Long Lost - Prologue
Still a little bit of your song in my ear
Still a little bit of your words I long to hear
You step a little closer to me...
So close that I can't see what's going on
- Cannonball, Damien Rice
Britain circa 500AD – The Dark Ages
How brutal love was.
The scent of blood blew across the killing ground. Thick and cloying, it made her stomach churn and swarmed through her like the flies that were already gathering on the still bodies.
Amidst the carnage, he waited for her, sword in hand. He seemed an angel of death, untouched by the harsh invasive sunlight, with a smile as dark as blood.
She'd known he would be here.
The aftermath of a battle was always ugly and this one was no exception. She moved among the dead, taking in the carelessly sprawled bodies, the empty, open faces. Lime-wood shields splintered under her feet, the grass slick and stained. Her back was straight and her stare unflinching as though she were a princess, gazing down into the flat eyes of those who could not look back.
Beside her, her escort clanked and held their iron-tipped spears ready - a golden convoy, too bright against her dark skin and hair. None of them had wanted to accompany her, but they'd had no choice.
So she came to him for the last time, the very last, treading through carnage. She hadn't thought she would feel so torn, so uncertain. Here was the parting of their ways – in the parted flesh of the dead, because they could find no peace in each other.
All I did, I did for love and lack of love.
The wounded thrashed and twitched, words burbling between their lips - prayers, pleas, nonsense. Her attendees peeled away from her then, casting a cursory eye over their wounds and trickling water into their mouths. Those who screamed and sobbed were silenced with a quick knife.
She walked on, her feet daubed with blood and dew. The hem of her dress trailed through the mud, she a goddess to the smoky sight of the dying.
Here and there, she glimpsed a face she knew, pale and baffled within the sea of slaughter. She wanted to turn away, gods, how she yearned to, but...this was their fault. The two of them would not fight with something so cheap and endless as words, so they had danced with swords and spears, thrown armies into their battle and made death their advocate.
All I did, I did for love and lack of love...and for her love, for her lack of love, men were dying in a muddy field.
She stooped in the dirt to clutch their hands and speak stupid, meaningless words that were meant to be comforting. There was no one to comfort her, to speak the old lies and hide the horror.
This could not happen again. She could not stay, or there would be war and love and no difference between the two. It would never end - it could never end. Love conquers all, some fool of a poet had said once, not knowing how right he was.
They died with their fingers tangled in hers, listening to her lies.
She looked at the battlefield that love had made, at all these men conquered by love. They lay in clumps and chaos, as fragmented as the bloody pieces of her heart. She had done this.
Omnia vincit amor. It was true.
It was terrible.
At last, she reached him. He had no guard, nothing except a short Roman sword. It was the only hint that he'd ever had another life, away from Britain and her cold stony shores.
Somehow, he had become a man loved by his people, but no longer by her. His carefree smile was in place, hiding whatever lay behind those obscure, watchful eyes.
"Warlord," she said, stopping well short of him. She didn't want to be too close: she didn't dare to be snared by the seduction he wielded so effortlessly.
"Lady." The sarcasm on the word sliced her, but she could not show it. "Radiant as ever."
She would not bother with fake courtesies. "Are you pleased with your handiwork?"
Darkness in his eyes, and clenched behind his wicked smile. "You began this, Lisanor. I just finished it. Let's end this foolishness."
"The folly was all yours." It was over, truly over – this was not the man she had loved; this stranger was a warrior, a man of sharp words and casual passions. "Winning a battle will not win me."
His frown did nothing to lift the amusement from his eyes. "It was all for you, Lisanor, all of this – do you think I care whether Aelle thieves a few more fields? Let him have his sticks and stones...but he cannot have what is mine."
"I am yours no longer," she hissed, all the venom and anguish of the years exploding from her, needing to hurt him, to make him feel the betrayal that bled her dry even now. "I will never be yours again – even if the seas boil dry and every single star falls screaming from the sky, I will never be owned again."
"Was it so terrible to belong to me, as I belonged to you?" he snarled back, a wild light leaping into those shadowed eyes, the first hints of his wolfish nature creeping out. "Was I wrong to think you the better part of my soul? When you wept in the nights, did I mistake pain for joy? I have loved you, Lisanor, and I would love you again."
Lies and lies, superbly manufactured. Had it always come so easy to him? A dreadful sadness sank through her like lead weights because even knowing the depth of his deception, part of her wanted to believe him still, to follow his vision as so many others had.
"You lied to me, and you will do so again. Aelle has never made me weep," she answered, and that was not quite the truth. Aelle did not frighten her as this volatile warlord did – there was no wolf simmering within his pale skin, waiting to burst forth in clawing rage. There was no coldness in Aelle, no detachment or slow, merciless amusement.
It had not been Aelle who ripped her from her family and sold her into slavery. That was what she would not say: that was what she had never been supposed to find out. Aelle had not masqueraded as her saviour, her sacred lover; Aelle had no lies, only bluff truths and warm, rowdy temper.
She squeezed shut her eyes, trying to crush tears into dust.
All those lies – about soulmates, about himself, but worst of all, about love, sickly honeyed words that had never meant a thing. And even now, he played the game, played her like a harp, plucking her heartstrings and picking out her pain with such finesse it almost seemed lovely.
"Will his death make you weep?" he enquired, a deadly huskiness creeping into his voice, the first words of the wolf. "I doubt it, somehow. You don't love him, Lisanor – you can't throw me aside so easily. Your heart just isn't that fickle. But will you let him die for you?"
She had known this would be his ultimatum.
"I don't love him," she admitted. "But that will make it all the easier to leave him."
Triumph sparked in his eyes.
"And leaving you..." she continued, "...why, that will be even easier a second time."
The sword was flashing in his hand before she could move, but quick as he was, her guards were faster – one of them dragged her back as a ring of bristling spearheads ringed the warlord.
The rumbling snarl that came from him was nothing human, but he didn't move. Those spears might not kill him outright, but one of her guards was hefting an axe with a coldness to his eyes that met and matched the warlord's fury.
"I will find you," he swore, his voice echoing with hints of moonlit nights and howls, maybe with something of yearning too. "If it takes a thousand years I will find you."
"You won't, Alexandros," she said softly. "You won't."
"Does love mean nothing to you?" he shouted, shaking within the confines of his iron cage. "Do I mean nothing?"
She met his eyes for the last time, remembering when she thought she saw the end of her days in them. Unexpected pity and all-too-expected grief stung her.
"You mean everything," she answered, and her voice caught, heart nothing but an ache, nothing but pain. "But even if it takes a thousand years, I will forget you."
She turned on her heel, crossing her arms across her chest to conceal her trembling hands. The years ahead would be filled with travelling, with suspicion and the gnawing loss of him, with the dull ache of betrayal. She knew that already.
And knowing, she did all she did for love and lack of love. She would learn to forget. On she walked, not looking back, not daring.
"You can't outrun fate, Lisanora, and you won't outrun me!" he shouted, voice rough. "I will find you."
Fleeing that first love, fleeing that blood-soaked battlefield, she shivered.
Stones taught me to fly
Love taught me to lie
Life taught me to die
So it's not hard to fall
When you float like a cannonball
Thank you for reading! Comments, thought and criticisms would be much adored.