In which Valarien discovers a new kind of magic
When Valarien awoke, he thought he was still asleep and dreaming. He was warm and comfortable - barring aching joints and a degree of soreness at his wrists and ankles. He found he could move his limbs freely despite the weight of whatever was laid over him - something that felt soft and silky to his skin. The light, too, had changed. The ruddy glow of the fire had been transformed into the golden radiance of sunshine. Even the smells were different. He felt completely disorientated.
His gaze focussed dreamily on the tiny particles of dust that danced in the late afternoon sunlight as his mind tried to get a grasp of his present situation. He found it was beyond his faculties right then, and anyway, he had no desire to leave this blissful state of contentment. How peaceful it was, watching the mesmeric dance of the dust motes, and dozing gently from time to time.
Gradually, alertness began to return and he took stock of his surroundings. He was lying in a large four-poster bed in a comfortable chamber, the walls of which were hung with elegant tapestries. He was not alone. A liveried servant stood impassively by the studded oak door.
Valarien eased himself up into a sitting position against the soft pillows. He discovered that someone had washed him and anointed his body with sweet-smelling oil. The scent made him think of Perizada. He hoped she hadn't been present at the time, then began to wish she were here now.
There were clothes laid out over a chair - not his own robes, but not dissimilar. He slid his legs out of the bed, stood up and found his legs had barely enough strength to support him. His knees, trembling, began to buckle, and he swayed unsteadily. The servant rushed to his side lest he fall, and eased him gently back on to the bed.
"If there is anything your eminence requires, he has but to name it," he announced punctiliously.
"I was going to put on some clothes . . . " the wizard ventured.
The servant brought them with alacrity and assisted him to dress. Valarien sat on the edge of the bed and thought.
"What am I doing here?" he asked eventually.
"Resting, sir, prior to dining with the Lord Zervan and the Lady Perizada this evening," the servant informed him in sonorous tones.
Valarien heard him with mixed feelings.
"There is fruit and wine on the little table in the corner, if your eminence so desires."
His eminence did.
The lackey set a chair for him beside the table and gave the wizard his arm as he walked slowly and carefully over to it. He sat down and selected a ripe peach. Its sweet fragrance reminded him Perizada.
He put it to his mouth and gently broke the skin. The juice trickled down his throat. Its effect was both soothing and stimulating. He took a bite and let his tongue play over the surface of its soft flesh. It seemed the most refreshing fruit he had ever tasted. He ate slowly, his senses enjoying every luscious mouthful.
When only its stony heart was left, he looked for another but had to make do with a pear and followed it with some shiny black cherries. As he ate, he tried to focus his mind on the events of the last few days. The memory was hazy now, like a bad dream.
A sensation at the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn't scratch, kept insisting that something was not right - was totally wrong - but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. His thoughts seemed to fly apart and scatter as soon as his brain managed to latch on to a concrete idea.
In the end he gave up, resolving to remain vigilant and play it by ear. He poured a goblet of wine - a rich sweet amber liquid that did not banish thirst entirely. Rather, it left the drinker with the desire to repeat the experience. Valarien was still sufficiently in control of his will to resist the temptation however.
Cautiously, he rose to his feet with the lackey hovering close by. His legs were still a little shaky, but he had more confidence now. He went over to the window unaided and leaned on the stonework.
The window looked westward over the Volasnian Plain of Drosana towards Lascany. His chamber must be somewhere near the front of the fastness and quite high up. The view was stupendous. Idly, he watched the changing pattern of the shadows as the sun sank towards the horizon.
Behind him, the door opened, and Perizada came in. He looked longingly at her and gave her a faint, tremulous smile.
"It is nearly time for dinner," she said. "I have come to take you down to the hall. You will meet my father "
"I - um - have met your father - haven't I?" Valarien asked, perplexed.
" You will meet my father," Perizada continued smoothly, " and you will like him."
"Will I?" he asked, uncertainly.
"You will find him charming and friendly, and you will want to please him. You will do nothing to harm him in any way."
"Of course not, Perizada. Why should I want to do that?"
"You might have been - misinformed about him," she explained carefully. "When you see him, you will realize that anything you may have heard against him is false."
"False . . . "
"Yes. Shall we go now?"
He had been leaning heavily against the edge of the window. As he began to move away, he stumbled. Perizada caught him.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, "can you walk?"
"I think so. I'm just a little unsteady as yet."
"Put your arm round my shoulder. I'll support you," she instructed him.
He did so, but very gingerly, as if she were a coiled snake. She gave a merry, tinkling laugh that set him a little at ease.
"I will not bite you, you know," she chuckled.
It took a long time to reach the great hall. Valarien's rate progress was slow, partly from weakness, but also from a desire to prolong such close proximity to Perizada as long as possible. The lady was not loathe to indulge him.
An air of unreality hung over dinner, with Zervan and the wizard indulging in the sort of meaningless table talk so often heard at state banquets. Perizada listened in some amusement as her father strove to entertain the wizard - without reference to politics - and the wizard strove to be entertained.
All in all, the evening passed off very well, after which, Valarien was escorted - very slowly - back to his chamber.
"Your door will not be locked so you may leave your room, but you will not try to escape," Perizada told him.
Valarien gazed into her midnight blue eyes.
"I could not leave without you," he said reverently.
She smiled a bitter-sweet smile.
"No - you could not," she agreed. "Now kiss me goodnight."
The wizard obediently bestowed a chaste salute upon her forehead.
"Well, that'll do for now, I suppose," she said coquettishly with her dimpled smile, and whisked herself away to her own chamber.
That night, Valarien slept well. He awoke much refreshed and feeling much stronger. The small table, with a tray of food upon it, had been set beside his bed. He had an excellent breakfast, then dressed and set off to explore the fortress.
No one attempted to hinder him in any way. Both domestic staff and military personnel executed deep obeisances as he passed. He still had the nagging feeling that something was wrong, but it was becoming easier to dismiss it from his mind as the time went by.
He found the library and spent some time there. It was not particularly well equipped but he did find one book with which he was unfamiliar, entitled "The Grimoire of Giddion." This tome featured a particularly interesting section on "overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone", and its effect on Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Valarien committed the spells to memory.
By midday, he had penetrated the upper levels of the north side of the fortress which was partly cut into the side of the mountain. A door opened and Perizada, leaving her chamber, almost collided with the wizard. He was instantly cast into confusion.
"I - I - I do apologize," he stammered, "I was not - um - aware that you - um -lived in this part of - um - and - um - no one seemed to - um - mind where I - um - and - um - "
Perizada's eyes sparkled with amusement at his agitated attempt to excuse his intrusion into what he clearly regarded as her private domain, and nobly stepped in to rescue him from a morass of explanations.
"You are welcome to go anywhere you will within the fortress," she said, "and that includes my chamber," she added saucily.
The wizard swallowed.
"Oh, well, it's time we joined my father for lunch, anyway."
After they had eaten, Perizada gave Valarien a guided tour of those parts of the fastness above the level of the dungeons that he had not already seen. The wizard gradually became more comfortable in the lady's company, and by the time they came out upon the highest bastion, they were hand in hand.
What they found to talk about, Valarien never could remember afterwards. Sometimes they shared long silences as they watched the sun sinking in the west. Zervan, tactfully, had left them to their own devices, trusting Perizada's judgement in the handling of his wizard, and occupying his time meanwhile with plans for his triumphal return to Sharestan.
During dinner, he again restricted the conversation to innocuous small talk, and withdrew early from the table, recommending Peri not to keep their honoured guest talking all night. Valarien was most appreciative of his kind consideration in this respect, and was beginning to see him as one of the most estimable humans of his acquaintance. Peri really need not have worried that they would not get on well together.
He reminded her of her earlier qualms, laughing at her concern, and gently chiding her for ever having doubted him. He thought she looked a little uncomfortable at this, and begged forgiveness for having teased her. She looked serious then and suggested that perhaps it was time for bed, after all.
In truth, she was experiencing unfamiliar feelings of guilt. In the past, it had seemed that Fate unaccountably had it in for her family. To her, they were all that was kind and good. It never occurred to her that perhaps they had a darker side that was kept hidden from her. She only knew that people were very apt to be nasty to those she loved most in the world, and that you had to take appropriate action first to prevent those unpleasant people from doing hateful things to you.
Then Valarien had come into her life. He was an elf, of course, like her mother, and elves were known to have higher moral principles than humans, but she had been unprepared for such a manifestation of goodness. True, she had used sorcery to bring him under her control, but although he must obey her, the spell did not dictate that he should treat her with so high a degree of courtesy and consideration. That came from within himself, and her use of arcane power against him - yes, against him - pricked her conscience.
Valarien found her unusually preoccupied as she guided him back to his chamber. It grieved him that she should be unhappy, and he longed to take her in his arms and kiss away her worries, but she had not told him to do so, therefore he concluded that she did not wish it.
He, too, was experiencing unfamiliar feelings, never having had much contact with the fairer sex. While his new feelings were, on the whole, much pleasanter than hers, they were certainly not more comfortable. Both felt a degree of constraint as they parted.
Sleep did not appear to be a viable option so, having disrobed, he slipped on the white satin dressing gown he had found in his chamber and sought relief by occupying his mind with other things - or attempting to do so. He had abstracted "The Grimoire of Giddion" from the library and was trying to concentrate on the wisdom within, when the door swung open.
Peri stood on the threshold, clothed in a dressing gown of billowing silk the colour of midnight. She hesitated for a second then stepped inside. Her gown swirled apart a little as she moved forward, and the wizard caught a glimpse of heaven. He closed his eyes quickly, and when he opened them again, the gap had closed.
She set her candlestick down in a small niche and locked the door. As she turned around to do so, he suddenly became aware that his own robe was not fulfilling its purpose entirely, and hastily covered up the offending item. His emotions were in turmoil. Belatedly remembering that courtesy required him to rise when a lady entered the room, he stood up.
"Peri . . . " he said uncertainly.
"Valarien," she interrupted, "I came to say that. . . I am sorry for what I've done to you - and to make amends . . . if I can . . . "
"I - um - cannot imagine what you should be - um - sorry for, but if it brings you to me, then I am - um - profoundly glad of it." Now he had started, he rushed on . . . "Perhaps you will not like me to say so, but I - um - think I love you . . . "
"Oh, Valarien, I know I love you," Peri said, sliding her hands inside his robe and around his waist, pulling him gently towards her. "Kiss me."
He needed no second telling, and they shared a kiss that long and intense. He knew what he was going to do next. His body had already told him; in fact, it was very insistent about it. His mind was slightly shocked, but his heart said it was all right - because he loved her.
He took her face between his hands and kissed her again. His hands slid softly down to her shoulders pushing aside her gown which tumbled to the floor in a rustle of silk, and she stood naked before him in the candlelight.
"You have your revenge on me in that way at least," she smiled.
He took a step backwards the better to see her.
"If - um - this be revenge, then it is sweet indeed," he breathed, gazing at her in rapt admiration.
She shivered slightly.
"I am cold," she said, moving on to his bed. "Give me your warmth . . . "
She laid down, and found he was already beside her, his gown discarded beside hers. Suddenly, nature took over. He was on top of her and, after a slight fumble, inside her. Peri writhed beneath him as he pounded frenziedly into her. She gave a gurgle of pleasure as his passion overflowed.
"Oh Goddess! My goddess! My sweet, sweet goddess," he moaned.
He rolled aside gasping, overcome with delight and disbelief at what he had done.
"You are too quick," she chided laughingly. "I shall make you suffer," she promised, playfully nibbling his ear. "I shall make you pay for that - again . . . and again . . . and again . . . "
". . . andagainandagainandagain . . . " he murmured, running a long finger around one nipple and grinning idiotically.
"You couldn't - " she scoffed, challengingly, "not tonight, anyway."
"We could - um - find out . . . ?"
"So we could "
Valarien discovered that he was supremely happy - wonderfully, brilliantly happy. He had experienced happiness before on occasions - the happiness of peace and contentment - but never this vibrant, passionate happiness that seemed as though it could never end.
He kissed her eyelids, and her nose, and her cheeks, then lingered hungrily on and in and around her mouth, to which she responded with a fire to match his own. He slid down and kissed her nipples, teasing them with his tongue and lips, leaving them standing proud and red like ripe fruits.
He found he was hot for her again, and again he was too quick, but felt he was beginning to get the hang of it. He may have been a late developer, but he was learning fast.
He tried to apologize, but Peri stopped his mouth with kisses, then she chuckled and gave his nipples the same treatment he had given hers. He squirmed with pleasure, and Peri's questing fingers, finding the object of her desire, soon raised his ardour again.
"This time," she said, "you shall rest, my darling, while I do the work."
So saying, she knelt astride him, and slid slowly and sensuously down on him, then she rode him joyously until he could hold back no longer. She closed her eyes and threw back her head.
"Ah - ah - ahhh - yes!" she cried exultantly.
Thus she remained for some time while her passion sent shock waves through her body. The spasms tipped Valarian over the edge again. Peri fell in pleasurable exhaustion upon his chest, and tears of joy came to their eyes. They lay for a while in each others arms, not quite dozing, for the adrenaline in their systems would not permit sleep - not just yet.
Peri was the first to recover and sent her fingers marauding across her beloved's body once more. It seemed a little reluctant to respond to her caresses so she tried another approach.
Wriggling down beside him, she placed a kiss on that most sensitive part of his anatomy. Its response was most promising, so she did it again, tickling him with her tongue. He gave a nervous little laugh. Emboldened, she slid her lips over his head and ran her fingers up along the inside of his thigh as far as they would go. Alarmed, he half sat up.
"Steady, sweetheart," he warned, "or you might get more than you bargain for."
She lifted her head with a knowing smile.
"Who's bargaining?" she asked pertly.
He saw she was serious, and laid back, his heart racing at the unexpected felicity she wished to give him. He was a little unsure about it, and tried to hold back, digging his nails into his palms, but she swallowed him to the root, taking him beyond the limits of his tenuous self-control and on to new heights of rapture.
Again they rested, then Valarien recalled something he had overheard in a tavern once. He whispered it in Peri's ear.
"Ooh!" she exclaimed in shocked tones, and promptly ruined the effect by adding, "Well do it then . . . "
So he did, settling between her legs and making exquisite use of his own tongue while she squawked with delight. After coupling once more, they drifted into a sleep of satisfied exhaustion.
When Valarien awoke, he thought for a moment he was alone - that it had all been one beautiful fantastic dream - then he looked around and found Peri sitting on the edge of the bed looking disconsolately towards the window. Tears had left their slender tracks across her cheeks.
Alarmed, he was beside her in a moment.
"My dearest love," he exclaimed softly, "whatever is the matter?"
She sniffed dolefully.
"That's just it," she said. "You don't love me."
"I do," he declared, almost indignantly, "I love you with all my heart and with all my soul."
"No. You just think you do."
Another tear followed its fellows down her cheek and she heaved a great sigh as though her heart were breaking.
"So that's it," he said. "I thought something happened that first time we - er - um - made love, as though something had - um - left me. I suddenly felt - um - free . . . free to love you as I pleased."
Her eyes widened in wonder.
"You . . . broke the spell?"
"Well - um - something did. Silly minx! You have your own - um - spell. I think I - um - fell in love the first time I saw you."
Her eyes sparkled behind her tears.
"It was the same for me, too, I think."
"Gracious, that must have - um - taken some doing!"
"Shush, I think that is best forgotten."
She gasped, and put her hand to her mouth.
"Father . . . !" she exclaimed.
Valarien's gaze hardened.
Yes," he said gravely. "I'm afraid I will never - um - lend my aid to his activities - not unless he indulges in - um - a fundamental change of style."
"You will not hurt him?" she asked, alarmed by the wizard's grim expression.
His look softened.
"Peri," he said reproachfully, "how could you think I would - um - harm someone whom you love? Just because I won't help him doesn't mean I would - um - injure him in any way. You have my solemn oath on that."
"He is not wicked, you know," she said sadly. "He's had a lot of suffering in his life and perhaps, sometimes, he over-reacts a little."
Valarien's face remained inscrutable, and somehow, she didn't feel inclined to put her father in the picture - not just yet, anyway.
The following days passed like a dream. The loving couple spent much of the time either in his chamber or hers, doing whatever it seemed most desirable to do - sometimes just talking. At other times, they played saucy games of hide and seek, which always reached the same conclusion. Their happiness seemed complete and Valarien, having put his magical abilities on hold, failed to see the gathering storm clouds.