“I’m sorry to disturb you but…have we met before?”
He looked up and jolted when he saw her face. Jet black hair cropped close to her nape framed a face that was mostly angles — high cheekbones, strong jaw, sharp nose — offset by full lips. Her eyes, lovely violet eyes, squinted down at him.
Twenty-five years, he thought.
He smiled at her. “We might have.”
Still looking mystified, she gestured toward the chair across from him. “Do you mind if I sit?”
“No, not at all.” He lifted his coffee cup to his lips to give himself time. Every time, he thought wryly, every time this happens I still get nervous.
She stared at him a long time, but he remained silent. Then she huffed out a breath and leaned back, “okay, I give up. I don’t know if we’ve met before but when I saw you sitting here something just niggled at my brain.”
“Niggled at your brain?”
“You know, like something tickles. When I saw your face it was like…”
Surprised, she lifted an eyebrow. “Yes. Does that happen to you a lot?”
He knew by the expression on her face that she wondered at his answer. He glanced around. The cafe was empty apart from the cashier staring gloomily out the window at the rain that raged.
“Well, then, if you’re not doing anything else, would you like to listen to a story?”
She shrugged. “Are you a storyteller, then?”
“Only for the important ones.” And this is. It was the most important.
Settling more comfortably in her seat, she nodded at him.
He took a moment to drink in the sight of her.
Then he started telling a story.
It was a story of a time long ago when the sky was still young and the earth was already old. When the gods still walk among men, working the land and fishing the seas with them. With his words, he painted her a picture of a quiet and peaceful time, when the earth is the beginning and end of all things. The people lived off the land and seas, which is not always easy, but there was joy and contentment.
It was said that there was a young maiden who fell in love with a warrior even though she was betrothed to a king. The maiden and her warrior ran away to the forest, and when the king cannot find her, he laid waste to the land out of spite. Angered by the suffering this caused, the gods turned on the lovers. Lightning struck the maiden and felled her to the ground.
The warrior’s roar of grief as he held his dead love touched the hearts of the gods and, repenting their actions, decreed that the lovers live a thousand lifetimes more. A thousand lifetimes when they can find each other.
“That’s a bit of an overkill.”
He laughed. “Well, yes. The warrior thought so too, as one lifetime with her would suffice. But, that’s the gods for you.”
“What happened to the warrior?” she asked.
“The warrior lived his first life alone in grief, desperately wishing for death so he could live once more and find his love. He spent all the lives after the first looking for her. He is cursed to always know, to always remember, to always seek her. That is his burden.”
“And the maiden?”
“She does not remember. But for every lifetime they live, she starts to get restless, she starts looking for something she’s not quite sure what. A feeling that is relieved only when she remembers. The more lifetimes she lives, the more she starts with the feeling that there’s something missing.”
He sighed wearily. “He has lost count of how many lives they’ve had. He can only hope that as they go on, the burden of seeking not only fall on him. That she, too, starts her life remembering and that she, too, would knowingly seek him.”
She was quiet for a while. “Did he not love another?”
“Not in all the lifetimes they lived. He grows up remembering every lifetime and yearning to find her to make her remember.”
“Does he always find her?”
“Yes, except for one time. Sometimes he finds her after two or three decades. Once, they grew up together. He never knows how long. But there was one time when he spent eight decades not seeing her face even once. After that, he vowed never to let that happen again.”
“Eighty years,” she murmured. “So many lifetimes. How does he handle the waiting?”
“Sometimes very badly,” he answered. “Even the fiercest warrior gets weary. But finding her, no matter when, makes the waiting all worth it. Every time she remembers his name, every time she utters it for the first time, is a glorious moment for him.”
“When he finds her, how does he make her remember?”
“He holds her hand like this,” he reached out, his eyes on hers, carefully took her hand and pressed palm to palm. “Then he says to her, ta tu mianach agus ta me leatsa. Then she answers…”
“Gra nios cumhachtai na deithe.” Her eyes widened in surprise. “How did I…”
He grinned as he saw the cloud of confusion clear from her eyes and turn into recognition. Into joy.
He brought his hand up to touch her face. “Hello, Sorcha.”
“Keiran, my love, have I kept you waiting long this time?”