Hands

Salvation: Chapter 4

Gadreel was re-introduced to the constable’s yard. The other prisoners had since put down their tools and transported the slightly smaller scraps of rock to slightly different places and put away their hammers in the shed, lock replaced by the man on duty. The clouded sun had crept past its highest point, allowing the fog to creep lowly once again across the sky unfettered. The meager fire among the bunkhouses crackled with flames just big enough to radiate heat under the kindling rationed to them.

Piers and a few of the others took notice of his return. “You’ve come back. I didn’t think you would.” He stood up from his spot on an old log round, offering the seat to Gadreel.

Gadreel looked at his own feet, covered in thin leather, and found them urging him forward to the heat of the fire. “Why did you think that?”

Another prisoner, a dirty man with gray hairs, stared at him from across the fire pit. “Because they usually have a reason if they’re giving someone special attention. Especially to be taken care of so soon after arriving.”

“And to end up back here at the end of it all,” another mumbled.

Gadreel shook his head. “They wished to know more about me.”

The old man across the fire leaned in and shook his head. “And what’s there to find out? You’re not from this place, that’s obvious.”

“Let him keep his secrets,” Piers spoke up. “If he so wishes.”

“I would have preferred him gone for good,” The bread-stealing man from earlier, Arthur, stepped up to the fire, shoving the others aside. “One less ration for us to have to share.”

“They wouldn’t feed us more, even if there are fewer mouths.”

Arthur held his hands to the heat for a moment before scoffing and retreating to the exterior. Gadreel examined him before turning back to the others. “Where do people go to if they do not return?”

Piers sighed and crossed his arms. “They either serve out their sentences… as long as the constable thinks they deserve… or they head to the chopping block.”

“Chopping block?”

The old man across the fire drew a thumb across his own throat and made a hissing sound. “To lose one’s head.”

“Execution. If and when they are found deserving,” Piers slumped down. “Those kinds of folks don’t stay here for long. For that reason, I had to assume your case… well, perhaps I should not speak of such things. Does your land carry out justice in a different way?”

Gadreel shook his head. “I believe… my land is one without wrongdoing.”

The old man scoffed. “A paradise. Your land must only exist in your imagination.”

Gadreel stood carefully, eyes low, head shaking delicately, offering his hands out to the others. “I can assure you that I only speak what I know to be true. I would like nothing more but to speak to you all of the glory of God; his power and his forgiveness. If you were to hear his word and accept it, you may one day come to dwell in my land of Heaven, where all your wrongdoings will be forgiven and overwritten.”

The old man chuckled and patted his knee. “You are a storyteller, then. Did you make fun of the wrong sort on your travels here?”

Piers tapped at Gadreel’s arm and pulled it back to his side. “Save your breath. Many of us are not the sort who are deserving… even desiring any sort of forgiveness. But perhaps another time we will be open to hear of the tales of the land you call home.”

Gadreel found the eyes of the others glancing up at him, drained of energy, some replaced with discontent. He stepped back, finding the seat behind him once again. The heat of the fire danced with the cold air circulating the sitting area, and he realized how cold his skin had become.

Another day began with cold water, the lines of prisoners awaiting their tools to be handed out to them, and the gathering around the hard stones that collected in the low corner of the yard. He remembered how to hold and swing the hammer, but the feeling of the raw flesh from the split blisters made it hard to do.

Gadreel battered the same stone, little by little, until the bell and the first meal, then began again until the second notification. The break after the second meal was longer. The morning fog burned off quicker than usual that day, heating the ground and the laborers faster than previous.

Gadreel felt his skin slick and cold with sweat after some time. It dripped from the roots of his long hair and collected at his back, chafing the bare wings beneath the rough vestments afforded to him.

The second round of work began at the sound of the bell once more, but at a slackened pace. Gadreel was among the first to return to his hammer and boulder. “The constable are eating and napping this time of day,” Piers spoke over his shoulder. “As long as they hear the sound of the stones being struck, they won’t be bothered to check on us. We take turns each day. I’ll cover for you tomorrow, no need to wear yourself out any more than needed.”

Gadreel nodded but focused on the work regardless. After allowing his mind to escape for several long minutes, he was pulled back once more by the passing of a low voice, the speaker looking and leaning away as if the words weren’t meant for him. “There’s someone by the fence asking for you. But don’t let yourself be seen by the guards.”

Gadreel held the heavy end of the tool by his feet and scanned the long sections of fence, made up of wood and spiked wire and ornaments of metal. A tall figure stood, back to the yard, against the fence on the far opposite side away from the main building. Gadreel glanced back and began towards the man, leaving the hammer behind.

“What is this place you’re in, Gadreel?”

“This is a place of punishment, Chazaqiel.”

“I see. I sensed your pain and came this way. They are poor fools to treat you in such a way.”

“I wish to experience it.”

Chazaqiel turned back, his face and golden hair not dissimilar to Gadreel’s. “It is unwise for these greater powers to hold you back. It was understood that our words would draw unrest. But you must speak to them earnestly, speak to them of the Lord’s grace, and at that, they might understand why you must not be kept behind these walls. They would be urged to take part in their own salvation.”

Gadreel shook his head. “There are people in this very place, behind these walls, who I believe deserve to hear our words just the same.”

“That may be true, but men like these only look up to those who have power. Their Kings, in lands like these. Dwelling here will not bring you closer to spreading your influence.”

“There is ample time, is there not? Every person is deserving of salvation, Chazaqiel.”

“For us, time is not a matter. But mortals have a finite time here. We cannot speak to each and every one, for ten more will pass on while doing so. And if they do so unknowing of their possible salvation, where do they end up? Where were we told?”

Gadreel shook his head. “Not to Heaven.”

“Very good.” The other angel nodded. “Free yourself from these walls by whatever way possible. Do what you must to convince them it is necessary. I must continue my own tasks elsewhere.”

“It shall be done,” Gadreel answered, lowing his head. The other being covered his head with the well-worn clothing and began to march away on the adjacent cobble street until he could no longer be seen.

Gadreel blinked and turned back. The ringing from the pounding rocks sounded in his ears, the uneven rhythm almost blending into the ambiance of the cold afternoon. He returned back to where he had been working. The boulder he had struck was in the same spot, but the hammer missing.

Gadreel glanced about. The other workers didn’t seem to dare to look his way. He spotted the constable, the silver-toothed man, beside the main building, the hammer resting against his thigh and eyes trained on him. He smiled and flashed his gleaming front teeth as Gadreel approached.

“I’ll have that to continue working,” Gadreel glanced at the worn handle.

The silver-toothed man smiled wider, more cynically. “I’m not quite sure why it left your hands in the first place. You’d just been fed, no possibility you were tired and hungry. But we have a reminder for those who decide they’d rather not work. Step against the wall here.”

The silver-toothed man wagged a finger at Gadreel as he approached, finding himself staring at the worn and sun-beaten knots of the building’s siding. He tossed the hammer aside on the ground and unwound something from a pouch on his belt.

“Keep your eyes forward,” the silver-toothed man barked when Gadreel attempted to look back. There was a sudden snap, then a sharp strike to his back, seeming to cut through the cloth. It ran up between his shoulder blades like a cold touch that suddenly seared his skin with a burning sharpness. The bare limbs that remained from the plucking of his wings flinched and flexed with his shoulder blades.

The sharp sound made contact with his back once more, then twice, and one final long one, accompanied by the sound of a grunt from the constable. Gadreel felt the breath stuck in his chest, awaiting the next strike that didn’t come. With its release, he felt the stinging of the strikes, the skin rising from the welts, and the cold air digging its way in through the slashes caused by the end of the whip. He realized he had sunken to the ground, his legs sucked of their strength.

The silver-toothed man snapped his fingers. “Up, now. Get back to work. You have another hour.”

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