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Stone Gods: 2. The Truth About Love
...I hold you in my heart and pray that you are safe...
...I cannot let my father see my tears, nor my brothers, they would mistake them...
...My love, there is a shadow that hangs, and only you can keep it from falling over me. It is like doom, like...
Barahir laid down the sheafs he had been holding severally at once, in a fever of reading. He had always been like his grandfather Faramir in this. If there was something that could keep them awake all night, it would. Now the low flame of the midnight lamp pierced his eyes, and he tried to rub it out with his fingers. It did not help.
He sighed, laid a palm on the old, fragrant letters, and picking up his quill with the other one, began scribbling.
'Arwen Undómiel dwelt with her kin in Lothlórien during the years of the King's boyhood. They did not lay eyes on one another until he, Aragorn called Estel, was well over twenty years of age. Their meeting then, as both returned to the vale of Imladris, or Rivendell as it is now known, was one that seems akin to the rendition of some old and great song, except for the occurrence of a little more intelligible conversation, and much less by way of intruding flautists to throw them off the well-laid path of destiny - or the secret plans of the lady's grandmother, as the case may have been.'
He paused, pushed the sheet away and took up a new one. He inhaled it's coolness briefly, tempted to lay his cheek down upon it. Then he began writing, even faster, and frowned deeper and deeper as he wrote.
'True love,' he began, 'requires certain qualities of its exponents. Great beauty, of course, for neither in this world nor the next west is un-beauty accorded any importance. Next a dogged determination. Then an impelling spirit, one of motion, that breathes the name of the beloved over and over to force the very winds, as it were, into a course that steers one towards the significant other - can it not be said that Beren possessed this spirit to draw such a one as Luthien towards him despite his, we may assume, extreme uncomeliness and lack of physical purity after a few years of wandering in the wilds, even of Doriath, which possessed everything but facilities for a shave?
And the last and greatest requisite for a successful (by which we imply, 'tale-worthy') love affair is a precise blindness. All great lovers ignore what exists around them, clean out the effects of all persons and things except each other - is this not what the tale of Angor and Istar* celebrates generations past generations across the theatre of our land? - as though they are above ordinary life, unbound by common decencies, excused by the vastness of their emotion from all responsibility, all care. This is what is done. And it is those who are broken, forgotten, who remain to write the great lays ever after.'
He sat back, breathing hard, and reread what he had written in growing disgust. It was no use. He had contradicted himself twice in one paragraph, and the line about Beren was close to the worst thing he had ever written. He made to tear off that sheet, then remembered Calwen's letter to the university pleading for as much economy with parchment as possible. He contented himself with savagely inking out the Doriath reference before throwing himself back in his chair.
Great love was always cruel. And he had grown and lived amidst great love. It always fascinated him, to be so close to such an irresistible force, to feel it's forceful, incandescent heat emanating from those who loved, and yet not be touched by it himself. Calwen's parents had been involved in a famous romance. His own father, Elboron, still worshipped the ground his mother walked on. Barahir's elder brother, now heir to Ithilien, had almost lost his life seeking - and thankfully finding - a lost fiancée. And crowning them all, like healing rain, had been their love, King Elessar and Queen Undómiel. As was befitting. It was why he had longed to write this story for years. Ever since the day his grandmother Éowyn had passed away, and his grandfather stood alone by the graveside, Barahir had known he would never write their tale. Not because it was not an equal passion to Elessar's and Arwen’s, but because even the Prince and the White Lady had grown helpless at the end. They had cheated death once too often, Faramir and Éowyn. It had its revenge at the last.
Now this was different. Aragorn and Arwen did not go gently, nor without hope. Barahir wondered about that hope. What faith had caused them to embrace death as fiercely as they had taken life? Surely even Elessar did not believe that he could bend the fates of the world to his awesome will. No, Barahir smiled thinly. Eldarion was capable of such thoughts, if anyone was, but there was a simple piety that the old king had had that convinced Barahir this was not the case.
Then how could they have gone as they did?
He drew a fresh rectangle off the pile, let his quill hover over it absently, and blotted out the resulting inkdrop in some ire. He thought for some more time, and then bent his head. ‘She became cold and grey after his passing, as nightfall in winter that comes without a star.’
The few who were granted an early morning audience with Eldarion and Calwen might count themselves lucky, for it signified a certain respect on the part of the royal couple for one’s opinion. On the other hand, it was a discomfort to drag oneself and one’s wits out of a warm bed before the sun rose, merely to partake of a frugal meal and endure the invasive scrutiny of two inhumanly bright-eyed individuals, clad now alike and improperly in their breeches.
“Your regard is the problem,” Barahir told Eldarion frankly. “Highly unnerving. Do you know most people cannot look at you?”
It was true. In Elessar had been such quiet strength as was felt and instinctively respected. No man could look into his eyes and feel a need for dishonesty. Eldarion was different. With him, falsehood was not impossible; it was unthinkable. His gaze probed a mind, needled it, destroyed it's defences. It was neither mentioned nor complained of, but by and by people had stopped looking into his face unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Unhealthy rumours,” Eldarion stretched lazily. “I do wish you would let me fire your distinguished office mice, Calwen.”
Calwen laughed merrily. “You would rope Barahir and myself in to look over your paperwork, then, I suppose, because we can look at you without becoming petrified. No, thank you, lord. I am afraid the mice must stay.”
“Such a face,” Eldarion sighed grandiosely, “and all this grace. Pity this land, oh lovers, so much bereft of beauty, yet scarce able to enjoy what does it faithful duty.”
Barahir looked up sharply at the word. Lovers. It was only a trick of speech. Calwen picked up the sing-song and began to add a rhyming verse. It was a favourite mealtime game. Even the children played it.
“Pardon me,” he interrupted loudly, “I have a question.”
They stopped and looked at him. “What do you think of love?” he asked boldly.
They gazed at him in some silence. Finally, “Love?” repeated Calwen.
“Yes – love.”
“I believe…” she began slowly. Forthright she might be, but it was always difficult for Calwen to speak of her deepest thoughts to most people. “I believe that all love – all kinds, and there are so many different – is really an expression of the love of the One. The Flame of the All-Father is nothing so much as the ability to see something – or someone – through His eyes, as He must see it.”
“And yet,” Eldarion said, “it can be so destroying?”
“No,” she shook her head. “That is the difference between love and desire. It is the desire that destroys, but love – or so I like to think – nurtures. As one would one’s children, perhaps.”
“Whatever it is,” Eldarion turned to Barahir, and such was the light in his eyes that the younger man’s heart was pierced, “my mother and father had it. This much I was witness to, and Calwen, and you also.”
His voice was quiet and deep, removed from his listeners. “We all live by desire. It drives us constantly. Very few of us come to seek the roots beneath the flowering trees. And some of us do not have the chance. The King and Queen had the grace – and the good fortune - to live past it.”
You will never, Barahir thought silently, as he raised his chin to look into the king’s eyes. There is too much longing in you, Eldarion. But your Calwen might live past desire.
And I might.
Estel, how I wish you by my side this very moment, watching Eldarion as he slumbers in dear peace. He is so wholly beautiful. I do think I love him best when he sleeps, and even more when he is awake…is it not wonderful, beloved, to think on all that we have gathered and will gather before it is spent?
Barahir smiled through the words, and continued to make his notes doggedly. The next weeks were going to be the longest of his life.
And for the first time in long years, Eldarion cried that night, wept, soundlessly, gasping for breath, long and helpless, as Calwen held him silently. It frightened her to see her husband’s calm shattered as it had never been, even during the deaths of past years, but she tightened her arms around him as she had done when her sons were young and afraid of thunderstorms, and prayed.
Angor and Istar: This reference is to 'The Tragedie of Angor and Istar', one of the few truly great works of the art of Westernesse to survive the Downfall of Men. Famous Second Age drama of Numenor, about star-crossed lovers from warring families.
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