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“What was that all about?” asked Aridel when Ryel elbowed her way back through the tree.

“Fucking Arkmar,” said Ryel. “My dwarf. He seems to think he has a—well, anyway, do you want me to get you on the Storm Queen?”

“No hurry,” said Aridel. “You’re up to something. I’m wondering what. Maybe my count wanted me to help you.”

“Maybe,” said Ryel, “your count wanted to steal what I’m trying to steal.”

“Ah, you’re stealing. The plot thickens. Because you know, I do believe my count wanted me to steal something: I had the distinct impression that larceny was the basic concept.”

“And your count is who, and he lives where?”

“He lives in a tower,” said Aridel, “and I cannot tell his name, not aloud, not so soon nor so close to the object.” She had begun the sentence with sarcasm but she ended it with an earnestness that only the High Kindred could manage.

“If you think I trust you,” Ryel replied, “you are insane. Oh, that’s right. You’re a high elf. That would account for it.”

“For what? Being insane?”

“No. For thinking that all the other elves will fall all over themselves trying to make you happy in your blessedness.”

“Now look here,” said Aridel huskily, closing the distance between them. “You’re not a typical wood elf, to say the least. Let’s just posit that I am not the typical high elf. Is that doable? Are you good?” She was playing with the unbuttoned top buttons of Ryel’s shirt.

Aridel. Pouty little mouth, twinkly red hair. That air of the other side of the sea, that air of the blessed land, mixed with the perfume rising from her body. And there were her eyes: green, or blue. Her head was cocked downward, but her eyes were aimed up at Ryel’s. Her left hand moved to Ryel’s shoulder, then down to her elbow and then to her wrist, which she lifted to the side. She spoke words, and Ryel found her own lips speaking them as well without knowing what they were: not elbereth, but something along that line.

“We have the most interesting abilities,” said Aridel. Ryel did not look around, but she was pretty sure she stood in a tiny little garden. “I find it especially interesting,” she said, her left hand letting go Ryel’s right wrist and gliding to her waist, “when I use them in new and different ways.”

“Hey,” muttered Ryel, “you’re unbuttoning my shirt.”

“What’s that suggest to you?” Aridel replied.

“You’re a lot of fun,” said Bidjith. She wasn’t wearing anything more than her beard.

“Oh,” said Arkmar, “you don’t know the half of it.” He lay back and laughed to himself.

“You’re an international bad guy,” said the judge. “I should not be seen with you.”

“Who’s seeing?” He laughed low again. “Ah, yer honor,” he said, looking at her, “this is strange in many ways and yet—!”

“Just tell me,” she said, rising to an elbow and grabbing her mug off the side table, “that I’m not a means to an end.”

“No, no,” said Arkmar, “in fact I might be helping you.”

“This gnome who came with the ship?”

“It’s not time yet,” said Arkmar. “No,” he said, lying back on his back, “it will wait till the dawn. This is an island, after all.”

Ryel and Aridel floated in a place that was not trapped between a fat pine tree and a sea wall. They turned and wandered into a long valley given over to garden, complex garden, garden full of odd side paths and glens full of moonlight. They were both naked as they walked along the bank of a small river, the lotus flowers drifting along its glass-like surface. They came to the top of the valley, and there they bathed under a waterfall, the perfumes and the vapors and the herbal smokes surrounding them, twining them together, making them twins, the voluptuous, extravagantly magical Aridel and the wiry, tight, precise Ryel. She floated up into the falls, she floated on the falling water, floated under Aridel’s loving hands. They kissed, they kissed again, they made love, and then Ryel was lost in the magical, the fragrant valley between her high elf lover’s thighs.

The heaven was timeless. A paragraph or two is not sufficient to contain it. They weren’t in Rivendell or Lothlorien or even Valinor: they were in a valley of their own, or perhaps in a valley that belonged to Aridel, and where Ryel strayed but was made welcome.

Elbereth, yes. Oh yes. She was made welcome.

She woke slowly and found herself in a home-made glade under the bushy tree, with the top of the sea wall a few feet away. Aridel lay beside her, on her side, gazing on her. Aridel, her red hair falling about her, her breasts, which were rather amazing anyway, given new wonder as they settled slightly to the side, the rest of her body—ah, the rest of her body. It all quite unnerved Ryel, who lay open to the high elf’s incense-like influence. Yet it was Ryel’s role to be the rebel wood elf to the high kindred whose rebel was Aridel, and Ryel, in her spareness and simplicity and her smirking skepticism, gazed upon Aridel ready to meet all that mystery and throw her forest and her wildness back as a challenge.

Aridel was saying something. Ryel struggled to find her way to the surface of this lovely, warm, deceptively clear sea.

“What was that?” she asked.

“It’s nearly dawn,” Aridel was saying. “Don’t you think we should be about your business?”

Ryel sat up, her smirking skepticism coming reliably to the fore. “We should be about? I still haven’t accepted that you have a stake in this.”

“Oh, but I do,” said Aridel. “You know I do.”

“I know no such thing.”

“Ryel,” said the high elf, “you know you need me. And you know that even if you don’t trust me, you can trust me, all you have to do is say the safe word.”

“Ah,” said Ryel, “the safe word. And what would that be?”

“Remind me that we made love,” said Aridel, with a seriousness that could have been parody. “You know I cannot betray one who has made love with me. You know it in your heart and in all your brain.”

“I know it,” said Ryel, hypnotized. Then she smirked and said, “Fine. We’ll see how that works out for me. Are you going to light that, or should we wait till after we’ve succeeded?”