WARRIORS OF THE WAY
STRANGE FRUIT AT MIDNIGHT
It all began innocently enough. The singing. The music. The laughter. The two of us entertaining ourselves. We sang every song we knew and I listened to songs that only he knew as he accompanied himself on the richly toned instrument. Then he strummed along on songs that only I knew and we sang until we were tired of our own voices. As some time passed, he brought out a strange black flask and some more of the treasures that Snow had carried on her back for her former master. We went through the bags with interest and carefully laid each thing out upon the ground to examine it at length. There were ancient books and manuscripts in foreign languages. There were silver chains and cups and bowls and two white hooded robes with long tasseled belts. In a small velvet bag, we found three keys with strange symbols on either side. In one of the saddle bags, we discovered several sealed bags of dried fruits and meats and a strange hollow tube of some sort with gold lettering on it. We did not know what it was. There were scrolls tied up with silver cords that were so fragile we were afraid to open them. An engraved silver chest with the letters M K contained silver coins and sewed up in the corner of a white handkerchief, we found a perfect snow white pearl.
While we made an adventure of it, at the same time, I felt guilty for our actions. It made me feel as though I was invading the dead man's life and violating his privacy. I wondered what Snow would make of it. Had she been as loyal and loving to him as she had been thus far to me? She was no ordinary horse so I did not suppose that he had been an ordinary man, whoever he was. I was more than a little curious. I wondered if we should try and find out where he came from and give all his belongings to his family. Knowing that he had been an elderly man made that difficult but still, I felt very sad for him and what we were doing. I hated to think of his body lying at the bottom of that cliff all alone. It didn't seem right. "You've a good heart, Vaangelika," the man said interrupting my remorse, "But I don't think there's anything we can do. He was a traveler, like we are. He could have come from anywhere, been going anywhere. But I promise you this: If I find any information about him, other than these initials M K, I will do my best to make things right as far as his possessions go. Minus the box, of course." And he winked at me and said, "Do you really think you could give that up, now that you've seen it?" I shook my head and the thought of my own music box being gazed upon by that shaggy beast pierced me like an arrow. I couldn't reconcile the gain of this to the loss of that but neither could I give up this wonderful new treasure.
We packed everything away again with great care and discovered that we were famished. We ate some leftover fish and shared a cold potato between us. "What's in that flask?" I asked, noticing it setting on the ground by his feet. "I don't know. Water, perhaps. Shall we see?" I picked the heavy black container up, opened the top and held it to my nose. It smelled very....fragrant. Juice, I thought. From a vineyard. I loved fresh juice. I reached for my cup and poured the purplish liquid into it. Filled it halfway. The man sat watching me with an amused look on his face. "I think it might be wine." he said. I took a sip. "No, it's juice. And very good." And I poured him a cup. And then another. And another for myself. Except a full cup this time. We washed our dishes and utensils in a pot of clean water and secured the leftover food for the night. We had plenty left. And enough potatoes for an army. We put more wood on the fire and built it up and soon the whole camp glowed with a cheerful orange glow. "Do you think we'll have any visitors from the forest tonight?" I asked and he shook his head. "I don't anticipate it. The full moon has passed now and the forest seems very quiet. I don't believe any man or animal would dare set foot here again. Don't you feel the peace here?" And I did and acknowledged it. He picked up the guitar again and strummed absently upon it's strings. I poured us each another cup of the aromatic juice, enjoying the beauty of his music.
What happened next, I cannot say. One moment, we were sitting there with only the music and the crackling of the fire to break the silence and the next, we were laughing and singing and I had grabbed the tambourine and began dancing around the fire. He played an exotic, fiery melody that grew louder and louder with each note. All my senses alive, my body, feet and hands took on a life of their own, twirling and swirling in frenzied excitement. I had never danced that way ever in my life and it felt wonderfully, sinfully, good. My teacher would have swatted me and kept me in isolation for a month! As I danced, my brown eyes met his blue and locked there in the fire glow and the light of the stars. We could not look away. My heart began to pound, my breathing became rapid and ragged. I felt a wildness come over me that I had never known. I danced and I danced and I became someone that I didn't know I could be. I saw his beautiful eyes sweep over me in a new way, felt his pulse quicken, saw perspiration break out upon his forehead. I shook the tambourine and drummed it in a rhythm that was foreign to me. And everything in the world vanished except for the two of us and the fire and the music.
Suddenly the music ceased and he rushed to me and pulled me into his arms so tightly I couldn't breathe. My hands found their way to his ears and I felt his lips on my neck. "Vaangelika, you are so beautiful!" he cried out and we held onto one another while moving to the grassy area and fell onto the blanket we'd used at suppertime. We melded together, my hands, his hands, running over shoulders and arms and backs and twisting in one another's hair. We were spellbound. Writhing there, we wrestled with a desperate desire that was almost more pain than pleasure. "Kiss me!" I pleaded, with his face above mine. "Please..... Please.........Please.............!" "I've never wanted anything more in my life!" he exclaimed and I waited, eyes closed but he did not kiss me. I felt him battle within himself and give in and back up and give in again. On and on the battle raged while I waited for him to taste my lips that burned with a unknown fire.
It was torture and I could not endure it. The pain I had experienced last night when I'd thought he was dead surpassed this pain, but only a little. This was a new kind of pain that begged to be put out of it's misery with a sweet slow death. Suddenly he thrust himself off of me and rolled to the farthest side of the blanket, breathing heavily and groaning as if he hurt. I was stunned and shaken with a startling awareness of what we were doing, what we almost had done. What I still wanted to do! I was mortified. I curled myself up into a ball and closed my eyes and willed my body to become familiar again. I could see the flames from the fire through my eyelids, feel the night breeze as it brushed against my fevered skin. I had never felt more like a woman. I had never felt so wanted, so desirable, so rejected, so confused, so thoroughly ashamed. And yet....... if he but reached out to me, I knew I would not push him away. I lay there thinking, not thinking, living, dying, holding my breath, pleading, repenting, needing, wanting, wanting..............
My mouth was dry. I got to my feet and went in search of liquid. I stumbled to the fire and reached for the black flask and my cup. "Vaangelika, no!" I heard him shout before the juice hit the cup. "What?" I asked in confusion and looked back at him. "Don't drink it!" he cried, "It's not juice! We are intoxicated!" "Whh...what?" I repeated."I'm not intoxicated. I've never been intoxicated. What do you mean, intoxicated?" And everything began to go round and round and the fire began to dance back and forth and I moved away before I fell into it. I felt an arm go around me and he led me clumsily back to the blanket and we collapsed there on top of the scattered, wilted flowers from my handmade crown.
Waking from our stupor, our eyes opened almost at the same moment and we untangled ourselves and straightened our clothes and brushed the hair out of our faces. We were rumpled and crumpled and creased and dazed. And I had never thought the man more beautiful. My head ached and I held my hand across my face and peered at him through my fingers. I waited for him to speak. Raking his hands through his hair, he wrinkled his forehead and started to but cleared his throat and then fell silent.Then he did the same thing all over again. I arched a brow and hid an impish grin. "Yes?" I whispered and propped myself up on an elbow, adoring every inch of his face.
He frowned again. "What I was attempting to tell you...was..." and he groaned and rubbed his head. "What I am trying to say....is... ....um...ouch!....that was not juice and that was not wine! I don't know what it was but it was neither. I am amazed that we are still alive." "Are you trying to tell me that we drank something deadly? Some kind of potion? A black magic brew? What? Are we going to die?" "I don't think so," he said, blinking his eyes, "Though I certainly feel close to it. How do you feel?" "Thirsty." I replied, yawning. "And hungry again." "Me, too." he said sheepishly and for a moment, his eyes darkened and he looked at me as he had earlier while I danced. A thrill ran up my spine and the hair stood on the back of my neck. I licked my mouth and tore my gaze away from his, pretending to search for water in the light of the dimming fire. He got to his feet and moved toward the flames, pulling his shirt down and smoothing it with his hands.
He found one of our water flasks and took a deep drink and brought it to me. Water had never tasted so good! While I drank, he went and scrounged around in the covered supplies and came back with two of the long yellow fruits we had neglected to eat with our supper. "What is this thing?" he asked, handing me one. "And how do you peel it?" I made a face and shrugged and we made several attempts before we discovered the secret. At long last, the peels came away and inside was the most amazing soft yellow fruit. Yet another new thing to experience in this incredible, dangerous place! "Let's spend the night here." he said finishing, and before I could answer, he had gone off to pile more wood on the fire and retrieve more blankets. When he returned, he brought weapons with him along with the blankets and laid them down close by. Then he snuggled down beside me while I pretended to be sound asleep. He kissed my cheek and then brushed it with his finger, put one arm underneath my head and the other one around my waist. But it was a long, long while before I could slow the beating of my heart and put the memory of that wondrous, wicked dance out of my mind and fall into what could truly be called sleep.
(Aye Yai Yai!!!!)
Spanish Guitar Flamenco Malaguena !!! Great Guitar by Yannick lebossé
To be Continued in Episode 21........................