“To lose a mind is a terrible thing. What was once bright and thriving and spinning and imagining can become stuck in place, reliving horrors or dreaming up new ones with no window of hope into the future. But to have a mind taken? That is far worse.”
-The Codex of Seconds (1581), Page 12
So, Henry and Delilah.
The names on their marriage license read Henry David Gold and Delilah Catherine Endicott. They were two members of older families from the city of Lignia, in the heart of Anapolatsia. Some considered it to be the human capital of the realm, though there was no official status that granted it that title. Instead, it was more of a cultural hub where humans settled en masse. It was also the seat of the Church of Saint Kateri, which returns us to the topic of the marriage license.
It had been signed by the Lord Raven himself. Henry was an important man in the right circles and his betrothal had been the subject of much gossip in Lignia last week. Of course, the Lord Raven was happy to personally oversee Mr. Gold’s wedding arrangements. And if the newlyweds decided that they should wish to donate a portion of their merged fortunes to help with church construction and outreach, well that would just be wonderful.
However, the Lord Raven didn’t see quite everything he wished, and no one could have seen what was going on in the Gold residence, so far off into the trees.
It was a chilly autumn night that Delilah found herself sitting on the porch of their modestly sized home. They never showed off their wealth. The house she occupied was neither large nor flashy. It was finely furnished and tastefully decorated, but it wasn’t boastful or exuberant. Walking up the drive that night, you never would have guessed the vast fortune that the owners had nestled away. You would only have noticed the beauty on the front porch, crying.
Delilah had returned home that evening from a trip to the market to find a letter on the table. Hastily scrawled, it revealed to her Henry’s infidelity. It was not his handwriting, nor did she believe he ever would have been courageous enough to confess it himself. Indeed, she believed it was the work of whatever woman had been spending so much time in their bed. The note was neither tactful nor vague. It detailed a long and seemingly constant affair that her fiancé had been engaged in as long as she’d known him. Names, however, were conspicuously absent.
Henry had arrived home not much later than she. He found no note, however. He found her. He found fury. A woman scorned, et cetera. By then there was nothing to be done. Delilah was firm in her self-worth, and she would not allow a scoundrel to sleep under her roof. He packed a bag in a huff and stomped around the house indignantly. He raged and swore about these fucking women intent on ruining his life and his reputation. He slammed books onto the desk as he lamented Delilah’s inability to see to his needs and Micci’s inability to keep her god-damned mouth shut.
Delilah tucked the name away as it left his lips.
Never once during his whirlwind of motion and belligerence did he apologize to her, and by the time he was disappearing back into the tree line down the drive, she knew she’d made the right choice. He didn’t care that he’d hurt her. He didn’t care that he’d hurt this Micci woman. All he cared about was that his fun was over. She had been spared a marriage to a horrible child of a man. Really, this was a blessing.
That what she told herself, anyway, as the tears fell onto the wooden floor of the front porch.
She sighed a heavy sigh and began to walk; not up the drive – she would never follow that fucker’s footsteps – but around the back of the house. She found the small rarely used footpath that connected her property to that of her closest neighbor. The woman was a peculiar sort, though she seemed kind when they’d spoken.
Delilah and Henry had lived next to her for two years now, and Helen had stopped by on occasion. She’d brought baked goods, insisting that she’d made too much again and that was just the neighborly thing to do. Delilah wondered if Helen ever thought it rude they’d never returned the favor.
It was a short five minutes through the trees along the half-rotted wooden planks that made up the trail, and Delilah stepped out into Helen’s back yard. Her house was smaller even then theirs, though she didn’t need much room. From what Delilah could tell, Helen had been alone for a while. She wasn’t old. At least, she didn’t look it. But the woman never spoke of anyone else in her life. Just her and her books. Maybe that’s what drew Delilah there tonight: the absence of an audience.
She knocked on the door and heard footsteps within.
“Well Delilah,” Helen said, beaming as she opened the door. “To what to I owe…”
Her words trailed off as she really took in the sight before her. What a sight it must have been. Delilah was standing there, eyes and cheeks reddened from the cold and the tears.
“Come in,” she said sharply but warmly. “Sit.”
Delilah nodded solemnly and wandered across the threshold. It occurred to her that she’d never been inside Helen’s home before. It smelled divine. It was a fragrance she couldn’t quite place, but whatever it was made her relax slightly. It smelled peaceful. Like a safe memory.
“Tell me what happened,” Helen said as the pair lowered themselves onto Helen’s sofa.
Finally, all of Delilah’s fury left her. It had held her together long enough to get her here, but now on this kind woman’s couch, she fell apart. Her shoulders slumped and she began to cry in earnest, doing her best to relay the details of Henry’s affair to the only woman she knew might listen.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she finally said after a long sniffle. “I know we aren’t exactly close. But people talk. All my old friends… They aren’t the secret keeping type. This will get out. A week before the wedding and the Golds are breaking up. This will be news. But I needed it to not be, for at least tonight.”
“I understand, Delilah. I do. You don’t have to worry. You’re no bother.”
Delilah fell silent for a time and allowed herself to be wrapped up in Helen’s arms. The woman was essentially a stranger to her, but there was something about her neighbor she wanted to trust.
In the interest of transparency, I can tell you now that the candles Helen was burning were, in fact, enchanted. Though not in the way you might be thinking. Helen was a witch of not insignificant power, however she rarely used it anymore for anything but some comfort in the home. The candles simply burned to smell – specific to the smeller – like something that soothes. Helen had lit them for herself, having no knowledge that she’d be getting a visitor. But the smell did lull Delilah into a calmer state of mind, managing her stress and easing her heartbreak.
What Helen hadn’t considered at the time was that it was also laying the groundwork for what would become frequent visits. It made sense that Delilah would begin to associate Helen’s house with a sense of calm and relaxation. Mostly, that was because of the friendship the two developed in the days after Delilah’s first visit. But before there was friendship, there were the candles.
Delilah was right, of course. The news of the Gold-Endicott split spread like wildfire through the Lignia upper crust. The Lord Raven took the news quite personally. How could Henry have done something like this. Didn’t he know that the Lord Raven’s signature was on his marriage license? This was like a black spot on his record. The Lord Raven intended to take this matter up with the deceitful young man, though that is a story for another day.
Don’t worry. I’ll tell it eventually. It’s a rather enjoyable tale for me to tell.
Regardless, Delilah Endicott found herself isolated from decent society. The men didn’t want to associate with someone they saw as second-hand goods. The women were all overly piteous, and Delilah saw no value in listening to them whimper about the men of the world and their evils or fawning over the poor abandoned Delilah, crying about what ever would she do now. Even a trip to the story brought looks of revulsion or pity that she simply could not abide. In the end, she found her days filled with the sound of Helen’s voice: the only one that sounded the same as it did before the break-up.
The first snow was falling outside the day that everything changed. Delilah had been taking the path to Helen’s nearly every day for weeks.
Henry had spent that time wallowing in his penthouse hotel room. The women of town never told Delilah, but his room had become something of a make-shift brothel. Women came and went at all hours, leaving with a fistful of cash having fulfilled Henry’s laundry list of sexual requests. In his darkest moments, he called them by Delilah’s name. Or Micci’s. Or both, should there have been more than one woman present, as there often were. They never minded. He paid well.
It never made him feel better.
In the weeks since she threw him out, Henry had rarely stopped thinking about Delilah. I can’t say whether he felt guilty or if he missed her. It’s most likely he probably just cursed the loss of her money. He had been looking forward to marring their fortunes together. No matter the reason, his mind was always on her.
Hers was less and less on him. She found herself thinking instead of Helen. She was so kind and comforting. And confident! The woman knew how to carry herself. Any time Delilah was there, Helen was there. No matter the hour, she had time for her. Helen never seemed to be fatigued or befouled. Again, this was mostly because she was a master with restorative magics of the Divinity, as it’s called. She knew white spells that could rejuvenate the mind and body and sustain you like to food or drink ever could.
In actuality, Helen was over 250 years old. She’d walked the forests around Lignia since before Delilah’s grandmother was born. But she’d withdrawn from the day-to-day bustling of the city, content with her peaceful retreat. Until she’d gotten neighbors. She didn’t look her age, however. Delilah wondered, sometimes, how old her neighbor was. Surely no older than she. Helen didn’t look a day over 30. Her face was so bright. Her skin was so soft.
A snowflake landed on Delilah’s face as she thought about Helen’s soft skin. She was half-way through the woods when the thought came to her. She blushed lightly for no one to see. Why on Earth was she thinking about Helen’s touch? And why did it set her slightly aflame to consider it? Must just be the cold and the stress of the preceding weeks. Anything else would have meant acknowledging the feelings that had been growing inside her, and she wouldn’t be doing that.
She would never tell anyone how Helen’s whispered name had escaped her lips as she drifted off to sleep some nights, offered like a prayer. She would never tell anyone how Helen’s eyes often appeared in her mind as she ran her hands over her body in the shower. She would never tell anyone how warm she felt, basking in Helen’s presence each day. And if she didn’t tell anyone, then it wasn’t really happening.
“Come in,” she says, opening the door before Delilah can even knock. Delilah smiles warmly. When she’s here, it’s almost like the last three weeks of heartache never happened.
Helen sat Delilah down on the couch in her usual place and went to fetch a glass of wine for each of them. It had become another tradition during their visits to try a different bottle each time. Helen had an impressive wine cellar she’d said she’d inherited from her family. Now this wasn’t exactly the truth, but back then, Helen and Delilah’s relationship was new. It wasn’t yet time for the revealing of secrets. Though Helen hoped that the time may be coming soon.
In the spirit of getting closer, Helen chose her wine carefully that day. It was an old vintage. A 1788 Thornpointe. Helen had never had a Thornpointe wine, but the label promised that it was strong and implied it was slightly enchanted. Seemed just the thing to give this relationship a push in the right direction.
So, when Helen returned to Delilah, it was with two glasses of the darkest red wine Delilah had ever seen. So deeply red it may have been purple. Or blue. It seemed to shimmer as it swished lightly in the glass, spraying colors Delilah had never seen in a glass of wine. And it tasted divine. It was certainly the best Helen had ever poured for them, and from the moment the wine touched their lips, they were changed.
The wine was indeed enchanted, and significantly more than Helen was expecting. The experienced witch was rocked back by the recognition of the magnitude of the spell. For just an instant, she understood what she’d done. But the next instant, she was lost. Delilah never even noticed. The spell was powerful but subtle. Only Helen’s years of magical experience gave her a glimpse. Instead, the spell simply flowed through Delilah, filling her from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. Two long sighs left their lips and their eyes met.
A moment passed between them, where they stared at each other, eyes burning with need. Helen saw the woman before her, bereaved but beautiful. She thought of all the times in the past weeks where she’d shoved her fingers and her toys and anything else she could think of inside her and moaned Delilah’s brunette name to the empty room. She thought of all the times she’d wished to know what she tasted like. Helen had helped her. Had nursed her back to health with wisdom and wine. Didn’t she deserve to know now? Wasn’t she owed this?
Delilah, for her part, hadn’t even attempted to fight whatever changes took root in her mind in that moment. She’d been fighting the feelings for days without ever acknowledging they were there, and she was tired. So tired. And so, she simply gave in. This woman before her had helped her in ways she could never repay, except she could. This goddess deserved her love and her lust, and she was sick of pretending she didn’t want to give it. Her eyes glanced down from Helen’s perfect face to her perfect breasts, straining beneath her top, and that was all it took. In a flash, Helen was on top of her.
Right where Delilah had wanted her for days.
Their lips met and their tongues swirled around one another. They moaned into each other as Delilah’s hands found Helen’s ass and tits, two words the proper woman would never have uttered just moments ago. They were perfect.
“What’s happening?” Delilah managed to whimper as Helen kissed down her neck.
“Strong wine,” was all Helen was able to get out before Delilah’s hands snaked under the woman’s pants.
For the next two hours, the sounds of breath and skin filled the air in Helen’s living room, then hall, then bedroom. The two could hardly be separated from one another in their need and their lust untethered.
The sun had set by the time the effects of the wine had worn off. The two lay in a tangled mess of limbs and bedsheets. Eventually, they’d made the trek down the hall to Helen’s room, though they stopped briefly so that Helen could eat out Delilah while she sat on the kitchen table like a meal.
Those were the first words spoken since they’d drank their wine that wasn’t a proclamation of ecstasy or a cry for more.
Delilah looked up from where her head was resting on Helen’s chest and saw that she was right. There would be no journeying back through the woods to her house tonight. The trail was well marked, but even sensible, non-superstitious adults new that you shouldn’t enter the woods of Anapolatsia at night.
They may consider the Mattahasha to be a myth, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t other more real dangers in the woods.
Of course, we know now that the Mattahasha is very real, but Delilah still lived in her upper-class world of dilettantes and refined ignorance, despite this most recent foray into debauchery.
“Guess I’m stranded,” she said with a smile as she lay her head back where it had been and closed her eyes.
“A shame,” Helen muttered as her fingers twirled and spun Delilah’s hair.
Eyes still closed, Delilah sighed. “Was this a mistake?” she asked tentatively.
“Did it feel like one?”
Delilah though about how it felt.
“It didn’t feel like anything I’ve ever felt before.”
Helen knew why, but she wasn’t ready to have that talk yet. Delilah was a good upstanding member of society. She knew nothing of witches and the power of colors. She never had to struggle the way Helen had; the way people who find magic often had to struggle. She didn’t fault Delilah for that or think less of her. It wasn’t her fault she’d been born into affluence. Indeed, Helen found she loved her more because Delilah had maintained an honest goodness in the face of privilege. It was a fact she admired.
But all that added up to the fact that Helen found it necessary, at least for a time, to hide her gifts and her knowledge. Soon, she would tell Delilah her secrets. But tonight, they probably already had enough on their plates.
“And I’m assuming in your thirty years of life, you know what a mistake feels like.”
“Thirty-one,” Delilah corrected, nudging her softly.
“Even more experience, then. So, I ask again: Did it feel like a mistake?”
Delilah fell silent again for a moment and felt Helen’s chest rise and fall under her cheek.
“No,” she said finally. “It didn’t.”
“Then I think we’re okay.”
“Henry -,” she began to say but Helen cut her off.
“Let’s not think about him for tonight.”
“But I’ll have to, eventually. He’s not going to take this well.”
“A problem for tomorrow,” Helen whispered, pulling Delilah in closer. “We’ll handle everything, I promise. You’re not going to be alone.”
A tear ran silently down Delilah’s cheek as she smiled again.
“Thank the wine.”
They laughed for a moment, then kissed softly after their eyes met. The effect of the wine spent, they had no more stamina, but they were happy in that moment. Content to lay their wrapped up in a lover’s arms and drift off to sleep.
In the morning, Delilah rose early. She always had. It was just after dawn when she slipped out of bed. She took a moment to gaze down at the beautiful woman still half-covered with sheets. She never would have thought it possible, but she’d fallen head over in heels for her neighbor. The warmth she’d felt last night after weeks of cold isolation; if that wasn’t love, nothing was.
She smiled and ran a hand across Helen’s hair, and the woman stirred but only for a moment. She muttered some half-words in her sleep, rolling over and dropping back into her dreams. Delilah decided not to wake her.
Instead, she went out to the living room, finding her clothes still in a pile at the foot of the couch. She ran it all back in her mind as she got dressed. God, it had all happened so fast. But Delilah stood by what she had decided the night before. It may have been fast and unexpected, but it wasn’t a mistake. It was the start of her next chapter.
She found a pad of paper in the kitchen and wrote Delilah a note for when she woke up, then slipped out the front door.
The walk back to her house was a golden blur. She remembered every touch. Every word. Every sigh. A smile never left her face as she considered the path forward and how happy Helen might make her. She knew the next few months would be rough. She had to deal with Henry eventually. She had to go to the Lord Raven and rescind the marriage license. He wouldn’t be happy about that, but it wasn’t her fault. Surely, he’d see that.
But through it all, she knew she’d be okay if Helen was by her side.
She stepped onto her front porch, her life once again awash with possibility. She walked past the rocking chair where she’d been crying over Henry in what now felt like a passed life. Briefly, she registered the soft sound of crackling, like static electricity, but before the recognition could even turn into a question, she was gone.
Her vision flashed a bright and terrible shade of green, then all went dark, and all those possibilities she’d been dreaming about simply vanished.
Helen woke an hour or two later to an empty bed, still slightly warm where Delilah had been. She rose and walked naked through the house, her breasts bouncing slightly until she found her bra in the living room. Delilah’s clothes were gone.
She was concerned that after their conversation last night, Delilah had changed her mind and fled. As she put some clothes back on, however, she found the note her neighbor had left for her.
Yesterday was the first time I’ve felt alive in longer than I ever realized. I now know that even before Henry’s betrayal came to light, I wasn’t really living. I was a ghost drifting through a series of met expectations, and that’s not a life.
I’m sneaking out alone this morning to gather my thoughts and use my own bath, but I’m not running away. In fact, I think I’ll be running back to you very soon.
Delilah Catherine Endicott