Ad Meloria -- Towards Better Things
In that instant before it takes him there's a searing flash of light and heat and a noise that strikes as hard as a gale, driving him into the salt-damp sands, driving the last of the air from his lungs ….
There's salt and sand caking his mouth and the sound of Diarmuid's thin, panicked voice far away through a persistent sound like a hammer on an anvil in his ears, but getting closer, and everything hurts, but a sudden white shaft of pain jolts through him, and he screams, his voice rusty and gritty.
"I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do," Diarmuid sobs, and he realizes that the youth has his hand on the shaft of Raymond DeMerville's devil's hook while the boatman looks on.
"Through," he manages to gasp through the sand in his mouth and the endless ringing in his ears. "Not out. Through."
He passes out when they roll him on his side.
The smell of water, and wood, and wet wool.
The creak of oars and a voice rapidly whispering the Pater Noster, a gasp of breath, and another Pater Noster.
He struggles to open his eyes, but a gentle hand strokes his brow, cradles his head, and says, "No, sleep. Just sleep" before the Pater Noster picks up again.
He's on fire.
He thrashes and screams and weeps that it wasn't enough. He's in hell. His atonement wasn't enough. He's damned. Brother Geraldus lied.
Hands holding him down. Soothing voice.
Mercifully sweet and cool water at his lips.
He drinks greedily.
Cool cloth across his brow.
Cup at his lips, a voice telling him to drink. He must drink.
He's not hungry or thirsty, but the voice insists. Hands cradle his head, helping.
The muttony smell and crackle of a rushlight slowly pulls him into wakefulness.
It feels like he's pushing a boulder uphill, but he opens his eyes. In the dim and flickering light of the rushlights, he sees Diarmuid's drawn and haggard face, framed by a riot of too-long dark curls, and is pierced to the core with sadness. Diarmuid shouldn't be worried like this, his face should be solemn, yes, because he's Diarmuid, and he's always been a serious, thoughtful lad, but lines of worry and care shouldn't be etched into his face, not like this, not yet. He's too young for that.
"You're awake!" Diarmuid cries and looks as if a millstone is lifted from his back and the light comes into his fine dark eyes though worry still laps round the edges.
He closes his eyes, pulls in a breath, pushes it out, and opens his eyes again, casting about. He's in a bed and Diarmuid has a pallet on the floor, stone walls surround them, there's a shuttered window overhead, and a brazier not far, and a handful of rush lights on the walls with a cross between them, a simple table with an ewer and a basin ....
He tries to sit up, but he's as weak as a babe and aches as if he's been beaten all over.
Which he knows he has, because the memories come back in a great, all-engulfing wave. The fight on the beach. The blows from Sir Raymond's mace. He wants to speak, but the words do not come. It must show in his eyes, because Diarmuid gently presses him back down. "The stone worked its last miracle there on the beach. Lightning from the clear sky. We're at the convent in Cill Choilchín, across the river from Waterford, now. The nuns have been helping. You've been sick --" Diarmuid's voice breaks, but he recovers, "but you're going to live now. You're going to live." He smiles as tears of joy spill from his eyes and cascade down his cheeks.
He raises a shaky hand and gently swipes at Diarmuid's tears with his thumb. "Don't cry over me," he thinks, "Especially you."
"You should rest now." Diarmuid says as he wipes his face on his sleeve. "I'll tell you more after Lauds. We just finished Matins."
Diarmuid is gone when he opens his eyes next, and the rushlights have long since burnt out, but the shutter is open, and through it, he can see the first hints of the coming dawn, and faintly hear the high angelic voices of the nuns singing, "Quoniam in me speravit, liberabo eum; protegam eum, quoniam cognovit nomen meum." Because he hoped in me I will deliver him: I will protect him because he hath known my name.
He hisses in pain as he sits up -- the tight bandage wound round his chest and belly better than nothing, but not helping nearly enough -- and it takes him several minutes to totter on old mans' legs to the pot in the corner. He has to lean on the wall to make it back.
This isn't hell. He's not dead. God isn't done with him yet. It's going to take him several months to get his strength back.
But, sweet, kind, brave Diarmuid lives.
And that is a little bit of heaven.