Raindrops fall from the sky, drenching Valdir’s broken body with the elixir of life. He knows it will not save him. He blinks the rain and the tears from his eyes, turning his face from the temptation as best he could, knowing it will only prolong his suffering.
His mind is claimed by the mistakes of the past, of his regrets and his prayers.
Aria. Valdir had done this all for her. His fading memories take him back, back to when this had all begun.
His Aria, she was speaking to the cook, a jaded man of thirty years. He was not the type of man who deserved an ounce of her attention, a lowborn man with a drunk for a father and a whore for a mother.
Valdir despised him, knowing that the impure blood running through the man’s veins could mean nothing but wretched desires and foul intentions. Why else would he be speaking to Aria, if not to harm her, or worse, take her as wife?
Aria laughed at something the cook said, a smile brightening her face. Oh, Aria. My sweet, stupid, Aria. Can you not see that this is a man who means to take advantage of you? He hides behind his kind words and smiles, but I can see through them.
That was what had driven him to do what he did. It was not his fault. He did it for love. It wasn’t his fault!
Oh, but it was. He knows that. It was love that had driven him, but love had not taken command of his flesh. No, he did it all of his own free will, of his own foul judgment.
It was in the black of night that he had donned a dark hood and a false name, prowled the streets, relentless in his search.
A rat with flea-ridden flesh and dead eyes, festering with disease, a ticking bomb. He found one with ease. The city was brimming with them.
Stone-like skin, calcified from the disease it carried, it crumpled like paper under the pressure from his fingers. Thick yellow liquid and a few maggots squeezed from its flesh, dripping down his hand. Shuddering, he had shoved it into the bag, the crunch of its bones causing disgust to rise in his throat.
It all passes in a blur, his memories fading before his eyes until only two things remain. His Aria, and the man who wanted to take her from him. He falls back into the past, a smile coloring his broken lips with blood.
“What you be doing here, Valdir?” The cook smiled as well, his impure bastard’s blood turning his cheeks a fleshy red.
The man dared smile when he had spoken to Aria. Such a horrid man would not speak to a woman if he did not want her as wife, if he did not desire to take advantage of her gentle and trusting nature.
His hand tightened around the hilt of his sword, and it took every ounce of will he had in him to let it go.
If there had been any doubt lingering in Valdir’s heart, it was burned away by the flames of his anger. No, one did not take advantage of the woman he loved and live to smile about it.
“Wanting some more food, dinner not enough for you? Bet so, you all are the same. Hah, don’t you worry, I got some salted cod tucked away.” The cook turned to rummage in the cabinets.
He inhaled deeply, the salty sea air pervading his lungs. It was now or never. Fate had directed him down this path, and he would follow it until the end.
He slipped the rat from his pocket, feeling the bubbles of calcified flesh burst against his hand as he dropped it behind a barrel of wine. The fleas will spread it from here, I suppose. My work is done.
The cook will be the first to die. When he does, I will pray that Death will take mercy and pass over us. He wiped the diseased yellow mucus from his hand.
The cook turned back. “There’s your salted cod now. God be with you in these troubled times, friend.”
“I know He will be.” Valdir kept his response curt and cold.
Looking back on that now, Valdir regretted it all. He should have tossed that god-forsaken rat from the ship, prayed that disease would not take root. He should have poisoned the cook or found some other way to be rid of him. That mistake had caused his downfall.
It had taken four days for the first symptoms to show. The morning the cook came stumbling up from the lower deck, his movements jerky and erratic, a patch of flesh on his left arm beginning to calcify, that was when Valdir knew he had won.
It had brought a smile to Valdir’s face, how he had brought down a man who stood too proud, who threatened his sweet Aria.
Ah. I need to get him off the ship. So he does not infect anyone else.
“What’s that on his arm?” Valdir’s voice was the loudest whisper he could muster. He widened his eyes in mock terror. “God forbid… it isn’t plague, is it?”
“I don’t see nothing.” One of the deckhands responded. “You’re too paranoid, like you always are, protecting that niece of yours.”
“Just look at the man. There’s something wrong with him, and you’re a fool if you don’t see it!”
“Get ahold of yourself.” The deckhand spat out the words, as if he was a higher rank than Valdir. Any other day, he would pay for that, but Valdir had worse concerns.
I did not think this through. By Death and whatever is beyond, I did not think this through. My only option now is to press forward at full speed.
“Get him off the fucking ship, into the watery grave he deserves! If you don’t, I will!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” That was a different sailor, one of a higher rank.
“Calm down, Valdir. We’re not savages.” The deckhand again, with his patronizing tone and slurred accent. “Even if you he’s sick, give the man a few days, he’ll recover fine.”
“I’m telling you now, you scum-brained whoreson, if you don’t get out of my way, you’re going to be next!” Before anyone could flinch, he unsheathed his sword from its scabbard, sweeping it in a deadly arc to clear the space separating him and the cook.
No one dared interject. In title, they may be of higher rank, but when it came down to it, he had a sword, and they had only knives.
The cook, the cowardly excuse of a bastard, he stepped back, raising his hands in jerky, lagging, movements, a plea for mercy. His lips opened as if to speak, but he could not force out any words. Weapon or not, he did not have the guts to stand his ground like a man.
The next swing sliced just above his nose, a clear warning. Crying out in agony, a pus-like yellow liquid began to stream down the cook’s face, mixing with his lifeblood, drenching his sickly skin.
Shouts came from all who watched, a cacophony of rage and bloodlust. Half of them cheered him on, bored from the days of open water.
Valdir ignored them all. He was a hunter, chasing down his prey.
The cook stepped back. One step, two, three, until the last one took him to the edge of the ship. Fear danced in his eyes, the reflection of steel and sword. “Mercy…” He whispered, his voice cracking. “Mercy, please.”
He did not receive it.
The ring of steel gliding through air with deadly perfection was music to Valdir’s ears, a spray of blood painting the side of the ship with red before the cook’s body tumbled to a watery grave, his decapitated head following a split second afterwards.
The crowd had begun to disperse, bored now that the man was dead. Valdir knew there would be no punishment besides for a light scolding. The occasional bloodshed was not uncommon, and cooks were simple to come by.
I killed him. That means the plague will not spread, right?. It cannot spread now that I’ve killed the host, I’m sure of it. He will never bother my Aria again. I will have her to myself.
The deck was painted in the man’s blood and the yellow mucus of disease, a beautiful canvas. He was proud of his artwork.
Valdir lays in agony on that same deck now. His memories pain him. His time is running out. It is better to think of good things, of time he had spent with Aria.
“Aria.” He said, his voice soft and gentle, as not to alarm his sweet, frail, girl. “I promised my brother… your father, that I would take care of you in the best and the worst of times, through sun and moon and strife.”
“I know, Uncle,” she smiled. By Death and whatever was beyond, how he loved that smile. “I am grateful, more than you will ever know.”
“You are a woman grown, Aria, nearing sixteen years of age. It is past time you were wed.” He took her hands in his own, feeling how hard her skin was beneath his own.
Her skin was hard beneath his own.
Her flesh had begun to calcify.
Plague, ringing bells through his head, a horrible cacophony.
It all overwhelmed his thoughts in that instant, as he fell to the ground in a fit of coughing, praying that this was not true, that such a thing could not have happened.
She rushed to his side. “Uncle, Uncle, are you alright?”
Ah, my sweet Aria.
I blame myself. If I had not taken that rat on this ship, you would not be in this position now.
You will never know of these things, do not worry. I will make sure you live in happiness for whatever time remains to you,
“I am alright. My old age is catching up to me.” He paused, wondering if this would be the last thing he ever said to her. “I love you, Aria.” I love you as a woman, not as my niece, even if I can never admit so.
“Thank you, Uncle. I’m glad you’ve taken care of me, all these years.” She smiles, one last time.
That brought him to where he stood perhaps ten minutes prior, in the black of night where his crewmates were asleep, on the deck of his ship with his sword in his hand.
I am sorry, Aria. I am so sorry. But do not fret. I know Death is merciful. I know He will allow me to see you in the afterlife. That is why I do this. I will see you soon. I will not have to bear the pain of your death.
I would do it a hundred times over. If you are dead, no man aside from me will ever have you.
He brought his sword to his throat.
Do it, Valdir. For Aria.
He drew it across in a swipe of steel and pain and cold. Spasms began to go through his flesh, the sword tumbling to the lower deck as he fell to the ground, struggling to breathe as his limbs flailed wildly, sending bursts of blood gushing from his torn throat.
I did not think Death would hurt so badly.
Rain begins to patter. Valdir knows that there is nothing that can save him from the mistakes of his past. He turns his head away, blinking the tears and the rain from his eyes, praying for Death to claim his weary soul. He is tired of suffering.
I will see you soon, Aria.