By Greg Bullard
Welcome to part six of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. We say good-bye to The Crone, Isabella, and hello to a frenemy from the past. If you need to catch up, here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
“What the hell do you want?” Marisela spat venomously, temper flaring and smoldering in her pitiless, black eyes.
In a snap I made a decision, perhaps rash in hindsight. In an amount of time difficult to measure, I had her wrapped in my embrace and my lips were pressed against hers. Instantly, her mouth parted, giving way to my advances, allowing my tongue to twirl and wrestle with her own. I could feel the core of anger seething within her. Slowly, with that impassioned kiss, I drew the roiling, writhing emotion into myself and drank deeply of the raw power within it.
Seconds passed and I felt my reserves of energy and emotion refilling. She would be exhausted – I felt her strength flagging now, but I was in no mood to coddle the temperamental girl. Like her great – many times removed – grandmother before her, she would learn the price of my companionship, and, in time, she would learn the value of it.
The sun sat behind my broad shoulders, casting lengthy shadows through the open doorway, darkening the room beyond. The large clock in the corner ground out the seconds on aging gears; I could count the rotation of those gears by the brush of steel on steel and the creak and whine of the spring that drove them.
As Marisela lost her battle for consciousness, my lips left hers. Catching her as she collapsed, I eased her into a chair near the doorway and covered her with the hand-stitched shawl that had been draped across the back of the chair – a gift I had given Isabella long ago, one of many gifts.
“Has it been so long, my Knight of Swords?” Isabella asked, her gravelly voice grating in the silence.
I turned to her. She stood in the shadows of the doorway to her sitting room, bent over a gnarled wooden cane. She had stood quietly, unmoving for the better part of a minute. I had known she was there.
“It has been that long and longer, my sweet,” I answered softly, in a clear unwhispered tone.
Unflinching, she held my gaze and asked, “Ah, my sweet is it now?”
“Now and for decades before.”
“It’s time though, isn’t it?” she sensed the weight of the moment.
I nodded, there was nothing else to say really. Crossing the few steps to her, I knelt on one knee. Taking her twisted, tobacco-stained fingers, I wrapped them in the strong, flawless skin of my large, but delicate hands. I marveled at the strength and warmth in her fingers.
Bowing my head, as if in prayer, I bent over her hand and muttered softly. Opening her fingers gently, I brought the still-soft skin of her palm to my lips and planted a lingering kiss there. Where the skin glistened with the slight moisture of that kiss, a tear fell from my eyes to mark the same spot. I blinked, tear and kiss were gone.
Her voice quavered slightly as she spoke, “Don’t mourn for me, my Prince.” Gaining determination, she continued with strength, “I have seen too many moons; I am ready to feel my mother’s embrace. You gave me life and amazement beyond the years a bright-eyed young girl once thought possible.”
“I gave you nothing of the kind, Isabella.” I shook my head, “I only repaid a love I never deserved by lending you grace that the gods should have freely given one such as yourself.”
“Time grows short.” Changing the melancholy subject, she pulled me to my feet, then held out her hand, “Show me what you have brought me.”
Offering her the crook of my arm, I escorted her to her table and helped her into her seat. While she adjusted, I removed the folded, linen cloth from my coat pocket. Sitting it in the center of the table, I unfolded the corners, revealing the demon’s claws.
She licked her lips and eyed the claws. Without moving her head, her eyes tilted up to regard me and she asked, “Once I have your answers, is that it then? Do I find my eternal peace tonight?”
“Were that it was so easy. You have lived long drawing on the strength of my gentle touch. You drank deeply, such does not pass in a night. I cannot say how long you will live – days, months, years perhaps?” I shrugged.
“And Marisela, is she next for you?” she seemed concerned.
“Who is to say? In kissing another, I broke the tie that has held you and I close for so long, but the other I kissed need not receive my favor as you did. Time will tell the whole of that story. For now, she hates me, and hate is just another emotion I can use to feed my existence. I expect her to hate me for years to come.”
She stared off in space for several minutes, time which I gladly gave her. Seeming to resolve herself to the situation, she turned her attention to the claws laid out on the table before her.
From the pockets of her peasant dress she extracted an intricately carved elm rod, inlaid with True Silver runes. Touching the tip to her forehead, she closed her eyes and held that pose for a slow count of twenty. When her eyes opened they burned with energy and vitality. She struck the demon’s claws sharply with the charged rod.
Just as before, when I disposed of the flesh of the beast, the claws burst into flame at the touch of the True Silver. This flame burned without heat though. It burned with the cool, grey light of the full moon.
Isabella gazed intensely into the dancing flame, as if hypnotized by each flicker and lick of the tongue of unnatural fire. She could read it like a book, its secrets unable to hide from her scrutiny.
In a few blinks the claws had burned away completely, leaving not so much as ash to mark their destruction. Still she stared into that same spot. I waited, semi-patiently, and by that I mean not at all really.
Finally, she spoke, “I’m so sorry.”
The delicate scent of meadowsweet filled my nostrils and my gentle breathing became a sharp inhalation. Forcing myself to turn slowly, I saw Marisela in the doorway. She regarded me with eyes that were not her own.
She spoke to me with a voice that likewise, was not her own, “How does it feel to be the hunted?”
Inclining my head in a graceful bow, I didn’t let the sinking feeling in my gut touch my features or my voice as I said, “Aine Marina, it’s been so very long.” I inserted the slightest of pauses before adding, “Your Majesty.”
About Greg Bullard:
Greg currently resides in Austin, TX, trying to do his part to Keep Austin Weird. While his wife, Julia, and daughter, Emily, both work hard to keep him on his toes, it is Julia’s red editing pen that does the most work. When he is not muddling his way through some fiction, he usually writes about What Greg Eats.