The inevitability of it all did not lessen the ineffable sorrow that followed in the wake of Hauclir’s passing. How many centuries had they been wed? Aeserionhad long since lost count, but he could say doubtlessly that it had been well over five hundred years. Such a long time - such a very long time - and yet there was no satisfaction to be found in it. Five hundred years was not enough; a lifetime was not enough. He craved more.
Just another year, or day, or hour, or minute, or second…
He had reached quite the old age, his husband, but those final years seemed more of an epilogue than a portion of life itself. Old wounds and an older body had rendered his love bedridden, and much of his days were spent in slumber.
Not quite living by his standards.
Nevertheless, those years were precious and savored accordingly, but still Aeserion selfishly prayed for more, a longer epilogue to twine himself into and avoid the reality suddenly collapsing in upon him. The reality that was the cold headstone before him and the soft, upturned dirt adjacent it.
This place – a cemetery? Yes, this must be a funeral…
Surely someone must have taken the initiative to both arrange it and cart him here, for he did not recall having ever risen from his spouse’s bedside.
He remembered soft utterances of comfort, sweet nothings, and a warm embrace… keening… Yes, he had wept incessantly – long after the warmth and soft utterances were gone, but after that…
Nothing… Nothing at all…
He was here in this place now, regardless of how and why. Familiar and foreign faces seemed to surround him; many of the faces even approached, formless words falling from their lips shortly after they ceased their advance. They were incomprehensible, but soft and soothing.
A light pressure upon the mer’s thin shoulders gradually drew his attention. The family he had accumulated over these many years stood before him speaking more amorphous words, eventually lifting him to his feet only to place him in another chair shortly thereafter.
I could have stayed where I was.
Pressure remained even after he had been seated yet again, and either curiosity or chance brought the old soldier’s eye to meet the two above him.
She had a name he knew, many people there did, but her’s was one that had passed his lips many a time before.
Whether he had sighed or smiled was beyond Aeserion’s grasp, but the child – No, a womer now – seemed pleased at his reaction. She took a seat beside him and brought his cheek to rest against her shoulder, stoking his hair and mumbling sweet things as Hauclir had done…
Aeserion had no desire to wake from this numb daze shielding him from the reality of this moment, … but he did.
He awoke in time to watch every second.
Their children stayed the longest, far beyond the length of the ceremony itself. Any being with eyes by which to see knew they did not linger for their own benefit but for the old mer seated by that fresh grave, never offering to avert his gaze from it in the three long hours since it had been dug.
“Come inside and rest,” They pleaded. “You are more ill than you know.”
There would be none of that – not for him - in the years that followed, surely they could see.
There were far too many matters to attend to: wills and paperwork, tying up every loose end…
It disturbed the children greatly, how their father did not speak nor weep nor confide in them, but they remained in unwavering support until each of their respective lives bid them leave.
They were young with a full life ahead of them; they needed to move on.
Of the children Nenla postponed life the longest, tending to her remaining father as best she was able and pulling words from him like teeth each time he receded into himself, keeping him present in his own life and demanding the support she deserved from him in this time of grief.
Eventually the call of her own life bid her leave as well, but not before pleading with Aeserion to accompany her. False smiles and sweet lies consoled the girl into trusting that he was of sound enough mind and body to remain as he was.
Thus, she departed, and so began his work.
A mer of Hauclir’s wealth and influence left much behind that needed tending. Just over two years of constant labor was required to set it all in order, not including the other four or so months it took to tend to his own affairs. Not a single day passed, however, in which time was not made to rest beside his love. It was the least Hauclir deserved, a few hours of his time, the remembrance, … the tears, the love…
It was a long walk at the end of longer days, but plodding that same trail to the cemetery was necessary; it felt like a rehearsal…
It was not a rare sight on the city outskirts to observe a gaunt figure, marred and broken, body heaving in silent agony against soil and stone until the exhaustion gave way to sleep. Come dawn’s light the figure was nowhere to be found, thus many citizens deemed it some tortured spirit returning each night to mourn.
They were more correct than they knew.
How old was he now? Well over 900 he suspected, but it felt as though he had walked Nirn since its very creation…
It had been long enough.
All affairs Aeserion saw fit were addressed accordingly. There was no debt, paperwork, finances, nuances, or trivialities left untended; No loose ends. So should it be. Weak and haggard though he may have been, rest would not be permitted until everything was in order… as it was now, save for one matter.
Aeserion did not bother cloaking himself before departing despite the fine mist in the air threatening to summon the rain. It made little difference now, after all. Just as was done each night before, the soldier drug his frail being down the same path, – though perhaps a touch slower and with heavier, more labored breathing – seating himself beside the place where his dear one lay upon arrival.
“I have seen to it all, love… Everything is in its place.” The voice became muffled as stamina waned and the mer found himself devoid of the strength to remain upright. He scarcely minded; resting in the dampened grass seemed a welcome reprieve.
“Perhaps there is more I have overlooked; perhaps I yet have usefulness here… Perhaps… This will be enough, for it must be. Do not ask any more of me, love; let this suffice… The children have their stable lives and no longer require what I might offer… There is nothing left here for me – not without your presence, and I have no desire to remain simply for remaining’s sake…
Let me come home…”
Very little was required. There was no need for some knife or toxin, just the conscious decision to release, to let go. An old and mangled heart found contentment in the notion of stilling and relished the opportunity when it arose. A single deep exhalation was invitation enough.
“I just want to go home…”