I sat on the edge of the bench, listening as William sang. He had described what sort of music would go to it but I couldn’t form it very well in my head, so I just listened to his voice. I also had no idea what he was saying since it wasn’t English and really mostly sounded like vowels being sung. But it was really pretty and when he was done, I clapped enthusiastically. William seemed a bit embarrassed about it and bid me to sing, which I shook my head at.
“I can’t sing,” I protested. “I don’t know many songs.” The only ones I really knew the lyrics to were the ones I had been dancing to with Ruth for so many months. I highly doubted a medieval knight would be pleased to hear ‘Swanee’. He sings to me some beautiful song about courtly love… and what? I was supposed to wail out lyrics like, Swanee, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old swanee, I’d give the world to be among the folks in D-I-X-I-E? Not happening. Though I imagined Ruth’d be spinning in her grave… Huh, I thought. I had never thought of that particular phrase before. I had heard it before but… being part of the dead really changed its meaning.
“I do desire to hear you sing,” William said and I swallowed. It had been two full weeks since Miracle had thumped me over the head with the terrible thoughts of William and every evening together with him made me feel weirder and weirder. Mostly because I couldn’t just brush it aside. It was clear in my mind, and I was wondering–just as I wondered with Ruth. Though unlike Ruth I was wondering before anything happening. I still didn’t like it, this hovering feeling of WHICH IS IT?!
And it’s not something I could even really find out. I didn’t know if this tightening feeling in my belly was really because I might like him. I wasn’t even sure if I was–interested in guys. I had thought I was interested in Ruth but I hadn’t been really, so this could just be something else I wasn’t sure about. So I decided to do my best to ignore it. I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t not gay. I was just… nothing, as far as I knew. Could someone be nothing? In any case, I tried to ignore it but when he used words like that, like desiring, it made me all dizzy and shaky.
“I want to hear more of Beowulf,” I prompted, trying to get his mind on something else. William adjusted his place on the bench so he was more facing me now. “Please?”
“I ended last time before he sets out for the lair,” William said and I nodded. He began talking of the adventures again, of the hero going down into the lake and the fight with Grendel’s mother, and of the sword that, “…bit deep into her neck-bone,” William said in a hushed voice. I leaned closer to him. “It severed through her neck, slicing as one would cut into cheese… toppling the doomed house of her flesh, and she fell to the floor!” William spread one hand out as if indicating what had happened. “The sword was bathed in her blood, and our hero was most happy.”
He then stood up again and bowed, as he did when he was done with telling part of a story. “Is there more?” I asked and he smiled, nodding. “Tell meeee!”
“Not tonight,” he said with a bigger grin now. “You shall hear more another night. You are…” He gave me a far-off look and I just smiled back at him. “Nay, not for me to say.”
“You… remind me of someone I once knew. Very young and innocent from the world. Tis pleasant to be around one such as yourself.”
It was a strange thing to say and I really wasn’t sure how to take it. “I’m not that young,” I said after a second or two. “I’m sixteen.”
“And my heart beat for seventeen, but that does not change that you are one of innocence and gentleness, while I am… Nay. I will be riding. Fair eve, Chance. My apologies for speaking so strangely.”
“It’s all right,” I mumbled but I wasn’t sure he heard me as he went off. Now what was that all about? Maybe it was just… me imagining strange things since I felt so strange. Or maybe I had done something wrong. Maybe he knew what I was trying to ignore or–Oh no, I thought when I saw Miracle near the edge of the graveyard, head slowly swiveling as she, I presumed, scanned the place for me. I got up and hurried towards her, terrified now that William was guessing I was so close to a living person.
“Hey,” she said when I got close, following me down the hill to our usual spot. “It’s getting close to leaving time and the aunts want to know if you’ll be coming.”
“I won’t be,” I said, barely even aware of her words.
“Whaaat? Chance! No. C’mon, a month back home will do you good, you’ve been totally freaking out this past week or two. Every time I see you, you’re practically spazzing out. Something happening, didn’t it?”
“N-no, not quite,” I said honestly. Cause after all nothing really happened. Just thoughts which weren’t anything so I wasn’t lying. “How did your exams go, by the way? You had your last two yesterday, right?”
“Mm-hmm, I am pretty sure I did well on my comp course, not so sure about algebra though.” She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered a bit. I frowned, having forgotten that the freezing weather would effect her. “I won’t find out for a little bit. You can know right after I do, if you come home.”
“I don’t want to go home,” I answered. “I’m staying here. Sorry, Mira.”
She looked so sad that I wanted to cry. I hated making her feel like this but I really truly felt sick at the thought of going back into that house. I hugged her tightly and she hugged back all depressed, and two nights later when we said goodbye she promised me she’d bring some of the family in to visit when it got to be around Christmastime or New Years. I kissed her cheek and watched her leave, feeling really super strange that I’d be here alone for a month.
Not alone, I thought when I went into the cemetery and found William waiting for me. But without any family around. That was creepy but also a bit thrilling and maybe without Miracle bugging me every time she saw me I could sort out my… whatever they were. The feelings, or not feelings, I had for William. I was really trying to figure it out. Like Ruth, I enjoyed spending time with him, I wanted him to be happy, I was interested in the stories he told, and I felt sad at the thought of being away from him. So, I decided, that probably meant I just liked him as a friend. That’s what I told myself, and that’s what I believed.
Until it happened.
I wasn’t sure of the exact date, it had been several nights since Miracle, my aunts, cousins, and grandpas had come in overnight to see me which had been just after Christmas, so I figured it was just after the New Years. William was telling me about the twelve days of Christmas. Not the song but the actual event which I didn’t know was real. And then he told me about his second to last Christmas on earth, and during that he described in detail the beautiful hawking gloves his wife had given him.
It kinda felt like a slap but then even though I felt extremely humiliated at wallowing in confusion for all this time, I felt really good. I didn’t have to worry anymore about whether what I felt was love or not. I felt kinda free. Happy. Totally embarrassed, but happy. It didn’t matter anymore (right now) whether I was gay or not gay. The only person it would have affected was not gay, and married–well, ex-married, as he was dead.
“She must have been so sad when you died,” I said, hoping it wasn’t going to open a wound for him but it had been over five hundred years.
“She passed into the realm of the dead before I,” he answered with a wave of his hand.
“Oh! I’m s-so sorry!”
“Twas sad, as she left with our child in her belly. But only so much can be done against the plague. Many in our village expired that summer. I thought at the time how lucky I was to be alive, and then…” He laughed. “But a year passed and then I did.”
“How did you… die? I–I’ve been wondering, I’ve never seen a ghost of your color before.”
He gave me a sweet smile. “I was buried alive,” he told me and I gasped, hands over my mouth now. “I was given a stronger ale at evening meal and I succumbed to the stupor of being drunk. My brother convinced me to venture outside where he took me into the old cemetery. Twas new then, of course.” William leaned back, tossing his hair casually as if he were talking once more of Christmas and not his death. “Twas an open grave. My brother took me to where a wooden box was waiting and wondered upon its size. He climbed in and said it was much too small for him and goaded me into trying it. I climbed in. I was very drunk. I thought it but a game. I lay in the coffin, laughing as it was so very funny that I be alive and in such a box. Then my brother rose over me as a dark cloud and said a sinner as I would never live to see the titles and estates. Then he struck my head with a rock.”
I gasped again. “Your brother k-killed you?! But–a rock? I thought you said…”
“Aye.” William nodded, looking a lot more amused than I thought someone could be about this. “I awoke some time later with the lid nailed down. I had my sword with me and managed to knock a hole in it though by that time I was very dizzy and hardly able to draw breath. Dirt rained down on me, through that hole, and I knew I was in that open grave. No longer open. I died shortly after.”
Ruth by her mother, William by his brother. Damn. “I’m so sorry,” I squeaked out.
“Tis fine now, Chance. There is not a need of sadness. I arose some days later, unsure about the events although it was not long before I realized,” he continued. “I was one of the few ghosts haunting the old cemetery. My plight was never discovered.”
“Th-then… how are you here and… not there?” I asked.
“I did not desire to haunt where I was slain. I moved to haunt my brother. This graveyard is over our estates. Our manor was there.” He lifted a hand and pointed towards an area of trees. “It was destroyed a few hundred years after my death. My brother’s issue were there till the end, and after–I do not know what became of them. When this graveyard was built, I… moved in.” He grinned now, looking extremely amused. “I now sleep in the grave of one of my brother’s descendants.”
“You were murdered… b-by your own brother…” I clutched my hands together and tried hard not to cry but several tears fell. “Why? Why did he–do such a thing?!”
“Why? Why, to inherit. I was the eldest son. I was in line to receive all. The land, the title, the money… and as I had another marriage in line, I suppose my brother did not wish to risk me lying with my wife and her womb quickening with child. He had seemed sad at my wife’s death though I imagine now he was joyous that my line had been ended so swiftly that summer.”
“Another marriage? After only a y-year?” I looked at him now, wondering why he’d do such a thing.
“Aye. Not my decision. My father. He did so wish a grandson. Ah. You are not of my times. Many marriages, most important when there were titles, were arranged. Those involved more than likely have no say in whom they wed. I did not, on both counts–not that I married Eleanor. I did not choose her, as I had not chosen Elisabeth. My father chose them both for me and I obeyed. Elisabeth was…mild-tempered though not as quick to smile as you are. Serious. She did desire to learn what men learned. She knew a little of writing, and reading, though begged me often for studies on other matters.”
“Did you love her?”
“Nay. I cared for her and would have cared for her until we were grey and lined with age.” William pressed a hand over his heart and let out a tiny little breathy sigh.
“Were you… ever in love…?”
His eyes met with mine and I began to feel tingly for no reason that I could see. “Aye,” he said very, very slowly. “Twas when I was thirteen years of age.”
“Thirteen?! That’s young!” I exclaimed.
“Nay. Elisabeth was but thirteen when we wed, and I fifteen. Younger than you.” He shifted his weight and began messing with his shirt. “I was faithful to my wife, by Watcher’s eyes. Whatever my heart or body longed for, I kept to my mind, and did my wife no injustice.”
“But before you married her, you were in love. How come you couldn’t marry her? Did your father not like you dating her?”
William covered his mouth now but couldn’t stop his laughter. “Chance! You have such a heart! Twas no dating. If a man and woman were alone in a room, she would be ruined! There could be… courting. As I said, most marriages were chosen by the parents. Some did happen across one they loved and were able to marry whom their heart wanted. Ah,” he breathed out, “not I. My heart… was with one destined to never be.”
“I’m sorry. Was she a servant?” I thought that’s what some stories did, a noble and a servant falling madly in love. Though usually something miraculous happened and they were able to marry.
William mulled over my question for a second or two. “Aye…” He faced the sky now and moved an inch or two away from me. “He was a servant.”
I just smiled, imagining for a few seconds all the impossible tales and stuff from movies and books, and stories that my family told me. Then it hit me exactly what he had said and I nearly toppled over. I did sway and stagger, my breath catching in my throat. I imagined it, he said it wrong. But he wasn’t trying to correct what had had said. He was staring intently up at the sky as if afraid to face me. He had said it. He had said…
“I have been afraid to tell you,” William said, focusing still on the sky. “A few of the others knows. Tis why the Cursed One despises me. As you are a wondrous friend, I did so long for you to know as… I think not it well we are–friends–and you know not of my… most ill of secrets. I have accepted in my heart, as miserable as it may be, if you wish to cut our companionship off.”
“Why would I do that?” I asked with a smile.
Now William swayed, looking as I had given him a hard shove. “You… are not… turned away… by such news?”
“Nope. Why should I?”
William’s mouth opened and closed several time before he spoke again. “If I had been known as a sodomite, I would have been tried, convicted, and executed.”
“Ahhh–uhh, sodomite?” I asked, the word completely new to me. “It means gay?”
William frowned deeply. “G… gay? What is that?”
“Homo…sexual? When, uh, a guy likes another guy. It can be for girls who like girls too though. Is that was sodomite is?”
“Ah, yes, that word was used before. Gay. Among other words. I did not understand their meaning, and was just… I thought all the words Mike used for me were hateful names, though I cannot place blame for such. It is a most hateful thing.”
“No–no it’s not, why is it hateful?”
“It… was,” he corrected himself. “I know what people believe is right and wrong does change through the changing of the years.” He touched his brow, eyes on the moon. “When I was alive, tis a despicable, hated thing to practice lustful acts on another man. Twas never love. One man could never love another man, though my heart has told me otherwise on… a few occasions. My brother… did know. Tis why he called me a sinner before he struck me. As I was… mayhap I deserved for my life to be cut short.”
“No! How can you say such a thing? It’s–not right to murder! Surely that hasn’t changed!”
He laughed quietly. “Nay. Though murder is… accepted when dressed in different words. If my brother had revealed the truth about myself, I would have been killed, but it would have had the banner of justice over it.”
“People hate it now too, I think,” I said. “But if I know right, though I don’t know if I do know right, someone can go to jail if they attack a gay person for being gay. But gay people can be together, even though some people don’t like it, and in a lot of places two guys or two girls can get married and have a–hey!!” I beamed brightly at him. “I have two grandpas, you know. Well I guess most people do, uh, I meant together–so technically I have three grandpas. Though I don’t know what happened to the other. I think… my papa’s papa died… before I was born or when I was very young, or maybe he didn’t. I really don’t remember much before I went to live with my aunts–OH yes, I have two aunts! I guess that’s not unusual either. I mean, I have two grandpas together, and they’re married and have a big family and my mom was one of their kids before she died, and their other daughter–Aunt Kaylee–she got–well, not their only other daughter cause they had three daughters but one of their other daughters–she got married to a woman and they have two kids now. Uh, are you ok, William?”
“I–I feel quite faint.” Indeed, I thought he might fall over so I reached out to take his arm but as soon as I touched his arm he recoiled away. “Nay, I am not a maiden swooning. I am fine. I am just in shock at this news. With the way Mike talked, I–I always thought that sodomites were treated mayhap a little better though still despised. How–do they have a family? Children? Were… they married before?”
“No,” I said. “They have their own children.”
“How is such a thing possible?!” William roared.
“Modern medicine?” I wailed, pulling back since he was a bit frightening. “Men can be, uh, pregnant, and two men can have their own kid, and two women can have their own kid. It’s… um… yeah, it’s available. For the–the living.”
He said something in Latin then smiled.”Wondrous news. I am most pleased to hear of this. To know the fear I, and he, suffered would not be the fear of sod–of those who desire men for all of the days on earth. I–thank thee… Is it… viewed as… love?”
“Yep,” I replied brightly. “Why wouldn’t it be? Love is love….. for those who can feel it.”
Which wasn’t me. I didn’t think it was. I felt a great pain inside of me, and I wanted to cry. What my grandpas had, or my aunts had, or my parents had, or everyone else–would I ever be able to have something like that? I didn’t even know what it meant but I felt this great emptiness stretching inside of me, like a great big gaping hole that would suck me down into its darkness. And there was this terrible feeling that I would always have this emptiness inside me, that I would never know what love truly was.
“You’re crying,” William said.
“I’m fine,” I said, hastily wiping my face. “What’s it like? Being in love?”
“Oh. Tis… wonderful. When you gaze upon the face of that whom you want it as if there is naught else. They fill your every waking moment and continue into thine sleep. You would risk all for them. And there is nothing that can settle ones soul when you are not together. Love…” He hesitated and then began speaking in a sweet, lilting tone, quoting a song or poem. “Love is a mighty power–a great and complete good. Love alone lightens every burden and makes rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing ad renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable.”
I couldn’t breathe or even move. William continued reciting, his voice filling everything inside of me. “Nothing is sweeter than love. Nothing stronger. Nothing higher. Nothing wider. Nothing more pleasant. Nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth, for love is born of the Watcher.” I closed my eyes, drinking in his words, more tears coming at the knowledge this was something I could never have. “Love flies, runs and leaps for joy. It is free and unrestrained. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength.”
I shivered as he was very close now, his voice so low I wouldn’t have heard him if his mouth wasn’t right by my ear. “Love sees nothing as impossible for it feels able to achieve all things. It is strange and effective, while those who lack love faint and fail.” His hands went on my shoulders and I shivered. “Love is not fickle and sentimental, nor is it intent on vanities.” His fingers moved down my arms and pulled me closer against his transparent body. “Like a living flame and a burning torch, it surges upward…” One finger touched my chin, turning my face towards his. “And surely surmounts every obstacle.”
When his lips pressed against mine, I sunk against him and wrapped my arms around him tightly, never wanting to let go.
Love is a Mighty Power- Thomas á Kempis