The waves had carried the small boat to the shore. She didn’t know where it could have come from but somehow it felt it had arrived right where it should be. As she approached she noticed the young man, lying in it, his face pale and his side bloody. His breath was ragged, his skin was cold and yet he was obviously burning with fever. He was dying. She knew it immediately. He was dying and there was nothing she could do. Nothing to save him at least, but perhaps she could ease his pain. The heavy wrinkles were unmistakable traces of the suffering. They were not scars and yet they were, momentary scars of the turmoil that went on inside. He was dying and she wanted to help.
How she managed to make her voice carry to the castle she couldn’t say, all she knew is that it had and somehow the guards had found her. She had given orders and the young man had been carried to a room in the high tower, her room – she would sleep in her sister’s, it was long unoccupied anyway. Her father had come with the doctor, finding her on her knees, by the large bed, lost in her patient’s form. Her patient he was now, for even after the doctor repeated the words she had already formulated in her own mind, she insisted that she would nurse him. Perhaps not back to health but at least to a more painless death. She would nurse him if none other would try, even if were to fail, even if he died. He wouldn’t die though, she could feel it. Or at least she hoped so with all her heart, day and night, by his side, she hoped and hoped. She would not stop hoping. She simply could not. Even thought she knew perfectly well that she didn’t know him, he was nobody to her, but she had found him on the beach and thus it had become her duty to take care of him.
Day and night. Night and day. Day after day. Week after week. For months she remained by his side, only leaving to attain to the basics of her status as the castle’s lady and to sustain her self. A full moon came and went and he remained bed-ridden, shivering with cold and burning up at the same time, unresponsive but breathing. He was alive. Alive weeks after the short time the doctor had given him, alive in spite of all common sense. Hanging by a thread of sheer willpower, or luck, or divine clemency – she could not say – and taking in breath after breath, each ragged and difficult, but taken in nonetheless. Finally, one fine morning, as winter began to melt upon the world and the sun rose to the east, after refusing to go away for so long, the wound at his side finally shed its last bloody tear.
No matter the cataplasms, the potions or the spells, nothing had worked, it had kept spilling the life out of him, each day annulling the care that the lady had put into treating and keeping the young man on the edge of the last breath. Nothing had worked. It was cleaned, disinfected and stitched shut each night, and every morning it would be found open again, spewing blood. Not profusely but never a small enough amount to hope for him to recover. However, that one morning it had stopped, after hours upon hours of sweat and prayers, after days of struggling and nights of wakes, as the young woman woke up she saw no blood. It had refused to close, the deep and fateful cut as fresh as on the first day she had laid eyes on him, but bleeding no more. The day had passed and although his state had not changed in any way, it had not gotten worse. Then came night and then day again, with no sleep on her part, no rest for her weary heart and mind, which over time had grown accustomed to his uneven breathing and the boiling chill of his skin.
It was on the first light of the next day that the countless prayers she had thrown into the air, all the hopes she had kept afloat for so long, for the first time, crystalized into something beautiful. A single tear, running from the corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth. It glided soundlessly on the pallor of his skin, stopped only by her finger as she ran it on his cheek. Awestruck, she had seen the water collect and the power of gravity slowly do its deed as it attracted the painful rains to the ground. She could barely believe it but, refusing to let this miracle be lost, she let her hand shoot to his cheek without a second though and collected the living pearl. Reflexively, as her fingers touched the cold and gruff surface, she let them keep contact and run further, along the hill of his cheekbone to the ledge of his jaw line. A small beard had begun growing again and the fever had kept him at the edge of freezing and boiling, and yet, under her finger, nothing had ever felt more soft.
Still in the most complete of silence, a small wind began to blow through the half-open window and sunlight poured in over the bed. Suddenly, the world seemed to halt as she felt it. It was lightning quick and softer even than the songs of birds outside, yet she had felt it. As clear as she saw the tear run along her finger now and as strongly as she heard his ragged struggle for life, something she felt she had not in an eternity. A heartbeat. A single, solitary heartbeat, lacking strength, lacking its ever-present echo, but a heartbeat nonetheless. There, in the morning-lit room, where the dead man had kept bleeding for so long, and where silence reigned unchallenged, her shoulders began to shake…
The scene where it all begins again.
In a part of the story inspired by an old legend.