The Night Begins

He came to her, as he always did, to their chosen secret place, and she smiled as he appeared, breathing heavily from the long walk uphill.

“You’re too happy”, he grumbled, even before she’d managed to greet him.

“Sorry”

He sighed, “Don’t be like that.”

“Okay.”

Damian frowned, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything further. After all, she had returned to see him again, just as she had said she would. He knew it must not be easy. The tired lines around her eyes as she turned to smile at him made him feel a twinge of guilt. But he shivered at the thought of that empty, aching loneliness which was just waiting to envelop him once she was gone for good, and he cast aside those feelings of guilt. Now was not the time.

Cerid was watching him closely, a strange expression on her face as she watched Damian’s distracted frown go through a series of minor transformations, until he suddenly snapped his icy gray eyes on to her warmer brown ones, and even though she smiled comfortingly at him, the haunted look in his tired eyes made her want to cry.

But, Cerid had not cried since the war had ended. Not once. Not even when she had spent two weeks watching Damian destroy everything around him, until the cursing and swearing and whiskey and screaming was all done with, and all that remained in its place was his pale gaunt frame, surrounded only by endless destruction and stony silence. Her heart had ached as she’d watched, but she hadn’t shed a single tear.

Damian liked to believe that it was because she had run out of tears, and not because other people’s agony and pain affected her more than his. Cerid thought it had something to do with the last battle she’d been part of. Because she had had plenty of tears to shed that day. An all of a sudden, the picture of little Remo, lying in a pool of his blood, flashed through her mind.

He had been a day away from his fifth birthday. She had promised to gift him a real kite. He had been counting down the days. The day of the last air-strike… it was Roberto who had found out first. Damian had been in the middle of his own dilemma. Straddling both sides of the war, he had a difficult decision to make. Even though, technically, he would always be of the Shadow Tribe first. Ceridwyn had been at the forefront of the battle. And she had watched Remo die.

Ceri! Ceri!

She opened her eyes to find Damian kneeling over her, eyes full of worry, “Are you alright?”

She laughed, then, suddenly aware of the bizarreness of the situation. “We have to stop doing this”, she whispered, leaning up into the familiar frame of his body. He swallowed, once, twice. “I understand”, he said, “But what am I supposed to do?”

She shook her head at him, despondent and unsettled, “I love you.”

He looked down at her cautiously, then swallowed again, “I have always loved you.”

“And that’s why you can’t stay”, she whispered, smiling up at him gently, even as her eyes sparkled with waylaid tears.

The baby wouldn’t stop wailing. She knew that it was Arianna’s son. Arianna, who had trusted her and helped them escape when the entire kingdom was against them. Arianna, who now lay buried not far from here, shot in the heart with a poisoned arrow, even as her husband fought on in the Outer Circle with the other Marine Corps. Arianna’s son was trapped inside the burning building, and his mother was injured, and there was no one around to help him. Cerid had already lost a lot of blood. But she could hear the shouts in the distance, and it was clear that victory was imminent. She was just steps away from the designated Tower. She’d get medical attention there, and probably be able to send someone for the baby.

But it would be too late.

And as she turned away from the tower and towards Arianna’s home, for some strange reason, she thought of Damian and the last thing he’d said to her.

Dead to me.

He stared at her for a moment, memorizing every detail of her face as she smiled at him encouragingly. “It’s going to be alright. I’m always going to be here, with you.”

“So,” he began, in a shaky voice, stopping to take a deep breath and continue, “What you’re saying is I’ll never be walking alone.”

She beamed at him then, and for just one tiny moment, Damian forgot all about the last night of the Quarter Century War, when he had returned to the village only to find her overwhelmed and outnumbered against Assassins intending to eliminate all the noble-born children.

He had joined in the battle, and afterwards held her blood soaked body in his arms, as the cheer of celebration and jubilation rang out all around them, and the last of her life ebbed away from her. “Forgive me” he had cried, but it had been too late, and the only answer he had was the silence of the blankness in her empty eyes, just as she had promised him.

Sudden darkness. The hill was empty now. A cold wind rustled past the nearby trees, and a whisper trembled at his ear.

“You’ll never walk alone.”

Damian fell to his knees.

The night had begun.

Storms and Cottages

He woke up with a start upon hearing the heavy wooden door to the cottage swing open, drenched in sweat, and his hair all disheveled, yet instinctively reaching out for the sword. Before remembering that he had lent it to her.

It was hers in the first place, said a niggling voice at the back of his mind.

“It’s just me”, she whispered to him, the quietness of the cottage hidden away from the snowstorm outside suddenly too much to bear. Her eyes drifted to his slowly healing bruises and he looked away, scowling. He waited until she had knelt by the fire to stoke it before risking another glance at her. She appeared alright, he thought, as she placed the sword beside the door.

It was much too large for her anyway.

“Why are you smiling?”, she asked, curious. He blinked at her blankly for a second, before giving her a curt nod and gingerly laying himself down again, even as she turned to unpack the medicinal herbs and plants that she had been out collecting, wary yet hopeful that they would suffice.

“Did you run into any trouble?”, he asked, and her hands shook as she remembered the horrors of a nearby village she had stumbled upon, terrorized by a pack of vicious dogs, and their even crueler masters. They had followed her into the forest,barking and laughing as she had stumbled along with the village’s orphans. A year ago, they would have hunted her down and killed her, laughing as their beasts tore her apart. But the year had been a long one, and it had changed her.

Her voice was steady when she turned to answer him, “Just some hungry dogs. But I took care of it.”

The smile on her face was a new one.

One that hadn’t been there before. And he didn’t know what it meant.

Nevertheless, he nodded in a way she had begun to interpret as relieved, and in turn, she was glad that the darkening evening kept the blood spattered sword hidden from his sight. At least until she had had the time to polish it, and feel the sharp edge of its steel, light against her skin. Just once more, and then she would return it.

She was only its guardian. It was time to let go.

He watched her gaze drift to the sword by the door, eyes full of emotions he couldn’t begin to decode. He wondered if she had been living by this underground lake for the entire year that she had been missing. He thought of telling her how he had looked for her. How far and low he had searched. How desperately he had hoped and prayed.. How hollow everything in the world had suddenly seemed to be. How he had learnt what it meant to be drowning in despair, feeling insanity clambering on to the sides of his mind; the absence of her, a raw wound that never learned to heal.

But he was not the same.

And, neither was she.

By choosing exile, by choosing this, by leaving when the war broke out, she had made a choice. Abandoning him, but also saving him from having to make any sort of choice himself. They would have never trusted him as long as she was around. Her hair was too wild, and her skin wasn’t pale enough. She would never be one of them. He would have had to make a choice..

“I can mend your weapon, you know”, he said quietly, and watched as she whirled around to face him, body taut and disbelieving, eyes boring into his, searching him for any sign of deception, or doubt.

He showed none.

“You”, she whispered. “You can fix Estel?”

He nodded, then pushed himself off the bed, swaying as his feet hit the ground. She rushed forward, her small cold hands reaching around him, steadying him as he gritted his teeth and shook his head. The Winter had hit him hard. He would need some time to recover before going ahead with his plans.

He glanced down at her worried expression, before letting his eyes drift to where her pale hands rested against his bruised skin, causing her to blush and look away. He leaned forward and closed his eyes, taking in the scent of the forest from her hair and clothes, trying to figure out where exactly they were, and how he would get them out of there. His eyes snapped open and fixed themselves on hers as he smelt the blood on her clothes, not her own, and that on her scratched and swollen wrist, her own.

She looked back at him in a confused mixture of fear and raw, aching desire.

“I can fix Estel”, he said.

Strange Dream

A little boy, about three years of age, runs awkwardly after a ball, laughing delightedly as a young couple – probably the parents – look on. A young girl, with dark tousled hair, stands on an iron gate that slowly swings open and shut. The house behind her is dark and ominous, but her eyes are darker still. A sudden fire takes on the field opposite. People are screaming and running, and everything is a sea of red, until there’s a familiar soothing voice calling for calm, even as a mad little girl, wearing a dragon helmet, hops away with the elves into the surrounding woods.

The crowd gives the crowned crones chance and chance again to redeem themselves. The crowd gets no second chance. And the Mother of the Earth drinks in the blood of a million of her children, and cries in silent anguish. Especially at the blood of the innocent. And it lines the snow, no matter how much snow falls. The Blood is Strong.

A little girl laughs, as she kneels in the dirt, surrounded by four little pups leaping as they try to reach at her face. A shadow falls on a village. It begins to rain. And, it never stops. Someone mentions that it’s raining blood, and I hold out my hand only to see that it’s true. But, it is not only blood that the rain stands for. Red is the color of Passion. Red is the color of Rage. Red is the color of Lust, of Betrayal, and yes, of Blood. But, it all begins and ends with Love.

It’s still raining when we meet the gray wolf. He sees only me. And the ice begins to melt, but it never stops raining. He begins to run, slowly at first, and it is easy to keep up. But, soon, we are racing across lands so vast that my head would spin, were I not so keen on keeping up. And the wolf stops, and I think, maybe I’m a wolf too.

But then I notice the dress I’m wearing, and it’s the wrong color. I never wear white. But, it’s snowing everywhere and there’s no other way not to be seen. The Wolf growls and suddenly we’re running again, only this time, it’s fear and panic, and thorns tear at my skin and dress alike, the wolf moving further and further away.

And, suddenly, I have fallen.

A fat king laughs at a jester’s joke, while in the woods the lions roar and the wolves howl and no man dares to go. The wind is cold, and the rain is even colder. It stings the flesh as it falls, and the King’s court titters and flees from the storm. Their pleasant tones and colorful garbs hiding terrible, vile secrets; secrets they trade amongst each other, even as they profess their loyalty to the realm. In the distance, the wolves begin to howl.

 Only Blood can pay the price of blood, he says, his eyes half-mad with the ghost of his child. The fire only burns higher and higher, as two infants shriek endlessly into the night.

“Confess!” shouts an ancient priest, and a raven caws noisily at the girl’s shoulder, even as she turns around to look me straight in the eye. When she doesn’t answer, soldiers come and drag her out the giant hall, but she never looks away. I want to tell her that it’s no use, and that I’m only dreaming, but she looks like me, and I think she already knows.

Suddenly, everything is burning. The horns are sounding. And, outside the walls of the tower, the city erupts in madness.  For an instant, it is a lifetime ago, and a fair-headed young child embraces her older brother warmly as he returns from a hunt. In the tower, the girl’s eyes are as fevered as the King’s. Her brother kisses her brow, and she finally falls asleep. Her brother begins to cry.

Only Blood can pay for Blood.

A lonely howl fills the night air.

But the infants have been silenced.

Until the skies themselves begin to rain fire.

~~~

All the Words in the World

Sometimes, the brighter words desert me
and only the gray ones remain,
Yes, blood is the color of loyalty,
but, betrayal is it’s middle name.
Sometimes, the good times are forgotten
and I go back to reading the edges of your wall
Back to back, on different planets,
I slowly watched the last star fall.

You know, the war is over; you can keep
your precious snow-covered territory
And I will recall what it was like to sleep
in the ghost of a distant memory.
How naive of me, to think you weren’t the same
especially when it came to the cold.
And this is the exile I serve in your name
when I ran out of reasons not to fold.

But, of all the things that are gone from me
I miss most the warmth that fought despair
And in the edges of shadows that arise from the dark
My ghost might still admit to care.
But, I pity your new mortal form
And our synchronized fall from grace
and for all the words that were never said
and that look upon your face.

But, where I once drowned in sorrow
I now arise from ashes, in disdain
You made your choices in the brightest ink
and I watch them run in the falling rain.
And the words I was going to use,
to explain the depths I’ve seen
They walk away, in quiet disappointment;
echoing, you shall never know what we mean.