Theralon’s wound leaked a foul-smelling ichor, a pale yellow ooze dotted with dark clots of congealed blood. When Merise squeezed the sides of the fleshy crevice Theralon moaned—but less each time. She’d waited too long. To brand the wound now would condemn the vile humors within to fester and spread. She wiped away the slick of corruption and rinsed the cloth in the bronze vessel aside the meager bed she’d made for him. Above them, the canvas sail held off the sun, yet, scant breeze moved to whisk away the smell.
Even Theralon could sense the odor. “That rot I smell,” he asked in a whisper, “my own?”
“Yes, my lord. As I tended your injuries, I neglected the one beneath your tunic and it has turned.”
“‘Tis not your doing, Merise. Blame my arm for its failure to hold steady my shield. Blame the Cretan for his wicked spear. Blame…” Theralon’s breath caught in his throat as a spasm of pain wracked his core. “… is there wine? My lips, like dust, I…”
“Shhh, my lord. There is honeyed wine. Let me lift your head.”
As Merise maneuvered herself, sliding an arm beneath his neck, her other poised with a simple chalice, lifting it to his eager mouth, the tent-flap swung wide and a radiant glow, brighter even than the sun, shone into the dim interior.
Holding back the canvas stood a woman garbed in a gilded cloak, purple trim announcing her regal origin.
“Stay your hand, young maid.”
Merise gasped and dropped the chalice, spilling the wine across Theralon’s scarred chest. Both she and her soldier gazed up in shock at the apparition who entered, the woman letting the tent close behind her. The vision’s glow swelled in an aura fit to blind yet neither dared blink away the light.
“Young Theralon,” the spirit said, “your valor has been recognized. No dull wine shall you drink from this day forward.”
Theralon licked the crust from his lips. “Yet, my thirst grows dear goddess.”
Merise regained her composure. “Praise the gods and goddesses. You have come to aid my lord? His dire wounds exceed my simple cures.”
The spirit-woman’s chin dipped and her ebony curls swung from her shoulders. When she looked up her dark eyes held only pity. They soon brightened as she said, “This plane of existence has seen the last of you, young warrior. The elixir I offer cures all ills, dissolves all ailments of mind and body.” From within her cloak the goddess brought forth a horn-shaped rhyton made of gold. “For I am the goddess Lethe and I offer you the waters of my river which you must drink to gain entrance to the land of Elysium.” Lethe held out the rhyton, her face expectant.
Merise pulled back. “You mean to take my Theralon from me?”
“Your warrior was never yours to keep.”
“But we have promised ourselves.”
“A promise made impossible by choices, yours and his.”
Theralon shuddered and raised a battle-worn hand to Merise’s cheek. “My love, our time here must end. Take heart, the gods will see us reunited someday.”
“Nay, brave warrior,” Lethe corrected. She knelt with the golden horn tipping toward Theralon’s parched mouth. “The waters of the River Lethe bring oblivion. What you know here will be lost to you. And your maid…”
“No, dear goddess. Please do not release us from our vows.”
“The choice is yours, young warrior. Exist for eternity among the heroes of Elysium. Or die to drift with the commoners upon the fields of Asphodel.”
Theralon’s lips parted and his eyes focused on the goddess’ offering.
Merise snatched up the spilled chalice, refilled it with wine and held it up to compete with Lethe’s own.
The goddess first pursed her lips then allowed a sly smile to tilt her face. “It seems you have one last choice to make, my valiant warrior.” Lethe held her forgetful potion closer. “Choose.”