(extract from short story published by Sundial historical literary journal)
Ned’s sudden, violent death had left no clues as to his wishes for the disposal of his body, nor the settling of his affairs. “Roses,” was his final word as blood gurgled from his mouth.
Robert had paid the sexton to dig a grave in a quiet corner of the Oxford churchyard, bought a shroud and wrapped its woollen folds about the bloated, lifeless flesh. The parson had read in English from the Book of Common Prayer while Robert, the only mourner, bowed his head, praying silently in other, different, words. He took note of the spot so that Ned’s family might visit the anonymous mound. It was May, and Robert heaped a cloud of bluebells from a nearby wood upon the piled earth.
The City of Oxford surrendered to Parliament’s red-coated New Model Army in June. The civil war was over, and Robert was released to resume his bleak and cheerless existence. Now he was writing a letter to Ned’s family. It was not easy informing a father of his son’s death. He stared at the blank sheet of paper as if willing the words to write themselves while the ink dried on the nib and the tallow candle smoked its way down the untrimmed wick. There was a creak from the door and his mother entered silently, her skirts brushing the worn rush matting.
“Robert, why did you not call for a fire? How many hours have you sat like this, my son, growing chilled?”
He lifted his head, the flickering flame throwing the long scar on his cheek into grotesque relief.
“A cold hearth is no hardship to an old soldier like me. You should go to bed, Mother. I too. The candle is almost burned down, and they are too precious to waste now that we must pay Parliament to live on our own estates.”
“Robert, will you not say the rosary with me first?” He kissed her hand and picked up the candlestick.
“Tomorrow, Mother.” He must beg the forgiveness of man before he sought that of God. He must finish the letter.
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