Though I Grow Old with Wandering...

from "The Song of Wandering Aengus", by W. B. Yeats

The two had fallen together naturally enough. It was not unusual for roving mercenaries to share short stretches of their dangerous paths. This one alarmed him, though. A formidable warrior and strict loner, she calmly entered his soul before he knew it. And highly accomplished as they both were in the arts of love and war, together they could face the world -- and vanquish it.

As a result, they quickly and effortlessly ascended the ranks of their unorthodox profession, which was despised and feared by the ones outside, yet had its own inviolable code of worth and honor. So, when representatives of a powerful city state enlisted their aid to dislodge an undesirable prince, he led the motley army to swift victory. And as proof of his prowess and stature, he was subsequently offered the prince's throne by the hugely relieved citizens.

There she came to him one day, when he was still flushed with the unexpected honor and fortune's smiles.

"I go, companion of the road."

He was shaken out of his complacency.

"Are you leaving now, when you can finally reap the rewards of your efforts? Stay here; you will be queen and rule with me."

"A woman can be king or king's consort -- and the latter's duty is to produce an heir and steady the king, not rule. I cannot be so enslaved, while I still hear the night winds moan and call. You are enthralled now -- you so wanted to be accepted into this world. No doubt you will do well. But when you tire, I shall return."

Thus was he left upon the throne, in power and in glory and in unspeakable loss. Yet in his bone marrow he knew her to be right. Soon he wooed a highborn, highbred young girl who wove her life around him and never entered the chambers in his soul's core that had once been occupied.

He kept hearing snatches of his erstwhile companion's daring raids. Sometimes she would be his ally, sometimes his enemy. A few years later, he engaged her against his neighbor, who nested upon a reputedly impregnable mountain eyrie. She took the city bloodlessly.

His gaze stayed riveted on her during the victory banquet -- pared down to the essentials, all eyes and cheekbones, whereas his own clean lines were beginning to blur with contentment and security. And he noticed her eyes roving appreciatively over the dancers.

"Tell me who," he teased her, "and I will send them on border patrol."

She laughed, but there was a warning note in her laughter. That night, unable to sleep, he felt his heart whimper. Towards dawn, she slipped in beside him. She held him in her searing, smoky embrace and all his burdens fell from him as he soared. Tightly intertwined, they drifted to slumber -- but when he awoke, she was gone from the camp and a runner had arrived to announce that his queen had presented him with the gift of a son.

Many years passed. He was a good ruler and, with his loyal consort at his side, satisfied. Then the two sons came of age. Each wanted to be the heir, since there was no privilege of primogeniture. One long evening, he was sitting before the hearth at the great hall, tormented by a sense of futility and waste. He stole a look at his sleeping queen who had been placidly knitting her silken threads, her once slender frame grown stout and opaque with good, uneventful living. His accumulated wisdom seemed not to be needed or desired by his sons. Inevitably they would repeat his mistakes. His tide was receding.

As he straightened his shoulders, he noticed a shadow next to the fireplace darker than the others. With the warrior's reflexes, his hand leapt to his dagger, as she emerged into firelight.

There were countless white threads in her dark hair, pain lines around her mouth and laughter wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. Otherwise, she was unchanged like the sea.

"You have been an exile long, dear my lover. Your stint here is done. Come roam with me beneath strange skies. Sorely have I missed you, and will no longer be denied."

On noiseless feet he followed her out of the chamber. He took nothing with him -- left, as he had arrived long ago, with a worn tunic and two daggers. They melted into the lowering darkness and the snowstorm during the night covered their tracks.

Copyright © 1998 Athena Andreadis

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