It is said that a Pilgrim always knows the moment they will die, that the moment of death will come when the crime that caused the sentence has finally been repaid. Lies. If blood calls for blood then my debt has been repaid ten times over – and yet I still wander, bound to give my blood to the wounded, to save people who never would have given me a second glance before I bore the Pilgrim’s staff.
Angel, they call me. Blessing, when I open a vein and spill precious blood that their loved ones might live.
Mine collapse. There is nothing I can do for those whose hearts have already stopped. Desperate wives beg me to try. The pain as I make the blood flow – a deeper cut this time, my staff glowing, burning hot as it gathers the magic. The ravens gather. The ravens always gather, their wingbeats directing the magic in my blood, guiding it to heal those who need it most, those who they have brought, moaning and screaming, to surround me. Two die, despite the fact that I gave more blood than I could spare, blood enough that I fell, staff still gripped in unconscious hand.
The road is familiar now. The road is mine, for the road asks no questions and demands no sacrifice. My staff rests easy in my hand – an aide for walking, a protection both by its symbolism and the magic it serves as a conduit for. The vows I made, the oaths that were forced upon me, run through my veins, binding me to the road and binding my blood to those who need its power.
Bandit attack. The victim is bleeding out, gut wound, likely fatal. My blood flows easily, the staff flaring to life. I bite back the scream as his pain passes to me. The hurt has to go somewhere, and I am bound to carry it until death release me. The victim’s wound closes and my knees hit the ground. I beg for this to be the last, that this healing will finally pay the price. The ravens circle, but they do not answer my plea.
I can hear a cart on the road behind me, likely eager to pass, but my staff grants a few rights – right of way being one of them. I am so often invisible… let him see the staff if he will not see me.
The sound of some farmer slowing his beast is a small victory. I am anathema, an outcast whose only purpose is to give my blood that another may live. Those who I am bound to save… all they see is the staff. I cannot remember the last time someone met my gaze.
A battlefield hospital. The army has moved on, as have the wounded. The only people left are a handful of Pilgrims – battle always draws us like flies to a carcass – and a few nurses who have remained to see that we get the food and care that is our right. I am weak, nearly bled dry. The magic is a cold crackle through my veins, the staff still gripped in my hands is the only warmth. Still my debt is not paid, for though I have given nearly all my heart still beats. The nurses do not look at us, and in a few days I am strong enough to return to the road.
“Pilgrim.” The man in the cart stops beside me. I wait, the smooth wood of my staff warm under my fingers. I wait for him to beg me come with him, to spend my blood that a son or daughter might live.
“Daughter,” he says again. I do not know why my eyes are suddenly wet. His foot falls on the road behind me. I do not turn. He is mistaken. I am no man’s daughter.
Murder. A body crumpled on the ground, a blood-wet knife slips from my hand. He is dead and I have killed him. Blood cries for blood, the staff is pressed into my hands. I repeat the oaths that bind me, magic settling like chains, binding me to the road, that I might give my blood as recompense. Angel, they will call me, and Blessing. Yet I myself am cursed.
“Moira.” A hand on my shoulder, a name that was my own. His was the voice of my accuser, the voice I had been running from for so long, finally caught up to me. He meets my eyes. I am seen, and I allow myself to be seen. The accusation I feared I would find in his eyes is not there. There is no anger. There is love.
He takes my staff and I finally release it. Blessing, he names me. Beloved. And he spills his blood that I might be whole.