A scar on the wall …
She left his tattered shirt there, in the grey dust, a sign for the others.
The tunnel darkened as the crevice absorbed her. Within, the lantern’s meager glow seemed to hesitate, shrink back on itself, as though fearful of what lay in wait … a tortured rage, blood-red, savage ...
She’d found Vincent.
From that bleak threshold she sought him … and fought off the stench of terror that threatened to steal all hope.
And the light of her life.
His soul’s light all but extinguished.
She would rekindle what remained, be his shield, his sanctuary and his salvation.
Nothing else mattered.
She stepped forward.
He was there … a raging blur, ferocious, once thrashing near, now lunging back into the malevolent blackness.
His name, a scream of fright as well as fidelity, fare for the violence that wailed and bellowed like disembodied fiends at once everywhere, seemed torn from her. Fear imagined monstrosities with gaping jaws glowering from the stone walls, their deafening uproar exploding, resounding, loosing the overhanging rocks to crush everything in this ghastly dungeon.
She gathered herself.
She would be ransom, offer herself for his deliverance.
Dread burned its course down her cheeks but she renounced her terror to be a haven for his.
Arms extended in supplication and welcome, she spoke their heart-language ... unformed words of love and empathy, unsung melodies tender with yearning.
He erupted into the feeble smudge of light, whirling, naked, bleeding, blinded with pain. The lantern, struck abruptly in his mad tumult, fell from her hand into the wild cacophony, its landing and its light obscured in the now pitch-black bedlam.
There was a time when absolute darkness would have reduced her to panicked paralysis.
The time before Vincent.
Before his love precluded such frailty.
He was lost to himself but he was not lost to her. She held out her arms once again, aching to gather him, covered in blood and sweat and foaming spittle, to herself, to her breast, to her heart.
She was strong.
For him she would be indomitable.
Catherine closed her eyes against the nightmare of the place and pulled at him, luring him with the eternal love they called theirs. She sought out the remnants of him … to comfort and to heal. She would make him whole.
He spun close and her fingers knew the sticky heat of his blood as he fled once more, a desperate combatant trapped in a deadly war against himself.
She concentrated harder.
Centered herself in their love.
Pleading, she willed him to come near, to know her… in the still place… where she waited…would wait forever… for him.
To Father it seemed like forever.
He’d watched her crouch to gather yet another of his son's shredded garments from the dirt, then straighten and raise the cloth to her face … a delicate touching to her lips. He thought she might have turned then and come back to wait with him. The others would be arriving with supplies: some food and water, his medical bag, the stretcher and blankets, even the restraints he prayed they would not need. But she hadn't lingered longer than that almost intimate indulgence, pretending that she held not his discarded bit of humanness, but all of him. She'd placed the shirt … gentle … loving it … over her arm and continued into the tunnel, its inky gloom swallowing her. Adamant, resolute, and driven, she would find him and bring him home.
Father glanced down … Vincent’s boots, his cloak, the other pieces of clothing they’d collected, all rent with sharp claws, ripped away in his descent into madness. The sad little pile brought tears. He squeezed his eyes shut to say a prayer for his son and for the woman who was his only hope.
Tranquility’s glancing caress staggered the torn, broken figure even as he roared and slashed at the insidious insanity engulfing him. The calm had begun to warm some of the frozen places, to evaporate some of the blood-scent. Belligerent movements became more fluid, almost graceful, as though he were finally testing exhaustion. Bellows of pain and aggression thundered less harsh, menacing. The hostile agitation had new direction and waning energy. His movements became instinctual: seek out the stillness.
She was able to see him in love’s light and in the silence of love’s language she persuaded him, coaxed and drew him to herself.
All was hushed when he found her. He stumbled, limped, collapsed into arms grateful, careful, as they gathered him close. Together they dropped, into the silence, into their love, into a shared soul.
And the darkness was comforting.
Soft and warm.
Wet with her tears …
Father and the others found them crumpled in the dust.
Vincent … unmoving.
Catherine ... cradling his head and shoulders in her lap .
His whisper icy with fear … her name a supplication.
She looked up and her sweet countenance thawed his heart. Vincent was alive! Doctor first, he asked for his medical bag, lowered himself without thought for his arthritic hip, and began his examination through tear-blurred eyes. The others stood around, looking away, embarrassed at the sight of their friend, bloodied and unconscious. Catherine asked for a blanket. She took it from Mouse and touched his fingers in reassurance. A shy smile bespoke his gratitude.
William helped Father to his feet and asked what everyone wanted to ask, “Is he going to be okay?”
“Yes. Yes, I think so. Let’s get him home. Catherine, can you move away from him so we can put the stretcher alongside?”
She glanced at him, bewildered by the request. No, she could not move away from him, not now and not ever. They would have to maneuver to the other side and take him from where he lay, safe, nestled against her, so that she could rise with him, be beside him somehow, as they carried him back.
The way was solemn and silent, though hopeful and not as long as it had been when fear and unknowing and loving determination were her only companions. They stopped to rest twice at Father’s direction. Catherine worried at the delay but Father persuaded her that it would cause no harm to Vincent. She reminded herself over and over that he was indeed alive, that he would recover, that she would have another chance to love him.
“L … Lisa?”
The first word he’d managed in nearly three days of troubled and disturbed oblivion broke Catherine’s heart.
He was asleep … the single utterance exhausting. He had looked at her and mistaken her for … Father found her slumped, sobbing, on the floor beside Vincent’s bed.
“Catherine, what is it? What’s happened?”
She straightened to her knees, trying to compose herself. “He spoke, Father,” she managed. “He … wanted Lisa. He thought … I was … Lisa. He spoke … her name.” Saying it aloud, hearing the absurdity in the words, helped a little and she looked back at Vincent, bandaged, peaceful. She swallowed hard and stood. “I’m sorry for coming apart like this.” She used the back of her hand to deal with the tears. “I know better. He loves me. It must have been a dream, a nightmare. Maybe it’s what made him so restless earlier?” Her expression pleaded for comfort.
“Catherine, my son bears you a profound, certain, and absolute love. It inspires me to know his love for you is the reflection of yours for him.”
Her trembling smile was his thanks.
“You are beyond exhaustion. Please, let me take you to a chamber where you can sleep in a suitable bed. This chair, even that cot…you’ve only been napping. You must sleep for some hours.”
“No,” she told him, breathing out the word until it faded in the chamber’s corners, turning back to Vincent. “I can’t leave him, Father.” She leaned forward, smoothed the hair at Vincent’s forehead. “I’ll be okay once he wakes up and we know he’s well. I’ll rest then. I promise. I have to be here until we know.”
Father looked at her for a long moment. “Catherine, this bed is big enough for both of you. I’ll stay with him while you go change into the things Mary left for you. I daresay my son will rest easier if you are beside him. Will you sleep?”
She blushed the palest pink, and kissed his cheek.
He was afraid to move. Catherine, his heart’s comfort, lay along his left side, her arm light, possessive across his chest. He relaxed into her warmth and too soon he slept.
Father came by, smiling to himself at the memory of Catherine crawling up beside a sleeping Vincent. He’d covered them and wished her ‘pleasant dreams’. She’d whispered her thanks, cuddled closer to his son, her fingers finding their home entwined in his. He’d left a candle burning and now watched it smooth a soft glow over them. He sighed and forgave himself for doubting their love in the beginning … well, maybe for longer than that, he admitted, shaking his head at painful memories. He thought of his own bed … he was very tired.
Two more days passed. Vincent would stir as they cared for him and she fretted about not being gentle enough. Father assured her she was doing everything as well as everything could be done. She agonized without end about Vincent’s wounds … infection … concussion. Father spoke of the other time his son had been ill and had recovered in just this manner. Catherine listened and tried to be consoled and convinced but anxiety tortured her.
It was in the night, Vincent quiet and safe in her gentlest embrace, where she found courage and faith deep in the stillness of his soul. It had been her gift to him ... now she received it back.
The day came when Catherine looked up from her book to find blue eyes staring at her.
“Vincent, oh, Love, how do you feel?” She covered his hand with hers.
“I thought… I’d dreamed you… here,” he said, his voice edged and rough.
“I’m here,” she smiled. “Are you thirsty? Let me get you some water.”
“Don’t go,” he pleaded. His eyes closed and she knew sleep had reclaimed him.
“I won’t leave you, Vincent,” she promised. “I’ll never leave you.”
For all of their happy life.
And into their happy eternity.