It was bright, the sunlight almost harsh as it filtered through branches of sycamore and oak. Elizabeth watched as the rays bounced off the leaves to shine on the many stems of bluebells which dotted the forest floor. She would always remember this day, she decided, as she settled herself more comfortably on the fallen log she had chosen. She let her legs cross before her so that her ankles linked together, allowing her fingers to run over coarse lichen and dry, brittle bark. She needed something, anything , to distract her from the anxiety which was currently clawing at her insides like a caged beast.
Beside her, she felt Gloxinia sigh, the breeze shifting subtlety with his impatience. His wings ruffled, disturbing the ring of silence and spreading a multitude of colours all through the clearing. It was beautiful, but a glance at his face was all it took to confirm that he was more than displeased, his thin mouth drawn even further into an angry line.
“What is taking so long?” a voice boomed from above and Elizabeth raised her head in an attempt to meet the Giant King’s eyes. Even though he sat cross-legged on the leave-strewn ground, two of his large hands resting on his enormous knees, his head was still level with the canopy. Still, Elizabeth did not need to see his expression to know that he too was annoyed and wanting this meeting to be done and forgotten.
“I must say, Lady Elizabeth,” Gloxinia fluted, the habitual smirk he wore conspicuous by its absence, “I expected your demon to be a little more punctual. I have no desire to lock eyes on him, let alone exchange words. I do so purely because your clan gave me reason to believe we have no choice but to accept him into Stigma’s fold.”
“He will be here, Lord Gloxinia,” Elizabeth replied with as much authority in her tone as she could muster. “I am sure there’s an explanation…”
As she spoke, the three companions turned to stare at the sky, or what glimpses of it could be seen through the close cluster of trees. The sun had gone, replaced with a sudden dark that cast the woodland into gloomy shadow. Gloxinia bristled, then raised his arms, and Elizabeth could feel the protection that surrounded the Fairy King’s forest tumble down, just in time for Meliodas to fall like a bomb to the floor.
The breath caught in Elizabeth’s throat. It was not often she saw Meliodas looking like this nowadays, his eyes coal black and trails of ink pulsing over his forehead. Ever since he had declared his love for her, she had grown used to the emerald sparkle of his eyes, to soft, gentle words and to his light, playful tone. Now he looked hard, like a king not a lover, his regal lineage clear in his bearing despite the scratches that covered his skin and the way his left arm hung limp at his side.
“Meliodas!” she cried as she ran towards him, gathering him into her arms and letting the warmth of her power spread through his limbs. She hid her wince as she heard the bones of his arm move back into place with a sickening crack and then watched with some satisfaction as his skin knitted together, leaving him once more perfect and whole. “What happened? Are you…”
“With apologies, I must insist that these questions wait.” Elizabeth followed the fairy’s stern gaze up through the canopy of the forest, her heart leaping into her throat as she spied hoards of silhouettes flitting like insects across the sky. “There appear to be thousands of the creatures,” Gloxinia ground out between clenched teeth. “My magic cannot keep them at bay indefinitely. I presume this is your doing?” he asked coldly as his eyes swung to the demon who was still in her arms.
Meliodas stood, his shoulders flexing as he got to his feet and the mark on his forehead faded to skin. “I thought you said questions could wait till later, not that this will take long. There’s only a few of them,” he quipped with a grin. To her surprise, Elizabeth heard Drole chuckle above as Gloxinia failed to suppress a sly smile at the demon’s insouciance.
Before Elizabeth could stop him, Meliodas sprang up into the air, an enormous broadsword materialising in his hand. Gloxinia shrugged, then too started to float upwards. But before he could make much headway Meliodas was back, nothing much to show that he had taken on a host of demons single-handed apart from the few beads of sweat that clung to his forehead and the pudgy red and grey limbs that fell to the ground like rain all around them.
“So, you had questions?” Meliodas said lightly and the flurry finally stopped, his hands resting on his hips as he cocked his head to one side. He looked slightly surprised as the fallen body parts sunk into the ground. “Well, well, well, that’s efficient,” he remarked as the earth moved to cover what remained of his fallen brethren.
Gloxinia draw himself up before floating over to stand before the demon. “I can see why the goddess clan are… resigned to your presence in our alliance,” he conceded as he looked Meliodas up and down. “I have to admit that was quick work. But it does not mean that I trust you,” he warned.
“No more do I,” Drole said sternly. “But I think he deserves a chance,” he added, his voice lightening. “I’m willing to give him a trial at any rate. With him and Mael together, I can’t see us losing this war. Now come on,” he said firmly as Gloxinia opened his mouth. “These two want some privacy. You’re the fairy here; you can read people’s hearts. You should know that better than me.”
Before Elizabeth could utter her thanks, the giant rose to his feet and began picking his way through the trees with extraordinary care. Gloxinia gave an exaggerated sigh, before shooting a look of disdain in Meliodas’s direction, which the demon returned with a cheerful wave. He then turned to Elizabeth, the smile falling from his lips as the Fairy King finally drifted out of sight.
He took a few steps towards her so that he could take her hands in his. “This isn’t going to work,” he said, his voice laden with regret.
“What’s not going to work?” Elizabeth enquired, her brow furrowed in confusion.
“This,” he said with finality, giving her hands a final squeeze before letting them drop, his own arms returning more slowly to his sides. “I know,” he said softly as Elizabeth gasped in protest. “I left my clan so we could be together. But it’s not going to happen. You saw the way they looked at me,” he added with force. “And that’s a giant and fairy. How do you think the goddesses will treat you if they see us together? I’m not going to put you thought that.”
“Meliodas,” Elizabeth groaned as she reached for his hands, taking them once more in her own. “I know that,” she said, unsure whether to laugh or cry, “and I don’t care. I love you…”
“And I you, which is why I think we should keep our relationship secret.” He stepped back from her then, before rushing on, “It’s no change. We’ll be exactly as we were before.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips, her head shaking slightly. “So when can I see you then? When can we actually spend some real time together, if we’re pretending we have no connection? No, don’t answer,” she added with some irritation. “I’m not looking for a solution. I’m pointing out to you how ridiculous this is.”
“Elizabeth, it’s not…”
“Yes it is! I’m not ashamed of you!” she retorted as Meliodas’s head jerked back slightly in surprise. She wondered briefly if she had ever spoken to him in anger before, but pushed the thoughts aside. “I don’t care what they think. They don’t matter…”
“It’s not about them. It’s about you !” Meliodas sighed, before stepping towards her again. “Look, this isn’t fun,” he said, his voice uncommonly serious. “It’s one thing being in a war and hating the enemy, but to see people you care about look at you as if you were dirt? People you supported, people you watched over and trained, aiming their weapons at you to kill? It hurts , okay!
“That’s why I was late,” Meliodas spat, his eyes now fixed on the leafy ground. “Aranak and Zeno attacked me. I had to kill them. And then Zeldris showed up and… I couldn’t face him. So I ran. I ran away from my own brother so I didn’t have to destroy him. And no, I don’t want the goddesses to look at you the way he did to me. I don’t want you to hear them whispering traitor - or worse - every time you walk by. So I’ll be keeping my distance.”
“You will do nothing of the sort,” Elizabeth said hotly and she only just managed not to stamp her foot. “I left my clan the moment I fell in love with you.” As she spoke, the truth of these words hit her for the first time, and she felt a blush creep into her cheeks as Meliodas looked directly into her eyes.
Coughing to clear her throat, she continued more softly, “I do know what I’m getting myself in for. I have done since the day we met. I love you, and that’s all that matters. No! No arguments,” she interjected as Meliodas began to splutter. “Whether you like it or not we are in this together.”
Elizabeth felt her shoulders relax as Meliodas nodded curtly, and she closed the gap between them, gently pressing her lips against his. Their kiss was soft and chaiste, and remarkably open . No hiding in the sky temple, no sneaking away. They were in the Fairy King’s forest, mere steps from Stigma’s camp and no doubt under the watch gaze of dozens of fairies. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth felt free, the sensation enough to make her giddy.
“Follow me. I’ll show you the camp,” she murmured as she led Meliodas through the trees, leaning on his arm to steady herself. Whatever the future held for them both, however her upright and hostile clan might react, she was certain in that moment that she had made the right choice.