No More A'Roving
by Nancy Brown (nancy@tooloud.northco.net)
copyright 1996, 2001

Disney/Buena Vista owns all the rights, privileges and obligations.
I just write the tales. They may have this one if they so desire,
but if not, I offer it to the current warden of my soul:



"Salvation, strength, and length of deed."



He stopped to catch his breath as he crossed the last rise,
resting his arm against an oak that dripped with ancient moss. He
took in a deep gulp of air, not so much for the oxygen as the
ambience. The rich dankness of the woods surrounded him, caressing
him as it always had. He hadn't noticed back then, of course. The
smell of decaying leaves mingled with that of new growth had just
been part of the background, like the scent of his mother's skin:
so familiar that it was not even noticed until its absence.

He sighed, expelling the hard-won breath to mingle with the
forest once more. The sight of the old familiar places had started
a renewal within him, but the smell had completed the inner
understanding. For the first time in far too many years, he was
coming home.

He shifted his knapsack slightly. It was time to make his way
down one more time. Carefully, he picked through the grasping
roots and young weeds that tugged at him, bidding him to remain
with them always. The thought was tempting, but not perhaps as
much as it had once been. There had been a time when all he could
think of was lying here among the twigs and the spring creepers
that grew before the canopy above choked them of sunshine. When he
lay down to rest, he would see visions in his mind of this very
spot. Here he would sleep and never awaken, and he would at last
know peace.

It had been a sweet dream.

His other dreams, when he could remember them, were less kind.
He'd see the faces of all the many friends he had watched die,
either in battle or from disease or merely from that gentle reaper
called Time. Some would cry to him, asking him why they had to be
the ones to die, while he walked on his solitary path. Some
beckoned him to join them, taunting him from beyond the grave with
delights he would never know, could never know.

There were two faces that were worse than all these, though,
two faces who had once appeared in his mind almost every time he
closed his eyes, not even leaving him when he woke. Sometimes they
smiled at him, holding out the dearest hands he'd ever clasped.
Sometimes he saw nothing but agony etched across their visages, and
he would reach out in dream-futility to try and wipe away the pain.
He'd awaken crying after those dreams.

It had been some time since he'd had one of those dreams,
though, and he knew why. For better or for worse, he'd finally
allowed himself to fall in love again. It had been a false love,
he'd come to realize, almost too late, but it had been enough to
pull him from the edge finally. He'd learned to laugh again, and
after this long a time, it felt good.

The most ironic part, well, perhaps not, but the most ironic
part for the time being was that he *knew* the dreams would start
again in earnest after this visit. They always did. He supposed
that was why he'd put it off for so long. But this year, he needed
to go. He needed to tell her something.

He counted off the tree stumps in his mind as he walked; the
trees that had once marked this place had been the grandparents of
the stumps he now used to remind himself. At least there would be
no real estate vultures to swoop in and take it from him. He'd
owned the titles to this particular estate for longer than most of
them could trace back their families. Nine, ten. He supposed
there were a few people in the area who might be able to get
records from the time, and he smirked as he thought of what they
would think if they knew just who he really was.

Thirteen. He stopped and turned north.

Five minutes later, he stepped into a clearing of which no
other living soul had knowledge. The trees surrounded it in a
carefully-placed circle, fifteen feet in diameter. He'd laid out
the setting himself, and had planted the original oaks with his own
two hands. In the beginning, he'd come often to clear away the
vines and the fallen leaves, to pick up the acorns before they grew
roots to desecrate this sacred place. After a time, he hadn't been
able to come as often, for he'd traveled far in the intervening
years. The trees minded themselves, growing where they should, and
only rarely did an errant youth dare to grow in the midst of the
holy circle.

He knelt.

Once upon a time, there had been two headstones here. He'd
gone so far as to order a third when he'd realized that by the time
he filled his own plot, it would be worn away again. Rain, snow,
and the turning of the centuries had indeed reduced the stones,
first to illegibility, and lastly to rubble. The forgiving hand of
time had covered the fallen rocks with a comforting blanket of moss
and mulch, and since he had been long in tending them, only two
small mounds remained to tell where the sleepers lay. Not that he
needed such things to tell him. He knew, beyond any logic, any
memory, where each was placed to rest and rot. He'd carried them
both here and dug the graves himself.

Memories began to play at him, and with the sights and sounds
of *this* place, *these* beloved souls, the visions were as much
reality as anything he'd experienced during these long, lonely
years.

She had been so lovely when he's first set eyes on her, hair
the color of sunset at the end of a hazy day, eyes as brilliant as
stars. They'd both been a little shy at first, but that had passed
like frost at the first breath of morning and grown into passion.
He still awoke with the scent of her in his nostrils, the taste of
her on his lips, her voice murmuring in his ears sweet vows of
eternal love, repeated each night after they had brought each other
to the edge of ecstacy and beyond. She had been the universe to
him.

He remembered each night as if it had been only a week past,
remembered how it felt to caress her skin, remembered too counting
the white hairs on her head as she slept beside him, knowing that
each one pulled her a little further away. As if yesterday, he
could see her father's stern face, the years heavy upon him, and
could feel yet the mixture of respect and anger that he always had
when thinking of the man. Still, he'd been part of the wonder that
had created her, and together, she and he had created a miracle of
their own.

He touched the mound on the left reverently. Too young, he
thought achingly. He was too young. He tried to grasp to the
happy memories, that of seeing the babe's face for the first time,
of holding the wee form in his arms, the awe of watching his son
open his eyes and meet his own. Those were the thoughts that both
kept him alive and had tormented him ever since.

His mind's eye provided him with recollections of how the boy
had grown from such a tiny thing to the strong, fine, good man he
had become. He had been all either of them could have ever hoped
for, and more. He was patient, thoughtful, considerate, wise, and
unafraid of battle when he deemed it necessary. He would have made
an excellent ...

He choked, and buried his face in his hands. How many battles
of his own had he fought over his too-long lifetime? How many foes
had he cut down, in vengeance or in seeking a release that never
came? No matter how many fell to death beneath his own blade or
spear or technological masterpiece, none could erase the fact that,
when the moment had come that he had been needed, he'd not been
there. Because of the curse.

Oh, it had seemed a blessing then, he knew. At the time, it
had even been necessary, and who was he to pass up such an obvious
gift? Well, he mused, he should have been smarter, for one thing.

That terrible favor had taught him two lessons, but he'd
learned both too late. The first had been to never completely
trust even your greatest friend and ally. The one person, other
than his lady, whom he had thought would never turn on him had
betrayed him in the end. The funny thing was, he supposed that
were their situations reversed, he'd have done the same.

The other lesson he'd learned at such terrible cost was to
always be wary of Oberon and his kin. A few were known to be
Tricksters, but all had the same quicksilver blood flowing through
their immortal veins, and not one of them was trustworthy.

Not one.

"My love," he whispered to the mound on the right, but in that
stillness, it was as if a great bell had sounded in a cathedral.
"I'm sorry I've been away so long. I've been travelling again,
seeing places beyond imagining. I don't think you'd enjoy most of
them, but I still wish I could take you with me."

As if telling a bedtime story, he began to talk to them both,
like he always did, relating adventures, pausing where one or the
other would ask a question, laughing with them where his son would
laugh, offering comforting words where his bride would scold him
for being so foolhardy. When he finally caught them up with the
high points that had occurred since his last visit, he stopped.

He reached into his knapsack and pulled out a bottle of wine,
which had been aging for as long as the current guardian oaks had
been standing. It was a rare vintage indeed, and none knew about
the remaining bottle save himself. He read the label critically,
and made his decision.

He pulled out a metal cup from his knapsack and set it before
him, then opened the bottle with some difficulty. He measured out
a healthy portion into his cup and restoppered it, propping it
carefully between the two mounds. In a more hesitant voice than
before, he spoke to them again.

"I've been saving this bottle for a very long time. I had in
my will a line that indicated it should be buried with me, and I
even enclosed directions to find this place so that I could be
buried beside you both. You must understand, that's all I've
wanted ever since I lost you, to be with you again, and it is the
one thing I have been denied." His eyes stung, and he felt hot
tears forming behind them. He allowed them to flow, as he said, "I
have never stopped loving you, and I never will. But now ...

"I found someone, someone that I thought I could finally love
as much as I loved you, my sweet lady. As it turned out, she
wasn't who I thought she was." His voice was bitter for a brief
moment. "At that moment more even than any other, I wanted to die
rather than be doomed to living in that kind of pain again. But I
came to understand what she'd taught me." He placed his hand where
she lay. "It was *possible* to feel love again. I didn't believe
that I could feel anything after I lost you. I didn't *want* to
feel anything, because I knew how it would end. But my dearest
one, I know now that it's worth it, even if it only lasts a moment.
Love is worth any price. I wish ... I wish I had realized that
when you were still with me. Things might have turned out
differently."

He paused again, and the wind through the young leaves told
him her answer. "You're right, of course. But I'm still allowed
to wish now and then." Wish that he'd been wiser in making
alliances, that he had not allowed moments to pass by him so fast,
leaving him with nothing. Everything had a price, he knew,
everything and everyone. Immortality was its own price, a boon
far more cruel than death could ever be. In the end, Fate had
smiled on the precious he and she buried here, and *that* was the
greatest irony of all those that governed his poor excuse for
existence.

He raised his glass to them. "To you." He remembered a
painful line suddenly, and whispered an addition, "All my pretty
ones. Gone." He shook it off; this was not what he had intended
to say. He took a long draught of the wine, and savored the fire
that sped directly from his palate to his brain.

"I didn't come here to tell you about her. I just thought you
should know, so you could understand what I have to say next.

"I will always love you both. No one else could ever replace
you in my heart, and I will think of you for the rest of my life,
however long it may be. When I do finally find my death, I still
hope to meet you on the other side, in whatever world waits beyond,
and if there is indeed nothing, to lie beside you in oblivion for
the rest of eternity. But I refuse to lie in my grave until I'm
dead.

"I don't *want* to live like this, watching the years go by,
watching friends wither around me like roses in Autumn, but I'm
living it nonetheless. I don't know how long it will last. I
could find my death tomorrow. I could spend another millennium
wandering. Either way, now that I know it's possible to live
again, I want to at least try. I can't do that if my soul,
assuming I still have one, is here with you. That's why I needed
to come to you now, to tell you.

"I'm finally letting go."

He tried to think of more to say, and knew that he had perhaps
said too much already. Instead, he drained his cup of wine, and
stowed it in his knapsack. Then he removed one carefully-wrapped
parcel and placed it on the ground. He pulled the tissue paper
away, careful to avoid the thorns, and gingerly placed the two
long-stemmed red roses, from his own garden, on her grave.

He folded the paper and put it away; he refused to litter,
especially here. He sat back down on his heels, folded his arms,
and rested his head against them.

The day had been lengthening into early evening, and now the
wind was picking up in the trees. His mind told him that only the
leaves spoke to each other, but his heart heard her voice among
them, accompanied by the sweet sound of a young boy's laughter. As
he sat in the darkening glade, the breeze formed into song, and the
song into words he could almost understand, as if she were speaking
to him in the ancient tongue of the forest itself. The words were
gibberish, and yet, their meaning bypassed his mind and went
directly through him into the deep recesses of his spirit.

Forgiveness.

He gasped with the sudden sense of Presence surrounding him,
thousands of souls that he had known and lost over his lifetime,
and chief among them, she stood facing him, holding a child's hand,
not there, but always before him and with him.

"I love you," said the wind, and the trees caught the echo and
whispered back, "Love you, love you."

He reached out to touch her, but she too was the wind, and as
his fingers brushed against a great Something, she was gone.

His senses went numb, and he remained there in that position
for an endless time. When he came back to himself, night had
fallen, and he was alone with the graves and the wine and the
roses. But he knew he would never truly be alone again.

He stood slowly, letting the circulation flow back to his legs
as his joints creaked. He wasn't exactly a young man anymore, but
then again, he hadn't been young for a very very long time.

He'd leave the wine bottle with them. He didn't plan to come
back here alive, but it might take centuries for his body to be
returned. In the meantime, the wine would remind them of him as
nature continued the work it had started, until at last, not even
the mounds remained to tell where they had once been. That too was
part of the life cycle, a cycle he intended to rejoin now.

There were others who had been alive when he was truly young;
he'd avoided them most of the time out of apathy, but perhaps it
was time to renew acquaintances. Considering the past, they had
very little reason to trust him, but he had all the time in the
world to change their minds. The thought made him smile.

He picked up his knapsack again and slung it over one
shoulder. It was lighter than it had been before, and oddly
enough, so was he. He would never forget his wife and son, but
perhaps he could finally stop grieving for them and learn to live
again.

He spared one last longing glance to where they lay, and said
quietly, "Goodbye, my pretty ones."

As he turned away towards civilization and home, he heard as
if from far away, a woman's voice.

"Goodbye, David."

But it was only the wind.

The End

"Touch my tears with your lips
Touch my world with your fingertips ... " - Queen