Fate took Domitien's wife and unborn child causing him to make a vow that he would never love again. Life after life, Dom was sent back to earth to complete his life cycle. Yet life after life, this vow to hold back his heart held fast. For a thousand years. he did not love... Now The Great One is giving him one last chance to get it right. Escorted by Death, Domitien is taken to San Francisco to meet his destiny.
Domitien stopped abruptly behind the flowering shrub, which housed some of the The City’s gray doves, his ears sharpening at the sounds of the Great One’s right and left hands talking.
"Domitien must complete the earthly cycle. He has to go back to the human plain and fall in love," Enzo said flatly.
"But will it ever happen? After Isabella?" Ilia asked plaintively, his voice nearly overshadowed by the sharp beat of agitated wings. "It is all very well for the Great One to order this, but you know what will happen. Women demand nothing of him. He always wears some fair face, and has all the flagrant trapping which charm them into imbecility. I swear that Dominick could sleep while he made love and none of the infatuated creatures would notice."
"You exaggerate—and don’t use that name. You know that he prefers Domitien."
"Very well, Domitien then. But don’t evade my point. Do I exaggerate? Have you truly forgotten all the hearts that lived and died at his whim? He’d kneel for a time at some woman’s feet, pretending to worship at her shrine, but never did he leave his heart as offering. Not once-—not a single time-- has he ever felt anything more than superficial affection for any of them!"
"Sometimes Love is long in choosing a mate, particularly after a severe trauma. But this time I am confident of success. This woman is different," Enzo said, his beautiful but unhuman voice almost passionate. "He has never lost his love of beauty, and it is with this that he may be redeemed."
"Now, now!" Enzo chided. "I truly believe that she will be able to mold his moods with her sweet murmurs, to shape his thoughts with her song. Why I have heard her sigh and even that simplest of noises is one long-spun note of purest music. It is enough to make any flesh and blood man long for a love larger than himself, to be the object of such a sigh."
Ilia snorted again.
"This one shall make him weave a garland of heart-felt vows and wear the wreath of love willingly," Enzo insisted. "I have never heard her like."
"Love take from me both my sin and myself?" Ilia asked incredulously.
"And leave no trace of my self in me. Yes, precisely!"
"All this with a voice?"
"Not with her voice alone, though it is truly an amazing thing-—and you know how he has always liked music. But she is also most conveniently made in the image of the ones he most greatly preferred."
"Made in the image perhaps, but it will be but a faint shade of the viragos he was always attracted to. The Great One simply does not make women like that any more. He took them away when he put an end to sublime poetry and holy veneration through art."
"True." Enzo nodded. "But then she must be made differently. He did not fall in love with the titian-haired chanteuse. A pity, for she would have been a fair match for him with that fiery spirit, but she wasn’t ready then to be anyone’s great love."
"I recall her. Everywhere she went she left that horrid musky perfume and scarred hearts bleeding behind her. She was as bad as any plague— quite the worst of all females. But then, they were all a bad idea from Eve onward." There was a long rustle as Ilia refolded his limbs and a single silvered feather drifted over to Domitien’s feet. The doves cooed sympathetically. "Still, if this is the Great one’s will... I am not certain that beginning with a new soul is wise. Someone with a little experience of his past and nature would do better."
"Never fear, this woman’s soul is one he knew once before, and she did love him."
"No, not precisely. That would be asking too much. It is one of the other incarnations. A stronger one."
Ilia digested this.
"And this time she starts with clean hands and a clear heart. Hmph! Let me see this paragon. Whose form have you chosen?"
"There was only one choice. Hers."
Domitien peeped around the cooing bush and saw the silvered Ilia and golden Enzo staring into the scrying glass in the center of the courtyard.
"Ah. I see what you mean," Ilia’s voice softened a shade and his complexion turned less steely. "An interesting choice. And she is lovely."
"Yes," Enzo sounded wistful. "If anyone can finally dissever him from the wildness of careless youth, it is she."
"She is orphaned?"
"Yes, but not recently. She no longer struggles with grief."
"Perhaps not, but still-- she looks too soft," Ilia complained. "She is a trembling shade that commands delicacy. I doubt she has the strength to move a cold, hard heart like Domitien’s, if he is of a mind to be stubborn-—which he will be. And she may very well be hurt by him. Again. Look at their history!"
"Do not underestimate this bit of shade." Enzo sounded smug and he ruffled at the neck and chest just slightly before returning to his habitual golden sleekness. "And she will be gifted before he arrives."
"If you say so. Great romances always were more your field of interest. Will she remember him though?"
"Not yet. Her memory was cleansed at rebirth. But in time she will recall."
"It would perhaps be for the best if she did not remember. The past can cast a long shadow when it does not end happily."
"She must remember for she, too, needs to be saved."
Ilia cleared his throat and spit out a bit of grit.
"The Great One has already approved of sending him back?"
"Yes, he returns as soon as his current task is completed."
"Domitien won’t like it, being made an infant again."
"He’ll not have to be. He needs a grown body if he is to meet this woman in time. Conveniently, the soul in Domitien’s new body is about to be called back for other tasks. He shall be given this man’s body and life. It is even the type Domitien prefers, the icy blond whippet."
"Amazing. The Great one spoils him," Ilia sounded disapproving. "To make Death wait on Domitien’s love life—it’s unprecedented. It will make the creature angry."
"Yes, well, Domitien is amusing, and the Great One has a sense of humor. Sometimes."
"I think this venture would meet with better success if he were put into a somewhat less handsome form this time," Ilia persisted. "A little human suffering and humiliation would do him no harm."
"Perhaps. Though I believe he has suffered, being cut off from the greatest of human experiences." Enzo fluttered once and then was still. "But whatever we feel, these are the Great One’s instructions. Domitien is to be given this Edom’s body, and this woman, Laris, in this city by the water."
"Very well then. There is nothing more to say. Shall you tell him the news, or must I?"
"I’ll do it. You lack the proper enthusiasm for this task. I wonder where best to start hunting for him. I had thought he intended to visit here today..."
Domitien stopped listening and backed away on silent feet.
So, the Great One was match-making again. He got this way every century or so and then one of them would be sent back to earth to fall in love...
Well, he didn’t mind going back to earth-- briefly. It had been quite some time since he had known the pleasures of the flesh. The mention of love-—and its long absent pastimes-- quite summoned to memory all the pleasant eras he had passed there. And it sounded like the Great One had chosen the perfect playmate for him.
Now who could it be? Someone whom he had met before in another life. Someone who loved him.... well, they nearly all had loved him, he admitted with a touch of complaisance. But if she was titian-haired...
It could be that minx, Julia. Domitien was sure that he might have eventually fallen in sort of love with her if he hadn’t died in that stupid duel only a few days after seducing her-—there had been the promise of whole kingdoms in that vixen’s kisses. And he had certainly been a blond back when the Virgin Queen was on the throne.
Or there was Lucrece. Sweet, naughty Lucrece had been a redhead, and he was fairly certain that he had also been fair during his life in Paris. And she had definitely come to a bad end during the revolution-—quite a fluke that, her falling off the wall at the Bastille during the liberation celebrations.
But Enzo had said that she was a songstress. That probably meant it was-—what was that ravishing creature’s name? The one in Italy with the temper but the angelic voice...
Portia! That was who it must be.
Well now, Portia! This could be most amusing. Portia had been a most adventuresome lover, quite the wildest he had ever encountered. He recalled vividly her quivering coyness the first time he had tasted her-—and the wound she had left on his back with her tiny dagger when she found him flirting with a rival later that day.
Domitien exhaled slowly and shook himself free of the dizzying vision.
Portia seemed rather an odd choice for the Great One to make. He had been intrigued by her fiery sensuality— so rare in a woman— but hardly even affectionate with her. It was hard to feel any gentle emotions with one who was insanely jealous and given to violent sentiments even at the breakfast table.
Still, Enzo said that she was less temperamental now. And this woman had to be quite something if she made old Enzo sound excited. He couldn’t wait to get a look in that scrying glass, even if it did only show him a faint, watery shade of her.
But, he worried suddenly, even if she had been remade in a softer form, was she so wonderful that she could truly take from him both self and sin?
That was a tall order. No woman had ever so distracted him, not since—
Domitien slammed the door on that thought and dropped a mental brace against it. He never thought about her.
Well, it sounded as though the Great One meant business this time. He must be in an awfully impatient mood to break the rule and send him back in an adult body and not wait for the two of them to meet up in the fullness of pre-ordained time.
Perhaps it would behoove him to help the situation along-—just a bit. He could remind Portia of some of the splendid times they had had together. Once he began sending her memories in her dreams she would be able to recall who he was. Things might go a great deal more smoothly if he didn’t have to retake old ground....
Of course, it was cheating—-meddling with Fate and all. But it wasn’t as though he was suborning the Great One’s will. Far from it! He would simply be expediting matters a bit.
The first step was to get a look at the scrying glass and find out which city by the water Portia was living in these days. It would be entertaining to return to Venice....