Gideon's Angel

Gideon's Angel by Clifford Beal Read Free Book Online

Book: Gideon's Angel by Clifford Beal Read Free Book Online
Authors: Clifford Beal
Tags: Urban Fantasy
sight. Andreas was quietly gasping, fighting to take breath. His mottled face was puffed up badly, his eyes almost started from out his head. In all our adventures together, never had I seen him look so full of terror. And I had seen him blown off a rampart, beaten senseless by brigands, shot through, facing a hundred of the enemy with a smile of resignation. But I had never seen him like this.
    I leaned over him. “Sweet Jesus, dear Andreas!”
    “ Rikard . I can’t breathe.” Andreas’s words came out as a wheeze and the stench of death was already upon him. He released the coverlet and tried to grasp my arm, the bloodied bandages unwinding as he flailed. I pulled in a chair, sat, and gripped his hand. It felt like a cold slab of mutton, and slowly he tried a feeble press in return.
    “I beg you,” he whispered, and I leaned in to gather his words. “Help me... Rikard . Give me air...”
    Andreas was giving battle, but how could he fight an enemy he could not see? And I, sitting there, a watcher only, was as helpless as any mortal who had seen Death lay hands on the chosen. No clever plan, no ruse, no entreaty would forestall the harvest of this poor soul. And few words of comfort could come to my mind. I told him to lie still, be at peace. I asked him if he could take a sip of strong water. Yet, I could not still his trembling, for all my soothing phrases.
    Andreas turned his face towards me, his head lifting off the pillow. The cords of his neck strained as he fought for his voice. “I’m so frightened! Sweet Christ... I am alone!”
    And my heart ached as I heard myself tell him to be brave, to trust in God. Those words rang hollow in my ears. And then he heaved his chest, fighting to gain breath. Alarmed, I rose, still clenching his hand. I heard him suck in another breath, rasping as he did so. He was suffocating as I watched.
    “Not... like this,” he whispered, his head shaking such that his knit cap slipped off upon the pillow.
    A black-robed figure came across the foot of the bed and crossed to the far side, standing next to Andreas. It was a priest. As the old soldier caught sight of the man, he started as if he had seen an apparition. The priest kept up his cadence, the Latin quietly and firmly streaming forth from his lips. I saw him bend down and place a crucifix in Andreas’s right hand.
    I tried to calm my old friend, touching his shoulder, but it was to no avail. At my back, I heard one or two soldiers enter the room. The smell of the piss-soaked bed wafted strongly even as the prayers of the priest gained strength, his arm waving over Andreas in the sign of the cross. The priest leaned over, asking Andreas if he had confessed his sins.
    “Tell me,” said the young beardless priest, soft but insistent.
    I took a few steps backwards from the delivery of the final sacrament, but even so, I know that Andreas confessed nothing, only shaking his head. Whether he took this as a confession or not, the priest shook the oil from his little phial and anointed Andreas’s brow, then slowly, each hand. I heard him intone some prayer. When the priest had finished the prayer, all remaining in the chamber said an “amen.” And so, too, did I.
    Of his last words, I know not. He mumbled to himself for a few moments and seemed not to be aware I was there anymore. Just before the end, I saw him fix his eyes on me. His lips moved but no words came forth. It was a look that shook me to my bones, a silent plea for rescue from what was carrying him far and away. My hand moved to cover my brow but a moment in grief, and when I again looked down, he was gone. I stood there for a time, very numb and very cold.
    The regiment buried Andreas the next day. And as I walked from the churchyard, the thoughts whirled about: what did Fate hold for me? Dying an old man in my bed, gasping, drenched in piss and sweat? My lot was no different than that of Andreas. A few years away maybe, that was true, but my ship was on the very

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