The maiden watched as once again the fever claimed the man in her care. She marveled at his strength and will as he continued to fight against the other's curse. It was far stronger than he and yet, he continued to fight it.
It was as if he knew the consequences. She wondered what nightmares he endured now– and how facing the inevitable, he still refused to simply surrender.
She bowed her head as she again began bathing his head and praying. She could do no less.
After several hours his fever abated. He stared at her through tired yet expressive eyes.
His voice was so soft she could barely hear him and yet, she could see the gratitude in his eyes. She smiled at him, then gently ran the cooling cloth over his forehead.
"Who... are you?"
She closed her eyes for a moment. Normally she didn't mind the fact that she could not speak, but at times like these– when she wanted to comfort someone...
She opened her eyes and was surprised to see a vague understanding in his eyes.
She gestured towards her mouth then shook her head. The universal sign among Anglos for mute.
He closed his eyes for a moment and nodded, then weakly raised his right hand. She watched as he awkwardly spoke to her using sign language. It was not the Anglo sign language, but her own.
"I am called, the Maiden," she answered. "What happened to you?"
He looked at her, his eyes gentle, concerned. She watched as he told her haltingly about his brothers and the attack.
"You must rest," she urged emphatically. "My brothers will find yours."
He shook his head and then looked into her eyes. "I am dying," he told her. His voice was barely audible, but she knew the truth and couldn't lie to him.
She nodded sadly.
He smiled at her and reached out to her. "There is nothing... anyone can do."
She shook her head, then looked him in the eyes. "If I can defeat the enemy... perhaps..."
He watched her signing and shook his head. "Not enough time."
She knew he was right, but that didn't make it any easier.
He closed his eyes, almost as if he was nodding, then looked up meeting her gaze. "If... if this kills me– I will be trapped..."
She nodded sadly, she had seen it happen too many times. The victim of the enemy's curse became his instrument. If the man died, he would become a corruptor, a vessel of ruination and somewhere inside, his soul would be trapped.
He nodded and after a moment's contemplation, his eyes once again met hers. "Then– we must stop it, one way or the other."
She couldn't look at him. He had voiced her greatest fear– that it would be better for her to leave him, or kill him now, before the other's curse could change him.
She felt his hand close gently around hers. His grip was shaky, and yet oddly firm.
"I would never ask that of you," he said softly.
She turned, schooling her expression to the mask she often wore these days-- one of hope and compassion when there was no hope.
When their eyes met, she was surprised. Instead of surrender or fear, she saw only determination and concern. Somehow she knew, that some of that concern was for her.
In spite of everything that had happened, she found herself smiling.
He nodded once as if that settled the matter. Then the fever claimed him again.
Geoff felt like his very soul was on fire. He could feel it now, the curse was eating away at him, changing him. He could feel the wrongness in his mind as it grew. He could feel it welcoming the change, guiding it.
He tried to think of the others, but the curse was overpowering him. Even now part of him welcomed the change. He gasped, fighting with the last of his strength. He could not let this happen, but the pain was too much.
Then it was gone. It was as if he'd been pulled from the fire and plunged into the coolest, purest of streams.
‘You are safe here,' a voice told him in the darkness.
The voice felt like a gentle spring rain washing over him. There was laughter and joy in the voice.
‘Where am I?'
‘You are in my world now,' the voice told him. Somehow he knew it was the woman he'd met. The one who was caring for him.
Here, he knew her– knew the fight she had before her and that in helping him she was risking everything. He would not be the cause of her loss, she was too... precious.
‘No,' he repeated, knowing the danger she was in. He tried to push her away, even as he felt the other's hunger for her.
‘I cannot let him take you– not like this.' Her thoughts were calming, peaceful.
‘You know you cannot cure me.'
‘I know. But I also know that I cannot let him have you.'
Geoff turned towards the voice and saw her there. The area around her took on a silverish hue, as if she were bathed in moonlight, and yet somehow he knew that the light came from her.
Witashnah. Here he somehow knew her name, and understood what it meant. She was the maiden, the healer. She moved closer allowing her light to surround him.
His eyes widened as he felt her mind, her heart fuse to his. He fought it at first– her enemy was too strong inside him now and he feared what it would do to her.
Her voice was so gentle, drawing him to her. He felt the resistance flow away and then, there were no boundaries between them. They were one and the same. The power of the maiden washed through him as his strength and fears became hers as well.
He felt an odd sadness as he realized that this could not last. All too soon they would battle the other again– but here, in her world– nestled in her heart he was content.
Witashnah watched as the story of his life unfolded before her. She became a part of it, a part of the joy, the laughter, even the pain. It sorrowed her to see the suffering he had already endured, she rejoiced in the love he had received from his chosen family and wept for the loss.
He knew he was dying, knew that his dance was far too brief... but he refused to accept it-- not if it meant leaving those he loved behind-- in danger.
She could feel that love burn stronger than the other's curse. If it were up to his spirit– he would outlive the other's spell, but it could not be. His body was dying and there was nothing she could do for him.
She felt the bitter sting of tears as she slipped back into the physical world. To her surprise, she found herself nestled against his chest, his arms gently holding her.
"Don't cry." His voice was hoarse yet oddly soothing. "Shhhh."
She nodded, unable to say more. She had finally found her heart's desire...
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