This story is by Kathleen Osborne and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sitting around a campfire in the year of King Justin, Eric considered life. Torches were lit around the outside of the group. Someone had brought some mead, others ale, and few had either wine or whiskey. Everyone carried their own cup.
As the bottles, skins and flagons were passed around, each person took some from whatever was their desire. The night was turning cool, donned their capes. Couples sitting together utilized them to share the added body heat, too.
A maiden plucked at the strings of her utel. Lifted her eyes to the sky, opened her mouth and beautiful song poured forth.
“Captured by the Lord of Gods, the maiden’s cry.
Please release me to my love or I die.
Would you come willing you will ne’r die.
Death grants me freedom so I will die.”
Her song told of how the maiden died and met her love in paradise. It made me wonder, did she make the right choice?
As she sat down, Eric rose and bowed to the Baron of Livens, John Silver. He nodded, giving him permission to address the group.
“My Lords and Ladies. We have just heard a beautiful ballad,” several nods and murmurs with cups lifted to the maid sitting near the Baroness.
“But it made me question something. And I would ask it of you.” Eric looked around the circle ensuring he had their attention. “Did the maiden in the ballad make the right decision. Wouldn’t life eternal–never dying–be the better choice, than death?”
Baron John stood up and silence reigned. “It is an excellent question Lord Eric presents us. Each shall give their say. We shall pass the question as we would pass the flagon.” He looked to the Lord on his right, “We will begin with you, Lord Sunder. After each person has stated their feelings on the matter, I will share mine.”
Lord Sunder wobbled as he stood with the support of his wife’s shoulder to hold him up. “In my opinion,” he looked down at his wife of twenty and five years. “She chose right. It is what I would choose. I would rather die now to be with my beloved in Paradise. Than to be with someone I didn’t love.”
Whispers and shaking of heads came from some, others stroked their chins as they pondered.
Lady Sunder rose, patted her husband’s shoulder. “To me, life eternal–never dying–would be a fate worse than death itself. The loss you would experience would never end. You would have to have times where you hid yourself away. I imagine with eternal life would come never aging. You couldn’t be around people too long or they would notice that you never changed, but they did. And as my Lord has said, I would rather be with him than with anyone else. Death, I would embrace.”
Next was the troubadour, Jamison. He puffed out his cape with his arms, then swirling it around himself, draping it over one shoulder as he got to his feet. Taking a drink from his cup he nodded to his friends. “Since I am single and have not found my life’s love. I would choose to live for eternity. Throughout it I would find, I am sure.” His smile swept around the circle. “Things of wonder. The knowledge I would gain. The miracles I’m sure are there to be. I love to experience and learn new things. I believe I would learn so much… my brain might explode.” Laughter burst from the majority, listening. During it, Jamison took his seat and looked at person next to him.
The man stood, pushed back his hood. He was totally unknown by all. Whispers came, ‘Who is he?’ ‘Never seen him before.’
The Baron waved his scepter. “Speak, stranger. But first, introduce yourself.”
He bowed his head slightly. Then squared his shoulders as if what he was about to say was going to create a wind of words.
“I am but a man, my Lord. I have traveled far and wide. When I heard the maiden sing, I couldn’t help being drawn to your fire. I thank you for your hospitality. I am Lord Drol of the Land of Drol.” He bowed to the group.
“My answer to the question depends on if we surmise that if given life eternal, as portrayed by the ballad. A God offering it to you. One would then assume, one would become a God also, with the power of such.”
Lord Drol caught every eye. “I can see by some of your responses, you hadn’t thought that way. Am I right?”
Eric watched the group. Most the group stared at him in wonder, they had never even considered it. While a few, like himself, had.
Lord Drol nodded to himself. “Under those conditions I would choose the life eternal. Once I had the power of a God, I would grant the same power to my beloved along with eternal life. Then together we would be.”
Mouths hung open, startled gasps heard at such a thought. Silence reigned as he took his seat.
Eric stood; his face turned to the sky. “I know we can’t see them well right now. But in the sky are stars that are so plentiful no one can count them. That is what eternity is to me. Years without number. And what our new friend here has said I agree with in part. He forgot the part that the Lord of Gods said the maiden would be his. I know not of your mind, but in mine the Lord of Gods is more powerful than any of the Gods. Hence, I believe the maiden would have had the power of a God, but none over and above the Lord of Gods. She could not have lived eternally with her beloved.”
He paced in front of his seat. “We assume they lived in paradise together. Grant you, I believe she would have gone there when she refused the Lord of Gods. But her beloved? Hummm. What do know you of men? I’m a man and I know how unfaithful we can be. Not all, I agree. But far less than those untrue to those they profess to love. I surmise he would not have made it to paradise, and she would never have seen him again.”
Coming to a standstill. “I know some women are just as bad as a man in the picadilloes. Again, if it were a man, faced with the same question from a female God, I would say, ‘yes’ to her. I would rather trust what a God has in store for me than a man or woman.”
Eric watched and listened as the remaining Lords and Ladies made their choices known. When it got to the Baroness, she refused comment. Eric’s gaze kept coming back to her. He noticed she kept her face turned away and occasionally she would raise her hand with a bit of her cape clutched in it and wipe her face. Was she crying? Why?
He saw the Baron pat her hand just before he stood. “I can see the conflict this question has risen. Each of us have something in our lives we face. Something we fear more than anything else. It is usually something we never share. Why? Why wouldn’t we share that burden?”
He walked to the fire and threw a log on it; every eye was on the sparks that flew up to the sky from his action.
“We don’t want to face the fire. Is why.” Walking back. he sat down with a deep sigh.
“It is something we feel is worse than death… it can even be something as minor as fear to go outside of your home. Or it could talking like we have here and now. Maybe it is the darkness of the night. Any of these things and more to those who feel them as a fate worse than death. Just like in the maiden’s ballad.”
Whether he meant to lighten the mood or not, Eric noticed it had. It had taken the responsibility off of their decision to what other experienced.
Not long afterward, the Lords and Ladies dispersed back to their tents. Except Lord Drol, the Baroness, and Baron. They talked by the fire, as expected of the Baron to a newcomer. Once everyone was in their dwelling, the three moved into the Baron’s lodgings.
Entering their tent, the Baron and Baroness enveloped their human son in their arms.