As with another recent post, this isn’t a completely new piece conjured up by the mlmm sunday writing prompt: a change of seasons. I took part of a story started over a year ago, played with how much I would follow my original intentions, and pieced together the “mind-narrative” below.
In the tween-time, when north winds pull down the sky and puddles are of mud and ice, she would take down her shoulder pouch from whatever hook or branch it hung. With careful, caressing motions, she rubbed it first with soapwart to clean it, and then beeswax to make the leather weather-proof. Doing the same with her traveling bag and boots.
Next, she turned attention towards her staff. Heartwood from a tree in the Giving Grove, she carved runes and images to make it her own. It too needed a polishing – rubbing the linden wood with a mixture of boiled roots and nuts.
In her pouch she placed her most precious possessions of which there were few: a knife with gilded hilt; ink-stone, bowl, and quill knife; a pouch of thin ducats; her admixture of nuts and dried fruits for sustenance when other foods were scant. In her other bag, wrapped in toweling against the muck of travel: 2 long shirts; two leggings; stockings (well-darned); soft tapestry slipper shoes; a long vest, rich with stitchery of birds, meadow flowers, and mushrooms. Miscellanea: ribbons and bright thread to weave into her braided hair; a thin gold circlet without gemstones or embellishments; small pots of salve; sprigs of dried mint and sage. She missed her bow and quiver though it was years since she had shot a target.
These preparations for her journey were a ritual. A marking of the turning times. No matter the starting point, her feet knew the paths to take. Walking east towards the sea. To the heights above the sea cliffs. To a landscape of undulating waves of grasses, turned from green to brown, and the thick, thorny breaks of corpse brush. Ever the sound of moving grass and breaking ocean against the hammer of the shore-line.
It was here he fell, holding the line so the maimed could be taken from the blood-soaked battlefield. She stood beside him, firing arrows until quiver emptied, she moved among the dead, retrieving arrows tipped red. She heard him call out, collapsing, reaching for her.
She knelt to tend to him, but he refused her ministrations.
“We must see that all are taken to the encampment” he whispered in a pain-filled voice.
“Stay. I will wait for you to finish your duty.”
She stood, and with firm, sad resolve, fought until the red of the setting sun on the water below matched the red of the ground and foe.
Only then did she fall back to their tent where he lay, still and pale, stopping only to wash blood off her hands.
He sensed her presence for his eyelids fluttered open.
“Thank you,” he said, voice low and hollow. “You are my warrior princess.”
“And you my wayward prince,” she replied. Their teasing way of reaffirming a life-bond.
“I hope I have asked little of you, save risk your life beside me when in battle.”
She nodded, “You are required so little I am in your debt.”
“Then I dare ask a boon of you.”
She felt tears prick her eyes; she shook off the emotion as a dog sheds water when fresh from a stream. Not now. Both knew he was mortally wounded; soon time then enough for her grief
She leaned closer, his voice weakening to a whisper. She listened, nodding. Such a small favour to ask of her when he had given her so much.
He reached up, brushing her cheek. She leaned down and gently kissed him. His breathing slowed, then stopped. She placed the hand she held upon his chest.
Standing, she told his captain, “He shall be buried here, where he fell. Please help me with the body, but when I ask for you to leave, please, for his memory, do so.”
The captain, hardened by war yet wiped tears away from his face; tears she could not yet shed.
And so, it was done. When all had retreated, gathering up the dead as they went, she murmured words causing the corpse brush thorns to part, revealing a cathedral-high hollow center.
Over the course of days, she made ready his grave, carried stones from the cliff-face ledges for his cairn, and finally as full half-year moon crisped velvet air, she bid him last farewell. She bound herself to this place, promised to return.
She stayed with his company of soldiers until all victory. She returned to their home and the silence of her nights. Strange how he had become her second skin, the space between inhale and out. She had not sought such companionship; but once lost, she felt less than half herself. Now she paced her life by the changing of the seasons; breathe held until time creeped toward the full half-year moon.
There seemed no need to have this house; memories became hollow shells; his spirit dwelt on sea-grass cliffs, not in these chambers that once were laughter and light. So, she gave the keys the gate and doors to her servants, the fields to her tenants, and took to the travelling life. Sometimes, she might join up with a troupe of actors and acrobats; she found she had the true knack of herb healing and of casting the fortune beads. Other times, she would forage in the forest and meadows to create wares for sale at the long fairs. Thick braids of sweet grass, bundles of water herbs, baskets of mushrooms, bunches of meadow flowers – all brought a thin ducat or could be bartered for food and drink, a place to sleep.
Then, in the tween-time, when north winds pull down the sky and puddles are of mud and ice, she would perform her rituals, begin her pilgrimage back to the corpse brush that marked his grave.
She would remain until the first spittle of snow swept in from off the sea. She told him of her adventures during the passing year. Embellishing stories to entertain and amuse. She did not want him to sense her loneliness. Her sorrow. When, during the first night she lay with him, despite his gentleness, she cried out in pain from the newness of it, he swore he would never hurt her, in any way, again. And, for the most, he did not. And on those few times when she felt stung, or swallowed, he remade that vow. It would pain his spirit to know how deep the wound of his passing remained.
For she sensed his presence, felt him brush a lock of hair off her cheek, hold her hand in the darkness. He had only asked, as he lay dying, that she honour him on the first anniversary of his death. Yet, she knew she would journey every anniversary, until her own death. She prayed that this would happen here under velvet-starred skies, salt tang and fresh winds, half-year clear full moonlight. Her last breath signaling a new change of the seasons.
mlmm sunday writing prompt: a change of seasons
image: Fernand Khnopff, Le Silence de la neige, 1916