Everything was sombre, servants moved efficiently, bringing linen in, taking it out. People spoke in whispers, they said prayers, they went around with tears running down their faces. He stood outside the room while she bade farewell to their children. How much time had they had? Eight years together? Love was meant to last forever, they should've had more time.
He was not ready for this.
There was a tap on his shoulder. He looked up from the ground to see the priest looking at him sympathetically.
"She hasn't much time left," the holy man said quietly.
He went in immediately. At a sharp gesture, servants departed, the druid ceased his chanting and left silently. He closed the door behind him and went to his wife who lay dying. Her eyes were closed, her breathing was shallow and uneven. She looked like a wraith, small and pale; not at all like the vibrant young woman he'd fallen in love with. He sat by her and took her hand in his. Already, it was cold. She opened her eyes at the contact, the expression they held was incongruent with the rest of her appearance.
"We were lucky," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder. It was as though she had heard his earlier thoughts. "Seven beautiful children, our wonderful years of marriage. The Goddess has smiled upon us."
He said nothing, only drew her closer to him. After a while, he spoke. "Do you regret anything?"
She didn't hesitate. "Only two things. That I don't live to see my children grow up, that our time together has been cut a little short. My passing is but another turn of the wheel, it is not forever."
He simply nodded, then kissed her lightly on the forehead. He couldn't handle this. Tears he had held back now flowed freely. He couldn't believe it. How was he supposed to go on without her? What was he supposed to do? It was too sudden.
"Do not weep, dear heart." The words were a plea, tears threatened to spill from her eyes too.
"I am sorry," he said quietly, reaching to stroke her hair.
"There is something I must tell you now," she stayed his hand. "It is very important. There will come a time in the future when you will be deep in despair, a time when all will be bleak. The outcome will be inevitable. I want you to remember, it unfolds as it must."
He felt a shadow cross his spirit. His wife was right about these things, he trusted the gift of her visions. It only served to remind him of how hard it would be losing her. "What will I do without you?"
She smiled faintly. "Live. Watch our children grow older, take care of your people. You can make a life without me, you're strong."
They sat together a while longer, all the while aware that her time was coming to an end, all the while knowing that it was too short a time to say all that needed to be said. They held onto each other, their actions spoke their words for them as death came closer. At last, she felt herself slipping away.
"Colum," she rasped, her green eyes becoming wider as she looked up at her husband. "I love you."
His hand tightened around hers. "I love you too, Niamh."
She gave a little sigh, her body relaxed, and he knew she was gone. He didn't move, he hardly dared breathe. It wasn't right; from the moment he'd met her she'd become his purpose, the centre around which his life revolved. He sat frozen, as though staying still would help preserve her life, as though it would stop time altogether.
In the end, the priest had come in, prepared for an angry dismissal, a shaky order to leave, perhaps even a breakdown. "Lord Colum?"
He did not respond.
"Lord Colum," the priest tried again, the voice was firmer.
He looked at the priest, his eyes full of grief, his arms tight around his wife's body. "What do you want?" he asked blankly.
The priest didn't flinch. "It's time."
They took her body and buried it with due ceremony, in the forest to which her spirit was close. It was as though the happiness had left the place when she died. Gone were the times for celebration, for laughter, for music, for stories. Everything was a constant reminder of her, and he couldn't bear the pain lest he be tempted to end his life to be with her.
He had to keep the wolves of memory at bay.