Till Death Do Us Part
"I take thee to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you." -Traditional Protestant Wedding Vow
The man and his young wife finally reached the monastery just as the sun began to die behind the Dolomites. They took their ablutions in silence, heads bent devoutly, both shivering involuntarily with cold and exhaustion, before mumbling their thanks and their glory-to-gods with clearly educated, but vaguely foreign, accents.
Metruvio, who was counting the alms of the day when they arrived, immediately went scuttling for the abbott when heard them finally speak., for by their words – if not by their dress – these obviously weren’t peasants, and so the Abbot must be notified.
When the Abbot, a lean (and somehow feral) Italian soon-to-be-cadaver from the southern part of that grape-encrusted land arrived moments later, he greeted the pair in Latin to both announce his position but also to see how they would respond and thus give him a better guess as to their origin and purpose, and was pleased at their immediate and quite correct responses in that most holy and sacred ancient language.
Switching effortlessly to the vernacular, the man said, “Most Learned One, my wife Elisabetta and I have come many leagues, crossing both sea and desert, to reach you this day.”
“We are honored to receive you, My….Lord?” The Abbot enunciated carefully.
“Lord Purson,” the man, who the Abbot – now seeing him more clearly as the sun sank the last eighth below the hills – judged to be of middle age, responded in a firm – almost clarion – voice. “And we are in your debt. Thank you for accepting us.” His blue eyes moved to indicate the woman beside him. “This is my wife: Beleth.”
There was an awkward pause as the Abbot’s eyes crawled involuntarily to the lovely young woman, who was auburn-haired and autumnally beautiful but also mud-stained and somehow oddly severe. Whatever the intensity of her gaze, she was an obvious object of lust, standing there so demurely at her husband’s side, her tiny but perfectly formed and unscarred hand entwined loosely in her lord’s, as though the fingers had woven together slowly over time great oceans of time.
The Lord Purson’s hands, the Abbot noted, were much larger, thicker and clearly much stronger than his wife’s. Not old, but well-used and appropriately scarred.
Like a blacksmith’s, the abbot mused, still studying. Or a…
Purson pushed his traveling cloak aide, almost as if to distract the Abbot from the matrimonial grip, and with a sudden sensation of ice slipped into in his belly, the abbot saw the mighty sword at the man’s hip.
Or a warrior.
“We do not—” the abbot began a moment later, recovering, a lump in his throat – “allow those of the lesser sex onto our grounds, save for Easter Mass and for –”
“—Desperate Spiritual Crises?” The Bride said, and her voice was loud music, light and free and unfearing and somehow ultimately scornful. The taunt of a child played at the level of an orchestra. It hit the abbot like a smack in the face and he took an involuntary step backward.
After a moment, an endless heartbeat in length, she smiled a little crooked, knowing smile at him which touched him deep in his prostate.
The abbot shivered.
Now bewitched, the abbot was still trying to recall the original thought and follow it to its ultimate conclusion when Lord Purson took the abbot’s upper arm – his movement at once fluid and blindingly fast – and said in words both urgent and hushed, “I assure you, my Lord Abbot, that this is a matter of the utmost spiritual importance, not just for Holy Mother Church but for the world itself. I would not bring my wife hence were it not so.”
Purson pointed over his shoulder at his bride with his chin. The abbot, thus commanded, turned his attention to Beleth, who now stood with her head bowed.
With a disturbingly difficult effort, the abbot looked away from Lady Purson (who would haunt his fantasies later that night and for many nights to come) back to her husband. His and Purson’s eyes locked and for a moment their attention seemed to battle in the air somewhere between them.
Then the abbot issued a single, styptic blink and looked down.
“If it were of a holy matter, one bearing great import…” the abbot purred, smiling, and Purson nodded at once, almost eagerly. Gaining strength from the Lord’s agreement, the abbot noted that Purson was indeed most handsome and of middle age, having perhaps thirty years, his almost delicate face unmarred save for a long scar running down its left temple to the jaw line which narrowly missed the left ear, resembling a lugubrious purple viper writhing with the fluctuations of his jaw muscles as they bunched and flexed with the effort of speech.
“…then we can afford to be somewhat more… indulgent.” The abbot said in his most liquid and eloquent Latin, still regarding the inkvine scar.
Clearly the remnant of a nasty wound, perhaps received somewhere in the Holy Land, warring for Christ. The abbot mused. And even if not, obviously a man too dangerous to trust completely and not to be trifled with.
“It is a matter of the highest importance,” Purson replied with deep and sincere earnestness. “I assure you. On my very soul.”
And the young wife Beleth suddenly laughed aloud at this proclamation, a weirdly potent strain of female trill that sent a deep and complex male thrill through the abbot, a kind of primal female forked lightning.
The devil’s work. The abbot thought as he began to turn back to the grinning Beleth.
But Purson again called the abbot back to attention, instantly kneeling before him and placing his forehead upon the abbot’s bejeweled hand. “Father, hear my confession.”
To his surprise, the laughing wife Beleth now also dropped. but to both knees and with her head bowed in subjugation, added, voice hushed and penitent, “And I, Father, I beg God to forgive me: Hear my confession.”
The abbot was moved by their display of Faith, as moved as he had been by anything in decades, hovering over them as he said his prayer, fighting back tears, before he quickly ushered them inside to speak in his offices. Other monks watched them go, all thinking the same thing:
War has come. Again.
However, had the abbot had seen the smile the young married couple briefly exchanged as they glanced at each other from the corners of their eyes, their heads securely bowed, momentarily safe there beneath the abbot’s prayers, he would not have been so moved. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For that savagery of that shared smile was far worse than the man’s rippling inkvine scar that had so entranced the Abbot.
Far, far worse.