When Revelin Piers Butler opened his eyes, his first impression was one of utter peace. He seemed suspended, disconnected from the earth and even from his body, as though he floated in the soft light of morning. He felt himself part of the amber air, shimmering, floating, riding the gentlest of breezes. Above his head spread green and gold distances. The sunlit regions of ray and shadow swirled and changed before his eyes, now green, now gold, now the blackest of greens.
Finally it was too much. He shut his eyes against the vibrant beauty of the light. Yet, a feeling of melancholy gripped him, for he knew he would never see such light again.
Green water now swam before his mind’s eye, sluggish dung green with purple depths that filled him with regret. He did not want to die, not yet, not when the day was so lovely, the year in its springtime, and he so full of unfulfilled promise.
Were those tears that dampened his cheeks, or was it the wet embrace of the marsh pond? He could not tell. But he was sinking, gliding deeper and more quickly with every moment until there was only the icy cold depths of brown water and the slick wet arms of death’s embrace….
When he awakened again it was to the security of the ground beneath him. He could feel the cushion of grass and the jut of a rock at his back, but he had no desire to open his eyes this time. Heaven or Hell, it could wait a little longer….
There was the cool breath of morning in the air. It tickled his nose and roughened his exposed flesh with goose bumps. He felt his manhood shrivel and his belly tremble. Nothing in his religious education had predicted that Hell would be so mild and sweet. Perhaps, in spite of his father’s dire predictions to the contrary, he had earned Mercy’s Grace and Heaven. The thought pleased him, and a smile that did not quite form quivered on his lips.
He felt no longer capable of surprise. He did not open his eyes when arms enfolded him. When a gentle hand pushed the hair from his cool cheek, he felt only gratitude. He had heard that sailors, who feared drowning above all else, would sometimes throw themselves into the sea in hopes of sharing a mermaid’s embrace. If this were the embrace they sought, he marveled that a ship ever returned to shore. She was warm and soft, her breath scented with wild strawberries. He turned his face into the warmth and found the pillow for his cheek to be a tender round breast. His eyes opened then and he realized that he was, after all, still capable of surprise. Surely the most beautiful girl in the world was bending over him. And she was naked.
Enormous sea-blue eyes looked down at him and a sensation not unlike drowning, but much more pleasant, moved through him. A tendril of hair, as pure a blue-black as a raven’s wing, brushed his cheek as she moved closer. Her soft red lips parted, capturing his cool mouth for an instant, and then he was again staring at her tempting breasts only inches from his face.
Was he her lover? He could not remember; could not remember anything beyond a painful tumble when his horse had stepped into a rabbit hole. But one thing was becoming increasingly clear. He had not died. This time when his manhood stirred there was no shrinkage but a sudden filling. The urge to reach for her, to bring those tender lips down upon his own once more rushed through him, but he found he could not so much as raise a finger. He was as weak as a babe.
What jest was this? Why could he not move? What held him? Bonds…chains…or the girl?
In near panic his gaze met hers again and she responded to his silent question with a look of fear. Her hand flew to her left cheek, then she leaped to her feet and was gone.
“Don’t go!” He must have said the words aloud, for they echoed loudly in his ears, but she did not come back.
Then more than a hundred pounds of Irish wolfhound settled on his chest, and Revelin found himself without breath to repeat the request. A long, rough tongue salivated over one cheek and then the other before the owner of the odoriferous breath backed off Revelin’s chest.
Cursing roundly and imaginatively, Revelin lay for a moment staring at the trees above him. And then it came back to him, slowly but completely what had occurred, memories of who he was and where he was…and why.
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