Ekaterina woke him with food and drink. The woman was surprised to find him face down under the fur throw. She hadn’t expected him to have moved and the fur had been on the floor the previous night. He was slightly disappointed to wake in an empty bed but did not want to tell her why. She was transfixed when he sat up and, slowly and very carefully, fed himself.
She beamed with pleasure when he thanked her for the meal and then coloured when he asked if she could help him to pass his waste. Gabriel had warned her that his progress might be rapid but this was unexpected. Her astonishment at him talking and, so long as she supported him, walking distracted her from the basic nature of his request. As she helped him back to the bed after the awkward experience it seemed that something had changed. Though the room was not too warm she was in no rush to cover him again but took her time looking him over.
“Is there something wrong with me?”
“No, you are beautiful. I have looked at you for many years. And now you are a man …” Stubby fingers rested on his chest. He might not have been able to see her mind any more but it didn’t take a huge amount of insight to know where her thoughts were even though she wouldn’t finish the sentence.
“Would you stay with me? Just be close. I don’t want to be alone.” Speech seemed clumsy compared to the nuances of thought. He let her interpret his words as she wanted. He didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.
He looked away while she removed her heavy woollen habit and lay next to him, finally flicking the covers over them both. Under the long cotton shift her body felt soft. Her very humanity was attractive, her contours comforting as he settled himself around her. He had no idea how old she was or how long he had heard her while he was in the void. He stroked her arm and kissed her shoulder. He asked her to talk about what had happened to him. His head seemed empty without hearing the needs of others. And, he realised, he felt lonely without those background whispers.
The shadow man was searching for trapped angels. Others the same as himself. Mykhail didn’t believe they could be angels but Ekaterina did. She told him how she saw the world. Her words were filled with confusing imagery and were not the easiest for him to follow. He let her talk on, finding just the sound of speech reassuring, and pieced the story together as best he could.
Ekaterina had always been different. Her parents had brought her to the chapel of the angel while in her teens. She had felt his presence and stayed to worship him. For thirty years she had given herself to him and no other. She had asked nothing but the chance to look upon him. The seasons turned as ever and she had aged. Each day she had knelt before the unchanging angel and had been happy. Some weeks earlier she had felt a change in the air. She didn’t know what, but she knew that something was close and had waited for it to be revealed.
Walking through the forest she found Gabriel in the snow, missing his wings but filled with the light of God. She saw the light in his eyes, the spirit in every breath he exhaled. He had been trapped like Mykhail, had his wings taken and been made a man. Gabriel had been saved by the kindness of a woman and he was searching now to release the others of his kind. He had fallen to his knees before her and asked for her help. How could she have denied him? She was one of the special ones, a holy virgin to be blessed above all others.
She kept him secret, gave him time to prepare himself for the rite to raise Mykhail. He fasted for days to purify his mind and looked deep into her eyes and asked if she would sacrifice her maidenhead to help him break the prison of the ages. Her guest was easy to keep hidden, how still and silent he was, almost like he was not entirely on the physical plane. His request was not so easy to keep within. She had gone to the chapel to ask her angel. The feeling of calm joy that had suffused her soul, surely that had been the answer she had been looking for?
They had gone to the chapel. She had given herself willingly. She could not quite remember what he had done to her but said it was rapture. She believed that she had seen the light of heaven. She had rested while he had released her angel and then carried him to her home. Releasing Mykhail had tired him too much to try and heal him immediately so they had cleaned his wounds and then slept on the floor beside him.
She had given herself to Gabriel again the next night but again could not fully remember what happened. Like the first time she had immediately fallen asleep and later woke feeling refreshed and at peace. Whatever it was, it had to have been the right thing. She had now seen with her own eyes how the flesh was healing and he now could move and talk again. Gabriel had said he was still weak. She would give herself to him again, whatever was needed to help him make her Mykhail whole and strong. The shadow man, it seemed, had the magic but she admitted that she wanted to lie with the sunlight.
He held her close and thanked her for her sacrifice. When he was strong enough, he promised. She had said her need. Inside himself he realised that this felt right. This had been his purpose. He was not an angel, he was an answerer and he would do whatever he could to answer her need.
Drifting again to sleep he was surprised at the apparently elastic nature of time. It was only the afternoon of the second day.