A short story by Andrew Peregrine
So there I was, hanging from the edge of the world. She came up to my whitening
knuckles and looked over. Curious, she deftly lifted her dress to allow her
to kneel, crouching above me and looking down. She rested an elbow on one knee,
and her head in her hand, and smiled. Having nothing better to do but kick my
heels in the starry void below and around me, I waited until she was settled.
"So what do we have here ?" she asked gently. Her face hid a caring but mischievous grin. The combination of beauty in her bright green eyes and smouldering red hair that curled about her shoulders was enticing. Her long dress of plain silver grey silk flowed around her obediently, showing and covering the attractive curves of her figure. I realised this was a woman who could tempt me to do things I wanted to, even though I knew I shouldn't.
I was a little taken aback by her question. I had hoped for an offer of assistance. Obviously I would have to work for one. It had better not take too long. My grip was getting weaker. If I fell, I had a nasty feeling I wouldn't stop. I pushed my head further back for the best view of her eyes , above which one eyebrow had been raised and I replied.
"I have a problem my lady, and if you seek answers you would do well to help me. I have only a short time to tell a long story which I fear would not reach a conclusion."
"Well spoken," she said with a clear and noble accent. "Swing your feet towards the rock, and lower yourself onto the ledge below."
I looked down again, and saw the ledge just inches below. I looked at her and grinned with embarrassment. She smiled back as smoothly as the silk of her dress. As I dropped onto the ledge, I thought I heard the sound of an elephant, or maybe a turtle, voicing a bored tutting sound. Maybe the myths were true, and I was also entertaining a selection of overburdened and eternally bored animals. Could it be that below me was a turtle carrying four elephants who themselves carried the world ? From this position I could at least attest the world was not round. From here I should be able to see the beasts, but I had more immediate concerns.
"So how about a hand up," I hoped at her.
"Sir, I am a lady alone. I would needs know if you are a gentleman before I free you.
I suppose she was right. What guy can a girl trust these days ? So I told her my story. You've heard it all before. Prodigal son, kicked out by dictatorial father, goes to seek his fortune. The details are unimportant; I had done wrong, but I gave her my side of the story anyway, something to make me sound the misunderstood tragic hero. I've always been a little over dramatic for my own good. But the world was still quite a new place, and she might not have heard it all before. She listened attentively, and I don't think she believed a word of it. But it was difficult to see behind the deep unmoving green of her eyes. When I had finished she offered me her hand.
"I think there is a lot you haven't told me sir. Yet I cannot leave you here. I myself have just recently been cast out by my husband, and I feel for your predicament. Take my hand, let me help you up."
I took her hand and began to heave myself up. A slightly sensual moan escaped her lips from the exertion of helping me. I began to wonder what sort of a fool husband would throw out a woman like this. But she was stronger than she looked, and I found myself on solid ground once more. Quickly I dusted myself down. I can be quite a dandy, though my features are not unattractive. I felt it important to look my best beside such an elegant lady. She looked me up and down and seemed to appreciate what she saw.
"So what do we do now ?" I asked, with a smile and raised eyebrow.
"We carry on with our lives sir," she said returning my raised eyebrow.
I flexed my fingers, now still stiff and sore. A little disappointed she felt no apparent desire to continue our tryst.
"You're hurt," she said, "I suppose you'd better come home with me and I'll see to your wounds. It's not far from here.
"I'm flattered my lady. This place is very remote, I take it you prefer your own company."
"Do not mistake me for a hermit sir, I just feel happier away from everybody else."
"Perhaps I may change that view," I replied with a note of arrogance.
"Perhaps," she smiled back mysteriously.
So we set off to her cottage at the edge of the world. It was not far away, and settled neatly into a green and fertile landscape. We talked very little on the journey. She pointed out a few features, for which I showed polite interest. But I must admit, this world was a pleasant one, still new and fresh. It carried a living and pure beauty that is rarely seen. It was obviously its creator's crowning achievement. I found myself wondering what that creator would think if he knew I had recently arrived here. But I was interrupted in my thoughts by our arrival at the cottage.
It was quite an idyllic place. White walls and a thatched roof, smoke gently curling out of a tiny chimney. There was a modest vegetable patch in front of it, and a small chicken coop around the side. Odd really. This lady was so glamorous I expected a small manor house, not a tiny farm. I couldn't imagine a woman like this hitching up her silken skirts to muck out some domesticated animals. Still, she obviously was a woman of surprises, and I expected I would see more. She opened the door and invited me inside. With a polite nod I entered.
The inside was pleasantly rustic as well. There was a fireplace in the wall, in which sat a large iron pot. Cooking utensils hung above, all neat and precise. The walls were decorated with scarves and coloured cloth, simple but pleasing. It appeared that she lived alone, which pleased me. The only strange thing was the amount of herbs. They hung, drying, from every rafter. They came in all shapes and sizes. It was quite a colourful display, but I suspected they were more than just decorative. Each bundle was tied with a thin cloth, upon which some odd runic symbols had been drawn. I found myself glancing around to see if she kept a broomstick or a black cat. The cottage consisted of a single room, with a small area curtained off to one side. I assumed this was where she slept and caught myself wondering if I might yet see it at her invitation. She noticed where my gaze was leading and sighed in exasperation. Her look asked me if sex was all that men ever thought about, and I smiled sheepishly back.
"Make yourself at home," she invited, "I need to check the animals."
Just as my thoughts turned to wandering the house and discovering what secrets she may be keeping, she stopped in the doorway. "I won't be long," she warned, and was gone.
I got up and looked about, but there was nothing of much interest. I decided that stronger investigation was unnecessary. She had left me in a spirit of trust, so I would prove her right. After all, I of all people knew the difference between right and wrong. She had said to make myself at home, and a bowl of fruit on the table caught my attention. I was hungry, and I found myself tempted by an apple. I took a big bite, and she returned. She stopped breifly in the doorway and glanced around. She was pleased to see nothing important disturbed, proof that her trust had not been misplaced. Then she went over to a dresser and got some herbs and bandages.
"Sit down and I'll take a look at those hands," she instantly became serious and officious, but I like my nurses stern. I held out my hands, she looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I put down the apple. Then she set about the task in hand.
"So, where is this husband of yours now ?"
"Oh, living with that docile cow of a second wife," her manner changed, her calm and polite exterior was gone. She was angry and hurt, but concern for another's feelings rarly stops me when I'm curious.
"So he left you for another woman ?"
"No, I just couldn't stand it any more. It was all obedience and wifely duties with him. No equality. I was just his appendage. His father was just as bad. I'm better out of it. Even though the family keeps them both in paradise while I'm stuck out here."
"So why are you still so angry ?" I asked
She realised she had given away too much, but continued, more to vent spite than to tell me what I wanted to know.
"What still really hurts to me is his attitude. We were made for each other. But after all the words, and promises of family, he just leaves me for someone else. We were only together for a day, that's how much I meant. His father just turned up with a new girlfriend, and like a sheep he said fine. They both deserve each other."
"Ouch," I said as she pulled the bandage just a little too tightly and finished the work. She was still angry at her husband. But somehow her story was similar to mine. I wanted to help this lady, but I wasn't quite sure how, not yet. She apologised for hurting me, and I told her it was nothing.
"Our stories sound similar," I said, "We are both the victims of an overbearing father."
"I see your point. Are you suggesting an alliance of interests sir ?"
"Yes milady, I think I am. But what to do to gain our joint revenge ?" I retrieved my apple and took another bite. "You say he is in a paradise."
"Quite an Eden"
"Then I think we definitely have a common interest."
I was beginning to form a plan, and she was going to like it. I began to think this relationship between us would last us both for a long time. In whatever for it chose to take. She looked at me as if she was thinking the same thing. Then she realised something.
"I apologise sir, I have not given you my name." She held out her hand, "I am called Lillith."
"Pleased to meet you Lillith," I said taking her hand, and then reaching for another apple. "I am Lucifer, Lucifer Morning Star. I think I have a plan you are going to like." The apple looked delicious, and I took a big bite. Lillith smiled.
"Yes sir, I think you could be right," she replied.