Prelude Part 4
The first stone is love, and that shall fail you.
The second stone is hate, and that shall fail you.
The third stone is knowledge, and that shall fail you.
The fourth stone is prayer, and that shall fail you.
The fifth stone will not fail you.
The fifth stone is a magic stone...
Made up of fear and failure, lies and loss.
-- Stella Benson "Five Smooth Stones"
Yin sat back in her throne, head bowed and eyes closed, savoring the graceful sounds of the court musicians. The melody was sad and haunting and told the ancient tale of a maiden kidnapped by the King of the Underworld. Yin bitterly remembered how similar her life was to the stolen maiden Persephone.
A page ran up to her. "Empress Yin," he said and bowed. "There is someone who seeks audience with you."
"Who is it?" Yin asked, her reverie ended.
"He didn't say, Empress," the page told her. "Shall I send him in?"
"Yes, please do," Yin nodded and the page scurried out of the throne room.
Vandole allowed himself to be led into the throne room, even though he already knew the way. He saw Yin seated on an ornate throne, dressed all in black. Is she mourning my supposed death? he wondered. The castle, like the one in Tasnica, had a city built into it, and the dark elves that had lined the second story to listen to the music backed away. Emperor Vandole saw parents shooing their children into their homes, while casting angry looks at him. He removed his horned helmet and knelt down before Yin. "My sweet Empress wife," he said, forcing himself to speak kindly to her.
Yin's eyes had the hardened look of a survivor's and the look that she gave her long-absent husband was as terrible as a dragon. "They told me that you were dead," she told him, her voice holding no hint of emotion. "I didn't cry."
"I was wrong, Yin," Vandole said softly. "Please forgive me."
Yin regarded her husband. The half shadows that the torches threw made him look younger, obscuring wrinkles and making the gray strands in his blond hair less noticeable. He looked like the man she had loved and married, not the tyrant who had caused so many innocent lives to be lost.
"I've missed you," Emperor Vandole said and added to himself. I'll vomit if I have to spout too much more of this sentimental trash.
Empress Yin regarded him with stony silence.
"They betrayed me. Thanatos took control and Fanha paralyzed me with a spell, she meant to kill me like Thanatos had killed her father. But the pain of being betrayed by those I thought were loyal to me was nothing compared to the pain of having betrayed my wife."
"Pain?" Yin's terrible gaze bored into him. "You enjoyed it!" With those words, the dark elf slid out of her throne and walked out of the room.
The Empress lay down on her bed, crying. Wiping tears from her eyes, she reached behind a chest of drawers, opened a secret drawer, and withdrew a locket. She looked at the two thumbprint sized paintings, one of her husband and one of a golden-haired child. "Melusine," she whispered, running a finger over the glass that protected the painting of the girl.
"Who is that?" Vandole asked and sat down beside her on the bed.
The dark elf shuddered, she hadn't heard him come in. "No one you'd care about," she said and closed the locket. "Why are you really here?"
"To ask you to be Empress of the World and rule at my side," Emperor Vandole looked into her tear-reddened eyes. "And for you to take me back."
"You want the world now?" Yin whispered. "The four kingdoms are large enough for us to rule."
"The world and you," Vandole insisted. "Both."
"Why do you want me?" she drew closer.
Vandole felt sick, he was tired of lying through his teeth for nothing. "Because I love you, Yin."
Yin's face softened, the hate melting from her eyes. "You do?"
"With all my soul," Vandole smiled at the irony of his statement, for he had lost his soul in the contract years ago. "I know I have wronged you, can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"I forgive you," Yin said. She knew she shouldn't trust him and thought herself foolish for even saying that she forgave him. But, she reasoned. Sometimes it's best to keep one's enemies as close as one's friends. Especially when the enemy was married to you. Perhaps, Yin thought as she shared a long kiss with Vandole. I'll find a friend in him again.
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