Disclaimer: The characters, Tessa Alvarado, Dr. Robert Helm and Marta, are copyrights of Paramount and Fireworks Productions. No infringement is intended. The story is original and copyright of the author, Maril Swan.
Author's Note: The title comes from the opera "Tristan und Isolde" by Richard Wagner. When Tristan, blind and dying, asks the false Isolde if she sees Isolde the Fair's sail on the sea, coming to save him, she says to him, "Waste and empty, the sea" meaning there is no rescue in sight.
and Empty, the Sea
The harsh light of the full moon cast a hard-edged shadow against the brilliance of the white sand. A lone figure sat, contemplating the water, immobile as a black statue. Now and then, she tossed a pebble into the surf as it surged against the sand. The tide is turning, she thought, as she watched the sea foam along the water's edge pulse back and forth with the motion of the waves. Beneath the moon's radiance, the ocean flowed like satin, pacific and compelling. The smoothness beckoned, its peaceful rolling motion a balm to her troubled spirit. She arose, stripping off her dark clothes, and waded into the water, gasping aloud at its coldness.
A few strokes took her beyond the shore, away from the ragged edge of the incoming tide, and she turned over on her back, to float upon the undulating surface. Above her, the moon coursed through streaming clouds, and the teeming life of the ocean went on beneath her. On this vastness of sea and space, she floated, willing her mind to go blank, as blank as the infinity she felt all around her.
Ignoring the cold invading her limbs, she let herself be carried on the waves, softly rocking her like a child, her hair flowing like seaweed around her face. Looking up at the moon, riding in its brilliance above, she felt herself letting go. I am nothing, she thought somberly. Nothing I do really matters. I could just let myself float here on this ocean forever, and it would make no difference at all. We are all nothing compared to the immensity of this universe. She sighed heavily. I killed someone tonight, a young soldier, just doing his duty. Was it his destiny to die on my sword tonight, or did I interfere with his fate? Who am I to decide who lives and who dies? Marta has often said, Fate is the hunter. So what have I become - the hunting dog of Fate, seeking out those who are to die?
A tiny white speck on the vast ocean, the lone figure floated. It caught his eye as he stood on the cliff above the shore, meditatively looking out over the moonlit water. At first, he thought it was just some flotsam, but quickly realized it was a human body.
Without hesitation, he climbed down the rocks to the strand, then raced along the shoreline, always keeping that white figure in view. He noted a pile of dark clothing on the beach as he hurriedly pulled off his boots, and then his jacket and shirt. The moonlight sparkled on something among the clothes but he had no time to wonder about it. That body was so far off now, he wondered if he had the strength to reach it in time. Plunging into the cold water, he shivered and then stroked hard toward whoever was out there, alone on the ocean, being carried further even as he swam as fast as he could. It seemed an infinity as he thrashed through the waves, and at times, he felt it was hopeless. He didn't seem to be getting any nearer.
Finally, he was closing on it, and saw with surprise, it was a woman. What the devil was she doing out here so far from the shore? Suicide? Did she know where she was? He pushed those thoughts away as he closed the distance. Drowning people often fight their rescuers in panic, he recalled. Circling behind her, he took in a sudden breath. How beautiful, he thought in wonder as the moon revealed her naked body, a smooth white form, lithe and young. Shaking himself, he concentrated on getting a grip on her so she couldn't drag him under while he tried to take her back to shore.
Coming up behind her, he quickly wrapped his arm around her neck, keeping out of the way of her arms if she tried to struggle. She screamed and fought, not knowing what had got hold of her. It was all he could do to keep his grip. "Don't fight me," he said in her ear, "I'll get you back to shore, but don't fight me or we'll both drown."
"Let go of me, you fool," she snapped. "I'm not drowning! I can swim back on my own!" She pushed away from his grasp, and added, incredulously, "Dr. Helm. What are you doing out here?"
"Tessa!" he gasped in surprise."I might ask you the same question. Don't you know better than to swim alone at night? Where's Marta?" Her body disappeared as she treaded water near him and the black sea covered her like a blanket. Only her dark hair and lovely face was visible but the sight made him catch his breath. She is so beautiful, with the moonlight glistening in her hair, and sparkling in her dark eyes. Like a sea nymph, he thought, luring the unwary sailor to his death. It is a face a man might die for.
Turning her eyes to the shore, she realized how far out she had drifted. Her limbs felt heavy, even as she tried keep herself afloat. I don't know if I can make back, she thought in mild panic. If he had not seen me, I might have drowned. A grateful smile crossed her lips, and she said, "Well, let us go back then." With a sudden splash, Tessa started swimming toward the shore, her limbs leaden with cold. She fought the weariness with all her resources, mindful of the man beside her. Could he save her if she needed him?
At length, she stopped, panting with fatigue. Helm realized she was in trouble and said, "Let me take your weight for a while, until you regain your strength. Wrap your arms around my neck and rest on my back." He tried to ignore the softness of her breasts as they pressed against his shoulders, and concentrate instead on just saving her life. How could she be so foolish, he thought angrily, drifting out so far that she couldn't swim back. Was she trying to kill herself? He kept swimming as he wondered, and tried to sort out his feelings. He had always thought of her with mild contempt - a spoiled aristocrat, arrogant and imperious like most of her kind. But tonight, he saw something new. It didn't fit. What in her young life was so terrible she would want to die?
He felt his own strength waning, and stopped swimming, treading water while Tessa moved off his back but maintained a hold on his shoulder. Her touch was igniting a fire in his veins, even as he struggled to ignore it. The memory of that lithe body, and the sight of her fair face, so near, compelled him to reach out and enfold her closer. At first, she resisted, then relaxed against his chest. With a gentle motion, he moved his lips over hers, softly, experimentally, waiting for the rejection that never came. Instead, she pulled him closer, and pressing her lips hard against his, opened her mouth slightly. The languor of passion suffused him and with what willpower he still had, he detached himself from her embrace and pushed her away gently. "We'd better stop or we'll both drown," he said with a ragged laugh.
She turned away abruptly and started swimming strongly toward the beach. He followed in her wake, the ocean cooling his overheated body, and he smiled with pleasure. The kiss of life, he thought wryly. Something we both needed.
Helm arrived at the shore before Tessa, and clambered out, staggering with weariness. He was chilled and shaking with fatigue. She remained in the water, her body still covered by the dark ocean, her hair around her shoulders like a veil. "Come on out," he called to her.
"Not until you are gone," she retorted.
"I'll turn around so you can come out and get into your clothes," he answered, wondering why such chivalry was necessary now.
"No. I want to be alone. Please go. Now! I'm freezing!" Her teeth chattered and her body was shivering uncontrollably.
Rebuffed, Helm swooped down and picked up his boots, pulling them on, unmindful of the sand that gritted as he jammed his feet inside. Grabbing his jacket and shirt, he marched back toward the rocky cliff and began to ascend without looking back. At the summit, Helm dropped with weariness onto the ground, panting, trying to catch his breath. He scanned the shoreline but she was gone. The ocean too, was empty. With a wry laugh, he thought, if it weren't for my wet clothes, I might have thought I dreamed this. He got up and went to where he had tied his horse, his mind going over the night's events. What will she say when we meet again? Pretend this never happened? Helm thought this was most likely. He decided if she never mentioned their little moonlight swim again, he would not. He felt the warmth rising once more as he recalled that kiss. He would never forget that!
For a little while tonight, he had seen a different woman, one without her mask firmly in place. He held his breath as a memory shouldered its way across his mind. The dark clothes, and the moonlight glinting on something. What was it? A sword hilt? He paused at the stirrup, leaning against the horse as he considered this possibility.
Recalling that solitary figure on the immensity of the ocean, he suddenly felt a keen sympathy for her. If what he suspected was true, she had set herself on a lonely, dangerous path where death lurked at every turn. He would protect her secret, and whatever else it took to protect her life. He mounted his horse and with a last long glance at the moonlit sea, cantered away.
Waste and Empty, the Sea ©Maril Swan, 2000
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