Star-Crossed - Excerpt from Tomorrow's Memories
Copyright © 2002 Danielle Ackley-McPhail
Warning: Contains some sexually explicit scenes. Reader discresion is advised.
Agnieszka sang softly to herself as she made her way through the tall, verdant meadow grass. The sisters had told them to stick together in the fields, but the other girls were hateful and she did not wish to stay with them.
As Sister Michael Adele dozed off upon her hassock, surrounded by a gently swaying sea of pale green grass not yet baked golden brown by the sun, the others tormented each other and gossiped about the boys from the village they planned to sneak away and meet with. Agnieszka had just as soon put distance between them and herself before they turned their attention on her.
All around the edges of the field was a solid wall of trees, ancient oak and pine with a sprinkling of yew and hawthorn. The green boughs draped down in places, conspiring with the meadow grass to shroud the forest, adding to its air of secrecy...and sanctuary.
As the others gossiped around her, she longed for the solitude of the forest, to be wrapped in the cool, protective shade of the clustered trees with her eyes closed so she could better hear the whispered secrets that traveled through their branches. As casually as she could manage she wandered further from her companions, skirting the meadow, wending her way around the edge of the forest just far enough that she would not hear their shrill laughter.
They were all supposed to be gathering flowers for the May Day celebration that day. It was an old tradition, but this was the first time any of them were considered old enough to be allowed a part in the preparation.
All of the other girls were too interested in which of the boys would dance with them and who they'd like to steal kisses from later that day, only Agnieszka had any flowers in her basket. She had no illusion that she would be favored by anyone at the celebration and hoped the others wouldn't notice her and say as much.
As she slipped further away her hopes were shattered. Her slow departure had been seen and she was now the target of the moment.
"So, Aggie, who do you fancy circling the May Pole with?" Their tone was innocent-sounding enough, but Agnieszka knew better, they always sounded interested before they turned hurtful.
Moving off even faster she was followed by giggles and shouts of "Oh! She fancies Ol' Man Brighton...'is 'air's as white as 'ers is!" and "She daren't show herself today...everyone'll think she is the May Pole!" and "Maybe it's a good thing she's named after the patron saint of the virgins, no one's ever likely to want to kiss her!"
Fleeing further into the forest, Agnieszka prayed for the boles and the branches to block out her tormentors' hurtful words.
The Sisters at the orphanage had always done their best to make her feel loved and wanted, first by them and then eventually by others, but "eventually" was not enough for a sixteen-year-old girl whose body and heart craved some caring connection...any connection, with others. Something inside her ached unbearably for at least one other person to agree that she was worthy of notice, deserving of love.
Overwrought by her isolation and tormented beyond bearing by the taunts that still followed her on the wind, Agnieszka bit down on her lip until the salty, metallic tang of blood overwhelmed her senses. Her anguished cries literally bitten back, she ran through the woods without a care for the path before her. At full speed she tripped over some deadfall hidden in the undergrowth and sprawled full length on the forest floor.
Aaugh! Aaaaugh! Unable to outrun her heartache Agnieszka lay listlessly in the brush, the aches of her body were nothing compared to the agony she felt inside. Aaaaaauughhh! Drawing herself into a tight little ball the white-haired orphan girl threw back her head and screamed in utter desolation.
Totally devoid of thought and caught up in a whirlwind of deep emotion, she funneled all of her pain-physical and emotional-into one continuous, shattering stream of sound until her voice was silenced by the sustained strain and she gasped for breath against the overwhelming tightening of her chest.
Utterly gripped by despair, Agnieszka did not even notice the young man approach from the depths of the forest, did not hear his attempts to offer comfort. Curling in upon herself, she lay there as her tortured lungs fought to drag breath through her raw throat.
As her focus expanded from its inward center, she took stock of her pains. Some part of her relished the sharp ache of her twisted ankle, the stinging scraps along her arms, legs, and cheek, and the throbbing of her head. Physical pain gave her something to focus on beyond her heartache and emptiness. Physical pain made her feel more real, rather that the shadow self it always seemed she was.
"Come now, Shhhh..." Gentle hands brushing her hair back from her forehead snapped Agnieszka back into the here and now.
Tearing away from the stranger's arms, she drew herself back together in a heartbeat. Eyes wild and hands halfheartedly trying to brush away the dirt and leaves from her face and hair, all she could do was scramble to her feet and back away from him.
Her gaze locked with his and she drew herself up straighter, she was torn between crawling back into his arms or slapping him silly for the condescending look that flitted over the surface of his deeper concern.
Instead she did neither; her eyes grew cool and she stood before him with the composure of a queen, giving lie to her rumpled appearance. If she had thought on it a moment she would have been frightened at how quickly she bottled up her heartache, but right then she was too caught up in not opening herself to ridicule-or worse-from this strange young man.
"Are ye harmed, lass?" he asked in a calm, concerned tone, his hands falling limp at his sides as if to reassure her that he meant her no mischief.
She wanted to believe him.
She tried not to be captivated by the soft burr of his Irish lilt or flinch at the way his gorgeous eyes flickered over her as if looking for signs of injury. Not trusting her voice she shook her head and wrapped her arms around her chest as if to hide from him the gapping wounds on her heart.
How was she to get away from him? She could not back away clear to the field, and with her ankle twinging harshly when she simply shifted her weight there was no chance she could outdistance him should she turn and run.
"Are ye sure?" His eyes burned right into her, surely noting each fresh wound, each half-healed scar, and catching every bit of her fear and anger, all of it hidden deep inside.
She shook her head more fiercely and that was her mistake; perhaps it was the fall, or more likely it was her recent emotional overload, but as she shook her head the forest spun about her and the mist closed in.
The concerned look on the young man's face as he rushed to catch her was like an anchor. Hovering on the edge of darkness, for the first time Agnieszka felt compassion from someone other that the Sisters at the orphanage. The feeling alone made her reel even more and the darkness closed over her. She took with her the vision of his beautiful, startling eyes.
She woke in a clearing she would have sworn did not exist before that day.
For years she had been escaping into these woods, using their dark wildness and the unknown to keep the other girls away; she knew it better than she knew herself and she had never come across such a dell before.
Surrounded by rowan and birches, the clearing was edged in towering ferns and carpeted with thick moss. In the center was a massive pillar-like stone, carved all over with swirls, and at the base a spring bubbled up from the ground through a pile of rocks smooth from countless ages of wear. The forest beyond the dell was shrouded in mist and yet, resting on the ground as she was, Agnieszka felt no chill.
As her whereabouts registered, vague recollection of what had come before resurfaced. Scrambling upright, she ran her hands over herself as if confirming that she was all right and her virtue intact. Then, as she glanced up and met the stranger's eyes she felt ashamed.
Seated on the far side of the clearing, he watched her intently, concern still darkening his gaze. Taking clearer stock of the situation Agnieszka realized that the coat she hadn't even realized the young man had been wearing was now spread out beneath her, with the edge that had been thrown up over her now falling to her lap.
Taking a closer look at the state of her person, she noticed that she had been cleaned up and even her hair tidied. What's more, her ankle didn't hurt and if she hadn't felt it earlier she would have sworn she hadn't scraped off what had felt like a third of the skin from her body.
Curiously, the only wounds she still found evidence of were the teeth marks on the inside of her lip. Thoroughly chilled by this unexplainable state, she set about putting it out of her mind, for now at least. If she examined it too closely it would be just enough to force her to the far edge of madness. Pulling the coat up around her she swallowed hard and decided it was safe to try her voice.
"Th-thank you," she felt her cheeks burn as her roughened voice caught in her throat. "I'm sorry I've been so much trouble."
The stranger only smiled a brief smile, gently shaking his head as if to deny she could be any trouble. Rising slowly he moved toward the spring and cupped his hand beneath its flow. With a care and grace Agnieszka never imagined a person could use, he rose and came toward her slowly, his hand still full of the cool, crisp water.
Some analytical part of her brain could not help but note that if she had tried such a thing there would have been a trail trickling away from between her fingers. Of course, the rest of her brain was not up to caring about such observations and could only think how soothing a drink of that water would be.
"Drink slowly, 'twill help settle ye."
Something delightful fluttered deep within Agnieszka's center, threatening her very balance as she lowered her mouth over the rim of the young man's fingers. She drained the reservoir of his cupped hands in slow steady sips, knowing he would pull away if she were to drink too quickly.
The crystal-clear water was delicious and crisp, soothing her abused throat and causing her damaged lip to tingle not uncomfortably. It was so good she had to hold herself back from using her tongue to capture every last delightful drop.
Startled by her own thoughts and the complex physical reactions they inspired, Agnieszka flushed deeply. Jerking back, her chin burned with a pleasant heat where it brushed against his fingers. The sensation seemed to travel clear to that point deep within her that already churned rapidly from being so close beside him.
Something was wrong here; she had never imagined sensations like this, and the images they called to her mind were enough to send her running to the confessional. Where did such thoughts come from? She wasn't ignorant or naďve, but nothing in her experience had ever inspired the like.
Looking up in confusion she found his eyes upon her; they were like the deep green pools found in the most secret forest glades, with many things hidden beneath the surface occasionally revealed in glimpses, but never completely. There was an intensity to them that frightened her and drew her just the same; she could be lost within those eyes and never care that it would be forever. She sensed a willingness there, a desire, but he did not move. Not a word was said aloud, but there was an agreement reached between their eyes.
Trembling Agnieszka reach out her hand to finger a tendril of his hair-it was black with a deep purple sheen, not blue-it was silky and thick and crackled with energy that sparked across her fingertips. She had never seen or felt anything like it. Pulling back, she drew a quavering breath. What was she doing?!
Still her stranger did not speak but reached his own hand to caress the curtain of her glowingly white tresses. His eyes were filled with delight and his fingers continued to dance through the strands.
Agnieszka could not seem to catch her breath; it raced through her and despite her panic it left behind a feeling of euphoria. She could not tell if it was because she wanted him to stop or conversely, that she was afraid he would.
She was losing control, she was being swept away and though she would not acknowledge what it was, she did not think she cared to try and stop it. Closing her eyes tightly she leaned into his hand, afraid to see what came next-or not-but aching for it.
For one long moment and then another, nothing happened. Slowly the hand drew away and her heart nearly shattered. Building from that deep center within her another devastating cry rose to the surface, tearing her apart along the way...only to be captured in the depths of her stranger's mouth, caressed away by the gentle, hungry thrust of his tongue.
Trembling near enough to shake her apart, Agnieszka's eyes flew open, their amber depths glowing like molten lava. The wonder in them was met by her lover's unwavering, passion-filled depths and she knew she would drowned in those mysterious green pools, the fire within her would make them sizzle and steam and she would know what it was to be cherished at last.
With a slow nod of her head, she abandoned herself to his touch, not knowing what to do, but confident he would awake within her the knowledge.
Delightfully she arched against him as he steadily released the buttons of her blouse. She did not know what was about to happen, but instinct began to take over.
Her own hands reached up to brush against his nipples through the thin silky fabric of his shirt. They were firm and inviting; she longed for them but there were no buttons for her to work. Driven by the need she tugged impatiently at the shirt, slipping her hands beneath its hem to caress his burning skin.
He groaned appreciatively as her cool fingers brushed against his hot flesh. With an urgency she answered, he leaned into her touch until her hands were pinned between them and he took her mouth with a deep, powerful kiss that left her gasping. He pulled back swiftly and his shirt came off over his head, leaving his smooth, muscular chest bare.
at the pearly whiteness of his skin. It was not sickly, but all the same
it looked as if he had never suffered the sun to tint it; this is what
Agnieszka felt like someone had kindled a coal in the pit of her stomach and, as he stooped to trace the taut ridges crowning her breast with the firm, moist tip of his tongue, she reached for him again.
Now there was a look of pure devilment in his eyes as her lover swept her reaching hands above her head, trapping them there with one of his own. As her eyes went wide with shock a glowing, mischievous smile lit his face. She struggled and moaned and he shushed her, his free hand reaching out to caress and then grope the soft mounds of her exposed bosom.
Still fighting to get free and return like for like, Agnieszka thrust herself against his touch. She burned for him! She had to have more.
Once more his mouth descended to nuzzle each nipple and as his tongue flicked out repeatedly Agnieszka begged him to free her, to let her touch him. He responded by blowing gently on the flesh he had just moistened until she thrashed in a frenzy of desire. Her moans grew more urgent.
"Please! Please!" Her voice was rough and throaty and full of heat, her pleading eyes smoldered. He had awakened something within her she could not control and it would consume her until it was unleashed.
Her lover moved so swiftly that Agnieszka did not even realize she was free before he had her nipple firmly circled by his lips. She moaned and panted as he suckled hungrily and part of her prayed he'd never stop.
The thought thrilled her as she watched her lover drawing on her ultra-sensitive flesh and she could feel a hot, moist feeling growing most intensely between her thighs. It throbbed and ached most delightfully, most urgently.
He seemed to know and his hands swept down across her belly to work their way to the button at the back of her skirt. With a deft flick of his fingers the button was undone. Slowly, with a fire burning in the depths of his own eyes, he pulled off her remaining clothing, laying them aside.
Watching him sit back upon his heels, Agnieszka arched her back and tried to press herself against him, consumed with a need she could not name.
His hands began their circuit once again, more urgent, more intense, stroking her body until she trembled and shook with the overwhelming need for him. She nearly exploded as this time his hand slipped between her thighs and stopped to caress the hot, moist core that was nestled there, fingers sliding tauntingly within her. The fire flared and she, moaning and panting furiously, tried to grip him with her legs and pull him against her.
His hands resumed their travel across her skin, leaving burning trails that pulsed in time to her rapid heartbeat. Gliding across her stomach and her thighs, up over her breasts and then beneath her and down her back. With her bottom cupped in his hands, he lay between her thighs and pressed against the length of her, setting her ablaze with the friction and the feel of him, knowing what must come next.
"Take me! Please...take me now!" She had gone breathy with her panting, feverish as the coal burning behind her navel flared into an inferno, but somewhere beneath her words ran a thread of uncertainty. Her hands roved all over her love, exploring his body with a tangle of awe and hunger, tinged with the disbelief that anyone could care for her, want her.
The moment the words were out of her mouth she could feel they were wrong; her love had gone still except for his own intense trembling. His head snapped up and the urgent intensity of his gaze subdued her frantic thrusts.
With a tenderness that gripped her in the midst of their heated passion he ran his hands across her in a caress meant more to reassure than to excite. She could feel in every stroke the love and care and joy he had for her, and found it amazing. He laid his length against her and showered her face and neck with gentle kisses until she was almost frightened by the controlled intensity, this different face of the passion they already shared.
Leaning back far enough to hold her gaze, Love looked into her eyes and kissed her deeply, cradling her in his arm much differently than he had just moments before. And finally, as if deciding his body could only tell her so much, he took her face in his hands.
" 'Tis'na takin'...never takin', love," his eyes burned with desire and devotion both, "I give myself to ye, for now an' ever."
Agnieszka could never say when he had shed the rest of his clothing, but as if it were a vow, the moment the words had left him he lowered himself upon her, spreading her thighs gently with his knee. Holding her both tight and tender, he carefully poised himself for entry and lay still a moment, pressing questioningly against her.
"Geal leannĂˇn, I love ye," he murmured in her ear," I love ye, but are ye certain?"
She clutched him to her and he kissed away the joyous tears streaming from her eyes. Pushing himself up he slowly and deftly slipped deep within her and even as Agnieszka wondered at the absence of pain even she knew to expect with her first time, a wave of ecstasy crashed over her, turning her fevered gasps into moans that spoke nothing of pain and everything of fulfillment.
Needing to feel him deeper and deeper within her, she arched her back and rose to meet his measured thrusts. Their gazes locked and with each rapidly quickening plunge her desire grew with his until they burned and throb and crested with a quake that shook each of them to their foundations, crying out with one voice, collapsing as one upon their bed of moss.
They lay together in the dell, totally entwined with each other. Agnieszka snuggled beneath the shelter of her love's arm as he fed her berries she hadn't noticed he'd gathered. She opened her mouth wide to accept the sweet gem, hoping this was one of the times he'd follow it with a kiss and they would share the fruit.
Running her hand across his smooth, hairless chest, she tried not to think of how long they'd been there. Some part of her knew the others-or at least Sister Michael Adele, anyway-would have begun to worry about her. She definitely did not want to think of going back, her breath caught in her throat at the very thought. Here, in this dell, was the only place in the world where anyone cared for her.
Even as she thought it, Agnieszka was hit by a wave of guilt that she would think such a thing. What about the sisters? And Mother Superior?
A small, selfish part of her heart whispered back that it was their job to care for her, not an emotional investment. Why not stay in their dell forever? She could happily live on berries and kisses...
"We could, ye know..."
Agnieszka nearly jumped. She hadn't been talking aloud, had she? Instead she only clung closer to her love. "What?"
"Were'na ye listin'? I said we could stay here forever, in TĂr na nOg." The smile on his face was as brilliant as sunlight on clear ice as he brought down his lips to kiss her once again.
Breathless from his intensity she smiled and lost herself in his endless eyes, "We could...I give myself to you, for now and ever."
Pulling her closer for yet another tender kiss, he murmured back, "An' I ye."
Content in each other's arms they drifted off to sleep.
Whichever it was, Agnieszka opened her eyes and felt terror take her as she saw only vague misty shapes and the ghosts of color.
She wanted to call out to her love...to call his name and comfort him for there was no doubt that the sobs were his, but she did not yet know his name and her body was held frozen in the grips of her own panic.
What could be the matter? Trying to reach for him, to return the solace he had given her, she was alarmed when her arms would not respond.
Laying there in the mossy depression cause by their bodies she was aware of her surrounding but she couldn't help noticing that it all seemed far, far away. Though her love's hands must have held her in a death grip it was as if he barely touched her and his sobs, no longer muffled against her, had not grown any louder.
What was going on? Her very being strained to resurface from a vantage point somewhere deep inside her. Instead her body betrayed her, remaining limp and unresponsive, as if her life had fled and her love mourned her.
Could that be so? Had she finally found happiness and not been strong enough to survive the encounter? Had something happened to her as they slept?
Rebelling against the thought she fought the paralysis enough that the sounds around her came clearer to her ears.
"Cian, do'na torture yerself so." The deep, rumbling voice was gentle and filled with regret.
It sent Agnieszka further into panic. Who was this strange man and what was he doing here? What was wrong with her that she could not move to cover herself? And why was her vision clouded over with a silvery mist?
She listened intently as the voice continued to murmur, trying to make some sense of this nightmare. "Ye have to leave her, leanbh, 'tis the only way."
"Why, Goibhniu? Why?!" The anguish in her love's voice warmed her, giving her the strength to focus her will and fight for movement.
Her heart cried out to him, 'I am here, I am well! Do not leave me, my love. We are to live here forever...on berries and kisses!'
Trying to reach for him, to comfort him, she felt the smallest thrill of victory as her finger slowly and lightly brushed the smoothness of his stomach, not even caring that the sensation felt so distant it was as soft as if a butterfly's wing were flapping against her hand. She could hear him groan and imagined he clutched her tighter. She prayed for the strength to hold him back. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought she felt more of his gentle kisses showered over her face.
"Cian, Stop!" The strange voice grew stern, as if calling a recalcitrant child to task. "Ye could'na know she is the Cosaint, but she is the hope o' yer people an' ye canna have her for yer own. She must remain hidden away, unaware o' what she is, lest her nature be betrayed to our enemies."
His name was Cian! She clung the knowledge to her desperately. But what was a Cosaint?
"Hide someone else!" Her lover's voice was fierce, even muted as it was by whatever cocooned her. "I love her, I canna leave."
"Ye must, my child. There is no babe to take her place." the voice was thick with regret, but unswerving.
"But my heart is hers, I'll die without her." The turmoil in his voice rang through her and she gripped it like an anchor, trying to pull herself closer to complete awareness.
"Will ye, then?" The words were quite neutral, but to Agnieszka the stranger seemed skeptical. They were met with a stillness that made her frantic.
The silence grew so solid that she feared she had failed, slipping further into oblivion in her efforts to climb out. But then she heard him, speaking no louder that a whisper, so low she felt more than heard what he said.
"Could ye...could ye..." her love seemed to struggle with the words, as if in uttering them he risked losing the hope they represented. "Could ye make me the same as her, then?"
What did he mean by the same as her? But the answer did not matter because in her heart she knew he asked so that he could remain with her. His meaning didn't matter; she prayed with all her being that the answer would be yes.
"Oh, leanbh..." The compassion of the words pierced straight through Agnieszka's soul and her hope flowed out through the gap. She knew what the answer would be before the stranger even finished. "Would that I could grant yer heart's desire, but the magic that veils her will'na work but on a soul that has never been recorded on the Great Wall, ye ken yer own pattern is very near the heart o' it."
Though she didn't understand what they were talking about, her heart already knew what it would mean for her and she could feel it cracking, crumbling within her breast.
"Then my pattern will'na be there for long, as I canna live knowin' she's forever gone to me."
The fierceness of her lover's words left Agnieszka aching, frantic to call out and deny what he implied. She'd rather herself dead and him living on without her, than to think of him taking his life over her.
"Aye, lad, with that I must agree," The man answered remorsefully, "for neither o' ye can be allowed to remember...the Cosaint must be protected."
"Och! Goibhniu, No!" her love wailed in tangible anguish. "Ye' canna mean it! Please, do'na do it!"
No! No! Agnieszka echoed his thoughts. What did he mean?!
She could not bear the thought that they would not even be allowed the sanctuary of their memories. How could they be taken from them? Desperately she wrapped her heart around the gift of love she had received that day, willing the memory to root deep enough that some fragment would remain, no matter what. Triumphant, she could feel the tiniest kernel of memory take root, hidden deep within her heart. It wasn't much, but she would take it.
Trying to clutch him to her, in her despair she could only feel him slipping away as the mists claimed her, leaving her only the echo of his agonized roar, the fading images of blissful moments in a moss-covered grotto, and a feeling of abandonment with which she was already so familiar.
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