For the discussion by a select few of Life, the Universe, and Everything


    Death and the Maiden

    Share
    avatar
    Dracotorix
    Admin

    Posts : 108
    Join date : 2010-08-22
    Age : 25
    Location : 3rd Planet from the Sun

    Death and the Maiden

    Post  Dracotorix on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:13 am

    This is what my mom wanted me to show you, Judy. (oh, and if you don't want to use your real name online PM me and I'll edit this message.) There aren't any indents, because I can't figure out how to do that in a post. There aren't any italics either... but that's just because I'm lazy.

    Death and the Maiden

    Olwen crouched by the side of the stream and tried to skip a stone. Glimpsing the sheen of a minnow turning like a flash in the water, she leaned forward. She knew she would muddy her dress, and the nurse would probably complain, but she didn’t mind. The dress wouldn’t fit her for much longer anyway.
    A light gust of wind blew and a scrap of paper came flying from the other side of the stream where Olwen’s older sister had left her things. Reaching up as it flew past, Olwen caught the paper and thudded into the hillside in one movement. The paper was folded carefully, as if nobody was meant to read it. Olwen looked around. Isolda had left. She started to unfold the paper. But she had left her things… Glancing about her mischievously, Olwen unfolded the rest of the paper. It was a note that had apparently been passed back and forth a few times, because there were responses in alternating handwritings. One, light but stilted, was her sister’s. The other, an elegant and dark script, was unknown to Olwen. She began to read the messages.
    “I could always go with you,” said Isolda’s writing.
    “That may not be a wise choice,” said the black script.
    “I have made the pledge,” Isolda’s writing answered. There was a dark spot where her pen had lingered on the last “e” of “pledge”.
    “Tomorrow,” the black script said, “I will go to the meadow south of my uncle’s holdings. If I see you there, I’ll know you have made your decision. Whoever shows up at the meadow on that day must go through…”
    “Must go through…” Olwen muttered, trying to complete the sentence. The page had been ripped from a flyleaf or some such, and the rest of Mr. Black Script’s reply was torn off. Olwen puzzled over the strange correspondence. She had no idea what they had been talking about, and she didn’t even know who her sister had been talking to, but she had an uneasy feeling. There was a word in there she didn’t like, and had never liked. “Must”. She may have been scrawny and messy, and always either too shy or too blunt; she may have eternally scraggly braids and a pointy nose so unlike Isolda’s perfectly shaped one; and she may have been too squirmy in ball gowns and at feasts; but there was one thing on which Olwen of Ardethhar was an expert. In her seven years of life, she had learned very well that “must” was not a harbinger of anything good. She looked in the direction her sister had walked off in. A line of bent dandelions and grasses still vaguely marked her way. Olwen stood, hopped across the stream, and began to follow in her sister’s tracks.
    She walked for nearly an hour before finally nearing a place where the tracks ended. She looked about her worriedly. There was no sign of her sister that she could see. Then she noticed that five rocks stuck out of a hillside at almost regular intervals. Climbing the little rock staircase in three large bounds, she reached the top and saw the trail continue down the hill and towards a small meadow, concealed halfway by a grove of birch trees. On one end of the valley, a waterfall poured over the edge of a rocky outcrop in a hill, pouring into a silvery-blue pool in the center of the meadow. And there, sitting by the edge of the pool, was Isolda.
    She was surrounded by feral greenery and wildflowers, but they seemed to make themselves a garden in her presence. She tamed her surroundings as if by hypnosis, and everything appeared orderly and calmly beautiful as if it had been carefully cultivated in that reclusive meadow for years. As she looked, Olwen suddenly felt that she herself could not enter that meadow. The moment she set foot in it, the quiet and collected allure of Isolda’s garden would vanish, and be immediately overgrown and trampled by wild briars and thistles, growing madly in any direction they chose. Even her looking at it might somehow sully the perfection.
    Olwen glanced away from the valley, suddenly ashamed, and just barely noticed a slight chill in the air behind her. Turning, she beheld a shadowy figure, stooped and crooked, with grey robes eerily reminiscent of fog. She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. The figure slowly turned his fixed stare away from its previous target and directed it at Olwen.
    Olwen stood as tall as she could without standing on tiptoe and making a fool of herself, and said in her most authoritative voice, “Just who are you, you silent stranger, and what are you doing here?”
    For a moment the figure just stood there, and then let out a slow, choppy breath as if laughing. “Who?” he repeated. His voice was ancient and dusty, but not unused. It was a voice that was not at its best, but also a voice that would not wear out completely for a long time to come. “I have too many names to relate. Even I don’t remember all of them right now. But no matter what language or people I happen to be dealing with, I am most often identified by the rather blunt, but accurate, title of Death.”
    Olwen’s eyes widened. She almost took a step back, but then she stopped, mentally chiding herself for her cowardice.
    “And I think I would be correct in stating that I am no stranger to anyone. As for what I am doing here, what a silly question! I am by far the older, and have been here for far longer than you; therefore it is rightly I who should be asking you what it is you are doing here.”
    Olwen, having no answer to such a statement, waited for the figure to go on. When he did not, she decided to formulate another question. “Alright. I think I’m now fairly certain of what you are doing. My next question is, why?”
    Death let out another breathy chuckle. “‘Why’, you ask?” He chucked again, this time with a slightly sinister undertone. “Do you not mean ‘Who’?”
    Olwen stared, not daring to utter a word, barely daring to believe this was happening. Slowly, she took a deep breath and asked, “If I am to go with you, can I not see your face? All I see is shadows under your hood.”
    Death shook his head slowly. “You may not see my face. Nobody may see the face of Death before he comes for them.”
    Olwen’s eyes widened in realization. “You mean, I’m not—”
    The hand of Death slowly gestured towards the meadow. Olwen whirled around and looked. Isolda was standing now, and looking longingly into the pool. A slight breeze caused the flowers at her feet to wave, and Isolda’s white sleeves to billow delicately. The sun was low in the sky, and it shone behind her as her hair fluttered around her head and illuminated it like a bright golden plume. Isolda stood, golden and white, long fingers and perfect face, everything about her floating for a moment in time. She stood, ivory, like a living sculpture of an angel. And then, as if the breeze that had lifted her had faltered in its sweep, she fell noiselessly to the ground.
    Olwen gasped aloud and clenched her fist around the scrap of paper in her hand. “How…”
    Death looked at her for a few moments. “You know.” He nodded in slow motion towards the paper crumpled in her small fist. “She pledged her life to a silly young knight. The day he did not come to her, she took it upon herself to honor the pledge.” He shook his cowled head. “Only a fool pledges their life. Especially to another fool.”
    Olwen shook her head and stared back at the meadow. It was still glowing yellow in the late sunlight, the waterfall continued to trickle from the rocks, and the flowers still waved in the breeze. The meadow, however, was incomplete. The prone figure of her sister was hidden by the flowers and grasses, and without them the meadow looked staggeringly off.
    “Sixteen.” The voice of Death was odd, unexpected. “It’s always the ones with sixteen.”
    Olwen looked at Death, confused. “Sixteen?” she echoed.
    “Long blond hair and flowing white dresses. Bright blue eyes and untarnished swords. Sixteen. They go out into a world they do not know, and when it does not welcome them with open arms—with knights in shining armor and glory on the battlefield—they come to this. They will not wake up and realize that there is no Prince Charming. They don’t know until it is too late that knighthood holds more in the way of corruption than chivalry. They refuse to believe it when they are thrust into a battle that is gory instead of glorious. And so they end their contract with the world. They are always fools. And they always seem to be sixteen.”
    Olwen was still staring in disbelief at the meadow, and at the patch of wildflowers which was slowly starting to shed its garden-like poise and conceal her sister from sight. “But… but that’s just Isolda. She’s dramatic; it’s who she is.”
    “Any drama can go too far. This time, little sister, she has traded the blunted prop for a real knife. The audience has gone, and it is time for me to sweep up the debris. So let the stagehand through, little girl.”
    Death tried to push past her, but Olwen held her ground. “Hold it,” she asserted. “You aren’t going anywhere with my sister.” She squared her shoulders and stomped her foot. “Isolda is the heir to our House, as well as a great noble lady. Er, almost a great noble lady. Not yet… but she will be someday! By the time you come for her for real, she will be. I can guarantee it!”
    The shadowy hood shook slowly again. “I don’t think you quite understand,” Death said. “This time is for real. Today is the appointed day. I must return from this place with a soul. The soul of a sixteen-year old suicide victim, to be precise. But first, child, you must let me past you into the meadow. It is your sister’s time to see my face.”
    Tears started to form in Olwen’s eyes as she looked at the meadow. It was still golden and beautiful. She suddenly had a vision of it overrun with brambles. Then she remembered the stream she had sat at earlier in the afternoon. A minnow of silver for a meadow of gold. She turned back toward Death, and in the softest voice she had spoken with in quite a long time, she asked, “What about a seven-year-old drowning victim?”
    Death regarded her for a few moments. “Do you really think that is wise?”
    Olwen glared at the shadow before her. “Wise or not, is it possible? I mean, can you do that?”
    Death watched her solemnly, and then nodded. “It is most certainly possible. But do you really want your sister to survive? If she does, she will have broken a pledge.”
    Olwen shook her head impatiently. “I suppose you can’t have been around much, being Death and all, but really oaths and pledges and things aren’t at all as serious these days as they used to be. This was just a silly pledge, if that. Nothing would come of breaking it.”
    Death cocked his head to one side in an oddly comical gesture. “Are you certain?”
    Olwen nodded.
    “Most people have not the bravery to do it,” Death said, “but it is fully possible. Your sister will wake up as if from a bad dream, and all will be… almost well. I only ask if you truly believe it wise.”
    “I’ve told you, that pledge meant nothing!”
    “I wasn’t referring to the pledge.”
    Olwen looked down at herself, and then glanced toward Isolda’s meadow.
    “Your sister may be a rose,” Death spoke, “and you a thorn. But any mortal gardener could tell you that a patch of roses without thorns is not a rose patch at all.”
    Olwen stood at the top of the hill, a slight figure with disheveled black braids in a dark blue dress covered in mud. A gust of wind, and a birch leaf blew from the meadow up towards the hill. Almost without thinking, Olwen caught the leaf in her hand. She looked up at Death. He knew her decision.
    Death, cloaked in shadows and gliding noiselessly along the ground, led a small girl to the side of a stream. He took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him. Then, as a gust of wind began to blow a storm towards a meadow where a golden-haired lady lay in oblivious slumber, Death looked the frail young maiden in the eyes and slowly lifted his cowl.

      Current date/time is Tue Nov 13, 2018 8:13 pm