Erica had been a dancer, not a professional, but she had given her passion to the dance since she was a small child. She had danced ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical all through school, eventually passing into teaching on a part time basis as a way to keep dance in her life, even as her professional life flourished in the financial sector. Life was good, the sun shone, and all was right in the world.
It was September 23, and she was on her back from teaching dance class when a driver who had put away too many after work beers, on top of his medicinal weed, was a little late in determining what the red light shining overhead meant. His indecision carried his Suburban half way through the intersection, and over half way through her Corolla. It was almost an hour before they were able to free her from the vehicle and get her to hospital. It was over twelve before they were sure they were not going to lose her altogether. There is a clear priority in trauma as severe as Erica’s; life over limb, and the grim cost of that is seen in the legs that were ignored while the question of her survival hung very much in doubt.
It was almost a year of surgeries and rehabilitation before Erica was able to return to work. It was considered a miracle that she was able to walk unassisted, but decades of dance training, the balance and discipline of a pointe dancer that enabled her to walk on limbs grown strangers to her, dead of nerve, weak of joint, no longer supple and strong, nor able honestly to ever return to the grace and power that had quietly been a touchstone of her existence as she danced through life; for she danced no more.
The scars of her surgeries cut a tracery upon the skin of her legs and torso, in her legs the joins of the scar tissue were marked by uneven and lumpy unfinished appearance she wept to describe to her sisters as “Frankenstein patchwork”. Never outwardly vain, the fact that Erica had lived her entire life with a body given the grace and poise of a young deer had been an unnoticed pillar of her life, until the accident and surgery that had left her robbed of grace, and mortified at the sight of her legs.
Erica did not believe in depression; while she struggled with it, she never yielded to it, and fought to pour her energies back into her work, regaining the professional ground lost, and attempting to invest the same joy in building wealth for her clients that she had always found in the dance; but her life was without balance, and the strain was showing when she was not at work. Her community had been there for her, but at some of the celebrations she felt no longer comfortable. Today was Litha, the midsummer where she would once have leapt the fire with the others to burn off ill luck and celebrate the sheer joy of life in honour of Lord Frey, the lord of the dance, and the ever renewing earth. She could not jump over the fire, nor stand the looks of pity when she sat with the old folks to watch the young and strong leap in joy now denied her.
She wanted to swim, to lose herself in the rythmn of the waves and her strokes, an echo of the dance she used to know. She could not go to the pool, her self consciousness about the eyes upon her scarred legs had made the public pools about as attractive as a dung heap, and with Litha falling on a weekend, she had the chance to go to the beach before there were people about, especially if she went down to the sea by one of little beaches not technically open to the public. Here at least she could lose herself in the waves without fear of other eyes.
The wind was quiet as she started to swim, but the waves seemed to pick playfully at her as the wind rose from a sky blue save for wisps of lazily twisting white lace. A rogue wave slapped her in the face as she turned to breathe in her perfectly timed stroke, and she choked on the heavy salt water that shattered her rythmn and stole her breath. In little danger, but unable to swim as she coughed, she was struggling to regain breath and keep herself above water when a strong lithe form swept from behind to wrap her in one strong arm, and with the other begin pulling strongly to shore.
A gentle voice ran over her like sunlight “There now, the wave sisters are over playful and have done you a bad turn. You just cough it out, and I will keep you up until you can swim again. The wind is rising and father says swimmers and day sailors had best be to shore; I tend to listen to him as the beach has been his since forever.”
There was no feeling of alarm at the strangers touch, and the unquestioned maleness of his presence pressed against her back caused a blush to rise to her face as unaccustomed thoughts intruded into the routine cycle of anger at failure and embarrassment. She found herself first relaxing into his touch, then beginning to join him in a side stroke towards shore, aware the sea was indeed rising beneath a wind growing ever more full.
Her arm over his around her middle, they fell into a matching stroke, falling into the rythmn as naturally as with another dancer, they moved together through the waves as he pushed her to extend herself, stretching into fuller strokes, and more powerful than she had learned to use in her long recovery, he never pushed, simply led and trusted she would follow and felt her body begin to burn with the feeling of pleasant exertion. Falling into the rythmn she felt her heart and his hammer in time as his chest pressed to her back, and she was very well aware of just what was pressed against her buttocks as their legs moved together in a dance eerily echoing another she had not contemplated since her accident.
Arriving at shore, body thrilling with the pleasure of full exertion she had no strength even to stand, and was trying to figure out how to gracefully ask for a pause before trying to get out of the water when she felt his other arm pass beneath her legs and carry her out of the water with an effortless power that belied his graceful form.
“I am so sorry, I knew you were tiring, but I was just enjoying the swim so much I indulged myself by pushing us both. It is the least I can do for such a lovely dance partner to help you over the fence to my mother’s land.”
He carried her up the rough beaten trail to the rough turnaround where her car and a Triumph Stag were both parked. He settled her neatly on the hood of the Stag, and snagged a towel from the back seat of the convertible to wrap around her.
“Oh my god, this is your mother’s land? I didn’t know who owned it, but I just knew there was a beach access, and never any people, and I prefer to swim without a lot of people around”
His eyes stayed on hers, even as hers darted reflexively to the scars she attempted to hide with the towel, and his eyes smiled easily, refusing to flinch.
“Aye, it’s my father’s beach, but the farm is mother’s. I am actually supposed to be at a family function right now for Litha, but you know, sometimes you don’t need a lot of people around, sometimes you need to feel the wind, the waves, the sun, the feel of the warm earth beneath your feet, and the feel of someone else moving with the same simple joy of life”
Had he pressed closer, she might have feared that was a come on, and been concerned about his intentions, but he stood unselfconsciously, the sun shining on his golden hair, and she saw a faint network of scars covering his body as well, similar to her own in scope, if different in placement.
Seeing her eyes trace over his scars he laughed, and she flinched, knowing her reaction to people noticing her own.
“Ah yes, well when I was younger I took up the sword, so to speak. There came a time I had to give it up, put it behind me. I was glad enough to be honest, I would rather work to build a future than burn it down anyway. I admit I am mostly concerned with wealth management these days, the exciting world of agricultural futures and my own volunteer work trying to do what I can to see that we use some of that wonderful plenty to make sure that the people who need it actually get fed. Not as exciting as the sword, but the fields and flocks keep people fed after all”
He looked down at his scars and traced them with his finger, he took her hand and she felt herself start to do the same.
“These are like the vines of the rose. Twisted and thorned, they speak of pain, but if you trace them you see they sing of life, rooted in the strong earth, yearning for the bright sun, and if you trace them far enough you will find such beauty as no gentler flower may know”
His own fingers began to trace her own scars on her legs, as her own traced his scars across his chest.
There was a simple joy in discovery for her, as his fingers traced lines of pain and ugliness that she saw imposed over the body she knew, but he taught her otherwise. She traced the scars of his body and found only life and love, the fierce burning passion of the spring tempered by life and wisdom into the warm heat of summer, the richness of fulfilment, not the mad urgency of spring, but the patience of the long lazy summer afternoon.
Tracing her scars, he taught her to know her hard won strength, to glory in the lines of a power paid for by sweat and tear, to claim for herself the joy of the dance again, in the oldest dance of all. They loved in the fields, as birds danced and sang, and the fence rose bushes waved in the summer breeze in stately measure as if bowing to the couple who celebrated life renewed under the midsummer sun.
Weaving for each other crowns of flowers, they strode naked to the tree at the center of the field where he showed her the secret burrow of the rabbits that dance here each Easter, and stood beside her as the doe from the edge of the treeline came down to let her stroke its soft flanks, coming to his soft call as if it were not a wild thing.
The midsummer passed as they supped in the field from baskets he had brought in his Triumph Stag, and they fed each other with crackers, meats, fruits and cheeses with much laughter, and enough spillage that squirrels and birds were their most dutiful attendants.
As the sun began to fall, he smiled sadly, and told her it was time for him to go, for he was not free to tarry long. As they returned to their cars, and their clothes, it occurred to her she had never asked his name. As she turned to ask him, she gazed at him flower crowned, the setting sun behind his head setting his body to glowing like hammered bronze and froze.
“You know my name, beloved one. You need not speak it, but write it here over my heart and know that you will always be my beloved.” His voice was too gentle to be a command; but an invitation.
Over his heart she traced the diamond symbol Ingwaz, the symbol of Frey.
Kissing her on the forehead, he took both her hands in his before kissing them as well in parting.
“You have always pleased me, in the dance, and in your life. A gift for a gift, it was time I reminded you were still my beloved dancer”
She followed his Stag into the first turn, but was unsurprised to find that when she rounded the corner on the country road, his car was not there. Litha was ending, and he could not tarry. The laughed through smiling tears. She also had life to get back to, and joy that she had forgotten would again be part of it.