Friday, December 31, 2010

No Cure for Longing

She heard it coming. The arrow, whispering through the air, seeking her life. It tore the skin of her arm just below her shoulder and thudded into the tree behind her.

Her breath hissed through her teeth and she stilled herself, listening. She heard the rasp of a second arrow leaving the quiver, the tap of the shaft against bow, a sigh as the notch touched bowstring. She heard the strain as the bow was drawn.

She took two silver balls from her pouch, tossed them from hand to hand, and waited.

As the balls moved faster, gaining energy, she waited.

As the balls blurred they moved so fast, she waited.

Until the man stepped into a shaft of sunlight lighting the gloom of the forest, she waited.

Then she let them fly.

She heard the crack of a rib breaking as the first struck home and the smack of the second against skull.

Then the softer sound of a body hitting the forest floor.

She watched the arrow, loosed from the bow, fly harmlessly into the sky and fall to the ground nearby.

She turned and laid her hand on the trunk of the tree behind her, asking forgiveness for the harm that had come to it because of her. The bark, where her blood had touched it, was black and brittle.

She paused a moment longer, listening for others. There were some, far off, moving away. She stood and made her way to the fallen man.

He was tall, this hunter of her kind. A strong face, brows knitted in pain over dark eyes. His hair was short, dark like his eyes, and poorly cut. Blood trickled down his face from a wound above his left eye.

She knelt smoothly and retrieved the two balls. A low groan from the man caused her to look at him. He was struggling to sit up. Her ears caught the rasp of broken bones as they scraped over one another.

She moved swiftly to his side and laid her hand on him, pressing him back. His breath caught sharply as he stifled a cry of pain.

"Foolish man," she said, the liquid sounds of her language smooth as water. "If a rib pierces your lung, you will die for want of breath."

He looked at her, confusion in his face.

"Lie still," she said, switching to their clumsy words. "I will help."

She ran her finger through the wound on her arm, coating it with blood. The man made to grab her hand as she brought it to his head. She swatted his away as she might a child's and looked at him.

"I can heal you," she said, "or you can die."

She waited, her finger poised. The man said nothing.

"My blood can heal or harm. It is a matter of intent." She held his eyes with hers. "I will heal you."

He nodded and she traced the wound on his forehead. His skin was softer than she had expected and warm to the touch. She pressed his head back so he lay on the earth and cupped the wound with her palm.

When she withdrew her hand, the wound was cleansed, the skin knitting.

"You will carry a scar to remind you of this day," she said, "to remind you of your foolishness."

He frowned at her but said nothing. She opened his doublet and saw the bruising she had caused. "This will hurt," she said and pressed her fingers hard against the bruise. He groaned again. She paid him no heed as her knowledgable fingers moved to align the broken bones.

After a while she sat back on her heels and looked at him. He lay on the ground, his breath coming in short, harsh gasps. "Why did you seek to kill me?" she asked.

He slowed his breathing, testing how his chest worked, and turned his head to face her. "If I had sought your life, you would be dead." He raised his hand to touch the healing wound over his eye. "Just as I would be, had you sought mine."

She nodded at that and turned to show the wound on her arm. "And this?"

"I am new come to this place," he said. "They told me there was a thief. They asked my help to catch this thief." He looked at her directly. "Are you a thief?"

"My people have lived in these forests from long before you, or your kind, were here," she said. "There is less forest now than before. So, who is the thief?"

He nodded his head and struggled to a sitting position. She saw the pain that crossed his face, and saw that it had lessened.

"You are strong," she said. "You will heal." She lifted her head in the direction of the forest's edge. "You live in the old cottage atop that hill?"

"No one was there," he said. "It is as good a place as any."

She held out her hand and he grasped it. His breath hissed again as she helped him to his feet.

"You can reach it on your own," she said.

"Will I see you again?"

"Perhaps." She moved away from him in the graceful manner of her kind. She did not look back but heard him as he walked out of the forest.

***

Some time later he returned to her mind. She went to the forest's edge. The old cottage was still there, a thin thread of smoke from a fire within. She made her way to the open door.

"I wondered when you might return," he said.

She stood in the doorway, looking at his face. The scar was still there, but his head was crowned with thin, white hair and he was stooped with age.

He looked up at her from the chair he was sitting on, a frown creasing his brow.

"You look as you did that day," he said.

"Time," she said, "flows differently for my kind. Forgive me. I should have returned sooner."

He shrugged. "I am glad to see you again. All those I grew to know are long gone. Yet I am still here. Is that because--"

She nodded. "I healed you. And so you lived long, longer than you might have." She looked around his home. "You never took a woman."

He shook his head. "No. I did not. For I never saw the woman I wanted again, until now."

She sighed. "Foolish, now as always. Joy was to be had, and you settled for longing."

"Can you heal that longing?"

She smiled sadly. "I can end it," she said, "not heal."

He nodded. "That is enough."

She drew the blade of a short knife across her left palm. The blood welled up along the cut. She moved to him and pressed her hand against his brow. He shivered, arched his back and was still.

She stepped back and regarded him.

The frown was gone; he was smiling.

She turned and left.

25 comments:

  1. A beautiful tale of the hopelessness of unrequited love. As a reader, I wanted to know what she was exactly, but that's just my selfish nature.

    "Foolish, now as always. Joy was to be had, and you settled for longing." <3 that line.

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  2. Moving tale with strong characters. Very nice.
    -David G Shrock

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  3. @Seleste - unrequited love, indeed (perhaps even "unrequiteable"). As to what she was...sorry, there the writer is being selfish.

    @David - Glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for commenting.

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  4. The image of the silver balls really grounded the scene. I also love the line Can you heal that longing? The voice of this piece is rustic. The end was tough. I thought he would get his love in the end.

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  5. A wonderfully crafted story, her being hunted by an expanding race, echoes the plight of many indigenous populations throughout the centuries.

    I love the way it was brought to conclusion too, very well done.

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  6. ooo - this was great - a love story, a story of unrequited love and longing - sacrifice - wow, this covers such a range in such a short space - thanks

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  7. @Julio "Can you heal that longing?" is one of my own favorite lines in this. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Sorry about the disappointment of the ending - it just had to be that way.

    @Steve - yes, there were thoughts of how this kind of thing has been played out over the world at the back of my mind. I'm glad liked the conclusion.

    @Julie - Glad you enjoyed it, Julie. It didn't start out so packed - but the story unfolded that way. I'm glad it did.

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  8. I love the freshness you bring to this tale. The spheres at the beginning bring that out, but also the voices. Enjoyed the interaction you manage to bring out between these two characters as well.

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  9. @AidanF - Glad you enjoyed it. As to interactions between the two - they seemed to be, at least initially, on a "guarded respect" level, even if she did insist on referring to him as "foolish".

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  10. I especially like the line, "Foolish, now as always. Joy was to be had, and you settled for longing."

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  11. @Tim - yes, I like that one too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  12. Excellent story! The descriptions of everything really brought it to life. His ending might not have been how he'd ultimately wanted it to go, but at least he went out with a smile on his face.

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  13. This is a wonderful story. I'd love to know more about her, she's an intriguing character.

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  14. @Eric - True, I suspect he had hoped for more, but he didn't seem overly unhappy. Thanks for reading/commenting.

    @Icy - Glad you liked the character. I like her myself, she may yet tap me on the shoulder to say more about herself.

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  15. This is great, Kevin. You left unsaid that which should remain unsaid, and said all that was needed. I love not only the two characters, but the magic system you've developed her. Nicely done, sir.
    ~jon

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  16. Developed here. Developed here. Edit then post. :p
    ~jon

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  17. @Jon - Talkative pair, weren't they? :D

    Glad you enjoyed the characters. Were I to develop this story further, I would have to do some work on the magic in the world, to expand on it.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  18. Beautifully written Kevin. It's such a poetic story in the way you've written it. To be honest, I don't think I'd want the cure. :)

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  19. @Rachel - Thank you so much for your kind words on my story. Coming from you, "poetic" is high praise. As to wanting the "cure", I think he relished the longing in some way.

    Thank you for commenting.

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  20. SO much packed into this story, almost a fable. I love the yearning here. Gorgeous prose. Peace...

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  21. Thank you, Linda. I toyed with the old tales of "Tír na nÓg" (the land of youth) from Ireland - where he would have gone with her, but come back and aged hundreds of years in an instant, but chose this path instead.

    It allowed the yearning. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  22. So much is said in knowing he has waited: how many years, how he has felt all that time, how much misery and hopeless longing. It is shocking in that instant. This is great story telling, it feels like a real fire-side yarn.

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  23. @flyingscribbler - glad it hit home. There is always the hope that flash will have an impact. I'm very pleased you enjoyed. Thank you for your comment.

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  24. Not even sure what more to say than: loved this!

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  25. Glad you enjoyed it, Estrella. I re-read it recently and found it stood the test of time.

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