Monday, September 22, 2014

Oh Geez...

Well, the good news? I'm still here.

That's got to count for something, eh? Eh??? Please?

As it often does, life got in the way for awhile. Some good, some bad: Time passed and little writing happened. But I promise to get back to it. Looks like Fractured Time isn't going to happen any time soon, but Gwen and Rafe are still hanging up in my head, and it will happen. As soon as I can make it. I swear.

I have an idea for a few short stories, that will hopefully get me back into the writing spirit. I was playing with this one today, cleaning it up a bit. Re-reading it, I'm actually quite happy with it. What a shocker. Although I've been told I have to one day make it a full length novel. At least I don't have a shortage of ideas?

Anyways, it's boringly titled "At Night" and was based on the picture below. It got away from me a little, but I hope you enjoy. And maybe, because it's something new, you will start to forgive me just a little for not writing lately.

I'll do my best to be better!- JD


From my perch at the window seat, I can see the man walking slowly, body bent against the oncoming storm. The wind tears at his thick cloak, and he reaches up to pull the hood farther over his face; his thin body braced forward as he trudges to our door. The light is fading fast, yet there is no hurry in his steps. Although there are rumors that members of the Holy Order often spend their nights under the moon and stars, even a Priest should be afraid of the encroaching dark.
When his gentle knock whispers up the stairs, the beats sounds hesitant, almost as if the knocker was afraid to bother the inhabitants of the house. It’s a questioning sound, non-invasive, gentle, whispering. A soft echo through the house, unobtrusively asking if someone would give him shelter.
We are taught from childhood to give the Holy Order entry to our homes. To treat them as embodiments of the Goddess herself; to view their presence in our lives as a miracle. So the Priest’s knock could demand entry, and we would have to give it to him. Yet I wonder, if this man would simply walk away if we refused to answer the door? Did he have the power to call down the Goddess’ wrath if we refused him access to our hearth fires? Refused him protection from the night? Or was he really just a man? Seeking entry away from the lonely dark. As I hear footsteps rush to the door, a bright hum of excited voices even obvious in my attic room, I wonder which of my questions will be answered tonight.
Standing up, I smooth my skirts, trying to ignore my shaking hands. There is a drumbeat pulse racing in my throat, and the pace almost overwhelms me. This is the first time I will ever see one of the Holy Order. Yet all my life I have guarded the rumors, little more than whispers, in my heart. Clutching whatever I can learn to my chest like precious jewels. I don’t know why they fascinate me so, I only accept that it is truth.
Truly, I should have long given up such childish fantasy. Dreaming of the Holy Order that by gender, I could never be a part of. Whatever does exist out in the dark, the Goddess has chosen men to fight her battles for her. Or so they say. There is the Sisterhood of the Medica. As men have been called to fight the battles, women have been called to heal them. Ever since I was little, people have come to me for healing. I seem to have a gift for it. And it does sooth something inside me, taking away the pain of others. But that choice, I know, would devastate my parents. My eighteenth nameday is only a few weeks away and on that day I will be called to make a Choice. I know my parents wish for me to choose the simple life. I’ve seen the way Ephraim looks at me, and it wouldn’t take much encouragement to find myself with a simple gold band around my finger. But … but…
A small, and rebellious, part of me can’t help but wish the Priest’s visit has something to do with me. A favored child of the Goddess, one who had excelled in classes … Could there be more to my future than early hours, harvest seasons and fear of the dark? Or is it finally time to put away the dreams, and grow up? With a deep sigh, I head downstairs and brace myself for the reality. Will it mesmerize or disappoint, I wonder?
My oldest brothers stand at the bottom of the stairs, stocky shoulders touching and blocking my path to the main rooms. Their faces are dark and their brows furrowed, radiating an anxious energy that tastes like old money and the sky before a storm. Isaac and Isiah whisper to each other, although their gazes never leave my face. Their worry is almost amusing. Why would they be trying to protect me from a Priest who is divinely ordered to protect us all? Although what they are protecting us from, I could not say.
The Book teaches us to fear the dark. To make sure we carefully lock our doors and windows at night, to prevent even the shadow of the night from entering our barricaded homes. I may be allowed to spend the lingering dusk house staring out into the darkening sky, watching the diminishing sun burnish our wheat fields into a fiery gold. But once the sun disappears behind the horizon, we disappear into our homes. The thick heavy shutters are slammed tight, the doors blocked with wooden beams. Until the sun returns again, nothing is allowed in or out.
I wonder what magic it is that brought the Priest to our door right in the last minutes of light. There is a heaviness to the air once the sun goes down, a bitter taste that makes the skin between my shoulder blades itch. Anticipation, waiting … the feeling of being trapped. People used to be free to wonder the lands at night, to go where they chose. Until the first beast ripped into a home and the family living inside, destroying the peaceful innocence that mankind once held. However wrong it is, I still want to rip open the shutters, tear down the doors. Sometimes the desire to see the moon, the stars, is so strong, that I feel I might die from it.
That same feeling clutches me now as I stand on the stairs; like icy fingers down my spine. I once asked my father if he felt the same, and he only looked at me in silence, worry darkening his brown eyes, before I laughed the question away, going up to cry unheard tears into my pillow, unsure as to why I was so heartbroken.
With the same bitterness coating my tongue I speak, shifting my weight onto one hip and staring down at my so called protectors. “Are you going to move within the next century?”        
“Atarah …” Isiah’s voice sounds even more worried than he looks, and next to him Isaac shifts nervously. There is a feeling of connection between the two of them, and it colors their words. Always making it seem like there is some secret conversation occurring that you are not a part of. Twins, born within minutes of one another. I wonder what it’s like to never be afraid of being alone.
“You should go back to your room.”
My eyebrow raises in haughty disdain but I only sniff and play with an escaped curl of my hair. The color glitters in the dim light of the hallway. And as usual, I am struck with how different the color is from my brothers’ dark brown hair, normal hair.
Even at night, my hair glows with a light of it’s own. It is supposed to be lucky to be blessed with such hair, the mark of the Goddess’ favor. But it has never made me feel lucky. Only different. Apart. A stranger looking in. And I wonder if this is how the Priests feel. Set apart by their holiness. Do they wish to be normal, to be as ordinary as everyone else? To rip away whatever gifts have made them special and just simply be? Just simply exist?
The silence grows between my brothers and I, becoming so present in its nothingness, that it seems to take up the space between us. Growing ever larger, expanding to the point of breaking. Begging to be filled. They shift on their feet, but I remain still. If anything, their anxiety somehow calms the racing beat of my heart. The taste of excitement is heavy in the air, but a whispering voice counsels patience. I have waited for this moment for a life time, what more will a few minutes hurt?
The murmur of the Priest’s voice from the next room runs through me and I stagger, moving down a stair before I realize I have even moved. My brothers’ eyes widen comically and they move forwards, and then back, shoulders once again touching. In their concern, in their desire to protect me, they are afraid my movements are just a trap. Trying to break them up so I can sneak by.
But I pay them little mind. Instead my whole body, my whole consciousness is straining towards the next room, picking out the stranger’s voice from the familiar cadences and melodies of the voices I have heard my whole life. It is deeper, calmer, filled with a strange sort of something that makes my stomach flip and my cheeks heat. And yet … while I could pin point each voice of my family, even imagine the expressions that goes with the sound of the words … the Priest’s words somehow seem more familiar. As if a sound I have been listening for my entire life, but only just now hearing.
When my youngest brother Benjamin comes bursting into the room, my bubble of imagined connectivity bursts and I laugh to myself. Trust Benjamin to bring me back to myself. The youngest of the five siblings, there is something special about Benjamin, a purity to his soul that is obvious to see. While my hair allegedly makes me special, Benjamin is so obviously the child marked by the Goddess. So young, yet already so good. Maybe the Priest is here for him?
His laugh rings up the stairs to me, and I’m overcome with the urge to hold his stocky little body in my arms. To smell the milky scent of his skin, to touch the feathery dark hair that falls in his eyes. In a flash, he slips through the twins’ legs and rushes up the stairs to me, a bundle of energy in my arms before I even think of catching him.
“Ata.” He snuggles into my skin, the sticky heat of him a welcome balm to my nerves.
After the appearance of my brother, my mother is not far behind. Her eyes calmly take in my stalwart protectors, my trapped location on the stairs and her face crinkles into a soft smile, her brown eyes warm.
“Boys, let your sister come meet our visitor. It wouldn’t be fair for her to miss this special night.” There is a warning in her words. I don’t need to know the meaning to be able to recognize the tone of her voice. The tips of Isaac’s ears go pink and Isiah drops his gaze to his shoes, mumbling something into the thick cloth of his shirt.
“What was that, Isiah?” My mother’s voice is cool, but I can hear the smile as she winks up at me. In a house full of men, we are confidantes and allies. Eventually I will find out why my brothers intended to keep me locked up in my bower like some misbehaving child. But for now, having my mother on my side is enough.
“Sorry.” It’s Isaac who answers her, and the twins turn and slink into the main room. Leaving my passageway wide open.
But with the same forced calm of before, I slowly make my way down the stairs. Benjamin is squirming to be released, but I keep my arms locked tight around him. However calm I may be trying to act, the anxious energy before is back. And worse. I’m afraid, without Benjamin’s steady presence, I might not have the courage to walk into the room.
As I pass her, my mother touches my shoulder, very gently. It feels almost like a goodbye and when I look at her, her eyes seem to be full of unshed tears. But then she blinks and the moment is gone.
She follows me into the room and heads for the hearth, sitting down next to my father. Graceful as a willow.
With a handful of squirming brother, I do my best to follow her example, whispering promises of treats into my brother’s hair. If only he will just stay still. His chubby fist tangles in my hair and I let out an undignified squawk of protest.  He slips away from my grasp, as slippery as an eel. Racing over to my mother, he jumps into her lap, burying his face into her chest. But when he peeks at me from his new protector, I can see his too innocent expression.
The talking builds up around me, first hesitant and uncomfortable, before regaining the steady rhythm it had before I walked into the room. I’m standing awkwardly in the threshold and I still haven’t looked at the Priest. His presence overwhelms the small space and from the corner of my eye, I can see where he sits, a dark, indistinct shape. One my eyes beg to take in.
Instead, I drop my gaze to the ground and walk to sit by Gideon. He touches my knee and behind his dark framed glasses, his eyes are questioning.
“Are you alright?” His voice is a soft whisper, hidden underneath the murmur of the main conversation.
I wonder what secret my family knows that makes them seem so knowing tonight. So understanding of my emotions and moods, when I don’t even understand them myself.  “I’m fine. May I have some water, please?” My eyes dart away from his, and focus on the water pitcher next to him. As he pours me a glass, I focus all my energy on steadying my hands. And thankfully when I reach for the glass to take a long, cool sip, my hands are just as steady and calm as his. And then I tilt my head forward, and underneath a curtain of hair, I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
And piece together the room in my mind. The roaring fire. My mother and father, closest to the flame, shadows flickering across the planes and ridges of their faces. Benjamin, drowsy now, clinging to my mother, fighting the need to sleep, but losing the battle as he tucks his thumb into his mouth. Isaac and Isiah sit in the back of the room, whispering about their plans for the next harvest festival, wondering how they can garner the attention of the girls their age. Gideon, sits next to me, eagerly absorbing the conversation flowing around us, keeping track of each new piece of discovered knowledge, writing mental notes to be reviewed earlier.
And finally, the Priest. I don’t even know the vague shape of him, obscured as he was by his thick heavy cloak outside. But for now that would be fine, I knew his space. Where he was, a presence to the left of me, that even with my eyes closed, almost seems to blind me. There was a patient feeling to him, an inner strength, and yet … I licked my lips, tasting the air. There was a wildness to him as well. As if the night air had clung to him, and somehow made him its own. Like the woods, the earthy taste of the autumn trees, the cool chill of a winter’s night … the silver of the moon when it’s at its fullest.
Tell me, Priest. This moon you bring with you … what does it look like?
I open my eyes and glance at him, his face first in profile, but when he turns to answer a question from Gideon, I bite my lip to keep from crying out. Or laughing. I know this face, so familiar to me, almost more than my own. Hadn’t I lived the frustration of dreaming of it every night, wondering to whom it belonged? Didn’t I have collections of notebooks, scraps of papers filled with sketches of the same face?
Although there were things I never noticed before. The man looked tired, thin lines just now starting to sneak away from the corner of his eyes. He was unshaven, with a smudge of dirt running along the edge of his square jaw. And thin … too thin. Although there was a wiry strength to his body, without the thickness of his cloak, I could see that it had been too long since he had eaten a decent meal. An overwhelming urge to help him, feed him … heal him … rose up in me, so strong  that I had to drop my eyes again. Before I even got the chance to meet his gaze, to take in the face that I had spent my whole life waiting to see.
Clutching my hands in my lap, I pressed my fingers together until my knuckles turned white. Was this the secret my family seemed to know? That this Stranger was no stranger … but something else indeed. The rush of emotions was so strong that the need to flee screamed in my blood. Why had they kept this from me? How could I have lived my life, dreaming some connection to this unknown man, and no one thought to explain to me the …
The what? My fingers twisted tighter together and I fought to restore some order to my thoughts. This man was a stranger, a Priest of the Holy Order, consigned by the Goddess herself to protect us all. To teach us of the dangers of the night, to travel, place to place. No home of their own, sacrificed to make sure all of our homes were safe. Just as he was marked by his difference, so too was I. The burnished color of my hair, so unusual in the dark coloring of all those around me, showed that I was special to the Goddess. His sacrifice made him special to her as well. Wasn’t this our connection? Two individuals touched be the divine? So I dreamt of him. I had dreamt of many things. Some things that even had come true. Some things that I had somehow managed to prevent.
To see something else in this recognition, to hope for something else, would be foolish. Like the dreams of girlhood when I used to wish some prince of a far of land would rescue me from this place.
I was no longer a girl.
When my name was mentioned, my face was calm as I raised my head. And when I met the startling blue eyes of the man in front of me, I managed not to show the impact they had. “Yes?” My voice sounded sleepy, as if I was surfacing from a dream and my mother laughed.
“Sorry, Brother, our daughter has the tendency towards dreaming.”
He inclined his head in my mother’s direction, but his gaze remained locked on mine.
There was an unspoken question in the air and I shifted, wondering what I had missed when lost in my thoughts.
Gideon poked my ribs and when I turned to him, he hissed at me, embarrassment for me coloring his words. “You’re the only one who hasn’t yet welcomed him.”
Oh … With a blink, I turn back to the Priest. “Brother …” My eyes grew wide and he must have seen the look of panic on my face.
Coughing what sounded suspiciously like a laugh into his fist, his eyes seemed to glow with humor. “Marcus.”
When directed at me, the lilt of his voice made me want to close my eyes again. Curl up in the sounds of his rolling vowels and purr like a cat. My heart stutters in my throat and I speak, afraid he can see the thoughts running through my brain. “Brother Marcus, may the Goddess forever bless you with the touch of the sun.”
“And you too, Sister Atarah.” The way he says my name brings a rush of heat through my body, but he continues his discussion with my parents. I turn to Gideon and he is watching me with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“What is your problem tonight?” He glares for a moment, before taking off his glasses and swiping angrily at the lenses. A sure sign of his mood.
I take the glasses from his clenched hands, and use my skirt to gently polish the lenses until they sparkle. While I’m not sure what he has to be mad about, Father will throw a fit if he breaks another pair of glasses.
After I hand them to him, he nods at me, balancing them back on the end of his narrow nose. Then he leans back, his shoulder resting companionably against mine. I suppose he has forgiven me for whatever embarrassment my forgetful manners had caused him.
“The Brother has been telling us about the next town over, apparently a family has been killed.”
Like ice water down my back, the news drowns whatever heat may have lingered in my body. “The Skotos?” I whisper the name, almost afraid to give voice to the monsters that are said to linger out in the darkness. No one knows where they come from or what they look like. Only that they kill.
My eyes seek out the Priest … Well, someone might know what they look like. I gather my courage to ask him about the family, but he seems to sense the shifting feelings in the room.
“I wish I could repay you with your kindness for giving me shelter tonight.” He dips his head, displaying a strange sort of shyness. I wonder if, in another world, what life he would have lived? “Perhaps with a story?”
Gideon sits up straighter next to me, pushing his glasses up higher on his nose. Always trust my brother, an unquenchable thirst for new things. “Tell us about the Divinities.” His voice is a fervent whisper, but when everyone turns to him, he swallows and speaks louder. “Could you tell us about the Divinities … please?
Marcus nods again, and his gaze flutters over me. “How about the tale of Terrowin and Emeline?”
The firelight glints of his hair, and for the first time I notice the color. Fire and smoke. His hair is darker, not quite the fiery gold of my own. Is he thankful for the Goddess’ touch? Or does a part of him, even if he hides it, hate it as much as I do?
But how silly a thought. This man was a Priest. Given gifts far beyond the color of his hair. Gifts to use against the encroaching dark. Gifts that descended from the Divinities, the favorite children of the Goddess.
Was his hair was as soft as I imagined?
Terrowin and Emeline. If I was alone I would have savored the names, whispered them aloud. Did they taste as wonderful and strange as I believed they would?
“Did they fight in the First Battle?” Gideon again.
My gaze had dropped to my lap, my fingers twisting in the folds of my long skirt. But I could hear the smile in Marcus’ voice.
“Yes, but the story I tell dates further back. To when the two first discovered they had been chosen by the Goddess. When they were students at the Arcanam.”
I don’t need to look at Gideon to know that he is already enthralled with the story. Ever since he found out about the ancient and revered school, he has collected any knowledge on the subject that he could find. And shared with me everything he learned. Endlessly.
The Priest’s gentle voice fills the room, and even my twin brothers, are silent, listening to his tale. It’s a sad one and unexpectedly, tears fill my eyes. As he continues to speak of the two lovers, who fought to overcome the barriers that kept them apart, I struggle to understand what piece of his tale affects me so much.
I’ve heard a number of these stories. Enough to recognize the common elements that weave through them all. We have never had a Priest visit our home, but the scholars at the school, or the street side preachers at the market, all have similar stories to tell. Designed to ingrain in our minds a certain truth. A fear of the dark, a respect of the Holy Order, the importance of obeying the rules. Nothing wrong with conforming, with following the status quo, but I had always been distracted by the message behind the meaning. But with Marcus’ story …
The tears burned my eyes and I blinked rapidly, trying to prevent their downward journey down my cheeks.
“What happened to them?” I barely recognized my voice when I spoke, but the question had escaped. There was no taking it back. “Terrowin and Emeline, what happened to them after the First Battle? Did they ever find each other again?”
The Priest’s calm blue eyes met mine and they seemed unbearably sad. I fought the desire to take back the question, to apologize for interrupting the rhythm of his story. But I couldn’t. I needed to know. The two star-crossed lovers … had there ever been any hope for them?
 “They say Emeline died in the Last Battle and it was Terrowin who found her body. He buried her body underneath a cypress tree, never moving from her side until a fortnight had passed. People brought him food, water … he refused all of it. And then, when the fourteenth day had passed, they say he disappeared.”
My fingernails bit into the tender of my palm.
“Where did he go?” Gideon’s voice was quiet, and I marveled at the emotion in it. A story that even had my analytic brother lowering his voice.
Marcus’ gaze shifted away from me, and I found I could breathe again. “It’s said he was the first Wandering Priest, dedicating his life so no one would feel the pain of loss that he did.”
Their voices became a distant hum. In the strange and shifting mercurial mood of mine, I was suddenly angry. So he had given up? Abandoned life because he had lost the woman he had loved? What was the point in that? Of forever traveling, never making new connections. Never truly living. The anger burned hot. Would Emeline have rejoiced in the fact that her death had ended what was Terrowin’s life? That because she had died, he had given up on living too?
“He was wrong.” There was my voice again, harsh and deep. Like a stranger’s. Marcus looked at me, but there was no surprise on his face. Only a calm acceptance, as if he understood what I meant, even before I thought it. “He took the coward’s way. Turning his back on life, she wouldn’t have wanted that. She wouldn’t have tolerated that.” They must have pierced, my angry, spiteful words. But Marcus didn’t react.
My mother, however, was not as understanding. “Atarah.” Her voice was sharp, and the rebuke settled me. Somewhat.
But I couldn’t sit here anymore. “My apologies, Brother.” I refused to look him in his eyes. Exhaustion weighted my bones and I wondered if I have ever before been so weary.
“None were needed, it is a story that is meant to inspire emotions and opinions.”
Abruptly, I stood, and my eyes flickered to my mother. She sat watching me, concern clear on her face but I shook my head. “Excuse me, I’m …” I sucked in a breath. “Tired.” Without another look at the priest, I walked slowly from the room. Only running when I was out of sight, escaping to my room.
Hours later, something wakes me and I throw off my heavy blankets. I’m burning up and I feel like the walls of the room are pressing in on me. I haven’t had a fit like this since a child. They had been so bad that my mother often let me sleep with her and father. My tossing and turning body must have kept them up at night but they never complained. It would have been too dangerous to leave me alone at night. As a child, the urge for fresh air, for freedom had been so strong, that I had torn my fingers tearing at the barricaded windows, just wanting to be free.
Older now, I knew that outside there was danger. But it still didn’t stop the longing in my blood. Or help me fight the fire that seemed to burn under my skin. With a sigh, I stood up, pacing around the small space of my room. As the only girl, I was given the smallest bedroom, nestled up in the farthest reaches of our house. My ceiling rose in a circle point above me, the wooden beams so close I could now almost reach them. As a child, this had been a magical room. Fit for a princess, or maybe a fairy queen. Now it seemed nothing more than a prison. As I paced, my body continued its slow burn, begging for fresh air, for a glimpse of the night sky. Even the wooden floor beneath my bare feet seemed to scald.  
Although not as much as my memory of my behavior earlier that night. It struck me then, how childish I had been. Reacting to an imagined connection between a stranger and myself, wishing for a parallel in the fantastic love story, hoping for something in my own life. Angry at the eventual tragedy of it all.
The truth was, it wasn’t my hair alone, that marked me as one of the Goddess’ chosen children. But it was the only marker that I was comfortable with accepting. Even my family had learned to ignore my rapid shifts in behavior, my tears from thoughts that weren’t my own. Although they knew to listen to my dreams, or to the words I would say when the strange fits overtook me. Words that came from some far of place. Words I had no control over.
The local bishop had called my gift a blessing. Believing it was a sign that the war against the skotos was ending. That I held part of the key to their final defeat. I hadn’t had the courage to tell him the things I saw in my dreams. The war wasn’t ending. It was just beginning. We would need more than Wandering Priests and stories by the fireside if we were ever going to defeat the shadows.
Closing my eyes, I pressed my palms against my eyelids, willing away the visions that had awoken me. All featuring one person. The person who should be sleeping downstairs next to the fire. I didn’t want this gift, and I had tried to fight it all my life. But the taste of Marcus’ blood on my lips was something I never wanted to experience outside my dreams. So once again, I headed down the stairs, wondering how to tell someone that I had seen the hour of his death.
But when I walked into the main room, the Priest was already awake, staring into the dancing flames of our hearth fire.
“Dreams can be noisy things.”
Pausing at the doorframe, I gripped the wood to steady myself.
“I’m sorry that mine seem to have disturbed you.”
Your dreams?”
He finally turned to me and there was the smallest of smiles on his face. “Oh … should I apologize? Did you believe they belonged to you?”
Was he … teasing me? Forgetting my fear, or the nervousness that seemed to seize me around him, I walked into the room. “How do you know about my dreams?”
My dreams.”
Shaking my head, I kneeled next to him. “Fine, your dreams.” Arguing semantics was not going to get me any answers.
“Well if there are my dreams, of course I would know about them.”
Irritation spiked through my blood, but before I could speak he reached up to cup my cheek in his hand. The coolness of his skin sent an entirely new type of fire flooding my veins.
“It must have been lonely, growing up with these dreams. Not knowing what any of it meant.”
So many questions, but I had lost my voice. Instead I was drowning in fathomless blue eyes.
“I shouldn’t have come, but I needed to see you. Just once.” His thumb brushed over my lips. “It’s not our time yet, but I needed something to help me survive what will come.”
“A reckoning …”
He dipped his head, leaning closer to me. “The war you see in your dreams, it is coming. More swiftly than any of us wish to admit. I found myself … afraid of what was to come. I didn’t think there would be any harm.”
I leaned in further. “Terrowin and Emeline.”
“The days were men and women fought side by side to defeat the evil that seeks to annihilate those of the light.”
“I don’t want to end up like them.” I turned my face into his palm, pressing my lips against the calloused skin. “I don’t want you to end up like him.” The plea was whispered.
There was a sudden stillness in the air, as if everything around us had frozen. Waiting on us to start it moving again.
His hands gently, ever so gently, titled my chin up. “I won’t.” And he pressed his lips into mine.
Closing my eyes against the feeling, I sighed against his lips. With his touch, everything within me settled. The fever from before passed, the terrifying swinging emotions faded. My whole being focused on the man next to me. The one who already meant so much. The one who would become so much more.
His lips finally released mine, and he pressed his face into my hair, breathing my name into my ear. For a moment, he clutched me against him, as if I was his savior and he a dying man.
And then he let me go, and around us the world sprang back into movement. There was a lightening to the air and I knew the sun was rising. Soon my mother would head down the stairs, into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. My father would grumble, to offset her cheery mood, but he would diligently check the fire before heading to join my mother, watching her as she cooked. The world had ceased to be just ours.
He stood, pulling me to my feet. “I have to go.”
There was no point in arguing with him, not when I had seen the truth of it. But still, the words hurt.
Threading his fingers through mine, he waited to speak before I looked up at him. “I’ll come back again.”
“How long?”
“You’re the dreamer.” He smiled, and like our kiss, I memorized the moment, to lock away and keep with me forever.
“It doesn’t work like that.” My voice sounded whiney, petulant.
He laughed, and the sound was as beautiful as the rising sun. “Soon. Although don’t be too hasty for my return. For what it would mean.”
I frown, agreeing with his words, but wishing they didn’t have to be true. What game was the Goddess playing, creating this connection that foretold such doom.
“Grow up, live your life, enjoy your family.”
Grow up? My frown only grows deeper and he laughs, kissing the furrow between my brows. “You didn’t seem to mind my age earlier.” I try to keep the frown on my face, but the corners of my lips tilt up.
“Fair enough.” He continues to hold my hands for a moment longer, before releasing me with a sigh, turning to gather his things.
“The bishop wouldn’t be happy to hear I made this journey, I am supposed to be traveling back to the Arcanum to report my findings.” He wraps the cloak around his thin body once again, and he becomes the stranger I had seen the night before. How could this man I just met, already mean so much?
“Promise me you will be safe.” He tilts his head, looking at me with the same calm expression as he had the night before. I know he won’t answer me, won’t make me a promise he can’t fulfill.
I don’t move as he carefully removes the heavy bar across the door. But when he goes to open it, so the weak morning sunlight sneaks through the crack, lighting the dim room, I speak.
“I’ll be waiting.”
From over his shoulder, he looks at me one last time. And in his eyes, I see a love deeper than that of any story. He is connected to me, this Wandering Priest. And I to him.
“I know.” And he gives me one last smile before walking away.
Leaning against the doorway, I stare out at the grassy fields, watching his narrow body until it disappears from sight. Behind me, the house begins to wake and I can hear the sounds of my family shifting in the rooms above me.
Had so much changed in one night? Had it only been a few hours in which I had experienced a lifetime of emotions? With a whispered prayer, I beg the Goddess to watch over my Priest. To keep him protected, and to shine the sun on him wherever he goes.
And then I head back into the house, adding wood to the fire before I go to the kitchen to begin breakfast. After my erratic behavior, it will be my apology to my family.
The dreams aren’t precise things. But I know I will see Marcus again. Until then, I will listen to his words. I will enjoy my family, savor these days of peace of love. In two weeks, I know the choice I will make.
Because the next time my Priest walks into my life … there will be a war following at his heels. 

The End (for now).