Completing the task. The Dungeon.
We ate when we got back, tired, rested... mentally, but drained of energy from our love-making. We strolled back hand in hand, dressing only when we got close to the campsite.
Both of us were much cleaner than we had been, and we smelled of sulfur. The others studiously ignored us.
She’d taken photograph after photograph in the cave, and on that plateau and of that pond. And of me. She even had the camera automatically record us swimming together, making love.
“I needed to eat after that, but I also felt an even greater urgency to dig, too.
I had to solve this problem that had dogged me for a thousand years. I could not just walk away now, having got half-way. I had to see it through, no matter what happened.
I was also not going to be given a choice.
I fought against the impatience and sat with them long after Rossignol had retired after our dinner, but I did not speak. I listened as they spoke of their different experiences. They knew they needed to leave me alone.
We retired soon after that.
I sat on the grass in the tent, beside her cot, watching her sleep, holding her hand. She had been tired, as she’d said.
Under that thin, cotton sheet, she was wearing only her panties. I dared not disturb her no matter how much I wanted to, needed to.
When I felt that all of the others were asleep, I went back to my digging... pulled back there.
I dug silently, cautious how I used the pickaxe, and making as little noise as I could.
I spoke to myself the entire time I worked, keeping one thing in the forefront of my mind. Rossignol. I was doing this for her.
In my mind there were not two of them. Just one.
She, was the one who’d led me down to that cave and had been the first into it. She, was the one who’d led me to the back of the cave, clambering over fallen rocks (I remembered them clearly) and out onto the plateau... and she, had been the one to lead me directly to that pond.
Her bare legs had got scratched as we’d walked down the slope to the river, and I offered to bathe them for her as she’d sat on that same rock, still there.
This was a dream, a repeat of everything I so well remembered.
I needed a break.
I sat a few steps down from the top, with my hands still bandaged and gloved. She’d changed the bandages after we’d got back.
Resting or working, I often looked over to the tent where the love of my life was sleeping, waiting for me, memory of our swimming and of our making love, still alive in both of our minds.
Those two lives, the first Rossignol, and this one, became indistinguishable to me. They became one and the same.
I was over-tired. That was what it was.
Soon my love, soon I shall be with you. Be patient, we both have waited so long for this.
I spoke to no one near me, but I knew she could hear me.
I needed to uncover all of these steps and the last of the heavy, studded door, before others finally woke up to what I was really doing. I had so little left to do.
Those voices sensed my ambivalence and stayed out of it, until they knew which way I would fall.
So far, they, were winning this battle for my soul, because that was what was at stake.
No man should have to make the choice I was faced with.
I threw the last shovel-full of soil up and over the side, with a few pebbles rolling back down.
All I would need to do, was to touch that door, and I knew it would open onto a scene I would rather forget.
Be patient, damn you. You’ll have me soon enough.
They were almost sure of it, now.
I shall rest for an hour or two first.
‘NO!’ Their cry went up.
Yes, damn you again. I need to say goodbye.
They had no choice, and they knew it.
I washed up again as well as I could after getting rid of the gloves and the bandages, and crawled in with her.
That cot was designed for one person. Two, made it very interesting and intimate. There could be no avoiding each other there, the way it sagged and brought us so close together.
Her arms went over me and pulled me to her, onto her, as she rotated beneath me to bring me above her, helping me into her.
We continued what we had done at the pond, having little choice about it the way we were held prisoner in that tiny cot. But neither of us complained.
She slept well after that.
I dozed for a few hours, then awoke, aware of a warm body on the narrow cot with me, lying upon me, held in my arms. The smell of sulfur still clung to us, in our hair and on our bodies.
They were impatient. I cautioned them again not to test my patience or my resolve after I had come so far; enduring so much.
The next step could wait for a few more minutes while I tried to make my peace with this woman I loved.
It may sound a cliche to say that one can love someone more than one loves life, but any father or mother with children, knows it to be true.
Any man in love, as I was, also knows the truth of it.
I itemized all that I had done for her to protect her after this.
She would be one of the wealthiest women in the world, though it would be a poor substitute for not having me with her.
I rotated with her, putting her down beside me as I leaned over her and kissed her, before I slowly withdrew from her body and retreated from her, over the side of the cot.
She did not move. I spoke softly.
“I am sorry my love, but I am of another time than you, and I must now go back. I could not bear seeing you age, and die in front of me, as I had to see happen to one other that I loved, just as I love you, and for me to go on, in a living nightmare that never ends. I must end this now.”
I stroked the hair back from her face and kissed her.
“Oh, how I love you.”
I hoped she did not notice as my warm tears fell onto her cheeks.
“I gave instructions. I have provided for you. You and... our children...” I touched her above her womb where I knew they were growing... “will want for nothing.”
There was that faint mark of a crucifix still burned on her there, and with that other, outlined upon her chest between her breasts; also revealed.
I touched those too, taking that memory with me.
I knew I should not do any more than that or I would be unable to leave her, and all of this would have been for nothing.
“I love you far more than I love this life, and that is why I must go. Please try not to mourn me.
“If you can return to Deux Églises, I shall thank you.”
I placed my crucifix... her crucifix, upon her pile of clothes, near where mine lay.
I had come into this world with nothing. I should leave it with nothing.
“What is in those two excavations by those graves, will make all of this worthwhile for your father, for his friends in this venture... blindly following the insane directions of a mad man, and all for you.
“I have no use for what is in there now, but you will know their value.
“Title to this land we are upon; this entire valley, will be yours upon my death.”
I rose from beside our cot and backed out into the cool air, with the first light of the rising sun, ready to dispel the mists of morning.
I walked, naked, across to that excavation and down the stairs, feeling the morning air, cold... upon my still damp member where I had been in her.
That, could be my last good memory.