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TITLE: Love Nailed Down
By Amanda Morris

This is a story that I think I'm finally satisfied with (it went through several heavy revisions). Enjoy!
This day starts as any other. Iím begging for food on my usual street corner, listening to the trumpet calls coming from my kingís castle. I try to shut out my memories of my life there. They are too painful, but the trumpets will not be silent, announcing one more noble guest arriving to attend court with the king. Heís a good king, listening to all his peopleís concerns, not just the nobles and clergy. Heís kind, just, merciful, and generous. Stop. Stop thinking. I look at my feet instead, watching the bottom of the carriage wheels as they pass by. A child throws a coin at me. It is not much but will buy the first honest meal Iíve had in days. The trumpets sound again, announcing the beginning of audience with the king. Anyone may come. I canít go, looking like the ragged beggar that I am. But he calls to me. Iíve heard his call pounding in my heart through many lands. Iíve felt his gentle hands pick me up and hold me close as Iíve huddled under a tree in the bitter cold, my feet cracked and bleeding from that dayís travel. I remember his eyes, the fire lit deep within them. How they used to gaze at me in love and tenderness. I clap my hands over my ears and crouch on my knees. Nothing helps. The call is louder, pounding in my blood, in time with my heart beat. I used to love to listen to his heart beat when he held me in the early dawn as we watched the light creep into the sky. He would tell me stories of how he searched for me, how much he loved me, and how much he delighted in me. I canít stand it. Iíve got to go. I stand and begin to run. I know these streets by heart. I was born here. Iíve walked them many times with my king as we fed the poor, brought the orphans to homes, gave money to the elderly, and helped heal the sick and ailing. People are staring at me as I pass, but I do not stop. Iíve grown used to their stares. They do not bother me now. I stop before the gate. The guards do not recognize me and though I am ragged they let me enter. I can feel their hate-laden stares. They despise me. They despise my kind. How low I have fallen.
I creep into the throne room, into the courts of my king. Sunlight shines like beacons through the stained-glass windows, bathing all in brilliant colors. I loved those windows. I used to watch the sun drift through the colors at sunset every day with the delight of a small child. My king would smile and join me with a gentle laugh. The pillars in the hall stand like large sentinels. Between them, the people have gathered. I begin to make my way up the center. I am covered in shame. Why did I even come? Whispers are flying around the room, through the crowd. Every accusing eye is boring into my dirt-flaked skin, and down into my soul. Canít you see Iím writhing enough already? Stop! I want to scream to them, but they will not hear. Their souls are closed to compassion. I can feel my rags swing against my swollen ankles. The feel of silks and velvets swishing around my feet is now a fading memory. I try to hide, ducking my face so that my matted hair falls forward, becoming a shield. I feel safer now, hiding behind that dirty, knotted curtain. It used to flow smooth and shining down my back. My Lord loved it like that. He used to brush it for hours in our chambers, putting me to sleep every night to the rhythm of his strokes.
My feet are unsteady. I am not sure I will make it to his feet. They bleed and I slip. I am falling, and I cannot stop flight to the ground. I lie there, a disgraceful heap. I canít look at him. How can I? After how I have failed him, wounded him, shouted in his beloved face; how can I look up and see his eyes now filled with the contempt I feel? I used to melt in those eyes. Iíve missed them so much. Theyíve haunted my dreams. Many nights as I try to sleep under the dancing stars, Iíve seen him in my dreams, searching for me from the top of the castle walls. He cups his hand around him mouth and calls to me; calls for me to come home, to return to his love. I canít look up and see anger in those beloved eyes. It would be my undoing. I am not worthy to even crawl upon the ground near this place. I should have never come. I will leave. I will gather my shame and run. But I cannot live without him. I cannot live without my life, without my soul. Each moment of separation is a dying breath, sucking what little life I have left. I canít leave. I must go to him. I must declare myself a slave if only he will let me be near him every day.

He watches her unsteady crawl as she slowly comes closer, dirty and bleeding. She cowers in shame, feeling the heated stares from his accusing court. He has tried to show them compassion many times. Each time, they have failed to learn. Their hearts are stone. Today he will show them again.
If only she will look to him, raise her bowed head to meet his eyes. He will gladly run and lift her in his arms. He longs to go to her. His hands clench the arms of his golden throne. They are white and trembling in anguish. His heart is broken at her beggared state, though he cannot help wanting to sing. She has finally returned to him! After all the times he had called her, endlessly searching, relentlessly pursuing her. He had wooed her home so many times, sending his call throughout his land, and many lands beyond. She has finally come! He has longed for her so! He felt every moment of separation beat in his heart. Oh how he longs to gather her into his open arms and cradle her close. He longs to shelter her from the shame and condemnation.
ďCome Beloved. Look to me,Ē he heart whispers to her.

How dare this baggage, this piece of sinful filth come before his majesty? She has no place here. Theyíll have to scrub the floors many times after she is thrown out to rid the court of her blood and filth. The audacity; coming before the king in such condition, such a dirty sinful state! She should have dealt with her sin, her filth before she came. Then the king would receive her. She should have done as we all have done. Look at us now, in the kingís presence, eating from his banquet table in splendor. We came in clean.
Yes, cower baggage! Cower in the shame and guilt you have brought upon yourself. You left him, after all he had done for you. You broke his heart. He looked for you throughout his entire kingdom. He called your name in grief from the top of the highest castle tower many nights. You broke his heart and now you dare return? Leave. Go and die among wolves and lepers. Itís the least you deserve.
Why hasnít his majesty ordered this filthy girl away from here, out of his most holy presence? Why hasnít he ordered her to be exiled, condemned to live the rest of her days in her sin and filth? Why hasnít he ordered her to be branded with the mark of an outcast? After all she had done to him, after all the other lovers she had taken to her ragged bed, surely the king will not feel compassion for this pathetic creature!
Havenít I been faithful? Havenít I been righteous and pure, obeying each of the edicts and daily observing all of the holy rituals? Havenít I followed him when she turned away, wasting all he has given her? Why does he not elevate me to the place I deserve by his side and rid the kingdom of this ragged, sinful beggar? I should be the Beloved. I donít understand. What else must I do to get the love and recognition I deserve?

He sits back against his throne, closing his ears to the voices of contempt and hatred in his court. Their hearts would be whole one day, but this moment was hers. He closes his eyes, his fingers tracing the palms that would embrace pain. The court falls silent in awe as blood flows out, down to the floor, into a river that flows over her, cleansing away the sin that covers her. Tears break from his heart, pouring out and mingling with the dark river, becoming her covering, a final cleansing. She is transform, completely healed and made whole. Her cries reach his ears as he takes her sin and shame upon himself, living her pain and filling her debt. A final cry bursts from his lips and he collapses against the throne. His head falls to his chest. His crown becomes thorns, adorning his bleeding brow.

She stands.

It is finished.

No! I donít understand! How could my Lord give his blood for me?
ďNo! Donít die! Do not leave me here alone! I cannot breathe, cannot live without you! I came because you called me, because I desperately desired you! I could not run far enough where your call did not find me! Your eyes haunted my dreams! Your love beat in my heart! No matter where I strayed, where I sinned and gave more of myself away, I heard you! I heard your voice, your love for me in your ringing, piercing call!Ē
His blood pools at my cleansed feet and his eyes flicker, then close. My king is clothed in my rags, my filth, my shame and I an cleansed, whole. How can this be? I run to him. I gather his lifeless body into my feeble arms, crying my pain, giving no words to my sorrow. My king, my love, he is dead. I do not understand.

He had waited long for this moment. Three days time and he heard a voice.
ďCome, rise my son.Ē Breath curls into and through and out of his lungs. Life streams through his body. She jumps back in surprise. He breaths.

How can this be? The court has run, all fleeing from the wrath in the skies. My lord lay dead in my arms. I do not know how long I stayed at the feet of his throne, cradling his lifeless body. I anointed it with many tears. My throat grew sore and tired from my cries but I could not stop. Suddenly he moves. I jump back in surprise. I do not understand. What can stop death? What is this man? Who was my king, that death cannot hold him? I try to believe what I have not seen before but this cannot be! I shake my head in wonder. He stirs. I fall to my knees. I hide my face. No, I cannot look away. He stands, completely whole. I cannot look at his face. He calls to me. That voice! That beloved voice! I never though I would hear it again! I am afraid to meet his eyes! He calls again. I cannot ignore that call. What if it is my beloved? I am trembling. I raise my head. His eyes meet mine, the fire in them burning bright. It is my king, my Lord, my Love! I am overcome! How could this be?

ďBeloved.Ē He leaves his throne and walked down to her. He reaches out and gently lifts her from the floor. She cries out and falls into his arms, weeping her joy on his chest. He holds her close, and kisses her brow.
ďNo more tears Beloved. Come away with me! Come to my chambers! Let us walk together in my vineyard in the cool of the day. Oh my Beloved. My dove, my Beautiful One. Come away with me.Ē

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