The Coffin Maker: Part 1

The Coffin Maker

He used to be a coffin maker, during the wars. And his home was a land fair riddled by war, though it mattered not to the common people who sat on the throne as it changed so often. In those days, it had made little difference to the coffin maker for whom he crafted the coffins; his skill was plied no better or worse for a title or two.

As the last war ravaged the capitol and the line of grief-stricken lengthened out the front door while the line of corpses lengthened out the back, he met a young and beautiful Juliet. It was she who would become his wife.

The shop had been packed that day, brimming with sweat and tears. The hazy, golden mist of summer swam stickily before his eyes. He much preferred it to the crimson steam of the battlefields.

It was a strange quirk of this country that it’s battles were often fought at home, in the capitol itself. To see the glass and metal buildings glittering mirrored fractions down at the carnage below, to see death run rampant among pristine marble and the glistening treasures of the earth worked so frivolously into the capitol’s famous spiked spires, to see it all in its juxtaposition made it all the more horrendous. Though he had never stepped foot on the fields of war, he had seen enough of it brought home. The coffin maker made it his policy to require the bodies be brought to him as soon as his fame and talent allowed him the quirk, which was admittedly quite soon after he began the job.

So the day that he met Juliet, his name was quite famous to the dead and dying, the grieving and the grieved, the lost and the losers left behind. His Juliet came in the back door, as all the corpses did, a beautiful and pristine ghost on a cart. He felt himself fall for her, the young coffin maker did. His heart tipped from his breast to lie in the grave beside her, with one simple wish: to never be parted from her still and beautiful face. Wishes had a way of often being granted in that blood-stained land.

He knew instantly that she was not a casualty of battle, and he was glad that war’s ugly hands had never touched her pale, smooth skin. But death had certain kissed her pink, upturned lips. He envied it the chance.

Everything in the shop had gone still and cool when they brought her in, the constant revolution of chaos stopping to watch the coffin maker’s face crumple into a thousand emotions at once. Lines of feeling etched themselves deep and simultaneously in his countenance, so that for a moment he became the old man he might have been in another life, dying in his sleep with this woman in his arms. That old man had never known the horror of a city at war, the putrescence and disease that infiltrated the bodies, minds, and hearts of the city’s people. He would never have known what it was to look on someone’s face and see only the size and shape of their coffin, building itself in his mind.

And as he looked at her face, the abandoned place in his chest despaired, for how could he build a coffin worthy of this woman? How could a man be expected to bury his own heart?

“What is her name?” His voice was raspy from disuse, for he spoke rarely in those days. Head turning and craning, he found that no one had stepped forth to claim the woman as she arrived. “Is there anyone here for her?” he called. The room slowed in surprise, but there was no response, no family stepping forth from the throng.

“She is alone?” He addressed the man who had brought the cart, a tall fellow with wrinkled eyes, face worn and leathered by brutal images.

“Her name is Juliet, and I brought her from her father’s house. He loved her so greatly that her death took with it his own self.” A jerky nod indicated the second corpse behind the cart man. “Here is the sum their distant relatives sent for their burial.” Blinking quickly, the coffin maker’s hand stretched toward the pretty corpse, shaking. No part of him believed that he would be able to touch such beauty. But flesh met flesh. And, in that moment, she was his.

“I will take care of her,” he swore. The cart man cared not, so long as he was paid.

The coffin maker worked feverishly. Where haste would have been suspected to lend his craft imperfection, the beautiful maiden had inspired him so fully that even those plain coffins prebuilt for unnamed soldiers and poor widows‘ husbands were unmatched in their artistry. Never before had so many coffins made by his hands in so short a space, and never had they been so masterful.

In the space of a day, he cleared the shop. In the space of a night, he built a king’s coffin for Juliet’s father (and, just after, in the dawn’s light, built another quickly for the recently martyred king, though many would claim it was not half as splendorous). The father’s coffin alone was far beyond the small payment the cart man had brought him, but the coffin maker cared little for the money, having amassed a small fortune with his fame. Death is a high-paying business. And all the while, he sketched.

A design for Juliet’s coffin had begun to form in his brain, wrapped in tendrils of some strong emotion from his heart. He sketched always except for when he was called aside by some poor living fool with a lucky bastard on a cart who had taken leave of this mess. And as he drew up plans for one stranger after another’s grave-bed, they would take it upon themselves to observe his feverish sketches.

Always they were left open mouthed.

“Can you actually build such a thing?” they asked, skepticism written in their brows.

“Of course,” he’d reply. “Though I’ve never tried before.” They believed him because of the zealous emotion in his sage-colored eyes, burning with sad obsession.

“And who could afford such a thing?” they whispered amongst themselves, though all were too afraid to ask the craftsman himself. Instead, a brave soul or two inquired, “Who is this creation for?”

The coffin maker would smile, a grin lighting his face aglow. He was really a quite handsome fellow, though his occupation had labeled him rather darkly. It is often that those who work with death are determined to be somehow off, as if the shadow of fatality has somehow changed them, as if they are not the same as the other humans who shrink from finality’s sight.

The coffin maker would smile and say, “Her name is Juliet,” as if that settled all questions. It was clear then to any who had dared ask, that the coffin maker was in love with Juliet and she must have been his wife, and so they left off questioning.

As dusk came the second day, the shop cleared to a quiet, peaceful emptiness. Even the bodies had been taken away, except for Juliet. The coffin maker rubbed his brow with one tired palm, studying the girl. Her skin seemed to vibrate with a hidden life.

He had been unable to fathom putting such a vivacious creature into the earth, to let her be trampled by wars and given over to darkness. And so he had drawn for her a glass coffin, so that she would forever see the sun, so that she would remain forever safe from the sullying fingers of the world, a glittering, impeccable treasure.

Nestles in vines of masterfully wrought wood, the glass would lie, a gem in twirling wooden arms, a diamond showcasing far greater beauty. The light would glitter off its surface and no nature would ever seek to destroy such a brilliant creation.

Slowly, because he could not help himself, he placed a soft kiss on her still pink lips.

ANd her coffin would remain forever a drawing, whispered about by awed gossips through city squares, a legend of sorts in the land of death, because in the moment when the sun set that day, Juliet awakened.

Wide, green eyes flew open with a great fluttering of lashes that seemed to displace all the air in the room. The coffin maker could almost see the pulse of her heart inside her breast. She sat up slowly, long, golden hair spilling down her back, studying him. Had he expected anything, he would have expected her to ask him questions, to cry for help in confusion. He would have thought to comfort her, maybe to hold her as she cried. Juliet took great pleasure in dispelling expectations.

“My father’s dead,” she stated in a clear, calm voice. It rang like a bell in the empty space, and the coffin maker’s ears burned pleasantly at its sound.

“Yes,” he nodded, letting his deep voice mix with her chime.

“And you are the coffin maker.” It was another statement. She sat so that their faces where inches apart. In that moment, he realized she was slightly older than he had thought and not half as fragile. In that moment, she realized that she could love him.

“I am,” he answered again. It was the first time in his life that he thought to be ashamed of it. Slowly, her small hand came up to touch the bones of his face.

“I’m not sure I can marry a coffin maker.” Eyes glittering with laughter, she smiled at him. He had never seen anyone so alive in his shop before. Covering her hand with his own and pressing its coolness to the warmth of his jaw, he smiled at her. He felt his own eyes twinkle for the first time since he had come to the capitol.

“I don’t think I’ll make coffins anymore then.”

“What will you do?” she asked. Her voice held the tiniest twang, sweet and mischievous like summer rain.

“Whatever you like.” He caught his tongue between his grinning teeth, years of strife falling away to reveal the youth burdened beneath them.

“I’ve always loved the forest.”

“So have I.”

And so the coffin maker became a huntsman. And so the huntsman took a wife.


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