By Richard Bleil
My Dearest Joan,
Please forgive me for this method of communicating. I fear I don’t have the strength to say these things to you in person. Our relationship must come to an end. As I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for this, I pray that you will believe the tale I am about to tell. Steel your nerves, as your faith in me is about to be tested. I swear to you that every word you are about to read is true. If ever you’ve loved me, I beg you to read through to the end.
The truth is that I am a coward at saying goodbye, because I have had to say so so very many times before. Everybody has to let go of loved ones sometimes. Loved ones are lost to relocation, falling out, or even death. But nobody has lost as many as I have.
No, this isn’t a metaphor. Her name was Sarah, my first wife. We were happy, and had four children. I know it is a shock for you to hear this, as I’ve never spoken of her before. This was a long time ago. And if you are thinking that I look too young to be a father of four boys, you would not be the first to think so.
For years, I watched her, I loved her, as I watched my children, and loved them. They grew up, and she grew older. But, time seemed to pass me by.
We joked about it at first. As men age, they often gain a distinguished look. But I didn’t. In fact, it seemed as though I didn’t age at all. Eventually, though, the jokes faded, and turned to confusion. I watched, as my beloved Sarah aged, passing through middle age, and old age, while my children grew from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood.
And others noticed.
We could feel the fear growing in those in the village, and it became all too clear that we were in danger. I was so happy, so comfortable. Our family was one that had so much love, so much joy, working together, hunting, fishing, we were a great family. It seemed we could face every adversity together. Sarah and I taught our children skills, how to survive, how to love, how to laugh, how to overcome. There was nothing we couldn’t seem to do.
Eventually, I began to look more like the bother to my children, than their father. But I wasn’t a skilled laborer. We belonged to the Lord of the land. It was forbidden to leave.
I watched them that night. It was bitterly cold. I could see their faces in the glow of the burning fire, I thought of how the children looked as infants, and the happiness I shared with my wife. I thought of her when we wed, her youth, her joy, and the confidence we would spend our lives together. I thought about our successes, and our heartaches. And I left.
To save them, I had to leave, and joined the crusade.
Today, it is known as the first crusade. It was the year of our Lord 1097. The Holy Church didn’t ask too many questions; they just wanted bodies. Had I been caught by the Lord’s guard, I would have been killed outright, so I had no choice but to sneak out in the cover of darkness. Like a coward. It would be the first time of many.
I shouldn’t have survived. I traveled by foot for miles and miles, hoping to see the Church’s army. I couldn’t stop at a church on the lands of the Lord, or any other building for that matter. I was sure I would die when, in the morning, I saw them. My fingers had turned black with frostbite, and I knew it had progressed beyond the point that I could amputate them. I didn’t seem to age, but clearly, I could be injured.
That day we had a warm day in the midst of the horrible winter. I found a place to curl up and wait for death. I fell into what I thought would be the final sleep. I was stunned when I woke up, and more stunned when I realized that the color had returned to my formerly blackened fingers. I can be injured, even seriously, but I can’t seem to die.
In the crusades, I met a young man not much older than my eldest, Uther. I took him under my wings, and made it my mission to protect him. He was so smart, and had so many hopes and dreams. I always fought by his side, and took far too many chances. The ravine felt wrong even as we saw it. We sent scouts to look for the enemy, but even finding none, we were nervous. But we were also arrogant, having won so many battles already, and truly believing that God was on our side. We pressed forward.
The assault was rapid and merciless. Outnumbered by at least four to one, we fought hard. A battle ax found its way into my back, and with Uther still battling by my side, I was felled. I don’t know how long I was out, but the sharp pain woke me as the thief loosed the ax from my unconscious body. No better than grave robbers, these people followed the armies, and scoured the battlefield for weapons and armor to sell after the fighting has ceased. Still bleeding profusely, I found the strength to stand, and began looking. Not twenty feet away, I saw him.
This beautiful young boy, with so much potential, hopes, dreams, lay dead, an expression of horror on his face. As I looked around, I saw few bodies of people I did not recognize. The slaughter must have been complete. Often Uther had spoke of his parents, his siblings, and the girl of his dream, the girl waiting for the fiance that would never return from war. I know I should have sought his family out, told them of his bravery, and of his fate, but the travels would have taken me too close to my own family. Had I been caught, it would have meant their demise. I couldn’t risk it.
Again I disappeared, as I have so many times, over the years. Eventually, I did return to the village, when enough time had passed that I was certain that nobody would recognize me. One of my sons still lived. He had grown old and feeble, surrounded by children and grandchildren of his own. I posed as a merchant, and when he lifted his eyes to meet mine, I could swear that he recognized me, only briefly, until a look of confusion overcame his face. I so wanted to embrace him, and tell him that it was me, but I couldn’t. Sorcerers were not the only ones punished, but their entire family line as well. I so longed to get to know his children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. I so wished to tell them of my love, but alas, I did all that I could do.
So many years. So many loved ones. I have resolved that I could not do this to others. In writing this letter, I am breaking my own rule, revealing myself to you. If you believe the story or not, know that I love you, and I will always love you. This sacrifice takes me from you, so that you may find another man more worthy of you than I, a man with whom you can grow old, something more precious than you can understand now in your youth, something I cannot do. For me, the sacrifice would have to come sooner or later, either now for me to offer the gift of growing old with another to you, or later as I would have to watch you grow old without me. I’m including a Napoleonic coin for your future. The gold is worth enormous riches, but the historical significance should bring you enough money that you will never again want.
I love you, my dearest Joan. I only hope you can forgive me.
Goodbye, my love.