The First Quest – A Last Request
Part 1 of (Re)Quest – Quest reimagined …
~ ~ ~
Morning’s fiery hands
peeled back night’s starry raiment–
exposed Death at her side.
~ ~ ~
Death waited at her bedside, held a glass
to her parched lips so she could sip water.
A hand enfolded hers, not her daughter’s
or her son’s, no her children stood en masse
outside, where they’d cornered their father keen
to make plans for her remains once she left
the mortal world for lands evergreen.
In Death’s eyes she saw no desire for theft.
Beneath cloak and cowl, a princess sat poised;
she was but one of Death’s many aspects.
Pain’s surcease she offered with a kiss; poised
to deliver that last gift, her eyes star-flecked
say it’s time to fly from this mortal shell.
“Sing sweet bells, sound my last breath, my death knell.”
~ ~ ~
She closed her eyes and waited for Death to take her away, that bit of whimsy still on her lips: sing sweet bells, sound my last breath, my death knell.
Curtains parted and in rushed her husband of over three decades. Her illness had dulled some of his luster, drew lines of worry on his weathered face and weighed him down. He collapsed into the chair at her bedside taking her other hand. Could he see Death withdrawing to examine a collection of seeds she had meant to plant this spring?
His eyes never strayed from her face, a question perched on his tongue. One she didn’t want him to ask because:
those bells were ringing,
their peals counted down to death,
sounding out her breaths.
She knew she was the only one who heard those bells. Their village in the boughs of the Enchanted Forest had no bell. Yet she’d always heard a phantom bell tolling, telling time and counting out her days. He squeezed her hand, recalling her attention to his face.
“Do you hear the bells ring?”
Henneth blinked a few times. What did his wife mean? There were no bells. Should he tell her that and turn her earnestness into disappointment? He nodded unable to shape the lie with his lips.
She smiled with Death’s teeth; her short breaths borrowed time for speech as her head rolled side to side in negation. “Go to Jacora and hear the bells of the white tower that chimes for the Guardians.”
Her bird-like talon applied gentle pressure to his hand. Her eyes sparkled not with unshed tears but with the expansion of vision that death’s kiss brought as it tore reality’s veil allowing sight of the world of Ever beyond. She nodded then, her gaze far afield, her eyes filled with a far green country that beckoned.
Don’t go yet…his throat closed on the words. They lodged, a lump in his throat. He couldn’t keep her here and in pain, not for another moment if its release called to her.
“Yes, my love, make that your quest. Go see Shayari, land of our birth. See it for me. Let my shade see its hundred valleys through your eyes, hear its bells and sweet sighing…” She touched her hand to her cheek, the one that held Death’s cold fingers. Slipping between one imagined bell peal and the next, she shed her mortal skin and passed with her last rattling breath. Her eyes dimmed but her strange request remained, echoing in the quiet that follows a life well-spent.
The wasting had got her. The one disease healing magic couldn’t cure. Trimming her down until her skin clung to bones, it had eaten her from within. Now it had taken her into death. Her cold hand gripping his Death eased and then its presence too had fled taking its dark shroud from this room, leaving grief behind.
Tears burned tracks down Henneth’s face, blurring the wood and vine affair that perched in an enchanted tree. Rough bark that sparks danced across sometimes lay quiescent removing all sign of the tree’s enchanted nature. The tree that held his home aloft shook as a keening had erupted from his throat. A lament that the tree echoed in its own way as his head landed on a pool of soft cloth–a washed out afghan she’d knitted herself. Its open-work leaf pattern absorbed his tears as he breathed in her fading scent. Not the sickness’ mix of stale sweat and pungent herbs that had done nothing to halt the wasting. No, that blanket still carried the scent of violets, her favorite flower.
Hands landed on his shoulders, one of his son’s, they tried to pry him up. He wouldn’t budge. He belonged here with her, in death as in life.
Yes she was but too soon. More hands gripped and pulled, wrenched him up and away. Hands that belonged to his sons and his daughters’ spouses. Tears blurred them into a many armed monster ready to dress the dead for burial. Over powered, they took him from the room but the echoes of her voice followed urging him to go.
“A quest I set you
so take up your walking stick
let the trail lead you.”
Reeling, he sat in a chair. Beside him his walking stick glared at him, daring him to pick it up and go do what she’d bid him. Last requests have power; the old lore claimed that to be so. Wiping tears from his eyes, he felt around inside hoping for a bond created by her last request–something to connect him to his wife by more than memory.
Soft at first he heard her voice again:
“wander where you will
know that I wander with you
go wander my dear.”
Was it the voice of grief or the urging of her last request? Tears bathed his face anew as the sun’s setting rays dyed the crevices of this cramped room crimson. Two chairs, one empty now, faced a low table where baskets of bread and stone fruits sat waiting. The former to be cut and spread, the latter to be hosed off and cooked.
~ ~ ~
Take up her request
go out and let life lead him
sunlit trails beckon…
~ ~ ~
To be continued next Thursday…
Part of (Re)Quest.
What is (Re) Quest?–
1) An expansion of Quest with more of everything you love–action, drama, adventure, character moments, etc…
2) A recasting to add prose portions to the original parts of Quest, which were written strictly in sonnets so I can add all the cool stuff they passed and did that I couldn’t show in sonnets.
3) A chance to catch up on any parts of Quest you might have missed.