RELIGION OF LOVE
-…Is all that we see or seem,
But a dream within a dream ?- Edgar Allan Poe
"How do you plead to the charges, Sister Shakira?"
Shakira lowered her head in reverence, the word barely a whisper as they crossed her lips. "Guilty."
"I warned you, Abbess!" Sister Tareena said with venomous accusation. "I knew she was trouble from the moment she set foot on our doorstep. She is a malcontent, just like her savage heathen twin. They have no respect for authority; no respect for anything. "
"There is no call for such talk, Sister Tareena." Abbess Herazen said in a soft, but stern voice. "Until this point Sister Shakira has been an exemplary member of our order. Her hard work and dedication has brought much to our little abbey and her works with the ailing of our land, is a true testament to our great Goddess." She let her eyes linger on Sister Tareena for a few moments, to let her know that the matter was settled and she did not want to hear anymore accusations. Tell me, Child, how could you have allowed this happen? You know the rules and laws of our religion. "
"I did not mean for it to happen, Abbess," Shakira began. Tears threatened to spill forth and her breath caught in her throat. Closing her eyes, she breathed in slowly, trying to maintain her composure. The Goddess knew her heart better than she knew it herself. She needs only tell the truth and the Goddess will be done. "I went into the partnership with an open heart to do the work of our Goddess and help those who have no means to help themselves. By the Goddess' will I was given a gift for healing and so was Dern IronWolfe. We knew of each other through family acquaintances."
"He is the Uncle to her sister, making her relationship with him not only blasphemous, but incestuous!" Sister Tareena said, pointed a crooked finger at Shakira.
"I will not warn you to hold your tongue again, Sister." Abbess Herazen raised her voice only slightly, but the force of authority held more impact than if she had shouted. Sister Tareena lowered her hand and head, but kept her eyes on Shakira. "Sister Shakira's half-sister, Felinea was raised by the IronWolfes and married one, but has no blood ties to them. No incest is involved and it has yet to be proven that there has been any blasphemy perpetrated either. I suggest Sister Tareena that you release this bitterness, before you let it becomes a sin before our Goddess." The Abbess prompted Shakira to continue with a slight wave of her hand.
"Being older and having trained longer, I felt there was much I could learn from him, and there are many times when one healer is simply not enough. Even if it were for nothing more than a second pair of hand, a partnership of healers was beneficial. And I admit that I felt safer in my travels with him and his sword there with me. May the Goddess forgive me my lack of faith in her protection of me.
We worked very closely together and it did not take long before we both felt -- urges. To lie with a man does not go against the Goddess' covenant, so long as a child is not created. Dern has a great understanding and respect for our religion, and would never do anything to lead me from my faith. That is why, when he found he was falling in love with me, he suggested we end our association and I returned here. I chose to stay. I said it was for the sake of our work, but in my heart I knew it was because I was in love with him, also. He was the one to talk me into coming and confessing to you, despite the great pain it caused him. He wanted me to be true to myself, my vows and my religion. Any evil committed is fully mine to bear."
"It is not evil to love a man, Sister," the Abbess said empathetically, "but there are reasons that such intimacies are forbidden. Nothing and no-one should come before the Goddess, not man, not child, not anything. You chose to devote yourself heart, mind, body, and soul, to the Goddess. You made vows that she would be your single devotions and you would be wholly hers. Now, you must make a very difficult decision, Child. A decision made even harder, because you are so very young, and it will affect the rest of your life. Will you choose to leave this man, never to see him again, sequestering yourself in this abbey re-embracing the vows you have made, and repenting to the goddess your transgression? Or will you forsake your vows, go to this man, and never again return to the arms of our Goddess?"
This time Shakira could not hold back the tears. Neither could she speak through the panicked lump in her throat.
The Abbess nodded sympathetically. "You may remain in the sanctuary of our abbey, while you ponder your decision. I will meet with you again in a fort night. You are dismissed for now."
The Abbess gestured with another wave of the hand, letting Shakira know that there was nothing more to say on the matter at this moment. As Sakira left, she could see the smirk on Sister Tareena's face. Shakira wondered if she would be smirking if she knew that the same power that gave Shakira the ability to heal, could also help her stop the woman's shriveled heart in her chest. As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she lowered her head in shame, praying to the Goddess to forgive her and give her strength to remove such thoughts from her mind. Perhaps Tareena was correct. Perhaps Shakira was not so different than her twin. Maybe Cattón had it right and Shakira should just join her sister in the wilds, changing into feline form as they pleased, surviving on their skills and what the Goddess provided. This was an idea that she knew could not be. She could never go back to the innocence she once had when she and Cattón were inseparable and living free. She had set that behind her, when she chose to enter the service of the Goddess. Whatever her decision may be, that would no longer be an avenue open to her.
The Abbess was correct. This was going to be a difficult decision. One she could not make alone. She made her way down the hallowed corridors to her small chamber, where she would speak with the only person that could help her with this decision, her Goddess.
Do I forsake my love and rend my heart? Or do I forsake my Goddess and rend my soul?
If I must choose - I forsake myself.
I am sorry.
His eyes blurred, as his mind replayed the words over and over and over. He had read the letter so many times the words on the sweetly scented page crowded his mind. The vision of his gentle, raven-haired beauty came to him, but the smile that once reflected the joys of the world to him, now hurt beyond standing. He pushed the once sweet vision from his memory.
He reached out to retrieve the bottle of wine. The last few ounces of claret fluid sloshed in the empty bottle for a long time before it even registered in his mind that he had picked it up. He finished off the last in one gulp and let the bottle fall to the floor with the pile of others. As he stood to get another bottle his head swam and the world appeared unreal. Unreal was the permanent state of his world since he had gotten the news.
It was so rare for Darkon to visit him that Dern was thrilled when he answered the door to find his brother standing there, but Darkon did not look happy.
"I heard from Felinea." Darkon said. "It is bad news. I don't know how to tell you. I-I'm so sorry."
Dern forgot why he'd gotten up halfway across the room. This room, this workshop -- their workshop held so many memories. So many hours spent working, talking, laughing, loving. Even through the stinging blur of tears, he could see her in everything. Under the odors of herbs, chemicals, balms, potions, elixirs and all the things they worked so hard to create, was the delicate aroma of Shakira.
He filled a glass with wine and wandered to the window, gazing out over the sheer-cliffed valley. She had laughed at him for building his tower here, so close to the drop off, until the first time he had brought her to this window to watch the setting sun with him. How often had they sat on this sill, holding each other and watching as the sinking sun painted the sky? Now he stood here alone, as the golden light of the setting sun faded into shadow, over the green fields, like the shadows that now filled her emerald eyes....forever.
As he stared at the cold, still body laid out by the open grave, he longed to see those sparkling eyes again. Her flesh looked as if it had been moon kisses, paled as it was by death and surrounded by her ebony tresses. Her face was pulled gaunt, her full lips still stained black and from the poison. But even the ravages of the death could not mask her beauty.
A soul-wrenching shriek filled the air, as Cattón saw her lifeless twin before her. She was grabbed by several people, as she tried to climb into the casket with her sister, screaming and clawing, trying to be free from the restraining hands. He pried his eyes from his love and to the tortured face that was an exact copy of the one in the coffin, if it had not been for the blue eyes. His dark eyes met ones that reflected the same pain that he was feeling. The pain that would never stop, never fade. He reached out and gently caressed her tears away. As he did, she fell into peaceful slumber, temporarily freed from the grief of loss. As he turned and walked from the grave, he wished that he could sedate himself -- forever.
The wine glass dropped from his hand and shattered on the floor, as the night stole away the day. His beloved was sealed away from him. Dern plummeted toward the ground to join her.
Shakira awoke screaming, tears streaming down her face, reaching out to catch him as he fell. Her sister clerics rushed into the room, trying to calm her down, but she ignored them, as she leapt from the bed, scurrying to find her backpack and tossing things into it.
The Abbess entered, still groggy from sleep. "Rest Child, it is the middle of the night."
"I cannot, Abbess." Shakira whispered. "The Goddess has shown me the truth. She has shown me where I need to be." Shakira took the hands of the older woman with a warm smile. She met her eyes for several seconds, before the Abbess nodded her understanding and kissed Shakira on the forehead. Shakira hugged her quickly before tossing her back pack over her shoulder and leaving the Abbey.
She traveled all through that night and the next day. She did not stop until she reached the tower and was in the arms of her love, forever.
Original work, characters and all revisions © SAM Blaize and Self-Spirit Jo.