The Final Cup
“Death,” Marenne said to the mirror, “should never be taken lightly. One should endeavour to die with style. After all, one’s death is the most important day of one’s life.”
For some reason, that struck her as extraordinarily funny, and she laughed until the laughter hurt her chest. She probably looked like a madwoman, Marenne thought, and she certainly sounded like one. Ah, no matter. She could be as mad as she liked when she was alone. All alone in life, but not for long. She downed her cup of wine and poured herself another.
“To you, Marenne!” She toasted her reflection in the mirror. A pretty, golden-haired woman looked back at her, cheeks flushed with wine and somewhat bemused. “Drink up, self. No need to worry about the morning after!” She laughed again. “Oh, I’m a right comedian, I am. I missed my calling as a gleeman. Glee-woman. Wouldn’t have gotten into trouble as a gleeperson. Laugh, Marenne. It was a joke. They always said I’d tell jokes at my own funeral.” She swallowed the wine and put her cup down. “Not quite the funeral yet, though. Ah well, time to prepare the corpse, hmm?”
Shrugging out of her riding dress, she sat cross-legged in front of the fire to comb out her hair. Loose, it came nearly to her knees. Her crowning glory, her mama had called it. A river of gold, her husband had told her. “Sweet, sweet love, I should have gone with you when I had the chance.” Dying, no matter how stylish, was no substitute for living. It was just, sometimes, the only thing left to do. “Life’s life, and death’s death, and I made my choice with the Lord of the Grave. Well, if he can catch my soul, he can have it.” Marenne pulled the comb slowly through her hair. “Nothing ever goes as you expect it to. Who’d think pretty Marenne would be a Darkfriend?”
She stood in one fluid motion, her hair flowing across her shoulders and down her back like a silken cloak. “What to wear? Bloody red, funeral white, black for the Shepherd of the Night?” It seemed she couldn’t stop joking. Laughing at her funeral. She settled on blue. “Blue for you, love.” Her eyes, he had said, were the colour of the sea in spring. His were warm as amber. She slid into the flimsy silk and fastened the bodice with a silver brooch. She stayed barefoot; it wasn’t as if she was going anywhere. “I kill myself.” It wasn’t so funny any more.
Her harp was still standing in the corner of the room, idle for years. “Shall I play the swan, then, and die in music...” Where had that line come from? Idly, she brushed her hand across the strings, producing a few melancholy notes. “A sweet summer’s evening, and you sang as I played - ah, no.” Those memories were too dangerous; better to laugh than cry. “What’s left, Marenne? Time to sleep.”
She poured herself a final cup of wine. But this time, from a smaller bottle, she added three drops of a dark liquid. “One for rest. Two for slumber. Three for a sleep without dreaming or end.” The drops vanished as she swirled her cup. “Better than a knife or sword. A peaceful sleep, and what comes then?” Marenne settled herself into an armchair, leaning back against the soft cushions. “Catch me if you can, Lord of the Grave!”
Raising the cup to her lips, she drank deep.