(Submitted by Alynian on May 18, 2016)
“Have you seen an angel, Nyla?”
The young girl raised her blue eyes to study her grandfather. Though she could only claim 9 summers, there was a clear intelligence and sophistication behind her azure orbs that belied her youth. Thinking she was falling in to some jest her sly grandfather loved to make, Nyla hesitated before softly answering, “No, Pappy.”
“I have,” he whispered back. A wracking cough ripped through his body as Nyla quickly retrieved a mottled rag from the nearby table. Taking the cloth from the child with a pained smile, he quietly deposited a blood filled secretion adding to the collection of red and rust colored stains. A soft sigh passed his lips as the attack passed and he relaxed once more.
Nyla, feeling the full curiosity of her age take over, moved to a position on the simple wooden bench, next to the bright hearth, which currently bore her elder kin. “You have, Pappy?”
“Aye, she was a true angel, dear one,” the wizened man smiled down at the girl as she snuggled into his bone thin arms.
“When did you see her,” all fear of being the butt of some jibe gone, Nyla’s sapphire orbs drank in her grandfather’s every move as if some great secret was held within the smallest detail. Such a thing should not be missed.
“At Kenna’s place, little one.” Seeing the child’s bright face quickly become darkened by a frown, he chuckled and patted Nyla on the head, “Don’t you give me that look. I know Nana doesn’t like me going there, but a man needs to get his sport some how, so you just pack that frown away and keep this between us, or I’ll end my tale here and now.”
Sensing no idle threat in his words, Nyla quickly nodded, “I’ll hold my tongue, Pappy.” Putting on her best smile she looked up at the antediluvian man holding her in hopes that he’ll continue the story.
“It was a mere fortnight past,” he began.
“Before The Burning,” Nyla quickly interjected.
Smiling at the child’s inquisition, he nodded. “Aye, it was before The Burning…just before.” Taking a deep breath and staring into the flames of the hearth, he recalled the events of that night. “I was in the throng. Having just wagered a bit of silver…errr…there’s that look again,” he scolded. “Ahhhh…much better. Now there I was, waiting for the fights to start when I felt this chill. I knew not what it was or from whence it came, but I tell you true, I was the only one who noticed it. I glanced about and the folk near me seemed to mark nothing of the like. So I quickly shook it off and turned my gaze back to the floor. There seemed to be some sort of discussion going on between this beautiful red-headed fighter and some younger girl. It was clear to any who’ve spent any time around the knucklers that this younger thing had no business to be in there. Mayhaps this is why the red-headed creature was talking and shaking her head vigorously.”
“Is that the angel,” Nyla interrupted.
“The red-headed lady? No…errr…I don’t think so,” a far away look passed quickly over his line drawn features, as if considering something, before his focus upon the flames in the hearth took residence there once more. “No,” he said with more conviction. “Well, as things progressed, this strapping lad stepped on to the floor and there seemed to be some quick agreement between the 3 knucklers as to who will be drawing blood. With that settled, announcements were made…errr…Ra..no…Rey! Yes, Rey was the red-headed brawler’s name. The lad was Sember or Kember or something of that sort.” The frail man glanced down at the child as he covered for his failing memory, “My ears aren’t what they used to be, Nyla, and that crowd was a touch raucous that evening.”
“Anyway, these two, Kember and Rey, set about one another and she lands such a blow upon him that he falls straight away to the ground. I would never have suspected such skill let alone sheer strength in such a form as hers, but there you have it, she still stands and Kember is filling his nostrils with dirt.” “Well now, this set me up right nice and I was most keen to collect my winnings. Unfortunately, the throng also had the same idea…well the winners anyway,” he chuckled and started coughing once more. Clearing his throat of the offending blood once more, he continued, ”And such a commotion you’d not believe. However, there was some sort of ruckus and people started to shout ‘fire’. Let me tell you, Nyla, when the hew and cry of ‘fire’ goes out, you’d best look to yourself, child. The crowd had gone mad pressing upon any and all to escape the fatal kiss of the flames.” His words died off as he watched the orange beast quietly dancing within the hearth.
“Aye, a clear madness set upon those poor folk. It rose to all consuming terror when it was discovered that the doors leading to the cool night were barred from the outside. The smoke filled the air, screams of people vied for attention over the groan and creak of the burning timbers. A loud crash filled the arena behind me and as I turned to see what Death had in store for me, I saw an inflamed rafter had landed upon that poor warrior, Kember. Rey freed her prior foe and worked to move him to safety, but in that Hell’s hall, there was none to be found.”
Pappy glanced down at Nyla to see the rapture of her interest on her innocent face. Her breath was held as tight as her grip on his arm frail arm. “Then without warning, I was moved by those around me out into the street. The doors were unlocked or broke, I know not which, nor did I care. And those around me didn’t care either to save this old man, they simply pushed at all in the way to get free. Being of my age and slight substance, I provided little resistance to their efforts and was quickly clear of the door. Unfortunately, the crowd was none too gentle and I found a sharp pain in my side with every breath. Ere long, the iron taste of fresh, clean blood washed over my tongue and I fell to the ground struggling for breath.”
Pappy paused for a minute as he chuckled softly, “There I was, Nyla, saved from the fire by the same folk who will have killed me with their kindness. I pulled myself as best as possible from the burning building but my arms were truly empty of strength from all the events prior. So there, I lay, gazing up looking at the night sky wondering where I’ll next open my eyes. Then I saw her…”
Nyla whispered in awe, “The Angel.”
“Aye, a vision more terrifying, more glorious, more awesome, I’ve not laid eyes upon. She was beautiful, in a truly exotic fashion. I still ponder if the radiance I saw about her was from the power she wielded or from the delusions of a dying man. All I knew at that instant was her…nothing but her. She graced me with a touch like none other I’ve ever felt. There was a warmth that I’ve not felt for ages, a warmth that I wished to cling to for all of time.”
Nyla reached up and softly touched the tear rivering down his lined face. “She saved you, Pappy.”
“Aye, she saved all of us,” he nodded slowly, savoring each word. After a few moments peace, he straightened himself and smiled gently at the child in his arms, “Now, Nana will be home soon, meet her in the street and remind her we’re out of day-old and will need another loaf to sup with this evening. You know how she hates to leave once she gets home.”
Nyla giggled and nodded sagely, “I think she just misses the warmth of the fire.” Quickly disentangling herself from his embrace, she moved across the sparse room to the door. Donning a simple thread worn wrap that hung from a wooden hook near by, she smiled at her grandfather. “I’ll find her and we’ll be back soon.”
Pappy, nodded and waved goodbye as she closed the door behind her. Turning back to the hearth to fight a sudden chill, Pappy whispered, “Ok, you can come out now.”
A lithe figure emerged from the shadows deep within the corner of the room, “Why did you lie to her?”
“To Nyla,” Pappy blinked in surprise as he drank in the vision before him. A woman of exquisite beauty, almost heavenly or unholy, it was a fine distinction between but one which she blurred. Her stunning features were wrapped in skin of pale moonlight. Her generous lips bore a blood-ruby red. But it was her eyes, which held him rapt. There was nothing behind them. No light of life or joy, but a tumult of sadness, despair and anger, perhaps from betrayal, he thought. “What do you mean?” “Why did you tell her you were inside the arena when it burned,” the woman asked once more as she drew across the floor like a shade of some dancer.
“Because she’s heard the stories of The Angel of Nexus,” Pappy replied as he stood with a proud dignity of a warrior preparing for one final siege. “She needs hope…….we all do.” “But it was me you described to her,” she whispered as she stretched her arms wide. “All good stories have some truth in them,” Pappy said in a firm voice as he stepped forward laying his head upon her bosom. “You are the only angel, I’ve ever seen.”
A shudder passed through Pappy’s body one final time as he felt the earthy chill of her embrace. There was no warmth at all to her, no beat of flesh and blood, which he felt. His eyes looked up as a symbol upon her forehead started to shine. Silver, moonlight, no, that’s not right, Pappy thought, something more, beyond my ken.
Nyla raced ahead of the old woman, the child laughing as if the sheer joy of running could not be contained in her small frame. Quickly reaching the door, Nyla pulled it open, “Pappy, we’ve been blessed! We’ve received food from The Angel! She asked vendors to help feed those in…Pappy?”
Nyla came to the simple cot on which her grandfather laid on his back with his hands clasped over his chest. Trying carefully to keep from disturbing him, she opened her mouth to call his name once more, yet something was wrong. There was a stillness about him, no rattling breath, no rise and fall of his chest. “Pappy,” she whispered as she reach out to touch his cheek…it was cold as the earth.
Nyla quickly jumped back, her breath caught in her throat. She knew this time was coming, he always made sure she understood there would be a time he would be gone, but she didn’t think it would be this soon. Her sensible nature quickly took over once more as she realized Nana would be home soon. Nyla turned to the door to intercept soon-arriving grandmother when something odd caught her eye. There was a small shadow-silk bag in his hands. Again the curiosity of her age overwhelmed any sense of decorum or fear and she delicately pulled it from his gnarled fingers. Opening the ebon cloth and glancing within, Nyla’s breath caught in her throat once more. A small pile of silver caught the gleamed in the dying fire light. There was a note which bore an elegant calligraphy as well. It read, The Angel.