The Woman of the Well
Deep within a tangled forest where shadows pooled between the ancient trees and black-winged ravens perched high on twisted lichen-covered limbs, a young man lay dying.
Sprawled upon the forest floor, a quarrel embedded deep within his flesh, he foresaw his death from the depths of his pain. All efforts to withdraw the shaft had proved in vain, the worrying serving only to speed the flow of blood from the mortal wound.
He saw the truth of his imminent death and recognised his fear, crawling on hand and knee, no deliverance to be found in that twilight world, driven by desperation, a fierce will to live. He clung to his pain as an anchor to the physical world, to the husk that housed his soul, too precious to be cast aside, yet the pulse and colour leeched from his wounded body as surely as his blood, and hope foundered in the face of that inevitable end.
Evening swept into night. Overhead in the spreading branches the ravens cawed. He crawled onwards, as if to halt the moment of his death by the sheer determination of his actions, knowing that to yield now was to remain forever still, leaving time and decay to claim all vestige of his existence upon this fair and sunlit land. He did not want to die alone, he whose brief life had been so full of wine and song.
A cold and waning moon rose slowly in the night sky, shafts of pale-blue light reaching down through the forest canopy to the earth below. The howl of a lone wolf echoed in the distance, the predator’s cry bringing the young man to a renewed sense of his surroundings. He looked up, seeing as he did, a fragmented reflection of the crescent moon glimmering in a nearby body of water, the sight awakening a deep thirst within the dying man. He forced his body on, crawling slowly from the cover of the trees and into a small clearing.
In the centre of the glade lay a jet black pool of water, bound by stone, a twisted willow growing by its side. Soft green moss grew over the gleaming black stone, a cool caress against his fevered brow as he leant his head against the edge of the pool and drank his fill of the icy water with loud and thirsty draughts. As the water trickled down his chin and he looked into the pool’s shimmering depths he caught a glimpse of his own anguished face, his skin as pallid as a corpse, his eyes tight with pain.
A sudden ripple spread across the water, dispersing the reflection. Then the pool slowly stilled, moonlight gracing the surface once more, a slight breeze sending the luminescent crescent into undulating movement and rustling the branches of the old willow tree.
A chill crept into his limbs and he began to question his struggle against the sure demise of his damaged flesh—so much easier to surrender, to cease the pain, to accept his fate. Instead he raised himself from the damp ground and leaning back against the willow’s gnarled trunk, he gasped for breath, his lungs heavy with fluid. And as he sat, his chin resting against his chest, his eyes upon that ancient pool, his mind began a swift unravelling, the memories cascading like a turbulent river bound for union with the endless sea.
Immersed in his thoughts, he paid little heed as the pool’s surface rippled again and a pale shape appeared in the cold, watery depths, a seeming illusion summoned by his dwindling mind. Yet as the water swirled in sudden, agitated motion, sloshing over the pool’s black stone, he awoke from his introspection.
A figure crested the pool’s surface. Two slender hands clutched at the stones edge as a dark-haired woman emerged with a slow and sinuous grace. Liquid flowed over her luminescent skin as she slid out of the water, the droplets glinting on her naked form as she perched upon the pool’s edge, the sickle moon reflected in her wide dark eyes.
The apparition seemed too vivid to be a creature woven from fancy. Although possessed of a cold and ethereal beauty, something within the dark maid’s bearing spoke of a fearsome strength and a fearful purpose. She made no sound as she ran her fingers through her long, long, raven tresses, watching him with an unflickering gaze, as if awaiting his response.
Heedless of his body’s state a great hunger came upon the young man, more pressing than thirst, more urgent than his body’s call for sustenance, deeper than the necessity to breathe; a need to enter the dark maid’s arms, to feel her lips upon his, to taste the essence of her being, a need he could neither fight nor deny. He tried to rise.
At the sight of his struggle the woman reached out, and the touch of her hand upon his was as cold as death itself. And with that contact came a strange lessening of his pain and an overwhelming longing to feel the maid’s intimate embrace. His body shook with yearning as he moved towards her.
He pressed his fevered lips against hers, gasping at the sweet coolness of her mouth and the intensity of that moment, wanting her more than anything he had ever desired in his earthly existence. His body’s sufferings seemed immaterial in the face of that all-encompassing ardour.
The dark maid met his heated touch, her cold body drowning death’s despair, her thighs yielding to his urgency, her back arching with his caress, the divinity of her kiss rendering him redemption and relief.
She leant back upon the chill-black stones, pulling him down with her, inviting his lust with a passion to equal his own. The heat of his wound cooled then vanished, his weakness strengthened by her touch, the spirit of his former self summoned by his desire. The dark maid opened herself up to his hunger, her hips rising up to meet him, their bodies dancing to a sultry tempo, skin against skin, her sex as cold as her mouth—as startling and thrilling as diving into the depths of a crystal clear pool.
Her teeth were sharp against his neck. His thrusts pushed her back against the stone. The surge of his ardour swept through him in climatic release, filling her womb with his final, mortal sowing.
The force of his throes stole breath. His heart lurched. His pulse leapt. Her eyes were an abyss, an endless realm as infinite as space itself…