Season 2, Episode 4: Frost – Part 2
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“Come,” said the pock-marked man, “she’s waiting for you.” He turned and walked toward the vine-encrusted structure, his sandaled feet crunching the icy surface of the snow as he went.
Isa and Bess glanced at each other, uncertain.
Ja spoke first. “Please, I want to see this.”
Bess swallowed and nodded.
Isa said, “Okay, Ja, let’s go.”
They followed the man around to the front of the temple. As they rounded the corner, Bess saw a rosebud grow from a bump on a vine to full flower in mere seconds.
“Look, Isa!” he exclaimed, and they both watched as the petals unfurled in bright red and soft purplish shades, with a sensual grace that made the exposure of the heart of the flower seem almost indecent. Isa reached out to touch it, and pricked her finger on a thorn hidden beneath the flower.
“Ah!” she cried, more surprised than hurt.
They looked up to see the man standing by the entrance to the temple, smiling. This expression made a blotch on his cheek stand out. It was a deep ruddy red, and the contrast between the unforced smile and the angry blotch was, like everything else here, disconcerting.
Passing into the ruined temple, the air grew warmer, despite the great gaps in the structure. There was no snow or frost on the ground inside, and the vines grew thicker, lending a greenish color to the light and a slight sweetness to the air. There was a hint of another scent as well, something muskier mixed with the tang of rust.
The man stopped and knelt to pray. Isa thought she heard him whisper something, but it was too low and soft to catch. Then she gasped as she realized there was someone else in the temple with them.
Out of the corner stepped a woman, beautiful and naked, and her skin was the same verdant shade as the vines around them. Bess shifted uncomfortably next to Isa, trying to conceal his sudden turgidity. Isa felt a sense of jealous longing, looking at this wonder: the sleek line of her hip, the small, high, perfectly symmetrical breasts, the perfectly ordered fall of hair—no, leaves that looked like hair—from her head. Isa was painfully aware of her own flat and tangled locks, of the folding of the skin at her waist, of the weight of her right breast which was larger than the left.
“Does…does she have flowers for nipples?” Bess whispered, still averting his gaze, and Isa felt anger as well as embarrassment.
“Lady…” Ja spoke in a rustle of dry leaves, trailing off into an unasked question.
“Spirit,” the green woman replied curtly. “Dmer, take these children away. The spirit and I must talk.”
Being referred to as a child added another layer to Isa’s irritation, and she grabbed Bess’ hand reflexively.
“I am no child, and neither is Bess.”
The green woman turned to look straight at her, and while her eyes were the same soft mauve color as the climbing roses, her gaze was intense, frightening.
“Very well, you are no child,” said the woman. “You are also no concern of mine. Go, leave my temple.”
“But, Ja…” Bess looked up, and spoke clearly, though his voice wavered. “Ja is with us.”
The green woman turned her gaze on Bess, whose knees literally gave out. He tumbled to the ground, and Isa knelt to support him. Sharp words came to her lips, but Ja spoke first.
“I wish to stay and talk. Bess, Isa, go. I will rejoin you shortly.”
Swallowing her wounded pride, Isa helped Bess up and they turned toward Dmer, the pock-marked man.
“I shall take them to the cottage,” he said, looking at them but speaking to the green woman, “and then return.”
“No,” came the woman’s voice, quick and sharp. “Stay with them. I will call when I want you.”
“But, my Goddess—” Dmer began.
“Are you questioning me?” she interrupted him.
“No, of course not,” he replied.
The three dispirited mortals trudged away from the temple together in silence.
Dmer’s cottage was simple but well-kept, with a recently swept dirt floor, a cookfire with a chimney, and stools by the fire. As Bess and Isa peeled off their scarves, mittens, and overcoats, Dmer began preparing food. There was no shortage of produce in the cottage, mostly bulbs and tubers, but also some out-of-season fruit and fresh herbs. A kettle was set over the fire as Dmer began chopping orange, pink, and purple yams and heaping them, along with onions and some fresh herbs, into a cauldron half-full of water.
When the kettle sang, Dmer replaced it with the cauldron and poured the brew into unmatched cups.
“What is this?” asked Bess, peering into his cup. “Why is everything here green?”
“It’s nettle tea,” replied Dmer in a monotone, “re-heated from this morning. Goddess says she always respected nettle for her sting.”
Bess took a cautious sip. “Not bad.”
A few cups of the herbaceous green liquid later, they were all more relaxed.
“Dmer,” asked Isa, “is she really a goddess?”
“Oh yes,” said Dmer, “at least she’s my goddess, and we’ve had a few people come to the temple to pay homage just recently.”
“I thought all the gods were men,” said Bess.
Dmer looked at him, and cocked his head to one side. After a moment, he said, “So did I, once.”
Later on, after they’d all eaten a bland but filling vegetable stew and shared a perfectly ripe pear, Bess asked Dmer, “How’d you get those marks?”
“This,” Dmer pointed to the blotch on his cheek, “I was born with. The rest are all gifts of the Goddess.”
Isa shot straight up, her worst suspicions confirmed. “She tortures you?”
Dmer shook his head. “No, no, that’s not it at all.”
Isa reached out to Bess. “C’mon! Who knows what she’s doing to Ja!”
“You don’t understand,” said Dmer, his countenance furrowing with the unfortunate effect of making the pock marks look deeper, “I…we…I don’t know how to describe it.”
Bess was pulling on his mittens, and Isa was already at the door, when Dmer shouted, “I want her to! Listen to me! The things we do together are things I want to do, and I enjoy them!”
Dmer continued, “I’m not afraid of her at all. You don’t need to be either. I trust her with my life. These marks,” he waved a hand over his face, “are a result of some of the things we do together, but I want to be marked by her. I am hers and I want to be hers and I want everyone to see that I am hers. I don’t expect that makes sense to you…”
“No, it does,” said Isa. Bess reached out and took her hand. She squeezed his in return.
“Then,” continued Dmer, “please understand that I wish you had never come here.”
“What?” said Isa.
“I am only mortal. Your…friend, Ja, is more…is more like my Goddess. She has never sent me away to be alone with another before. I am afraid that she will prefer him to me.”
“Ja isn’t a ‘he’,” Isa said.
“Sorry…prefer her then.”
“Ja isn’t a ‘she’ either,” Bess spoke up.
Dmer looked back and forth between the two of them, confused.
“Ja is Ja,” Bess said, “that’s all.”
“And,” Isa said, “if you love your goddess so much, maybe you ought to trust her more, believe that she won’t leave you.”
“Everyone leaves,” replied Dmer, lowering his head into his hands.
They sat for a while in silence, then Ja’s voice came whistling down from the cottage’s ceiling, “Dmer, your lady wants you. You should go to her.”
“Ja!” said Bess and Isa as one.
Dmer, for his part, was already headed for the door.
“So,” said Bess, “what was that all about?”
“There is a rite that the dryad wishes to perform.”
“Dryad?” asked Isa, feeling out the unfamiliar word.
“Dmer’s goddess,” explained Ja. “She is a nature spirit, and she wishes to breach the boundary between life and death. She needs me to do it, as she is life and I am dead.”
“Don’t say it that way,” Bess said with a shiver.
“That sounds dangerous,” Isa added.
“It is dangerous, to all three of us—to her, to myself, and to her servant Dmer, who will provide the blood and the mortal anchor.”
“You’re not going to do it,” Isa said, unsure whether she was asking a question or commanding Ja not to try.
“I want to,” said the spirit. “It is all for love’s sake and to right a wrong.”
“The dead are gone,” said Bess firmly, then paused. “Well, you’re here, but that’s different.”
“How so?” asked Ja. “I want to try, but I also want your blessing.”
“Ja,” said Isa, “it’s your…well, it’s you, and you have the right to decide what to do. I don’t understand, but if you need to do this…”
Isa trailed off, and Bess finished the thought. “I don’t understand, but I can respect your decision, and I still love you.”
“Yeah,” said Isa. “See, Bess, sometimes you know exactly what to say.”
A slight glow came to Bess’ cheeks.
“Thank you both,” said Ja. “I must go join them for the ritual.”
“Wait,” said Bess, “right now?”
“Yes,” said Ja. “It must be tonight, or else not until this night next year.”
“Then you best be quick about it,” said Isa. “We’ll be here.”
“Very well. I love you both very much.”
“We love you too, Ja,” said Isa.
“Yeah,” echoed Bess, and then the spirit was gone.
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