tagNonHumanThe Shieldmaiden and Swordbearer

The Shieldmaiden and Swordbearer

byTara_Neale©

Tara looked nervously around the arrivals gate. Whatever was she thinking? This was crazy. She should know better at her age.

That was just it...at her age. When half your life was over. Without finding the one thing you wanted most. When all else had failed it seemed. Sometimes you took chances. Did foolish things. Thins maybe you should not do.

She looked around the terminal at Heathrow. It was Christmas Eve and the place was surprisingly empty. She supposed most people did not put these things off to the last minute. And that was how she felt...like she had put love and happiness off until the last minute of her life. Like maybe it was too late already. Was it, she wondered as she looked around.

She noticed the much younger woman on the other side of the barrier. She was fidgeting nervously, bouncing from foot to foot. When was the last time that she had bounced? She chuckled thinking about body bits that would keep bouncing long after she stopped. Some things were for the young. Maybe love was one of them.

The young girl, was she college age perhaps? She was bouncing faster and faster now, jumping up and down really. Tara's eyes were drawn to the bay of double doors that separated the arriving passengers from those waiting for them. A young man in uniform came through it at that moment. He dropped his bag and actually ran to the girl. He picked her up and twirled her around as he kissed her. Tara looked away...the moment was just too intimate for an audience.

"Goddess bless," she whispered as she turned back to the e-reader that she held in her hand. She stared at the screen without recognizing a single word there. She started back at the top of the page, trying for the umpteenth time to read the book that just yesterday had held her rapt attention. Now it was as dry as frozen cardboard pizza.

"Who are you waiting for, dear?" said the older woman next to her.

She had been sitting there for the past hour at least but this was the first time that Tara had looked at her, really looked at her. She was obviously upper middle class, one of the very traditional British matrons, who always looked as if they smelled something. Tara could picture the bowing as she served tea to the Queen.

But being polite was one British mannerism that she had adopted over her time here...even if it was all a polite show. "A friend," she replied casually.

The woman nodded, "My son. He is flying back from Thailand for the holidays." Tara was surprised to notice the woman dab lightly at the corner of her eye with a handkerchief...a real one with tiny flowers embroidered on the corner. Something about the action spoke to her heart. She had learned to follow it long ago...well, in most things.

"I am sure you are very excited," she replied, giving the woman the opportunity to tell her more or to do as so many others did in this modern world...bury themselves.

"Yes, well, Charles has not been home in five years you know. After the divorce, he and his father fought horribly. His choices..." the woman looked down at the dark grey stone flooring before dabbing her eyes again.

"He's gay, you know. And well, my William just could not understand. I mean how is it that you are married to a woman for twenty years, have two children and then wake up one morning and decide you are homosexual?" The way that she said the word was drawn out, obviously her husband was not the only one with issues with the man's sexuality.

Tara tried to think of something politely British to say but for a hot blooded or was that hot headed American that was not always easy. But she need not have worried. Now that the flood gates were open the woman seemed to rush forward, revealing family secrets that she probably would not to her closest friends. That was one thing about talking to strangers...sometimes it was easier.

That was how all this had started...a stranger thousands of miles away. Someone that Tara could share her frustrations, worries and concerns with. Another American even...a common cultural bond. That was all it had been. So when had that changed?

She did not have the chance to consider that monumental question further though as the flood waters burst from the woman's very red lips.

"But with William dying now. Well, it is time. Time to put these things aside."

Tara very much doubted that it was as simple as all that. A lifetime of pain and hurts were hidden behind the woman's words. It was the mysterious son, Charles, for whom Tara felt the greatest sympathy. Hiding who he was for so long, always trying to live up to these people's impossibly high expectations. Oh why could we not just allow our children to be who they were? To be happy and free? Why could we not allow ourselves to be?

She was not sure how much of the woman's story she had missed while caught up in her own musings. It seemed the woman had gone on from this son to her husband. "You know that is the hardest part of this whole muddle...the cancer you know. Losing William. I know that fifty years may seem a lifetime with the same man. But really it has not been that long. I remember the first time I met him in university. He was so handsome..."

The woman stared off for a long moment in silence. Tara read things into that silence...a lifetime. "Not that it has been all roses, you know. Men will be men, of course. And my William had his dalliances like them all. But he was always such a gentleman about such things."

Tara chalked it up to another of the cultural differences that no matter how long she lived in this foreign land she would ever understand...the casual way they dealt with infidelity. In the end, it had been the death knell of her marriage. She simply could not be as forgiving as this woman.

"I will miss him terribly you know. Even his infernal tinkering in my garden." The woman dabbed her eyes again. "I simply don't know how I shall manage," she whispered.

Tara was uncertain what solace to offer...and that was unusual for her. But she saw clearly for the first time...past the woman's cold words, past her controlled mannerisms, past the cultural divide that Tara had never been able to overcome. And what she saw was shocking...a woman in love after fifty years of marriage. It was her eyes that filled with tears then.

Not for this woman. Because despite it all...she had known a joy that was so much more than Tara ever had. Maybe ever would.

Once more she was humbled by the goddess, that quiet inner voice that had been her guide these past couple of years. Perhaps her whole life. Until him the only true friend she had made in this place in a decade.

Who was she to judge this woman? Yes, she might not be able to understand how someone would allow their child's sexual orientation to come between them. Yes, she would most definitely never, ever understand any woman who could tolerate her husband cheating. She could not even understand how keeping up appearances could be more important than friendships.

But this was a woman. A wife. A mother. Just like her. And she was in pain. Tara reached out and placed her hand on the other woman's. Just felt the warmth of the goddess move through her into the other woman.

And as always, she felt the overwhelming pain of this woman bore course through her. Her head started to pound. The pain was almost unbearable. She wanted to scream. She felt the bile rising in her throat. But still she did not break the contact. She gave of herself, of her gift, of the goddess...without thought of herself. It was what she had chosen to do...it was her life, all she knew. It was the path of an empath. A high priestess of the goddess.

She felt it: the moment that this woman released it all. Accepted the healing. And Tara drew away...as confused and drained as she always was after such a thing. But the genuine smile that shown past the deep red lipstick painted upon the woman's tight, too thin lips was all she needed. She had done it again. Offered what she could to another soul. She sighed and smiled too.

The room was spinning now. The lights that was always too bright, suddenly seemed to burn her eyeballs until tears gathered at the corners. Each footstep upon the cold, hard stone seemed to echo like pounding war drums, making the headache worse and worse with each passing moment. Her skin itched and burned where she had touched this woman. Her perfume overpowered Tara's nose, making her stomach roll and pitch once more. It all combined to leave a dry, foul taste in her mouth. One that she feared she would never get out.

The woman stood up, for a moment she seemed to be bouncing up and down every bit as much as that young student had been. And in that moment, Tara knew that she saw with the goddess's eyes this woman...the hopes and dreams of a lifetime. The might have beens that a lifetime of responsibility and cares had stolen from that young girl that once had been.

Tara clutched her stomach as she fought to hold back the bile. Bu through it all she smiled. For this moment, the woman knew that joy again. It was all she could want...wasn't it?

So why was she jealous? Why did she hurt so badly? Why couldn't for just once this gift not cost her more than it gave to others? It was killing her. She knew that. As surely as the cancer was eating away at this woman's husband, this gift was sapping her life force, draining her of energy and even the will to live. Her gift that helped others had become her curse...or maybe it always had been.

A man about her own age walked towards the woman. His shoulders were squared and his face tight as he approached. "Hello, Mother," his very British words were in distinct conflict with his appearance. His worn jeans and holey t-shirt was read, 'Relax, Be Happy.' Another wave of pain hit Tara...she knew it belonged to his man. She felt it boiling and churning as surely as the acids in her stomach.

But the woman, refreshed in the first blush of the goddess's love, was blissfully unaware. Tara's envy deepened. "Charles, oh Charles," the woman laughed as she broke out into tears. "Whatever are we going to do without him? How will I survive without that infernal man?"

Tara wanted to laugh that even in her renewed vigor that kernel of uptight stiff upper lip remained. She was relieved to see the man's shoulders relax just a bit as he opened his arms and drew the suddenly frail old woman against him.

He shook his head and Tara saw the vision of the little boy playing alone in the corner of the garden as his parents laughed and talked and loved. No wonder, he always was drawn to flowers...that was why he had chosen Thailand as his safety zone...the flowers almost year round reminded him of the sweetness of life.

She trembled as she watched the interchange between mother and son. As it had earlier with the young lovers, the intimacy of a love that was beyond her reach caused her to look away. That was when she noticed the tall man standing just behind Charles. She drew her hands up to cover her heart as she sent a silent prayer to the goddess for patience and understanding to grow in the woman's heart. She would need an extra measure since her son brought his lover with him.

But then she was being drawn forward, the woman's hands were icy cold, clammy and held the feel of death. She knew then that it was not just her husband that would soon make that final journey. This woman might very well precede the man. She wondered if it was hers to share this message. "Charles, I would like you to meet..." the woman's eyes went wide with shock as she realized that she did not even know her name.

"Tara," she filled in the blank as she reluctantly held out her hand.

She was shocked not to be overwhelmed when the large man took it in his own. "Charles Wentworth. It is a pleasure to meet you."

"The young woman was so kind to listen to the ramblings of an old fool," the woman smiled. Tara returned it, wondering when the last time she had been called a 'young woman' was. The lie felt nice.

"It was my pleasure," and she meant that. Despite the pain that using her gifts always brought, the satisfaction of seeing the benefits made it worth it...almost.

"You look vaguely familiar," the man noted but Tara did not want to take the time or momentum away from this family reunion to explain.

"One of those faces, I guess," she brushed his comment aside as the woman's grip upon her fingers tightened. It was almost the same way that this woman was holding onto those final moments of this life...of love.

"You enjoy your holidays with your son and husband. Make every moment count," she pronounced the benediction that she knew the goddess gave her to seal this woman's fate.

The woman smiled...that miraculous, genuine one once more. "I will, my dear. And thank you again for taking the time to listen to an old woman's confession. I hope you have a wonderful time with your friend too."

Tara wanted to laugh and cry at the same time at the odd mixture of polite British reserve and genuine gratitude she felt in the woman's words.

"Thank you. I hope so too," without the intense interplay of emotions that always marked one of these interchanges, Tara was left once more to face the mess that was her own life as she watched the woman and man walk away.

She collapsed then back into the cold, hard seat. Her own mind once more turning the questions over and over in her head...what am I doing here? This is ridiculous. Spending Christmas with a man you barely know. A man you have not even met. What if he is some kind of psycho? A serial killer or something. You heard the stories...killers and con artists preying upon victims online.

Her daughter had certainly brought up the subject when they talked about holiday plans last week. But this year the young woman was meeting her boyfriend's family in Wales. It was a big thing. It meant that things were getting serious. And Tara could not be happier for her only child.

But it left her at loose ends. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. Maybe she should have taken her daughter's suggestion and booked a holiday somewhere warm. But she just did not have the energy. Plus there was the deadline looming for the new book. Her agent and editor would have her head if she went on holiday right now.

So when her online friend had mentioned that he had no plans this Christmas either...well, she still was not sure exactly how it had happened. It had seemed almost magical...the words just appeared out of nowhere on the screen of her phone. 'Want to join me then?'

She was even more shocked when the instant reply was...Yes. She could not make herself back down then. But still it made no sense. Then again nothing about any of this made sense.

Oh she got fan emails all the time. And she still took the time to answer all of them, the polite ones anyway. The anonymous nasty ones were another matter. But that was where it ended...a polite almost painfully British one in fact...thank you for taking the time to write me, I appreciate your readership, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. There it ended.

But not this time. Emails bounced back and forth daily...exploring life, dreams, and eventually fantasies. For a woman that made her living sharing naughty ones with the world it was shockingly difficult to do so one-on-one. But something about him just clicked.

Emails turned to texts. Even a couple of awkwardly comfortable phone calls over the past couple of weeks as they planned this unusual tryst. Was it a tryst? That seemed so naughty, so wild and carefree. So unlike her.

This was crazy! What was she thinking? She had not even seen a photograph of this man. Of course, her face was all over the Internet, television and goddess only knew where else these past couple of years as her books became more popular. That was why the man had recognized her...and why she did not mention her last name...or her real name. Although these days Tara was more real than that other person she had once been anyway.

She picked up her e-reader from the seat next to her where she had lain it when she started talking to the woman. She hastily stuffed it into her bag. She was out of here. The passengers had thinned to a trickle now. He probably had not even come. He had more sense than she did it seemed.

She clutched her bag tightly and came to a final decision...she was going to make a run for it. Forget this whole crazy thing. It was the only thing that made sense in this situation. She would chalk the whole thing up to the goddess needing her to be in this place at this time for the woman and her son...for the healing that was still draining her, probably affecting her thinking. Even as she stood up, the room spun around her. She clutched the bag tighter and fought for control of her senses.

Then strong hands grasp her arms. She looked up into the kind and concerned face of the man's lover. Then she shook her head. That made no sense. The woman and her son had been gone a good two minutes...maybe five or more given how she lost track of time with these things. Why would he still be here?

It hit her then. He was not the man's lover. He had not been here to meet the older woman at all. He was here to meet her. "Mike?" she whispered as things got even foggier.

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