That Which Cannot Be

Caer Pendragon, Pendragon

She could feel his presence well before he entered the room, feel the turbulent emotions churning inside him. He had always been a passionate man, but he grew more and more conflicted as the years passed. He was strong, stronger than most humans, but eventually this heart-sickness would ruin him. He was already teetering dangerously close to the edge.
She pretended not to notice him, even though they both knew he could not take her by surprise. Even if it were not for her supernatural abilities, her mundane senses were far too keen for a human to deceive. Saying nothing, he walked up behind her. It felt like a wave of sparks washed over her. His yearning was that strong, that electric. And it was focused on her.
She let him wrap his arms around her. He was lonely, so lonely that it hurt her as much as him. She could not help indulging him a little. He drew her closer, pressing her body against his. For all her three hundred years, it was difficult to maintain her focus. Her sympathy for him ran deep, but she could not afford to sacrifice her self-control.
Placing a hand on the arm encircling her shoulders, she said in a detached voice, "You are ill-used by that woman. You have so much love to give, and she does not appreciate it."
"Why does it have to be that way, Kalina?" he asked.
Lately he had insisted on using her Elven name. It seemed so unnatural having it spoken by a human. Her mother had given her the name Cassandra to use among the humans. At first, that had been enough for him, but the more distant his wife became, the closer he sought to get to her. It was a dangerous balancing act. She had sworn herself to his service to repay him for saving her life all those years ago, but she had her limits.
One of those limits was an honesty that was only partial. Few people can handle the whole truth, and humans were especially fragile. She kept things from him as she deemed necessary. Among those things was the true nature and intentions of his wife. The Queen was not loyal to him by any means, her love for him shallow, feigned and short-lived. Her manipulation was one of the main reasons the Elf was thankful for her oath. Someone had to shield him from the worst of it, and also protect his only daughter.
He rested his chin on her shoulder, disrupting her train of thought. "You've always been there for me, Kalina," he said. "Twenty years and you've never strayed from my side."
"An oath is not taken lightly by either of us," she replied.
"Tell me, why did I never pick you? You've been as loyal as any woman could be, maybe more."
"Because you had too much sense for that," she said. "You have had to deal with trouble enough by my presence alone. If you had taken me for a mate, there would have been treason."
"Surely I could have bested them."
His boast was no idle one. Few men could wield a sword as well as he or lead other men in battle, but the tumult that would be raised by him taking a non-human like her to wife could not be quelled by strength of arms alone. Surely he had to know that.
"Even if you could, the trust of the people would be shaken. Is it not better for a king to be loved than to be feared?"
He in turn asked her, "What good is the love of the masses when you can't have the love of an equal?"
She felt her heart squeeze. For someone who had never truly been accepted either by her own people or by the humans, it was more than she could ever ask for, but even if she entertained mad fancy for the slightest moment, could it possibly be so?
"Would I truly be an equal?" she asked.
"Of course," he said confidently. "I don't care that I'm a human and you're an Elf."
"I know, but there are not many others who would see it that way. That is why you have sealed up those feelings that lie in the depths of your heart, although they have risen a little closer to the surface today."
In truth, it was an understatement to say his feelings were simply coming a little closer to the surface. They were on the verge of bursting forth, as much for him as for her. He held her tighter. His heart was beating faster and so was hers.
"What's to stop us?" he asked her.
It was difficult to continue to sound aloof, but she did not dare show any weakness around him, especially not at a time like this.
"You are a married man, for one thing," she replied.
"It never got in my father's way," he said bitterly, "and I doubt he ever felt half as much for any of his concubines as I feel for you. And what of my wife? Is a marriage without love anything but a sham?"
"Sadly, no," she said. "A marriage does not need to have love."
"Do you feel nothing for me?"
She felt her blood turn to icewater. For someone who spent so much time casually observing the hearts of others, she was not so fond of turning her mind's eye inward.
"I would be lying if I said I felt nothing," she said, and immediately felt foolish for doing so.
"Then you admit it," he said. "We could keep it secret. The rumors have plagued me ever since I first met you. What difference would it make now?"
It was true. Long had she been regarded as his kept harlot. It was tempting to think that giving truth to the rumors would change nothing, but she knew better than that.
"And what if I came to be with child?" she asked him.
Honestly, her heart leapt at the thought. She could envision the child, the beauty and wisdom of her people combined with the strength and courage of the father. It was very nearly stronger than the vision of the child's persecution at the hands of the two races that would hate it, but not quite.
"We could be careful," he said, almost hopeful.
It was not to be. She shook her head.
"From my observation, humans are more likely to conceive the less they intend for it to happen."
"And what about Elves?"
She honestly did not know. Of course her mother had taught her about such things, but Elves were not so open about their intimacy as humans were. If her kind ever expressed passion as the humans do, they did so out of sight. Their society was too rigid for the accidents of love and lust that humans seemed to fall prey to so easily.
"I would rather not try my luck," she said. "Besides, what sort of future would there be for a halfbreed child? Your people would never accept it."
She hoped that the warning might be enough to deter him. He was a doting father, after all, and perhaps the grim fate that awaited any offspring of theirs would check his desires.
Unfortunately, those desires were too strong for his reason to overcome. He turned her around and looked deeply into her eyes. She did not need to sense the passion burning in his breast. She could see it in his eyes. It amplified her own confused and unsteady emotions.
"Forget about worries," he said. "No more thinking. Feel, Kalina. Let our feelings guide us."
He cupped her chin in his large hand and slowly began to lean forward. His mind was a maelstrom of pent-up emotions seeking release in this one moment. Her own mind was little different. She had grown too attached to him over the years. No, 'attached' was too weak a word for it.
She wanted this to happen every bit as much he did, did she not? Deep down, were they not both longing for exactly the same thing? It would be so easy for her to do nothing, to just let go. Would it really be so bad?
Yes, it would. She knew better. Her emotions were not as focused as his. Cold reason was still free to cry out the warning. No! You mustn't! She did not want to listen, but she knew the voice was right.
"Stop," she whispered.
He did not stop. Either he did not listen or he did not care. She knew that if their lips met, her resistance could crumble. She had to act.
His muscles suddenly seized up and he was forced to back away from her. He was strong, both in body and in mind. She had to use enough of her power to overcome him, but she did not want to hurt him. Such delicate concentration was none too easy when your own head is swimming in a flood of emotion.
Once there was a little distance between them, she was able to focus better. Exerting her power on him had the sobering effect of a good hard slap. It was enough to force him to realize what he was doing.
"It cannot be," she said, finally releasing him from the grip of her power.
It took him a moment to recover. Clearly in his own mind, he saw the truth of what she said. Even so, there was a wounded look in his eyes. After dealing with his wife's frigidity, getting rebuffed by his longtime companion was a harsh blow.
"You're a cruel woman, Kalina," he said. There was no bitterness in his voice, only sadness.
She shook her head. "No, if I were a cruel woman, I would have let you kiss me. I would have given myself to you for my own selfish pleasure. It would be your ruin.
"You are King of this land. I care for you too much to let you hazard that. Please, understand..."
He bowed his head. "You're right... You always are. Always know the right thing to do..." He started to walk away. Opening the door, he added, "Just once, I wish you'd let yourself be human."
She knew he meant no malice and probably did not realize the deeper meaning of his words, but they stung nevertheless. She could never be human. She was Elf. No matter what they felt for each other, that would never change.