You've heard of me, probably. I don't know what you've heard. It probably wasn't good. But I…
I'm not a bad person.
Neither is she.
It wasn't even our fault. Just listen, I swear, you'll understand. You might even…
You might even envy us.
Like I said, I mean, it wasn't even my fault we met that way. I got in a fight, a bad fight, a fight I couldn't win without losing something. But I… I guess I won, because all I lost was flesh, not honor or land, but god, it hurt so much and it festered… It festered and it stank of wet oats and bad meat and something I can't really name. There was no one else who could do it, and I had to go, I had to go and see her but it wasn't my fault.
I didn't know how much they hated my family, didn't know until I got there. I almost couldn't hear them, but I heard their tone when they asked where I was from, when they made a joke about where I was really from before we answered, thank god.
"Tantris," I told them. It was stupid, reversing my name, really stupid because she finally guessed, but there was no other way.
"My name is Tantris."
But she healed me, and I could breathe the air around me again without getting sick. She had – has – hair as red as strawberries and gold as… gold, I don't know. She's beautiful, the most beautiful woman you'll ever see, anywhere, anytime.
But when she realized, I mean… By then, we were already in love, we were in love from the moment I could see her, from the moment she touched my leg and pulled it and wrapped it and made it better, but she was engaged to my uncle, for god's sake. Her mother sent a love potion on the boat that took her to my uncle. We drank it by accident, but we didn't… It didn't change anything. I barely noticed any change in my feelings, though we did… She gave me what she had, and I did all I could to thank her.
I guess you could say our fate was sealed, and my uncle hadn't a chance in hell.
I did what I could, I went and swore fealty to him, signed over my god-damn country to him, just so I could be close to her. And she gave me the best gift she could. She sent her maid, instead of her, to the chamber the night after they were married, and she'd made my uncle so drunk on how beautiful she was, and the wine they made in her country, that he didn't notice. My teacher cried when he heard, because he loved the servant, but they had to help us, don't you see? They knew what they had to do, and they knew how in love we were, even then, when we didn't know… Didn't know everything that could happen.
Didn't know what we could face.
What we would face.
For a while, for a while we made it work. We could meet in the gardens and show how much we loved each other, because my teacher and my love's servant would keep a lookout for us, but eventually…
We couldn't keep meeting in the rosebushes forever. I went to her room, went to her chambers and oh my god… Oh my god…
But we were asleep, and she was so soft in my arms, but my uncle came and found us, turned me out with dishonor. I went back the next day, begged him if there was something that I could do, promised that I would not so much as meet my love's eyes from that day forth, would not so much as notice when she walked by with her perfume. But what could I do, to prove myself to him, to make him take me back?
I should have known when I saw that smile, should have known better than to try for what he asked. But I did it, I did what he asked, I swore I would do what he asked.
I went there, I sailed there, alone with my teacher, and I killed him. I killed the man he wanted killed, and got the next-of-kin to sign over to my uncle, because I killed the next-of-kin too, afterwards. Then I got a message from my uncle that it wasn't enough, he needed me to do it again with the nearest neighbor, too.
Five men, I killed.
I didn't even know them. All they did was live where they were born.
I did it for her, I swear.
I did it to get back to her.
And when he finally let me come home, it had been almost five years, one for each man. I was so tired of traveling, tired out of my mind, and all I had left was her. But it was almost a month before I got to see her, before she could slip away and come to me. And, god, we couldn't do it anymore. Didn't want to keep apart anymore. We swore in each other's lips we wouldn't do it anymore, wouldn't be apart again. I almost died for missing her, she almost killed herself, she said, because I wasn't there.
But then, the next day, my uncle sent me away again. He said he needed someone to represent him at something, a wedding, a funeral – what does it matter? He sent me.
I ended up having to fight for a girl's honor, a girl I didn't care about. And when I lost, the victor dragged me home to be his slave, but I played for him, played my music, beat his father hollow at chess. And for that, I guess, he liked me and brought me higher up in his staff, but I was still his dog. I fought him again for my freedom, and so help me god I killed him. I took his land and sent his wife to a convent, his father to a hermitage.
And because that's the way it works, I had to go swear fealty to the king of that region, then got into a fight with another man over the boundaries between our lands, and I beat him too. So I had to do the whole thing over again, and then his people came to me and said there was a man in the hills who was kidnapping their sons and daughters and returning them wide-eyed with bruises where the ground does not hit them when they stumble and fall. And one of my men – my new men, the ones who had previously sworn fealty to the one I killed – came with me to try to find this monster.
We found it.
We killed it.
And my story started again.
I didn't lose the fight, I didn't lose any honor and my enemy was dead.
But I lost flesh. And the man who had come with me took me back to his house, where his sister worked women's magic and healed me. It was not what my love had done – my love who, all this time, I had not seen once – but, save me, she had the same name. I heard it through the delirium and thought that it was her. And I couldn't see, and I thought she was mine, my love with that name, and I swore that now, whether she was free or not, that I would marry her and make her mine so no one could take her from me.
But it was not her, it was a younger one than her and this one had hands like lilies. I did what I could for her, but I did not love her, and after what had happened I couldn't stand it, anymore, being away from the one I loved best.
The white-handed one had my child.
I've never seen it.
They tell me it looked just like me.
I couldn't go as I was. I had to disguise myself.
First I was a singer, a bard. Then I was a pilgrim.
By the time I reached her, I was exactly what I've always been, what I was when I first went to her: A beggar.
I had a disease. I caught it while I was trying to get to her, and I was so far away when I started back to find her, and it took me so long. The disease made my bones tremble and my skin turn hot and my joints swell like walnuts and melons. I looked like a beggar when I finally reached her, my back bent from what I suffered, my heart torn for missing her.
And god, she hadn't changed at all. She was exactly as she was every night in my dreams, exactly the way I left her. But I couldn't get to her, I had to wait in the streets all alone with the rats and the excrement, waiting for the day when a kiss of her hand was said to heal all the bent beggars like me.
It was two months, but it was longer than any other time before. I was so close to her – god help me, I watched her every Sunday when she went to the church with my uncle, watched her walk pale and red-haired to the building that was more a mausoleum than a house of god – but I couldn't even touch her, couldn't even get close enough to breathe the air she breathed. By the end of two months, I had reached the point where I could crawl to the churchyard gate and beg for her coin, finally close enough to really see her. I don't know if she knew me at first. I remember, there was a ring that she had given me, and I used that to show to her who I was, held it out for just a moment when I knew that she could see. She almost stopped, almost came to me, but didn't. She couldn't. My uncle was there, still watching her every move after so many years. I didn't know what we would do, and didn't know, and didn't know…
And then I knew.
I stole a piece of parchment, stole a piece of charcoal. My bones were sore and scraping, my joints wouldn't move and my back – god, just thinking about it, even now – but I wrote her a note, telling her that if she could meet me, I would explain and that I still loved her.
I slipped it to her when the others were kissing her hand, slipped it into her hand when I kissed her ring.
I never believed before that that had any effect, but I guess…
I don't know. I shouldn't have doubted, I guess.
She sent me another message through the pig boy. She told me to come to the stables, that this time, she was leaving with me.
I almost didn't make it, because I was not as I once was, but she was. She met me there, and in the saddle, even then, I could equal or best any man, I swear.
We were going to ride away, we were going to make it, but the patrolmen thought that we were bandits, stealing from my uncle, and they shot us down.
And God strike me blind if one of my uncle's guests wasn't one of my men from the land that I had taken. He recognized me, despite everything, and took me back with him, and my love had to go, once more, to my uncle's bed.
The white-handed girl had had my child, had, she said, stayed faithful to me. I didn't want her fidelity. I would have wept for joy if she had been licentious and merry in my absence because then I would have been free to return to my love. But she had borne my child and she had been faithful to me, and…
I killed them.
All of them.
My child wasn't there. He had already been sent away to be a page and I didn't care if I ever saw him, though now I start to wonder…
But I couldn't bear it anymore, knowing that these people loved me but that I did not love them. It made me angry, made me furious, to have her white hands running over my swollen, twisted body with such faith that I felt for her what she did to me. I hated it, I hated all of them for loving me so much.
Couldn't they see that I didn't love them at all?
I killed my wife. I cut off her white hands and buried her with them crossed over her heart.
I killed my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. I ran them both through at once and tied their arms together before I buried them.
And then my white-handed bride's brother returned, and he fought me for killing his sister.
How do my battles always end?
My enemies are dead, but my flesh is lost.
I sent a message to my love and I pray to god it reaches her, because I love her and I would lose my fear of hell if only she were here with me.
I do not know if my message has reached her, but every day I have watched the sea, watched anxiously for sign of her, though my blood is leaving me and my limbs tremble and stink, just as they did years ago before I met my love.
I have nothing more to say.
My life is done.
God save me, for I only loved one woman truly, and did my best to be faithful to her.
Have you been so lucky?
The cliffs are so cold. The wind blows across my bones, and the sea is so wide, so wide.
But now, I can see something.