WARRIORS OF THE WAY
NIGHT WITHOUT END
The night and it's thunderous storm seemed never ending. Given that I had thoroughly mortified myself by being caught in an impulsive and childish act made it all the more unendurable. Shame flooded through me and kept me silent and withdrawn while at the same time, more confused than ever. Could the man read my very thoughts? How was that possible? What kind of being was he? Did I dare trust him? Had he been the watcher who had watched me by the brook? The tangible feeling of evil had preceded his appearance, had it not? Were they one and the same? My mind raced down every avenue that presented itself as my memories began to surface. The white bird, I saw in my mind's eye again and remembered the eerie song and the farewell gesture. The sparkling water of the brook, the chilly bath and the what? Something there in the water. Something wonderful. Something...magical. I shook my head to clear it and sighed in frustration. My memory refused to co-operate. What could I not see? I replayed every thing that I could grasp in thought. Starshine. The viper. The grave. The long trek down the hill into the brown valley. So tired. So alone. Walking for miles in my grief. The lush oasis with it's green grass and willow trees. Falling on the blanket in exhaustion. Waking alone..........
The man stirred beside me and murmured in his sleep, disturbing my recollections. Why did he have to be so beautiful? I thought distractedly. Had any other man in past or present ever possessed such eyes as he? Blue as mid morning skies and unique in all the world. I marveled at their color and wondered at the man. He had been kind to me, had he not? He had fed me and sheltered me and hid me from the storm. He had......he had....and then it came to me as clear as day and as frightening as the night. The man....there at my camp! My sword drawn and taken from me like one who had arms of straw! He had held me, freshly dressed and still damp from my bath! Watching me from beyond my view. While I sat.... doing what? My head swam with the futility and my face flamed with the knowledge. What thing had transpired between the dressing and the vanquishing? I covered my mouth with my hands so that he could not hear my shameful sobs. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I strove to remember the missing details.
The warrior in me fled away in fear and worry and I burned in misery as though I walked in flame. "I did not see you." he said softly, turning in the tangle of coverings to face me as I trembled there, grateful for the crashing thunder and noise of rain. The wind changed suddenly and rain blew into my face in cold, icy sheets, catching me by surprise. The man reached and pulled me back against his form out of the rain's reach and covered our faces, our breath meeting there together warm as sun. "I did not see you." he said again and I did not pull away from him although I meant to. I shivered, once again alarmed at the way he had answered my unasked question. Was I mad? Had the viper bitten me as well as my horse? Delirium surely ran through my brain! Lightning struck close by our arbor and I screamed at the shock of it and huddled myself even closer to his chest.
Somewhere I heard the horse call out and heard the stamp of heavy feet but did not look out of the enclosure. Finally, with no air left to breathe, we lifted the cover off our faces and breathed the night air into gasping lungs. Our eyes met in a flash of light and we laughed, timidly at first and then out loud, our laughter strange and alien in that place. In the pale glow of the trees and the intermittent flashes, my eyes searched his with questions I could never ask. At least not now and perhaps, not ever. "You must forgive me if I hold you thus," he said finally, "but this night demands it and your safety commands it. I will not allow you to be frightened or tormented." "Tormented?" I asked trying to put on a strong face and tensing myself against his hold. "Why dost thou assume....?" And let it drop at that. How could I hide thoughts from one such as he? "You have not been dishonored...in any way." he reassured me, pulling me to him in quick embrace and letting me go just as quickly. "I saw only what I needed to see and nothing else. The one who guides me warned me of your...vulnerability and protected your modesty." Frowning deeply, I squinted my eyes in puzzlement, searching his face, and he said in a quiet and sober voice, "In my life, I have seen many things. Some I should not have seen, some I should like to see again, but in my travels throughout this world in which we have been planted, by reason of experience and by guidance sure, I have learned when I should look.....and when I should look away."
Feeling somewhat reassured by his words, I let the tension flow from my body and let his arm cradle my head and hold me close there in his warmth. The rain began to slow and fell in drowsy, cold drops. Never had I been so close to another person, not physically, at least, except for Cy-nythia, my childhood nurse and never had her embrace felt like this! I smiled into the darkness at my thought and felt the call of slumber beckon me. Suddenly, I asked, compulsively, "How is it that thy speech is so? Thy way of phrasing strange and curious? From what land dost thou come and why hast thou come here?" A flood of questions issued forth from my lips tumbling over one another too fast to answer. The man laughed softly at my eagerness and whispered "Shh! One at a time! But first, you must answer me my question and then I shall do my best to answer yours." "That is fair." I said and waited for his words then trembled when they came. "How is it that thou...... who speaks in the manner of the Royal House have come to be in this wide, wild land alone and friendless? And why didst thou not know that I saw you at the tree.... and followed you?"
Bewilderment turned to anger and anger to renewed fear and I pulled myself away from him and huddled at the bunk's edge, wet with rain. Oh, would this night never end? I wanted to run away and hide myself from this unknown stranger who seemed to know all there was to know about me and yet he asked the question I could not answer as though he did not know. I didn't move or make a sound and willed myself to sleep to shut out the thoughts that ran through my mind like snakes. Once again I was uneasy and once again uncomfortable and cold. "Never mind," he sighed against my back. "You will tell me when you are ready. Forgive me if I have upset you, little one. Now go to sleep and regain your fearsome strength. The night is passing and in the morning you will see.......I have a surprise for thee!"
TO BE CONTINUED IN EPISODE SEVEN.......................