This is a story I wrote for my Fiction Writing class. Let me know what you think.
I would die at dawn, the guard told me that evening.
As he held a plate of stale bread inches away from my groping hand he said with a sneer. “We do not feed the condemned, Christianus.” Christian.
He spat the word out like bad wine and retreated, taking the treasured food with him. I clutched at the bars of my cell staring after him, listening to his footsteps echo and fade into nothing. Hunger clawed at my stomach, a painful ache digging through my gut. Was it hunger? Or was it the reality of my fate? Tomorrow I would die. I sank to the ground and wrapped my arms around my thin frame, the chains about my ankles ratting with the movement. The coarse wool of my ragged clothing cut into my skin, the smell of my own filth hung thick in the air of my little cell. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes close, shutting everything out. No, no, NO! What had brought me to this?
My ears began to ring, my lungs begged for air. I held on, maybe, maybe I could end it all right here, right now, save myself the pain of a Roman execution. My life is no longer in my hands. I had said those words, all thoughs years ago, putting my fate in another’s hands. I gasped, opening my eyes and heaving in great gulps of air. Tears stung my eyes and traced salty trails down my checks.
As a boy, my father had told me men didn’t cry, but my father hadn’t known what would happen. He hadn’t known the Romans would come and kill him. He hadn’t known I would be taken to live out my days as a slave, never again to see my beloved Britton. So I cried. I cried for the past, for the boy I had once been, free in my homeland. I cried for my fate, for the flames that awaited me come the dawn.
My heart filled with anguish I raised my tear stained face to the small shaft of light flickering against the wall from a torch across the way.
“Deus donavi meus ultionis!” God give me vengeance! I shook my fist, yelling in the Latin tongue at the light as if it represented the presence of God in this foul place. Give me vengeance.
My life is no longer in my hands. I had given it away, let it go. He had given his, what more was I to do with mine?
I was afraid to die. Afraid of the pain, but I could still escape it, I could still live.
“Deny, deny your faith and you shall go free.”
I stared at the procurator; my chains seemed to grow heavier as if to embellish his words. Deny, simple enough. They were words only were they not? God would still see what was in my heart, see I still believed though my tongue said otherwise. I could live, continue serving Him. What good was I dead? All I had to do was say three simple words – “I deny Christ” – and I would go free. Free. The flames would devour another martyr, but not me.
“Well? What say you?” The procurator stood looking down his nose at me, awaiting my reply. “Stop preaching this false faith, deny the Christian God and your life will be spared.”
Why was I hesitating? Why was I silent? Lord, I do not want to die.
The procurator gave an exasperated sigh and waved his hand at the guards. “Take him away.”
I was dragged to me feet and hauled from the room, my chains clattering on the marble floor.
“There is still time, if you should choose to change your mind.” The procurator’s words fallowed me from the hall, ringing in my ears.
I thought of them now, wondering where I would be and what I would be doing at this moment had I said those words. Perhaps I’d be sitting with Laurel, our hands clasped together, speaking of our upcoming marriage. Laurel, I could still see her face when they came to take me away. She cried my name, her voice wrought with anguish and fear.
Oh, to see her again! To lose myself in her dark eyes and the sound of her bell-like laughter.
“Lord,” I prayed. “Protect her; do not let her suffer my fate.”
My fate; I wondered at my words. Had I chosen to die? I remembered that day, how many years ago? The teacher, dying in agony on a Roman cross above my head, hardly recognizable as the man I had known. He was innocent of any crime, just as I was now, but they had killed him and he had allowed it. He had chosen death, could I do the same? I followed him, I spoke in his name, but could I die for him? So many had died already, they did not deny him.
“Lord, you can see my heart, can you not? You can see my fear, how can I do this? Can I not serve you more by living to spread your Word? What of my life with Laurel? I will never see her again in this life, never have a life together. God, how is this part of your will? What have I done that you would abandon me to the flames? Let me live!”
My voice echoed back to me, bouncing against the stone walls, let me live!
“He never abandons us Dafydd. We are mere men; we cannot comprehend his thoughts or his plans.” Stephen, his words returned to me. “He sets a path before us and leaves us with the choice to walk it. What will you choose Dafydd?”
Stephen died, stoned for his beliefs. He had stood fast, facing death. Could I do the same?
I thought back to the day I had met the Teacher. The day he had given Laurel back her sight and in a way, he had given sight to my blind eyes. I was a bitter slave, cursing those who had killed my family and taken me from my homeland to live a life of bondage among a people who thought of me as chattel. My heart was filled with nothing but hate. Laurel had tried to show me love, she had taught me Latin, nursed my wounds after beatings, but the hate in my heart blinded me to her kindness. I was more a captive to myself and the bitterness inside then I ever was as a slave. It ate at me, tearing my mind apart; then he came.
He healed my shattered heart. Never before had I felt so liberated. The hate, the bitterness, the hurt, it was all swept away at the touch of his hand and the sound of his voice calling my name. He had shown me how to forgive those who had slaughtered my family and enslaved me. Though by law I was still a slave, in my heart and soul, I was freed forever.
How could I deny that? How could I deny the hope, the peace, the joy, the freedom I had been given? I couldn’t. I could not betray the love that had given me new life.
“Acceptus calicis ex meus,” Take this cup from me. “My life is in your hands.”
As a cold chill crawled up my spine I shivered. The night would soon be over, my last night on earth. I leaned against the moist stones of my cell. The slow drip of water sounded from somewhere in the gloom. Laughter of the guards and cries of fellow captives could be heard as faint whispers in the silence of the prison. I looked around me, the stench, the darkness, the hunger, this place was hell, but tomorrow, tomorrow I would find paradise.
My life is in your hands.
Dafydd – (Da-vith)
a: short as in can