• LeoOtherland

Bliss

Warm sun on the backs of my eyelids and the velvety brush of my light hunting leathers along my skin. Tilting my head back and listening to the rush of the mist lolling against the shore, the sensations of warmth and softness were exacerbated by the knowing if I opened my eyes the sun would only blind me.


My hand crept out and unerringly found one of the posts along the edge of the walkway, and a smile tugged at my lips. The salt and sun splintered wood was sharp and keen under my fingers, every bit of it as well-known as the path my feet carried me on. I didn’t need my eyes to tell me where I was going. The hiss of the mist and foam stroking the pilings was to my right and the murmur of the pier to my left. Ever-present and sure.


One step, two steps, my hand floating in midair, three steps and my fingers gliding over the extreme edge of brittle wood again. There were three hundred and seventy-eight posts lining the causeway from end to end, one hundred and eighty-nine on each side of the main dock way, and every one of them three easy steps apart. I didn’t need to see to know what part of the causeway I walked on, any more than I needed to concern myself with being alone here.


Orpheus’s Eurydice the dock workers and mist mariners called me. They would nod at me on the causeway and call to me from the decks of ships, bringing whatever news they could of the sea mist and the ships that sailed it. Of the Argonaut


It was rare for there to be word of that ship. Always it seemed to travel on far-off seas of mist and into legends and strange places where men were seldom permitted. The common mist mariners only ever caught glimpses, and these were few and far between.


I let my hand leave the post and stepped forward into blind uncertainty, fingers extended beside me. One step into the unknown gap between solid things, two, and then a marker in the sun-blurred blindness behind my eyelids. Mortal life was like this. Even with your eyes open you could not see the next solid thing you were reaching towards. You could only step forward in unseeing trust the next post would be there to meet your hand. I had made the choice for this life of sightlessness before Orpheus left me on his voyage, the only promise of gods and men I had that I would wed him when he set foot on the causeway again.


Preceding from one sea-carved post to the next, I knew once in my life I’d understood what that choice meant and all it would entail, back when I’d been a young demi-god born among Artemis’s following. But now all that remained of that time was a far distant echo of memory. For Orpheus I’d chosen to be a mortal man and embrace all that brought, even forgetfulness of my past life. I remembered the soothing flow of words between myself and my goddess as we parted, words that trickled down into meaninglessness and dream, but what those words had been were gone to shadows and the sun on my eyelids.


I was a mortal man walking a daily path near the sea. The stones of the causeway were well-fitted and smooth under my soft boots, and gulls called in the air and the breeze that lifted tendrils of my hair to tickle my face.


Let go of the post, the sure thing guiding my path, take a step into the unknown and another, and—


Cries broke my concentration and I opened my eyes like that, standing with one hand extended to the side, a step away from the next post, ninety-three posts from the main dock way where a ship was gliding into port, the men aboard calling and throwing ropes to those on the causeway. The mist churned from foam-white to charcoal-gray beneath the ship’s prow and lapped over the side of the landing. Even so far away as I was, a thin wave of mist washed over the stones to cling at my boots before draining back into the sea.


And no wonder it should, no wonder… The ship was not some small fishing boat or pleasure vessel. It was a sable-sided war galley, her masts standing proud in the light and her sheets being drawn in like the folded wings of birds. I knew this ship. I knew her every line and traced each one in my imagination as I drifted to sleep each night.


The Argonaut had come home, and singing from her deck with happy, littering voice was—


“Orpheus…” The word was barely a shallow breath parting my lips, then, “Orpheus!” I shouted it and I was running. Running along the causeway as fleet as any deer I’d ever hunted through the upland forests of the isle of Thrace, perhaps as fleet as I’d once been running in Artemis’s train, among her dryads. My feet made no sound on the stones, so light were my steps, and men only just had time to cry out and jump out of the path of my flight.


I knew that men spoke words as I passed, but what they said I couldn’t tell. All was drowned under the pounding of my heart and the repeated call bursting out of my lips. In the open air my voice carried and rang out clear, and the singing on the ship cut off as a familiar figure leaned out over the rail. A form I knew as well and better as the graceful lines of the Argonaut he had called home for so long.


“Orpheus!”


A wordless shout greeted me, and then he was throwing a rope over the side of the ship and swinging down onto the causeway. I sped to meet him and we collided the moment his feet met the ground. The force of me rushing into his arms would have taken his footing from him, but I still had some of my old strength and steadiness and I used my momentum to spin us around but keep us upright.


“Orpheus,” I said one more time, pressing my face into his neck.


“Eurydice!” he all but gasped, off balance even as his arms came around me. “How did you know to be here? We’ve only just sailed out of the Uncharted Ways and told no one we would be coming to port. Have the gods told you secrets in repayment for your long wait?”


You’re warm, you’re real, you’re alive. The thoughts rolled through my head, my senses inundated with the scent of him I remembered from so many nights and days together, mixed with the sharp salt smell of the mist sea. I hardly wanted to raise my head from his neck, but I did and brushed my fingers over the planes of his face.


“I needed no words whispered to me from my old kin to find you, Orpheus. I have waited for you here every day that you have been away.”


Something simmered down in the depths of Orpheus’s eyes, a thing like the shifting colors in the sea mist when the sun passed over it, and my heart beat quick in my chest even before he slipped his hands to either side of my face and drew me in for an unhurried kiss. “Then it is a good thing you will not have to wait any longer, my Eurydice. Tonight we wed!”


His last declaration was met with a combined shout from the dock workers and mist mariners who had gathered around to watch our reunion, and the unexpectedness of their exuberance left Orpheus blinking. I could only tilt my head back and laugh at it all. The happiness of those who had watched me walk the causeway day after day, waiting on this moment, and the taken aback expression on my lover’s face.


An expression that just turned to a half-amused smile and another cry of, “Tonight we wed! No more waiting, Eurydice.”


“No more,” I agreed, before a wave of revelry gripped us and carried us near-bodily away from the landing.


The Argonaut’s return had not gone unnoticed and now the returned voyagers were being swept into the city, as if a sea wave truly had swirled around them and was pulling them back into the deep. Families and lovers met on every side, and the fact Orpheus and my happiness wasn’t the sole heart of the festivity around us didn’t dampen our pleasure in any of it.


The causeway and the mist dropped away below us as we climbed Thrace’s steep side, and the city with its white stone buildings opened around us. Morning sun turned the mist surrounding the isle gray-white and dazed on the houses, but none of it was so good as having Orpheus pressed to my side, our feet carrying us home.


I did not even mind it when the giddy procession broke us apart at our door and took Orpheus off to prepare for our wedding in one wing of the house and me to another. What were a few more hours apart when we would have the rest of our lifetimes together? Let them wash the mist salt scent off him while I shed my hunting leathers and let my attendants dress me in silk and flowers. I would have it no other way. Not this day.


Silk as light as butterfly wings on my skin and roses and lilies and hawthorn blossoms wound in my hair. I could have gone to Orpheus in a tunic, with my dagger on my belt and my bow across my back. I could have gone to him any way I chose, but I wanted this. Wanted to give him my delicacy. Wanted to bring back memories to him of how he’d found me, a flower-draped demi-god who’d watched him with dark, curious, enchanted eyes.


Perhaps Orpheus even felt the same, as exhausted as he surely must be after so long on the mist sea, because when I at last left my rooms and set foot in the main part of our house all I heard was his music and his voice calling out to me. I followed them as I had that first sunlit day I met him on the wooded hillside of Thrace. Paced forward with soft, dreaming steps to a door that was flung wide on the scene of Orpheus half reclined on a kline, his lyre in his hands.


Sometime while I’d been dressing he must have called for friends, or else they had simply heard the uproar of the Argonaut’s return. Whatever the case, many of the people of Thrace were ranged around my intended, listening raptly to his simple music. When I swept forward, silence descended in a hushed wave whispering from the door to where Orpheus rested at his leisure.


I thought it was the silence more than anything that alerted him to my presence. He had been lost in the strands of his own music as they recounted what I thought must be part of his recent voyage, but when the hush fell around him Orpheus looked up with the slightest of confused expressions. As if some part of him were still on the mist sea, still adrift in the moment he was retelling.


And when he saw me that momentary confusion deepened. His lips parted but no sound came out, his eyes widened a fraction and did not stray from my face. “Eurydice,” he murmured, reaching a hand out to me to entwine our fingers when I stood over him. “You…” he swallowed and began again. “I thought we would not see each other until the wedding.”


My fingers locked with his, I took the last steps separating us and leaned down to brush my lips over his. “No more waiting, love. We agreed when you came back to Thrace all the waiting would be done. Now we spend all the time that we have left together.”


The next moment I gasped because he used the hand he held to pull me down onto the kline with him and kiss me until I was laughing against his lips. “Here, in front of all of Thrace? Not even wed yet?”


A shade of pink flushed his cheeks and I smiled softly, reaching up to glide my fingers over his face. “Let’s call for the priests, Orpheus.”


He made a light sound in his throat, flush deepening. “Would you be terribly upset if you knew the priests were already here? Watching me ravish you on the kline?”


I burst into laughter again, shaking my head so I wondered if the flowers in my hair might scatter.


“I’ll… I’ll take that as you not minding,” Orpheus managed, a smile pulling at his lips. Lips he used to kiss me gently once more before pulling us both up and to our feet. “Gracious priests!” he said then. “We wish to be wed!”


There was a ripple of mirth that flooded the room, our friends shaking their heads at us and our happiness. Out of this good-natured riot the priests emerged, seemingly doing all to keep straight, pious faces and not completely succeeding. It wasn’t every day they saw those they were meant to wed tumbling together before all their guests, I was sure.


But I could hardly care. Mortal life was forever a matter of blindness one moment into the next. All you could do was live in each tiny instance of existence.


And in this moment Orpheus and I were pledging our lives to each other. The marvel of it was so great I barely heard the voices of the priests and could not remember the words we spoke to each other. Only Orpheus’s eyes and his smiling lips were real to me.


Nothing felt solid to my touch or more than dream until I noted the hush that had fallen over all and the reverence of the priests, whose attention was now away from Orpheus and I.


“Hymenaios,” I whispered, turning to face him even as I curled into my husband’s side and he put his arm around me.


“Little brother,” my once fellow god said, shaking his head slowly and stepping forward, hand extended to me.


“I am not a demi-god any longer, Hymenaios,” I returned, taking the hand he offered me.


“Yet you remain a brother to me, Eurydice. And so I have come to bless your wedding, as well as offer you words of foreknowing, if you will have them.”


“Foreknowing…” I said softly, letting go of the hand I had held. “What words could you offer me, brother?”


Hymenaios’s eyes were dark and quiet as he brought his hands up to frame Orpheus and I. I could not read them, those eyes, though once I thought I could have. And this… this was a strange pain to me, a dimming on the brightness of the day.


“Your marriage shall be blessed, and your bliss shall be great. And yet it shall be short. A great light that flashes bright and dies away. Whether you can change this by choosing a different course, I cannot say.”


The hush that had fallen at Hymenaios’s appearance only deepened, becoming a thing tinged with dread of the unseen, of the very uncertainty of mortal life.


“I chose this, Hymenaios,” I said quietly, daring to stand against that dread even as I met the eyes I had once known well enough to judge the emotion behind them. “I chose it knowing all that came with it. The joy and the heartbreak and the shortness of the time. I will not change it now, though I know none of the things that are before me.”


Orpheus’s arm tightened around me and Hymenaios nodded gently.


“Then I leave you, little brother,” he said. “My blessing will follow you, and I offer to you all possible gladness.”


Hymenaios’s going was like a blurring on the air. He was there, and then he was not, leaving behind that dimness and a gravity that had not existed here in this moment before.


“Eurydice…” Orpheus began, but I turned into his chest and reached up to frame his face with my hands.


“None of it, beloved. No words of worry, no thought of tomorrow. We never knew what time we had, only that we would spend it together.”


“You have no fear, do you?” he asked, smile once more tugging at his lips.


“No fear and no doubt,” I replied, caressing the corner of his mouth with the pad of my thumb.


“Then why are we all standing here so gloomily?! Is this not our wedding celebration?!”


I laughed again and it spread tentatively through the gathering until merriment had infected all and replaced the uncertainty Hymenaios’s words had brought. In my heart I felt the warning, but this too was the blindness of mortal life. We grasped forward for the next marker, never sure if it would be there to meet our hand, yet trusting it might be.


Music played, our guest laughed, and somewhere in the midst of it all Orpheus danced with me. Our bodies pressed together and, You’re warm, you’re real, you’re alive, filled me up. The mantra of my entire being. It sung through me as Orpheus’s music once had, sweet enough to lure a demi-god from his immortality.


I bore it as long as I was able, and then I paused us in our dance and reached up for Orpheus’s face again. “No more waiting,” I almost pleaded, and the light in his eyes told me this was right. This was what he wished for as well.


There was soft laughter that followed us when we went out. The gaiety of our friends watching the newlyweds go off to their wedding chamber. But I barely heard it. All of me was overflowing, and when Orpheus paused in the doorway to look around at the preparations I’d instructed be made to the room, I kept moving forward.


The bed was wide and smooth before me, and I slid onto it, calling out for my husband as I did so. “Orpheus.”


His eyes turned to me and they widened again, as they had on the kline when he’d had his first sight of me draped in silk and flowers. But he came to me, kneeling on the bed and following my body’s motions in synchronicity until I had dragged myself back into the pillows and he hovered over me. His eyes were dark and clouded now with a feeling I shared, and my fingers went up to ghost over his face.


“I have waited for you here every day that you have been away,” I breathed, and some of the shadows in his eyes flickered.


“No more waiting,” he echoed, and then all fell away to warmth and heat and the way we were entangled together. A quiet form of bliss that held us enthralled while the night slipped away.


Orpheus was still asleep beside me when I woke with the sun. The light filtered in through the open doors leading out into the garden and the upland meadow stretching to the woods blanketing Thrace’s sides. All was cool and the rhythmic beat of my lover’s heart pulsed alongside mine.


For some while I traced the planes of his chest, fingertips whispering over contours I committed to memory like the sounds of his breathing. Then I leaned over him and placed a soft kiss to his parted lips and slipped quietly from the bed. In our haste of the night before our clothing lay strewn over the floor. I took the silk robe I’d worn from the detritus and draped it over me, careless of how much it covered.


In the silence of the morning the meadows called to me and I stood in the doorway a little while, head tilted back and eyes closed, my hand held out before me as if I were seeking one of the posts on the causeway beside the mist sea. Warm sun brushed the backs of my eyelids and the hush of Orpheus’s indrawn breath sighed in my ears.


Some small part of me said not to go, not to seek that next solid thing in the blindness of this mortal life, but I shook it off and turned to the hillside and the grass under the sun, not even bothering to wake my lover. After all, I would only be gone a moment.

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