The Magician

       Drowning has a tendency to change a person.
I remember looking up through the waves after the panic had ended, after the first breath of salt water had frozen my lungs. It was peaceful then. I was peaceful then. And as the darkness slowly closed in, my field of vision becoming narrower and narrower, I first felt her presence.
       I felt her ghost arms around me, her great tail brushing again and again against my legs. But we were in two different worlds, my mermaid and I, two different worlds as close and as far as her imagined skin to mine.
       I forgot all of this for close to a year. First waking from a week long coma, the fear of brain damage in my mother’s eyes then the months of rehab, the pneumonia and ear infections and finally walking out of the hospital under my own power, the heroes on the TV make drowning into such a minor affair.
       I had lost 20% hearing in my left ear, twenty pounds, and it still took effort to fill my lungs all the way but the doctors said all that would come back with time, except the hearing. That was at six weeks. It was another ten months before I took my next salt water swim.      

       The water was always cold in Pirate’s Cove and this October morning was no different. What was different from last year was my attire. Then I had been nude, this time I was wearing a short wetsuit, the kind that ran from mid-thigh to mid-bicep. Not only would it keep me from freezing but it added a good deal of buoyancy. I planned on a good long swim and not drowning this time.
       The initial cold of the water was still a shock but the quarter inch neoprene quickly mitigated the cold. I was a hundred yards out from shore, in the middle of the cove when it hit me. I had died here.
       Fear rose up from the depths, a blackness as dark as the ocean below swam up behind my eyes. Blinded to all logic, all reason, I struggled, flaying my arms about in the calm sea. Water went up my nose and down my throat. I knew. I knew I had only cheated death. He was right here laying claim to all I was.
       My limbs grew heavy. The spasms of coughing out the water from my throat were a great ache beneath my breastbone. Fatigue and cold took their toll but it was the knowledge in the back of my brain that this was it. This was where I was meant to die that finally stilled my struggles. I surrendered.

.
       And found myself floating, on my back, on the still calm surface of Pirate’s Cove. The blue sky was unbroken above me. Gull cries muffled by the water in my ears the only sound. The wetsuit buoyed my body but it was the surrender to death that buoyed my spirit.
       At peace I lay. The blue sky lightening as the sun rose higher into the morning and a sweet brush of skin against my back. I may have felt that brief contact many times before its meaning broke into my consciousness. Something was swimming beneath me, something large.
       I found that thought very comforting. I wasn’t alone. I could share this beautiful morning with another. I turned over to see what creature had come to join me.
Her eyes were lavender, large and luminous. Her hair flowed around her head like some great blue-green cloud. Her nose small and closed, she smiled. Her teeth were serrated, pointed, marking her a predator but the curve of her full lips friendly and inviting. One webbed hand brushed the length of my torso then hesitated and softly cupped my right cheek.
       She turned then, as lithe as an eel and with one quick peek over a slender shoulder plunged away into the darkness. Her great flukes trailing gentle along the entire front of my body as she dove.
        Pressure in my chest reminded me that I was still an air breather. I rolled once more onto my back and slowly paddled my way to shore.

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The Lover

       The calls of Canada Geese reverberated through my dreams, stirring me once more into the waking world. I could see the great Vees winging their way southward without opening an eye. Six months ago Candace and I would sit on the deck counting there numbers as they moved purposefully northward.
       Candace… Her golden hair moving as if of its own accord in the morning breeze, her smile the reason my heart beat, her touch making it skip, I reached out to pull her near on that October morning.
       The bed beside me was cold, lifeless, a vast pit of nothingness. My eyes squeezed tight. I had leaked enough over the last 67 days. Or maybe not… My next coherent thought was of a sound, distant, frightening. I remembered coming across an abandoned days old elk calf, a hundred pound baby crying in the woods. I had followed the sound for half a mile ages ago. Only just finding the source, and wondering what to do when I was forced to climb a tree in fleeing the returning mother.
       No mother would be rescuing this child, I realized in the same instant as I knew the source of this current sound. I unclenched my hands and then my body. I slowly rolled onto my back and forced my breath into a normal rhythm as my counselor had advised. In to a count of five, hold, out to a count of five, after minutes of this I opened my eyes. Staring down at me was Candace. The 8×10 picture she had taped to the ceiling the very last time she was able to stand and beneath it in her own hand, “I will always love you.”
       “Hi, love. I heard the Geese this morning, heading south. Do you remember in the spring, on the deck?” Her smile kept smiling. No answer, that.
       I rolled out of bed and wandered into the bath.

       After breakfast, toast, eggs, coffee, Bill called.
“I need you down at the plant by 10. Can you make it?”
       A reprieve from my empty house, “What’s the problem?”
       “No problem. We’re ready with the final tests on the nordik process and need your input.”
       Don’t know why I hesitated. “I’ll be there.”

       Driving north on Riverside, I was a mile from the plant when she stepped in front of my car. I almost missed her. Slamming on the brakes I could have swerved around her but out of the corner of my eye I saw the Toyota corolla beside me in the side view mirror. As it was I was going less than 5 when I bumped her. I hit my flashers and was out the door and around the hood almost before my car was stopped, the Toyota’s horn blaring in my ear.
       She lay on the pavement, all four legs straight her big brown eyes fixed on me. “Quiet, girl. Lay quiet now.” I ran my hands through her long red curls, gently over the bones and muscles. Nothing seemed broken but a swath of fur was missing from her hip. She whined when my fingers neared the scrape but she didn’t try to bite.
       Honking came from behind me and a Chevy pickup swerved around both of us, a fist raised out the driver’s side window. I heard a door slam behind my car and a woman’s voice called over my shoulder. “Hey, you’re blocking traffic.” Then a gasp, “Oh, a setter, is he ok?”
       I turned my head, “It’s a she.” A woman with nearly a crew cut of hair redder than the dog’s was by my front fender.
       She nodded and then shook her head. “Of course she’s not ok. Dumb question.” Slowly she came forward and knelt beside me. She leaned over the dog and blew gently across her face and then laid a hand on her shoulder.
       “What’s was that?”
       “Blowing gentle in an animal’s face is one of the faster ways to let them smell you.” She ran her hands along the girl’s side, then down her legs. When her hand neared the injured hip the dog lifted her head and growled. The woman pulled her hand back.
       “Quiet, girl.” I patted her head. Her growl became a whine as she rubbed against my hand. “I’ve checked. Nothing seems broken.”
       “She’s already bonded with you.”
       Who’d this woman think she was? Was she a professional?
       More honking came from behind us. “Could you help me get her into my car?”
       “I think we should go in my car. She’s bonded with you and shouldn’t move around too much till she checked at a vet’s.”
       That sounded reasonable, but…
       She looked up at me. “If we wait too long the police will come and then animal control and she’ll be out of your hands. Maybe that’s what you want?” The last sounded strident.
       “Can you drive a stick?” I held out my keys to a complete stranger.
       “Yeah, but let park my car and I’ll right back.”
I settled in with the dog. She lifted her head into my lap.    

       A purple Datsun pickup scooted out from behind my car and slipped into a parking space. The redhead jumped out pulling a blanket and a small duffle bag behind her.
       “I’m Janis.” She held out a short nailed hand. It was soft where it wasn’t calloused.
       “Jim. If you get the back door open and can carry her right in.”
       She took my keys and the blanket and duffle. A moment later, “Ok, it’s ready for you.”
       The setter whined softly as I lifted her but no growls. She didn’t try to get away. I’ve never had an animal trust me so much. Janis had made a bed in the back seat with the folded blanket. I got the girl settled, her head in my lap again. Janis closed the door behind me and in a moment slid into the driver’s seat.
       “Do you have a vet?” She started the car and moved it into a parking spot in front of her truck.
       “I’ve never had a pet.”
       Looking over shoulder at me, “Do you trust me?”
       “You’re driving my car. Do you work with animals?”
       “I was one semester from being a vet tech when I had to leave school.” She twisted back forward and pulled away from the curb. “I know a good vet near here. She’ll treat the setter right and won’t charge you unless you claim ownership.”
       I could barely take care of myself. How was I going to take care of a dog? I looked down at those big eyes staring up at me. Hell, I was the one who hit her and she was looking at me like I was the only thing that mattered in her world. And… And what if she had to be put down? No, that was not going to happen. “I don’t know about that. Shoot she probably has an owner out worried sick about her.”
       “Maybe, but she doesn’t have a collar and she looks like she’s missed more than a few meals to me. There might be someone looking for her but hundreds of dogs get abandoned every year.”
       I scratched her ears and looked down into her eyes. “You got someone out there, girl? Or did someone leave you like they did me.” Where did that come from? Candace didn’t leave me. She died. How could I think such a thing?
       I felt my eyes closing up. My lungs felt like they were full of putty. My head fell forward as my body started pulling itself into a ball.
       Then a great raspy tongue swept it all away running down my cheek and across my lips.
       I sat up with a start and found myself sputtering out dog spittle and laughing at the same time.
       The back door opened. I hadn’t even realized we had stopped. “If you two lovers are done we’re at the vets.”

       The vet had found nothing broken and thankfully no internal injuries. She was just bruised and scared. There was also no ID chip so for $99 I got a dog, or rather a friend. Actually two as Janis stops by once a week and all three of us go swimming in the river.

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The Warrior as a Young Man

     When his sword was sharp and his purpose keen, his wit fresh, and his flesh unscarred he would look for adventure in every waking. Once in the forest…

     The soft light of dawn filtered through dew coated leaves flicker across his eye lids. They twitched with each shadow, once, twice, three times and then opened. Blue green orbs sparked in the light, till they fell upon a yearling stag grazing on heather not ten feet away. Eyes fixed his right moved slowly, silently for his bow. Instead they met warm skin.
He sat up with a start, the bounding deer forgotten. Beside him stretched a form beneath his cloak. At one end a shock of coppery hair and at the other a fair ankle bejeweled with emeralds leading to a perfectly formed foot, lightly calloused, and nails painted the deepest blue.
     He reached out and flipped back the upper end. Two wide and startled eyes matching the blue of the nails stared back at him.
     “You’re real!” said the warrior.
     “But I dreamed you,” cried the fair young maiden.
     “No I dreamed you!”
     She sat up. His cloak fell to reveal shoulders of alabaster, the exquisite curves of perfect clavicles, and then the smooth field of her upper chest, and nothing to obscure each curve and slope. She clutched his cloak to her chest just before the curves of her breasts were fully exposed. She peeked once beneath the cloak and gasped.
     “You cad, what did you do with my dress?”
     “Cad? Me? Lady if you can’t keep better track of your clothes I can’t help you. A better question might be, ‘What are you doing with my cloak?’”
     “I am holding on to a shred on my remaining decency after your ravishment of my body in the dark of the night.”
     “Oh, you wish!”
     She drew the cloak tighter against her chest with one arm and raised the other in tight fist. “Come near me again and I will defend myself.”
     He shook his head. “Dear lady, maybe we have gotten off on the wrong foot here.”
     “Wrong foot! You call this getting off on the wrong foot? You steal me from my bed, strip me bare… All naked and vulnerable in the night and do… do who knows what to my lithe young body…”
     He put up his hand. “Oh, please! Before your go and write this romance novel fantasy of yours could you do me one small favor?”
     “Favor? Don’t you think I’ve done enough for you?”
     “Not really.”
     At this she scuttled backwards. “Just try, I’m not helpless in the night now.”
     “Miss, I’m not moving. I’d just like you to check one thing for me.”
     “What?”
     “Check yourself? Have you been ravished in the night as you fear?” Under his breath, “as you wish?”
     “Check myself? I’ve never heard of anything more disgusting. You want me to touch myself, touch my most private, most intimate places, while you watch? I… I…”
     “Hey, I’ll turn my back.” And he did. He stood and moved off about five feet and turned around to study the verdant glade before him.
     She kept her eyes on him as one of her hands slid beneath his cloak. The hand stopped and soft gasp came to her mouth. Dropping her eyes she also dropped the cloak, both hands now exploring her most intimate nature. “Damn, damn, damn.” She whispered. Quickly she looked back the warrior standing tall before her. His back was broad, his shoulder’s wide. She stood pulling the cloak around her. Her lips parted but no words came out. She adjusted the cloak so that it covered all of her, all but one long line of flesh between her breasts, across her belly and then over one hip and across her thigh. Her tongue slipped from between her teeth, moistened her lips, upper and lower, and then once across the teeth themselves. Lips parted, “you can turn around. I owe you an apology. I have not been ravished.”
     He turned. His eyes quickly noted the artfully arranged cloak. He stepped forward until he stood right in front of her. Close enough to feel her quickening breath from between her parted lips. He hand rose towards her. She quivered but did not step back. The backs of his hands brushed against the thick fabric and then pulled the edges together. “You might be more careful how you wear what clothes you have. Someone might get the wrong idea.”
     She licked her lips one again. “And what idea might that be?”
     Running his hands lightly along the now closed edges of his cloak which now hung straight down the front of her body, “I might get the notion you would welcome my hands upon your skin, that you might want me to pull this, my cloak, from your body and bare all of you to the sun’s warm morning rays. I might even get to thinking that your moist parted lips would welcome my own, that you might want them to wander over every curve and secret of your beautiful young body.”
     She swayed unsteadily.
     His hands reached out and grasped her by the arms. “Steady there. One might think you grow weak in the knees, that he might with but a gesture take you to the ground. That he could open you like a book and write new chapters in the deepest secrets of your body.”
     “Oh! Might one…” she whispered leaning in towards him her eyes half closed.
     For a moment he leaned towards her lips, then sighed and pulled away, stepping back out of reach.
     She stumbled slightly her eyes snapping open. “What?”
     “I am sorry princess but I will not have you in a moment of weakness. Though my lips burn to unite with yours I will not have the slightest ambiguity between us.”
     “Princess? You know then who I am?”
     He bowed low but kept his eyes fixed upon her face. “You are the Princess Gwenfaer. First born to King Salomon and his lost Queen, favorite to the king and rumored to be possible heir to the throne.” Standing, he regarded her with a focused eye. “The question I have though is how did you come to be here, in this forest, under my cloak, and clad in your very best reignment?”
     She looked down at his cloak pulled tight around her. “You cloak? My best reignment?”
He smiled wide. “You know I don’t mean my cloak. I mean the exquisite form beneath my lowly cover. But this does not answer the question. How did you come to be here?”
     “You really did not spirit me from my castle while I slept?”
     “I have seen your castle.” He shook his head. “No one warrior… even one as able as I could take you by stealth or by arms from your keep. Is that what you remember? Going to sleep in your bed?”
     “I… I’m not sure. The evening seems unsure in my mind.” She turned and walked a half dozen paces, head down and silent, then she paused and sat upon a log which was at the edge of the clearing. She gasped and looked up. “I was not in my chamber. I was in my nurse’s tower. We were… My brother had been talking to my father about marrying me to the Hougenauts. Yes, I had gone to Meredith asking her help…” She grew silent and looked away.
     He gave her time to continue but after minutes past, “And what happened? Did she help you?”
     Her head snapped back. Her eyes met his straight on, all the breeding of ages of monarchs alive within their blue.
     He dropped to one knee.
     “Warrior, what is your name?”
     “Your Highness, I am Fontance. I am called The True among my people.”
     “Fontance the True. That is a Nordix name. Is it not? Do your people still hold the ways of the heath?”
     “My mother was wise as her mother was before her. My sister now holds the wisdom of my village.” His eyes grew wide. He nodded his head in understanding. “Your nurse is too?”
     “Yes, my warrior, my nurse too.”
     “And if I may be so bold what magic did you both perform there in her garret?”
     “My life was about to spin out of my control. My brother had convinced the King to marry me off for the best purposes of the kingdom. If I was going to lose control of my life…” Her voice faded once again.
     He reached out and gently took one of her hands in his. “I ask once more, what magic did you two perform?”
     She squeezed his hand as if it was the only thing holding her from a great fall. “If I was going to lose control of my life I would be the one to choose as to how that would be. My nurse, Greta, Priestess of Freya, performed for me the rite of submission. My will is no longer my own, my life is no longer mine. I am Freya’s to as she wilt.”
     He returned her grip in kind. “And you awoke beneath my cloak here in the forest as naked as the day you were born.”
     She smiled knowingly, a mischievous glint in her eye. “I would like to think that my nakedness is a great deal better than the day I was born.”
     “No doubt. No doubt.” His cloak had shifted once again giving hint of just how much this was true. “And how do you interpret this turn of event? To what purpose has my Lady Freya brought you here?”
     “Your lady? Are you also dedicated to her?”
     “My sword is Fangorn’s tooth. Named for her companion hound. My arrows are loosed by her word.” He unlaced his jerkin exposing his chest. There above his heart was the glyph of the Goddess. “And my heart is hers.”
     The princess shrugged her shoulders. His cloak slid away to puddle around her upon the log. Her breasts were high and firm. There tips pink and crinkled. “Freya is a wise and generous Goddess. Will she share your heart?”
     He stood pulling her to her feet and slowly pulled her into his arms. “Yes, a wise and generous Goddess. I believe that is precisely why she brought you here.” And their lips met.

     Later, waking to the call of the raven far above, both figures bare but for the course cloak wrapped tight around them. They kissed and stretched. “You know, of course we will have to fight for your kingdom and for your people.”
     “Of course, my lord.” She smiled as she pushed him onto his back and sat astride him. “It will be so much fun.”

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The Warrior

          I met an old warrior, ancient in his skin. He was resting, arms draped upon his pitted sword. He had been clearing a patch of brambles. His sword, scythe like, had cut a swath through the tangle of thorny vines. But the task was endless. The thicket went on as far as the eye could see and his age, his scars upon scars upon scars slowed his progress.
          The bramble though was verdant, growing. Already the path he had cut into thicket had closed behind him. With each breath, each moment of respite, heavy arms and twisted limbs arrest upon his sword the vines grew nearer. He would shrug, a heavy sigh escaping his parched lips, and then lift once more the once great blade. The first swing would echo long forgotten battles, swift and sure. The bramble cut back, the edges sliced true. The next swing not as fine. And the next, and the next, lower and slower as the heavy blade took it toll. The vines shattered, broken, more crushed then cut. Finally the swing would not pass through and once again he would stop, the sweat stinging in his eyes, his breath coming in great gasps. He would point the tip of his blade into the dry soil, his arms draped across the pommel and rest.
          I asked him then why, why did he persist in his task. He just shook his head, lifted his sword and moved on.

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