Sunday, November 13, 2005

Death and Beyond

I remember well the night my life ended. As the decades since have passed on into a century and more, the memories of my life before that night have begun to fade, but the night itself is burned into my memory like a brand.

I had just come from a battle. Our forces had lost, and I was one of the survivors who had left the field to seek healing, food, and shelter. I wandered through a dark wood until I found a dirt road, and followed it to a small village. It was very late, most people were in their warm beds for the night, but the lights were on in the tavern, and so that is where I went.

It was a very cold night, the snows of winter were not far off, and I had my cloak wrapped tightly around me to ward off the wind as I stepped inside. The warmth from within hit me in the face and made the rest of me shiver. There was a welcome fire burning in the fireplace, and the place smelled of spiced ale and greasy food. I took a table near the fire and shed my cloak, and without asking the barkeep brought me a mug of warm meade. I looked up to thank him, and so weary was I that I failed to notice the look in his eyes, the look of fear and warning. A look that ordinarily would have had me on the alert, suspicious and wary. But this one fateful night I simply took the mug and gratefully began to drink. The barkeep loitered for only a moment more, as if hoping I would take note of his warning look, then hurried off as if fearful to stay any longer at my table. If only I had noticed. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I.

As I finished the last of my warm drink and let out a breath of satisfaction, I heard a sound from another table, and it was only then that I noticed there was another customer in the tavern that cold night. The last mistake I ever made in my life was to turn and let my gaze find the source of the sound.

It found a woman. An incredible woman the likes of which I had never seen before. She had a long flowing mane of ebony hair, full ruby red lips, and the kind of body a man like me had only dreamed about being next to. But it was her eyes that held me, literally, in their grasp. Deep, bright, piercing blue eyes, cold and cunning and at the same time smoldering with desires barely held in check just under the surface. Eyes that stared directly back into mine, and I swear I felt that they looked straight into my very soul.

Although I didn't know it, at that moment I was lost. I didn't notice the barkeep hastily departing into the back room. The rest of the room fell away, the barkeep, the town, everything else was forgotten as all my senses became suddenly aware of nothing more than her. Even had I tried to look away I would not have been able to, but at that moment I had no desire to. It seemed like a long moment that we simply sat there, staring at one another in silence. I know now that she was doing more than staring, that she was indeed looking into my very soul, studying me as a cat studies a bird before it pounces. She said not a word, yet somehow I knew that she wanted me to rise from my table and join her, and I did without a thought.

I sat beside her, very close, my gaze helplessly held by hers as she studied me intently. I could not even move until finally her gaze broke from mine to travel over the rest of my face and form. Then I became aware of a chill, as if the cold from outside had forced its way into the room and gathered around her table, keeping the warmth from the fire at bay. I shivered and my throat was very dry. Her lips parted, and her voice emerged, sounding to me like the song of angels. "What is your name?"

There was one small split second where some deep part of my mind knew that there was danger. Something inside me knew that this was not right, that I was no longer in control of my mind or body, and it screamed at me to run, to fight, to do something to escape. But it was too late, I could do nothing. I felt compelled to answer her question, and my name rolled out. "Lovan."

Her lips parted in a small smile. It was a cold, satisfied smile and at the same time it warmed my heart. The part of my mind that screamed at me was silenced by it. I was suddenly filled with the desire to do anything, everything I could, to keep that smile. I wanted this woman more than I had ever wanted anything in my life, and I was ready to surrender myself to her. "Lovan..." she murmured, and the way she said my name sent a bolt of lightning down my spine. She reached out a hand to me, a soft, slender hand of perfection with nails manicured and painted the same ruby color of her lips, and ran her fingers along my chest. Her touch elicited an involuntary sigh from my lips, which seemed to please her even more. "Come with me," she purred, and rose from her chair with an inhuman grace. I obeyed, rising from my chair, my cloak forgotten on the floor behind me. She took my hand in hers and led me from the tavern. Oddly enough, in spite of the chill that lingered around her, her hand was very warm.

So enthralled was I by that time that I no longer noticed the cold or wind outside, even without my cloak. Nor did I notice the odd fact that her steps upon the dead leaves made no sound at all, while my own steps caused loud crunching. Deeper into the woods we went, the same dark woods that I had traversed on my way to the tavern. We were somewhere not far from the battlefield itself, as I could smell the smoke from the burning buildings. She had chosen this place for other reasons which I would come to know soon enough.

She turned to face me, and took me into her arms. I likewise curled my arms around her and desire for her overwhelmed me. Our lips met and ignited a fire between us. Slowly we sank to the ground and atop the cold dead leaves of the forest floor we made love. I was enraptured, it was a happiness I had never known, and I thought that I had found love at long last. It was all an illusion. When we had finished, we lay entwined on the ground, and she kissed my neck. My heart was still pounding, my breath quickened, and then there was something else. At the time I had no idea what it was. It was a feeling of intense pleasure, so strong it made my entire body shudder uncontrollably. It ran through me in waves, and caused me to groan aloud. Then everything began to dull, and I became very sleepy. She was still warm in my arms, and still doing something to my neck, and I was content and quite willing to drift off to sleep.

Sleep. It was a sleep of sorts, all right. When I awakened sometime later it was still dark but I was alone. My eyes opened and immediately I knew that something was not right. For although it was dark, I could see the trees overhead in crystal clarity, as though there were a bright full moon to light them for me, but there wasn't. Although I was naked still, and there was a light frost covering the ground, I was not cold. I was, however, hungry, and could feel my stomach grinding. As I sat up I saw her, the woman who had brought me to that place in the woods, standing nearby. She was still achingly beautiful to my sight, her raven locks swirling behind her in the wind. She reached down towards me with one hand. "Rise, my love," she purred at me, causing a smile to form on my face. I took her hand and got to my feet. "You never did tell me your name," I said.

"I am Ordala," she purred. It seemed everything she said was purred, as though every word from her lips was designed to seduce and tempt and elicit obedience. "Tonight is a very special night, Lovan," she went on. "Tonight you are reborn a god."