A young woman, life beset by misery, hardship and death, has attracted the sympathies and love of an angel. An angel sworn, upon utter retribution, not to interfere with the workings of life and death.
To describe her, was to describe the deep complexity and utter beauty of creation itself. To him, it truly was. She had an infectious laugh, partnered with a smile that simply lit the room and eyes that could make you melt. But beneath that, beneath her beauty and kindness and intelligence was a steel that was rarely seen. Sharper than a blade, harder than rock, and as determined as any human on this green earth.
He’d loved her for all of her life.
They’d met on the night of her birth. She was born to a small farming family, on the river near the mountain he called home. He was visiting her household on business. Dark business. As his business always was.
She’d come screaming into the world, but her screams were quiet compared to the dank and heavy silence of her mother. There was an undeniable poetry to it; giving life while losing your own. But the poetry of death had long been lost on him. For that was his business, death.
Not that he actually killed, rather, he was present when they passed. He held their hand, and led them on to the next world; as had been his way since his own passing. The night of her birth was nothing special to him, just another night working. In fact, he would not have thought of her again under normal circumstances, but her circumstances were far from normal.
Two days after her entrance into the world, he found himself back at the farm on the river near his mountain. A young boy, her only brother, was playing by the river when he’d slipped on the stones. This visit, he did think of her.
Often, when he had no names to meet, he would visit the farm by the river. Her father was a good man, working tirelessly to tend to her needs and work the farm. He came to admire her father, a better man he’d not known. Time had been previously unconsidered to him, but watching her and her father work gave him a perspective, a context.
He was watching her father repair a leak in the roof of her barn when the name finally came, as he knew it would. Her father had run out of time. His heart broke for them. Suddenly, her father was looking up, down the little path that ran by the river to the nearest village, on which two men approached.
The girl’s father ducked inside, and belted the old sword he kept by the fireplace to his side. Her father commanded that she run to the clearing near their home and hide, where he promised to find her later. She knew what this meant. She’d grown, and was nearly a woman in her own right. They watched her leave, both knowing what was to come.
The two men approached carelessly, clad in dirty cloth and leather with scraps of chainmail dangling from various parts of their bodies. The strangers wasted no time, quick work was made of the young woman’s father. As his soul slipped from his body, the old man finally lay eyes back onto the spirit that had been watching him for so long.
He extended his arm to the old man, and led him to his rest.
When he returned to the farm, he made his way to the clearing. The clearing had been a favourite place of the young woman. Pale streaks of sunlight filter through the leaves, scattering a dancing pattern of emerald onto the soft ground below. A pond sat in the centre of the clearing and in the centre of the pond sat the young woman. Her clothes torn, lip swollen, nose bloodied and eye blackened. Swirls of dark red tainted the cool clarity of the pond.
A name flitted across his vision.
He watched her stand from the pond, droplets of diamond rolling from her skin and eyes collecting the dirt, blood and grime from her skin and dropping to the ground. He followed her back to the farm, where the two men sat by the burning wreck of her home. Into the barn she went, without a noise, and back out she came.
Over to the fire she crept, the axe she’d collected from the barn above her head. With a scream, she charged the men from the dark and brought the axe down in the most ferocious swing she could muster. But the reactions of the men had been hardened by a life of sin and war. The blade of her axe did not find its target, but was smacked aside at the last instant by a reflex of the dirty warrior.
He screamed a profanity at her, and smashed his fist into her already broken face while his companion looked on, idly chewing on stolen bread. The brute raised his fist for a second time, and a third, and a fourth. But the fourth never landed. From between her nearly bruised closed eyes she could see an arrowhead poking through his chest.
The brute died, and he met the spirit with fear and confusion. This one, did not go up.
The second thief and murder had cast his weapon away, and was bound by ropes and hauled back to the village by the guards who’d come to investigate the fire. She was carried back to town, where, before long, she’d made a new home.
He made a point of continuing to visit her.
Before long, she’d recovered, and made a home in the little village where she lived with her uncle and family. He watched her, over time, slowly and slowly reclaim her happiness. Day by day she fought on. Day by day she won. Day by day he marvelled at her strength. After a year, she was almost back to normal, and had started seeing the son of the village butcher.
The son was a kind and comely young man. He worked with his father, and spent his evenings off dedicated to making her smile. When they announced their marriage, no one was happier than the spirit who’d watched her since her birth. He continued to collect names when required, and had become accustomed to wandering the village. He was present at their marriage, and watched the seasons change and her belly swell with life. They named their son Gerrard, after the father who’d fallen.
One particularly beautiful evening he found himself atop the roof of the town church. The river was alight with the fire of the sunset, and the field appeared to be liquid gold in the soft light. The village was peaceful, the tavern was starting to echo some noise, and the last of the children were being herded by their parents back indoors.
Then the names started. Slowly at first, but the trickle turned into a stream, a stream that rapidly gained speed but very quickly stopped. The flow of names had been so fast, he’d not been able to register them all. However, one thing was constant to all of the names- the location.
This little village would not see the morning, and for the first time since taking his contract with those above, he considered breaking it.