Most of his words had, and never would leave his home in the woods. She still tried to understand why he didn’t have greater ambition for his tales.
He probably didn’t doubt all the books he had stacked on the many shelves of the house could have a certain success. Everything he had already published had been received with growing interest. And more than once, the company that took care of spreading his stories around the world had sent a representative in person, to try to convince him to provide them with more manuscripts.
The cordial visits had always ended with violent verbal skirmishes. They obviously wanted to make more and more money, and he only cared about his words. Everybody knew he was wealthy, and already had earned enough to just live out of what he had published.
Still, every six month or so, they walked to the village, and he would send a pile of his work to the capital. He never took her to the post office, wanting to spare her the boredom of paperwork. Since her parents’ house was at the entry of the village, he would leave her there and then come and get her again, when he was done.
As always, Mother had welcomed them warmly. Offering to make coffee, as the morning had been particularly frisky, he had politely declined. He mentionned he had to meet with the pastor before heading back home, and she offered to keep them for dinner. Father would be back from his day’s labor, and it had been long since their last real visit to town. He accepted the offer, and told Mother he would bring cherry wine to enjoy after the meal.
She loved these visits to the village. Mother would drop all her house chores to sit with her and give her a quick catch up on all the family and neighbours’ news. All of her brothers and sisters had already married and started their own families, except for Gunther, who had joined the clergy a couple of years back and moved to the capital to pursue his studies.
Mother left her for a quick moment, to get a pile of letters from the Capital. Neither she nor Father had learned to read, and they always waited for her visits to know how their youngest son was doing.
Practically living for words, he had insisted in teaching her to read and write at an early age, even if it was far from common for women to have these skills. He frowned upon the Church’s will to keep peasants under control with ignorance. And he had cut on his own precious writing time to make sure she could master his art.
She picked the letters from Mother’s hands, and sorted them by dates. Gunther wrote to his parents regularly, even if there was not much to tell of his secular life. The reading pleased Mother, who would stop her from time to time, to check on the supper slowly cooking on the wood stove, or to simply throw a log in the fire.
At one point, she noticed how her brother’s hand writing had slightly changed. His usually well writen, elegant letters were a bit sloppy. The news were not unusual, he told them about his studies, and his profound love of God, but something felt wrong.
She paused and looked through the leftover letters to find out the last one dated a couple of weeks back, which was odd to say the least. Not wanting to worry Mother uselessly, she asked if she could have a cup of warm milk with honey, pretexting her throat was a little soar, and picked the last received note, as she walked to the kitchen.
Skipping the usual greetings, she looked through the letter as fast as she could, her eyes running quick, despite the now almost unreadable scribblings.
She let out a high pitched shriek, when she read the last lines, making Mother rush back to her side.
When he entered the house, he was welcomed by a duet of painful sobs. He found the two women crying in each other’s arms. Extremely uneasy in this kind of situation, he hesitated before walking to them.
Hearing his heavy boots on the living room’s wooden floor, she turned his way. As if he had sensed something was wrong, Father entered just after him, and ran to his wife’s side, stealing the broken woman from her embrace.
She sat there, vulnerable like he had never seen her before. Tears ran down her cheeks even if she obviously held back her weeping now. He wanted to ask, but words just didn’t come. She just stared up to him, pleading for help.
After a silent pause, she held the last letter in the air, and he grabbed it from her delicate hand.
It’s Gunther… He… He was helping out at the infirmary… He… He…
He was running through the message when he understood. He gave her a sorry look.
Unexpectedly, she got up and pressed herself to his chest. The feeling of her hands clinging to his back through his coat startled him. She had always depended on him, and his good care, but never in such a personal way… Although he knew times were dramatic, he found himself enjoying the feeling of the young body desperately seeking comfort from him.
He clumsily wrapped his arms around her, still uneasy. Risking pressing his cheek to her soft hair, he whispered to her ear.
I’ll help you, dear… I will….