I do not see myself as a decent person. I realize that the notion of right and wrong is something relative. It all depends on the concrete situation, since something you consider good can be unpleasant or offensive for someone else under different circumstances. There is no universal good. I, in particular, think that it’s of primary importance that things should be good for me, even if it might seem a bit egocentric. Yet this principle has never failed me. Actually, one can be selfish only to a certain point. I think that this moment in one’s life comes when you meet the one and only person you want to spend the rest of your life with. This is the time when you begin to crave for a real home, and you ponder what it really means to be a man. For me, this moment had not come yet. Even by my standards, I was not a good man, but it was of little importance to me, and I didn’t have to worry myself with how to try to change this fact.
So far my life had passed in wandering in forgotten and far-off places, and unwittingly, the carefree days turned into carefree years. I had visited so many towns that I no longer remembered their names. Nameless little dwellings at the edge of desolation and survival had been my home for a day. In the larger towns to the East, I did stay long enough to get acquainted with the darker sides of human life. But who am I to judge why the darker side of life is more fascinating? Some people claimed that I had killed dozens of men. But I knew that they were not so many, and for sure they wouldn’t be missed. The devil of youth was in my eyes. I faced every challenge with a head held high and a grin. The other attribute of youth I truly possess—overflowing confidence—was no stranger to me, either.
I had nowhere to go in particular and plenty of time to get there. I was merely following the curves of the old and obviously unused road, filled with curiosity as to where it would lead me. Well, it did lead me somewhere. It reached an inn or at least to something that passed for one around here, and beyond it there was nothing—only woodland. I decided to spend the night at the inn, so I moved toward the old massive building, able to withstand the whims of time and men who visited such amazingly beautiful and totally useless parts of the world. The main hall was spacious, a little dim but clean and well kept. There were wooden benches next to the tables, and the floor was covered with straw. Obviously, this was not only an inn but also the home of the innkeeper and his wife.
As I entered the inn, I saw them sitting around a table close to the counter, having dinner. Both of them were middle aged and not so thriving but seemed happy. The innkeeper stood up to greet me, and I halted so that he could have a good look at me and size me up with his judging gaze. During my wanderings, I came to understand certain things about people, and I knew everything about the man standing in front of me. I had met hundreds like him, who were in pursuit of happiness and a place to call their own. People feeling at ease both in the towns and in the wilderness. Men and women who were not used to bend down to authority. They were good-hearted and noble, and I was always glad to have such people close to me in times of trouble—not one caused by me, of course. But they also had one annoying streak in their character—they considered themselves the salt of the earth and didn’t listen to anyone’s opinion or advice.
It was clear he didn’t like me a bit, but at the same time he was not shocked by what was standing in front of him.
“Good evening. We don’t have so much visitors lately, but as long as you have money to spend, you’re welcome.” He was precise and to the point.
I held back my smile. I’m never wrong. He offered me a bed and a meal but, at the same time, kindly reminded me that these services were not for free. He was not rude but knew what he was offering and its worth. I gave him a silver coin and sat next to them.
They were nice people, and the absence of visitors also meant the absence of news. Dinner went on for hours while I was telling them the hottest gossips. And when I didn’t know something, the little devil in my eye winked, and I came up with the most shocking and spicy stories. Now the family would have something to talk about for days ahead. What is this world coming to? Later, I found my room to be quite charming—small and dusty, with two beddings. You should be amazed at what people call a bed these days! I threw my bag on the one and lay down on the other, without even taking off my shoes. I was so tired…
The waves crushed below my feet. The wind messed my hair, in an attempt to blind me. Even up here on the rocks, I could feel the salty sprinkles that the wind deliberately lashed across my face. I don’t remember how I came here, what I was doing, or even who I was, but obviously things didn’t look good. I was just standing there, and strangely enough, I was enjoying the rough sea. I saw the life itself in the vast, delirious chaos of waters and wind. Despite the fury of this untamed beautiful nature, I felt at peace. I raised my gaze to the sky, and the clouds parted. They opened a small gap, and the moon’s rays slipped toward the earth. They reflected on the ground and glowed. High in the rugged skies, there was a dragon gliding. Black as night, it was flying above to get me. I was convinced that it had come for me and that there was no escape. How can it be possible? I don’t even believe in dragons! Its wild roar broke through the wind, and it dived toward me. I had to get away and go somewhere far, far away from here. I turned and froze. All the fear gathered inside of me melted away and vanished and gave place to unnamed terror. Just a few steps away from me there was a figure draped in black, holding a deadly weapon in its hands. Clearly I was alone, pushed to this corner of the world, with nothing to protect myself. I was close to the edge, and I knew it. The silhouette moved toward me and raised its head. It slowly pulled down the hood while I stood as if in a daze, gasping for breath. Extremities were playing inside of me tonight. A waterfall of black curves dropped underneath the hood. The greenest eyes that I had ever seem stared at me, and I found myself drowned in them. I could never imagine a more perfect face. It was both gentle yet and strong and complete. My wanderings had come to an end. She was here, and I had nothing else to ask for. She was the one I would love for life, and without her, life would be a living hell.
I woke up sweating and sat on the bed. The same old dream, night after night, was becoming more and more obsessive. At least this time I didn’t wake up screaming. The moment the dragon dives toward me and I turn around and try to run, I usually wake up—except for tonight. And that face. I hope and wonder if this dream is sent to me by someone or something. It was only a dream, yet I had fallen in love with the girl, and I had to find her. I was awake the rest of the night, staring in the dark, while her scorching eyes burned inside of me.
Next morning, I went down to breakfast, and probably something in my manner gave away my feelings, so I was left alone in peace to have my meal. I paid, and after saying good-bye, I continued on my lonely path. I had no intention of going back, so I turned toward the woods, without any specific direction, just following old trails left by animals. I didn’t care where they would lead me. I kept on walking and remembered that damned dream. They whole day passed in wandering. As night fell, I stopped at a small, sheltered meadow, the kind that people believe is visited by sylphs. I started a fire but wasn’t feeling very hungry, so I lied down and hoped to sleep and be visited by the same dream. I wanted to ask her so many things. Consciousness tried to give way to oblivion.
Perhaps I was too eager; no dreams came that night. I tried to calm myself by listening to the sounds of the forest. I had always found peace in the nocturnal serenity and the hum of nature. The sound of a branch breaking. Then another one. No wild animal makes such noise. Someone was coming toward me. I stood up cautiously and alert, the knife ready in my hand, pointed in the direction of my visitor. Clearly someone was walking across the meadow toward me. Maybe there was no malice intended, and it was just a youngster who was about to experience one of the greatest mistakes of his life. The night visitor stepped into the ring of light, and everything became clear.
The girl from my dream was standing in front of me. She was here, yet it was totally surreal. Still she was flesh and blood and full of energy overflowing underneath her clothes.
“I’m totally freaked out.” Well, I can’t be blamed for not knowing what to say to a girl.
She smiled and sat opposite me.
“How…why? I…” I couldn’t stop babbling.
“Slow down! Stop! Too many questions, too little time. Will you come with me?”
“You know that I want you.” Finally, I said something deep.
I felt as if her face grew paler, but maybe I was wrong. I knew absolutely nothing about that girl, after all.
“I know. Believe me, there isn’t anything I want more than to be together. And we will be together as long as it is possible.”
“As long as it is possible? What do you mean? There isn’t anything that can keep me away from you.”
“You’re so naïve…You don’t get it, do you? I’ll have to pay dearly even for the little time we’ll be together.”
I stood up and moved toward her. She took my hand. For the first time everything was perfect. I was at the place where I was supposed to be. I was home—here, with her. It didn’t matter what she said. The important thing was that she was next to me, and I wouldn’t let anything—or anyone—keep us apart. Not even death do us part.
We walked through the trees and enjoyed the touch of our hands and the fact that we were together. We reached a creek, its water lit by the moonlight. She pressed her body next to mine, and our lips joined in a kiss. Time stopped, and we were the only two people on earth. Her dress fell to the ground, and she ran to the creek laughing and dived into the silver water. She emerged from it, sparkling all over, and in that moment, I knew that I was the only one to witness such beauty. We were together, and we were one. This was our night, and this was our world.
Hours later we rested on dew-sparkled grass and watched the break of dawn.
“I must go, my love,” she said. “You should know that I have never loved till now, and my heart belongs to you. Maybe someday we’ll be together, free from the worldly chains.”
“But…” I began. She placed her finger on my mouth and nodded.
“Don’t. Only remember me. We’ll meet again. I promise!”
She stood up and, without looking back, ran toward the trees. Even then, I could see her cheeks covered in tears.
“I love you,” I cried. I guess I always know what to say.
She halted and turned around. For a moment I thought she’d come back, but she turned and was lost in the greenery. Next to the creek, I was at a loss, and far off, I heard the swift flap of massive wings.
* * *
This is the story of my love. This is the way I told it to the young girls, but they enjoyed it, nonetheless. Such romantic creatures—they don’t seem to mind taking care of endless complaining, grumpy old veterans. The old army barracks were now the home of rusty soldiers like me, who had nothing to their name and nobody to care for them. People who had spent their entire lives in the army, for some reason or other. I had my reason—I was looking for her. I tried to find my love on the battlefields, but she didn’t come for me. I knew she would find me someday. Yet I never shared my secret with anyone. Somehow I had sensed in my dream what she was and why she carried a weapon. I was never mistaken even for a brief second that the scythe is for harvesting hay.
Now at my deathbed I am sure she shall find me at last.
“Hello, my love. It’s been a lifetime since we’ve been together, hasn’t it?”
I never imagined that Death could be just a feeling. At last she’s here for me, and she is smiling back. Damn it, I do love this smile!