The end... postponed.
As the morning sun illuminated the interior, she saw that... had it not been for the sun.... everything would have been in total darkness.
She didn’t feel the same blast of light, or warmth, or those awful smells, and cries that she’d noticed before, nor those twisted bodies along the wall, nor the blood.
It was quiet, but she saw Guillaume lying in an unnatural position in the middle of the dirt floor.
She ran in, heedless of any danger, feeling how cold, the still air was.
I became conscious of someone pulling at me.
More? Is there to be more pain? Please let it end.
But it was not them coming back at me again. It was a gentle touch; not a hot and fiery one, on my bruised and battered body, as I’d endured for hours.
There was a touch and a voice that I knew.
What was she doing here? She had not come in with me. I had closed the door behind me. How had she got in?
Nonetheless I was so pleased to see her. Now I could die in some semblance of peace.
Except she was not letting me die.
She pulled me to a sitting position, pulling me into her naked, warm body. This must be a dream. She lifted me to my feet as she hung onto me, half dragging me with her as we stumbled to the door. I felt as much dead, as alive.
How we got up those stairs I do not know.
I had one arm over her shoulder, while she had her arm around my waist, pulling me close to her.
She got me to our tent... our tent...without anyone else seeing us and commenting about our state of undress, and laid me out on that cot, covering me with a blanket to get me warm, then, realising that I needed more than that, she laid out upon me, under that blanket, and pulled me close to her.
She was so soft and so warm. If anything was going to bring me back to life, it would be this.
However, I knew the devil would not let me go so easily. He was lurking somewhere close... waiting.
“Don’t you dare give up on me!”
That was an order. I stepped back from that chasm opening at my feet.
“Stay with me.”
I felt something hot press into my chest, ready to scream again, but it was that crucifix. Her crucifix.
She was doing to me, what I had done to her, just days earlier.
It helped, even though it burned me, as it had burned her.
Then I felt her bathing me... as I had done to her also.
She’d dug out that flagon from my bag and was covering me with that water, just as I had done to her.
She was even speaking to me in that old French; the patois of my youth, as she pulled me around to cover all of me, with no hesitation or any holding back (please be gentle with those. Do not squeeze, I beg you. But she knew about those, and handled them so gently).
I began to revive. How could I not, with that attention, and I knew then that I was being saved by my very own Rossignol.
What had just happened to me?
This was not the death I’d expected!
I still lived. But what life had I come back to?
She did not let me think about that.
She needed proof that I still lived, and so did I. It was not long in coming, and nor was I.
I came around, seeing that she slept beside me.
I knew she had saved my life. But what price had she paid to save me?
She stirred as I moved. “What dream is this, my love. I had a dreadful dream that went on and on forever, and then I felt as though I was in heaven.”
She reached up and touched my face.
“The bad, is all in the past. You are back with us, now.”
“But I have done terrible things.”
“Yes, but we forgave you.”
“Because I forgave you. Love, is more powerful than hatred. I am blood of your blood, flesh of your flesh. Besides, I am carrying that which saved us both... our children; from those nights we spent together in Paris.”
“What will your father say?”
She kissed me. “He will accept my wishes.”
I laid back and analyzed what I was feeling. “All of those voices are now quieted.”
We made love once more, and then we slept again.
I awoke to hear other voices outside of the tent, asking about me, wondering how I had opened up those stairs while they’d slept, and had not disturbed them.
She must have got up from me. I hadn’t felt her go, but she had not gone far, not without any clothing.
I heard her say that I was overtired and needed to rest a little longer, and that she would stay with me for another hour or two.
They would leave us breakfast while they explored down by the river. We heard them go.
I slowly came out of my dream.
She dressed as I watched her; I could not take my eyes off her, and then she dressed me as I held her close.
I wished she’d dressed me first so that I could have touched her as I really wanted to, but I was still able to touch.
She helped me up and out to the fire. I was still weak, but far from being dead, with her close to me.
I watched her prepare breakfast as I sat close to that fire, a blanket around me to keep me warm. I feared I’d never feel warmth again.
It seemed a strange thought, considering how close I’d come to that raging inferno that Dante knew all about. I knew that I owed her everything.
I was loved, and I, myself... loved, in turn. And this time, I was in her world, with her. I sensed mortality, to ache in so many places as I did. We would grow old together.
What more could a man ask for?
After some hours, the others came back from the river, their excitement was difficult to hide as they approached us.
Her father came over to us.
“That cave. That, alone... was worth ten such trips here. If you don’t climb over those rocks at the back of the first chamber, but squeeze to the left of them, and move a few other rocks out of the way, there are other, larger chambers that go deep under the plateau, even directly under where we are now. They will take some exploring. The drawings there, make the Lascaux drawings look like kindergarten stuff.”
They showed us the photographs that filled their cameras.
“There are months of work here; other caves. Others should learn of this, without knowing where it is, or it will be flooded with adventurers, and will be ruined. There are books to write here.”
I tried to reassure them.
“My family, way back, had title to this area. I am sure the records still exist. If not, I will buy this entire area. No one needs to know about any of this.”
“Good. But that was not the only thing we found....
“That wine cellar of yours....”
I waited for them to tell me what they’d found in that Dungeon; the bones; the instruments of torture, albeit degraded now, and other evidence of what I’d done.
I cringed and waited.
“Stone bottles everywhere, from a time long before glass bottles.
“We followed it down to five... five, lower levels in the limestone. All of them were packed with stoneware bottles of wine.
“The wine on the upper levels is oxidized, and not worth looking at, but that on the lowest level of all...?
“I hope you don’t mind us bringing one of them up with us.”
He handed me a cup of red wine.
“Try it. It’s as good as any ‘red’ I ever tasted.”
I smelled at it, and tasted it, then nodded.
“Better than I remember.”
They didn’t even crack a smile.
“There’s another fortune sitting there too. Good wine from the 1200’s? Unheard of. At auction they’ll bring a fortune, but they need to be bottled properly, and as soon as possible. They won’t survive long, now that everything's been opened up to the outside air.”
I desperately needed to see in there.
I stood up, feeling Rossignol take my arm as we walked over to that place, afraid of what I would find there, that they did not want to speak of.
She brought a flashlight with us.
It was as he’d described.
There was nothing to see, other than stone shelves with fired stone-ware pots of various shapes and sizes there, sitting covered with layers of dust. I did remember them, but this was not what I remembered from even a few hours earlier.
I was dumbstruck. There were no bones against the wall, no engines of torture, no brazier, just row after row of stone shelving, still standing, weighted down with stoneware bottles.
She explained. “Everything has gone back to as it was, my love. You changed it. You made it right. I would say that you are no longer cursed, and that those who were once here, are now residing in hell, where they deserve to be, and are regretting it about now.”
“I am no better.”
“They, murdered.” She tried to excuse what I had done to her own family.
“I murdered too. Vengeance was for God to take, not me.”
“Not if you were God’s right hand, as Samson was.”
I shook my head.
“I did the devil’s work, not that of God.”
“Time will tell, my love.” She lifted my hand to her belly, opening her shirt and shorts so that I rested my hand directly upon her there, just inside of her panties.
“The devil had no hand in ‘this’, Guillaume.” So true.
She fastened herself up and we went back to the fire.
“We would like your permission, to marry.”
I didn’t even blink.
He laughed. “You don’t need my permission.
“I know we don’t need it, Father, but we would like it.”
“Then you have it.”
He brought him mind back to where we were, in the here and now.
“But what about you, Guillaume? Did you solve this problem that brought you here?” He looked from me to his daughter, and back again.
“But I see that you did.”
I nodded. “I did.” I pulled Rossignol to me. “I think we did.”
“So, what now?”
I looked around, seeing all of my memories.
“I once loved this place. I could learn to love it again. If the woman I love, approves, we will live here again, starting now. I can rebuild; bring the vineyards back, raise our children here.”
She knelt beside me and spoke softly so that the others could not hear.
“I have one request.” She nibbled at my ear.
I waited, knowing what it was.
“Please make love to me, now, again. It feels like a thousand years since you made love to me.”
I turned and managed a smile. “It was a thousand years, my love; or was it just a few thousand seconds?"
"It still feels like it was a thousand years, Guillaume.”
I stood up as she helped me.
“I should rest for a little longer.” We were both on the same page.
No one was fooled.
They didn’t have to say anything. They knew.
She helped me to our tent and began to undress me. I had never felt so alive.
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