How could he think about that when so many bodies were strewn over the beaches of Normandy? Their mothers, lovers, wives didn’t know yet that they were dead.
He squirmed, sat up, and thumbed through his dog-eared book of poetry to find some words that might comfort his aching soul. Nothing spoke to him. So instead he fished another little book from his backpack and opened it, took the small pencil from the pocket sewn into the cover.
He snuggled deeper under the comforter, stared at the blank page, pencil hovering, then started writing.
Someday I will return here,
to the wide white beaches and the undulating hills.
I will return, and hear again the air rent
with screams and guns and cries.
I will see the gentle lap of water
on the pristine sand
and in my mind a death white hand will ever stir
in its embrace.
Someday I will return here,
to the wide white beaches and the undulating hills.
I will return, and I will turn my face
up to the falling rain
and feel its touch and I will know
I will ever live for those who died
amid the sound of screams and guns and cries.
He dropped the little book and dived for the gun in the holster of his jerkin, but the down blanket over him refused to yield. He was jerked back into the embrace of the pillows and snapped his gaze to where the voice had come from.
It was her again. Tadhg relaxed. “Hello, Morrigán,” he replied to her greeting, good manners too ingrained for him to be rude, even to a fantasy.
He tried to push the blanket down, in case his damaged thoughts had turned a German into the woman he saw sitting on a chair in the corner now. It was no use. Soft and warm as it was, the down-filled comforter turned to stone under his hands the moment he tried to edge it down to his waist.
“You’re not real. Go away,” he said.
She didn’t answer. Instead she stretched her crossed feet out in front of her as if she had all the time in the world to contemplate his words. Her feather-cloak was flung over the chair, covering its ordinary lines and turning it into an impromptu black throne that shimmered in the lamplight. Tadhg felt a stirring in his long-neglected groin as he let his gaze slide over her body.
That was when he looked into her eyes.
She had no irises, just pitch-black orbs that seemed to be windows into endlessness. A deep sadness overwhelmed Tadhg then, as if his own fresh horror was echoed in her, the tragedy of countless battles, the ends of scores of lives held in her being.
Morrigán frowned, opened her mouth as if to say something, but a knock at the door interrupted.
Tadhg kept his stare on her face.
“Well?” she asked. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
“Come in,” he called, hoping whoever was there had a gun. There’s someone here with me,
he wanted to add, but he remembered Mark’s sympathetic remarks earlier and bit back the words.
“Tiger?” Mark pulled the shelf-door open, his blond curls still damp from his earlier bath. “Are you all right?”
Tadhg glanced at Morrigán.
Mark looked at him, looked at the chair where she sat. “I thought you’d be asleep by now, but I heard you talking.”
He doesn’t see her!
“I’m fine. Just reading a little before I turn in.”
“You had me worried earlier with the woman thing.” The object of discussion raised a sardonic eyebrow. Mark sighed and scratched his neck. “We’re all a little tired, I think. The sun plays tricks on the eyes. A good night’s rest will do you a world of good. We’ll be with the main force by tomorrow afternoon. I think everyone will feel better when we join them.”
Tadhg swallowed. He had to work hard to keep his eyes from wandering to Morrigán’s legs. What would they feel like under his hands? Would her breathing quicken if he ran his fingertips over the insides of her knees, higher up? He’d reach her pussy, find it wet, because by then, he’d have taken his time to explore her body with licks and kisses. With an effort of will, he turned his attention back to Mark. “You’ve worked out where we are, then?”
“Yes.” Mark nodded. “We’ll need to head northeast tomorrow until we get to the next town, then --”
“It’s fine, Mark. You don’t have to tell me.” Much as he enjoyed his friend’s company, he couldn’t stand the tension anymore. Morrigán captured his attention like a magnet drew iron, and he wasn’t sure he could manage not to stare any longer. “We’ll talk in the morning. Early start.”
“Wait a moment,” Morrigán said and stood. A wicked smile played on her lips.
“I’m taking second watch, so I’ll be waking you at midnight,” Mark said.
“You want to see how real I am?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just reached out and pinched his friend’s arm.
Mark flinched, paled, then rubbed the spot that no doubt stung. Tadhg felt as stunned as Mark looked.
“Maybe you need some more evidence.” She flicked Mark’s nose, and he cried out in surprise, looked around wildly.
“Cut it out,” Tadhg said.
“I’m not doing anything,” Mark protested, hurt, and Morrigán laughed. “There must be a wasp or something in here.”
“More?” She bent over, her dress spanned tight around a tight arse. Tadhg hardly noticed her tugging at Mark’s shoelace.
“Sleep well, then, Tiger.” Mark stepped back, closed the door, and moments later, Tadhg heard a muffled crash and a muttered “fucking shoelaces!”
Morrigán faced Tadhg. “Figment of your imagination?”
He wanted to deny it, wanted to find a rational explanation. The truth was, something deep inside him was already convinced the moment he set eyes on her. “All right. Let’s say you’re real. You told me to think of where I’d heard your name before. You knew my grandfather was Irish; you knew I’d remember Morrigán from the legends. The goddess of war.What do you want with me?”
He had to focus, had to keep his mind on what danger she posed. Not on the fantasy of feeling the flesh of her pussy close around his hardening cock. The image was so real, gooseflesh rose on his skin goosefleshed with the imagined sensation of her breath on his neck.
“Goddess of war indeed.” She rolled her eyes and flung herself back into the chair. “Tell me, poet, what do you see when you look in my eyes?”
He hesitated. She seemed almost worried when she asked the question. “I see -- I see the end of lives.”
Morrigán shook her head. “Well, well.” She seemed to think that over a moment. Tadhg tried the blanket again. No go. “You’re right, poet. The end of lives is my responsibility, not war. The two just often go hand in hand. What do I want with you?” She smiled, and sadness lay like silt in the gesture. “I’ve come to collect you, Tadhg Mac Connor.”
He frowned. “Collect me? Where to?” She didn’t answer, and understanding slowly settled in his heart. “You think I’m going to die?”
“No. I know you’re going to die.”
He struggled more violently against the blanket then. “I will not tolerate talk like that. I have survived four years of this shit by knowing in my heart and soul that I would live.” He punched the blanket, which didn’t even give him the satisfaction of anything but a soft flup
in reply. But when he shoved down on it, the comforter turned into rock again. “Fuck.” The profanity sounded harsh in his own ears. “I assume you’re doing this?”
She inclined her head.
“Well, could you stop it, please?” The blanket yielded, and Tadhg shot upright. He swung his legs from the bed and stood, opening and closing his fists futilely at his sides. “You’re lying.”
Morrigán didn’t answer. Instead her posture changed very slightly, and she let her gaze slide over his bare chest, the shorts covering his hips. Tadhg felt her perusal like a physical caress. His skin tingled, his nipples tightened, and a surge of blood rushed to his cock. Angry with his body for its reaction, he forced his mind back to the matter at hand.
He thought of all the things he had been dreaming of doing again. Horse rides on the moors with summer blazing in green glory all around, thundering power and the mesmerising feeling that he was one with the animal beneath him. Feeling rain on his face, or watching snow drift down onto a blanketed, quiet earth. Loving. Sinking his straining cock into a warm, receptive body and stoking her pleasure until her orgasm triggered his own.
Living. Really living. Doing all those things without fear. Without that constant, never-ending, ragged edge of knowing that whatever pleasures he managed to squeeze out of a day were stolen moments.
Strength left his legs, and he sank down onto the bed. It was true. It was real. His mind didn’t even try to protest anymore. He looked up, and his eyes met those of Morrigán, the boundless eyes with ends of lives inside them. “No.”
Morrigán stirred, and something glinted in those eyes. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“I mean no, I am not going to die. Forget it. With all due respect.”
“You don’t exactly have a choice in the matter.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I find great souls, Tadhg. I am sent to guide them through their last days.”
“There has to be another way.”
She was silent for some time. “There isn’t.”
Something warm and desperate stirred in his belly, and he came to his feet once more. He stepped over to the chair and looked down at Morrigán. She stared back unabashed, unafraid. “Yes, there is,” he said softly. The scent of midnight roses wrapped around him. It entered his blood and stirred his cock to life once more, arousal with a sharp edge of desperation. Boundless need to relieve the unbearable stress with physical release. It took every ounce of willpower he had to not bend over and touch his lips to hers, slide his hands from her shoulders down over those firm breasts. “There is a way, but you don’t want to tell me what it is.”
Morrigán tilted her head to one side. “There is no other way for you
, Tadhg. You are going to die. You have lived your life with arms wide open, so I’ve come to give you the privilege of knowing your gift of days is running out.”
Tadhg thought fast. Somehow he had a gut feeling she was testing him. Either way his life was at stake. He’d fight tooth and nail to preserve it. “What do you mean, there is no other way for me
? That implies there is another way, but I don’t have access to it. Why?”
She inclined her head, as if admitting defeat. “Your conclusion is correct. The reason why you cannot go that route is because you will not be prepared to do so if you hear what the price is.”
“Surely I should be the judge of that?”
“No. I am.” Morrigán stood and faced him. She was so close, he could feel the warm puff of her breath on his throat, and he had to stop himself from pulling her close, tasting the soft skin of her throat, cupping her arse with his hands.
“Death is nothing to fear,” she said. “Your shade will simply move to the underworld.”
“The underworld?” Tadhg stepped back. Images of Dante’s hell swirled through his mind.
“Relax, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It is not what you think of as hell. But it is not heaven either. English is a poor language to name the next world.” She rested a hand on his chest. He wanted to clutch it to him, to cling to the sensation of her cool fingers on his warm skin. He wanted to pull her closer and hold her and feel
he was alive, hang on to that feeling and never let it go.
He wanted to cup her arse in his hands, dip his fingers into the slit between her cheeks.
“What is the underworld like, then?” He pictured something like a cave, and despair washed over him. To never feel the crisp touch of an autumn wind, never crush a handful of heather and breathe in its summer scent, never catch a snowflake on his tongue again, never stroke the flank of a horse and rest his head against the flowing mane. To never have the chance of moulding his body to a woman who truly loved him.
“It is more a state of mind than a place. Your shade becomes one with that which lies at the core of your heart. You melt into the forests, the lakes and streams if you so desire. There are shades of the children of men in buildings, in animals, sometimes even in works of art. But your consciousness awakens again into one entity when you want to, or when it is needed. Your grandfather’s shade will be there to meet you.”
He closed his eyes, and his heart contracted painfully. How he’d longed to see Grandpa Connor again.
“Your wife will also be there, if you desire.”
Tadhg opened his eyes and snorted. “I thought you said it wasn’t hell.”
Morrigán took her hand from his chest in a slow, sensuous slide. “Ah. You did not love her?”
He turned his back on her and picked his precious poetry book up from the floor. How insignificant his petty treasures seemed now. “I don’t see that it’s any of your business, madam.”
“It’s all my business.” The book slipped from his fingers and fluttered across the small room into her hand. She opened it seemingly at random.
“I try to break the blackened bond,
tug at the chain that binds me to you.
The grip is anchored deep within,
the effort brings me naught but pain.
“Stop it.” He snatched the book back from her, but she continued, reciting the words he had poured out in his grief.
“You laugh and grasp the blackened bond,
tug at the chain that binds me to you.
And when the pain becomes too much,
I kneel and place my hands in your shackles.
Tadhg turned and hurled the little book at the wall. Still she would not relent.
“I yield then to the blackened bond,
give to the chain that binds me to you.
Tadhg turned and grabbed her shoulders. “Stop it. Stop!”
“I melt inside you, deep within,
and watch the blood pour from my shattered heart.
Sweet Jesus. He should have torn that page from the book long ago. In a way, he supposed, he kept the poem to torture himself, to remember what an idiot he had been. He looked down at Morrigán’s soft pink lips and realised he still held her shoulders. As if the touch demolished his ability to hold back, Tadhg found the raw truth spilling from his tongue. “No. I didn’t love her. I thought I did. She was chronically unfaithful, and when she realised I would not divorce her or take another lover, she became blatant about it. Flaunted her dalliances in my face.”
“And yet, poet,” she whispered, and there was such sadness in her words, “you went back to her bed time and again. Even when you knew she never showed you the woman she was in others’ arms.”
He lifted his gaze to her eyes, begged in his heart that he’d find understanding in those limitless depths. “It was…it was like an addiction.” He’d felt about his wife the way he felt about Morrigán now, the urge to bury his cock in her pussy was almost too much to bear. Would she like taking him in the arse? God, to slide his cock into that tight hole. His penis was hard and ready, his head nearly exploding from the intensity of emotion in his mind.
She put her hands on his biceps from below. The touch sent shivers dancing over his skin. “It was the biggest mistake of your life, Tadhg. You wasted your love.”
“And I should get a chance to try again.” I should get a chance to make you scream while your pussy clenches around my cock.
“She was killed in London. But then, you probably know that.”
“My knowledge is vague impressions, hints, and sometimes flashes of clarity. I see you standing among rubble. There is a hole in the ground.”
Tadhg nodded, the memory of that day like a bucket of ice water on his arousal. “It was all that was left of her house. She didn’t stand a chance. It was a direct hit.”
house? It didn’t belong to both of you?”
“No. I taught at a country school, board was included. She inherited a house from her father and chose to stay there.”
“And you were glad she died?”
He hesitated. It shamed him to admit his scandalous feelings, but this was no time for lies. “Yes. I was. I had come home on leave, determined to tell her I wanted to end our marriage. The war had taught me not to waste a moment of my life.” It struck him that they stood like lovers, almost embracing. Did she know how much he wanted her? Was her pussy slick and wet now? Tadhg slid his hands down her arms and closed his fingers around her wrists. “I have to survive. I still have so much living to do.”
She shook her head slowly. Was it his imagination or did he see fear flash a moment in her black eyes? “You have days, Tadhg. Find pleasure in them. Savour every moment. I know you can find beauty even in the midst of this war.”
“Tell me how I can live. Tell me what the price will be, and I will pay it.”
“You don’t want the life that is available to you. Believe me.” She twisted her hands free of his grip, reached back for her cloak.
“Wait. Don’t go.”
But she was already gone, leaving only the fragrance of midnight roses with him in the hidden room. Tadhg stared at the empty chair for long minutes. He turned to the bed, so attractive only an hour before. Who would be able to sleep, knowing what he did? Instead he pulled on his shirt and trousers, blew out the lamp, and pushed open the hidden door.
He fumbled his way to the steps in darkness thick enough to touch, climbed up, and lifted the trapdoor into the pantry. Here, too, darkness reigned, but Tadhg could find his way to the front door more easily in the moonlight ghosting through the windows. Stepping outside was like escaping a prison. He almost forgot to whistle the birdcall that was their signal. When he heard the answering twitter, he waved to the unseen sentry and strode into the darkness.