Zaor of Evermeet, now aged far beyond the years of most elves, busied himself in the palace gardens. He lowered the clippers and cocked his head to one side as he admired the effect. In the very center of the palace gardens, he had planted a hedge of pale blue roses and shaped it into a crescent moon. In the faint light of a summer twilight, the rare flowers seemed to glow with their own inner radiance.
"Very lovely," commented a voice behind him, a voice that still had the power to quicken Zaor's heart despite the passage of centuries.
He turned to face Amlaruil. A mixture of longing and pain smote him as he gazed upon her beautiful face. She looked exactly as she had when he'd met her more than four hundred years before. And he? He was an old elf, useless to Amlaruil and to Evermeet, homesick for Arvandor. Amlaruil took a single step forward, her hands clenched at her sides and her face blazing with incompressible wrath. "I would never have thought I'd have occasion to call you a hypocrite!" she said in a cold voice. "Do you not remember the pledge you demanded of me, those many years past? You made me promise that I would remain on Evermeet for the good of the People, for howsoever long I was needed."
"I am old, Amlaruil," he said simply, "and I am very tired."
"Spare me your tales of creaking joints!" she raged at him. "Do you think that it has been easy for me, or always pleasant, to do as you requested? If I could see my youth pass by, each year like a wasted spring day as I endured seeing you wed to another, can you not summon the courage to live your venerable years? You are needed!"
"You are Evermeet's queen, and all the ruler the elves truly need."
"What of my needs, my lord? And truly, what would befall Evermeet if I, like you, were to become so self-absorbed that I did not tend to the future? Which of our children could you truly envision on the throne? Tira'allara? Hhora?"
Zaor slowly shook his head. He loved his daughters, but neither would make a queen. Priestesses of Hanali Celanil, they were both completely caught up in the cult of love and beauty, so much so that at times he worried about them. Tira'allara was involved in a potentially disastrous liaison with a young Gold elf known as a rake and a wastrel. Zaor suspected that the youth's interest in the princess had more to do with her rank and wealth-for Tira'allara happily repaid his gambling debts with her jewels and dowry-than with the princess herself. Yet Tira'allara loved the elf with all her passionate, intense nature. Zaor wondered if she would survive the disillusionment that was sure to come. And Hhora was preparing to sail for distant Faerun, for she was determined to wed a chance-met commoner with whom she'd shared a festival.
"Evermeet is without an heir," Amlaruil continued bluntly. "The sword of Zaor is a warrior's blade, and neither of our surviving children could draw it and live. We must give Evermeet an heir."
"I am old, Amlaruil," he repeated.
She came to him in a rush, framing his weathered face in hands as smooth and unlined as a maiden's. Tears filled her eyes and soul-deep grief softened her angry face. "Do not leave me, my love," she said with quiet intensity. "I could not bear it."
He stroked her bright hair. "You can handle anything. I have never known anyone as strong."
"Together we are strong!" she said urgently. "Do you not see it? What we have accomplished, we have done together. The bond between us is deep and unique, but it could be even more."
Zaor stared at her, stunned by what she was offering. The rare, deep bond of elven rapport would bind them together soul to soul. He would be sustained by the same divine fire that linked her to the Seldarine-at what cost to her, he could not begin to imagine. He could make, and make good, the pledge she demanded of him. He could vow to remain on Evermeet for as long as he was needed.
"It is midsummer," she whispered, clinging to him with an urgency that warmed his blood and sent it singing through his veins. "It is the time for making promises. Come with me to our glade, my love."
The king found that he could not deny the entreaty in his love's eyes. He swept her up in arms still strong despite his years, and carried her from the garden as if she were again a bride.
The palace guard parted to let them pass, the servants and gardeners melted away. Not a single elven face held anything but smiles of understanding and joy. None saw anything incongruent in the sight of beautiful springtime in the arms of late autumn. It was midsummer, and pledges made had a magic of their own.
Thus began Zaor and Amlaruil's new life together.
In the years that followed, four more children were born to them. First was Amnestria, who inherited her father's coloring and her mother's rare beauty-and something that came from neither. Alternately sunny and fierce, Amnestria possessed an intensity that seemed oddly out of place in the serene court of Leuthilspar.
Zandro and Finufaranell, the boys that followed, were cut more to the elven mold. They were diligent students both, and took to the Towers at a young age. And finally, there was Lamruil, the sunny, charming, spoiled baby of the family. By the time he was yet a lad, no more than thirty or forty, he had already taken up adventuring and wenching as avocations. Lamruil was much given to mischief; fortunately, his fierce love and admiration for his older sister Amnestria served to keep him somewhat in line. The year that he left the island in search of adventure and elven artifacts, many elves in the staid capital city-including Lamruil's tutors and swordmasters-breathed private sighs of relief.
The tenor of palace life changed yet again with the arrival of Thasitalia Moonflower. Near to the end of her mortal span, the adventurer had one task left to her before answering the call to Arvandor. As was the responsibility of every elf who wielded a moonblade, she needed to select a blade heir.
For weeks the sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued elf woman stayed in the palace, scandalizing the nobles and delighting the young with stories of her travels.
Amnestria, in particular, was enchanted by the tales of distant places and strange events. The king and queen watched their daughter as she listened to Thasitalia with shining eyes, and the fey Amlaruil felt a fear to which she could not give a name. She and Zaor were not pleased when Thasitalia proclaimed Amnestria to be the pick of Zaor's litter, and chose her as blade heir. Yet the honor of a moonblade was something that no one, especially a king and queen so chosen, could scorn. The choice was Amnestria's, and she embraced the sword with passion and joy: the sword of an adventurer, a solitary fighter. It was not an auspicious step for the daughter whom Amlaruil and Zaor fondly hoped to see upon the throne of Evermeet.
Even so, Amnestria seemed contented with life in Leuthilspar. The elf maid added a fierce regime of training for the moonblade's challenge to her studies of swordcraft and battle magic. But the girl's world shattered when her betrothed, Elaith Craulnober, left her and Evermeet without a breath of explanation.
For weeks after his departure, everyone in the palace tiptoed around the jilted princess, for Amnestria's fiery temper was legendary. Of all the royal elves, only Lamruil dared seek her out.
The prince found his sister in her chamber, her face set with determination as she flung clothes and valuables into a sea chest. When Lamruil entered the room, she looked up at him and grimaced.
"The door was locked and enspelled," she said pointedly. "I wouldn't have thought you knew magic enough to open it!" Lamruil shrugged, and then nodded to the overflowing chest. "What's this about?"
The princess slammed the lid. "I'm going after him."
She shot her brother a derisive look. "He sent me word from Waterdeep-wasn't that nice of him? He has taken up with a band of adventurers. Humans, mostly. He's off to see the world. Well, I'm going to become part of the scenery he sees!"
"Oh? That's it? You're not going to try to convince me of my folly?"
"Would it help?"
A reluctant smile softened Amnestria's face, and her shoulders rose and fell with a long sigh. "Well, it's comforting to know that at least one person in this palace understands me."
"I understand more than you think," Lamruil said, suddenly grave. He reached out and touched the weapons belt at his sister's waist. The clasp had been loosened a notch, displaying the well-worn notch to the right of it.
Amnestria's gazed followed his gesture. She frowned and shrugged. Though beautiful almost beyond measure, there was nothing of vanity in her.
"So? One notch is as good as another, as long as it keeps my sword on and my trousers up."
"Speaking of which, what was the manner of your leave-taking with Elaith?"
The princess's face darkened, and she turned away to snap shut the clasps on the trunk with more force than was needed. "That's none of your business."
Her brother saw that she truly did not understand. "Four moons have passed since Elaith left the island," he said gently. "Before too many more pass, you will have to set aside that belt altogether."
Amnestria spun back to him, her eyes wide with shock. She sank down on the bed and buried her face in her hands. "Oh, I feel such a fool! How could I not have known?"
The prince sat down beside her, hating what he must tell her next. "I know why Elaith left Evermeet. His grandfather passed to Arvandor, and the Craulnober blade passed to him. It went dormant in his hands, as there is no heir to Craulnober."
She sat up, abruptly. "There is now. Damnation! If only he had waited to draw the moonblade until after we-"
"If he had waited, he would be dead," Lamruil interrupted bluntly. "The sword did not accept him. If there had been an heir, it would have slain him and you would have kept the sword in trust for your babe."
They sat in silence for a moment as Amnestria tried to sort it through.
"There is more," Lamruil said reluctantly. He drew a letter from his tunic. "This came through the Relays, from a human ranger and a comrade of Elaith's. He says he feels he knows you a little, from Elaith's descriptions, and he urgently bids you not to come."
"I haven't told anyone I was coming," the princess muttered.
"Well, perhaps he does understand you. There is more. The adventuring group with whom Elaith has taken up has left the city. They seek to find the ancient burial grounds of Aryvandaar-and to despoil them."
Horror dulled Amnestria's eyes like mist, only to be rapidly burned off by the heat of her wrath. "And this human?"
"He does not approve. He will try to stop them, by whatever means needed."
The princess nodded, grimly approving. "And I will help."
"But what of the child?"
"I can still travel for a while, and I can still fight. When I cannot, I will find a place where I am not known, and bear the child in secrecy. For I swear to you before all the gods of the Seldarine, Elaith will never know of this child! I will give the babe up into the hands of another to raise, before I would link my house with a traitor and a rogue!"
She glared at Lamruil, daring him to gainsay her.
"That is your right," he said. "I will help you all I can, but you must promise me two things. First, you must tell me where the child is. Second, he must be raised in the skills and knowledge required of a potential king. Evermeet may have need of him."
Amnestria glared. "Damn it, Lamruil, that's the sort of thing our mother would think of. You're starting to talk like a king yourself."
A wide grin split Lamruil's face. "Not a chance," he said, genuinely amused by the idea. He rose and extended a hand to help her to her feet. "I'll help you slip away," he said softly. "Bran Skorlsun was not the only one to suspect that you would come storming after Elaith. There's a ship waiting for you off the shore of Ruith, and I've bribed enough of the palace servants that you can slip away in secrecy."
The princess thanked him with a brief, fierce hug, and then drew away. "Who is Bran Skorlsun?"
"The human ranger. I have sent word, and told him where to expect you. He seems a fine man, and I think you and he will do well together."
Lamruil was long to remember these words, and oft to rue them. Amnestria did indeed join with Bran Skorlsun, and they were successful in thwarting the efforts of Elaith and his comrades. The ancient burial grounds of Aryvandaar, the resting place of the mortal remains of those who died in defense of that wondrous land, remained sacred.
Elaith was never to learn of his son. The babe was born into the hands of a human, and hidden away to be raised in secret fosterage. Amnestria did all that she promised.
But she did not return to the island. The elven princess found a deeper love than that which she had lost, and she wed Bran Skorlsun. With him she established a rapport as deep as that shared by her royal parents. And in so doing, she inadvertently set in motion events that were to have grim consequences for her family, and for all of Evermeet.