This story contains references to fatal illness.
I met him the night his mother had the misfortune to birth him. There was a sadistic wind out, crueler than any snow, threatening to tear up the entire oak forest. I lingered a minute, because even I get chills. His father couldn’t get out into town to beg anyone to be his godfather. And his mother, well, she wasn’t going anywhere but with me.
I was on my way out when the father carried this squealing infant to me. He said, “His mother has passed, and I have a bad heart and a worse liver. No one else in the world came for us tonight save you. You treat the rich as you do the poor. You do not discriminate. Please, have this child as your godson.”
Likely you have heard slander against me. In truth, I am a softy. I consented, since I would be in town on the day of the baptism anyway — the priest was going to be crushed by a falling branch.
Time melts away, especially when you’re busy. The next time I met my godson, I had to comfort him at his father’s deathbed. Being alone is hard. I’d know.
I told the boy, “Become a physician and I will do you a favor. Take some of this candle wax. Whenever you have a patient in mortal peril, dab them with the wax and I will appear. If I stand near their head, they will survive. If I stand near their feet, they are mine.”
He took the wax without asking where it came from, and without thanking me. I let him get away with that. As I said, I am a softy.
It wasn’t two years before my godson was the most demanded physician in the countryside. Rich people plied him with goods. Some offered him land and houses if he could help them. It’s heartening to see your children thrive.
Then a baron fell ill, and royals summoned my godson across the land. I was already there, warming up my hands over the fireplace, preparing to work. It was another of those windy nights.
When my godson used his wax, I stood at the baron’s feet.
My godson refused to look me in the face. He took the baron by the shoulders. “Try lying this way,” he said, and made him turn in the bed such that I stood by his head.
There are rules you cannot break, and then there are rules you think no one would force you to break. Those feel the same until they acutely are not. Tempted as I was to take everyone in the room, I couldn’t reap the baron that night.
I gave my godson true wrath once we were in private. “I gave you miracles, and you did this?”
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime. If I save the baron, I’ll be set for life. Can’t you help, Godfather?”
The baron had a daughter with the same congenital condition. I took some wax from the candle of her life and added it to his. Nobody would notice if she died a little younger. And they all looked so happy with the baron’s recovery — none happier than my godson.
The next time I was in town, it was to collect the daughter. By then, my godson was courting her. The two seemed ready to create a new generation of heirs. People think they have so much time.
My godson knew something was wrong and touched his bride with the wax. He went bolt upright when I appeared beside the bed, and beside his bride’s bare toes. He shook his head furiously. I grabbed for him, and he ducked me. He scooped her up and turned her around so that I was standing at her head.
As soon as we were in private, my godson said, “I’m this close to marrying her. I’ll never want for anything again.”
“I warned you.”
“You are the only person I can depend on. Don’t you want what’s best for me? Spare her for me. No matter what it costs.”
I found the life to extend hers, lying around somewhere. He’d said ‘no matter the cost.’
And so our next family reunion was at my godson’s deathbed. He was surrounded by spoiled children with cake on their lips, and a wife who looked bored with his moaning.
He saw where I stood. He begged me, “I’m too young.”
I said, “So is everyone.”
I took him by the foot and made him walk with me. We roamed through the stubs of wax that represented lives lost, and the many still-burning candles that represented every life I still had to account for.
I said, “Everyone is born with a candle of a different size, but they all burn down over time. The shortest are those at their end. Entropy loves a flame.”
He saw where I had changed the candles of the baron, and the baron’s daughter, and himself. He asked, “Can’t you make mine taller?” “At whose expense?”
“I gave my wife a longer life than she would have had. And I have so many children whose candles are taller than they need. Please. Don’t you love me?”
I am a softy. I am a foolish, old creature. My judgment is keen, but sometimes my hands make errors. For instance, this time, when I lifted my godson’s candle… I dropped it.
Such a tragedy.
The wick went out before his eyes. The light in his eyes went out with it.
His family lived long and happy lives. Some of those children were surprised at exactly how long they lived. They thought they were blessed. Truly, I just had some spare wax on hand. It’s good to take care of your family.