The jingle of tack resounds with the steady rhythm of horse’s hooves beating against the earth. That and the faint swish of fabric rustling against their flanks are the only sounds emitted from their columns. The occasional snort of beast being urged forward echoes out of the darkened glen but beyond this no one speaks. His breath comes in consciously measured intake to maintain a semblance of composure for those that follow as He leans forward urging the riders on. He rides his beast bareback, wasting no time for saddle, his battle honed thighs bracing his body and guiding his mare. Just behind him a maiden clutches his standard astride her horse matching him pace for pace.
An air of expectation thick and warm permeates their surroundings. The mounts ever able to perceive emotions respond eagerly and surge forward at breakneck speed giving the illusion that they ride forth on the wings of the wind. Trained men and woman, each carrying expertly honed weapons according to ability, battle proven each, hasten in the new day riding forward in neat order according to rank and station. Darkness is as day to these eyes as he leads them forward safe and true.
Their leader: his long ebony hair secured at the nape of his neck with a leather thong as appropriate when ridding into battle. His breastplate secured firmly and shining as if recently polished but showing the pings and dents of centuries of combat. His garments secured and girded to ensure agility of movement, are pocked with splashes of ancient blood they will bear for all eternity.
Fierce eyes glazed with anguish, fixed ahead, contain both fire and ice. Love turned violent with desperate longing and pure, just hatred that consumes him. The cries of the captive, each and every one have reached his ears and have been recorded in His annals, the sacred record of the King. And with this remembrance, tears in turn fall down his cheeks, mingling tenderness with fury.
Ahead lays the river falsely known by many to be the extent of his kingdom, though each morsel of land the squatter has poached belongs ultimately to him. He plunges forward and clears the banks opposite with effortless ease. Ahead a wasteland he is not unable to breach. And as they enter the barren crags, known as the valley of death, a mocking laugh escapes his lips.
This lures the slumbering enemy, the sleeping giant known to patrol the crags, into his path. There is no hesitation for horse and rider, as the mare is given its head, stretching forth its neck pressing straight towards stalwart foe. A crescendo, not unlike metal striking bone is heard reverberating off surrounding rock walls. Down goes fallen villain, departed from this world, with a simple word from His mouth. The Lover’s faithful equine leads on, hooves wet with enemy blood and behind him, the fallen-one continually trampled to dust by the army that follows in his wake.
The ensuing obstacle to overcome is the lack of a drawbridge, the only entrance to the fortress and then beyond that, the vast walls rumored to be protected by unbreakable dark magic. The fortification teams with creatures of the night, clutching a motley crew of maces, axes and cross bows.
The hiss of laughter emitted from their midst falls silent as the Lover sings out a command, “Lower the bridge,” and at His word they have to obey.
They scurry forward unwillingly yet unable to desist in fulfilling his simple command, puppets each and every one.
Swiftly the band overtakes the bridge, entering within the outer wall of the ancient structure, known previously as only that which keeps in its victims and detains the unwanted from entering. With a swish of His hand the enemy is overtaken with confusion. Their battle readiness breaks apart as blindness and terror strikes at the heart of their vile unity. At the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, each vile regiment turns on one another delivering fatal blows to their moment before ally.
With a stunning display of agility, the Lover and his war party, scale the great partition, a mere hurdle that stands between the He and his maiden. Bulging muscles extend well placed blows that send the remaining villains scampering away like rats fleeing a tide of fiery wrath. The very sky trembles as they flee the light that devours. The day of their judgment, the one they have long feared, has arrived and they know they cannot endure it. Like dawn spreading upon the fortress, His army moves forward without breaking rank devouring the great city, the vile whore that has taken captive many a fair one.
Fanning out, without number they march on the fortress opening prison doors, rescuing the multitudes who have been enslaved, each one given a choice, should they want to stay within or follow.
But the Lover is single-hearted in his pursuit. Turning neither to the left or to the right, each stride determined and purposeful, deeper into the earth he descends, eager, breathless, nearly giddy. She awaits and he has come. Light goes before him like a mighty sword slicing into the darkness.
With a crash, the magnificent door, a flimsy barrier, flees before his touch leaving only the dark pit between he and his love. He gestures to the plank and it finds its place making way for the Lover to easily reach the captive. His eyes search the rocky shelf she dwells on, seeing only a mass of tattered clothing. But wait, the ever slight rise and fall of chest betrays a living body among the wreckage. It is she and to His eyes she is the most beautiful sight He has ever seen.
Then He is there and she is His, once again in His arms. With fluid grace He strides towards her prison door bringing her to safety. Faintly she registers that He has come. In her emerging consciousness she hears the footsteps of the one who kept her imprisoned, his ripe stench filling her lungs. Without setting her aside, her Rescuer directs one blow to their mutual enemy and he that seemed mighty, the worm that ravaged her soul is swept into that great pit where he will be remembered no more. The place prepared long ago for him and him alone. And in that instant she knows she is free.
Nestled in his arms they begin the ascent, the Lover and His fair one. His kiss to her brow heals the rift of offense between them. He urges a healing sip of the nectar from His pouch and with it the purge of the stench of death from her soul begins. But his words, oh it is His words, whispered like silk over her, that are the true tonic in which she begins to thrive. Each syllable a caress, a balm driving away the lies and imparting a new strength which anchors her soul.
A brief glimpse of the warrior gleans in His eyes as He turns to His standard bearer. “Torch it. No one is ever to be held here again. There will be no more death or dying in this haunt of jackals. This is my command. Do it at once.”
As he turns,a playful smile curves His lips and touches His eyes.
Again to His comrades He says, “We ride ahead. Finish this and meet us on the ‘morrow as we will surely feast together.”
Away they ride enveloped in tender silence. He mute in immeasurable wisdom. She however, silently contemplating how she had ever doubted His love or fretted His return. Each ruminating over their next word, all the while savoring the comfort of each other’s communion.
It was He who broke the silence.
“I’ve waited ready, eager for your rescue these many years. I have plotted and planned it, yet awaited the Command of my Father. You may not be able see the matchless wisdom of His timing now, but you will. I promise that you will. He and I have been ever working, ever fighting, ever eager to come for you. You have continually been on my mind, ever the magnificent prize set before me.”
Anguish glazes His face as He reaches into the front of his shirt grasping a delicate corked bottle made of glass. The ornate vial hangs on a cord around His neck and as He lifts it, the wear marks from where it has long rested are evident in His flesh. With a voice barely above a whisper He leans forward and places one finger under her chin so that her delicate face is beckoned upwards tenderly forced to meet his gaze.
“These are your tears. I’ve collected each one without fail, those of anguish and those from the years before when there was joy. I’ve kept each and every one in remembrance of you.”
Though she’d rehearsed the lines she’d planned to recount to him countless times, only tattered sobs make their way from her inner recesses. With each wail the vile companions she’d embraced are forced to flee, replaced by truth that can only be won in the darkest places of the soul. And He holds her fiercely in his arms and rests her head in the crook of his neck, whispering the words she’d longed to hear all those long lonely days and nights.
Finally, when the tidal wave of emotions had ebbed, she lifted her chin so their gazes lock and can only utter this, “You came for me.”
“I told you I would.” is His only reply.
And the loved one realizes at that moment that her story has merely begun; the journey of realizing she is free and no longer a slave in its infancy.
© Rebecca Dunning 2010