Blood is Blood

Natheria gently untangled her arms and legs, separating her body from Ronnath's. The room was almost pitch black, and the odor of their love-making hung heady in the cool air. A gentle breeze wafted through the open window, drying the sweat from her naked limbs as she moved carefully.

Ronnath was deep in his meditative trance, as he would so often slip into after they had been intimate. Some, especially humans, might have been insulted. She knew how often human males would slip into the strange state of sleep after sex, and how often the women in the relationship were angered by it.

She was not angered, or insulted. In a way, she was strangely gratified and pleased when he slipped into meditation. It meant he was relaxed and contented. Standing up from the bed she and the Ranger had been sharing for upwards of a year now, the woman stretched and sighed contentedly. The hour was late, well past the mid of the night, but it mattered not. A few hours of meditation and she would be as right as the moonrise. She did not feel fatigued and knew it would be at least a hour or longer before she would finally join him and meditate on her life.

Behind her, Natheria heard him shift slightly and he mumbled under his breath. Turning, she could see the look of consternation on his face, even though his eyes were closed and several beads of sweat appeared on his furrowed brow. "Oh no, Ronnath," she said into the silence of the room. "Not again."

A moment later she stood next to the bed and leaned down to study his troubled face. She had seen this many times over the past year. His mind went back to that horrible day, the day he considered his personal hell.

The day he had been possessed by a shadow demon and slaughtered so many innocent men, women and yes – children. The memories were appearing less and less as they were together, and rarely did they appear after they had made love, but tonight was not to be one of those nights.

Reaching out, she gently stroked his forehead, wiping away the accumulating sweat. His closed eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but he seemed to relax, although if she had not been looking for it, she would have missed the change completely. Cupping one cheek in her soft hand, she turned his head just a fraction of an inch to the side and kissed him tenderly on the lips. She let her mouth linger, feeling the tension in his body relax even more.

"Be at ease," she whispered. "I'm here for you."

For a fraction of a second, the Ranger's eyes opened and their gazes locked. He gave her a sad smile and took her hand in his. "Are ye… are you alright?"

Natheria almost laughed. He was the one reliving the horrible memories and yet he asked about her, he wanted to make sure she was fine. "Aye, I am fine. The memory again?"

It was the term they used whenever he suffered from the remembered terrors. "Aye," Ronnath confirmed. "I can't shake the damnable memories."

Still holding his face in her palm, she kissed him again, lingering a little longer before pulling away. "I am here for you," she repeated. "Close your eyes and this time, try to remember when we met, or maybe when you met Cheonsa. Concentrate on pleasant memories."

He nodded and with his shockingly strong arms, grabbed her and pulled the smaller elf woman into his lap. She nestled against his body, feeling the tension ebb to nothing as she burrowed her face into the nape of his neck. Soon his breathing was slow and steady and when she pulled away to look at his face, it was calm and untroubled. "Thank Eilistraee," she whispered.

As if it was a cue, a silver, blueish beam of radiance poured through the open window and crossed the small chamber until it settled on her naked legs. Natheria's eyebrows went up in unexpected shock at the sudden appearance of the light, and she frowned. With the silence of a cat, she pulled her body off Ronnath's and moved over to the window and looked out over the small expanse of neatly cropped grass to the treeline only a few dozen feet away.

Silver eyes stared back at her from the foliage and blinked, and then she could see an arm as black as obsidian beckon to her. Looking back towards her sleeping lover, Natheria slunk out of the chamber and throughout the small house she shared with Ronnath and his adopted daughter Cheonsa. The door opened on well-oiled hinges without so much as a sound and she stepped out into the cool night air.

Away from the cabin, Natheria could hear the sounds of the night-creatures as they went about their unseen lives. An owl hooted in the trees off to her left, and crickets sang their mating songs to one another. If it had been later in the season, Natheria would have taken a moment to dress, but it was not yet uncomfortable and she knew who she was about to meet, so she strode across the cropped grass to the spot, not bothering to cover her body.

"Natheria," a deeply feminine voice announced as soon as she passed into the treeline. "it is good to see you again, sister."

Her eyes automatically adjusted to the lack of illumination, and she could see as clearly as if it was high-noon. A slightly shorter woman stood a handful of feet away. The newcomer was dressed in dark leathers, a forest-green cloak covering her shoulders and back. From her head flowed a mane of pure-white hair, cascading down her back like frozen moonlight. An ornate Bastard sword was strapped to her right hip, while a pair of silver daggers adorned her left hip. The woman's flesh was black, as black as the deepest night sky, and her eyes were a bright sliver, which was not as cold as one might expect, instead held warmth few could match.

"Merin," Natheria responded, smiling broadly.

The two women closed and embraced, the Drow placing a kiss on Natheria's cheeks.

"It is good to see you again, sister," Merin said, smiling broadly. The Drow looked down at Natheria's state of undress and the smile turned into a mischievous grin. "I see you have been enjoying your time with the wood Elf."

"And why not?" Natheria countered, but her voice held no heat. "He's a good man, and he has always treated me with kindness and consideration, and for one so young, he certainly knows how to play my body. A bard would be hard pressed to do as well."

"Would he continue to do so if he knew the truth?" Merin asked quietly, her whole attitude sobering quickly. "You look so… pale. It doesn't seem right," she waved a hand at Natheria's naked flesh. "Your flesh, you don't look like a Drow."

Natheria nodded and brushed a few strands of white hair away from her eyes. "I believe he would," she said firmly. "If you knew his past as I do, you would see it, especially in the way he treats the girl he adopted," she looked around the forest, seeking what was not visible. "I've grown accustomed to my appearance, and it certainly has made life on the surface so much easier. Our cousins have not the best reputation, after all." She was smiling and as she glanced over her shoulder back at the cabin, she sobered. "Did you come alone? And for that matter, why did you come at all?"

"Aye, I am alone, and I came to tell you that in the next few months he and his daughter will be leaving. They will be travelling to the far East, to the Purple Desert. There Eilistraee has foreseen both he and his kin will undergo a very trying time, one which will shake them both to the core, and will impact their futures."

Natheria shivered as her eyes grew wide. "And me?" She asked, hugging herself and shivering despite not being cold.

"You are to return to the promenade and rejoin us in the dance," Merin said, a tinge of both sadness and joy intermingled in her words.

"I don't want to," Natheria said quietly. "He needs me and I want to travel with him, to care for him and Cheonsa the way he cares for me."

Merin studied her silently, saying nothing for several seconds. Her features had grown as cold as the moonlight which bathed the spot in which they stood. The dark maiden was with them both, listening in on the conversation. If she had anything to say or wished to add, she too remained silent. "I see that, but you are need at home, and besides, he is far too young for you. Ronnath is a mere child compared to you."

The words cut far deeper than Natheria would have admitted. It was true, Natheria was well into her second century of life, closing in on one hundred and ninety years, and Ronnath was barely into his forties. Even to Drow, he was still considered a child, despite wearing the body of a grown man. Still it did not matter, she had fallen in love with him, and he with her.

Eilistraee however, had a different plan for her.

"When they leave," she began and her words caught in her throat. Before she had turned her ways on her former life, had forsaken the spider queen to worship and serve the goddess's daughter, she did not even know what the word had meant. Her decades with the Dark Maiden had shown her just how powerful the emotion was, and already she had learned how painful it could be. "Does Eilistraee know? Did she say?"

"A few months, maybe sooner, maybe later," Merin said with a slight shrug. "I am but her vessel, her messenger. You will know when the time comes."

Her eyes glazed over as they filled with unshed tears. She turned away, suddenly feeling ashamed in front of her sister and friend. A sob wracked her body and she bowed her head, now letting the tears flow freely. She did not react when Merin placed a hand on her shoulder, waiting for her to get past the grief. "As Eilistraee demands, I will follow," Natheria managed a few minutes later, once she composed her roiling emotions.

"It is not all bad news," Merin said gently. "You will not be separated for long, as I have been led to understand, he will return to you, but not until his daughter has become a woman in her own right."

"You mean his adopted daughter," Natheria corrected.

Merin shook her white hair and smiled sadly. "No, I mean his daughter. Cheonsa is his, of his bloodline."

Natheria's eyes went wide with shock. "She is a Tiefling; she has the blood of demons in her veins!"

"Aye, that is the case," Merin confirmed. "Still, Cheonsa is his daughter by blood and birth. Eilistraee has shown this to us, and has hinted she had a hand in helping them find one another," she shrugged and waved a hand towards the cabin, in which the little girl and the Ranger were resting. "In a way, this has been a test for him, to determine what kind of a man he really is."

"A test?" Natheria asked incredulously, using the back of her hand to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

"Indeed. We cannot fathom what the goddess has in store for us, and it is quite possible she foresaw this young elf entering into your life, and wanted to ensure he would be worthy of you, and you of him."

The woman chewed her lower lip, her arms crossed beneath her breasts. "He is crude, he often reacts to a bad situation with extreme violence, and he acts more like a human than any Elf I have ever met," Natheria said a minute later.

"But," Merin prompted, waving her hand towards the cabin again.

"But he has a good heart. He loves Cheonsa unconditionally and has more than once said he would give his life for the child. He treats me better than any male I have ever known, even after joining the Dark Maiden's worshippers. He is always trying to better himself, despite the personal demons he wrestles with nearly every day."

Merin's smile was gentle and filled with understanding. "And because he loves his daughter, even though he does not understand she is his blood and he harbors such hatred for demons, Eilistraee knows despite your being Drow and the animosity which most Elves feel for our race, he will not care, and he will love you despite that."

Natheria stood there, allowing the tears to flow down her cheeks. She felt a dull ache in her stomach, now understanding in only a few short months she would have both the girl and the man she had come to love taken from her. "Sometimes," she said quietly, barely keeping the sobs out of her voice. "Sometimes I wish I had never discovered our Dark Maiden, that I never learned how to love."

Merin did not grow angry at her words. Few of those in the Promenade were born into the worship of Eilistraee – most came to the dark maiden after years of service to the spider goddess. Few, if any, had ever experience love or even gentleness in their years of serving the spider queen. In many ways, the cold, cruel live spared them of the feelings Natheria was now experiencing. The Drow reached out and took the other woman by the shoulders and drew her into a strong embrace, holding her close as she let her sorrow flow.

Minutes later, Natheria shuddered and pulled away from her friend, their eyes not meeting. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Our dark maiden understands, and you know she forgives you. She has also made it clear you will be united once again, after a few short years."

"This is for certain?" Natheria asked, wrapping her arms around her waist, suddenly feeling cold and vulnerable, despite the closeness of her friend and the proximity to the cabin she shared with the man and girl-child she had come to love.

Merin smiled sadly. "Nothing is certain, not even for a goddess."

Natheria turned her back on the Drow and stared out through the trees to the dark cabin and the stream which ran only a few yards from the corner. She could see the dim light coming through the window which led into Cheonsa's room, and could imagine the little Tiefling girl, sleeping soundly in her small bed, the stuffed Dragon she named Mr. Smoke in one arm, the other little doll named Jackie in the other.

The ache in her soul intensified. She so wanted to see the girl grow from a child into a woman, and knowing she would not be allowed this hurt almost more than she could bear.

"You will be reunited," Merin said confidently. "Unless some other god intervenes in the meantime," she added. "I can see a son or daughter, or more in your future."

Turning quickly, Natheria searched her friends face, searching for but failing to find any deception or words meant to hurt. Her hand moved of its own volition and she caressed her flat, toned belly, suddenly imagining what it would be like to have a life growing there, one created from love instead of from mere loveless passion or duty. "You jest," she said carefully.

"Motherhood would look good on you," Merin smiled. "And the fact Eilistraee has hinted at it, you obviously have her blessing."

"Even with him being a surface elf? And one so crude and human-like?" The words left Natheria's mouth before she could stop herself.

"I cannot speak for our goddess, but I think if she did not approve, you would never have been allowed to meet."

Somewhere off in the distance, an owl hooted softly, and it was almost immediately answered by several more. The wind rustled the leaves gently, adding their song to the night sounds.

"How is the child?" Merin asked to break the silence.

"She is growing fast, and she is strong," Natheria replied, turning her attention once again to her sister and friend. "Ronnath continues to teach her the ways of hunting and tracking in the wilds, and the girl has picked up on it, although at times I feel she is almost humoring him."

"She has her own path, and maybe she will follow in her father's footsteps, maybe she will heed the call of another. The trials both face in the coming months and years will shape their futures."

Natheria could not disagree with the statement. She pictured the girl's face in her mind's eyes, taking in the black eyes with the ruby pupils, the horns which curved across her temples, reach back, and the forked tail. Now she saw the girl in a new light, and could see, actually see the similarities to Ronnath. The shape and angle of the ears, the cheeks and even the eyes. To one who knew what to look for, it was obvious.

Why had she not seen this before? And for that matter, why hadn't Ronnath either?

Maybe it was neither had thought to look so closely before. She knew from her years living in the depths of Drow society often the best way to hide was in plain sight.

Merin studied her as she mulled over the revelation. "You love the girl almost as much as you love him," she stated.

"Aye, I do," Natheria confirmed. "She has a sweet soul and a gentle nature. I think a lot has to do with the way Ronnath treats her, how he doesn't see her fiendish heritage, but instead sees a little girl who needs love and understanding, who needs a father more than anything else."

Merin laughed lightly, not mocking, but understanding. She reached out and squeezed Natheria's bicep. "It is no wonder Eilistraee has approved of this, despite her asking you to return home to the promenade after he and Cheonsa leave."

"Is there anything else I need to know?" Natheria asked, smiling through the tears which still ran down her cheeks.

"No, only what I have told you."

"Do you wish to stay here for the day, rest before you return home?" Natheria asked.

"Again, no," Merin said. "Although it would be a simple matter for me to disguise myself, it would bring up too many questions," she looked over to the cabin in the clearing. "And besides, I have other tasks I need to accomplish before I return to the promenade," bowing her head, she closed her eyes. "Thank you for the offer of hospitality."

"No need to thank me," Natheria wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Thank you for the message, and for the visit. I have missed you and the others," she shook her head sadly. It was true, she missed the dances, the songs, and her sisters. She had to worship in private, and would do so whenever Ronnath was not around, which was often the case when he was hunting or gathering food, or taking on a mission for a few extra gold coins to keep her and Cheonsa happy and comfortable. Many times she would leave him in the middle of the night, just after he entered his revere, and would spend hours dancing and praising the dark maiden. How she longed to be able to do so without having to keep it secret.

"I will see you soon, sister." Merin leaned forward and kissed her on both cheeks. "Just remember, Eilistraee has seen it in your future, you will be reunited again. For us, it is a mere blink of the eye; time has such a different meaning compared to the other mortal races."

"Be safe, sister," Natheria replied, feeling her throat tightening once again. She was not sure if it was from the knowledge she would be separated from Ronnath and Cheonsa or if it was because she really did miss her sisters and the promenade.

With that, the Drow slipped into the shadows and disappeared, leaving Natheria alone in the woods. The stream of moonlight which had illuminated their meeting slowly faded until nothing but the natural dark shadows of the forest remained.

Natheria was about to return to the cabin when she heard the soft footsteps approaching in the grass. Instantly she knew it was Ronnath, as she knew his strides like no other. He was not attempting to be silent, as he could move with the stealth and grace of a deer through the forest.

"Natheria," he whispered. "Are ye alright?" His voice came from the edge of the forest only a scant few yards away.

"Aye," she answered him. "I just needed some fresh air," she gracefully stepped through the trees and came up to the tall Elf. She was tall herself, but he had several inches and many pounds of muscle on her. He was darkly tanned, and his jet-black hair was flowing loosely around his head and shoulders. Typically he had it up in braids, to keep it from getting in his face. He had taken time to put on a pair of breeches, but otherwise his torso was bare. For an elf, he was powerfully built, the lean muscle rippling beneath his flesh. She could see numerous scars on his body from near-fatal wounds he had suffered in the years before he found the magical ring which healed him. A slight fluttering filled her belly as she stared at the man.

Ronnath looked over her naked body in the darkness, his eyes drinking in her curves. She knew he could see her as clearly as she could see him, and the way his eyes roved over her form was pleasing, the way he appreciated her, the way she knew he had come to know every inch of her. "Don't you find it a little cold to be out like this?" he waved a hand at her, smiling. "Not that I am complaining."

"No," she laughed. "Its refreshing, and besides," she waved her hands at the woods behind them. "Other than a few night creatures, who would see me anyhow?"

"I can't argue with that," he came over and wrapped his strong arms around her and she leaned her face against the crook of his neck, placing one hand over his heart. His skin was almost burning hot to the touch, and he smelled of his musk and sun-beaten skin. A heady and almost overpowering odor she had come to love. Natheria felt his heart beating against his palm and it was a soothing, rhythmic pulse, one which her own heart began to match until they were in perfect sync.

Natheria's mind wandered back to the words Merin had spoken only minutes before and she felt her throat begin to constrict. She did not want to leave him, but her goddess had commanded it. The tears were threatening to fall once again and she did not want to have to try and explain it to him, so she did the only thing she could think of.

She allowed her hand to slide down his chest and into the waste of his breeches, where she found what she was looking for. He responded as quickly as she knew he would and soon they were entangled on the ground, enjoying their bodies once again.

When they reached mutual climax, the sun was just starting to turn the horizon pink. "I think I'll get our morning meal ready," Ronnath said, running his hand lovingly across her firm breasts and belly. "Ye took care of one hunger, but only food will slacken the other."

She sighed in contentment, loving the way his calloused fingers felt against her skin, and without warning, she began to laugh lightly.

Eyebrows shooting up in surprise, Ronnath looked a little taken aback at her sudden change of mood. "What, I say or do something wrong?"

Chuckling, she sat up and kissed him hard on the lips, tasting him and relishing the flavor. "Not at all," she told him. "Quite the opposite, I still remember how you used to talk when I first agreed to take this job," she pulled away, her eyes never leaving his as she waved one hand towards the cabin. "And now you're using words like slacken!"

Looking relieved, he returned her smile. "I be havin' a good learner," he spoke, and then laughed. "I have a great teacher!"

Natheria slapped him lightly and stood up, stretching. She turned her face to the rising sun, remembering the first time she had ever seen the life-giving orb breaching the distant horizon, and how it had burned her eye, so accustomed to the darkness. Although that had been many decades before, she still never tired of seeing the morning break. "Let me make our food."

"Are ye sure?" He asked. "You know how much I love to cook for you and Cheonsa."

"And I love to cook as well, and besides – you always make too much meat. I want us to have some breads and vegetables this morning."

"I love meat, so does Cheonsa," he began to argue.

"I know you do, but I think you'll like what I have in mind," she took his hand and pulled him towards the cabin.

He paused only long enough to grab his discarded breeches from the ground and allowed the woman to guide him. "Alright, just this once," he relented.

"Ronnath?"

"Aye?"

"I have something to discuss with you," she said as they walked, hand in hand, to the cabin.

"Speak yer mind," he said, not unkindly, although his face suddenly took on a troubled expression.

"Have you ever taken a good look at Cheonsa?" She asked him.

The look on his face suddenly relaxed and he grinned. "Every day," he replied.

Natheria looked slightly cross. "What did you think I was going to ask you?"

Feeling trapped, he considered lying, but knew better. The woman had such an uncanny ability to see right through him. "I thought maybe you were going to tell me I was going to be a daddy."

The discussion she had with her sister Merin suddenly returned to the forefront of her mind, and she felt her face flush while a strange but far from unpleasant sensation crawled up from between her thighs and settled in her belly. She realized how much she actually wanted to have a child with this man. "Oh it's not that, but I certainly would be open to discussing it more."

He laughed and there was just the tiniest hint of nervousness in it. "Later, maybe once I've managed to secure enough gold for us," he said earnestly. "Seriously Natheria, what's on your mind?"

"The more I look at you and Cheonsa, the more obvious it is to me she is your daughter."

"Well…" Ronnath was clearly attempting to choose his words carefully. "I did adopt her and she is my daughter."

"No," Natheria closed her eyes and shook her head as they approached the front of the cabin. The girl which was the center of their combined attention was still asleep and would remain so for several more hours, until they or the scent of cooking food woke her. "I mean, she is your daughter. As in you actually sired her, not some other man."

He stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes boring through the wall of the cabin, as if he could see the young Tiefling. "Impossible."

"Not impossible," countered the beautiful woman. "She is your daughter!"

"I never bedded no demon," Ronnath bit off harshly. "She be part demon, after all," he let go of her hand and turned to face the smaller Elf. "What makes you say such a thing?"

Natheria realized his words were filled with both anger, but at the same time, hope. "You know I worship Selune," which was a lie, and would remain so until he finally learned the truth of her true nature. "It came to me in a vision, after we had made love."

It was obvious he was attempting to control his anger. He had a very volatile temper, and she had seen him explode on more than one occasion, but never at her or Cheonsa. She waited as he wrestled with the conflicting emotions warring in his mind, as he thought over what she said and reigned in his feelings.

His face went from disbelieving to a sudden and shocked expression. "Could it… wait… there was a woman, several years ago… what was her name?"

Natheria felt a pang of undesired jealousy suddenly fill her heart, but she shoved it down, deep into the dark recesses of her soul in order to control it. She kept her face attentive. "You tell me," she prompted.

Ronnath thought for a few seconds and then snapped his fingers. "Setholee!"

"Setholee," Natheria repeated, as if tasting the name on her tongue.

"Aye," he said. "By Mielikki, I haven't thought of her in years."

The jealousy she had under control was struggling like a living thing to be loosed, but she managed to control it. This was not quite going the way she had expected it. "What happened, and why aren't you still with her then? Why are you raising your daughter without her?" The words came from her, unbidden, and carrying the trace of hurt and anger. Natheria felt her face flush and it shamed her.

"Because," Ronnath said evenly. "It was a single night, and we parted ways. I didn't know I had impregnated her. She never tried to find me or anything," he took her hands in his, facing her, sighing. "Natheria, let's get dressed and I'll tell you how I met her, if that's what you wish."

She nodded sharply, just once and they entered the cabin without another word. Ronnath checked in on his daughter, pausing for what seemed an eternity even though it was less than a minute, looking at the Tiefling child with new eyes. He studied her features, the curve of her cheeks, the points of her ears and it hit him like a punch to the throat. Ronnath realized he could indeed see himself in her face, and yet he could also see the beautiful Tiefling woman he had encountered for that one night, years before.

Closing Cheonsa's door quietly, he entered the bedroom he had begun to share with Natheria and they dressed in silence. It bothered him deeply how much her revelation seemed to hurt her. Even though they had been together for just over a year, which in Elven lives is a blink of the eye, he had grown accustomed to her moods and her manners.

And the end result is he had fallen deeply for the woman. Just looking at her filled his heart to the point he thought it would burst. Ronnath realized the revelation that Cheonsa was his own, truly his own blood, coming from the woman who had stolen his heart, had filled a gaping, empty void, deeper than the depths of the infernal abyss, in his soul.

Feeing his eyes on her, Natheria turned as she slid a simple soft tunic over her head. She had it just over her breasts when she paused. "What?" She almost demanded.

"The timing of you tellin' me this," he answered, trying to ignore the slight anger in her voice. "Seem's real odd. We been sharin' a bed now for mebbe just over a year. Why would yer goddess be decidin' to tell you this now?"

Her face softened and a spectre of a smile crossed her full lips. She pulled the tunic all the way down, but did not bother with breeches, as it was long enough to give her a modicum of modesty. Occasionally he would revert to his old manner of speaking, either when he was seriously stressed out, or if he wanted to tease her.

Or if he wanted to make her laugh.

"The gods and goddesses have their reasons," she came over and wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly, leaning her head against his neck. "I'm sorry, Ronnath," she said a moment later. "It's not like we're wed or anything, and this happened well before either of us knew one another."

He kissed the top of her head, closing his eyes and feeling the heat of her body through the tunic. "It's alright. It just seems really strange that of all the times your goddess would let you know about this it was right now." Releasing her, he pushed her gently backwards and held her at arm's length. "Did ye just propose to me?"

Her eyes went wide at the sudden realization of what she had said. Too much had been revealed too quickly and her mind was reeling, her emotions were raging like a ship on a storm wrought ocean. As had happened hours before, when she thought of having a babe with this man, her heart did a flip-flop in her breast and she suddenly realized that was exactly what she wanted. The joy was tempered by the knowledge Merin had imparted, knowing she would soon be separated from both him and his little girl until Eilistraee deemed it was time for them to be reunited.

Tears threatened to spill yet again.

"Soon," she croaked. "I am from a very traditional family," she quickly added, seeing the look of confusion on his face. "We typically wait at least a score or more years before we even consider this."

Ronnath seemed to sense she was hiding something and yet he decided it was best to let it go. He knew humans, such as his siblings and his adoptive parents siblings would often wed after only a few months of knowing one another. He frowned, feeling hurt and disappointed all at once. "To the abyss with what a traditional family wants, I know it's what I be wantin' and you cannot tell me it's not what you want as well."

Natheria pulled from his grasp and walked quickly out of the room towards the kitchen. "I have to follow my families wishes," she said evenly. Even though I don't wish to, She silently added.

Ronnath threw up his hands in anger and opened his mouth to speak. When he got angry, his features hardened, giving him a truly demonic appearance. He often wondered if it had something to do with the time he had been possessed, or if it was merely his imagination. As soon as Natheria left the room, he blew out his cheeks and closed his eyes, counting to ten in Elvish. By the time he hit ten, he felt calmer and followed the woman out.

In the few seconds which had passed, she had already stoked the fire in the metal stove and was busy gathering the ingredients for the meal she wanted to prepare for her family. Ronnath set about, lending a silent hand even though she had made it perfectly clear she had wanted to prepare it for him and Cheonsa. After a few minutes, he stopped and put down the loaf of day-old bread he had been cutting up into thick slices. "Natheria, I'm sorry."

She stopped and put down the vegetables she had been about to wash. "It's alright," she smiled. "You and I both come from different backgrounds."

"Aye," Ronnath agreed. "And I keep forgetting, unlike my human family, I will be still seeing sunrises long after my brothers and sisters great grand-children have passed into the next world. I need to learn patience."

"You won't have to wait long," she turned and placed the bowl of vegetables on the small wooden counter before coming over to him. Reaching up, she tenderly caressed his cheek with her hand. "And when the time is right, yes, that was exactly what you think it was."

Ronnath wanted to argue, but at that exact moment, a small voice called out from his daughter's room. "Daddy?"

"Aye, sweetheart?"

"Can you and Natheria keep it down? I'm tired and wanna sleep more!"

Try as he might, Ronnath could not hide the grin as he looked down at the beautiful white-haired elf. "It's time to be getting out of bed," he called. "I bet your tummy is filling about as empty as your father's head right now."

There was a soft groan and the creaking of a bedframe and a moment later Cheonsa was standing at the entrance to her room. She was dressed in one of old shirts, far too big for her, fitting her like a strange dress, but too small for him. One shoulder was bare, and her red hair was disheveled. Her black and red eyes were heavy-lidded and in the crook of her left arm she held her two most prized possessions – Jackie and Mr. Smoke. She reached up with her right arm and rubbed her eyes with her tiny fist. "Hi daddy, hi Natheria."

Ronnath placed the bread on the table and moved over to scoop his daughter up in his strong arms. He held her and kissed the little Tiefling girl on both cheeks and on her forehead, between the two curved horns. "Hello sweetness!"

Looking between father and daughter, Natheria smiled. She saw how much he loved the girl, and knew it would never waver, only grow stronger. It was one of the things Natheria realized was but one cause of why she had fallen in love with him. "Cheonsa, I'm making your favorite!"

Giggling as her father tucked her into the crook of his own arm, she looked between Jackie and Mr. Smoke and then over at the bowl of vegetables. "Yuck, I want honey and bread, and maybe some deer!"

"You need your green's," Natheria scolded slightly. "After all, you want to grow up to be big and strong like your daddy, right?"

"No!" Cheonsa laughed. "I want to be small and beautiful like you!"

Ronnath managed to turn his laugh into a cough, but was incapable of keeping the laughter from shining like the morning sun in his dark eyes. "I don't think that's going to be an issue," he said. "And you still need to eat your greens."

"You don't," she countered, a pout appearing on her young face.

"He does," Natheria objected, smiling. "I make sure of it."

Placing the young Tiefling on the ground, Ronnath returned to the task at hand and soon the morning meal was ready and they sat around the small table to dig in. There was day-old bread, honey, cold water from the well, chunks of strong goat cheese, strips of venison, and of course lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. The three of them dug in with gusto.

Halfway through the meal, Natheria put down the chunk of bread she had been consuming and looked intently at the young Tiefling girl for several long seconds before she spoke. "Cheonsa?"

"Aye?"

"Your daddy and I have something to tell you."

The girl's eyes grew wide and she smiled, then laughed and clapped her hands. "You and daddy are gettin' married!"

At the look on Natheria's face, Ronnath burst out laughing, causing Cheonsa to frown. "You are, right?" She pressed.

"Sweetness," Natheria began. "We will someday, but not right now," she added. "No this is about you and your father."

Looking crestfallen as only a nine year old girl could, Cheonsa looked at the table. "Oh, okay, alright."

"Cheonsa," Ronnath said, interjecting. "Natheria's goddess told her something really important about the two of us last night."

At these words, the girl's eyes lit up. "What did she say?"

Natheria took up the narration. "Your daddy?" She waved a slender-fingered hand at the weathered Elf. "Is your real daddy."

Cheonsa rolled her eyes and blew out her cheeks. "I know that," she said, her tone conveying the exactly how stupid the statement was to her. "When he took me from the orphan-home, as soon as he did that he became my real daddy."

"Sweetness, you don't quite understand," Ronnath grinned. "Natheria's goddess has told her that I am your real daddy. Not just a man who has taken you as his daughter, but I was with your real mommy and together we made you."

The Tiefling girl's eyes narrowed as she thought about what he had said. She was far from stupid, and in many ways she showed she was going to be more intelligent by magnitudes than her father.

Much to the dismay of Ronnath and Natheria, Cheonsa shrugged. "I knew that all the time."

The two adult elves looked at one another, their eyes wide in disbelief. Finally Natheria cleared her throat and knelt so she was eye to eye with the Tiefling. "You knew… how?"

Cheonsa shrugged again, her tail swished lazily behind her. "Donno, just somethin' I felt, right from the moment I saw him at the orphan-home."

Ronnath shook his head at his daughter, his eyes closed and a smile turning his typically stern face calm. "You never thought to tell me?"

The little Tiefling girl held her two stuffed dolls tightly and laughed. "I did, I do, all the time! You're my daddy, and I tell you that," she had a look of pure self-assuredness on her face as she spoke.

Ronnath lifted a hand and opened his mouth to speak, then he dropped it. "So – now that Natheria's goddess told us, how does it make you feel?"

The child spoke without hesitation. "Happy, of course!" She leapt from her seat, straight into Ronnath's arms, bypassing Natheria as if she was not there. "I just wish my mommy was here with us."

From the corner of Ronnath's eye, he could see Natheria visibly wince at the words, and for just a split second it was clear how much the words hurt. "It's alright," he said, more to Natheria than to Cheonsa. "Natheria is here, and she loves you, just like a real mommy would."

The white-haired elf woman reached up and wiped a tear which had appeared, then smiled. "Aye – you're like my daughter, and you have always made me proud." She stood and joined father and daughter, standing with them, but somehow apart.

Ronnath reached out with one strong arm and pulled her into an embrace, the three of them hugging one another like that for a long time. A family, despite the differences and the lack of vows. Knowledge and the greatest force in the universe binding them together the way it has since the dawn of time.

Love.

End