Excerpt / Short Story ....... *The Trial*
"I have climbed high to see before me an island floating ghostly upon the mist of a frozen lake ."
A child is there appearing as an apparition dancing midst the trees to an ancient waltz. A pale, slender youth in pale raiment, the scent of spring and new life precedes her. She is not unexpected among those assembled in a sunlit glade at the water's edge. She has been invited. She glides through the tall grass and the girl smiles sweetly at the Wisest as she passes. He bows his head and the girl knows she is welcome. Now a young woman the spectral figure moves to a rock altar at the interior of the glade. A man stands there alone, armored and armed, observing her as she approaches. The woman holds out her hand. "Come, dance with me", Death gently demands.
The Long Lake stretches thirty miles from the north and onto the south, winding through deep valleys and tall peaks. Ancient mountains with shoulders rounded and soft stand to the horizon. Scattered about this sacred ribbon of ice are numerous stony islands covered in trees, one of these isles is special... consecrated to the gods of healing and war. Here is the home of the Paladin known as the Monastery Glen. Already the grass is green there and a warm breeze blows through the pines and bare hardwoods. The Paladin have come to welcome a new brother into their order and to witness his trial. The fifty kneel, uncovered heads bowed. They are waiting, waiting in the twilight before dawn, waiting for her to arrive. They are quiet, dressed in hooded yellow robes and belts of dark green.
The Wisest, the leader of the Paladin, has his eye fixed on the east and he is rewarded when a golden light flares across the ridge line. The first light of day races down forested slopes and over rock cliffs sweeping away the heavy mist upon the ice. The lake becomes a frozen mirror reflecting a deep blue sky with motionless golden clouds and a few bright stars still shining. The Wisest takes a deep breath. The first scents and sights of life's reawakening bring a smile to his old wrinkled face. Small, black-faced, golden birds begin to stir in the leafy green undergrowth amid small white flowers.
"... the first light of the first morning. A good day to be alive," I hear him murmur.
The Wisest is indistinguishable from the others except he bears a sheathed sword at his side. All are old, old and worn, yet with hearts as new as creation. But there is One, he stands alone upon a low altar. He is James. He is not old. Yet all are like him, once young, they were the quiet children who stood alone from their peers but within that loneliness they found joy as few do. They share a fate to be separate from their kind, none understand them for they are like no one else; this doom binds the Paladin together.
Two of the monks bring forward silvery armor gilt with gold and they gird the mail and plate upon the One. He wears no helm nor gauntlets. James will never again be the man he is now. The Wisest knows he will miss him.
The wise old man kneels before his son and bows his head; in his hands he holds up a cup of poison. James takes the chalice and drinks.
Now the Wisest stands and his sword leaps flashing from the scabbard and into his hand. He pours the water over the blade and recites the holy words. William regards the sword with caution as it is offered pommel first. He exhales and his fingers wrap around the hilt of the weapon... then he feels the poison in his veins. The air is shimmering before him as liquid and the wind sighs to nothing. Death is now before him with her hand outstretched. James' sword falls ringing from his grasp. The young Paladin speaks, " Yes, let us dance."
And now, even time is paused for one deep breath as a look of surprise crosses the face of Death; no one had ever willingly accepted her challenge. "This One is different," said Death and she took a step back from the danger.
The music of a slow, ancient waltz engulfed them as William lead Death in the dance. They swung and swayed all about the glade with growing ferocity. The tempo of the music increasing as they moved; barely touching the ground, leaping and twirling as a battle raged unseen between them. So loud and compelling was the music it soon reverberated through the earth and rock beneath their feet. All around the island ice cracked and disappeared revealing naked clear water dancing blue with white froth upon the swells. The Paladin remained kneeling, quiet and immobile . None had ever seen such a thing before but they were unafraid.
Abruptly-- the music stopped and all became still. At the center of the glade, James tightly embraced Death, holding her for a perilously long time. They swayed slowly to a music unheard. One by One, each of the Paladin felt compelled to stand, their eyes unbelieving. William took Death's hands and placed them on her chest and in one breathless moment he let her go. She becomes the child again at the last, his power proves greater than hers.
Death elegantly curtsied low before this One, then she knelt, bowing her head. William lifted the veil from her face and she looked up into his blue-grey eyes. He brushed away her tears. The two existed; if existence it can be called, only as liminal beings, occupying the spaces between their worlds.
"Lord Paladin," spoke Death softly in a sweet little girl voice, "Come with me and we will dance forever as children do. Abandon your quest. Do not leave me."
But the bitter truth presented itself to the lonely child as a vision unwanted; she is a woman naked at his stirrup. He is seated on a great, glimmering stallion; beast and man clad in the mighty gear of the Paladin. She is begging him to stay from the battle, but he cannot hear her and she loves him the more for going to the war. She loves him. She loves him but he will always leave her shining in the twilight.
Then she is gone and James remains.