Disclaimer: This story is based on characters that are the property of MCA/Universal. No attempt is being made to profit in any way from the writing of this story. This story takes place between "Destiny" and "Quest."
This story takes place between "Destiny" and "Quest."
"The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth...."
I kneel beside her bedside, now become her bier, my head buried against her side. I clutch a hand that will no longer caress a cheek or wield a sword. My wild crying and pleading for the life she so readily surrendered has ended, replaced by emptiness. A hand touches my hair, and I start.
"Child, drink this," a kind voice says, and I look into the face of the healer. His careworn face and graying hair attest to great age, but his dark eyes glitter with something much like youth. He holds toward me an earthen cup filled with some bitter-smelling brew. "It's to fight the infection."
I shake my head and wave him away, but he is persistent. "You must get well if you're to keep your promise."
"It doesn't matter now," I say, but take the cup. I hold it in both hands but still don't taste it. "If I follow her. . . ."
The healer grasps me beneath both arms and brings me to my feet. Such strength in his hands, this man not much taller than I. "If you die, all she was comes to an end. If you die, her struggles were meaningless. Then she'll be completely dead."
Completely dead? I think, but don't say it. She no longer breathes; her heart no longer beats. I touch her hand and find it cooling.
"My child, that's her body. Do you really think she was nothing more than that?"
He forces the cup to my lips. "This brew is the most bitter I make, and the most powerful. Drink. Then let us get about our work." Compelled by those dark eyes, I drink.
The purest snow is brought inside and melted in pots placed on the fire. The healer adds a blend of herbs, and a smell fills the air, sweet, but not cloying, the smell of Thracian spring, I think. "These herbs will delay the changes that will come. . . .and give you time to fulfill your promise."
He takes the first pot from the fire and places in it clean rags. I take it from him and will not allow him to approach her body. "This is for me to do," I say. He does not protest, but walks through the doorway and into another room. I do not miss him, for I see but one form, hear only my own breathing. Only my breathing and no other is now in this room.
I take the cloth and gently wash her face, the skin still soft and supple, bronzed by sun and wind, no sign of suffering now etched there. It is the face of an innocent, untouched by the sins of the world. I wet her hair and rub it with a dry cloth, the cloth coming away stained with the blood I earlier could not remove. I repeat the cleansing until her hair is purified of this sign of her recent pain. Her arms I wash as I would wash those of a child or invalid. I hold the hand between my body and my arm and stroke upward with the dampened cloth. I realize that I am humming, a children's bathing song, and I stop.
A decision point is reached. I can move to her legs, also uncovered, or I can remove the leather battle dress that she still wears. Although, in life I've seen her body uncovered as we swam or bathed, to see her thus, unarmored by her spirit, seems a violation. But it must be done, and I won't let the healer do it. If he had saved her, we might have shared such chores, but now the duty is mine alone. I remove the fastenings at the shoulders and slip the leather garment down and off. It is surprisingly easy, and I realize how much weight she lost in that last week.
Removing another pot of water from the fire, this sweetened also by the herbs, I wash each part of her body. The task is not unpleasant, and I realize that these things I do are not a violation, but a gift. Finishing, I place a clean covering over her and hold her leather battle dress in my hands. I could place upon her body a pure white shift or fashion for her a funeral garment. I shake my head, and set about cleaning the only clothing that symbolizes her life as a warrior. When I have finished, I dress her and think that the last person who did this for her was her mother.
The healer enters, and in his hands are her boots and all her armor, all freshly shining. I name each piece to myself, remembering who taught me their names and use. I place and fasten each: the boots, the greaves and knee cops that cover legs no longer in need of such protection; the breast plate, intricately designed in symbols whose meaning I will never learn; the spaulders for her shoulders, the bracers and vambraces that more decorate than defend her arms.
>From my sack, I take the brush I've so often used on her long, black hair. Bracing her body with my own, I raise her head so that I can do this office once more.
When I have finished, I look upon a perfect woman warrior, needing only the breath of some god to give her life.
The healer says, "You can take her back down the mountain on the sledge.
At the base of the mountain is a small village. . . ."
"I know," I say. "That's where I bought the furs."
"There seek out a man named Anthyus. He is a carpenter."
"I don't have time for that," I say, "or money. Such things can wait until I get her to her home village. To her mother. . . .and brother."
"All was long ago provided," the healer explains. "Find Anthyus. He has what you need."
I still gaze upon my perfect warrior. And I nod.