Happily Ever After

She watched them bring in the body. They laid it down gently in the hall and stood back respectfully. She maintained her composure until she reached it and knelt down, lifted the shroud from the face and then began to weep. He was still wearing his armour - so thin and flimsy now but he had never learnt to wear anything heavier. She always worried about him when he went out but he would always reassure her 'I will come back'. He had kept his promise and yet…

A memory, another man the same promise - this time broken. He never came back and she had wept and grieved and raged and, at the end, had gone to set him free - then let him go. After that she learnt to say what she felt, to not hide it, for you never knew when it would be too late. She had offered him the rest and peace of the burnt realm but his heart was with his love that burned much brighter, not the hot embers but the blazing light.

In this world he had lost her a long time ago. A thousand years had passed since her counterparts’ death at the hands of the daughter of silence, so nearly a reality in her world. She wondered how much that had cut him, whether he’d grieved, had he loved her, the other her, before?

“I loved you” She gently ran her hand down the side of his face, so cold now.
She had loved and lost him in her world. Now in this new world he was returned to her the same and yet not. His voice, his smile, his laugh were all the same but this man had suffered so much at the hands of Matteio De Calvi, seen so many of his friends die while he lived on, seen his world crumble before him. But when she saw him all the scars ripped open, her heart broke into a thousand pieces all over again. Because here was Bairoth - almost exactly like the man she’s known, as live and real as any of them. She knew that she loved him just as much as she had loved her own lost Bairoth.

It would have been hard to leave if Bairoth was the only person in that world, it was impossible knowing that her Lord was trapped. The others had said it just a dream, a figment, an unreality or illusion. She knew they were wrong the way only a priestess can know, feel her God beneath her feet straining to be free. She couldn't leave either of them like that. After all the pain and heartache of the past year, here at last were the two most important people in the world to her and they needed her.

The journey to where they were now had been long and hard. The release of her Lord was perhaps the most glorious and hard earnt moment of her life, as that armoured figure tore himself from the ground, ashen chains crumbling around him, looked down and smiled at her. The second was the much greater task of mending the broken world they lived in. The lords of breath and blood had left long ago, turned their back on the land devoid of life yet they were so desperately needed. They were found eventually - deep in the western forest and far to the north, south, east and west - Lingering where humanity still dwelt. Persuading them to come back had been harder.
The potion Bairoth had so carefully crafted was time consuming to make - they gave it to the children bringing forth the next generation to be watched over by the undying elders. They encouraged, convinced, persuaded and cajoled the elder generation to accept that this portion of life was over, that Utopia was not that and that life, real life, was worth living , and dying, for. Slowly souls moved to the new burnt realm and slowly the children grew up taught and cared for by those who remained just that little bit longer. And just as slowly, painfully slowly, the powers of blood and breath returned and choose new followers and priests from the growing generation - so young and yet so old at the same time.

She gathered him up into her arms and held him close. His body was already cold - his lips icy when she kissed them and his head heavy in her lap. His side was bloody where a spear had pierced him and his arm hung awkwardly at his side.

A memory of another wound bleeding ash, another she had failed to save.

She sat there, tears streaming down her face and dropping onto his but he did not, could not, move. She stirred, not sure how much time had passed but her tears had dried, her body was cold and her legs stiff under her. She called to one of the guards to help her move him. Gently they lifted him to a table and brought her a bowl of warm water as requested. She wasn't sure why she asked for warm water, it was not as if he was going to notice but she couldn't bear the thought of him flinching from the cold. Methodically she started removing his cloak and boots, then began prying away what was left of his armour. Gently she cleaned his wounds, called for clean water again and again, then finally for clean clothes from his room.

He'd set out a month ago heading north. Things were stirring on the borders of dream – in her world she'd seen them pushing south with the necromancer no longer there to keep them back beyond the palace, now there were dreaming souls in the south drawing the creatures closer in this world too. The sleeper in black perhaps pushing his limits? Or the Bard of Rainbows with his manic smile? Word of trouble had reached them and Bairoth had said he would take some of his people and look into it.

“I promise I'll come back”.

She'd tried to insist on coming with him but he wouldn't have any of it, 'too dangerous' and 'needed elsewhere' as the main excuses. She’d listened to him, as she always did, and stayed. Now she would always wonder if things would have been different if she'd gone. The best of his men had returned but he had not. They told her how he had led them to the pass close to the peak of regret, commanded creatures of snow and ice to let them pass and protected them from vengeful sprits on the high mountain paths. Finally they had found the stalking shadows from the north, insidious and creeping south with every breath. This was the place, the time, when they would be forced back into the north or flood south dragging chaos with them. This was where they made their stand. They told of his skill and courage but they also told of the overwhelming numbers of the shadows, their endless ranks pushing forward. That was when Bairoth started chanting - the wind blew up around them getting stronger and stronger whipping snow and ice into their faces until they could hardly see. Then calm.
Unearthly calm and stillness and in the centre of it all Bairoth, a dead creature twice his size at his feet and a huge wall of ice towering above him blocking off the pass and cutting off the creatures from their route south. The cheers were cut short as Bairoth slowly collapsed, the dead creatures spear had run him through.

She sat down with his body before her and began the meditation. First she needed his spirit. “I call forth Bairoth DeMamushi, alchemist, sorcerer and the bravest warrior I know.”
He stood before her whole again but through his form she could see the outline of the body and she knew it was only a ghost.
“Harriet I…“
“Shhh, it's… it's ok. It's going to be ok.”
“I'm so sorry Harriet. I didn't come back. I broke my promise.”
She looked into his eyes and from his expression she could only imagine the sorrow he could see in hers. She could not hold his gaze. She turned and walked towards the door.
“I tried to come back to you, but I had to stop them, there were so many. I'm glad you weren’t there, that you’re safe.”
She reached the door and closed it, bolting it from the inside. She turned to face Bairoth.
“I know you tried.” She whispered as she stepped towards him lifting her head to look at him again. Then her voice changed, filled with the power of gods and echoing through his mind. “Lord, I Call You…
“Harriet no! You can't…” Her eyes blazed as she glared at him.
Be Silent” The power in her voice compelled him, then her own voice again briefly “I can't lose you again, not again.” She took a deep breath, “Lord, Once More I Call You. Your Servant Calls You. I Have Lived For You, Suffered For You, And I Would Die For You. Hear Me.

There was a dryness in the air, a still calm that comes from ages past. Through the bolted door stepped a large black armoured figure. The Lord of the Faithful. Behind him the barren landscape of the reformed burnt realm stretched into the distance. Before him Harriet spun round and fell to her knees.
Why do you call me Harriet Pinter?
“L..Lord… I request a boon. I…” Her voice suddenly quiet in the face of the figure.
“My Lord, Bairoth is dead. I would ask you return him to life.”
“No! Harriet, you can't! It's too much, I've lived my life and so much more besides. You can't do this, the cost is too high!” Both God and woman ignored the cries of the spirit behind them.
He has already died once. Lived as an Abomination. Returned to life once more and flaunted my authority. He has served under the worst necromancer the world has ever known and done his bidding. Why should I spare him now he is mine to do with as I please?
“Lord, he did it all for you and your siblings. Please. He died trying to kill the necromancer. Everything he did, everything he suffered since then, was all to free you. To help the world. Without him you would still be bound beneath the earth outside this very palace.” She had dared look up while she was talking but now she hung her head avoiding his gaze, ashamed at speaking out so boldly.
Look at me” She flinched. “Look at me Harriet Pinter!
Painfully she tore her eyes away from the floor. His empty gaze went straight through her to her very soul.
You are not telling me everything. You cannot hide it from me.
She whimpered.
“Stop it, don't do this to her. Take me and be done, leave her alone.” Bairoth's cries went unheeded or unheard, he couldn't tell. The Burnt Lord looked unflinchingly at Harriet.
Choking back the tears now rolling down her face she whispered “and because I love him.”
Complete silence for one heart-wrenching, fearful moment while the judgement of ages played across his face. Then he knelt, gently lifted Harriet’s face and wiped away a tear. Softly he said “You know there must be a price?” She nodded. “Very well. I shall grant you your boon.” He spoke louder addressing Bairoth now as well. “For every second you live he shall have your next, for every hour you breathe he shall take one from you. Half your remaining life, Harriet Pinter. Half you life I now give to him.
“No!” Bairoth screamed powerless as the Lord of the Faithful touched his lips to her forehead and she collapsed pale to the ground. He walked over to the cold corpse on the table. “How could you? After all she's done for you? How could you?” the spirit by its side said.
Hush now. After all she's done for me, how could I not? Without you she is broken, now you need never be apart. I have a place for both of you when you join me next. A garden that needs tending.” He leaned down over the corpse and breathed out Harriet’s life over it.

Bairoth opened his eyes. The Lord of the Faithful was gone and Harriet was still lying on the floor. He sat up expecting pain but there was none. He was whole, healed. He ran over to where Harriet lay and gathered her into his arms. Two warm living bodies together.
“Thank you” he whispered even though she couldn't hear.

Sometime later:

Harriet stood at the top of the tallest tower in the palace. The three rivers from the north crashing together hundreds of feet below her. From here she could just make out the glint of the ice wall between Memory and Regret. To the south the glint of the sea with the jewels of the Port and the White City, to the east and west the smudges of desert and forest.
A figure floated up from the walls beneath the tower.
“No need to show off you know.”
“No, no need but it's fun anyway.”
She smiled, but there was sadness in her eyes. “It's nearly time you know?”
“Yes, I know. I can feel it.”
She looked out again across the world. “We made it better, we really did make it better.”
“Of course we did. You and me together.”
He nodded. She drew her hands up into an arc and opened a gate through one of the windows of the tower. Hand in hand they stepped up to the ledge and walked through ready to face the next stage of their journey.
Later their bodies were found collapsed together on the tower floor - they had died arm in arm and both were smiling.

misc/fiction/happyeverafter.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/07 17:19 by elliew
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