For the Love of Ren
By: Stephanie Bardy

Ren Daul sat upon his throne and watched this staff scurry about him. Fear had ruled this Kingdom since his 21st birthday ten years previous. Ren was merciless, and it brought him great pleasure to see the terror in the eyes of someone he was about to Reap. His power had grown such that neighbouring Kingdom's feared him as well. His reputation had spread to all the realms and no one dared challenge him, but lately he had grown bored. He had no one to share his accomplishments with, no one to talk to when the dark crept in and made him that cowering child, craving love. He also knew, without an heir, his power would begin and end with him. He had yet to garner enough power to make him immortal, although he had slowed the aging process quite a bit. With each Soulseed he obtained, he had gained almost immeasurable years, but it was still a finite number.

His gaze travelled the room, taking in all the female servants that moved around him. Too old, too short, to ugly, to meek. None kept his interest for long, and none measured up to what he would want to carry his child. He had no interest in the vessel, beyond that of carrying the babe, but she had to possess certain qualities. He would Reap her Soul once his goal was obtained.

As he sat, the servants began preparing the Great Hall for evening meal. Ren demanded that all his court dine with him every night. Reminiscent of the birthday party so long ago when he had finally come into his power. He felt it was a lovely reminder of just what he was capable of if they angered him.

Celly entered the Great Hall carrying a tray of silver she had just finished polishing. She was new to the castle and had never seen this room as her aunt had kept her in the kitchen. Aunt Morigan had warned her about Ren Daul. Warned her not to draw attention to herself, and not to anger him in any way. She was beside herself when Celly was ordered to start serving in the Great Hall at evening meal. When she had been given the child as a babe, the Three had warned her that a day would come, one of great importance, and that she must not interfere. The Three had remained at the castle after the King and Rendal had died, but they had kept themselves out of Ren Daul's eyesight. As far as he knew, they were gone. They had magic and could cloak their presence. Morigan knew Celly was special, important in the fall of Ren, but she had this gnawing feeling it would also mean the fall of Celly.

Celly sat the heavy tray on one of the long dining tables and the pitcher that was balanced precariously on the serving trays toppled to the table top making a loud clang. She could feel Ren's gaze fall on her. The power pushed at her, almost like a command to turn around. She lowered her head and continued her work, mindful of her Aunt's warning.

"You. Serving wench. Turn and face your King." Ren demanded. Disdain and boredom lacing his words. Celly turned slowly, keeping her head down, fear making her stomach clench. A girl of no more than nine years whimpered beside her. Without thinking, she immediately wrapped her arm around the girl, pushing her in behind her.

A harsh laugh erupted from Ren. "You seek to protect that insignificant child?" he asked "Do you not realize that I could take her, take her soul and you could do nothing but hold the shell that remains?"

Celly's gripped tightened on the child but the rest of her remained motionless.

"Look at me." Ren commanded.

Celly raised her face but kept her eyes from him. Ren bolted to his feet, angered that one so low would defy him so outright. "I said look at me!" he screamed. He flicked his hand and the child Celly was protecting was suddenly splayed out on the floor in front of Ren. Her eyes flew to his face, shock and anger in them.

Ren, about to Reap the child's soul, stopped. He had never seen such a look directed at him. Never seen one with so much compassion for others, that they would risk his ire and look at him with anger instead of fear.

"This child is important to you? You care for her?" he asked. Celly, her anger having chased away the fear, looked at Ren directly.

"All life is precious. All children are precious. I care for all those who fear, all those who cower and hold their breath when they enter here. She is not known to me, but she is a child, so yes, I care. She has done nothing to draw your anger, nothing to lose her life over."

"She sought protection from you." said Ren, amused now. "She sought it from you, not me. You are nothing. I hold all the power here, yet, she turned to you. That is enough for me to take her life. Besides, it amuses me." Ren studied the girls face. Her eyes, sparked with anger, a strand of hair had escaped her kerchief and what appeared to be brown, blazed red when the firelight hit it. The very air around her seemed to shimmer and shift making Ren a little dizzy. He sat back down, and folded his hands in front of him, steeple style.

"You think I should spare her?" he studied her reaction. Her face never changed, just held that placid look, but her eyes said so much more.

"Yes."

"What would you offer for her life?"

"What?" Celly asked in confusion

"I am in the mood to Reap now, you want me to spare the child, who would you offer me instead?"

Celly's mind raced. She couldn't offer one life for another. No one deserved that fate. To be trapped, forever a source of power for Ren Daul. She sighed. Resigned. "Me." she said quietly.

For the first time, Ren was speechless. None had ever offered their life in exchange for another. Enemies, annoying siblings, hated spouses, all had been offered to him to spare a life, but never had he had an offer such as this. She was the one. He knew it as well as he knew his own hands. She would carry his child. He looked down at the child at his feet. Disgust marred his features for a moment, but he reigned it in and changed it too a look of awkward compassion. He released the child and she ran to Celly, who whispered into her ear and pushed her towards the door to the kitchen.

"What did you say to her?"

Celly turned and looked at Ren. "I told her to go and help my Aunt." she lied and Ren knew it, but he didn't press.

"You amuse me. Your defiance is like a breath of fresh air, but don't mistake this one lenience for kindness. Go, finish your duties. We will talk more later. I want to know more about you." Ren dismissed Celly with a wave of his hand and she quickly moved towards the kitchen.

"Oh," he said, stopping her, "You will now be responsible for cleaning my chamber's and readying it each night for me to retire. You no longer work in the kitchen. You can go there now and wait for me."

Celly turned and headed down the hall to the stairs. As she reached the top she was greeted by the Three.

They took her into their embrace and held her while she shook and cried. When she had calmed they released her and stepped back.

"You have a hard road ahead child. It won't end with the end of this life. Yours is one of pain, loss, to be repeated over lifetimes. There will be another who will walk with you, in each life, until the time when you can defeat Ren Daul. You are one of the Chosen, as Daulin was before he twisted that and became Ren Daul. This won't happen for many centuries, we have seen it. We don't see the road to the end, just the end, and you are standing there. Be brave, be strong, and no matter what you have to do, do not bear him a child. That is what he is after. That will ensure his legacy and his line will never be broken after that. We will be with you always Celeste. Know that."

Celly opened her mouth to speak but they were gone. Their words weighed heavily on her as she entered Ren Daul's chambers. His grand bed dominated the room. She shuddered at the thought of creating a child with him. As she walked to the fireplace to stoke the coals she saw a small straw bed on the floor. It looked like it had been freshened recently, and it all became clear just how dire her situation was. There had been rumours that Ren was looking for someone to birth his heir, and that small bundle of straw, the grand bed, the new duties in his chamber, all drove it home that she was that person. The Three had warned her to not bear him a child, that she must do all she can to prevent that. Luckily, her Aunt Morigan was well versed in the herbs required to prevent just that very thing. She stood staring at the fire when the door opened. She jumped and Siobhan giggled as she entered with a tray of food.

"I've never seen you jumpy before Celly. The King has ordered you take evening meal here. You ok?" she asked as she placed the tray on the table by the window.

Celly came and stood, looking down on the stables. "Oh Shivvy what am I going to do?" she said, using her nickname for her best friend. "I was able to avoid him in the kitchens, even when I worked in the gardens, but here? How can I keep my temper? How can I keep my words my own, when I have to see him every day? Knowing what he does?"

Siobhan came and stood next to her, hugging her friend. "Bite your tongue. Literally. Every time you have a word in anger, bite it. I couldn't stand to lose you!"

The two gazed down at the stables, each dreaming of a day when they could ride away from here, when they saw the hunting party come back. Each morning Ren sent them out for fresh meat for evening meal. A man Celly had never seen before was with them. As if he could feel their gaze, he looked up at the window, locking eyes with Celly. He gave her a crooked smile before disappearing into the barn. Celly's heart skipped a beat and that brief flash took her breath away.

"Who is that?" she asked.

Siobhan giggled again, "That is Merrik. He joined the hunter's a few weeks back.

All the stable girls are clamouring for his attention, but he never gives them a sideways glance."

"Merrik." Celly said softly.

"Celeste no! You just put him out of your head right this minute! Focus on serving Ren until he tires of you and replaces you with another. Then, when you are back in the kitchens with me, we will plan our escape."

"Your escape you say?" the question came from Ren, as he stood in the door.

"Just day dreaming M'Lord. Just fantasy." stammered Siobhan.

"Just fantasy? A little bedtime story?" said Ren softly, slowly moving towards the girls. With a flick Celly found herself in the hallway, and the door to the chamber closed. She reached for the handle and found it locked. Fear wove its way up her back and she pounded on the door.

Ren circled the girl, a hunger in his eyes. She stood, quivering with fear, and that just fed his hunger. He drew and finger down her tear stained cheek, "You have plans to leave, to take Celly with you. You know that you can hide nothing from me." He came around behind her, breathing in her terror like one would breath in the fragrance of a flower. In that one breath he saw all that Siobhan had seen, said, and thought.

"You warned her against my hunter Merrik. I see what you told her, but I also see what you didn't. You have given me the pieces I need to break her will. Thank you." he said with a smile.

Celly could hear Ren's voice, it was low and she couldn't make out the words, but she knew it held nothing good. Suddenly she heard her childhood friend scream. Her blood ran cold. As quickly as that scream had started, it stopped. There was nothing but silence, then the soft click of the lock on the door. Celly opened the door slowly. Siobhan lay on the floor by the straw bed, her face twisted in terror, her eyes lifeless. Ren Daul sat at the table by the window.

Have my Guard clear out this mess and lay out my meal. I am famished." he said, as if nothing had happened.

Celly turned and motioned for the Guards, then entered the chamber. Her legs shook but she forced herself to walk calmly to him and began laying out the meal.

"Set yourself a place, we shall dine together." he said with a smile. As she placed the plate in front of him, he grabbed her wrist and took a deep breath. Confusion, and anger raced across his face. He took another breath, and another, eventually shoving her back from him.

"What have you done? Why can't I see into you?" He screamed.

Celly stumbled back. Defiance rising up in her, "I am not like everyone else. One day, you will see that. You won't break me, you won't have me. I will not bend to you."

Rage overwhelmed Ren Daul and he raised his hand to Reap Celly. As he sent his power out towards her, something crackled through the air and he couldn't break past it. He could not Reap her. Frustration poured off him in waves and he stormed from the room, locking her in. She walked to the window on shaky legs and flung it open. Taking deep breaths of the fresh air she calmed herself. Opening her eyes, her gaze fell on the man standing outside the stable, looking up at her.

"Merrik." she whispered.

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