Subject: Well Met
From: (John Benson)
Date: 26 Mar 1998 06:18:33 -0800

Well Met

I met the girl on the road, far out from the nearest town. She was just walking along bare footed, in a dark blue shawl and a light blue dress. Her long hair was sun bleached and her face tanned by wind and sun so she could not have been called beautiful. But then neither was she plain, and a sunny disposition goes a long way, let me tell you.

I asked her her name and she answered Aly easily enough, but when I asked where she was from, she said none of my business. Now that I wasn't going to take. A smart-mouthed teen ager. No sir. You're supposed to slap it out of them when they're just kidlings, but if it's still there in the teen years you have to whip it out. Have to. Otherwise they grow up to be piss-ants and then it's all too late.

So I cut me a four foot switch and peeled it and scolded her, then got my bed roll down off my horse and made her lie face down across it with her dress thrown up over her head. She wore naught beneath in the peasant style, and I concentrated on doing my duty, laying down rows of stripes nice and even, side by side. Figured I'd ask her the same question after my arm tired and get a more civil answer.

Trouble is, the heat of the stripes rose another heat in her, if you know what I mean. Her thighs parted and she humped that bed roll for all she was worth and I got distracted and dropped the switch and my trousers and covered her. My sword found its way into its natural sheathe, and she was wet and ready and firm and tight and I rode her and held onto her breasts as I slapped into her well-striped buns and she wiggled beneath me and made encouraging noises. It was the best I ever had and I never even intended....

Well when it was over she got up all smiles and I was a bit shy as I re-buttoned my trousers. I asked her if there was a father or a brother or even a husband who was going to be out to kill me now, but she said no, I was quite safe on that score, and then she up and thanked me for what had happened. We got to talking and somehow it was my turn answering questions.

My name is Luke, I told her. Joke back home is that my parents called me that 'cause I'm not so hot. Stuff like that is probably half the reason I left there soon as I was old enough and never looked back. Well even though I usually travel alone, I wasn't going to let her go after what had just happened. I'm deeply superstitious, and everybody knows it's bad luck to screw a woman only once.

She had no objection to hooking up with me. She was light enough that she could sit on one of my spare horses without tiring it out. I didn't have a spare saddle but it didn't matter. She just rucked up her skirts and rode bare back. Had absolutely no shame at all. Damnedest thing.

We fell into an easy friendship. She was a wonderful cook, finding every herb and root and berry that I'd never even knew existed. I miss her stew with mushrooms almost as much as I miss the feel of her body beneath me. Oh well. Yes of course we shared the bed roll. She was insatiable, and I told her once she was as lusty as the High Priestess and she gave me a little chuckle and asked me if I knew the High Priestess. I said no, it was just a figure of speech, and the subject dropped. It was one of those things you don't think anything of until later.

Every once in a while I'd remember that she never had answered my question about her past, and every single time it turned out the same. I tried to whip the truth out of her and by the time it was over we'd shared the kind of sex most people only dream about but I was too sated and happy to realize she'd deflected the question yet again. Damnedest thing.

I remember one day we were riding along, and right off the road was a well-kept God shrine, and as I told you I'm pretty superstitious, so I had to stop and get down and pay my respects. Aly got down with me and gave the shrine a sort of a half-curtsey but she wouldn't come close. So after I'd done my prayers I asked her if maybe she was one of those more modern folk who don't believe in the Powers.

"Not at all," she told me. "But I may not worship the God, for the Goddess would become jealous."

Well that made a kind of sense to me actually. It meant that she was superstitious too. They were just different from mine is all. I could live with that. More than I could with an actual unbeliever, really. I wonder if she knew.

Then one evening as we were sitting around the campfire enjoying her heavenly stew, everything changed. Some guys ran past, stopping long enough to warn us that Something Evil was loose. Some damn fool farmer had found a lone post in the middle of a meadow he was clearing rock in and never even stopped to think that the damn thing was probably there for a damned reason. He pulled it out and loosed a Demon into the world. Time to run, guys. Let's go.

I was ready to leave the gear and ride out straight away. My skin's worth more than some damned old stuff. But Aly? She took her clothes off and ran the wrong way. Toward the trouble. Damn. It's great to have a woman to sleep with. Really is. But she gets awfully damn dear to you after a while. Your heart aches to think you might lose her and you don't think so straight. I ran after the stupid shit. As if I was going to keep her safe from a fucking Demon.

The setting sun uncovered a half moon overhead. Somehow Aly in her bare feet could run faster than I could in my good boots, so I never quite caught her. I got to the edge of the meadow in question, now bathed in moonlight, and prudence came back. This was no place for the likes of me.

The Demon was there, some strange mix of an eagle and a lion the size of a house. It had the poor farmer in its beak, still moving a little so he wasn't dead yet. The other thing in the clearing was Aly, wearing her long gold hair and a necklace of diamonds that glowed in the moonlight.

The chimera had eyes the size of dinner plates. It looked at her and put down its victim, pinning him under a talon. It snapped its beak a few times and then spoke, naming her.

"Aliana," it said.

The High Priestess of the Goddess. I'd been treating the High Priestess of the Goddess as if she was a fucking runaway bar maid.

"You don't belong here," the girl said, looking up unafraid. "Depart and it is over."

"After I have fed and rested," the Demon said, nodding toward the prostrate farmer. "I do not have the strength to break through until I have fed and rested."

"Then allow me," Aliana said. She held her fingers like claws and slashed down, tearing a hole in reality. A deeper darkness bled through the wound. "Quickly," she said. "My patience is limited."

The Demon shuffled toward the rift, with the farmer still clutched in one talon.

"Oh no you don't," the girl said. "He is a stupid shit, but he is my stupid shit. Thus sayeth the Lady: He stays. You go."

The Demon left the world and reality healed behind its passage and the forest sounds I hadn't missed came back, crickets and tree frogs and the like. I stood rooted to the edge of the meadow, hardly able to breathe.

Aliana walked toward me. "A little much to take I suppose," she said.

"Aliana," I said. "Priestess."

"Only when I have to be," she said. "I like Aly better for every day. Aliana is only for festivals and emergencies. Shall we go?"

I looked at her nervously. "I have been trying to tame what can never be tamed," I said. "Forgive me."

"The Goddess presides over field and forest," she said. "Tame lands and wild. So of course I am like my Mistress. Parts that are easily tamed and other parts that will always be free. Let's go back to finish our dinner and lie together. It's what I want."

"It can't be the same," I said.

"Of course it can," she said. Almost pleaded. "I am only Aly now. Shall I be smart-mouthed so that you must cut a switch?"

She was trying so hard that my heart went out to her and I tried too. I tried but it didn't work. I could not forget what I had seen, and couldn't treat that great power as if she were a helpless child. My manhood failed me, and she had to leave. At least we left as friends. She needed all that had been before. The punishment. The lust. It was part of her way of worship. I said we all have our own superstitions, right? Who was more entitled to a strange one than the most magical mortal in the world.

I'm older now, and wiser, I'd like to think. If little Aly ever walks down another road I travel, I am ready to give her what she needs. But I fear in one way she is not like her Mistress. The Goddess gives second chances. Maybe the Priestess does not. Maybe one of you is next. If so, be brave, and you will be rewarded in this world and the next.

Another beer? Don't mind if I do. A toast then. To the Lord and the Lady, and to kind memory and cruel hope.