My wife died last month.
She had been sick for some time. I don’t know what exactly troubled her, but for the last year she’d been more tired than usual, her skin sagged off her bones, and her beautiful smile showed itself less than I was accustomed to. At first I worried she might be slow to recover from some illness, perhaps the terrible colds that seemed to get worse as we aged. The Welsh winters could be harsh, this last year especially, and some days the cold burrowed deep into our bones, no matter how large the fire in our hearth. I became sick myself, but only for a week. She became sick, and it never left her.
The last two months were the worst. She barely ate, and fevers troubled her every few days. She spent the final days of her life in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, and I must admit that when death finally took her on a quiet, spring morning, just as the sun rose above the east hills, a small part of me was happy to see her escape her suffering. But I mourned for her, for a long time. I missed her dearly, I still do, but I know that she’s in a place much better than what I could ever provide for her. And I know when I join her, she’ll be smiling, and waiting for me with open arms, along with those we were lucky enough to call our friends. I almost envied her for seeing them first.
I suppose that’s why I find myself sitting here now, hunched over a small, uncomfortable writing desk, staring at two piles of parchments. One stacked with crumbled, rolled, torn and disheveled pages, each one full of scribbled notes and diagrams. The other straight and neat, each page blank and ready to hold the breadth of my experiences. I’d intended to do this long ago, over forty years ago in fact, but life continued to get in my way. So now, today even, would be the day when life no longer held me in thrall. Today I would write the story of my life, a story that is probably best never read.
My son asks me if I need anything. He always worries about my health, but now he worries about my mind as well. It’s in his nature. He’s a lot like me in that way, though he never found himself in the grasp of the Church as I did. Instead, he runs the farm, handling the work that I’ve always found difficult to do with my injury. God bless the boy, he’s been nothing but a boon to me, as are my daughters, though they both live in Ireland now and I don’t see them as much.
But my son, he worries because I’ve withdrawn. I spend my time lately thinking and remembering, gathering my thoughts about the times of my youth that forever shaped me. And these are not easy memories to share. So I keep to myself, content that if he wants to know what troubles me, he will be able to read this, and know everything that came to be before he was born. He can read all about my tales of battle, though these were of a war few would have known. He could read about every terrible loss I suffered, and every great victory I achieved, though the victories were few and far between. He would learn how it all started on one terrible autumn day in Wessex, amongst the ruin of so many lives.
My memories of that day are still vivid, though they do not haunt my dreams as they did when I was younger. It was October 23rd, in the year of our Lord 866. That was the day when the raiders came from the sea and destroyed a village. That was the day of my first encounter with the horrifying evil that runs rampant in this world. The day when I would finally discover the terrible, heart-wrenching path God had chosen for me, and the sacrifices I would have to make to see it through.
It’s been forty years since that day, but even now, at an age when most men would be frail or buried, I can remember every last detail of every little moment.
I remember them because I can never forget...