Pretty Maids All In A Row


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Archivist's note: This was a Mid-Week Challenge issued on the Holyground forum. Thepiece was to have these parameters: "Write a short scene or story that takes place in a garden (of any kind), featuring any two Immortal characters from HL."

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The lawn was immaculate, a uniform green, divided into neat rows by flat marble stones set even with the ground. Some of the sites were graced with floral offerings. Most were bare - small rectangles of grass identified only by a name and two dates: the beginning and the ending of a life with a painfully short dash between them to indicate that each of the interred had, at least, lived.

He was aware of Duncan's strong presence beside him as he knelt and gently deposited a small bouquet of cream-colored roses on the turf below the stone. Ten years, and he had not even known she was dead. Sorrow swelled in his heart and threatened to burst the dam of indifference he had built to stay such expressions. So many emotions were locked inside. Some he allowed an occasion out to play; sadness was not one of them, and so he had come to wear it, unawares, in the lines on his face.

He stood and felt Duncan's comforting arm around his shoulders. He envied his younger friend. Duncan was able to exorcise his memories from their positions of offense into a safer place, a stable environment in which he could visit the ghosts, linger with them, commune with them, yet not be affected by them, ever again. Connor had never discovered such a haven inside his own soul.

An ancient chapel near the entrance of the memorial garden offered solace. He gravitated toward it as they made their way among the deceased. Eternal rest. An appealing concept, even as he marveled that those who certainly would die were so reluctant to embrace death while those who could not die wondered, sometimes wistfully, what it would be like to rest, at last and forever more, in peace.

They stopped beside the chapel and exchanged glances. Duncan nodded in understanding and turned away as Connor mounted the crumbling steps and entered alone. Within the dilapidated and lonely exterior, he was pleasantly surprised by the pristine warmth and beauty of the oratory. Candles waited on tables at each side of the altar and as he approached he allowed his emotions a rare chance to surface and free themselves from ages of exile.

Ten years; he felt the blow again. So many women had advanced his life, contributed to his very being in ways he would not be able to repay, were it never too late to put forth the effort. But it already was - it always was.

He reached for a candle, studied the flame, the droplets of wax cascading down the side, slowing as they cooled … tears, frozen in time … tilted it and lit the first of his own.

Caiolin … his mother, the strongest individual he had ever known, whose love had bequeathed him the ability, the power to give and receive love, whose unflagging loyalty in the face of death had taught him that there were worse things to endure, such as the bitterness of betrayal …

Heather … a second flame bloomed and danced and for a moment he again felt the intensity of her presence, the pleasure of her living, the excruciating heaven of her love…

The row of candles grew as buried memories burned again, releasing the sweet incense of joy and the myrrh of their passing.

Rachel … precious child, beautiful woman, cherished companion, who looked up to him, into him, out for him. He could weep for her now, if the tears would only come.

Brenda … a debt of gratitude for winning a battle, if losing the war. She tried, they all tried, to save him from his world, but they could not save him from himself.

Even he had failed to do that.

He surfaced from his emotional journey to find a dozen flames curling and weaving before him. There could easily be three times more, ten times more. There was not enough time - perish the thought - to consider them all, to pay just tribute to each memory, to grieve each loss.

He kept vigil through the night, allowing sorrow gradual release in sparks and wisps, as the candles slowly burned down in the order he had lit them; until, one by one, the flames expired in breaths of smoke that spiraled upward, out of sight, and out of time.

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