Monday, August 20, 2012

Mr. M

In the beginning, there was a sound, no, a voice, summoning him from the darkness. In between bouts of darkness, there was nothing but pain. 10,000 times he saw himself die in fire, with poison, being devoured, and always, always falling.

The tasks he had before him, he knew no other could fulfill. She had claimed him for her champion the moment she had first been in danger. His companions, few that they were had fallen long ago.

He read her letters, stuffed them in his pockets to read in rare moments of leisure. She knew he was in pursuit, wrote that it gave her comfort. And still he followed, always a step behind her captors, his heart aching with the thought of how she must be suffering at their hands.

And the darkness would return and he would wake to find himself again in the same battle and the darkness would enfold him and he would wake to find himself again in the same battle. But he couldn't stop. The half remembered sound of her voice, the slide of light down a loose tendril of hair, the scrap of ribbon she'd tied the last note with. These things pulled him inexorably onward, her sweet skin always a handspan too far.

And the world changed and he went on, the blackness claiming him less and less, but with that came hideous, conscious paralysis and despair at his traitorous body until he could move once again.

It was harder to go on. He was so tired. But still her letters came and he kept them. They were no longer on paper but through new devices. He forgot that sweet and soft perfume that clung to the letters. He forgot joy or light.

Berries he foraged turned to ash in his mouth. The mushrooms in his pack were old, crumbly, stale. Food and rest were so hard to come by on the road that stretched on before and behind him.

He thought back to the first moment he thought he had to have her. That first laughing glance. The way she treated him, even though his home was humble and he was in trade, and nothing but ease and light shone from her eyes. Those long first years when he thought he could save her, but he hardly knew what he was fighting for anymore. She'd become nothing more than cryptic words floating across a screen.

Weary and aching with years on the road, he limped into the next town on his path. He looked at all the villagers around him and their smiles seemed false and fixed, their movements stilted. He took this all in with dull eyes as he made his way to the center of the town and was granted access to the castle courtyard. He knew he would never gain the ear of the king, not with his scars and wild hair. His clothes lay about him in tatters, and grizzled as he was, his muscles showed him to be a true warrior.

Stepping over to a rain barrel, he drank deeply and splashed water over his hair and roughly trimmed his beard until he had the semblance of a mustache again and some could see a glimpse of the stout-hearted, strong man he once was. He walked through the courtyard and up the steps to the grand hall. When he arrived, he saw faces he knew but they would not meet his gaze and they would not answer his questions and they would not let him in to see the king. He turned on his heel, anger fueling his departure.

A flash of pink on the steps startled him but as he turned he saw nothing but a bent old woman with a scrap of ribbon in her hair.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry they wouldn't let you in to see the king, but they let so few in anymore. His temper, you know."
He nodded and shrugged and went to turn from the woman with a firm step, but she caught his arm and whispered, "She's not here, dearie. Your princess is in another castle."

Flinging her hand away, he howled his rage to the unforgiving pale blue sky with their mocking, smiling white clouds.

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