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110. Two Bears 112. The Kiss - 2

November 20th, 2020

The Kiss

I steal memories, I slip them from their owners, and lie in them as my own. I wake in the bed of another and stretch out their arms, roll their shoulders and yawn with their mouths and eyes. For breakfast I chew on their bread, and sip their water from a glass which means a lot to them, and now means a lot to me too. I see the people they know and I know them too. I go to the places they call home and find home in them too. I kiss with passion the people they love and sneer at the painful things that they despise. In the evenings I sigh with their breaths and pull their covers over my body, their body, which I have stolen for my own. These words I speak are not my own, they are from another’s tongue. Another’s hand carves my destiny and I, alone, and I, not alone, cannot escape these walls, this coffin in which I was born to lie. In my youth I was a soldier, and in the latter part of that life I moved often between towns I knew only from military ordinance. They had names I couldn’t pronounce, though we all tried, laughing, stuttering at the foreign collections of letters that garbled on our lazy tongues. In one such place we woke early, before sunrise, aching from the beds we had rolled out in a small church where the pastor had welcomed us meekly, but not coldly. He had offered us a meal but we had our own provisions and, apart from the risk of sabotage, one of our number had seen into the stores they had there, and gave a quiet shake of the head. We were all meek then, and sombre with the guilt that comes with security; no matter how distasteful our rations may have been, we had them always. We accepted his hospitality then and, to his much well-disguised relief, declined his ceremony. The morning was bright, and we packed without much chatter, though the spirit that hummed about the camp was cheery, a satisfied commune into which we all paid with stoicism. Two went ahead of the rest, others spreading like a net across the land, our supplies a trundling queen ant for us to protect and serve. For the day we marched, breaking little and often. Without the need to do anything other than cover a medium distance the command decided we were better off bored on the journey than at the destination. An attempt to recall the specifics of that one day’s travel would be like trying to remember the details of an uneventful meal some decades ago, the blur of the event’s many repetitions cascading together into one, unending, indescribable journey, that took me, when I was young, from one mark on a bleak stretch of canvas to another. Some time before we arrived the scouts that had gone ahead returned and delivered a letter to the commander from an old general who lived in a large house close by the town. After some tedious reminiscences the meat of the message was an invitation to dinner for the leading members of our party, of which I was one. More senior by a slight age advantage than soldiering quality, eldership was, at that time, held in high regard, and I may modestly say my experience of battle gave me some sway over my marginally younger superiors. A letter of acceptance was returned without delay, no matter our individual inclinations, it would have been an unnecessary slight to turn down the old master’s offer, though several of our number groaned openly at the thought of an evening spent listening to stories of old and distant wars. The sun set rapidly, though it was still early, the days shortened in that strange country so that when we arrived at the town, with thoughts of hunger only an inkling, it might have been the dead of night, so dark was it when we pitched camp in the rolling garden’s of our host. ‘I have my pistol ready,’ muttered an officer as we buckled on our more ceremonial attire. ‘Slander,’ replied another, smiling at the grim joke. ‘Don’t stain the old man’s carpets when you relieve us of his prattle,’ said another. ‘Don’t worry,’ replied the first, ‘the pistol is for me not he.’ We all laughed then, blackly. ‘That’s enough,’ the commander, who shared our sensibilities with more spirit, ‘best behaviour for our host.’ So we trooped across the lawns, some ten or twelve of us, and presented ourselves at the entrance of the manor, which sprouted in a not inconsiderable mass from the hillside. From outside we could hear voices, laughter, some singing and the threads of tunes being played, the frivolity raising more than a couple of eyebrows. ‘Perhaps you won’t need that pistol after all,’ someone chuckled under their breath before the commander called for quiet, and a moment later the doors swung open to reveal our host silhouetted against a blaze of light and warmth. The man was tall and broad, a classical frame with a modern moustache that was thick and well kept despite his apparent age, given away only by the stick with which he propped himself up, and the heavy streaks of grey flowing through his hair and beard. ‘Welcome, friends.’ ‘Your hospitality is much appreciated,’ bowed the commander, ‘I hope we haven’t arrived at an inopportune time.’ He was trying hard not to look past the man, into the room where a great many people were gathered, in the midst of a full-blown celebration. ‘Nonsense, commander, tonight we celebrate the union of my child with the child of my closest friend, three soldiers amongst the four of us, it couldn’t be more appropriate to receive you here tonight.’ Among us trepidation was washed away by the sound of glasses, the small of delicious roasted meat, and the possibility of some buffoonery to be squeezed from had been anticipated to be an altogether sluggish affair. ‘I can only apologise that we were unable to wait for your arrival to begin the celebration.’ His expression grew stern, and with a troubled demeanour he went on. ‘I must heartily beg your forgiveness but my brother, who you may know from his war-time triumphs, has been called upon by the powers of this nation to advise in our current conflict. With him being as close as any man to both myself, and my child, and having travelled a great distance to be here, we put ahead the ceremonies so that the heart of the matter could be reached before his regrettable departure.’ ‘Think nothing of it, for we arrive as unannounced guests in the night, to take advantage of you and your household, and desire nothing of you that you would not freely give.’ With that the man smiled an enormous grin and clapped together his bear-like hands with a shout. ‘Your cordiality pleases me greatly, and tonight, we shall have the best food and drink that we have to offer. But come, you freeze upon my threshold, make yourselves warm and merry, be as a friend to any you find here, for they will salute you as lovingly as a mother welcomes her son from the siege.’

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