To my darling,
This will be the last time that I will have the pleasure of time spent in reflection and contemplation upon your countenance. The thoughts of you have provided me comfort and motivation during the worst of times and it is with a heavy heart and trembling hand that I write this letter.
The cessation of war brings with it a blend of emotions that sit uneasy in my gut. Peace challenges the constitution as much as violence because the former is stained by the latter and the price of victory can be said to be a great one.
So with my commission at an end and letters of commendation held close to my heart, I returned to you with the intention of a simple life lived under the eye of a loving God. A free man at last and although I bear the scars, they offered a sign that my children should not bear such and their families will never know what we suffered.
Life though has always known an inventive cruelty when it comes to the modest hopes of men.
The smoke rose before me as I rode to you, my darling and my heart out right sought to leap ahead of me. I prayed that this was a trick of the light, a prank as capricious as the games that children played by firelight.
No one answered.
No one from above anyway.
I would spare you the vicissitudes of what was done to you. I would hope that your ascending to heaven was a dip into the waters of lethe.
I hope that you were spared what they did to Epiphany and Louis. I, however, was not.
You deserved mausoleums carved from pearlescent marble, statutes that captured your likenesses with such detail that passersby would weep without ever having known you or our children.
Instead I dug your graves with my hands. I saddled my horse, left you behind, guarded by the hope of a peaceful life.
My pursuit was relentless but providence arrived, too late for you all, when I came across one of their number, left behind as my bright beautiful son had wounded him in defence of yourselves.
I was not proud of my actions, but I granted him a mercy that he had denied you. It took a long time but he told me what I needed and he would descend into hell, complete.
More or less.
They were marauders, soldiers who had found defeat too much to bear and sought to prolong horror under the shade of honours brim. They sought out the negro and then cut them down, soldiers without a banner other than a love of slaughter and a fear of what justice might be meted out upon them.
He was fifteen years old but I sent him to his ruin, in your name, my darling. He gave me names but I will not commit them to any memorial.
My pursuit was a careful thing. My grief was a thick chain about my shoulders. Heart sick and driven to madness, I tracked them and could not for the life of me, countenance how one tired grieving father could best eight desperate and well provisioned men. Veterans all, as capable as I.
Then, through the Valley, I had let myself forget how treacherous the terrain could be and I fell. The pain, the crack as my legs folded beneath me and something in my back burst within that made me vomit down my front.
I saw you all. Prayed that God would reunite us but He did not answer my prayers.
Someone else did.
He was as beautiful and terrible as the Good Book alluded to. Skin as soft and white as milk. A voice that reached beneath my skin and stirred up my flesh. Through the pain, he offered a trade.
I accepted and he put his mouth to mine, breathed lightning and fire into my bones. He helped me to my feet, my darling and taught me the terrible arts that he had learned in the shadows of the world.
He taught me the language of fire, wove old and terrible materials into my flesh and he made something terrible of me.
What was I to do, my darling? Those men took you from me, and for that, a groaning weary death in a soft bed was to be forever denied them. When he rose me up, an instrument of his will and mine, I strode out of that valley, flush with terrible purpose.
That night, the land moved faster beneath my feet and I made more progress in an hour than I had in a day. When finally, I came upon them, they were sleeping off a night’s carousing around a large fire, the scent of roasting meat led me straight to them.
I spoke to the fire and I told it what they had done to you. It wanted to help me, as He said that it would. It flowed from it’s nest of branches and roared with my voice. When they were burning, scattered, I walked among them, cutting them with a saber, shooting them, not to kill but to wound. When they were laid out, screaming and dying, I walked amongst them. I cut them low in the belly, pulled the guts from them and spread them out against the ground. Those who confessed and begged for forgiveness had their heads taken with a single blow, such was my strength.
It was not enough, and when the last of them had passed from this earth, I was left upon a battlefield without a banner to mask the horror of my actions. I raised the revolver to my temple and sought the bliss of the grave. If I were to be damned and never to join you, then at least those who took you would join me there.
Yet it was not to be.
I drowned but kept on breathing, I burned but reformed into my own shape, I stabbed and swung from many a noose but I would always return to myself and when He came back to me, he explained that my service would continue for a while yet.
Before I left for the war, I told you that I would return when the magnolias bloomed.
It is not up to me to say when that season will come. He has such designs for me, and although you are avenged, it has cost me more than I expected. Each spring that passes, a little more of me is lost and yet here I sit, waiting for the absolute power of his commands and there is time enough left to tell you this.
Someday, I will return to you.
If I am not so suffused with damnation, that the gates to Heaven are closed to me.
Still, I had my reasons.
I remain, your darling loyal husband,