Natasha reached her arms up out of the steaming water and stretched them along the deep sides of the cedar bathtub in front of the roaring stone fireplace.
“That would be like saying an elephant is not small, Gwyn. True, but a hell of an understatement.”
“You are not one to give up control of anything. I’m surprised you let me make all of these secret renovations in here without any questions or peeking.”
“I wanted to give you a chance to prove yourself as my Shadow. And you have.”
“I’m not convinced about that myself, m’lady. I cannot fathom why you are wearing a mask in the bathtub.”
Natasha adjusted the leaf shaped leather mask covering her forehead, eyes, and nose, sighing deeply.
“Because I’m weak. And they’re everywhere. The bastards. They find me.”
“The ones who want help. Who need help. So I help. But it rarely ends up being ‘help’ they want, truthfully. Helping people is not taking over their problems on their behalf. I always end up doing that. Then wondering why I get so damn tired. I never get to see all the beautiful stuff in the valleys, Gwyn, because I insist on taking The High Road. And dammit, all I get up there are nose bleeds!”
Gwyn hopped from his perch by the fire to the edge of the tub.
“I’m shocked to hear you talk like this.”
He stretched his wings wide and flapped them thrice to emphasize his response:
“Relieved! There’s hope for you! That halo you wear acts like a beacon and a bullseye. You wonder why you never get any peace? You wonder why the Dragons come from far and wide? I’ve lived with and listened to you long enough to understand you are on a quest for moral perfection. It is admirable. I’ll give you that. However…”
“However…though I can’t quite put my claws on it, so much about you advertises your quest and seems to dare people and Dragons to make you prove yourself. My darling…that halo invites abuse. You need to start wearing a hat.”
For a moment it was as though she didn’t hear him, but then, running a hand slowly through her red curly hair she smiled a big smile.
“You’re smiling. You’re not angry?”
“I never looked good in hats but I just don’t think I found the right one. I happen to love hats. I thought I’d start with a mask to cover up the ‘sucker’ sign on my forehead. I didn’t see it in the mirror but I’m sure it’s there.”
“Do you like the bath soak I created for you?”
“It’s lovely. Soothing. What’s in it?”
“Sage, to cleanse the spirit, clove oil to relax the body, and magnesium from the earth to replenish your minerals. You spend so much of your life in your mind, m’lady, and neglect your body. If you permit me, I will see to it that you are wholly nourished. We must be more than our thoughts and desires or our fires will eventually die out…as you have learned the hard way. You are a human Being. I am your Shadow. Together, we will Be, again.”
Natasha, the helper, the saviour, the loner, unused to offers of nourishment, didn’t know what to say, and so she reached over and gently touched the tip of Gwyn’s beak for just a moment and asked, “But what will I be if I’m not a helper, Gwyn? You’re part of the solution or you’re part of the solution. Isn’t that how the saying goes?”
The wise white crow walked around the perimeter of the large tub and back again considering his reply.
“Were you ever a helper, darling? Maybe once upon a time. But at some point you strayed into that wretched territory of Saviour. Or tried to. I am wise and ancient, m’lady, with magic in me, but even I cannot be a Saviour. Are you more than I? I am many things, but I have come this far and lived this long because I have never tried to be something I am not intended to be. I know what I am and it is enough. It has had to be.”
Slipping down deeper into the soothing water Natasha pulled off her mask and let it fall to the floor in resignation.
“I hear what you’re saying, friend. I do. I’m a terrible excuse for a Saviour. That’s become abundantly clear. I’ve done well by many! I have! I will give myself credit. But it’s not good if you lose yourself in the process. If you can’t keep your flame alive. And most especially if you lose the ability to tell the difference between the users and the ones being used.
“But I see things. Have seen things. Too much now for too long to slip into that neutral territory between the good guys and the bad guys. I can never be silent because I have learned how much the wicked depend upon silence as their most efficient weapon. If there is a life for someone like me that lies between slaying Dragons and sticking my head in the sand then I’d love to know about it. I have lost my taste for running into burning buildings and kicking monsters in the shins. Can you help me find a path I can live with, Gwyn? Is there any hope? At all?”
Stretching his wings wide and flapping them thrice for effect, Gwyn replied:
“We will go hat hunting first thing tomorrow! All will be well, my child. All will be well.”
Stephanie Kirsten Hansen copyright 2014