If You Jump
I looked at the man beside me on the parapet, with his toes curled precariously over the edge only ten meters to my left, and I felt my heart give a sickening lurch.
I hadn't seen him in three years. How had it come to this?
The wind buffeted my frail body as I too stood, inches away from death's tender embrace.
I tried to still my frantically shaking limbs and push my fear of heights to the back of my mind, as I looked into the face of the man I loved. His beautiful skin was marred now, covered in scars. His eyes were coated with a milky film, and one was obviously blind. It was sunken deep inside his skill, causing him to look like a long dead corpse, and in a way, he was.
This man, who walked with a limp and trembled at the slightest sound or touch, he wasn't the same person that I had fallen in love with. He's broken, pained, and fearful, but I still love him anyway. You can't control who you fall in love with.
"If you jump, Will, I shall follow you."
I spoke the words with an immobilizing finality, and my brain was desperately trying to take control of the situation, trying to tell me that I didn't have to die, that I didn't want to. I had managed to live just fine these past three years without him, hadn't I?
However, deep in my heart, I knew that I hadn't. In the beginning, when Will had first been captured, I had been horrified and angered, and had promised any deity that would listen that I would find him and bring him home.
I remembered, almost perfectly, the state that his cabin, his home, had been left in when they took him. There had been pools of blood, each one a vivid shade of red, and the very air had been scented copper with the sheer volume of it.
The body of Tug, his faithful pony, lay in the dirt, gashed and still, the splintered remains of Will's longbow lying next to it. The cabin itself was on fire, and only a burnt shell remained. The blaze was what had originally drawn the attention of the town watch and Halt, Will's mentor.
The air smelt like burning meat, and I remembered the way my heart ached as I hoped that it wasn't Will that had been left to burn, like a common, diseased pig. It took nearly an hour to put out the burning remains of the cabin and stop the fire spreading, to discover that none of the bodies consumed by the fire had been Will's.
After that, it wasn't hard for them to conclude that Will had been taken, kidnapped by some enemy of the kingdom. My Will was a King's Ranger and he was one of the best. He would never have left Tug lying in the dirt if he had had a choice. Rangers were exceptionally loyal to their horses, and I knew that Will thought of Tug as a member of his little family.
Halt had spent days scouring the surrounding forest and countryside for any sign of Will or his captors, but there had been too many trails to follow, and too much had been lost in the muddy ground of the forest in the rainy days that had followed. The only things that Halt had been able to discover was that Will had been attacked by no less than two dozen men, and that they had all scattered in different directions as soon as they had their prize, my Will.
I had waited, of course, for something to happen that would allow me to find Will, for a rumour to be heard, for one of the other Rangers who were frantically searching for their lost comrade to dig up some sign, but they found nothing. Nothing.
I began to crumble. I lost only the little things at first; the motivation to rise early, the joy in the first spring flowers and the new budding trees, and the desire to eat. It took two years for me to completely fall apart and become nothing more than an empty shell as I waited for my Will to come back to me.
I stopped working and spent my days in my rooms, caring for Will's puppy, Ebony, the only animal to survive the attack that had taken my love from me.
Lady Pauline, Halt's wife and my mentor, had done what she could, but it hadn't been enough to bring me out of my depression. After all, Pauline had Halt to look after too.
Halt, instead of retreating from the world as I had, had thrown himself into his work as a Ranger. He was away from home and Pauline for weeks at a time, and each time he came back he seemed more distant, more aggressive, and he had stopped smiling, even with his eyes. Not even Pauline had been able to draw him out of his shell, and he had received more than one warning from Crowley, the Ranger Corps Commandant, for being too violent while out on a mission.
Unlike me, Halt had never stopped searching for his lost apprentice, the young man he thought of as a son, but there was no sign, no matter how hard he looked. There was no ransom demand, no sightings, not even a whisper in the wind.
Each year there was a memorial, a small ceremony held in the castle courtyard, a small sign that Will may have been gone, but he wasn't forgotten.
Today, exactly three years to the day, Will had reappeared. There had been no warning, just a slight movement in the shadows. If it hadn't been for Ebony, I might have missed it, but the faithful dog had recognized her master and had instantly alerted me of the man attempting to hide in the corridors.
I had followed Ebony, the slender dog with her nose to the ground, hot on the trail of her long lost master. The trail had backtracked and followed obscure pathways through the castle, eventually leading to Halt's quarters. I remember how I had opened the door with trembling hands, thinking that I was going to find Will sitting in the chair by the fire, sipping a mug of coffee, with that small smile that he reserved just for me.
The room had been empty, silent and cold; the only sign that someone had been there was the small scroll sitting unassuming on the table. The writing on the outside declared the message for Halt, and I knew that it was from Will. Who else did I know that scrawled their t's in that particular way?
As I stretched my hand out to the neatly rolled scroll, time seemed to stand still. As I picked up the missive I had felt some deeply buried instinct warn me away, telling me that I didn't want to read what Will had to say. I ignored it.
My heart heavy, I had broken the wax seal, the parchment crinkling slightly in my hands. Even now, as the wind buffeted me, and as I allowed my life to rest in my love's hands, I recalled exactly what he had written, word for word, as if he was whispering in my ear.
'Halt. I'm sorry.
'I know how much it will hurt you to read this, but I couldn't leave without saying goodbye, without saying thank you. You gave me a life, accepted me as your apprentice when no one else wanted me, and you taught me everything I know. You gave me a name, something to live up to and aspire to, the chance to finally be a somebody, to be a Ranger. Most importantly, you gave me a family, a home. I'd never had that before, Halt, and you mean so much to me. You're the father I never had, the one that was always there for me.
'I'm sorry, Halt. I can't just pretend that the last three years didn't happen. I'm broken now; I'm not the same person you knew. I can't bear to let you see what they did to me, Halt, what they have turned me into. But I'm selfish. I couldn't go without telling you exactly how much you mean to me.
'Please, Halt, give Alyss this ring. It would have been hers anyway, and I can't deny her it. I love her, Halt. I was planning to propose, I had the ring ready, hidden in a hollow stump near the cabin. I had everything all planned out, but I can't do it now. I love Alyss too much to ask her to marry me. She deserves someone whole, someone who can provide for her, someone that she can be proud of; not me.
' I'm sorry I'm not the person that I was before I was taken. I'm sorry I couldn't escape sooner. I'm sorry that I'm leaving you, Halt. I'm sorry I'm leaving Alyss without looking in her beautiful grey eyes one last time, and telling her that I love her with all my heart. I'm just sorry that things have to end like this.
'Your son, Will.'
I looked into the eyes of the man I loved, balanced precariously next to me on the edge of the parapet, and I slipped the small silver ring I had been cradling onto my finger. It was a small silver band, carved with oak leaves and set only with a small emerald; it fit me perfectly. Will's eyes shone with tears as he watched me, and my heart felt as if it would jump right out of my chest as I saw the love and devotion that resided there.
"I love you too much, Will. I can't let you leave me." I stretched out my hand to Will, until I grasped his fingers in mine, the scars on his palm lying unseen, but not unfelt, as they pressed against my skin. "I won't live my life without you."
"Alyss..." His voice trembled, raw like bloody meat, as if every word caused him pain, and perhaps they did. "I'm not who I was. I don't deserve you."
My heart was cracking into pieces as I listened to my love try to justify leaving me alone. "I love you, Will, and if you loved me, if you really loved me, you would at least try to live again, for me. We can get through this. If you truly love me, you won't leave me like this. Not again. It hurts too much to live without you." Tears dripped down my face, and my voice trembled as I gripped his hand, determined not to let him slip from my grasp.
He was thinking about it, I could tell. He had always chewed his lip when he was mulling over a problem, and it was strange to see the same gesture now, a reminder of a lifetime that was almost too far away to reach.
"Alyss. Please. I love you; I love you more than life itself. But I can't just pretend that this never happened, that the nightmares, the scars, will go away." His entire body was shaking, and for a moment I thought that he might fall before he could jump. "You have to let me do this." His voice was pleading and I my heart finally broke as I watched him stare desperately into my eyes, begging me to let him go.
I knew that this was the moment that my whole life had been leading to; I would either follow Will into death, or I would live a half-life without him. And now I had to choose. I carefully shuffled closer to the man who held my life in his hands, until I was pressed firmly against his side.
I looked him in the eyes, ignoring the sunken orb that resided there, and spoke. "If you jump, Will, I shall follow you." They were the same words that I had spoken earlier, when I had first taken up my stand on the rough stone of the parapet, but this time, there was no way that I could back out. We were standing too close together and if Will was to jump, he would inevitably pull me with him.
I saw that in the moment after I spoke, everything changed. Will blinked, and for the first time, life sparked in his deep brown eyes. He took a small step back and I let him move me slowly from the edge. I knew now that he wasn't going to do it, that he loved me too much to leave me, to give up his, and inevitably my, one chance of a happily-ever-after.
I gave him a radiant smile, the one that I saved just for him, and leant in and pressed my lips to his, too overjoyed for words. I forgot, just for a second, that we were balanced only inches from death.
A second was all it took for everything to be cruelly stolen away.
My foot slipped. I felt myself tilting, falling, over the edge, still cradled in Will's arms.
I looked into the eyes of the man I loved, and saw my horror reflected there, before it was replaced with grim determination and love. The wind whistled in my hair as we fell and time seemed to slow, each second exaggerated until I was taking in every single detail of our fall. Will clutched me tighter and pressed his face into my cheek, his lips tickling my ear.
"I love you." And with that, Will tilted us slightly until I was looking past him, to the hard flagstones that were rapidly approaching. The move was purposeful, deliberate. He was putting himself between me and the ground, giving his life for mine.
The fall ended in a rapid crunch of time, bone and flesh, and I felt something in my side crack with the impact. Blackness flashed before my eyes, before the world refocused, bathed in red. I looked into Will's face, lying beneath me, his once beautiful eyes lifeless, his face speckled with grit and blood as a trail of it leaked out of the corner of his mouth.
I couldn't move, and people were screaming around me, their voices echoing through my skull.
I felt someone grip my arm and turn me over, and I found myself looking into the panicked dark brown eyes of Halt. He gave an animal cry of despair as he recognized Will, and I saw his eyes turn almost coal black with despair, before he finally turns that gaze back on me, almost as an afterthought.
I tried to speak, to tell him that we weren't meant to fall, that Will was supposed to be alive, but all that came out was a stuttering gasp of pained air and blood. It was enough though, and he turned and shouted to someone behind him before taking off his green and grey Ranger cloak and pressing it against the pain in my side.
The world around me was fading again, but Halt was talking to me in a frantic, panicked voice, telling me that everything was going to be all right, that I was going to live.
But I already knew that. I wasn't going to die, not now, not when Will had given his life to save me. I couldn't give up, not anymore. To give up, to throw my life away now, would mean that Will's sacrifice meant nothing; that I didn't care. I had to keep going, I had to hold on.
Alyss Mainwaring had to live.
What do you think? I've had it written for ages, but it just needed a few little finishing touches before I posted it.
It made me cry as I was writing it, and this is my first time writing something in first-person, so I hope it's ok! It turned out a bit shorter than I expected, but I don't really think it needs any more.
Thanks to my betas, Alyss Mainwaring and Eques Pirate, for betaing this for me! They're amazing!
Please review, as I love to hear from readers. Do you want more? Maybe things from Will's point of view, or what happens next? Let me know, and I'll see what I can do!
Thanks to Luvergirl of Books and JustaBunchaHOOPLA for pointing out that I had the eye colours wrong. I've gone back through and fixed it! Let me know if there is still something out of place, because I hate those little errors too!