July 30th, 1940, Battle of Britain day 21.
David took a deep breath as he slowly approached the small house. The patio was covered with pots of lavender and daisies that added a welcoming feel to the otherwise dreary, rainy day. Why? he asked himself for the hundredth time. In the back of his mind he could still hear Gil’s moans and cries of pain as the plane had ignited in flames. Why me? Why was I allowed to live? It was a question he could never answer; he could still see the day as though it was yesterday. They had been going back to refuel when the German fighter appeared out of nowhere. The explosion had followed, and then--he shook his head to clear his thoughts as he brushed a hand across his eyes, Stop it, David, he scolded himself, Now is not the time to be emotional.
He walked up the porch steps and knocked on the door.
Almost instantly the the door was opened by a smiling young women with dark brown hair and hazel eyes.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
David removed his hat and folded it in his hands, “Mrs. Wilson? Gilbert’s wife?”
The smile left her face, “Yes, I am. Did something happen to him? Please, tell me he’s alright!”
David shuffled his feet, this was harder than he could have ever imagined, “Mrs. Wilson, your husband was the gunner on my plane. We were shot down a couple days ago, and--”
A relieved look crossed her face and she interrupted him, “But you’re alright. Then he must be as well.”
David swallowed hard, “Mrs. Wilson, your husband--is dead.”
She gasped,“Gilbert? Dead? Oh, God, please no! What happened?”
“The plane took a direct hit and he got the full impact of it. Before I could get to him, the back half of the plane exploded, the fire got to him before I could. I got him out, but it was too late. He had lost too much blood from the wound the explosion had inflicted and was too badly burned. He--he wanted me to tell you in person. I’m sorry it’s taken so long, I wasn’t allowed to come to you until now.”
“Oh, Gilbert, no!” She took a step back and leaned up against the doorframe to steady herself.
“Mrs. Wilson,” David paused and took a deep breath before starting again, “He wanted me to tell you that he loved you, and that he’ll see you again in heaven,” he put a hand on her shoulder, “I’ve never met a man like your husband. He was my best friend.”
She leaned forward and put her head on his chest, “Oh, I love you, Gilbert,” her body shook with sobs. Sensing her need for comfort, David wrapped his arms around her. Somehow being able to comfort her gave him comfort as well. Seeing her pain brought back the all memories of Gil. First, their meeting at the RAF recruitment office, then the time they had spent together afterwards talking about their wives back home, about the life they had had before the war. And then, of course, all the times they had flown together. How can I go back knowing he’ll not be there? His eyes filled with tears and for the first time since the accident he allowed himself the relief of not holding them back. Here he didn’t have to put up a brave front, here he could grieve, he could be who he truly was. A man who was broken, a man who didn’t feel as though he had the strength to continue the fight, a man who could feel himself starting to hate even though he fought against it. God, please show me how to love like you. Show me how to forgive like you did.
My Dearest Elaine,
I can’t tell you how much I miss you, nor how much I long for this war to be over. The pain and suffering it brings are unfathomable. So much hurt can never be completely healed. Everyday I see someone else who has been devastated by what is now being called “The Battle of Britain”. Gil died this past week when our plane was shot down. The pain is more than I could have ever imagined it to be and I shudder at the thought of those who have lost more than one friend, brother, father or other relative in this horrible war. I keep asking myself, why Gil? Why did he die and not me? War is a horrible thing and it’s no respecter of persons. Today I went and told his wife of his death--she reminds me so much of you--her only comfort is that she’ll see him again. I’m so thankful for the assurance that we can have through Jesus. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how I’d be able to go on. I’m sending my love, I hope you are doing well. I love you dearly!
Your husband, David.
Sir Rowan gently touched her arms. "The Queen requires my aid - you know that I cannot stand idly by when Her Majesty calls." His voice was subdued, and sorrow fought against bravery in his manner.
"The Queen has many knights - should it be such a horrid thing if just one of them were to stay in the village?"
"I have my orders," he replied quietly, "as do you."
She glanced down at the dusty floor of the old storage room, tears welling in her eyes. "You will come back?"
Rowan pulled her closer, lightly wrapping his arms around her as she buried her head in his chest. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I will do my best to return, Emeline, I promise you."
Sir Rowan Elric was a knight of the Dawnlight Kingdom, bound to protect Her Majesty Queen Thea. He was just one of hundreds, but his duties to his kingdom were no less valuable. Raised from the age of seven as a warrior, Elric's skill in battle was admirable, and he was knighted by age fifteen. Now, more than a decade later, he knew little else when it came to a life outside of protecting Her Majesty's kingdom.
Upon his trusty steed, he would ride through the bustling streets of Dawnlight, longing for the chance to experience life among the common folk. He was kind to the merchants, chivalrous towards the weavers and dressmakers, even respectful of the servants and housemaids - but he always dutifully returned to his post at the castle. In the end, his loyalties lay with the Queen, but sometimes fate has ideas different than what one had planned.
Emeline, a simple servant girl within the castle, never questioned her place, performing tasks that no wealthy hand would ever touch. She groomed the horses, grazed the cattle, washed the dishes, as well as anything else that was requested of her, and never let loose a single complaint. This was the life of a servant - and though those who ranked higher than her were rarely hostile, there was one man who treated her the kindest: Sir Rowan Elric.
It was taboo for a knight to associate himself with a servant. If one is a member of the nobility, then they socialize with fellow nobles; and if one is merely a servant or commoner, then they socialize with fellow servants, commoners, and others of similar rank. Elric never understood why this was the way it was - after all, weren't they all human? He didn't like to simply ignore those below him as the other knights and nobles tended to do. He would smile, greet, and shake hands with even the lowliest of peasants, though he always stopped short of inciting consequences... Until he met Emeline, that is.
Years of being kind and courteous resulted in a bond forming between the servant girl and Sir Rowan. Every morning before a ride, he would pass her in the stables as she performed her daily tasks. Starting out as a polite nod of the head, he soon began adding an extra word or two to their greetings.
"Good morning," he would say one day. Next would come "How are you?" and small remarks about the weather. Finally, he asked for her name:
"Emeline," she said, "my name is Emeline."
"Don't you have a last name, Emeline?"
Stuttering slightly, she never paused in her work, "No. I don't have one."
Elric smiled, noticing her nervousness. "It's a beautiful name. Means 'hardworking', I think, doesn't it?"
"Yes, that's right."
"A good fit, then." He smiled again, and Emeline couldn't help but return it.
Simple greetings turned into lengthy conversations. A few weeks passed, and soon Rowan was purposefully entering the stables to talk with her. Of course, he could never tell a soul of this - the nobles would likely banish him for bringing shame upon the nobility, and any commoner would certainly rat him out for a simple penny. He knew the risks of befriending her, but he wanted to do nothing else.
Months pass, and we return to the present - they've become quite attached, able to tell even their deepest secrets. Hours spent behind stable doors, chatting away the time. He's even managed to sneak her out of the castle gates once or twice, to gallop the open fields.
But two days before, news reached the castle of an attack on the kingdom. A thousand armies from a rival empire; and today, Her Majesty Queen Thea has called upon all of her knights and soldiers to defend Dawnlight - including Sir Rowan Elric.
Now, standing in the dusty old storage room within the stables, he and Emeline must say their farewells, uncertain of their future. Bravery, will, and strength ensure a bright future for the kingdom of Dawnlight - but the same cannot be said for the men who defend it.
That’s what he sensed. Fear. Fear of what?
Was it fear of him? He doubted that. Fear of a new adversary? No, that wasn’t it. What, then? What was bothering her? Why did she seem so hesitant? This wasn’t the Rachel he knew.
She stood in front of him, twirling a strand of her auburn brown hair. She glanced away.
“There is something wrong, Rachel.”
She looked back at him, her eyes filled with regret, worry… and fear. That fear of something he couldn’t quite place.
He stood up from his chair and walked towards her. She didn’t move away, but turned her gaze to the floor. She couldn’t look at him.
“What is wrong, my friend?”
“I need to go,” she murmured. She started for the door.
He put his hand on her shoulder to stop her. She chanced a glimpse into his eyes, then refused to look up again. Her body was trembling, he could feel it.
“You are afraid of yourself.”
He pronounced it like a medical verdict. The truth dawned on him as he played his own words over again in his head. She’s afraid of herself.
Rachel slowly looked up at him, her eyes spilling over with tears. “I- I,” she stammered.
It wasn’t his way. He wasn’t one for physical touch or love. But at that moment he knew it was what she needed. He pulled her close to him and put his arms around her.
The dam broke. She began to sob, clinging to his shirt and pressing her face against his chest. He stroked her hair, grieved by the pain he could feel coursing through her body, as she fought to control the secret, dark glimpses into the heart she hid from everyone.
“It’s alright to be afraid,” he told her at last.
“I do not wish to be scared of myself. Oh, but I am. I am. I don’t know what to do with the responsibilities I’ve been given. My job, my role, my place in this world- it’s a place of power. I’m afraid of abusing it. I’m afraid of what I can do to others. I’m afraid of making a mistake.”
He remained silent as he pondered her words. He continued to stroke her hair, struck by the similarity between this young woman and his own sister. Friends they were, no more, no less. All he wanted to do was comfort her. To help her. To heal her fears.
“Rachel.” He let go of her and looked down into her green eyes. Tears sparkled in them, dripping down her face like a tiny fountain of feelings and emotions. “You are gifted. You’ve been given this responsibility not by men, but by God Himself. If He didn’t think you could handle this, He wouldn’t have let it happen. You are right to fear such a great responsibility- but trust that this fear was put upon you to keep you from destroying the gift you have. A lack of fear would concern me. This on the other hand, confirms what I already know to be true.” He paused. “You’re a very special, sensitive, wise young lady, Rachel. A more mature woman at your age of seventeen I have yet to meet. I am awed by your sense of responsibility, commitment and the work you do. It is not an easy place to be witness to so much evil and weed through the mire to find souls who need your help. It is burdensome, and a heavy load to carry. You have pressed through it, my friend. You have kept your head high. You’ve refused to let your purity of mind and body be tampered with. You are a wonderful girl, Rachel.”
She smiled through her tears and managed a faint laugh. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. “And you wonder why it’s hard for me to remind myself you’re just my a friend.”
He smiled and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I count you more than just a friend, Rachel. I consider you my sister.”
“Yeah, well, sister wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.” She grinned. “But I think I’m a little too late for that, aren’t I? Katie seems to have you entranced.”
His cheeks reddened at the mention of Katie. “Too late and too young,” he replied. “There is no way in good conscience I could pursue a relationship with you knowing the age difference between us. I respect you and care for you deeply, Rachel. I cannot be your “one”, but I will always be your friend.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “You’ll never know how much that means to me.”He took her hand in his and squeezed it lightly. “Actually, I do. And I’m looking at her right now.”