And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
Aunt Honey, here we go.
She was in my life from a young age but I didn’t really know her until I was seventeen. Didn’t really even know she was paying attention to me until that Christmas, when our relationship just exploded.
She was a nurse, which in our family was like being a queen. That was the sort of money that had never been in our family. I remember when she graduated and got her RN certification, we all got dressed up and went to her graduation.
It was held in a great cathedral and there were a lot of people there. She came out to my family before the ceremony and hugged us all. She was wearing all white and she looked like an angel. She is Native American, and the way the long black hair and the tan skin clashed with the white made a goddess out of her. She has big eyes and a great smile, and from that day on I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.
Christmas was always a bit disappointing. My uncles loved me but never understood the kinds of things that drove me or interested me. We would talk at BBQs around the grill and I was either quiet, or I soon fell quiet, as I talked about things like dragons and barbarians. They did not know how to even kind of relate to that and soon I just became the weird nephew.
I didn’t play sports, which made no sense to them at all. And Christmas, they always tried to fix that. I think they had this idea that if they just gave me presents that had to do with sports, my interest would be piqued and I would snap out of the fantasy thing.
Well when I was seventeen, they realized this was never going to happen, and after their Mark McGwire tee shirt fell flat the year before, they didn’t know what to do. Uncle Wrath had no ideas on what to get me, so he turned to his wife, threw his hands up, and shook his head.
She quietly said that she would take care of my presents from then on. So Christmas my seventeenth year, I was handed my present and Uncle Wrath stood as far away from it as he could.
“I didn’t pick that out. That was your aunt. I want nothing to do with the blame,” he said.
I looked at the present with a war of trepidation and excitement in my head. It was the kind of excitement that you always get when a present is set in your hand, wrapped and mysterious. But I never in a million years could have expected what I got.
I pulled the paper off and inside was a fake book. It was big and seemed hollow and the cover said, The Vampire Lestat. I had heard of the series. Anne Rice’s vampire series is legendary but I had no experience with it. When I opened it, I found out that it was a collection of comics about the beginning of the book.
Well, I promptly shit my pants. My jaw dropped open. I stared in reverence, and I picked up the first floppy and flipped through it.
The illustrations were gorgeous and it was so much more than I could have asked for. I threw it aside on the couch panting and looked up at her, and she was still smiling. When it was handed to me, I remember her smiling. Never in her mind did she ever worry that I was not going to love it.
I jumped out of my seat and ran to her. I wrapped her in a hug and I fought off tears. I realized then that my Aunt Honey actually knew me. She had studied me. And I laughed and hugged her, and she patted my back and giggled.
“You like that?” Uncle Wrath said.
“Love it actually. This is so amazing. Where did you find it?”
She just grinned and I stared at her, really seeing her for the first time. “He told me I get to pick out your presents from now on.”
“Well that is,” and if I blew up it would be insulting to my uncle, so I just nodded and wiped my eyes. “That is good.”
She knew it was more than good. She knew what she had done for me. In that one present she had given me permission to be what I was. No one in the family understood. But she knew, and she was cool with it.
I never apologized for the stories I told, never questioned if I fit in the family, never felt bad about myself again for the way I thought and the things that were important to me. Someone understood and embraced who I was, and I will never stop loving her for that.
The next year she dropped a heavy, solid object in my lap. It was about four and a half inches tall, about seven long and five across. It was so heavy, and hard as a rock. I quickly pulled the paper away and saw a tome. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe sat in my lap.
“No way!” I said.
She nodded. “You like it so much, don’t you?”
I nodded. Rushed her and hugged her again. I looked at my Uncle Wrath, who smiled and shook his head.
“Never will understand you,” he said. “Now I guess I don’t have to.”
When my cousin was married after Guardian’s War, I was invited to the wedding and the after party. I asked my Aunt Honey if Grasp was going to be there.
“He was not invited,” she said. “Your cousin did not want him there.”
When we got there I saw the true majesty of her family.
Her family had made the trip. I had never met them before because they lived in New Mexico, but they were all there. She had a lot of brothers and sisters. I will not try to guess how many, but it was a big family and they brought their gorgeous culture with them.
Native American bread was brought out.
I made a fool of myself. And I was a bit of an ass. I ate what had to be six big slices of this bread. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was a big round disc and it had been fried. Might be called Frybread, to be honest. I have no idea. Well I made an idiot of myself and when I went back the sixth time, her sister looked at me, lifted an eyebrow, and I shook my head and smiled.
“This is your fault,” I said.
She laughed. “How is this my fault?”
“You brought your food to Missouri and you cooked it all to perfection. I accept no blame. If you wanted me to be reasonable with my eating, you should have brought out some potato salad or something.” She slapped her thigh and laughed, and I made off with the last of the bread.
Aunt Honey’s eldest brother was massive. Wore a big, black, ten-gallon hat and took up all of himself. He was powerful in presence and body, and though he did not speak much, when he did, everyone listened. He wore a hunting knife on his belt and it made a god out of him.
Her other brother, I am not sure if he was older than her or younger, but he said that he was a holy man. A preacher, in his land, of the gospel. My cousin asked him to say the opening prayer. I have not the exact name and usually you guys know I don’t do this. I don’t like to guess at these kinds of things, but I will this one. He had a name like Black Feather or Hawk. It was a stunning and powerful name that he gave us, and in his prayer he thanked Missouri for being as beautiful as it was. Said that his land was gorgeous but they never got to see great swathes of green woods and fields. He also wore a knife, and I remember when I saw it feeling as though I belonged here, as though I would be accepted by her family.
And as much as they could for the few hours that I was with them, I was. Aunt Honey brought me around to all of her family and I talked to them all. When I left, I felt loved by her. And I never went to their house again.
I believe, and I might be guessing, but I believe that she had trouble living in town with Grasp. That she could not take the hypocrisy of living side by side with him and not with me. She was being asked to accept a thing she was not able to.
This is of course all a guess.
All I know is that soon after I dropped out of their life for good, Wrath and Honey moved to New Mexico.
I saw her at my grandma’s funeral. There was a line at Uncle Wrath’s truck. In that line stood Uncle Sly, and I shook his hand. He would tell me later that Bramble was dying from multiple system failure and give me Bramble’s number. My great regret is that I never called him. I shook hands with my Uncle Wrath, but things had gone wrong there. And when I got to Aunt Honey, I hugged her.
“I love you, and I always will,” I said to her. I know she didn’t expect it. I have been distant with every member of that family for years, and though I have not seen any of them, for any real time, for at least seventeen years, my love for her will never fade.
When I told her I loved her, I felt her start. I pulled back and she said, “Well I love you too.” She was shocked to hear of my affections, I am sure.
I shook my cousin’s hand and I saw him staring at his mother and back at me. He as well did not expect that sort of confession. Well he began to talk to me about my fantasy books and ask me how it was all going. I had little to say, but he listened. I hugged his wife, shook the hand of his little boy, and I left Aunt Honey behind me.
However she is never far from my mind. I walk with her memory all the time and I keep her close when I am lonely. I have no idea how she feels about me. A lot of what I have said in this chapter is conjecture, but no matter how she feels about me, my love for her is pure.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.