In the beginning, I thought he loved me as I loved myself. That lie is the reason why I now lay garlanded in perpetual darkness.
Erik awoke laying on top of a not-very-wide bed. Where am I, he wondered as he sat up and looked around. Suddenly his breath caught in his throat. Ahead lay a long cream colored leg resting on the edge of the bed as a pair of pink hands rolled a white stocking up the exposed flesh. The woman the leg and the hands belonged to was completely naked except for the stockings. Bars of sunlight cast through the gaps in between the brocaded curtains that covered the windows made her golden locks glitter where they hung from her head.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he whispered, half afraid that the woman might disappear at the sound of his voice. “What’s your name?” He felt like he should know the answer to that question a second after he asked it, but when he reached within his mind for the knowledge he only grasped smoke.
Blue eyes rose to meet his own, shivering joy into his bones. “That was not very ordinal. You can do better,” she said calmly, but the look in her eyes told a different story.
“But it’s true,” he responded. “You’re like. . . . You’re like. . . . I don’t know what, but you make it hard to breathe.” He smiled, proud of being able to describe how she made him feel.
The woman laughed mockingly, then returned to the task of getting dressed. She dismissed his presence as though he no longer existed.
Erik’s expression soured. “You’re like the first ray of morning light that touches your face as the sun rises in the east,” he tried again.
“Better,” she smirked. “Much better.”
Her smile made him feel like a swarm of butterflies crawled over his exposed chest, tickling him with their soft wingtips. What’s her name? He could feel the knowledge floating just outside of his grasp. He focused all of his essence into reaching for her name. Spots shimmered in front of his eyes, but he refused to give up and kept pushing forward. He struggled to breathe, and suddenly he was falling, tumbling back into the soft embrace of the bed. He could feel himself go limp before everything went dark and he lost the ability to think. He just drifted away on a sea of never-ending blackness.
“Erik. . . . Erik!” The sound reached him as if it came from a great distance. The voice that spoke was both desperate and pleading. It pulled at him, lifting him up.
Erik’s eyes snapped open with a gasp. Hanna loomed above him driven half mad by panic. He rose a hand to touch her wet cheek and could feel her heart racing through her skin. “Hanna,” he laughed, happy at finally putting a name to the beautiful face.
“Erik, are you alright?”
His hand fell from her face to circle her pink nipple with his fingertip. “Never been better.” At that moment her elbow slammed down onto his chest with a bang that drove the air from his lungs. He gasped, and his eyes watered.
“You think scaring me half to death is funny?” She shrieked as she continued to rain blows down upon him. Erik tried to block her strikes with his hands, but she landed more than she missed. “Answer me!”
Finally, Erik wrapped his arms around her, pulling her head first into his chest, unable to stomach any more abuse. “Behave yourself, woman,” he barked.
“Release me,” she yelled, struggling to break free.
Mirth busted pass Erik’s lips. The whole situation just suddenly seemed ridiculous. “I will,” he uttered in between fits of laughter. “Right after you—”
Abruptly Erik pushed Hanna away as if she had turned into a bag of vipers. He pressed his hand to his shoulder and his fingers came away dripping with scarlet fluid. “You bit me,” he said, staring at her incredulously.
“Your head’s hard as a rock,” she smiled, wiping the blood from her lips. “But I’ll train you to listen, one way or another.” Her tone sent icicles sliding up and down Erik’s spine.
He observed her with a queer expression frozen on his face as she rolled off the bed and continued to get dressed. There was something uniquely sensual about watching a naked woman put on clothes, he discovered. Every part of her body she covered suddenly became more forbidden, enticing his mind with the hidden mystery of her flesh.
Clothed in a blue dress embroidered with a sprinkling of golden flowers on the waist, Hanna gave off a regal air like someone born to rule. She turned to face Erik and asked, “Do you mean to spend the whole morning peering at me like a pervert or do you plan on getting dressed?”
Closing the mouth he did not realize he held open, Erik climbed off the bed and began searching for his clothes. For a moment a vague sense that there was something important he should be doing knotted his stomach. When he tried to chase the feeling his head spun, and he almost stumbled.
“Are you sure that you’re okay?” Hanna asked slowly in a voice marred by worry.
Erik sent her a flirtatious smile and felt like a pretender. “I’m fine,” he lied. He found his small clothes at the foot of the bed and the rest of his things scattered around the room. Getting dressed was a strange experience. Everything felt new and at the same time it did not. It was a hard sensation to wrap his mind around; it almost felt like he was remembering something he had forgotten but not quite.
After he had put on a green coat elegant enough to be worn by a noble, if nobles wore coats, he turned to Hanna. “Now what?”
“Now? Now you go home,” she laughed. Her puzzlement was as plain as daylight. “What has gotten into you today?” She sounded genuinely curious.
Erik ran a finger along his mustache and dropped his gaze from Hanna’s face. “And where is that exactly?” He questioned.
“Do you want me to show you?” she inquired, apparently amused by the idea.
“Could you? That would be wonderful.” Erik pushed down a momentary thrill. The world outside scared him with its newness and having Hanna by his side would go a long way to easing that fear.
Hanna’s eyes narrowed, then she shook her head. “I’m not sure what game you’re playing today, but okay let’s play.” She took Erik’s hand and all but bounced towards the bedroom door. She seemed invigorated and bubbled with enthusiasm as she led him through the small but tidy house.
Outside, Erik dropped Hanna’s hand and took in his surroundings. Hanna’s home sat at the edge of a small village, encircled by a twenty meter tall stockade with evenly placed watchtowers, all of which faced the ancient forest of redwoods that stretched in every direction just past a handful of farms and hedge-bordered fields that stood outside the wall. The thirty-meter gap between where the houses stopped and the stockade began was taken up by a wheat field that wrapped around the entire village.
“This way.” Hanna grabbed Erik’s hand, pulling him along a narrow path that led towards the heart of the village. “And please stop walking with you mouth agape. Wolfville is nothing to be amazed about,” she added.
Erik closed his mouth, but he did not stop looking around. Every piece of available land that surrounded the high-peaked thatch-roofed homes of Wolfville were cultivated with crops. Red and blue banners also hung at the front of almost every house, creating a festive atmosphere.
Once they passed the first row of houses, a group of small children swarmed around them chased by playful dogs. Hanna yelled at the youngsters, bringing an end to their game of tag. When she noticed Erik staring at her, she said, “I don’t care if today is the Renewal, that’s no reason for them to be causing this much noise this early in the morning.”
What’s the Renewal, he wondered but said nothing as he plodded on patiently beside Hanna. Soon after that he could not help but take notices of the looks they were receiving. Goodwives with aprons tied around their middles stood at windows and in doorways, sending them looks of displeasure as if the sight of them together was an affront to their eyes. In contrast to the women, the men sent Erik knowing winks and laughed until their wives chastised them.
“Why are they looking at us like that?” He asked, confused by the hate and the resentment he was witnessing. The hostility prickled his skin, making the hairs on his arms stand straight.
Hanna’s lips curled into a small smile. “Jealously? Fear? Who knows.” She pointed at a large house in the distance. “That one is yours.”
Jealously? Fear? He did not understand what she meant by that but thought that he should. He followed her finger with his eyes. “Race you,” he shouted and took off for the house she had pointed at.
“Wait,” Hanna began, and then stopped as Erik’s long legs pulled ahead of her. She gathered her skirts high in her hands and chased after him, ignoring the growing murmurs of the goodwives at her exposure of stockinged legs.
Erik’s legs flashed as he ran, filling him with a feeling of sweetness that bordered on pain. He jolted to a stop in front of the house and laughed at the sight of Hanna racing towards him.
Panting, Hanna came to a halt in front of Erik. “One of these days,” she gasped, “I swear I’ll beat that smile right off you face, Erik Ito! Just you watch!”
“Don’t be a sore loser,” he grinned, pulling her into his arms. He kissed her on the lips, slowly sliding his tongue inside her wet mouth. She melted into his arms like butter left out too long in the sun. “Are you coming inside?” he asked with a warm buzzing sound filling his head.
Hanna pushed her palms against his chest. “Go home to your wife, Erik,” she whispered in a voice brittled by heartache. Then she left, walking back the way she came.
My wife? Erik looked from Hanna’s receding shoulders to the house and back again. My wife? I have a wife? He could almost picture a face, but as he focused on it, the image faded and left behind a name in its place: Dara.
Erik shook his head and turned back towards his supposed home; it had more in common with a nobleman’s manor than it did with any of the other houses around it. It stood three stories tall and was made of plastered brick while the other homes were two stories and built out of wood. Suddenly broad shutters were thrown back, and a pink, youthful face peered at him from the window. A few moments later the front door swung open, and the woman with the young face stepped outside. She wore a white wimple that covered her hair while wrapping around her neck and chin. The garment only seemed to add to the allure of her perfectly symmetric facial features.
“Are you my wife?” Erik asked.
The woman’s eyes flared in panic, and her small hands pressed down against her black dress. “Are you trying to get me murdered?” she exclaimed, then laughed nervously, eyes looking around to make sure no one overheard. “I’m your maid, one of the many women you employ. I know my place.” She reached out towards him and tugged him towards the house.
“What’s your name?”
She paused, half way through the door. “Have you been drinking again?” Her face had flashed with irritation before she shook it away. “I’m Kendra. Come on; breakfast has long been served.” She pulled him inside and shut the door behind him.
In the front hall, the stone floor was polished to a bright gleam. Erik did not have time to notice more than that as Kendra quickly led him into a large dining room where every piece of furniture looked like it just had been cleaned, and mirrors hung on the walls.
At the head of the table sat a lean woman with green eyes and long flowing black hair, Erik immediately recognized her as Dara. Something clicked in his mind, and he just knew that she was his wife. She was a few years older than Erik, but age had only ripened her beauty, adding a serene and motherly quality to her appearance. Her eyes held an air of brooking little nonsense, even so, she made Erik feel safe. The sight of her brought the swarm of butterflies back, but this time, they crawled inside his stomach, making his mouth dry and his palms damp.
My wife, he thought and found himself smiling.
“Look who I found wandering outside like a vagabond,” Kendra said, drawing the eyes of the room’s occupants.
“Da!” squealed a young girl who could be no older than eight. She leaped from her seat beside Dara and rushed towards Erik. “Da!” Time seemed to slow as the little girl flew at Erik with her arms open wide. Her dirty blonde hair swayed back and forth along with the green dress she wore that matched her eyes. She looked ethereal like a red rose growing in the middle of a salt mine.
“Elina,” Erik muttered as a dark cavern of sadness opened within himself. At that moment Elina’s small arms wrapped around his middle, enclosing him in a hug and keeping him from losing himself in an immense and profound ocean of melancholy. He lifted Elina off of her feet and swung her around in a circle. “Elina,” he laughed, filled with a boundless sense of joy.
Elina rubbed her nose after Erik set her back on the ground. “Pa, you smell foul.”
“Elina!” Dara reprimanded, and Kendra laughed behind her hands. Erik smelled himself and looked from face to face, realizing that Elina was right.
Confused, Elina turned towards her mother. “What?”
A look from Dara stilled Kendra’s laughter in its tracks. “You never tell your father he stinks,” Dara responded as though they were only chatting among themselves. “This is something that you must never do. “
“Even when he does?”
Dara nodded her head. “Especially when he does.”
Elina looked aggrieved like someone had just stepped on her favorite toy. She wrinkled her nose grudgingly and said, “I’m sorry, Da, I didn’t mean it. Not really. You smell like flowers.” She gave him a quick hug then backed away.
Erik could not help but find Elina’s actions both amusing and endearing. He opened his mouth but closed it again when caught sight of a nearby mirror. Where he expected to see his reflection, a blue-eyed man with a blond topknot stood, banging on the other side of the mirror with his fists. The man seemed to be screaming, but all Erik heard was the sound of his blood pounding in his ears.