by Debra A. Mills
A weeks reprieve. 7 days of rest, relaxation and what? He didn't know, but it was 7 days away from the grueling routine of a soldier's life. His fine stout mare nickered in agreement, the jangle of her bridle interrupting his thoughts.
The town was small, but not so bad, he thought. If it had a tavern and a clean bed, well it was a place to stay. He noted the picturesque countryside as he approached the town, the grass rustling underfoot in the warm autumn breeze.
A feeling of something tickled the back of his mind, a familiar sense of rightness. Looking to the source of this feeling, an old farmhouse stood back from the road. He watched the figure in the yard, pumping water into a bucket. Familiarity again whispered to him. Looking again, he realized his horse was sitting there in the yard. Her yard. And she was looking at him.
The amber of her hair was like rich honey, glimmering in the autumn twilight. Her dark eyes met his, and his heart faltered, that note of rightness striking a cord. She smiled as he stammered out a pathetic request to water his horse.
Hours later, the sun having faded into the sea, they sat laughing. The crackling fire giving off a flickering light, sparkles dancing in their eyes. They talked of times old, of news of the war, and shyly, like children, of their dreams. He spoke of glory, of war, of becoming a great warrior, of recognition for deeds yet undone. She listened and smiled, catching him off guard, piercing the armor he kept close around his heart.
7 days reprieve for him. 7 days of laughter, passion, love. Their worlds collided, meshed and narrowed, to include only each other and the farm. His heart was full, hers was glad. The thread of their existence woven tightly together.
The 7 days ended. Once again he sat astride the mare, who danced eager to be on the road to adventures untold. He looked at her. Her eyes shone brightly with tears she would not let him see.
"I must finish what I set out to do." The only words he could choke out.
"Will you return?" Her eyes hopeful, her voice quivering.
A long time he took to answer, fighting for control. The strong warrior, battle seasoned and rough, a man some looked twice at, some looked only once. He fought to control his breaking heart.
"I do not know. I cannot make any promises."
And again in a whisper, "you must not expect it."
He trembled as the plodding of the mare's hooves led him out of town, knowing she stood watching until he was long gone, perhaps watching still. The miles passed in a daze. He rejoined his unit, although some said he was not quite right. He kept to himself, never talking, the light gone from his eyes. And he fought.
Weeks grew long into months. And as each day passed, he fought to add another brick to the wall he buried his love behind. The pain was too much. The unrightness of it too terrible to bear. So he continued to put it behind, building the wall strong. His face hardened into a mask of bitterness, the grief buried behind.
He tried to pen a few letters to her. But each time he dipped his quill his hand shook, so that the only letters she received were but a few words of greeting. And eventually he gave up trying, one more connection severed.
And she in turn, also tried to bury her grief, yet her thoughts never strayed far from him. The gaping hole from his absence settling into her life like a dark shadow, staying forever present. Suitors came and went, finding her pleasant to look upon and easy to talk with, yet the haunted look in her eyes eventually drove them to pass her by. She remained quiet in her loneliness. Only in the darkness of night did she break, the tears wracking her body with unending sobs.
Thus did the days continue into years. Flowing slowly from one to the next, the nights buried deep in pain and darkness. Often she watched for him, remembering the dream that was him. The perfect rightness of their days together fading into a living memory, a continual ache, for she would not let him go.
The years were not kind to him either. The core of his life the same dark hole in which he tried to fill with deeds of valor. But they simply brought him no pleasure. He made his name, his recognition as a great and fierce warrior went far. Thoughts of her came rarely and he pushed even the tiniest back from his mind, afraid of the cracks that would follow.
War ravaged the land. His deeds became greater. His pride fiercer, his face harder, yet he could not find that which would make him whole. Each time he rode into battle, he screamed forth a yell of agony, fighting with all the intensity in which to save himself, yet never finding himself saved.
And as one grave battle neared it's close, the golden sunset caught his eyes. Amidst the terrified screams of the dieing and wounded, the clanging of swords, the smoke burning his eyes, stinging his throat, he had one clear thought come unbidden into his mind. The land lay ravaged all around him, the blood and gore in which he earned his name reaching full stench to fill his nostrils, the thought snagged him, dropped him, stunned him.
He remembered her. The rays of the sunset reminding him of her hair, soft golden fire. Her eyes filled with love, her voice singing with laughter, her face lost in passion as he had pleasured her which in turn had fulfilled him. It was so real he could smell her sweet scent, and taste her lips. And suddenly, the light broke within his soul. The longing, the dark void, the thing he could not find was her. The torment and fruition of his life ending in that one clear moment.
He knew where his heart lay and he fought harder to return than he had to leave. His face smiled, an unfamiliar grimace to those who knew him. His heart was light, the wall he had spent years building around him, crumbling to dust but with one memory.
She had long ago given up on his return, spending her days with his memories, her nights with her sadness. She stared into the bowl of soup she had no courage to eat, her body wasted thin from the lack of heart. Her thoughts only of him as she watched the steam rise from the bowl.
The thud at the door startled her so that she bumped the bowl of soup, sending it gushing onto the table. She cursed. It could only be someone she didn't want to see, for there was only one face she longed for. Wearily making her way to the door, sighing in an attempt to conjure some hospitality for a stranger. As she opened the door, their eyes met.
She froze, her heart stopping, afraid to breathe lest the vision before her disappear and she wake again in her misery. The moments ticked on with hardly a breath coming between them.
"Can I come in?" he smiled.
She opened the door wider, stumbling in her haste. As she turned to face him, shutting the door with a soft click, loud in the silence, their eyes met again. He folded her into his arms, inhaling deeply all that was right about her. Their paths mingled again, the strands of fate weaving them back together, the cymbal of time ringing loudly, proclaiming the mightiest of his deeds complete. And as their lips met, and their hearts swelled, he remembered that it was but one clear moment in time that made him whole and brought him to his destiny.