What a strange place this is, hovering between the perpetual dark and the grey light of dawn. It was nowhere you would find on any map. It was said to exist only in the psyche, in that moment between sleep and wakefulness. But I found it and, should these words ever be read, you will know that I am there still …
Tall ramparts of the dullest stone rise up skyward. Sightless windows stare out across a strange landscape: it is not possible to make out any landmark for the mists twine in psychotic patterns making the tangible invisible to the eye.
I came to this place … I don’t how I got to be here. As I write down these words, I try to recall my journey but my memories are as fogged as the barren mist-infused heath below me. It is as though I have been here for a lifetime, maybe more. I seem to have a sense of having been somewhere other than this place but it is impossible to draw a coherent recollection from my mind.
It is cold here in my room high in the turret of this place. The cold stone arch that is my only eye to this outside world is presently covered with a ragged curtain. There are faded colours discernible on it; age has dulled them. It ***** forlornly in the insignificant breeze that blows through the window. It is dark outside the window. I know it must be as the tears in the drape are showing no light coming through.
On my writing table is a candle that is burning with a yellow flame. It sputters as the breeze catches it unawares. My candle casts a little light; enough to write with. I look down at the yellowed paper and my words you have just been reading. In my hand is my pen. How old-fashioned; a feathered quill. At the top of the table is a small *** and the trail of ink suggest this is my ink-***. Strange. It seems perfectly natural and familiar to be writing these words in this archaic fashion yet oddly out of place also as though a thread of a memory is tugging somewhere in my brain telling me it cannot be real. My hand reaches out to rub the surface of the table. It is rough, hewn not by a skilled artisan but functional. A shiver courses through me and I draw my rough cloak closer about me …
I don’t know if I had slept but becoming aware of my surroundings, I can see a little greyness coming through the drape over my window. It is not daylight in the sense you would know it; it is never daylight here. The candle is no more than a stub now and it’s flame is gasping it’s last breath. My surroundings are eerily visible now in this dull light. I can see the door across to my right. It is old and heavy with a large handle and studded panels. I expect to see a bed but craning my neck all I can see is a rough straw pallet in the opposite corner. That part of the room is still hidden in shadow so I am surmising that the rumpled pallet and rough blanket heaped against the wall is where I sleep. But I do not remember sleeping.
My pen is laid down next to the sheaves of manuscript I had clearly been working on. All this time, whether sleeping or writing, I had not considered whether I was alone here in my room. There was nothing in that moment I considered it to suggest I was here in anything but solitary isolation. Yet something made me look again at the rumpled bed in that dark corner. I realised then with a start that what I had assumed to be just my bedding had a clear form. Straining my eyes against the grey shadow, I saw an imperceptible movement. I held my breath, unsure if my eyes were deceiving me in this half light. I pushed against the table to lift myself as quietly as I could from my chair and padded over to the bed in the corner.
Crouched against the wall was the form of a woman. Her breathing almost imperceptible, coming in short, tremulous whispers. Clearly she was sleeping but something told me it was not a comfortable sleep but rather a sleep brought on by sheer exhaustion. Her pose was unnatural; half lying, half crouching. Her hands were clasped against her chest and rose and fell with each breath. I staggered backward my heart pounding in my ears, drowning out the sound of her breathing.
Turning to the table, my trembling hand reached for the candle and, cupping my hand to protect the dying light, I crept back to her. In the faint yellow cast of the flame I could see her more clearly. A once silvery gown now grey and tattered covered her small frame. There was a rough blanket draped carelessly across her shoulders. Her elfin face was as pale and dull as the grey light and threads of golden hair hung across her face. I found myself reaching out to her only to brush a strand from across her eyes. In that moment her eyes flew open and stared wild and frightened. Immediately she cowered back against the wall whimpering like a cornered animal. The shock of her awakening startled me and I fell back from my crouched position. Her hands flew up to protect her perfect face and to my horror, I saw they were bound at the wrist. Who was she? Why in all the gods’ names was she here, my apparent prisoner?
I recovered my senses and as gently as I could I approached her again. The blanket had fallen from her shoulders and in the still guttering candle flame I saw what I could only guess were silver feathers seemingly growing from her shoulders. This was impossible. The light was playing with my senses surely?
Reaching out to her I ever so gently touched her clasped hands now held against her face as though in prayer. She let my take them in mine – so delicate, so perfect, so cold to the touch – and my fingers slid down to her bound wrists. The binding was a dull silver, so flimsy yet seemingly strong enough to hold her hands together. There were welts where the bindings had dug into the flesh. And now she stared unblinkingly at me, sheer terror in her eyes.
I let her hands go with more force than I intended and recoiled from this scene, my whole frame trembling, my skin crawling with cold dread. Had I done this? I cannot remember. If I had, why? I closed my eyes willing it to be no more than a nightdread. Opening them seconds later I realised what I knew; that this was real, as real as anything could be in this strange world I found myself in.
I knew then what I must do and turning to my table I looked frantically amongst the sheaves and found the blade I had been using to pare my quills. Grasping it I returned to the pallet and approached her, blade in one hand, sputtering flame in the other. She gasped in horror as I drew close to her. How stupid of me. The poor creature was terrified of me, terrified by the cruelties I must have inflicted upon her.
“Hush, I mean you no harm.” My words seemed to belong to someone else. I placed the candle on the floor and reached out for her hands again. Pulling them toward me, I told her I was going to remove her bonds. She seemed to understand and, though still staring wildly like a frightened child, she let me insert the blade under her bindings. I could only imagine she had trusted me once and was now prepared to do so again. With a deft flick, the bindings parted to the blade and slithered to the floor. She turned her eyes from me for the first time to inspect her wrists massaging them lightly. She looked up at me once more and though she spoke no words, her eyes framed the question, “Why now? Why now after so long?”
I stood up and backed away from her and gestured toward the door: “It is time, that’s all, time for you to go.”
Rising uncertainly from her rude bed, this angel, for that is surely what she was, stood before me trembling. I removed the cloak from my shoulders and placed it about hers, my fingers lightly brushing the feathers on her shoulder blades. I gestured toward the door once again saying as I did so: “Walk toward it; I shan’t stop you. There is no lock; it will freely let you pass. I will not follow.”
The poor creature turned from me and walked to the door. Grasping the handle, it opened with a groan. She passed through and was gone …
In a stupor, I went toward the window and pulled the drape to one side. The sky was still grey but now a silver moon hung in my vision. I sensed a movement to my left and saw my angel soar across the face of the moon and into the gloom.
I walked back to my table and sat heavily down. Grasping my quill and dipping it into the inkpot, I reached for another sheet of parchment and continued to write in the hope that you will find these words and tell my story …
This is an extension of the idea in Freedom & Loss, also posted here