The Element of Fire
Evelyn ran down the steps of the Church, where she had been praying for Hugo. She dashed along the cobbled lane towards their home, heart pumping, lungs heaving and muscles burning with the exertion. He was home! Dear God! He was home at last! She would find him, throw herself into his arms and her fears would fade. After weeks of worry and sleep filled with a profusion of nightmares, she could finally reassure herself that he was in one piece.
“He is upstairs my Lady, awaiting your arrival. Impatiently I might venture to add.” Claire, the cook, chuckled as Evelyn sped past her.
“Yes, Claire, the Vicar told me soldiers had ridden by. I knew it was him, I just knew it!” she laughed as she took the stairs in an eager rush.
The passage way seemed so long and she was in a hurry to get to him. Thoughts flashed through her mind of another long walk down this passage. Her wedding night! Her Baptism by Fire! Hugo had allowed no argument or embarrassment to keep her from experiencing the fullness of their union.
At last, their door! Evelyn stepped into their bedroom and was shocked at the sight before her. Hugo was covered in dust and mud, his hair was disheveled and his face bore the pallor of an exhausted man. She let out a moan and ran across the room to where he stood staring into the fire place. His eyes solemn and transfixed on the writhing flames and smoke performing their exotic dance. He looked up as she came hurtling towards him, love softening his eyes.
“Hugo!” she threw herself at him, entwined her arms around his neck as her lips sought his with desperation. The kiss was wild and wet with tears. Relief speared her, he was whole. “I was so afraid for you.” she cried into his mouth as the kiss broke.
“Ev, I am safe love, no damage done. See, touch me.” She felt him shudder as her fingers roamed across the front of his uniform. “Yes, flesh and blood, not a ghost. Don’t cry, not now. I need your sweet smile and the sound of your laughter to drive away my dark mood. I need you.” he drew her back into his arms, his hold strong enough to elicit a gasp from her.
“Hugo, come, sit in the chair with me. Talk to me, please. Perhaps, with the telling of it all, this lingering darkness you feel will be cast out.”
“I want to sit here and hold you, take your warmth into me. I want to forget the ugliness. Images of the battle bombard my mind day and night, I feel soiled and sick of heart.” Her head rested on his shoulder as her hand stroked up and down his arm, her finger finding and gently tracing the outline of the still healing scar on his forearm.
“Tell me about it, it will help.” She cuddled closer, hoping she could erase the stain of war, but unsure of how to go about it. “Have you eaten, are you hungry?”
“Claire, brought up bread and cheese, but I have no appetite.” His grip tightened on her back as he brought her face up to his. “I don’t mean to be so bleak, but when I am not with you it eats at me. The futility of this useless war weighs heavily on me. It is so hard to keep my perspective. I am finding it harder and harder to understand why I do this. Help me, Ev.”
“Hugo, you have always fought with honor because you believed it was your duty. Do you not believe in that duty anymore? I would be glad, very glad if you decided not to go away to fight again. It would not lessen my opinion of you, you know that don’t you? You have nothing to prove to me, nothing at all. I love you.” An undeniable hope that he was done with war and death, rose up in her.
“I was committed to this war, but I am no longer filled with the flush of pride for soldiering. I can no longer tell you that I like what I do, that I am that same young man who once would give all to his country. I am questioning what I once believed to be the absolute truth. Who is this enemy I kill? What sin has he committed that I must slaughter him? These questions haunt me.” He leaned his face against her head and let her presence soothe him as nothing else could.
“Take me to bed, Hugo, I want to hold you. I don’t know how to advise you but I have comfort for you whilst you consider these things. Come love, let us idle away a few hours in each others arms and pretend the world has disappeared. Pretend all is as it should be. Pretend that man does not wreak havoc upon himself. That innocence still prevails.”
Smiling for his benefit, Evelyn led him to their bed and undressed him slowly. Deliberately lingering at the places she knew would illicit groans of approval from him. She watched his eyes cloud, his breath catch and his mouth relax and her heart leaped for joy. Her intention being, that they would escape into the heat of their passion.
While Evelyn lay sprawled across their bed sleeping, Hugo rested his head on his arm as he leaned against the mantle piece; his stance tense. Decision made, he picked up the letter of Commission, bent down and dropped the document into the fire with cold, unsteady fingers. The edges of the paper turned brown immediately, sending smoke spiraling up and out the chimney into the cold night air. As the fire engulfed the remnants of the document, soft murmurs brought Hugo back to the moment. He turned to the women on the bed, his wife, his love. His future!