Tianalamara, who was known to all but a select few as Liliana, leaned over the scrying pool and breathed on its tranquil surface. Her breath rippled the water ever so slightly, and when the tiny wavelets died the clear surface of the water dissolved into a vision of the fountain pond at Tower Grove Park, and Jeremy seated on the bench-like stone just "inside" the door to the nonexistent building the ruins pretended to represent, staring through the door at the fountain, or perhaps toward his remembrance of faerie.
He was very thin. He looked as if he hadn't eaten in days. His hair was unwashed, and he had an unkempt beard. He raised a hand to rub the side of his face, and she saw that it trembled slightly.
Silently, she began to cry, tears flowing down her cheeks and falling into the pool, rippling the water and disturbing the vision.
She felt foolish to be crying. She hadn't cried in over 700 years, and never over a human lover. But she felt a deeper loss than she had ever known, a longing for him she did not even know was possible.
Her mother didn't understand.
"He's going to die, mother."
"Who's going to die?"
"Jeremy. Hugh. You know."
"Aye, they do that, his kind."
"No, I mean he's going to die soon. Before his time. Miserable and alone. And it's my fault."
Her mother looked at her strangely. "And isn't that what they all have done, the men you've taken as lovers?"
Well, yes, it was. That was the problem. She had been careless and thoughtless and heartless and ruthless, human poets had written devastating poems about the cruelty of her love. Loving her had always been a death sentence, her lovers burning with a brighter flame than they had ever known but all too quickly extinguished.
She had never thought about it. Had never considered the fairness or unfairness of the situation, whether the gifts she gave them were worth the price they paid. Many of them had realized early on the kind of bargain they were making, and entered into it with open eyes. Others were so besotted with her by the time they realized the danger that they were hopeless to resist. A few had actually turned away from her and went back to living ordinary and rather dull, but significantly longer, lives.
She had never cared, one way or the other. As her mother said, they were all mortal, all doomed to die in what seemed to her a short time anyway. What difference did it make if they lost a few decades? After all, the time they had with her was richer and deeper, lived far more intensely, and touched by magic from another world.
Many men would willingly bargain away their lives for what she had given Jeremy. Many had bargained so, and many others who had never known they were making the bargain had fallen for her fatal charm and went down into darkness the way Jeremy was doing. Why now did it bother her?
Her mother had asked the same question, and she hadn't had an answer, but after a long silence, her mother answered for her.
"By Our Lady, you've fallen in love with him!"
She opened her mouth to deny it, but found that she couldn't. Why else had she told him her true name, that night in the dungeon? Why else did she spend every moment that she could spying on him? Why else did it tear her heart out to see him deteriorating, moving inexorably toward his final dissolution?
She was in love.
With a mortal.
Such a thing just wasn't possible. The fey make mortals fall in love with them, not the other way around. She should be using the scrying pool to choose her next --
She realized suddenly that she had been about to say "victim." She had never thought of her lovers as victims before. But she realized suddenly that she would never be able to think of them as anything else.
"How can I save him," she beseeched her mother.
"Save him? Why on earth would you want to do that?"
She wailed and her mother softened. "Och, child, I was only teasing you, I know why you want to save him. Still, you need to think about it. What if you do save him, and he does not die just yet. Still, he will die, and still you will not be able to go to him and love him as you wish. King Oberon has forbidden all of us from having any contact with him."
"I know," she said miserably. "I don't know what I want. But what I want doesn't matter. I mean, it matters to me, but that's just my selfish desire. I'm more concerned with saving Jeremy. Even if I can't have him, I don't want him to suffer because of me."
Her mother nodded. "Ah, child, I wish I could help you. I know that if he had another lover, if you had taken him away from someone, and if she forgave him, and if she gave up her own life, not to die for him, but to devote herself to caring for him and winning him back to the living, then he could be saved. But such a selfless woman is rare indeed, and I believe you said that Jeremy was a single man when you found him."
"Aye. But . . . could any woman do this for him, even if she had not been a lover before?"
Her mother smiled. "Well, yes, but consider. What woman is likely to do this for a man she does not already love? And what woman is likely to come to love him as he is?"
There was that. Jeremy was far less attractive than he had been when he caught her attention, and she chose him partly because she'd long ago tired of those perfectly carved faces and figures that usually covered empty personalities that even with her presence and charm filled out only marginally. She could tell Jeremy was a man of substance, and so he had proved to be. But now he was like a candle that had melted almost all the way down to the candlestick. There was little left to love about him.
Yet still she loved him, and was determined to help him. She remembered he had contact with a woman just after she had come into his life, a woman she had smelled on him one night, though she believed his insistence that the contact was casual. Her senses were far more efficient than a human's, and she'd smelled everyone he'd ever come in contact with, and while this woman's scent lingered more than most it was not the scent of sex or even arousal on his part, but she'd thought she detected something like such from her.
Casting a simple spell on her scrying pool, she cast back to the day in question and watched Jeremy arrive at work, and go through his day. Then she focused on a young woman who must be the one, and found to her surprise an earlier encounter with Jeremy, about the time she had first entered into his life.
She followed the woman forward in time, and found that she had asked about him at the library a few weeks after he had left. Better and better. Perhaps this young woman might be persuaded to be the means of Jeremy's salvation.