My Travels with Clytemnestra Ch. 02byZoZa©
Last night I'd have sworn I'd never sleep. Not on the ground, without even a cover, in this strange world and with so much to run through my mind. Yet I did, for now Clytemnestra wakes me gently. She says she'd like a little sleep. It seems she hasn't slept yet?
The sky is rich purple and I think even a little lighter in the east, I must have slept many hours. I watch Clytemnestra as she settles herself. Apparently intending to sleep standing. That tallies. I stand and stretch my stiff joints, I could really go for tea and a cigarette about now but I settle for a little more of the pork we cooked last night and large handfuls of the sweet lake water. The fire has burned down to fine grey ash.
I've nothing to do but wait. Wait and regard Clytemnestra's somnolent form in the growing light in the east. Dawn comes and the forest about us seems to wake almost as one. Birdsong and the calls of other, larger animals welcoming the new day. I'm impatient and increasingly bored, pacing around. Logically if Clytemnestra sleeps like a horse, she may need as little sleep as a horse, perhaps a couple of hours a night, and she'd certainly implied as much.
She sleeps for less than that, in fact. I can't judge well with no watch or clock, but I think perhaps forty five minutes or so. I don't even realise that she's awake until I hear movement and turn to see her walk to the shore. She stretches all the way down to gather a great double handful of water and tip it over herself, and again before she's satisfied. By then I'm at her side and she smiles down on me, water dripping from her beautiful face and running in a channel between her breasts.
I take her hands and pull until she leans toward me close enough for a long good morning kiss. Drops of water fall on my face from her short, floppy hair and for some reason I find that wildly exciting.
"We should go soon," she says, straightening up, "The road's not getting any shorter."
"I can't wait!" I really mean that.
Clytemnestra shows me how to wrap the cooked pork in broad leaves to keep it clean in her satchels and we both drink as much as we are able before setting off, though she says that rain is coming in a day or two. I take her at her word though the sky is almost cloudless right now. I hope she's right because her canteen, large as it is to me will be scarcely sufficient for the two of us for more than that. Particularly since today promises to be as warm as yesterday.
We set an easy pace around the lake, heading north and Clytemnestra explains her plans, which are our plans now.
"The woods are big, On my own I should guess another four days to the northern border. Together, maybe twice that."
I have the good grace to look embarrassed about that. She notices and dismisses any such feeling, placing a hand on the side of my neck, as close to an embrace as she can manage without stopping or leaning down.
"I begrudge you nothing, lady. Your company promises to make our journey more agreeable than I had any right to expect."
I put my hand on hers, and then in it and for a time we walk holding hands and she goes on.
"The road we follow is little trafficked today, but I believe that once it leaves the forest it should soon join a main artery serving one of the northern cities and I have it in mind to visit the place. Beyond that I don't care to plan."
There's something agreeable in her free-spiritedness and I give my assent. It's full day, bright and warm as we find the path again on the northern side of the lake. I'm happy to once again be under the shade of the canopy, even if it has no effect on the heat. As before, the path is somewhat grass-grown, obviously disused as Clytemnestra had said and I wonder who made it and why they stopped coming.
So we walk for two days, talking at times, but more often not. Clytemnestra is as good as her word and never once asks me about my past, and I don't ask about her's. I learn as much as I can, though without giving away my profound ignorance of the word around me.
I learn that the day is, at least roughly, twenty four hours long, with as much light and dark as I'd expect in the summer. There's no moon, Clytemnestra has never heard the word and when I describe it she wonders how I came up with such a bizarre concept. The nights are lighter than I expect though and the sky never gets darker than a rich bottomless purple. Sickness and disease are all but unknown here, but tea is widely drunk. Ideal.
Clytemnestra likes to sleep about three hours a day, but broken up into up to a dozen little snoozes here and there. She says she prefers to sleep lying down, but doesn't have to, at least, not every day. I think she hasn't known many humans well, because my need for a good eight hours a night somewhat scandalises her. She has known humans though, that's worth knowing.
I certainly am slowing her down, more than she feared, in fact not only by my slow pace but my need to sleep for so long. She really seems not to mind, though. She says she has all the time in the world. We don't make love again, though not for want of passion. Our lips often meet, our hands often stray to one another's body. The path feels inconducive to anything more, though.
In the evening of the second day Clytemnestra finds a grove of wild amaranth and the leaves and tender stems make a nice addition to the last of our pork. She shows me where and how to dig for water, though we don't bother doing it since even I can tell it's going to rain tonight.
It does. Great sheets of rain lashing down at our leafy roof. Perhaps two hours of monsoon like rain a little before sunset. We take what shelter we can beneath the densest parts of the forest canopy but it has little effect. We are soaked in warm rainwater in a way that's not actually unpleasant. Clytemnestra gathers water with a swatch of oilskin she has apparently for that purpose and makes licentious comments about the way my wet white clothes cling, nigh transparent, to my body.
The rain ends almost as swiftly as it started. Clytemnestra says that's the way of rain, she seems surprised that I might think differently. Steam rises from her broad black back as we force our way a little deeper into the forest seeking some slightly dryer spot to rest for the night. It's pure chance that we see a glow of light through the trees.
"I don't like that," she whispers to me, silently sliding her rifle from its scabbard and loading it with infinite care, "No fire should be burning so soon after such rain, and not so deep in the wood."
I take her at her word. One'd certainly have to be going some to keep fuel dry in that downpour. I start to creep closer and Clytemnestra lets me get ahead, superior as her bushcraft is, she cannot help but make more noise than me in this dense woodland. I see it first, a little house, a cottage perhaps is a better word. Light flickers behind glass windows, firelight and I think perhaps something more steady too.
Clytemnestra has moved much slower than I in her caution, but catches me up as I pause.
"A house," I whisper redundantly. It looks ever so cheery to me, standing wet and bedraggled here in the wilds, "Do you think they'd let us lodge there tonight?" I'm not at all keen on sleeping on the wet ground, and it's hypothetically possible that such luxuries as tea might exist within.
It has walls of irregular shaped stones stacked atop each other and a verdant sod roof that must keep it nicely warm in the winter, small clean glass windows and a red door. Well tended patches of vegetables grow about it in the small clearing it occupies and a little well stands nearby. All together agreeable.
Clytemnestra seems to be considering broadly the same things as me, "It's often the case that folks will offer hospitality to travellers in return for news, company or a little coin. Thereagin it's often the case that folks will rob travellers."
That puts a little dampener on my increasingly optimistic fantasies of what wonders may lie within, which had grown to include hot soup and cigarettes.
"I find that folks are generally pretty decent if you give them the chance," I whisper back."
"Yes. I do. And... I mean, you trusted me."
"You're a lot smaller than I am, and unarmed. Anyone may live there."
I have to concede that point, but deep down I think Clytemnestra feels the same as me about strangers, and probably about hot soup and tea. After a long moment's thought she slides her rifle back into her scabbard, though I note she doesn't unload it first. It has no safety and she's not given to keeping it loaded, so I don't imagine she's entirely trusting as we make our way slowly toward the cottage and emerge from the tree line.
I knock at the door and we hear movement within, footsteps and the door is opened by a an attractive, narrow-waisted woman in a long dark red dress that shows perhaps a little more décolletage than is strictly necessary for an evening at home. She seems surprised to have visitors, but smiles at me and peers outside to look up at Clytemnestra.
"Good evening, lady," Clytemnestra takes charge and I'm happy to let her, "My companion and I saw the light at your window and wondered perhaps if two weary wayfarers might find hospitality for a night? We have travelled far and did not think to find anyone living in this wood."
"Nor should you have," the woman replies in an exotic sing-song accent that I find most attractive, "Few are those who walk the road I watch, and I alone live by it. Come in and be welcome for a night."
She stands aside and motions us to enter. Just as I do I wonder if perhaps she has a pair of burly sons waiting to seize me as I cross the threshold, but no such thing happens. Inside the cottage is all one room with a flagstone floor covered in many rugs. Shelves over wooden chests line every wall holding a huge assortment of seemingly unrelated bric-a-brac. Clytemnestra has to bow low to pass through the doorway, only just fitting and she soon elects to settle on the floor by the large, empty stone fireplace.
"My name is Lecto, and you are most welcome to my home, travellers."
Clytemnestra gives her our names. I'm starting to feel rather exposed as I stand dripping wet in thin, clinging white clothes before this attractive stranger. For someone who apparently lives alone in the depths of a forest, she takes very good care of herself. Her dark blond hair is clean and arranged just-so, her short nails perfectly smooth and clean, it cannot be easy to work her gardens and maintain them so. Her exotic, spicy perfume is distinct from the delicate scent of the dried flowers and herbs that hang in little bunches from the rafters.
"You are hungry?" she asks, perhaps seeing my eyes stray to the herbs and the little stock of vegetables and hanging game in one corner of the house.
"We have eaten already, lady," Clytemnestra says, "Though if if you have wine we have a little coin."
Lecto goes to the place where she's stocked her provender and produces a tall, stoppered jug that I'd previously not noticed, she pours pale wine into three earthenware cups and passes two to us. It's tart and I think quite strong. I cannot tell what it's made from, but not grapes. Clytemnestra drains her cup in one slow swallow and licks her lips.
"Drink and be at rest, if only for a night," Lecto sips a little of her wine and I sip a little more of mine.
Clytemnestra drops her cup to the floor and collapses after it. Without thinking I rush to her. Lecto is standing back, she points at me with her left hand, her fingers... They are glowing.
"Hold! Girl, hold or it'll be the worse for you."
I cower back against Clytemnestra's unconscious form as my skin begins to tingle.
"Trespassers in my woods is it! And come even to me to beg shelter and wine... Wine!"
"We didn't know!" I stammer out.
"As though I care," the tingling of my skin intensifies and I feel the little bone buttons on my blouse start to unfasten on their own. Lecto still speaks, "Your spirits will nourish the forest that your bodies defile," unseen force rips the blouse from my body and I gasp. Lecto takes a step forward "But first, your body will serve me."
Lecto drains her wine cup and I move as fast as I am able snatching Clytemnestra's heavy gun from the scabbard and swinging it 'round even as I pull the trigger.
In the small stone cottage the report is like a physical blow. The gun is catapulted out of my hands and I fall back against Clytemnestra. I scrabble to sit upright, I can hear nothing but tinnitus. Lecto's body sprawls face-down on the floor. The shot must have spun her about. A mighty crater covers most of her back, and an equally mighty one mars the stone wall behind her amid smashed shelves and dripping red gore.
I sit stunned for some time, thinking nothing, feeling nothing. The first sensation that reaches me is movement. My back is tight against Clytemnestra and her long, slow breathing rocks me gently as I come to my senses. Blood soaks the rugs beneath Lecto, it darkens the already dark red dress she wears. I can just about stagger to the door before horror-born nausea overtakes me. Even as I vomit I'm a little proud that I made it to the door first.
I shake all over as I timidly approach Lecto's body and queasily throw a rug over her. It's only when I turn away that I realise my white top is still lying on the floor. I put it back on with shaking hands and try to rouse Clytemnestra. I'd have as much success trying to wake Lecto. She's out cold, hominine torso stretched across the floor. I find a nasty gouge in her flank, bleeding a little and probably badly bruised, from where the butt of her gun hit her when I fired.
I don't understand that. She'd drunk her whole cup, but Lecto and I had both drunk too and and Clytemnestra must weigh half a ton or more. No drug could have done that to her and not affected us. I'd swear Lecto hadn't had the chance to slip something into one cup and not the others, I'd watched her pour them out.
I pace back and forth, too nervous, too sick to sit, certainly to sleep. I check on Clytemnestra often, and she does not change, always breathing comfortably, her pulse strong, very strong in fact. I cannot quite bare to look at the lumpen shape beneath the rug by the wall. I examine the strange collection of things that line the shelves all around me. It seems obvious now. There's cooking gear, mess tins, tinderboxes, lots of things like that. There are compasses and walking sticks, several firearms of different types and other weapons besides, clubs and daggers mostly. It seem obvious that Lecto has taken most of these things from travellers in 'her' woods. Everything on these shelves I could see being carried by some luckless bastard drugged and murdered by Lecto.
What had she said? That our bodies defile it, but our spirits will nourish it... And then, then there's what she'd done. Her fingers had glowed, literally shed light, she'd undone my buttons and ripped the shirt off my back without touching a thing. It all smacks of, of magic. I might've guessed. I think I'm taking the implications of my deduction pretty well, but I've spent the last three days with a centaur, so there's a level of acclimatisation at work. It has a logic to it. A witch in the woods, makes perfect sense.
My mind runs in circles about these ideas for some hours. I cannot bring myself to pick up Clytemnestra's rifle where it lays pointing -- naturally -- at the body so badly hidden. My hands still shake. Worse when I look at the gun, or where it is pointing. I cannot help but practice my justifications. She is a bandit, very likely a murderer, quite possibly a wicked witch, and sounded very much like a rapist. She'd drugged my friend, I was acting in self defence, I'd had no time to think. I wonder if any one of those things actually makes what I did okay, or even all of them together.
Now I wonder if I'd feel the same way if she'd looked like a wicked witch instead of the attractive lady with the alluring accent she had been. I wish Clytemnestra were awake.
It's very dark outside now, but four oil lamps glow brightly in the cottage. I try to turn them up a little more, wanting more light, but there are no wicks, no oil in any, just flame, burning nothing. Despite my earlier conclusions that frightens me a little and I retreat to the centre of the room, sitting right against Clytemnestra, in the crook of her foreleg. She is a big, warm presence against me, and I feel a little calmer.
It's some hours later. At times I've paced, or tried to fiddle with the things on the shelves, but mostly I've sat with Clytemnestra. I've put some more rugs and some cushions from Lecto's bed under her hominine body and I hear these rustling as she stirs in her sleep. I shake her, cry out her name and she stirs more restlessly, waking slowly with unfocussed eyes. I wrap my arms around her, hold her tight and she holds me without really knowing why, I think.
"I... I..." she looks around, disentangles herself from me. She sees her gun on the floor immediately, she sees the shape under the rug against the wall, the wet red bullet hole in the wall.
She takes hold of me again, both hands on my shoulders, "What happened?"
"She drugged you! She... I... I mean, she drugged you and then, her hand was glowing. And she said our spirits would feed the forest. She was going to hurt us. Look at all this stuff, she took it from other people."
Clytemnestra picks up her rifle, breaks it and extracts the shells, one empty, one charged.
"She said our bodies defiled the wood, but out spirits would feed it and her hands were glowing and then I started to feel weird all over, and I got your gun and, well..."
Clytemnestra just nods. She stows the gun and takes me into her arms again, soothing me, "If she was a sorceress that will be why no one comes here any more," she holds me tight as I melt into her, "You did well. It's a good thing this place is so small. Not many people could have shot a sorceress."
"I didn't mean to!"
"No! Or, maybe, I just, she was coming for me and I reacted without thinking and I killed her."
"Ah. Good thing too. World's a lot better off without her witchery, and I think all the people who came here before us would agree."
"That doesn't make it okay."
She thinks about that for a moment, "Well, no, in a sense, it doesn't, No right thinking person ever celebrated a death, but I think the next person who passes this way might disagree with you. Her deeds were bound to catch up with her sooner or later, evil sown is evil reaped."
"What are we going to do now?"
"I won't speak for her spirit, but her body is going to feed the forest. In the morning, we'll go on. The sun will rise, I'll kiss my lady, the world will turn and travellers abroad will be a very little safer."
Clytemnestra hushes me with a finger as I am about to speak again, she rises quite steadily to her hooves. For my sake I think she picks up Lecto's body, rug and all and carries it outside. She's gone for several minutes and I just wait for her to return.
She returns, ducking low through the doorway and I go to her, wanting again the comfort of her arms. I feel her pick me up and she carries me the few steps into the middle of the room where she gracefully settles down and places me on the cushions I had gathered for her. She tenderly kisses me again as she lays me down. Our lips part, I look into her great dark eyes, I feel the heat of her body over me, her firm breasts against me, her hand running up my thigh.
Her finger brushes over my centre and all the horrors of the night are forgotten in my desire for the woman above me. Another kiss, her tongue probes my mouth, her hands glide around my hips and up, and up. She catches my blouse, pulls it over my head without troubling to unfasten it. Her fingernails trail across exposed skin, across my shoulders, my breasts, my nipples, electric paths of pleasure and anticipation.