by Joanie Dingess

As I lie here, slowly rousing from a long slumber, I hear the sounds of footsteps struggling with the rough terrain of my cavern floor. The scent is of a female past her estrous period, perhaps past the flare of her youth as well, from the slowness of her movements.

I lie still, hoping that she will not spot me behind the boulders that screen me from view, but after several moments of listening to her laboring steps toward me I know she will be here shortly.

With nowhere to go to hide I lift myself into view, waiting for the eventful screams and scent of pervasive fear that will follow. I wait in vain. Once glance at her shining eyes is enough to tell me what I did not expect to learn.

After an eternity of hiding and long slumbers between meals, I have finally met one who does not shudder in fear and astonishment. My youth spent, times gone and many hunters come and gone, all given to fear, greed, corruption and desires that cause them to behave with less control than animals; now one comes in my winter years that I would have allied my soul with.

All I can do now is hope that she is not too well spent in years to receive the bond, do what I can to strengthen the purpose and then deliver my long wait's reward.

"Greetings, child." I try to sound lightly curious, like an old woman who has waited for her grandchild to appear. Her language is difficult though, despite being able to hear my words reflected and understood in her mind.

She stares a moment more, her eyes slowly turning from brightness to a strange flatness. "Greetings to you as well, great one." Her thoughts start to feel grey and dismal, a finality of compunction becoming stronger.

"I see you have managed to make it all the way into my sanctuary. A difficult journey in itself." I began my conversation with the obvious stressing.

"Oh, yes...but I had no idea I would not be alone when I reached the last depths of this cavern. And it seems it is too late to turn around now." Her thoughts stirred a little, revealing her intentions.

"Perhaps, it is a propitious meeting? A changing of the fork in the road?" I asked, putting more of the stern tones in my voice that she had been used to in her life.

"My life is set in rule and law. There is nothing more for me now in this life. The end of days comes up before me, and I answer it with the truth of my soul." Her words echo her thoughts and I can see her strong desire to get it over with over powering her sense of small happiness that she found me in her hour of decision.

"Yes, I can see your honor and courage wrapped well around your soul. It is too bad that I also must die as I am approaching my last days of life. I would not worry if I could pass my gift to another and know that it will be used to promote the good and prosper a right way for mankind."

She stared at me in deep thought, silently considering my words. Her thoughts were suddenly moving rapidly and too murkily for me to see through. "A gift? But I am an old woman, widowed and expected to end my life to honor a great man." She finally spoke. "How will I do this thing you seem to think needs to be done?"

"While it is true that this thing is expected of you, to honor your dead, it is also true that it hardly bears a significant value to you yourself. Your life was hard, with little to call valuable, while your husband passed many gifts to others of lesser honor and quality than you, his true friend and life mate. He sent both your children to their deaths in his wars, replacing you with other women to bear him more children to inherit the line. This gift could alter your life so much that you would no longer need to spend it so harshly and would never come up empty handed again."

My delving into her deeper thoughts had borne the fruit I needed to see, as her face turned pale with the angst these truths made her feel. She trembled visibly, shaken with the truth of her life. "My husband was deemed a great man, a chief and leader of many. Yet your words reveal a side I chose not to see. I was the daughter of a general of his army, one who was his greatest friend, yet your words show that his heart was not happy with either his friend or myself. He did pass over me when giving gifts, when lavishing praise or smiling upon one for the pleasure they gave him. I suppose that I never pleased him."

She stopped talking, but her thoughts ran in many circles, debating upon the events of her past. I waited for her thoughts to settle, seeing them stirring in the right direction. "You did your duty and gave all that you had to give, loving where love was not returned and not requiring loss or pain in return. You owe no more to those laws or rules, as they were not fulfilled for you in return. No one will know that you haven't done this last thing, as they will never see you again. At least, not as your husband's widow."

Her eyes snapped to me with instant wonder and a few remaining doubts flogging her rising courage. "How will they not know me? I can hardly change my looks, with my age and shape gotten older, more stooped." She seemed to doubt my words, not comprehending yet that the gift would take care of the problem.

"These things will be taken care of. All you need to do is be accepting and ready to receive."

She considered my words more carefully, circling her life and the prospect of a new life with many questions in her mind. She moved forward, climbing a few more boulders to get closer. "Very well. How shall we do this?"

I waited a few moments to let her gather her breath as her blood was thundering in her ears after the climb. "I will change your form to mine first, to make parting the gift easy on your body. Afterward, you will know what to do and can do whatever you wish. Your life will take on a new meaning and your desire will be of a greater purpose." I said slowly, allowing these words to sink in before doing the one spell I had waited a lifetime to perform.

In a moment, in a flash of brilliant light and sound coruscating around us, her form turned from old woman to a larger, golden shimmer of beauty and grace of form. My old loins remembered and accepted that it retained the strength for one more time of wondrous joy and to give up the hold on life to exchange the gift.

Now she knew. Her form brought with it knowledge and pure insight. She would do better than me in preparing to receive the gift. She would also know what to do when it was over. To give birth to a new being of our kind and send it to old home, to be raised and trained in the ways of our kind. The months of the growing young one would cause the power to rise and make her a powerful being. When she chose to return to her true form, it would be a much altered form and life that she would have.

We joined in joyous sharing, my last strength and days of living would end here when it was done. The moment had made it worth the wait and the ending.

Almost a year later, the woman descended out of the cavern, her form altered to that of a more youthful looking one, beauty and grace in every movement. Her appearance much different from her former visage, she bears the burden of knowing that she can never call old friends a favorite nickname or share stories of the past. For if she is to lead a new husband to true greatness, she must keep her past a secret and use her power to help her people fulfill their destiny. The plain of the barbarian homeland would be filled with hordes of true warriors and a true code of honor.

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