had been visiting the houses of various nobles, and no doubt they had been throwing their daughters at him.

Oh, Malaquin, how can we spend all summer apart?

Gently, reluctantly, I break the kiss and smile down at her. I rather like the way her lips look after a passionate kiss. Sliding my hands down her form--with her clothes soaking wet, I'm well aware of her feminine curves--I scoop her up into my arms again and turn with her.

It's not until I'm pulling our dripping bodies from the water, and I swear the shining liquid caresses me before it lets me go--you must be hallucinating in reaction to the stress, Malaquin--that I finally look over at where the stunningly beautiful lady in silver was standing. Who could she be? Some Fay that watches over this place? Or could she somehow be . . . No, She doesn't walk the lands of men anymore, or so I've heard.

I pout a little as he pulls away, then snuggle against him as he lifts me, carrying me up out of the cool pond. Of course, I know I probably look like a drowned kitten, my hair and clothes soaking wet. Catching Malaquin's gaze, I look over as well, startled.

The silver lady smiles at us, inclining her head gracefully; when I glimpse her eyes, I can't help but gasp. Green eyes, like mine and Malaquin's--the rare, lovely shade of flawless emeralds.

I offer the woman a smile in return, absently snuggling with my twin as I continue to hold her in my arms. "Thank you, kind lady, for your aid. I may have hesitated to enter the water had you not confirmed for me that I was to go there. And for that, I'm truly grateful."

"You already knew what you needed to do, young prince. You would do your parents proud." She smiles, and it's such a beautiful thing to see.

I stiffen against Malaquin. If she knows who he is, then surely she knows who I am--as if our similarity left any doubt--and we did just kiss like that in front of her . . .

I nod in acknowledgment of her assessment, though I fight back a sense of panic. Still, the more I look at her, the more I feel as if I can trust her, just as I could trust that Madule would return to me. "Please forgive my ignorance, but you seem to have me at a disadvantage, m'lady. You know me, but I'm not sure I know you."

Even so, I decide to play it somewhat safely and gently let my sister slide down me--though that's almost a big mistake, I quickly discover--to allow her to stand on her own two feet on the ground of the quiet, peaceful clearing in the depths of Hartwood.

I try not to giggle as Malaquin lets me down; I can feel how much he's missed me and how glad he is to see me again.

The woman smiles again, gently, and looks down into the water; her hand strokes lightly over the rocky cliff face. "You know me, young prince. I have always been here, in this land . . ."

"Goddess?" I manage to breathe out the word. "It is truly You?" I feel stunned, awestruck. Is this the true Argent Rose from which my mother and my mother's mother on down the line of the blood royal has sprung?

I fear I must look like quite the fool, gaping at the lady of silver as I know I must be.

She smiles. Just a slight, breathtakingly lovely smile, and her voice is soft and gentle. "I would never abandon any of the children I love so dearly, Malaquin."

I tremble, staring at the silver-haired woman who stands on the other side of the pool. Now I can see the familiarity in her features--I don't look exactly like her, but generations upon generations would naturally change some things . . .

Ah Goddess, it is You . . .

I fall to my bended knee, bowing my raven haired head, my hands coming to rest one atop the other on the curve of my one upraised knee, the ring on my hand seeming suddenly so warm. Though I'm soaking wet save for my head and shoulders and dressed in clothing too thin even for hunting, I can feel the weight of the crown--of the rack of antlers I bore--pressing down on me as I lower my head. Yet the feel of pressure isn't frightening, but rather comforting.

Rare indeed has it been for any of us to ever be gifted with a visitation like this. "Forgive me for not recognizing You sooner."

I'm not worthy of this. I know I'm not. She's everything perfect, beautiful, feminine, the ideal for any man. And to me, despite the silver hair, she looks exactly like my twin. Why didn't I notice that before?

I fall to my knees beside Malaquin, too overwhelmed to do anything but respond to that deepest urge. Our ultimate grandmother, She who made everything . . . it's beyond belief.

Malaquin must feel the weight of his crown, or his antlers; I feel the light touch of the rose-wreath circlet on my brow, and the air around me is rich with the heady scent of flowers. We must be seeing Her in the aspect of the Spring Maiden, not the Sovereign Queen that I represented at the coronation.

"There is nothing to forgive, dear one. Your eyes were blinded with fear for your cherished twin--not with arrogance or ignorance. I, too, have felt that fear, and I rejoice with you that the cause of it is no more . . ."

"Thank you. I can think of no greater gift You have ever given me save that of the life of my sister." I lift my head to look at her, my heart wanting to ask one question so badly.

"Why? Dear Goddess, why?"

I gasp, my emerald eyes going wide, embarrassed that I lacked the self control to keep from blurting that out. Still, despite my shame, the need for an answer keeps me looking to Her.

"Why what, child? Why does it seem that I've let the Church take control? Why was the plague unleashed in the first place? Why did it strike your sister?" She strokes a hand along the rock wall again. "Or do you ask why you are so drawn to Madule?"

I shudder at that, turning to look up at Malaquin, an icy fist clenching in my belly. Has he been regretting our love?

"The . . ." I begin, then fall silent, looking over to my sister. "Though I would like answers to the other questions, that's not the one I'm desperate for an answer to." I reach over and take one of my sister's hands in my own, swallowing as a shiver of pleasure goes down my spine. "It's the last one, Divine One."

I look back to Her, this figure of silver so beautiful She frightens me so. "It's forbidden for siblings to love in this way. Why do I feel like this, when it puts both of us in such danger?"

I feel sick to my stomach as I look down at the grass around my feet. I don't question my feelings; why does he? Is it that he doesn't care as much for me?

A flicker of sorrow touches that ageless, perfect face. "It is only forbidden by those who do not understand--and by the dictates of nature, the instinct that knows breeding too closely often weakens the blood. Why do you feel so? What other woman in all the world could understand you as she does? Who else has been with you for so long, shared joys and sorrows with you? Why not feel that way?"

I shake my head slightly, wanting to make them both understand. Of everyone in the world, these are the two that I want so desperately to know why I'm saying what I am. "They won't understand. They won't. They'll think I'm some sort of pervert; in their eyes, I am. They can't see beyond the outer reflection."

My pleading, desperate voice shifts to a haunted whisper. I've had a month to think this over in the dead of the night, my thoughts always turning to Madule, to the repercussions. "They of the Church have no belief in the Horned One or the Spring Maiden. They are blind to the Sacred Marriage that binds me to my twin in a way that reaches beyond the mere flesh we wear. And those of the old way . . . They might believe, but they won't acknowledge that it's truly happened. They'll dismiss it as some profane obsession on one or both parts of Madule and I.

"Were it just me, perhaps I would be accepting of this. I am the Argent Stag, the human sacrifice for the good of the Tribe. But Madule, my twin, my love . . . They'll throw the blame on her, make it out to be her fault. They'll call her a demoness, a whore--or worse. One slip, and they'll torment her. Goddess . . . I dare not do this openly. The old times are long over with."

"It is their failing, not yours, that blinds them to anything but the surface. And perhaps you are too hasty in judging what those who still follow Me would think. The old woman, on the night of the feis--she knew. Those priestesses all knew the truth, that it was Madule that had come to seal the pact anew. And they did not disapprove."

She smiles again, just a little, sadly. "That you feel this concern for her, not yourself, speaks well of you. But what would you prefer, dear one? Would you have Me banish this love between you?"

She's standing beside me, suddenly, and I never saw Her move. Her hand, soft and smooth and warm, cradles my chin, lifting my face so Malaquin can see me; I close my eyes, unable to look at him.

"She will come with Me if you cast her aside. It is all she would want. She has given you her maidenhead, her heart, her soul; what life could she have if you choose to turn away from her now? Would you give her to a man who would treat her cruelly when he knows that she is not virgin?"

I look at Her aghast, this kind but dreadful Presence that's suddenly there, making me look at my twin, my other half. "How could You--? What sort of a man do You think I am?" I could have sworn I had only thought those words of outrage, but somehow, it makes no difference at all that they're spoken out loud, disturbing the peace of the tree-shaded glen.

That She would so blithely tear from me my twin hurts me. That She would rip from me the one thing other than my duty that keeps me going angers me.

"No. Heavens above, no. I want this. I want her. I know she's the only one that's my true princess, but I won't subject her to the pain this forbidden marriage will bring if there's a way to spare her. But I won't give it up. If the pain for her would be greater to sunder this, then I'll risk the other."

I'm so angry, I'm literally shaking.

I shiver at the tone of Malaquin's voice. How could he dare to speak to Her like that?

"Then explain to Me what you truly want, Malaquin. If you do not wish to give up the bond between yourself and your twin sister, then what do you desire?"

Her voice is so gentle, so calm in the face of Malaquin's emotional outburst. "You are a noble soul, Malaquin, and I would not separate you from your beloved unless both of you found this bond intolerable. You have said that you want her; I know that she wants and needs you just as much . . ."

That voice suddenly comes like a thunderclap, echoing in the clearing. "What do you ask of Me?"

I cringe from Her shout, suddenly and very pointedly reminded that She is the Creator of all, in concert with her slain Consort/Son, and I am just a mortal man, after all. Curled up upon myself, trying to make myself as small a target as possible to Her wrath, I manage to whimper, "Please . . . I only want my love to be safe. Let those that criticize hold her blameless . . ."

Damn it all, I'm crying again, this time the terror of a child facing his very angry mother. "If there's to be plots and troubles from this, let them fall on my head. Even if there should be a child, I don't want Madule suspected, ridiculed, shamed, harmed . . . Please . . . I love her too much to see that happen around me."

I can't just stand there and watch him cry; I pull away from the Lady, wrapping my arms around Malaquin and burying my face in his dampened hair, trying to comfort him. I'm scared, too, but I won't just abandon him if he's somehow angered Her.

The vast, echoing voice is gone, sinking down to the gentle softness again. Her hands touch us--one on each raven head--and a warmth tingles through me at the comforting touch. "Free will was given to humanity so that they could always make their own choices. You ask that I alter this, that I change the way those around you think so that they will not set blame on your beloved sister should they learn of what lies between you. Do you understand what that would mean if they instead blamed you for this? Think well on it, Malaquin. You have a duty to this kingdom. Is that duty best served by possibly turning your people against you?"

I shiver in fear at Her touch, though Madule clinging to me helps. Even now, she won't let me face this alone. Yet, when Her voice is gentle again, Her hand on my head almost in blessing rather than condemnation, I slowly uncurl and turn my tear-streaked face to Her. Then I lower my gaze; we both know the answer to Her gently spoken question.

Free will . . . I have it. Madule has it. How can I ask for that basic, human thing to be taken from the people I hold dear? My princess and I both wanted this; we have a duty to face whatever consequences come about.

I squeeze my tear-filled emerald eyes shut, knowing I'm defeated. Why am I fighting this so, making my beloved suffer with the doubt that I don't love her as much as she loves me, that I'm willing to give up what she has offered me?

And in the dark depths of memory, something stirs . . .

I remember . . . what?

Something . . . something that makes me hurt, that stabs me in the heart, stabs me in the soul, a ragged wound that tears at me even now. Something I had shoved away to fester, thought long forgotten . . .

In an instant, I'm back then, regressed to the age of six, the panoply of the sharp-edged memory passing before my eyes. I had just been getting used to the idea of never seeing Mother and Father again, the regents watching over my sister and I. My promise to Mother was one I took very seriously, even for one so young.

An innocent little statement, said in all the graveness a young boy can muster because he means it . . .

The priest was there, teaching me to read and write. "When you grow up, you'll be a great prince."

"Yes, I want to be that. And when I grow up, I'm going to marry Madule and take such good care of her," I had replied. I knew then that that's what people who love one another deeply did, and I had promised Mother . . .

The next couple of hours were sheer terror. Over and over, I was told of the horrors that awaited those that were sinners, of burning for eternity, tormented by devils and demons. Worst of all was the knowledge pounded into me that I would be dragging my sister with me to such torments, neither one of us ever seeing Mother or Father or the Grace of God again. We would be damned, damned, cast out of the blessed, if I continued to think such madness as marrying my own sister. My vivid imagination put images in my mind to the priest's impassioned words, and I tried to flee, but he wouldn't let me go. He locked me in my room to keep me from bolting, and when I did try to hide from him in my quarters, he beat me to drive out whatever demon it was that had hold of me to make an innocent lad such as I think such unclean thoughts.

Rescue had come in the form of Madule dragging Agricol with her, insisting that I was in trouble. As soon as the priest was forced to open the door, I ran, my twin chasing after me. I hid myself in a secret chamber only Madule and I seemed to know about, my dear sister doing what she could to make me feel better. Too traumatized to even speak about what happened, I shuddered and whimpered for hours. The beating had hurt and so had the cleric's words.

Needless to say, I was given another teacher after that.

After the feis, I had walked into the chapel of Hart Castle, and I could see their frightening, slain God staring down at me, nailed to His tree, His side stained with His blood, His eyes glaring at me in disapproval. Are you the type of man that would dare rut like an animal with his own sister?

No, I'm the type of man that would make love to his wife . . .

I throw myself at Her feet, my hands grabbing at the hem of Her gorgeous, glittering dress. "Please, Mother, please! I'm scared! I don't want Madule and I to be tortured forever! I'm not evil; I know I'm not . . ."

That's what I really want from Her. Reassurance that I'm not bad because of this, reassurance that everything will be all right. Reassurance that that priest that had tormented me so was wrong. I cry at Her feet, the terror and horror of the little boy I once was filling me so.

I never realized before how much that old wound had festered till now. And even as I grovel at the Goddess's feet in almost frantic desperation, I have to wonder if Madule even realizes what torments me, or why I've hesitated about loving her in equal measure in return.

I feel Malaquin's emotions, feel a shuddering terror that I've only felt from him once before, and I know that he's remembering something. Squeezing my eyes shut, I can see it again, as if I'm there--virtually screaming the roof down to make Agricol follow me right out of a council meeting, then all but dragging him with me toward Malaquin's rooms, feeling his fear and pain as if it were my own.

Standing right next to the duke as he slammed his fist against the door, his deep voice demanding entrance in tones that brooked no refusal. Then that door opening--and Malaquin shoving past the priest, past Agricol, running like a frightened hart. I had followed, of course; at that age, and probably even now, I was just about the only person who ever had a chance of catching my fleet-footed brother.

Finding him in that little hideaway, sobbing, hugging himself; I had pleaded with him and finally yanked his arms away so that we could embrace each other. The bruises that I could see filled my mind with flames; how dare that foul priest hurt my brother? How dare he? In that moment, my childish anger could have consumed the man alive.

The worst part was that he would never tell me what had happened.

Yet, hearing him now as he prostrates himself before the beautiful silver lady, I think I know what happened. I feel sick to my stomach with the knowledge that the priest must have beaten him and condemned him for something he'd said about me, about both of us--something like that.

She kneels, taking him into Her arms as if he truly is only a little boy, not the strong, tall young man that he's become. Her soft white hand strokes his raven hair as he cries.

"Hush now, Malaquin," She whispers gently, soothingly, rocking him against Her. "It was wrong of him to frighten you so, to lash out so cruelly at a child who spoke in innocence of the love for his sister. The fault was within him for failing to understand your words and your love. The Church cannot understand, and their God is made weaker and more desolate for their ignorance."

I hold Her close, shuddering as I let out the pent-up emotions, seeking my own healing in this place. For a moment, I can believe that Mother's there, telling me that everything would be all right . . .

After a while, my shuddering sobs cease and I slowly let go of the beautiful woman that is the source of all. Wiping my face, I murmur to them both. "I'm sorry . . . I should have had better control over myself."

She strokes his hair, comforting him, soothing his sobs and his fears. I kneel next to them, my hands to my mouth, watching helplessly. Oh, Malaquin . . .

The Goddess smiles gently, letting him sit back. "It's because you have had such good control over yourself, dear son, that all of this has taken so long to come to the surface."

I take a deep breath in an attempt to regain my composure. As I look at Her, this loveliest of women--still She looks so much like my own sister to me--I know . . . She would never abandon me. What mother could ignore her children, even those that might stray or do bad things? And what I have done is nothing more than what was right for me all along.

I give Her a tentative smile, then turn my gaze to my twin at my side. Reaching out--how I want her to comfort me as well--I pull Madule to me and hug her tightly. I feel I owe her an explanation . . .

"I should have told you this long ago, but I just wanted to forget, and then I thought I had gotten over it . . . that priest, the one that--" My voice breaks and I shake my head slightly, feeling the old fears coming back. "I made the mistake of telling him that when I grew up, I'd marry you, Madule. He . . . thought I had to have had some demon in me to think of something that wrong . . ."

I go eagerly into Malaquin's arms, longing to hold him and be held by him; it always feels so good, so perfect, so right to be in his embrace. I love him . . . and I had been terrified that he might not love me. Now I understand why he was so tormented by the demons of his memory, and my heart aches for him. "Oh, my beloved brother, I'm so sorry . . ."

The Goddess stands, Her shimmering white gown falling in elegant folds around Her. "You have asked Me to give you something, to take away the condemnation of others should they learn of your love for your sister. Now, Malaquin . . . what will you give Me in return for this? There is always a price . . ."

The words of the Goddess startles me and I gape up at Her even as I hold my sister tight. "I . . ." I begin, then stop for a moment. My gaze goes to Madule again and I look at her beloved, beautiful face. "I can't ask for that after all. Those that I watch over as prince would become something less than human were their free will taken from them."

I lift a hand to caress Madule's face, gazing at her in adoration. "We chose this. We should take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Yes, I wish to see her kept safe, but I realize now that we can only do that through our own strengths." I then look back at the dread Lady, the weight of the invisible antlers bearing down on me. "But I am Yours to command, for the good of the Tribe."

"I can still give you the aid you desire, but without taking anything from those around you. There is still a price. I will name that price only once you have accepted, young prince."

I'm scared. I can't deny the fear that seethes inside me. I don't want anyone to be disgusted by me or my brother, and I stare back at him beseechingly.

Without . . . Still I stare up at Her, but I know what my answer has to be. "Yes, I accept. I would give anything to know that my love will be kept safe and unharmed."

A vision pops in my head, of some rabid cleric of the Church torturing my love, my sister, to drive out what demons possessed her to want to couple with me, and I shudder. I know the Church well enough to know that they would place blame of this "sin" fully on Madule.

The words are out, the spoken contract. I bow my head, waiting to see what price I shall have to pay for this. Everything costs . . . Everything . . .

I can almost imagine what's in Malaquin's mind--the same thing that's in my own. Some priest or other, hurting me, beating me, burning me to banish the "evil" inside me. I've heard tales of what can happen in lands that the Church has near-total control over, and it makes me feel sick and cold.

"So be it, young prince." The Goddess nods, then bends gracefully to take my hands in Her own and lift me to my feet. Her lips touch my forehead, and I flinch; Her kiss is freezing cold, searing hot, yet somehow not painful. I feel shaken and drained as She lets me go, and I sink back to my knees.

Malaquin is next, raised to his feet, Her lips bestowing that searing-cold kiss upon his brow. He shudders as if he, too, would collapse, but She holds him up by simply keeping a hand on his shoulder.

"I have given, and now will I take. For what you ask, the price is a memory of emotion--the shame and fear and pain you suffered at the hands of the animal who wore the robes of a priest and threatened you with damnation for no crime but that of love."

Her hand touches his forehead, and I see him rock back as if struck a heavy blow, yet I can't feel any pain from him . . .

I'm too caught up in the awe of the moment to do other than stare, wide-eyed, as She helps my sister to rise and gives my beloved a kiss that looks terrible and wonderful both. I'm too frozen in hope and dread to move, to reach over and make sure that Madule is okay.

Then it's my turn, and I rise almost beyond my own volition. Her lips on my forehead feels at once like the bitterest of winter winds and the hottest of summer sun, yet it doesn't hurt to my amazement. I feel my knees try to give out, my body feeling instantly drained of energy, but She keeps me standing by the lightest of touches.

I'm ready for just about anything. Having been raised by those that would have converted me to the Church--for my own good, of course--I have sadly come to expect any "price" to be something valued to be sacrificed. That She asks that of me leaves my head spinning in wonder even as Her hand rests on my forehead, seemingly slipping into the core of me and taking away that jagged, dull-black shard that pierces my heart so.

It's over, just like that. I fall to my knees, suddenly aware of how it doesn't hurt anymore inside. I fear I must look utterly stunned as I sit there, blinking. The silence is wonderful. The peace is paradise itself.

I'm not evil, nor am I cast aside. Nor will Madule be. Our Mother will always be there, even in the darkest of times.

I blink, then stare at the Goddess as She names Her price. Malaquin had been relentlessly pressed to convert to the Church, but I--as a "mere woman"--had been left more to my own devices. It is said that the Goddess and Her Consort do have emotions, but that human emotion is more raw, more powerful, somehow more real. Perhaps it's just a mortal conceit, but if She wishes to taste of my brother's suffering as the price for Her gift, how can I argue?

As my dear older twin drops to his knees, I reach over to grab his hands, apprehensive. "Malaquin?"

For the briefest of moments, my sibling's voice seems to come from a long distance away. Shaking off the dazed feelings, I turn my wondering gaze to Madule and smile brightly at her.

So perfect, my dear sister, my beloved princess. I could stare at her, lost in adoration, for a long time were it left to me. Feeling her gentle hands grasping mine, I lift one up to my lips to kiss her hand in loving worship. "I'm okay, beloved. I'm probably more okay than I have been for a very long time."

How thankful I am to the divine Lady in silver. She has blessed us both with the most precious of gifts--one another.

I stare at him for a long moment, seeing in him a peace that didn't seem to be there before; then I manage a shaky smile, leaning against him. "What did it feel like?"

"I can only describe it as something wondrous," I reply, wrapping my arms around my twin's slender but healthy again body. "One moment, I was bleeding inside from the old wound, then the next it was just gone. It all feels so right, now. Like it was supposed to be all along."

"That is wonderful." I nuzzle his neck lovingly. "I'm so happy . . . but . . ." I turn to look at the Goddess. "If--if I can ask--what gift have You given us?"

She smiles, stepping back. "Look in the water, and you will understand how others will perceive you. They will not see it, but they will feel it . . ."

I'm curious, maybe too much so, and I get up to step over to the pond and look in, pulling Malaquin with me.

Though I am also curious as to what Her kiss did--it's my guess that Her gift to us was bestowed in the touch of her lips on our foreheads--I'm too focused on the wonder of my own healing to act on that curiosity.

Still, it's not without my own wonder that I follow along after Madule, pulled along in her rather strong grasp--once again, I'm made aware of how physically strong my sister can be, unlike most of the too-delicate ladies of the court--and lean over with her to look at my reflection in that magical pool her in this place sacred to Her.


Oh . . ."

It's all I can say, staring down at our reflections side-by-side. The crescent moon shimmers at my brow, and my hair gleams silvery; Malaquin, in contrast, seems dark--almost wild--and the antlers crown him as majestically as they did during the feis.

"We are in your blood, My Consort and I. It has been many, many generations since I gave a son and daughter to this land, but years and generations mean nothing. I have reawakened the seed of Myself and My Consort, who is also My Son, in you both . . ."

We are, truly then . . . ?

My visage that I see reflected almost frightens me even as I'm comforted by it. Yes, this is what was meant when Madule and I were made and sent to this world.

"Everything that happened before . . . The price for this? To have Goddess and God once more walk among the people?" I look over at Her. "This new religion? Is it truly as dangerous as I think it is?"

"It is, dear one." Her face is so solemn, touched with sorrow. "If it cannot learn understanding and mercy, the Church will crush everything in its path in the name of a God who cannot bear to hear their bloodthirsty prayers any longer. You must stem the tide of hate . . . for to destroy them is to act as they do."

I nod, then look to Madule for a moment. "All I've done so far is try to curb their growing power so that they can't muster the forces to take over. I've heard of other lands where they have supplanted the rule of royalty with the rule of cardinals.

"I wish for peace for us all, but they are agitators, seeking to grasp temporal power in the name of divine power. Even so, I have no wish to destroy them. The ones that follow this Church are human after all. Some are willing to listen, like Cathal."

I turn my emerald gaze back to Her. "I hope I've started well, at least, Divine One."

She smiles, and the entire clearing seems to brighten. "So you have, young prince. So you have . . ."

She's gone, just like that, simply disappearing between one heartbeat and the next. I know I look foolish gaping at the empty air, but I can't help it.

Gone . . . But not completely. I can still sense Her, next to me, in the body of my twin. I reach out to take Madule's hand in mine. "We should return. Those that care for us are probably quite worried by now, my love."

I frown slightly, recalling the furious shouts of the cleric as we departed. Well, we shall see what he thinks when we are back at Hart Castle.

I blink and look away from where She stood--where no blade of grass even shows the mark of a foot--and nod at Malaquin's words. "Let's go home. I want you to see everything I've done."

The thought of him looking over the castle now makes me feel so eager to return home. I did it all for him, after all.

I smile at her words, looking around to locate my stallion. Over there, not far, Sable is merrily munching away on the lush undergrowth of the sacred spot. The greenery is probably just as good for him as the pool had been for Madule.

My hand still holding hers, I lead her over to where Sable grazes. "I had heard that you spent all your time making our home a worthy one. I fear I was too frantic with concern for your condition to really look, but I would be honored if you took me on a tour and showed off your hard work to me. I'll be very grateful to know that Hart Castle is well taken care of in my absences--which I hope to make as infrequent as possible."

I can't help but giggle at my brother's magnificent courser. "I think he likes it here. The grass does look greener, I suppose . . ."

I know I'm virtually glowing in pleasure at his words. "I'll be glad to show you everything. I want you to be proud to have me as your chatelaine, Malaquin." Then I squeeze his hand gently, looking down. "But you have to travel around the kingdom this summer, don't you?"

I pause in my walking, then turn to face her, my free hand slipping under her chin to gently lift her to meet my eyes. "Yes, my love, I have to, this summer at least. There are a number of cases of High Justice that only I can attend to. If I don't, those awaiting trials will only languish that much longer in the prisons of the nobles. But I have a couple of ideas that may lessen the need for me to travel through the kingdom."

I don't want to leave you, beloved, but I must. Duty pulls me away, just as duty keeps you home.

I smile down at her, trying to make this need to leave her something that we both can easily endure, and I lightly stroke her chin with my thumb.

I nod slightly, sadly. I know that he must do this, of course, but it still hurts to know that he'll be leaving me again. "What ideas?"

I glance up and smile in return; he's so handsome, who could help but smile at him? The caress on my chin makes me sigh softly, happy to be with him despite the anticipated sorrow of parting.

I lean down and give her a lingering kiss, sighing in pleasure at the rightness of the caress.

Though I'm reluctant, the realization that we need to return prods at me. I break the kiss, then lift her up to take her place up on Sable's back. As soon as Madule's set, I hoist myself up and settle in behind her, practically having her on my lap.

I rather enjoy having her in front of me like that as we ride double on my stallion. I press against Madule's back as I take up the reins, and I'm not loath to let the contact between us linger as I give Sable the signal to walk out of the sacred place. This is how it should be.

"What ideas . . ." I echo, thinking how best to explain what I have in mind. "For starters, I need a survey of the entire kingdom as it now is. What villages are there, how many live in each village, the expected incomes of each fief and who has control of them. I need to see what's become of the realm since the regents took over control following Uncle's death."

I suddenly realize that we're both dry, even though Malaquin was wet to his shoulders and I was drenched only a short while ago. Another gift, perhaps?

I nestle back against Malaquin, sighing at the comforting rightness of the contact. With my head leaning back against his shoulder, I peek up at his face as he speaks; he looks so serious that I almost giggle, even though he's making perfect sense.

"That's good, dear brother. I think that would help identify where the real problems are so that you don't have to ride end to end across the kingdom trying to hunt them out."

Sable seems to know the way back as well as he knew the way there, so I decide to let my trusty stallion have his head and take us home. This way, I can concentrate on holding Madule against me as she leans back. The fact that she and I are somehow dry again is only a passing thought in the middle of all the mystic happenings of the deepening evening so far.

"The other idea is one I'm already working on. As I've been going to the estates of the greater lords, I've been watching them, analyzing their holdings and their methods. Those that I know I can trust, I'm going to bestow the right of High Justice to them for the length of my rule. That way, there'll be more people who can dispose of these cases in a more timely manner. But I need to be sure those that receive this power are ones that will not abuse it."

"You're going to be the best thing this kingdom's had for quite a while, Malaquin," I murmur, reaching up to touch the side of his face. "That's a wonderful idea. It would help the people so much, and it would take some of the burden off of you."

I notice that Sable's taking as direct a path out of here as he took to reach the hidden waterfall. Still, I have a strange feeling that things are blurring at the edge of my vision--as if space is changing, folding in on itself.

Her words fill me with a bright sense of pride. I must be grinning like an idiot at her praise, but I certainly don't mind that. I feel so good that my twin thinks I'll be good for our people.

I lean against the touch of her hand on my cheek, eyes closing for a moment in bliss. "I have a request. Perhaps you might help me come up with the teams of surveyors to go out among the land and make the assessments? In this matter, I believe that hiring yeomen of the common folk would be best. They'd have no agenda to misreport what they find, not like the nobles would. But we'll also need people of letters to be able to write the reports, ones that we can trust. The logistics of this will need to be thoroughly thought out, and I'd like your help with that, my princess."

I nod thoughtfully. "I think I know a few people who can help with those reports. We might want to have the yeomen who can't read or write use a simple arrangement of symbols for the census. Just about every peasant I've ever met can count--even if it's just to ten--so that should help . . ."

"That, or have them come to us and tell us what they found and we can write it down," I respond. "Either way, I think it's best we know the current state of the realm."

Deeper into the forest we go, Sable carrying us at a smooth-gaited walk. I slide a hand up along Madule's front, grateful to feel the fullness of her flesh once again. She had scared me so, being so wasted away when I had first seen her. I let my caress go a bit higher, curling the fingers of a hand over the curve of a breast.

There's no fear or guilt now. This is right. We are no longer twin siblings, but the incarnations of Goddess and God. "I will miss you so much again when next I go. But I plan to be home a week before the next phase, and I will be back in a month's time. There's a celebration coming up I heard about in Graywinds that you might wish to go with me to see what wonders might happen at that."

"You're definitely right, Malaquin." I shiver a little as he cups his hand over my breast, and wriggle in the saddle to deliberately rub my backside against his groin. Two can play that game.

"I'll miss you so terribly," I whisper, looking up at him again. The moment's sorrow fades, and I smile suddenly. "What sort of celebration?"

Of course, her sly little maneuver had diverted all my attention to her wriggling against me there; it takes me a moment to realize she's asked a question. Even so, I really don't want her to stop, nor do I wish to stop fondling her in this way. She feels so nice . . .

"They said it was a horse blessing, done once every hundred years in celebration of the time the Goddess last incarnated as the Mother Mare. Though the ones I spoke with knew who I was, they seemed somewhat reluctant to let me know any more than that. But my curiosity was piqued, so I'd like to go there and see what it's all about. It's supposed to take place at the White Mare."

Graywinds is the name of an area of the realm where grassy plains and rolling downs are predominant, the topsoil chalky white beneath the verdant covering. The ancestors of the Tribe long ago carved up strips of the grass to expose the topsoil to make large figures of mystical significance on the sides of the rolling hills. Though many of the symbols have had their meanings lost through the flow of Time, the people still reverently maintain the figures even now.

"Oh. It does sound interesting. I'd love to go there with you and see the celebration." I take mercy on him and stop squirming, just leaning back against him with a faintly wicked smile.

The trees begin to thin out again; Sable emerges from Hartwood, ambling toward the castle.

"Good. I think it'll be a great adventure," I say, very pleased that she wants to go with me to this mystery.

Once Sable breaks through the treeline and we once more can gaze upon Hart Castle on its artificial hill overlooking both the capitol city of the realm and the arable land supporting the population of castle and city, I tug on the reins and murmur, "Whoa."

My stallion halts as commanded, then softly snorts, waiting.

I hug Madule against me, looking across the distance to our home. "Forgive me, my love, for causing you pain. I love you, as much as you love me. I always will."

I rest one hand over his, reaching up and back with the other to curl my fingers in the silky black hair at the nape of his neck as I press my head against his shoulder. It's dusk, and Hart Castle is backlit by the setting sun; it glows against the deep rusty sky, a welcoming beacon with light shining from its windows.

"I'm sorry I ever doubted you, beloved. I couldn't help but fear that you would never feel the same way about me . . ."

Such a beautiful sight, our ancient home, the light of the sunset giving it a brilliant aura. I see it in a slightly different way now, the passing of eons draped over it, giving it a mantle of permanence. The God within me can see the timelessness of this, the seat of the royal power, the heart of the sacred land that is my duty to protect. I'm truly one with the land, one with my princess, the beating of our hearts the very pulse of this realm.

"For the sake of those that would condemn us as sinners, we must still remain discreet, but I acknowledge you as my one true wife, Madule. Though I cannot promise it before witnesses other than They Who are within us, I give you my pledge. From now until the end of time, I forsake all others and cleave only to you, be the times good or ill."

I twist in the saddle to look him full in the face, startled and awed by his words; I feel the Goddess stir in my heart, responding to the God within my brother. His words strike me to the soul, that sacred pledge--a shorter version of the formal wedding vows.

"Oh, Malaquin . . ." I reach up to touch his cheek, staring into his eyes. "You are my one true husband, and I forever forsake all others to have only you at my side . . ."

Tears come to my eyes, tears of joy and high emotion as my beloved turns to look at me, to meet my gaze with her equally bright emerald eyes. Then I sink a hand into the soft mane of her hair, pulling her gently to me, giving her the passionate kiss that seals the pledge between us. I have no fears for this union now. I know that with the God strong within me, any child born of this will be as strong as possible, not weak or sickly. Only those of the Church would give us trouble now. Those of the old faith will know we are more than what we once were, and that what we do is that of the bidding of the divine and beyond the ken of mortal man.

I all but melt against him, my twin, my brother, the missing half of my soul. I sense the vigor and strength of the God in him, the health and wild life of the Goddess within myself, and I know that I will conceive only when I choose, when it is time. There's no need to worry about it now; my womb is dormant, a field in winter, patiently awaiting spring. A seed that takes root in that field will not grow stunted and weak, but will be healthy instead; when the time comes for the Argent Stag to mate once more to produce offspring, there will be no curse of close-bred blood in that offspring.

Perhaps no one will realize at first that we've changed; perhaps this gift will remain veiled until a time when it is needed. Either way, I know that it's time to return home. Morwen, Cathal, and Elaine are no doubt waiting anxiously for us--and who's to say what that priest has done?

To Five silver rose bullet Future Chapter Seven

This page formatted and © 2001 - 2002 by Dianna Silver

"The Silverlands", "The Obsidian Tower", "A Character's Chronicle: Zoey's Story", "Alpha Psi", "Argent Stag, Silver Rose" and the "Rose Realm" all © 1997 - 2002 by Dianna Silver. Some material also © 1998-2002 by Krissy Ryan. "Shoujo Kakumei Utena", also known as "Revolutionary Girl Utena" and "La Fillette Revolutionnaire" all © 1997-2002 by Chiho Saito/Shogakukan, Be-Papas, Shokaku Iinkai, TV Tokyo, and Central Park Media

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