Philania opened her eyes, she yawned and stretched. Rolling over she placed her hand on the pillow next to her, then moved her hand across the pillow, searching. Her head shot up, and looked at the empty place in the bed next to her. She sat up and searched the dark room. Her eyes came to rest on a dark figure of a man sitting on the floor in front of the fire, she grinned slightly. Quietly she slipped out of the bed and crept behind the man. She knew his mind had been stolen away….somewhere far away.
Philania wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders and swallowed him up in a big bear hug. He jolted and looked back at her.
“Did I scare you?” She asked grinning mischievously.
“Me, scared? I’m a brave knight…I’m trained to fear nothing.” The man said dryly as if he was trying to convince himself of that truth.
“Don’t lie. Tell me what’s bothering you Quin, you seem to be very far away right now, where are you love?” She kissed his cheek and sat down next to him; stroking his beard with her hands she turned his face towards hers and looked into his intense blue eyes. He opened his mouth to speak.
“Don’t say ‘nothing,’ because I know better…” Philania said gently.
He smiled and took her hands in his, kissing her knuckles, he said, “I am here, wishing that I could stay here. We’ve only been married a month and I am already being called out on business for the king. I don’t want to leave you, I was hoping for a little more time before having to be called away on duty.” He scooped her up and placed her on his lap, holding her close, stroking her hair and breathing in her scent.
“So that’s what has you so troubled? Listen I will be fine, you know that the Queen has already made arrangements for me to stay with her, she is ecstatic to have me, she has missed not having me there since some handsome knight swooped me off my feet and forced me to marry him.” Philania laughed.
“Well if that’s how you feel about our marriage…than I shall just leave…tonight!” He said with a chuckle, than he grew serious again. “I’m not worried about you; I know you will be safe, I just don’t know how I am going to be able to wake up every morning to an empty tent. It’s not going to be easy saying goodbye and not knowing how long it will be until I see you again. I don’t like the idea of not being able to kiss you, or hold you in my arms like this.” His jaw clenched and he breathed in a deep sigh, letting his head come to rest against hers.
“So, you’re going to miss me, eh? Can’t live without me, eh?” She said teasingly. Then knowingly she held his face in her hands and kissed his cheek gently; then she kissed his lips and looked into his eyes again, stroking his cheek with her thumb, “I will miss you just as much as you will miss me, but I know too that I am blessed to have you, it was no accident that our paths crossed when we were young. God had a plan for both of us; he rescued me from the streets and brought you into my life to so that I could live a better life. I don’t know what he has planned for us next, but I trust him. I also trust that he will keep you safe and comforted while we are apart.”
Quinlin looked at her and smiled, “This is why I married you.” He kissed the palm of her hand, “Alright, I suppose we should get back to bed, they will be here early tomorrow to fetch me.”
* * * * * *
Quin had been gone for six months, Philania thought her heart would burst, she cried and prayed that God would bring him back to her soon. It was a real struggle, but she kept believing and trusting that God would answer her prayer.
Philania sat with the Queen and read a book while she sewed. Philania looked up from the book, “Have there ever been any fairy sightings or anything else “mystical” around here? I know it’s silly, but I’m curious.”
The Queen smiled, “Oh Philania, you’re too serious sometimes. If someone hadn’t really seen anything, I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as many stories about them. As far as “sightings” around here, I have heard eerie stories of enchanted waters, lake monsters, and Phoenixes, but only bits here and there. Why do you ask dear child? You don’t think that one kidnapped Quinlin do you?” She laughed and patted Philania’s hand gently. “Don’t worry deary, he will be home soon, I’m sure of it. I’m missing my own dear husband too you know!?!”
Philania smiled at the Queen’s warmth and care, realizing she was right. She was ashamed that she wallowed in her own unhappiness and never stopped to think about how someone else might be struggling over the same thing.
Abruptly the Queen’s chamber door flew open, and there stood Quinlin, sweaty and covered in dirt. He was gasping for air as if he had been running and through his gasps he weakly forced out, “Philania!” Philania flew out of her chair and dashed across the room catching him just in time to guide him slowly to the floor as he passed out of consciousness.
“Quinlin! Quin my love, don’t worry I’m here now. I got you…” Philania’s eyes were wet with tears as she held Quin close to her. As the Queen hastened to get help Quin’s eyes fluttered open and he gasped, “Philania…I love you…I’m sorry, but I must heed the words of the Phoenix…” then he went limp.
* * * * * *
Philania stroked Quin’s hair, she laid with him on their bed while he slept. The castle physician said he was suffering from shock and exhaustion, and that he needed rest and food to build up his strength. Philania watched over him carefully, he uttered strange things, things about a phoenix and mystical waters. She couldn’t figure out what was going on, all she knew was that he had seen something terrible in his travels. Three days passed before he fully regained consciousness, when he awoke he sat up and asked how long he had been asleep.
“You’ve been asleep for three days. Quin, what happened to you?” Philania asked holding onto his hand tightly.
“Oh Philania, something terrible has happened, I have returned only to have to leave you again. The story I am about to tell you is one that you most likely won’t believe, but I beg you, as mythical as it may sound please believe that I am telling you the truth!” Quin’s voice was filled with urgency.
“Quin, I…I will believe….tell me, please!” She said.
Quin told her how he and the other knights of the King had been searching the land surrounding the kingdom; they were searching the forest for a reported “disturbance” and some sightings of “black magic.” The king had ordered the knights to seek out this “black magic” and make certain that it wouldn’t reach the kingdom. After the entourage set up camp they went on their assignment to search the Wespin Forest for any mystical disturbances.
They entered the dark forest with their hands grasping their swords, ready for any danger that may befall them. The forest was silent. A breeze picked up the dark leaves of the trees causing a sound like the sea to echo amid the hollowness that captured this desolate woodland. The silence was more eerie than anything else. When in a land of the unknown, one should be afraid of silence more than swarming noises, for the silence reeks fear of things unspoken or things unseen, while noise is assurance of things seen and unseen…it is identifiable.
They made their way in the darkness looking for any suspicious bursts of fire or unexpected mists. Tree limbs cracked underfoot leaving a trace for those who might be following. A fog swiftly blew through the trees surrounding and engulfing them. Quin told the men to stay together in a group so as to prevent them from being separated and depleted.
Through the fog Quin caught site of a green light faintly burning, he alerted the men and told them to stay calm and to keep their swords drawn. His comrade Aaron shook in his armor, he was young and this was his first assignment. He didn’t watch where he was stepping and tripped over a mossy stone. He fell and hit his head on a tree trunk this caused a gash wet with blood to appear across his forehead. Quin helped him up and aided him as they continued to walk. As they drew closer to the green light they seemed to enter into a part of the forest where the trees grew closer together and the trunks of the willow trees were wider and fuller. When they had almost reached the light, they saw that the light was a reflection of the moon on a small stream that was surrounded by overhanging willow trees. Quin advised the men to stay together in the darkness where they weren’t exposed, while he went to gather water to refresh his friends and clean Aaron’s wound.
Quinlin approached the water cautiously and as quiet as possible, being fully conscious of anything that might burst out and attack him. He reached a part where the willow trees formed an arch right before the water’s edge, Quin walked through the arch and immediately the water’s color shifted to a solemn purple and the water started to swirl round and round. Quin turned to go back, but the trees leaves and branches had entwined forming a barrier to keep him. Quin turned back to the water, his eyes wide. All he could think about was Philania, his love, his precious wife.
Then what appeared before him would terrify and mystify anyone, out from the mouth of a cave where the stream flowed from, strode out a fiery bird. With eyes that burned like embers and wings that flicked with fiery sparks, the creature was beautiful with a graceful neck like a swan and an elegant tail that swirled and twisted. Quin couldn’t move nor could he look away, he was awestruck. This creature turned and matched his gaze, it’s eyes struck fear deep within Quin, it’s eyes was like seeing through the gates of a dungeon that held a of tortured soul captive there.
It let loose a bone cracking screech, and then spoke to him in a voice of many voices echoing and snarling, “Who dares trespass on the sacred grounds of these mystical waters? What unintelligent man are you to dare cross paths with the me, the guardian of these waters? Do you have any idea what punishment you will now face?”
Quin fell to his knees, “I am sorry, I have a wounded comrade and I came to seek water to ease his pain, I did not know that these were sacred waters. Please forgive a simple mistake.”
The phoenix’s wings shook and tail whipped and whirled. “You dare speak to me such lies? You dare ask for a pardon? You will find no mercy here! I will take you as my prisoner until I decide a different punishment for you.”
Quin blinked, fighting hot tears as he realized that he truly would never see Philania again, how could he do this to her, how could he lead his comrades into such danger…he should have known better than to enter unknown grounds in the eeriness of the shadows and fog.
“You cry? What a coward…what a babe to cry in the face of the one who holds your fate!” The phoenix sneered.
Quin now burned with anger, “I cry not for myself, but for my wife who I will leave a widow, she deserves not that fate!”
“A wife, have you? You should have thought of that before you came here.” The phoenix paused for a moment, as if pondering something that troubled him, then with a changed expression he spoke again, almost gently, “You at least seem to be an honest fellow, I will strike a deal with you. If you promise to return to me immediately after, I will give you a fortnight to return and say farewell to your precious wife. If you do not return to me after that allowed time, I shall fly and burn your beloved kingdom and all who reside there….including your precious wife. Do we have a deal?” Once again the phoenix’s eyes burned with a fiery hatred.
“I will return to you in a fortnight, you have my word.” Quin turned to go then turned back to the phoenix, “Thank you. I will not go back on my word!”
The phoenix’s expression softened again, and he said, “See that you don’t.”
* * * * * *
When Quin finished his story, Philania’s eyes filled with tears she held his hands tight.
“How much time do we have left?” She asked with a voice that was filled with desperation.
“Three days, I will have to start my journey back to him in the morning of the forth day. Philania I wish it were longer, but I will not risk the lives of the kingdom. I know you understand that.”
Philania nodded her head grievingly. They made the most of their last three days together. The night before he had to leave, Philania couldn’t sleep she tossed and turned on her pillow next to Quin. There must be another way she thought, there must be something else….she sat up.
“I can’t just lie here and do nothing, I must find another way! I will find another way!” She whispered to herself in the darkness, “I’m sorry Quin, but I am not going to let you give yourself up to die!”
* * * * * *
Before she turned to leave, Philania kissed Quin’s forehead and whispered a prayer, then she tightened the strap of his sword sheath around her chest. She pulled her green cape around her shoulders and pulled the hood over her head, then continued to walk quietly out of the room. Once out of the court yard Philania ran as fast as she could, she ran to the stables and saddled the fastest stallion of the king’s stable.
Moments later she was thundering out of the castle gate on horseback. The horse’s hooves matching the beat of her heart, faster and faster she pushed the great beast. She would sacrifice her life for the one who gave her a chance at a better life. Love is not love if sacrifices are not made.
* * * * * *
Philania didn’t stop riding until she reached the forest the next morning; from there she continued on foot, she didn’t even care how tired she was. A fire burned in her heart and it drove her on. When she reached the place of the stream she drew Quin’s sword and entered the willow’s archway. The trees closed in tightly behind her and once again the water swirled and burned purple.
“You have returned faithfully as you said, I will admit I didn’t believe that you….” The phoenix stopped in its tracks. There stood before him a young woman with a sword and a powerful look of fearlessness that it almost made him shrink back in fear, but he stood tall and whipped his fiery tale.
“Who are you that come at me with a pitiful sword? What can you possibly do to harm me little frail thing that you are?” The phoenix taunted her, trying to see if she would break.
“I am Philania, I am the wife of the man you charged as your prisoner a fortnight ago. I have come not to harm you, but to offer myself in exchange for my husband’s life. If you refuse, than I shall have to kill you!” Philania said with all the courage and strength she could muster.
The phoenix laughed a horrible evil laugh that sent a chill down her spine, “You? You have come to offer yourself in exchange for him? Why!?!”
“My husband was thinking of his comrades not thinking of himself, he is always looking out for others, he always looked out for me. I am here because he doesn’t deserve this fate, I offer this because my love for him burns brighter than any fire you could ever bend and tame!” Philania said as she straightened, standing tall and firm.
The phoenix stood fixed on her eyes, his gaze blazed with fiery ash then he spoke, “I am moved by your love for your husband, never have I witnessed such a true sacrifice of love. I accept your offer. I will take you in his stead. You have shown tremendous courage; because of this courage I shall offer you a much lighter punishment.” He paused, and with a deep breath he drew deep within his breast he spoke with a voice of power and fire, “Instead of death, I cast upon you the curse of the phoenix. You shall remain in the day your human form, but once night falls you shall shift into the form of a phoenix to roam the night sky in the elegance and power of fire. Every full moon, I shall summon you and you must do as I command you until the end of the full moon. This is the punishment I give to you. Now immerse yourself in the mystical waters and be transformed.”
Philania stood for a moment taking in what the phoenix had just told her, than standing tall with courage she dove into the churning waters.