When people hear the L word, most often they associate it with an amorous setting, chocolate, and flowers, especially around Feb 14. But there’re many different kinds of love. Love for your children and your parents. Love for your land. Love for poetry or music or any other artistic endeavor, your own or someone else’s. Love for a pet. Love for a god.
Sometimes, those loves collide at cross-purposes, and you have to choose one at the cost of another. Those are the most stressful situations in real life and the most interesting in fiction.
My protagonist Eriale from my recent fantasy novel Almost Adept finds herself in such a situation. She meets a man – of course, she does, she is seventeen – and falls in love with him. He occupies her thoughts. She wants to give him anything, shield him from any danger, assist him in any endeavor. She wants to see him smile, hear his voice, share his days. Sadly, she can’t spend the rest of her life with him, no matter how much she wants to, and she knows it.
Eriale is a princess of Varelia. Well, kind of. Her much older half-sister Tamara (they share a father) is Varelian queen by marriage. Like many siblings, the sisters don’t often see eye to eye. Besides, Eriale is a magician, and like any magician, she is strong-willed and independent. She craves freedom to roam the world, to learn new magic, to encounter new mysteries. Rebelling against her sister’s rigid rules, Eriale runs away from home, towards mayhem and adventure, but she could never totally forget her responsibilities. Even if she bickers with Tamara, her sister, she would never endanger Tamara, the queen.
When travels bring Eriale to Grumesh, she falls in love with Kealan, a local courier, but unfortunately, he is not a suitable partner for our wandering princess. Once, he might’ve been, for he was born a high-ranking nobleman. But ten years ago, an aggressive Empire invaded Grumesh, and all the country’s native nobility were disbanded.
Now, Kealan is an outlaw, a leader of the resistance movement, with a price on his head. Even if he stopped fighting the occupants and became a law-abiding citizen, he would still represent a subdued nation. Any alliance between Kealan and the royal house of Varelia would be frowned upon by the Emperor and might cause a diplomatic incident or even armed hostilities between Varelia and the Empire. Eriale would never allow that to happen, would never jeopardize her country’s security for her own pleasure.
Nor would she repudiate her land and family for Kealan’s sake. But she couldn’t deny her love for him either, not to appease the political whimsy of the Emperor. Instead, she chooses a compromise. She would spend as much time with her beloved as she could. She would hear him laugh, savor his touch, relish his kisses. She would bestow the protection of her magic on him, but when the time comes, she would leave him behind. And although she knows her joy is transitory, the knowledge doesn’t diminish her happiness, maybe even makes it more acute.
In a similar situation, another girl might’ve followed a different set of priorities and opted to remain with her sweetheart, come what may. Neither love is right or wrong. Eriale’s choice of patriotic love over romantic love is dictated by her personality, but also by the demands of the genre – a high fantasy quest. If my novel was a romance, Eriale’s choice might have been different.