Awakening. Imagine you have slept with your arm under your body, squeezing off the circulation so that the limb is completely insensate. You roll off your arm and it flops free- you can feel the circulation returning, fresh blood rushing in as your arm returns to life in a tingling rush, sometimes quite painfully, stinging as if infinite pinpricks were assaulting you.

The first awareness is that of nothingness. I am numb, like that arm, but throughout my body, to the very core of myself I am numb. I recognize this; I know what it means even though I cannot remember exactly how or why. It slides in to the very center of me, a tiny thread of sensation, first warm, then achingly hot. I am drawing air, oxygen setting me ablaze from within. Pins and needles and fire and throbbing pressure are the total of existence for an indeterminate length of time.

I am on my back, with my hands folded across my chest. My ears ring so that I cannot determine my surroundings, but even though something covers my face I can taste fresh air and suddenly I am drawing in great draughts, my lungs eager for the taste of breath again. There is thirst; burning, raging thirst, and I can smell water.

Motion is pain, but I am incapable of resisting the babbling call of the nearby stream. My arms clumsily draw away the blanket that covers me and my eyes slowly focus on… stars. The canopy of the heavens is ablaze above the trees. Something calls to me, trying to force its way to the forefront of my mind, but I cannot think, only move, crawling towards the tantalizing scent of running water: sweet, cool water, sparking and wet and delicious, and irresistible. It is a journey made in increments of inches, but I arrive, first my hands are in the stream then I plunge my face in to it, sucking in water and grit, my body shuddering in the first sensation other than pain since returning to awareness.


That was the first coherent thought, forcing its way up past the now relieved thirst and the gnawing ache of hunger in my belly. I was shivering and weak, but at least I could think, and my head was clearing, I could hear the sounds of the night; the horses shuffling nervously, a rhythmic buzzing sound… snoring. Jeremy. I crawled towards him, my limbs stronger, but my right side still very much weaker than my left. I could smell the fire now, smoldering to one side, could see the silhouette of a sleeping man, recognized the strong scent of brandy.

Of course: Jeremy only snored when he had been drinking.

Then the hunger was too much to ignore, but our supplies hung from a tree, out of reach even if I could stand. I crawled to Jeremy’s side and lay there, warring with myself, frightened to wake him but unable to do anything else.

I pulled myself up to a sitting position, and laid my left hand on his shoulder.

“Jeremy?” My voice was a dry croak and I cleared my throat, “Jeremy, you have to wake up.”

His snoring abruptly stopped and he stiffened. I pushed feebly at him again. “Wake up, Jeremy.”

With glacial slowness he rolled on to his back and looked up at me, his eyes wider than I would have thought any man’s could be, his face… unreadable. He pulled himself to a sitting position, staring at me. His eyes flickered over to where I had lain covered, then back to me. There was so much I wanted to say to him, but I had not the words and my hunger was driving at me…

“Jeremy, help me…food…”

He stood and walked to the spot where the rope suspending our food was secured, releasing the knot to spill the packs to the ground. It took all the willpower I possessed to keep from leaping at them. Instead I waited until he returned carrying bread and jerky. He held them out and my control was gone- I seized them from him and tore in to it, ravenous, almost choking as I forced the bread down my throat in seven or eight large mouthfuls, then taking on a strip of jerky, pulling at the dried smoked beef.

“I thought I was deluding myself,” he whispered. I stopped for a moment, the need to speak, to say something, nearly overwhelming the hunger, but not quite.

“You just didn’t look dead. I kept uncovering you and looking at you… I’ve seen my share of dead men, in the War and through the years…you just didn’t look dead, even with that hole through your chest, and your spine snapped…”

He stopped then, regarding me as I choked down the last of the jerky, my belly finally full enough, at least for the moment. Almost immediately I felt the urge to sleep coming over me so powerfully that I began to sway and Jeremy reached out to steady me. It was so comforting to feel his hand on my arm- at least he was not afraid to touch me. I could not give in, not yet. Not until he understood.

“Jeremy, I am ancient.” I was whispering, unable to summon the energy to speak any louder, but I had his attention. “Rome was but a cluster of huts when I had seen a thousand years pass by.”

Why? What are… why are you here, with me? What can I have that you desire?”

I felt tears hot on my cheeks. This was wrong! So wrong! “I don’t want anything but what you’ve already given me! I love you…” I began to sway, unable to hold myself upright as torpor settled over me, a thick blanket of exhaustion enveloping me… just as Jeremy’s arms encircled me. He picked me up and I curled in to his grasp, feeling him shaking… he was crying. He carried me to his bedroll and set me down there.

“You sleep,” he whispered in my ear, “I’ll be here when you wake…”

He bathed me in my sleep, removing my bloodied clothing and cleansing away the stains of my brutal misfortune. When I awoke, he brought me food and water and brandy. When I was lucid, he listened, and I told him all there was to tell: all my joy, my fear, my shame, my sorrow, my hope, and my love.

“You have been injured like this many times?”

“No. I’ve been hurt, left for dead, but it was seldom so traumatic. When it was I usually took months to fully recover,” I smiled then, “I usually haven’t anyone to take care of me. How long has it been… how long was I down?”

“It’s been three days since you fell. Do you think you can ride?”

I lifted my right arm, feeling it shake uncontrollably. “I don’t think I can manage a horse. If we doubled up I think I would be good… you sat with my body for two days?”

His eyes dropped to the ground and I could see the raw emotion rippling across his face as he tried to work up the courage to lie to me. To his credit, he failed.

“I was nearly insane,” he whispered, “and I kept telling myself that you did not look like a dead person. Your face… when a man dies his face grows dark. Two days dead and you didn’t look… there was no scent of death… do you understand?”

“Of course I do.”

“You did not look… I thought I was deluding myself. It hurt so much. I could not just wrap you up, but inside I was afraid I really was going mad. You had to be dead, so I must have been… That night, last night, I opened the brandy I had brought for us and I began drinking… and I did a fine, thorough job of loading my pistol. Couldn’t have a misfire, you see? I was going to put it to my head…” He stopped then, and a single, gasping sob shook his body. The understanding of what he was telling me sent a sickening chill down my spine. That I could have brought him to that, however inadvertently…

“But you did not do it…”

“No? I pressed that barrel under my chin seven, eight times, but… two things stopped me, even as drunk and as miserable as I was. First, there was Reggie and the children. He trusted me to do right by them. And then there was you: I couldn’t shake the conviction that you would be ashamed of me. Eventually I packed the pistol away and I went to sleep, knowing that in the morning I would have to bundle you up and take you home.” He paused then, his eyes wet; yet very, very firmly fixed on mine. “When you woke me, for one long horrible moment I thought I had done it.”

“Jeremy? Can you ever forgive me?”

For the first time since I had crawled to his side that night, he laughed. “Forgive you? Forgive you for what? Not dying? Elaine, I know you planned to tell me. I knew when we set out on this little excursion that you were prepared to share with me that great, brooding secret you kept locked inside. The anticipation was writ all over you in your face, and your words and your bearing,” he reached for me, taking my hands in his, “I just never imagined… this.”

He believed me. He accepted me. He understood me.

He feared me.

I was content with that. Of all that he could have felt, fear I knew I could overcome. For the nemesis of fear is love, and that we had in abundance.

7 Responses to “Awakening”

  1. MD, I love this stuff – but are you trying to say that even after thousands of years the emotion of love was strong enough to turn you into a sappy-eyed school girl?

    That love was the emotional power you needed to overcome all of the, anger is not the right word, distance is still a poor word, but the right ideal.

    We take this and move forward to the man you killed?

    I’m seeing chinks in the armor here. Someone is either recreating history the way she wants it or perhaps she’s not the cold, lone warrior she once was.

    Love must have made you soft. I wonder what made you so bitter?

  2. I suppose it is a product of my haphazard storytelling.

    Let me see if I can make this clear:

    When I killed Clayton, I was in complete control of my faculties. It was a calculated act, and one in which I was prepared to let him go, if he had only been able to overcome his (eventually) fatal flaws.

    When I was in love with Jeremy, I was insane. I made choices that in retrospect were foolish, even dangerous. For one such as I love is most assuredly a manifestation of self-delusion. Even when I knew with the absolute cold certainty of the damned that loving him was an invitation to misery I set all my secrecy, all my caution and all my internal armor aside. What is that, if not madness? Madness born of loneliness and given spark by the touch of a kind and unusual soul.

    You live thirty-five centuries, and then you may lecture me on love.

  3. Who’s lecturing? I think it’s kind of sweet.

    Okay, yes, I am just being rude here. Probably not appropriate considering the story posted.

    I would be willing to bet, however, that if I have lived thirty-five centuries, I still wouldn’t be able to lecture you on love.

    Madness indeed.

  4. Hmm. What began as a quick rejoinder has become something I am inclined to deal with in detail, so any reply will be given as a general post.

  5. Indeed, if I may interject. You establish, at a date prior to this line of conversation, that love is the natural state of humanity, unless I am mistaken. You also say, “For one such as I love is most assuredly a manifestation of self-delusion.” To question your veracity is not only not my place, but would be in the very poorest of taste, considering your most charitable hospitality thus far.

    I should never aspire to be so fortunate as to know you as well as James, and yet I find myself asking the same question, and wishing it were otherwise.

    Written with the highest of esteem;

  6. As you wish.

  7. The above comments were first posted on 09/23/2003, 09/23/2003, 09/24/2003, 10/28/2003, 10/28/2003, and 10/29/2003, respectively, prior to being re-posted here today.