Seventy And Seven

The Man was sulking.

Romana did not find it all that attractive

He was attractive, physically.  He was tall and lean and muscular, with a very firm chin unlike anything elven.  He had very nice skin and lips that looked like they would be very nice smiling and he had beautiful hair that was nearly as long as Romana’s, which was saying something.

He was wearing chains.  They were very nice chains, beautiful ones, not elf-forged but surprisingly artistic, the sort of thing that 100 years ago would’ve made Romana say I did not know Mankind could make such things.  However, by now, she did very well know that Man could make such things, thank you very much. She had spent much of the last century travelling around the Overworld, learning about all of the arts that Mankind – no, humanity – could create.  She had also learned how beautiful their people could be, and how amazing their minds could be.

Elves were, of course, also beautiful, but they were beautiful by creation.  Elves could sometimes come up with amazing thoughts, but they often took three times as long to do so, something Romana understood, because they had seven or eight times as long to live as any given human.

“This is ridiculous.”  The Man spoke, interrupting her thoughts.  He held up his wrists, encased by golden shackles connected by thin chains.  They were, she’d been told, gold over titanium, because iron in the heart of UnderHill would have been an affront but gold itself was far too soft.

She had been told quite a bit by the little group of people who had brought this Man here, but this was the first he had said.

“It was so signed by your people and mine,” she countered.  “Seven hundred and fifty years ago.”

“I don’t have a people! My ancestors weren’t living here even two hundred years ago!  My grandparents didn’t live on this continent!”  He shook the chains at her again.  “You don’t think this is ridiculous?”

Romana sat down on one of the very comfortable chairs in this very posh room.  “I suppose,” she spoke slowly, “my point of view is different on several ways.”

“Because you have magic,” he sneered.

“You will, too,” she reminded him.  Or, at least, she thought she was reminding him.  The way he looked at her suggested this was new information. “Hrrm.”  She poured two goblets of fine wine – South American, not elven – and passed him one.  “What do you know about this?”

“What, UnderHill?”  The chains allowed him to lift the goblet to his lips, at least.  “It’s the place where the elves live, not really under any hills, just another dimension parallel to ours, I mean, to Earth, I mean-”

“The terminology can get tiresome,” she agreed.  It was far better in Elven.  “No.  About this, between you and I.”  She gestured with her goblet, her, him, her, him.

“Uh.  Your people here made a deal with the people, the humans, who lived, uh, over-hill here, and one of the prices was a man every seventy years.  And that’s me, this time, because they put all the names in a hat and pulled mine.”  He huffed, sipped the wine again, seemed to notice its taste this time, and sipped more slowly.  The frown didn’t leave his face, but his shoulders did lose some tension.

“Prices for what?” she pressed him.

“I don’t know,” he muttered. “Something.  Something about – um.  Blessings.”

“Have they truly forgotten?” she murmured.

“You said magic,.”  He leaned forward.  “What sort of magic?”

“So.”  She leaned forward too.  He was no longer sulking.  That was a good first step.  “So my people – my ancestors, my mother and grandmother, at least – made a deal with this place, and with the humans that were here then.  The deal was prosperity and fertility and success, long lives and health.”

He looked doubtful.  “That sounds… vague.”  She could see a bit of a thought prickling at him, though.  “And in return, what?  Seven guys and seven girls every seven years?”

“The Minotaur lives in oh, somewhere in the former New Netherlands.  Not exactly.  There were three payments.  The first is a share of the harvests.  The second is a share of the arts.  And the third is a share of the fertility.  That is, every seventy-” she emphasized the word, not seven, thank you very much “-years, one of your folk would join with one of our folk.  An arranged marriage, with the two chosen needing to be neither married nor widowed, healthy, and, for the standards of their people, in the prime of their lives.  It’s not so much that you’re being sacrificed,” she added carefully.”

“-Shit.”  His brow furrowed.  “Are you? I mean.  You didn’t have any choice in this either, did you?”

“Well, I had a bit more warning than you.  I could’ve found someone to get married to.  I could’ve, oh, I don’t know, poisoned myself.  Or something,” she admitted.  “I’m not exactly being sacrificed, either.  I mean.  You’re not hard to look at and you have a very nice voice.”

“And I’m the one in chains,” he pointed out, although he no longer seemed so sullen.  “My… fertility?”

“You’re going to live a very long life, for a human.”  She would still probably outlive him by that much again, but there was no point in mentioning that now.  “And, ah, speaking of seven boys and seven girls, I imagine we’ll ask my cousins to help out, if you’re willing.  I think you’d like Golbahar and Gwendolyn.  You’re going to live a very long life,” she repeated, and this time, seeing the look of understanding dawn on his face, she smiled back at him.  “And the joining between us, the marriage.  It’s part of the cycle feeding the power into the land Over-hill.  Which, of course, means that you will need power, magic, as well.  Or you wouldn’t live long at all.”

She didn’t bother to tell him how they knew that.

“Which means that some of my magic-” she let wine-colored swirls slide up into the air from her fingertips, the barest use of power but something that never failed to impress “-will become yours.  So yes.  You will have magic.”

He swallowed slowly.  “And a very long life.  And… fertility.”

For the first time, she thought he might actually be looking at her.

“And you?” he asked carefully.  She thought more of him for that, much more.

“I will have a long life.  And fertility. And.”  She reached forward to catch the chain between his wrists in her hand, lightly, so as not to spill his wine.  “I will have you.”

She was pleased to find out that his lips did, indeed, look very nice smiling.

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