Author’s Note: This story takes place 128 years before “Sunset Over Gunther.”
October 1215, After Advent
I played the flute while my wife lay dying. Kelestria wanted me to play a hymn I wrote just after we were married. Of all my songs, it was her favorite. She used to sing the words to the children while I played. I sat next to her on our bed; her slender hand lay on my leg, her palm hot with fever. She lay there in our small cottage, breathing gently, with her long, dark hair all matted with sweat. Her small mouth moved to the words even now. She sang so softly, I couldn’t hear her.
My wife was tall, square shouldered, and built for farm life. Some thought such strong features detracted from a woman. I disagreed—her strength was part of her beauty. She also had beautiful green eyes. Eyes I might never get lost in again. Unable to bear the sight, I closed my eyes and played on. The village priest, Father Phaeus, gave her last rites just minutes ago. We knew her only hope was a miracle. I feared it wouldn’t come. But I hoped.
“Derke…” Kelestria whispered my name as her hand dropped to the straw-filled mattress.
I stopped in the middle of the song and looked down at her. My heart thudded in my chest as I noticed her chest no longer rose and fell. It was over. My stomach dropped. Her green eyes were closed in death. I let my tears flow as I kissed her for the final time. I gently closed her small mouth, already missing the lips I would never again kiss in life. I smoothed her straight hair as best as I could before rising from the bed. The tears flowed freely while I ran one hand through my curly brown hair. She loved my hair, even as I hated its unevenness. My hair was curly on top but not the sides. I kept the sides cut very short, hoping people wouldn’t notice it as much. I kept the top a little longer so she could see the curls she liked so much.
I clutched the flute, an engagement gift she had carved, to my chest. Some of her other carvings graced our house: the birdcage, the chairs, the wooden plates stacked neatly on the table. All had her mark on them. And there… there… the small flutes she had made for our children. I wiped my tears, then gently touched each flute. Sobs welling up, I remembered Isaac waving his tiny flute in the air. He was too young to do anything more than grasp his and wave it in the air. Ruth, even at age four, already showed great promise as a flute player. At least, she had before this fever claimed her two hours ago. Isaac this morning, then Ruth, now Kelestria in the late afternoon. I never saw a fever move so fast.
My blood turned cold as the realization set in: I was alone. For the first time in years, I was completely, utterly alone. Even in my travels, I knew she was here, waiting on me to return. No longer. The house already felt empty. She would no longer welcome me back in from the dusty road with her kisses. The children wouldn’t wrap me in their hugs.