A romantic tale from long ago. Second in Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest, 31/1.
|The Tale of Nerya and Rhodwen|
In the dawn of time Orthano, the Maker, decreed gifts to the Angels, Mankind and the Dwarves. To the Angels came immortality. They were the least populous of the higher creatures and they married rarely, so it was fitting that they live forever.
The king of the Angels was Ealdor and his daughter was named Nerya. She was the fairest of all the Angels, a shining star amongst the bright daughters of the most beautiful race. Her skin glowed with a golden light, raven her hair shot through with umber threads, her eyes green with the depth of the clearest ocean. She spent the countless years in the woods and fields, caring for the children of Mankind, the farmers and foresters, craftsmen and traders. The protection she offered made her name known and loved among the common people and, as generation followed generation, the tales of her generosity multiplied.
So it was that, when Rhodwen first beheld the Princess Nerya, his breath caught in wonder at her beauty. He was riding in the forest on a hunting expedition and had dismounted to drink at a spring, when Nerya and her companions appeared in a clearing nearby. Rhodwen heard the sound of their voices and crept closer to watch them from hiding. His heart went out in an instant to the glorious creature at the centre of the swirling, dancing circle of Angels.
He knew at once that the lady he regarded was the legendary Nerya of the Angels. Those same stories told him that he could never be close to her for mortals and immortals must remain forever apart. Yet he could not help himself; he must attempt to know her or die. He stepped forth from cover so that the lady and her entourage could see him.
Nerya, in her turn, was not afraid, though her attendants drifted to the edge of the clearing. She approached and spoke to him.
“Be not afraid, mortal, for I will not harm you. May I know your name?”
Rhodwen broke through the trance in which her beauty held him. “I am Rhodwen and my father is the lord of this wood. It is my great honour to see and hear you, my lady of the shining ones.”
“So you know who I am?” asked Nerya.
Rhodwen smiled. “Oh yes, my lady. Nerya the Healer of Wrongs is well spoken of in all the lands of my father.”
So the two sat down on the soft grass in the sunlight and spoke together until the sun touched the topmost trees and the daylight began to fade. Then they went their separate ways, Nerya to her father’s palace in the deepest forest, Rhodwen to the castle on the hill where dwelt his father.
The next day they met again in the same place and it became their habit to talk together daily in the halls and spaces of that sun-dappled wood. Rhodwen knew that he was bound to the lady by his love but his awareness that it could never be consummated kept him from telling her. There came a day, however, when he could keep his passion in chains no longer and he spoke of his undying love.
Nerya listened for a while, then placed her finger on his lips to silence him. “You know, of course, that this never can be?”
Rhodwen nodded in silent acceptance of the misery that was his fate. She smiled at him and spoke of her own deep love, kindled alike in that instant when their eyes first met.
“Let us hope for the impossible,” she said. “Tomorrow I will speak to my father and see if there is a way to achieve our forbidden desire. If there is anything that can be done, he will know of it for his wisdom extends to the stars themselves. Then let us meet here and decide whether we can be happy in each other.”
Rhodwen agreed and they departed for their homes with faith in their hearts.
On the morrow, Nerya spoke long with Ealdor about her dilemma and he listened and did not speak. When she had told all of the story, he closed his eyes and pondered awhile. Nerya waited patiently and, in time, her father answered her with a ray of faint hope. Her heart leapt with joy.
That day Ealdor accompanied his daughter to the clearing in the forest. Her lover was waiting and, unbeknownst to Nerya and her father, Rhodwen’s father, Grith, watched from the cover of the bushes.
To begin, Ealdor recounted the giving of the gift of immortality and how it carried a heavy price, the need for the Angels to be apart from all other creatures. He explained the heavy burden of care this weighed upon the shoulders of immortals and spoke of the laws and statutes that kept them from falling from their high calling. Then he spoke to Rhodwen directly.
“Knowing all this, do you wish to persist in your desire for my daughter?”
Looking him in the eye, Rhodwen replied. “I have no choice in this, my lord. I love Nerya and nothing can change that.”
Ealdor regarded him for a while before speaking again. “There is truth in you, young mortal. And, because of that and Angels being bound in a special way to the truth, I must tell you of the way I have found that you and Nerya can be married.”
He paused and the lovers, the watcher and even the forest breathed not while they waited. Then the king of the Angels began.
“There is a way but it is hard. Immortals and mortals can be joined together if the immortal is prepared to lose the gift and become subject to the tyranny of Death. This means that Nerya can achieve her ambition but, in doing so, she submits to the same fate that rules over the mortals, the certainty of the end of life. This is a price beyond measure, a loss of the glory of infinity, the rejection of the light that shines within all the Angels. I can counsel Nerya only that she be strong and remain faithful to the divine gift.”
He fell silent and waited for Nerya’s decision. Once again, time seemed frozen in the clearing. When the lady spoke, it was with certainty in her voice.
“I suspected this might be the case, Father, and I have thought long and hard on the demand it makes on me. Yet my love for Rhodwen fills my being and, without him, an endless life is tasteless in prospect. I agree to the terms.”
Rhodwen bowed his head in recognition of the extent of Nerya’s devotion.
Then Grith’s voice was heard as he burst into view from hiding. “It’s a bit more difficult than that,” he shouted.
They all turned to watch the minor lord as he marched toward them. Rhodwen explained quietly to the king that this was his father, the lord of the forest. Ealdor nodded and awaited Grith’s reasoning for his objection.
On reaching the group, Grith launched directly into a speech apparently prepared while he watched proceedings.
“You told us of how the gift of immortality came to the Angels. Well, Mankind received a gift at the same time. We received the gift of Death. Granted, you immortals may regard this as a poor gift, radiant with life as you are. But mortals age and become weak and broken with time and Death is a gift worth having. It defines our existence, setting a fence around our pride and ambition, bringing rest and respite to our labours, offering a mystery of what lies beyond, the possibility of life without pain, without strife, without sadness. Though, as mortals, we live in its shadow all our lives, Death remains a gift beyond measure and we give it up at our peril.
“And it’s the same if we desire union with immortals. If Rhodwen is to marry Nerya, he must first reject Death.”
Silence fell yet again as they all considered these fresh implications. To the immortals, it seemed a small thing since they had no knowledge of Death, but the mortals could see that there was much to be weighed in this. In the end, it was Rhodwen who seized the moment.
“So it is I who must do the choosing, just as Nerya has spoken already. My father says that, should I reject Death, only then can I marry my lady. But it is more complex than that. Consider this…”
He sat down in the grass before continuing and the others followed his lead.
“Let us say that Nerya accepts and I, in my turn, also accept. This must mean, surely, that Nerya becomes mortal and can marry me. Unfortunately, it also means that I become immortal at the same time. Which leaves us just as we are now, with a mortal marrying an immortal, which is against the Law of the gifting.. And, if we are doing that, we might as well stay as we are and risk whatever damnation follows the breaking of the Law.”
At this, a tremendous argument broke out between Ealdor and Grith, both determined that their child should do one thing or the other, both fearful of the results of breaking the Law but not wanting to thwart the desires of their children. In the noise and confusion, Nerya and Rhodwen looked at each other, nodded, crept away and rode off into the westering sun, never to be heard from again.
Some say that Ealdor and Grith are still hashing out the matter and that now armies of lawyers have joined in with the argument. But I suspect that they came to their senses eventually and accepted that there was nothing they could do about it anyway.
Word Count: 1,640
Written for the Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest, January 2020.