Narcissus died because his reflection was too beautiful.
Or so they say. Perhaps he starved to death, or fell into the water and drowned. I studied the reflection in the rippling pool and reached out my hand to disrupt the image. Lay still the waters, make them a mirror. The clarity of truth lay somewhere at the bottom, but my reflection blockaded me from seeing what was there.
Troubling times. Smoke in the distance rose with acrid warning, stinging the air and reducing its clear, sweet scents. Burning decay crumbled in the forests beyond. Something watchfully took flight and cawed out a frantic warning. I repressed a shudder and slowly settled onto the riverbank to observe the flowing stream.
Where was I--Narcissus.
The most beautiful youth the gods had ever seen. Or perhaps simply handsome by mortal standards, as gods, I am told, are not to envelop or provoke emotions within themselves. In truth, the only reason Narcissus existed was to explain the theories of echoes (Echo being the name of the nymph who died for him), and the flower of Narcissus same name. Casualties of the folktale war; two beings that may or may not have existed representing obsession and arrogant pride. Two very deadly things in separate and uninspired ways.
But this was not a time for fairytales.
I knelt and leant forward, tiredly dropping the satchel I had brought with me to the ground on my right. The moss cushioned the leather sack, but the rattling complaint of metal was still faintly audible. I slipped my cloak from my shoulder and tossed it aside, folding it in these circumstances would be folly. Wrenching the silver plate off of my vulnerable shoulder, I grimaced faintly, feeling hot liquid blaze down my back and front. Not a good sign at all.
Taking the other shoulder-protector off, I wriggled next out of the broken, busted chest piece that had done little more than weigh me down. I tossed that aside as well, on top of the gray cape. Both lay in ruins, one shattered by clubs and the other defeated by a swarm of well-aimed arrows. I drew off the dark red belt and felt a cold fascination over the fact that the sash had once been stark white. Trembling, I lay that to rest atop the chest plate and cloak, folding the latter hastily over the other two. Shedding my daggers came next, and they fell like icicles onto the welcoming moss. Feeling something clog my throat, I turned my head and spat. Crimson liquid splattered the river-worn rocks and crawled down their faces in fading tears.
I closed my eyes for only the briefest of moments, and when I opened them again, the light had changed. Cursing, I realized I was to lose consciousness and needed to stop the flow of blood (wherever it was worse), and untied the doublet that padded my body under the chest plate. I wrenched one arm free, the other limp and numb. Turning my body slightly, I was able to free myself of the button-down tunic as well. The white shirt fluttered absently to the earth in ivory afterthought. Feeling exposed and raw, I glanced down to study myself in the reflection of the tiny rivers inlet.
Head was fine. The injuries there were minimal. A club to the skull did little for me, thank the gods for a thick cranium capable of withstanding sub-par blows from opposing sides. Under crudely-cut, silver hair, a few lumps and bruises were examined by shaking fingers. It was a pity I could not stop myself from quaking. Some manner of my control (my precious control) had snapped within me, spreading itself through my veins. The poisonous substance fear pumped adrenaline all the way to the top of my scalp, which crawled with agonizing chills. I swept my hands back through my hair. Old mans hair, some called it. Ice, others. Sleet, it was the color of sleet. Cold, gray sleet in the dead doldrums of January when nothing stirred. I gripped a fistful of it and fought the urge to wrench it from my scalp in anguished and sudden fury. It barricaded my wounds, cushioned my brow. It was a symbol of pride amongst my people, to have hair this long--hair down to the middle of my back, in fact, it was then. A single braid in the back, then the rest was free. A braid held in place with a little shard of bone. Bone carved into the shape of some symbol, I had forgotten which one. I felt over the curves of the clip and noticed the pointed quality. A muzzle here, a tail there, and the sickle shape of a crescent moon. It was a wolf, or some canine of equal size and proportion, tossing its head back to greet the coming night. The metaphor disgusted me, and in a heartbeat, I had torn it aside, hurling it into the pile of discarded items. Sweeping my hand back up, I wrenched the braid free and let the rest of my hair fall down around bare and bloody shoulders.
Back to the important fact: no head wounds, but that damned braid had nearly cost me my life. I recalled; for a moment, a giant green hand grasping it and thrusting me back by it, then the slam of something red-hot and venomous into the middle of my stomach. The club had descended and rapped me in the temple before stars clouded both vision and memory in bursts of blackish-white. The stunning spiral that followed made me wonder how in the world I had ever escaped in the first place. An ugly reddish bruise lined the side of my face where the club had struck. By morning, I knew it would be puce in color and swollen twice its size. My jaw felt cracked. Gaunt, horrible jaw. Something clicked and crackled with a pop when I opened my mouth slightly, and pointed ears (though one was mismatched due to a missing chunk in its upper-right cartilage) flicked and swiveled as if testing themselves.
Turning to study both sides of my jaw in the river, I lifted one hand to touch my face and nearly lost my balance as vertigo, a much more friendly enemy, struck abruptly. Throwing my hands down to grip the riverbank again, I squeezed my eyes shut and counted to five, very slowly. When I opened my eyes again, the light had once more shifted. It was nearing sunset, now. The screams and smoke had died off, and the woods were deathly still, save for the crying of frightened birds. Frightened was better than silence, for that meant the battle had moved on. I swallowed more boiling liquid and fought to recover my strength enough to continue looking. I forced my eyes to focus on the river, and thought of nothing but myself.
Brow was knotted, knitting together between bruises and a slight bump that may or may not have come from an inconveniently-placed stone underneath me when I fell the first time. Nose slightly squashed to one side, but not broken. Perhaps I had merely sprained it somehow--ah, I remember. The incoming, glancing blow of some overlords broadsword. Its hilt had caught me unawares and I had unfortunately not reacted in time to prevent its descent. He had actually been on my side, but had thrust his blade back too suddenly. I had been behind him at the time, ridding myself of other enemies. I touched the nose and grimaced at the tiny drop of blood that I managed to squeeze out. Lips hardened into a thin line, and I forced them open with a sneer to examine the teeth within. Each little white tombstone was intact, not a crack or lost tooth to be seen, praise be to Gaea. I realized I had skipped over something and begrudgingly examined my eyes for wounds as well, raising them to meet my double in the river with a doppelgangers dislike.
My eyes. Nothing in the world did I dislike more than these. Dual pinpricks, silver in color--as old as my hair, for example, or toxic steel. Deeply sunken in and lined with sooty sleeplessness, they tilted up faintly at the corners as if at some unknown joke, though humor rarely touched me in a manner of visibility. They each had the quality of a polished blade. No emotion was allowed to stir there, merely reflectors of whatever went on around them. The lashes were black, which made little sense to me as I reconsidered my hair color. Premature age had not done its work, I was born with both hair and eye color already predisposed by some laughing deity. Set evenly apart above the thin bridge of my nose, they simply exhumed and surmised what was necessary. And with dagger-quick efficiency, they cast aside what was unneeded and simply moved on to calculate the next thing I observed. Mercury, the messenger god, was likely the only thing faster than those two allies of mine, for their messaging system was lightning-quick after years of training them to do their work with speed. I endeavored to look away, eyes falling to study lower parts of the reflection. They were simply tools of observation. They did little else for me.
Lower down was my chin, stubborn and lean. It only added to the skeletal qualities of my face. The cheekbones, high and pinched, promoted the concave surfaces of my cheeks with starved purposefulness. An apparition would have appeared healthier than I, as my pallor bore little hints of sunlight, more attuned to chameleon-izing itself to the colors of my parchment.
I rubbed a throat that was thankfully bare of wounds old or new, then flinched at the sight of my unwanted right hand. Fingers that were flesh-wrapped bones clutched the neck warily. Spidery veins, blue and visible underneath the pale white skin, were marred and trapped under a blatant scar of many years past. Its puckered features were ugly, deep green and withered ever so slightly on the back of the aforementioned hand. Tinier marks were brushed aside; little bites or knicks from knives and arrows or labors dismissed themselves quietly under the wake of the hideous mark. It rose like a small mountain on the back of my hand and plateaued quickly, becoming a smooth ripple of deepest jade. The color was the mark of a deadly poison; one I should not have survived. The entry wound was all that remained, now, a faint poke of a hole underneath all the puckered and shivering flesh. I lowered the hand and let my gaze wander down the canyon between my collarbone, slick with blood, then slowly deposited my stare on the torso.
The ribcage was blessedly intact as well, no signs of dislocated bones there. Arms, wiry with muscle and taut with terror, raised themselves so that I might further inspect my insignificant form. The upper chest bore old marks that were pearly with age, the most significantly obvious being a slightly-upraised wound of an old burn over the left clavicle, dipping diagonally towards the heart. The telltale sign of an old torch blow, perhaps. I had forgotten its origin for the moment, as blood crept out of me from the sources I still hunted for. I drew in a steadying breath, knowing what was coming, and slowly pinned my stare on the reflected lower abdomen.
As I feared, the blood was coming from that direction. I swept a hand down over the ugly, reddish semi-circle under my righthand ribs, and slowly gritted my teeth as I slipped my fingers into the narrow wound.
The pain was unimaginable. It was strange, how such a small and insignificant mark could do such damage. I felt around for a moment and withdrew, with painstaking sluggishness, a small metal shard--the tip of a barbed arrow. As it poked free from my flesh, more crimson liquid trickled out. A swollen upwelling of nausea roiled up my throat, and turning my head to one side, I spat and gagged on yet more uncomfortable substances. I nearly plummeted into the riverbank, but I knew if I allowed myself to fall now, I might never get back up again.
For some reason, I set the barbed arrow tip aside and slowly turned myself to look on the other side for wounds. A couple of mild stab wounds, scrapes and scratches presented themselves, but nothing so deadly as an arrowhead. Exhaling a sigh of rattling relief, I slowly closed my fingers over the red, raw wound and waited for a heartbeat, before opening my eyes once more. Misery clung to the trees in the form of a watery sunset, creating the air of a bloody battlefield in the trees with scarlet glow. I slowly shifted my body around with a brief inspection of legs with a yanking up of black, mud-splattered slacks. Long, lean, and white. Perfectly unmarred, save for old slashes from instruments so cruel they cannot be named. Ankles flexed and toes curled and uncurled, boots forgotten. The soles were burned raw and the ankles (like my forgotten and aching wrists) bore old signs of metallic poisoning. To my people, steel and iron is a plague. And I, diseased creature that I was, had borne the shackles of slavery under which I had made a name for myself. Ravager.
I was the Ravager.
But ah, what was in a title, anyway? Cold irony yanked my lips into a subtle smirk that I felt ripple all the way down to my repulsive bones. I rubbed my numb arm slightly and decided to locate its source of discontent, swiveling my body around slowly as I could to avoid spilling anymore necessary blood. I was shaking a terribly great amount now, forcefully so. My body was writhing with it, unable to keep still in sudden twitches and flinching jerks. I glanced over one slumped shoulder, on which was an enormous burn, and several slashes of a similar weapon that once flogged me with a rainfall of leathery blows, and switched back my ears in an instinctive display of dismay. What I witnessed was an unfortunate shaft of an arrow buried deep in the lower lefthand side of my extensive, skinny back. It was encrusted with bubbling red blood, an indication that I had metallic poisoning on top of my prior wounds. Studying it briefly, I reached back with my good arm and missed, unable to pull it free. Frustration building at my own stupidity and recklessness, I thrust my right hand against the shaft and managed to get a few fingers on it. I tore it sideways and bit my tongue in an effort to repress the howl of pain that came from the searing infection and ripped tissue that pulled free with the Southern barb quite unharmed. I hurled it onto the pile of discarded items and, panicking, thrust a hand into the river to splash myself with water. The image, distorted, burst in a flurry of bubbles as I rolled onto the moss to vomit another mouthful of blood into the sparkling emerald. The color stained and ebbed as water, cool and life-giving, cascaded down my back. Gawking dumbly at the ripples in the gentle inlet, I slowly leant my face forward and threw my arms into the water with a shallow splash. Lowering my head thirstily, I let my nose touch the water and sank under. Cold, refreshing cold in the scorching blaze of Summers dying sunlight, flowed up my sprained nose and into my open mouth. It washed away the taste of bile and copper and left only nothingness in its wake.
In a final act of clarity, I rolled over after a moment to listen to the rivers song. It hummed in harmony with the air, completely undaunted by todays escapades. I slowly flicked open the stiletto that I had within reach and tossed the sheathe aside. Reaching up with my free hand I gripped a fistful of my hair just below my ears. I held the blade clumsily in my poisoned arm and began to saw. Bloody locks flopped with shocked surprise against the rivers unruffled surface and were quickly swept away as if to hide their--my--shame. I appreciated that.
I kept sawing, until finally, there was nothing left to saw. Surrounded by a small nest of conceit and self-absorption, I slowly tilted my head back and let my head fall into the river again, upside-down once more. The water called me down, and down I went, hearing the imaginary cries of allies.
So this is how Narcissus dies. Ugly, alone, and with his dignity forgotten. It was well-deserved. I had nothing to be prideful of, I realized now, nor was I worthy or fit to survive as the gods now saw to it that I was to die. So let me die, and decrease the already-decaying populace of Avalons fey race. I cared little for anything anymore, permitted the cool water would only remain to wash away my grief.
Over the bubbling of the singing brook, I heard its laughter fade as voices rose in choral din.
there he is, I see him!
Gods, what happened t-to him? Let me see him, quickly, pull him free--
Suddenly I was torn from my watery womb and thrust back into the world of hurt. Suddenly hands, touching my defiled form, suddenly voices clamoring for attention. Unable to prevent their attacks, I swung a hand out blindly and felt it become clasped in a furnace of gold. Energy hot as the sun blazed in my veins and I shook with unhappiness. My icy savior lay far from me now, running on its way towards the uncharted oceans. Hands, pawing across my back and stomach. Faces in a whorl of kaleidoscopic futility above me chattered and moaned, deformed by delirium. The final words I heard before all went black still resonate in my head, perhaps due to their negativity amongst such unwelcome recognition and undeserved love.
Geez, its true what they say.
Old dogs do hobble off into the woods to die.