The Herald of the Vows
On a misty Sunday morning in London, a little lark was flying to and fro from tree to tree along the avenues. No matter where she landed, it felt like she couldn't settle anywhere to sing. No branch felt exactly right. So, eventually, the lark took a different route than she usually took and found herself flying over a small, quaint little cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Immediately, the lark dove lower with enthusiasm. Cemeteries were always a nice place to flutter around in a large city, because there was much more green in them than an ordinary street. Also, there was always an incredible aura of peace over them. Some birds avoided cemeteries, though, finding that kind of peace gloomy, but this lark never did. After all, death was a natural and inevitable part of all life.
After circling over the lovely enclosure once, the lark settled on the branch of a young cherry tree. She loved these trees, especially when they bloomed in the spring, as this one did now. And the branches of a baby tree were softer than full grown ones, easier on her small feet. So, she fluttered down and gracefully landed on a branch, right next to an open blossom which smelled so sweet. With a happy chirrup, the lark settled in for a good long rest.
But just as she opened her beak to sing a herald of the morn, the lark paused at something that caught her eye. A human was slowly walking along a cemetery path that led right past the tree. Not wanting to leave her spot, the lark shut her beak and secured her feet more firmly on the branch. Noticing that the human was a female, the lark relaxed a bit; the females tended to be more quiet than the males, and less likely to shoo them away in annoyance.
Expecting the female to walk right past her and the tree, the lark was surprised when the female stopped just before the tree, and turned to what was beside the tree: a simple stone grave. Though the headstone was not as large or elaborately designed as some, the lark could tell by the neatness surrounding it that it received regular visits, most likely from this female human. Said human now knelt on the grass before the headstone, and placed her handbag by her side and a bouquet of pretty violets at the foot of the stone.
The lark, for lack of anything better to do, studied the female human. Perhaps it was the anniversary of this person's death, since she certainly looked sad despite the pretty lilac summer dress that she wore. Odd choice since the morning was so misty and it wasn't quite warm enough for that kind of clothing yet. She was certainly shivering, but she made no move to try and warm herself. She only clasped her shaking hands together on her lap, staring at the headstone as fresh tears fell from her eyes. The lark could tell that these were not the first she had shed today by the redness of the brown eyes and the tracks on her flushed cheeks. Her auburn hair was a mess too, with long strands falling out of a bun.
Eventually, the woman seemed to calm down enough to speak aloud. "Hi, daddy," she said, her voice very shaky and rich.
On instinct, the lark let out a soft coo, not loud enough to startle but hopefully pretty enough to give some comfort. This human female looked so sad and so small – though she certainly wasn't big to begin with, as far as adult humans went – that the lark wanted to do something for her.
But the lark had no choice but to be silent when the female started speaking again to the headstone. Her next words could not be more surprising to the lark.
"Today's my wedding day. Well…it was supposed to be…it won't be now, thanks to me. I was supposed to be at the registrar's office now, since the appointment was for nine o'clock this morning. He…he wanted an early wedding, because he wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible so his parents would go home sooner. They're lovely people and he loves them, I know he does, he just…doesn't have a high tolerance for sweet normality."
She let out a watery chuckle that quickly turned to a short sob. She wiped her cheeks with her hands before clasping her hands together again and continuing.
"Don't worry, they know I'm not coming anymore, they're not all…standing around and waiting for me to show up. You raised me better than that. I just sent a text to…to him…that I couldn't do this and that I was sorry. I know it would have been better, much more decent, to do it in person, or even a phone call, than by text, but…I knew if I did that then I would have changed my mind and given into him…just like I always have…"
She undid her messy bun and tried to tidy her long hair with her hands, but only made it messier.
"At least he never took me to bed. I was able to hold my ground there, at least…probably because deep down…I knew that I never should have said yes when he proposed."
She paused, her hands falling onto her lap again as her gaze wandered to the young cherry tree. The lark stayed as still as she could, not wanting to startle or scare this female. Obviously, she needed to talk, and she wouldn't get in this female's way.
"He didn't propose, actually. He didn't really even ask me. He…presented a case to me." The female laughed a heartbreaking laugh. "Isn't that exactly how he would do it? Why should I be surprised? Probably because I never thought he would do it at all, no matter how much I foolishly hoped…No, he just strolled into the morgue one day last week and said, 'Molly, I believe we should get married.' Just as if he were stating the weather or demanding a body part. God, it was a miracle I didn't drop the test tubes in my hand!
"Anyway, he then gave me all of the logical reasons why we should marry." She spit out the emphasized word as if it were poison. "He wouldn't be living alone, which would ease his friends' and family's worries. Baker Street is closer to St. Bart's than my flat. I would ensure that he took better care of himself, and in return he would give me regular sexual intercourse."
She slapped and rubbed her forehead as she kept in what was either a sob or a laugh.
"I could give you more reasons that he listed, but I'm sure you get the jist of it. Anyway, he ended his long speech by saying, 'You see that this is the most logical step for us to take now, Molly. How does next Thursday sound?' He had said this, like everything else, as if it were nothing special, just another favor! So what do I do? I respond like I always do when he asks something from me: I nodded and said, 'Okay.' Just like that! It must have been the shock of it all. He didn't say anything for a while, just stared at me. Finally, he nodded, said, 'Okay then. I'll text you the details tonight.' And then he left, just like that."
The lark, completely in awe of this story, at first did not notice that another human was coming down the path from the direction the female human had come. When she did notice, the lark saw that this human was a male of tall, pale and lanky build. In his long dark coat with his wild dark curls, the lark was reminded of the wild ravens and crows that she and her kind always tried to avoid – they were all such rude pests, and their voices were as hideous as their manners.
As this male human got closer, the lark became certain that the female human was his reason for coming. His eyes were on her, and he looked like he had been running all over the city. Had he been looking for her? Was this the man that she had been speaking of? He sounded like a complete worm, from what she said, but the way he was looking at her…well, the man who had proposed to her in such a heartless way would not look at her in a way that was the exact opposite of heartless.
The male human's steps slowed and then stopped a few feet away from her. But the female human did not seem to notice him at all, for she kept talking to the headstone as she softly cried.
"Well, I've been stuck in that state of shock for the past week, just saying 'Okay' whenever he told me anything about it: when, where, who would be there. It would just be a simple ceremony in the registrar's office, and only our small circle – John, Mary, Emma, Greg, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and his parents – would be there. He even got me this dress for it! Well, I found it hanging on my bedroom door last night, so who else could it have been."
She played with the folds of the skirt.
"As I was getting ready in front of the mirror this morning…I saw in the reflection the clock…you remember the cuckoo clock you gave Mommy when you had your honeymoon in Switzerland…I remembered how much you loved her, and the promise that you asked me to make to you before you died…and I realized that I was about to break it."
The female human's face seemed to crumple, as did her whole body, for a moment, before she could continue. The male human seemed to slowly, silently, come closer to her.
"I'm so sorry, Daddy," the female said, her voice cracking, no longer wiping away the tears on her face. "I feel like I've been letting you down ever since he came into my life, with the way I've let him treat me and how much of my heart I gave when he never intended to give any back. But I swear, I couldn't help it! I don't know why, I…I let myself fall so deeply. I know you used to say that you can't control love, but I just wish I could have done something different!"
The female human took a deep breath to calm herself. The male human didn't seem to be breathing at all as he watched her. The lark let out a few low, musical coos, both to comfort her and to compel the human male to do more than just watch. She succeeded in the former and failed in the latter.
"You had me make a promise to you, about when I would get married. You asked that I would marry a man I was on equal ground with. That meant that we would be completely open and honest with each other, that we would be willing to work together through better or worse, and that he would love me just as much as I love him. 'It's all in the vows,' you said, and you were right. I promised you I would marry a man who would take his vows as seriously as you knew I would take mine…and there I was about to marry a man who had promised he'd never again make another vow, let alone a man who would and could never love me back!"
With a last cry of, "Oh, Daddy, I'm sorry!" the female human finally crumpled completely, sobbing into her hands without restraint. Her heart breaking, the lark turned her eyes to the human male, prepared to squawk just like a crow to make him do something.
Fortunately, the human male seemed able to both breathe and move again. Wordlessly, he approached the female and took off his long, dark coat. He draped it over her shoulders, and then knelt down on the grass beside her, facing the headstone. By the time the female realized she was no longer alone – not to mention much warmer – the male had begun speaking to the headstone, just like she had been doing.
"Mr. Hooper…I am sorry that we have to meet this way, and we could not have met when we were alive. There is a good chance that we may have gotten along, since your daughter had told me, on more than one occasion, that I was a bit like you…On the other hand, knowing how much your daughter loves you, and how much you loved her, there is a better chance that we would not have gotten along, and with good reason. The way I have treated your daughter…and what my actions have now led her to believe enough to run away like this…I deserve the wrath of hell, much less the wrath of a loving father."
The female human was looking at the male human in what could only be shock. The male looked at her briefly before turning back to the headstone. He looked quite nervous now, and both the lark and the female human waited with baited breath what the male human would say.
"Mr. Hooper, I will be completely honest with you and your daughter now: I am not the man that your daughter deserves. My behavior for the past seven years to her is proof enough of that. You were a very wise man if you said that one cannot control love, because Lord knows I have done nothing in my life to deserve what she has given me, least of all her heart."
The male human turned again to the female human, gently taking her hand between both of his. The female human looked down at their hands, still silent. The male continued.
"But I am a selfish man, and does not easily let go of the things that matter in his life. So, when I received that text from your daughter, I felt fear like I have never experienced in my life. Not only because she had run away, but because she would only have run away if she still believed that she did not count. And I cannot let that happen. Of course this is all my fault. For years, I have ignored and pushes aside all personal feelings I had that I deemed sentimental, thinking it a sign of weakness. By doing this, I have hurt your daughter many times over. But I hope that she understands that my actions, from ignoring her feelings to my cold proposal, all stemmed from my own stupid ignorance and not a desire to hurt her. I will not, and will never, have that. Learning that I could lose her this morning has finally forced my eyes open, and thankfully what I found was my courage."
The female human abruptly lifted her head, looking into the eyes of the human male. He squeezed her hands and held her gaze.
"Before I say what I need to say, I need your daughter to understand two vital things. One, that since I talk to my skull on a regular basis, it should not shock her that I am now talking to you like this. Two, however badly I may have treated her in the past, I hope she understands that I would never, never, be so cruel as to say things in this context that I do not mean."
The male human paused, as if waiting for some kind of confirmation from the female human. Eventually, he got it, when she gave a tiny nod. The male then turned his body fully towards her, kneeling on his right knee and still holding both of her hands.
"Stand up?" he asked softly. As if in a trance, the female obeyed and got to her feet. She could not tear her eyes from his.
He did not let go of her hands as he spoke in a deep and rich voice. The lark dared not open its beak to save her life.
"At John and Mary's wedding, when I said I would not make another vow, I truly thought that I would never want or need to. Besides being so blind to my own heart, you were engaged to another man. I wish that you did not have to wait so long for me, but I want nothing more than to make sure the rest of our lives are spent together. Your father was right to have you make such a promise, and I intend for you to keep it. If you will let me, I will not only mean each vow I make to you, but never let you doubt that we are on equal ground for the rest of our lives. I didn't ask you properly before, so I will do it now.
"You will always count, you will always matter the most to me, and I love you. I literally cannot imagine what my life would be like without you, and I don't want to find that out. Please…will you marry me?"
The lark looked at the female, her tiny heart pounding in anticipation. At first she felt dread when she saw fresh tears pour down the female's pink cheeks. But then she nodded and said, "Okay."
"Yes?" asked the male, his voice as soft and vulnerable as a child.
The female gave a watery laugh, and her face broke into a bright smile. "Yes, of course!"
The male's face broke into an equally bright smile, and tears came out of his eyes too. He stood up and held the female tightly to him, his coat still draped over her shoulders. As they held each other, the lark could no longer hold back a song of pure joy. Neither of them took any notice, but the lark didn't mind in the slightest.
When the two humans broke apart enough to look at each other, the lark silenced herself to listen.
"Come," said the male, wiping the tears from the female's cheeks. "Let's go and get married."
"But I…I missed the appointment," said the female weakly and with some apology.
The male laughed, lacing their fingers together as he started them walking along the path, away from the headstone, the young cherry tree, and the sentimental lark. "You forget that I am related to the British Government. And if I ask nicely, with Mummy to help me, it will be impossible for him to refuse."
The lark heard the laughter of both the male and female all the way down the path as they moved farther and farther away. The female's head rested on the male's shoulder, and his arm had wrapped securely around her, right before they turned a bend and disappeared from the lark's sight.
And thankfully, this time they both could hear the joyful song of happiness from the herald of the morn.
A/N: I wanted to contribute something to Sherlolly Appreciation Week. I'm a bit late, but really, there is never a bad time for some good, sweet Sherlolly!