And Again

by Erik Koht

"Yes. the taste was definitely familiar," she thought, sitting with her current lover in some cellar bistro. Candlelight reflected ruby red through the liquid in her hand. Surely, centuries must have passed since last she encountered this overwhelming bouquet of flowers and honey and detected this trace of black earth. She held her glass limply... limply as she had once, centuries ago, held the perfumed hand of the abbot, guiding that hand the final inch towards her lips, her eyes fixed on his ruby ring, wine red within gold, kissing that ring while the taste of the Blood of the Saviour still lingered in her mouth. At the moment of contact her concentration on the holy rite was broken by the peals of vesper sounding from beyond the walls of the chapel. Unthinkingly she sought the eyes of the man before her, but she found her upward glance blocked by the jutting edge of her hood...

krystallvinglass she in a future parallel recurrence would find herself momentarily distracted by the sound of jingling glasses on gridded trays being stacked in the bistro kitchen beyond. Even in this other instance she would be prevented from perceiving the eyes of the man in front of her: this time her field of vision would be obstructed by the tumbling of her black hair... outside, in the miles of vineyards surrounding the adobe buildings of the cloister, sisters lowered their baskets of grapes, Throughout the vast and darkening landscape shrouded figures heeded the call of the redeeming bell, and like some army of beetles they would crawl across the mouldy earth towards the distant chapel. By minute adjustments learned by practice the nuns would form a single regular file, their movement expressing neither weariness nor joy to mark the end of yet another day of labour. At the last chime of the bell the head of the procession reached the oaken door of the chapel, and one by one they entered the cavernous interior. The chalked, candle blackened walls served to augment the sound of their whispered prayers and multiply the shuffle of sandals on the tiled floor. As the file neared the velvet altar the woman kneeling there would register their presence by these familiar foot falls but also by the fragrance of smouldering earth. By each newcomer the fragrance would strengthen as minute particles of earthen moisture was released into the confinement of the vaulted hall. Through the hour of obeisance that followed, the drying crusts of earth would loose their hold on cloth and leather and would fall, scattering as sand on the chapel floor...

...much like the sawdust scattered about the bistro floor in some hollow rite, so even the sand on the chapel floor served to recreate conditions of an earlier age... tracks led east and west from the caravanserai, so did other tracks lead backwards and forwards in time: backwards into obscurity, forwards haphazardly, on the wings of chance. The beau of the bistro and the abbot of the chapel both carried within them a dreamlike vision of...

...a youth, seated near the sand brick wall. Though the sun was setting, the wall and the sand still retained the heat of day and would do so for hours to come. Sitting cross-legged and immobile even his nimble limbs were sorely tested. But still he blessed the pains. The comfort denied him by his position would help retain his watchfulness, the crucial awareness of his surroundings. With his long staff placed upon his loins he was set the unenviable task of guarding his master's stores. The unburdened animals had been led away to be watered and fed. The young guard was not so fortunate. His thirst was no longer a mild irritant. He knew well enough that there were no wine nor vinegar among his masters stores, just bales of wool, rolls of silk, kegs of oil.

Already there were stars in the azure sky, and soon that taint of colour turned to black. Though it seemed to him that he was constantly aware of his surroundings, the transition from day to night was deceptive. The senses, still attuned to light, had not yet permitted the senses of ear and nose to come to the fore. So he was taken aback and barely forewarned of her arrival. Just the slightest tinkle of her ankle bells betrayed her, though he thought later that she had done it purposely. A quickly moving shadow took on the shape of the dancing slave girl. Swiftly she placed a sack of wine before him. In another moment she was gone. No greeting or sign of recognition passed between them.

Wasting no time wondering how she had obtained the wine, he lifted the bladder sack and let the cool liquid spew deep into his throat, hardly tasting it. Then, as the acuteness of his thirst abated, he filled his mouth with wine to savour the honeyed taste and let the fragrance of spring flowers fill his nostrils. This done, he hurried to hide the sack with its remaining content among the stacked bales. Returning to his original position he took a moment to touch the tiny golden scarab she had given him months before, now tucked away in a secret fold of his robe. As he touched the oblong shape of the holy beetle he prayed silently for her safety and his own, Should their master make note of the missing skin; retribution would be harsh, Despite this peril he blessed the darkness and the nimble-footed girl that made such delightful use of it.

His inexperience, the avarice of others and the thoughtlessness of his master precluded any hope of survival that night. Through the ages the gold of the scarab amulet would melt and flow into a thousand shapes as did his wandering soul. Still, he did not wish to be absolved from his promise, spoken lovingly. Times without end he would return to offer in return the taste of honey, the fragrance of flowers, the fertility of black earth. And in those few recurrences where there was permissiveness they would share the retained heat of their love.

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