A forest on the edge of a cliff is filled with life. There are birds of darkened feathers which take to the skies with a song on their hearts. Beautiful butterflies carry wings of vivid visionary as they flutter freely. Graceful creatures tread tentatively in magnificently unrivalled majesty. The eloquence of this earthen ecology is astounding.
In such a place you would wonder why it could be so untouched by the outer realms. The truth, despite the scholars' insistence, is that this is the end. At the base of the cliff you will find an azure lake. The end is amidst the greatest depths of the beauty.
If one were to wonder how there could be a lake in a place like that you have to wander from the steepest of the ledges. To the ledge there is a section of the cliff that is further inland than the other precipices. There is a small river that leads to the edge where it becomes a torrential waterfall.
It is at this river that a relatively young woman finds herself at. Her gilded waist length curls are stirred by the breeze. She is adorned in a creamy golden gown with a crown atop her head. Her big gentle blue-grey eyes gaze upon the scenery. Her emotions are mostly kept to herself but there is a sense of confusion about her. She doesn't know this place.
The wind giggles as it travels past her. She isn't the first to come and by no means will she be the last. Only one person has come to this place with the knowledge in advance. He was not a scholar, nor a king, nor a noble, yet neither a peasant. He was perfectly in balance with all that his life encompassed.
The woman turns her head yet there is nothing but green. She stares at everything as deeply as she can. The birds chirp happily and take to flight overhead. It is at the same moment that the slightest of sounds is invoked. She turns to her left in anticipation and trepidation.
Around the corner of the river comes something wooden. By the shape of its front she can tell that it is a boat. She looks behind her to ensure that there's no one nearby. The bushes rustle and she trembles. The incongruity is almost too great for her.
"Are you alright, young miss?" a weathered voice enquires.
She jumps in fright. She turns to the person and nods timidly. A breeze passes and the florae whispers. The old man bangs his wooden stick against the bottom of the shallow river and it grows quiet once more. He offers her a smile when he sees her wariness.
"What is a fine young woman like you doing in a place like this?" he asks. "Where is your entourage? Where is your protection?"
She frowns and glances around. "I do not travel with anyone… I do believe that might be why I've arrived at such a place,"
His face falls at her statement. "Oh, dear, then why not join me? I can take you further along this river," he gestures downstream. "There is a settlement in that direction. Why not come with me and save yourself the hassle of walking?"
She smiles. "Thank you, kind sir, but I would only be a burden on you. I can walk to the settlement,"
"Child," he says. "I am an old man who has many regrets and cannot redeem himself in time for his own death. Please allow me to take you so that I may try to atone for my lifetime of sins."
"No soul can be unredeemable," she replies. "Yet, I believe that you may grow stronger if you are to move a greater weight. Strength can extend life so that you have more chances with which to find atonement. I will journey with you, but only if you allow me to begin this journey."
He laughs wisely. "You are kind, my name is Æthel Wulf; I welcome you aboard,"
"My name is Kimberleigh," she replies, taking the wooden stick from him.
"Ah, King's city meadow," Æthel Wulf comments. "It is a regal name."
She blushes and looks to the ground. "Your words are sweet and so very generous. I thank you,"
Kimberleigh seats herself at the front of the boat. Her eyes drift upwards towards the perfect azure sky. Butterflies dance before her eyes and she smiles brightly. Æthel Wulf frowns; she isn't like the others who had come. She isn't bawling or shouting or crying or demanding answers. She does not interrupt the peace, but instead revels in it.
This kind of person is new to him. He briefly feels a flash of joy, of hope, but he destroys the emotion instantly. He has had no part in the outside world and he sees the outside world as having no part in his life. Somehow this girl has intrigued him.
She looks to the water. Her blue-grey eyes gaze kindly upon the glistening surface. The urge to allow her fingers to skim the water comes to her. She clasps her hands behind her back to avoid from doing so. She daren't intrude upon the natural beauty that her eyes are allowed to behold.
"You seem troubled, child," Æthel Wulf tells her. "Is there something concerning you?"
"… I know that the name is incompatible, but I do sense that you are Machiavellian," she replies, looking directly into his eyes. "You do plan to ferry me over the edge of this realm, do you not?"
He sighs. "Alas, I am the death man's watch. I preside over the entrants and here you are to join them. You will perish soon,"
She looks to the water once more in despair. "I had not thought of you as death's watch. A man with a caring face and a lie on his tongue, yes, I had thought that, but not… Is it beyond my place to ask how I have passed?"
Æthel Wulf pauses. "Would you be the first to have no remembrance?"
She glances at him. "Time changes in all regions. Even this place will come to know of change. That is the way of existence, is it not, scholar?"
His head is lowered and he stares at the base of the boat. His powerful strokes that carry the boat do not change. This is the first instance of a possible emotion coming to the fore front. Kimberleigh watches him, concernedly. She knows that it would be terrible for someone of his station to gain emotional attachments.
The boat falls over the edge of the precipice. Æthel Wulf stares down as the boat and its inhabitant fall to their final end. He stares deeply and his gaze is inescapable. The two lock gazes for a final time; it is the first time which he has ever done so.
Perhaps to distract her from the pains of death?
Author's Note: I do apologise. I believe that I mentioned something of Horror High - which this is most definitely not –and that will have to wait until another time. I have entered into a dispute with my publishing company because they are selling my book at £12.95 and $19; which is too expensive. Not many will be able to buy it and I will make a loss. The only way that I can gain profits is by publishing a novel of short stories (by printer) and hopefully making enough on that. For the moment I will have to publish mainly one-shots as I don't have the time to look over previous chapters of chapter stories to ensure that I haven't made an error.
Thank you for reading this story. I hope you have enjoyed what you have read and I apologise sincerely if you did not.