The Old Grey Wizard
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A Mortal Life: 25. The Gift
Chapter 24 The Gift
Once their children were grown, Corli and Olorin spent most of their days alone on the farm. Their pattern of living was almost exactly the same as it had been for four and a half decades. She worked in her fields or sorted the herbs she harvested, and he drew water, chopped wood, groomed the horses, scattered feed to the hens and gathered eggs. She let him do all the digging and heavy pounding, and he became proficient at tying bundles of roots and herbs to dry on the line placed carefully out of the sun.
She still made visits to tend at births. Olorin accompanied her, fully accepted now by his neighbors as a healer in his own right who could be trusted completely at the sickbeds of women. Indeed, he went out on calls of his own, when Corli felt too fatigued to ride, or when the problem was a bone that needed straightening, or a fever that required herbs and soothing teas. But he always sought her advice, and her opinion was the decisive one. He said she had so much more experience, he could never hope to be as wise.
They received visits from their children and their grandchildren. When small ones came by, Olorin would carry them on his shoulders and play as he always had with his own, and with Nod before them. But if he tried to take a little one on his lap and tell stories, Gand and Olori would shift uncomfortably. After too few minutes, the grandchild would be called away from Grandpoppa's chair. He'd watch his son and daughter gather their children and smile nervously as the youngsters were distracted with treats or bundled up for the ride home. Only Mariel's children heard the old stories, and they never thought of them as anything other than fanciful tales told by their youthful Grandpoppa who laughed so much.
Corli fumed at their behavior.
"You'd think they would have the courtesy to allow you a few minutes time with your grandchildren. What harm can it possibly be? Do they have no respect?"
"It's all right, Corli. They are frightened, that's all."
"Frightened of you? By all the gods, man! Why?"
"Because they don't really understand it all. They obviously know there is something peculiar about their old Poppa who doesn't look old, but we've known for a long time that they don't believe the tales they heard when they were small. Yet they have no better explanation, and that frightens them, and like parents everywhere, they think they can protect their own children from fear. They will forget the stories, and all that could not be explained about their grandfather, in time, if not in this generation, then the next." He paused. "Perhaps it is better this way--that no one remembers. For the one I came here to stand against wouldn't hesitate to pursue and murder my descendants, if he knew they existed. This way, everyone will be safer for it."
Her face grew pale. "I never thought… You really think he…he might do that?"
"He cannot, if he does not know. Don't worry, Corli. They are all safe, I promise. No one will ever know."
They spent long hours talking together, often sitting beside one another on the boulder shaped like a bench, where they had first sat and talked so long ago. In the evenings, at the table, he methodically recorded her knowledge of herbs and potions, and tried to capture a bit of her healing wisdom. He showed her the pages with his careful sketches of plants and roots and his smooth swift script. She was amazed at how clearly he had captured the images of the healing herbs she knew so well. At last she let him try to teach her the meaning of the mysterious symbols that filled the page below each sketch. She feigned interest, and he pretended that he didn't see her boredom with this confounding thing called writing.
She listened, now that his friend Schlain was gone, to his musings about the future that lay before him. But she suspected that he wasn't quite honest with her when it came time to discuss any risk he might be facing in years to come. He skirted discussions of fear and darkness, and spoke instead of the long history of the lands of Middle Earth, of Elves and Mortal Kings and heroes, of the four companions who had crossed the Sea with him, and of how much he had to learn.
She tried to imagine what he would look like, as the centuries passed and he slowly grew older. He tried to imagine how empty the centuries would be without her. Sometimes their talk faltered and they simply sat by the fire together in silence.
At night, Corli's ever-whiter hair would tangle with his, and she would still gasp with wonder as he withheld nothing from her. But as the years passed, he would more often simply hold her, lying awake while she slept on his chest with her head snuggled into the crook of his shoulder.
One day he found her taking a rest on a low stool that she now carried with her into the garden. She had one hand pressed to her waist, and her breathing was shallow, though her face was calm. He was suddenly worried.
"What's wrong, my dear? Are you ill?"
Corli looked at him and shook her head. She smiled, and on her face was both a teasing mischievousness and deep sadness.
"What a question, man. And you call yourself a healer. Take a step back, will you? Step back, and look. Tell me what you see."
He felt his heart begin to pound within him as he did as she asked. He dropped his eyes then raised them again to gaze at her as if for the first time. To his shock, he saw a thin, sickly old woman: her face wrinkled, her hair like snow, the whites of her eyes and her fair skin now faintly yellow.
He went to her and knelt, moving her hand aside. He placed his fingers where hers had just been, and there growing under the surface of her belly he felt an irregular stone-hard lump, as large as his fist. His eyes clamped shut as his throat went dry. Even if he were to give her every last bit of himself, it would be to no avail. This was not a hurt that would heal with sufficient time.
He wrapped his arms gently around her. He had grown wise enough in the healing arts to make accurate guesses about the time remaining for someone who could not recover. Yet when it came time for him to do the same for the one he loved, his mind went blank. He turned to her, as he always had, for guidance.
"How long? How long do we have?"
"Just a while. A few months, I think. Probably less."
Tessel came and was satisfied that he could make the elixirs that would ease her pain and passing. The grey-haired healer offered to stay, or send her new apprentice, who she admitted probably had far less skill than Olorin. But Corli shooed her off, after saying good-bye to the last of the fierce women who had been her colleagues and her friends. She asked only that word be sent to all her children, and especially to Corlin, if he could be found.
Olorin reluctantly shared those final priceless days with his family. Everyone came and stayed on the farm until the very last. The small buildings overflowed with four generations of family. It had been so quiet and peaceful before. The wizard found himself foundering in a tossing sea of anger and resentment that for a while was stronger than his sorrow. He snapped when the great-grandchildren made too much noise, and was surly with his daughter. Gand took his father outside.
"Do you think she can't hear you when you snarl at my sister, or shout at the children? She can hear every word! You're not the only one who is losing someone. You are losing a wife. Don't you think I know how much that hurts? But we are losing our mother."
He had to be satisfied with the night when he could lie beside her, stroking her cold dry skin, helping her sip the bitter liquid that she had once dripped into his mouth. He had to take, he thought, what was left over when everyone else was done with her all day. He had to keep his grief hidden.
Corlin arrived in the last week, in time to say good-bye while she was still lucid. A man named Rolan was traveling with him. Rolan was a falconer, Corlin said, who had just completed his apprenticeship. The youngest son had an hour alone with her. He emerged with a peaceful smile on his face, fetched his friend and brought him back to her room for a few minutes. Corlin found his father standing outdoors, gazing into the oaks.
"She wants you, Poppa."
She lay propped on three pillows, and the white of the linens accentuated the deepening yellow color of her face. He sat on the side of the bed. She smiled weakly.
"Grey Man," she whispered, "Take me outside, to our bench. I want to sit beside you again and talk, like we always have."
Without speaking, he lifted her lightly in his arms, wrapped the coverlet around her and carried her from their sleeping alcove. He ignored the objections Olori cried out as he passed through the sitting room. Slowly, carefully, as though he were carrying a fragile cloud that might at any moment float away, he brought her to the edge of the oak woods and placed her gently down upon the stone.
He sat beside her and wrapped his arm about her thin shoulders. She rested her head against him, at once too weary to carry on even the least conversation. He would have to be the one to speak first. She waited, but he remained silent. Finally, she sighed.
"Do you have nothing to say, then? Not even good-bye?"
He took her hand and placed a kiss on her fingertips.
"I don't think I'll say good-bye to you just yet, Mistress Corli."
She shook her head. There was so little time; she felt panic press in on her. Her breathing was harsher, a bit more labored as she forced herself to continue to speak.
"But you must, man. In a day or two I may not even know you. You must."
His voice was hoarse. "I do not know how."
She looked up into his face and smiled. For all his power, there was still so much for him to learn, she thought.
"It's not all that terrible, Grey Man. After life comes death, and after death, there's the next place, the next destination. We'll find each other there, and be together always." Corli paused for breath. "Isn't it so, Olorin? You must know, with all your wisdom. Won't you be joining me there, in the next place?"
He focused on her green-gold eyes, and tried not to see the yellow that rimmed them. He had promised, so many years ago, not to keep anything from her that was important. He'd kept his promise, for the most part, and he had never spoken aloud a falsehood to her. But somehow, this was different. His mind was reeling with doubt--but his heart had none. So, for the first time, he purposefully and skillfully lied. He took her face in his hands.
"Of course. All mortal men and women are together, somewhere. They are gathered by the One after death and released from the ties of Arda. And I am mortal now, too. Someday I will join you there, I promise." He smiled through the tears that had finally overwhelmed him. "But it may be a very long time, you know. You might get tired of waiting for me."
She clicked her tongue and chuckled. "Don't you worry, I'll wait. So say goodbye, then--for now."
"Goodbye, Corli, my love. For now."
He lifted her once more, and carried her gently back to the cottage. His children and grandchildren stared as he passed by and returned to the tiny alcove. She clung to his neck, refusing to release him, and so he climbed into their bed still holding her in his arms.
She felt again the majestic music fill her, and the full force of the sun's embrace as he blended his entire being with hers. For the final time in her mortal existence, Corli gasped with joy. She slept against him while he watched in silence.
The next morning Corli spoke to each of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she made certain that her husband and daughter had cleared away any anger and embraced one another. By that afternoon she faded quickly, voice mumbling and eyelids drooping. For two days she said nothing, recognized no one.
She died, at night, in his arms. He was asleep and dreaming of the day he met her. She had just looked up slyly at him as they sat on the rock at the edge of the oaks, and he was gazing down and smiling, studying her beautiful eyes. In the dream she stood, leaned toward him and kissed him, then walked away into the trees. He woke, and she was gone.
Corli was buried on the farm at the highest point of the hayfield, the spot that was always in the full sun, near her mother and grandmother. Olori knelt and with her hand she traced a broad circle around her mother's grave.
"Promise me, Father. Promise you will plant her favorite herbs here. Yarrow for inflammations, and hyssop for wounds…and primrose, of course…"
"And lavender," he murmured. "She always smells like lavender."
A few evenings after Corli was laid in the ground, Olorin called his family together. They sat around the table: intelligent and anxious Olori, with her red hair now threaded with silver, sitting with her quiet ruddy husband Bartos; wise, angry Gand with his wavy head and beard showing streaks of grey; sweet Mariel, fair and yellow-haired, and looking very timid; dark-haired, long-nosed, good-hearted Corlin, with his friend Rolan sitting on a chair behind him; and their father, looking exactly the same to them as they had always remembered.
"The farm, Corli thought, should pass to Olori, as it has from mother to daughter since your great-grandmother fled from the east and settled here after her mother was killed, long ago." He stood and strode to the shelf of books that stood in the sitting room, and returned to the table bearing two leather-bound volumes. "These contain everything your mother taught me, everything that could be expressed in words. The first is about childbearing and everything to do with the care of women. The second is her general wisdom and knowledge of all other types of healing. They are for you, Olori."
She took them and gazed at the books in awe. Her eyes widened when she opened the first and saw that it was written in her father's strong hand. What a treasure, she thought, for these books were part of both of them.
He opened a small wooden box lined with fine linen. Upon the fabric lay a silver necklace with a pendant stone of pale green. He lifted it and held it up into the firelight.
"You all have seen this about your mother's neck, for she wore it every single day after I gave it to her at our wedding ceremony," he said softly. "The workmanship is your Uncle Schlain's, and he said the silver was of the purest quality, from the mines of the Dwarves. But the gem was one that I brought with me ...from far away. It is a small jewel, as these things are counted. But I believe that Corli cherished it."
Olori watched as he fingered the jewel delicately. On his face was a mixture of great sadness and joy.
"I suppose that, as Corli's only daughter, this should go to..."
"I want you to keep it, Poppa," Olori said. She reached out and grasped his hand in hers, closing his fingers about the necklace. "You should keep it, as a memento."
Olorin gazed at his daughter. She saw a glittering in his eyes as he pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it.
"Thank you, Olori," he murmured. "I will treasure it."
He then explained that he and Corli had a store of gold and silver coins that they had slowly amassed over the years.
"After the little I need is set aside, the rest will be divided between Gand, Corlin and Mariel. There is nothing else, really, of any value. The other books you read when you were growing up, perhaps... the livestock…"
"Wait! Poppa," Olori cried, raising her head from her careful study of the precious books. "What are you saying? Why are you talking about giving everything away? You're speaking as if…as if you're dying, too! But you're still young and strong, as you always have been…"
It had suddenly come to her that she might lose her father, too. That thought had never before occurred to her. She'd never really understood him, and had at times been frightened by him, but Olori suddenly realized how much she truly loved him. That he would always be as he was, forever unchanged and in her life, had been one of the unassailable foundations of her world.
Her father took her hand. She was already weeping, as if she knew what he was about to say.
"You are right, Olori, I am still young. I'm younger than you are now, and younger than Gand. In a few years I'll be younger than Corlin. Don't you see? I cannot stay. Not for much longer."
"But we need you now more than ever, Father," Gand said hoarsely.
"What do you need me for, Gand? You are a grown man, and a wise one. You've raised your children wonderfully well all by yourself. You don't need me."
"But where will you go?" Olori asked, though her heart knew the answer.
"Where I have been headed all along, Olori."
Gand gasped. "But you don't mean… You aren't really going off to fight… Those were just stories…"
Corlin interrupted, his fists clenched on the table. He leaned toward Gand, who was gaping at his father, and shouted.
"Stories! They weren't just stories! Do you mean to tell me that you didn't believe him? Are you saying that you really haven't understood, about everything he taught us, about the truth of the world and why he came here? Ah! Gand, even if you didn't believe his own words, what about what mother told us, how he nearly gave his life to help a slave boy escape, and traveled hundreds of miles in a single night to come to her aid? And all the tales Uncle Schlain told us!" Corlin pointed at his father's face, so like his own. "Didn't you ever think there must be some reason why he doesn't age? Didn't you ever wonder? And what did you think was happening when a falcon would visit and bring news from afar, or when you'd see him in the woods, conversing with that wolverine that still lives out there, the great-grandson of the one who helped save our mother's life? What were you thinking?"
Mariel turned very pale. "There's a wolverine in the woods?"
The wizard held her eyes and spoke gently.
"Do not be afraid, Mariel, you're perfectly safe. He is here to protect me, and all of you. He won't stay once I leave." He turned to his sons. "Please, Corlin. Don't be angry with your brother. And Gand, I hope I am not going immediately—or directly—to fight that enemy. For one thing, I'll have to find him first. And if he and I were ever to actually meet again face to face, I'm not sure I would come out of it. But I am going to fight him, in whatever way I can, and stand against whatever other evil I come up against, as I have before--as I was sent to. As Corlin has always known, those weren't simply bedtime stories that you heard when you were children. I have never told you anything but the truth."
They fell silent. Olorin looked at his children, seeing a group of perplexed and troubled mortals, caught between words their minds could not grasp and ideas their hearts had always deeply believed, though they had always held those beliefs at arms' length. Only Corlin seemed to really understand. At last Olori sighed.
"When will you go, then?"
Olorin winced. She had sounded so like Corli! He smiled quickly to hide his grief, and turned to his youngest son.
"That depends on your little brother. I haven't seen Corlin in several months. I wonder, son, what your plans are?"
Corlin gazed at him. "I—we, Rolan and I--were planning to stay for a bit, perhaps a month."
"Then I plan to stay as long as you do. I'll send word, Olori, when I am gone, and your mother's farm becomes yours."
Gand, Mariel and Olori and their families said awkward good-byes to him as they departed over the next few days. He knew he would very likely not see any of them again. He said he would return when his travels took him back this way, knowing full well that it could be decades or more, if indeed he ever came back.
Olorin, Corlin and his friend Rolan were left alone on the farm. Olorin had seen at once what their friendship meant, and he gave them his blessing. Once he got to know the young man Rolan, he took Corlin aside.
"You've chosen well, son. He is a good man, and he loves you."
"I love him too, father."
Olorin felt momentary pang of sorrow that the son who was most like him would not have children of his own. But the joy he saw on his youngest son's face could not be concealed, and it caught the father's heart. It was meant to be, he thought, for this was the only way the one who truly believed and would have remembered everything would not pass on the knowledge and endanger the generations to follow.
Corlin noticed that his father had begun to grow out his hair and beard the day his mother died. He watched as his father wandered aimlessly about the property, picking up a stone, plucking a leaf from a row of herbs. He saw him spend hours sitting in the hay field near the grave, arranging and re-arranging the low wall of rock that he had built the first day the others left, planting a selection of Corli's favorite and most fragrant herbs.
Rolan spoke as they watched him. "Your father is surely a strange and interesting man. I'm glad you warned me. I was shocked, of course, by his appearance. It's amazing how much you look like him. Except for his crooked nose, you might be brothers just a decade or so apart, not father and son. But now that I get to know him a little, I see that there is much more to this than just a man who doesn't age."
"There's a lot more to him than that. There's a lot more to him than any of us know, I'm sure of that. I think the only ones who really knew him were my mother and his friend, Uncle Schlain."
At night the young men were preoccupied with each other. Olorin surrendered the sleeping alcove and the bed he had shared with Corli for so many years to them. They didn't notice that instead of sleeping on the spare cot, Olorin would mostly be out all night, speaking to the wolverine, or to the bear, the great-grand-nephew of the one who had guarded Corli for him. The current badger chief would sometimes join them, and a raven would perch above and add comments. He was gathering news, of any evil tidings, or of the whereabouts of Aiwendil or Curumo. They had much evil to report, and only rumors about Curumo, who was away on a long journey to the east. Aiwendil had settled in a dwelling in the vast forest of Mirkwood far to the west. Unless some other news of greater import reached him first, Olorin decided to visit his friend and colleague when he finally left these lands.
One day he was indoors working on something, and had asked the young men to leave him alone for a while. Corlin called from the yard.
"Father, come out! You must see this!"
Corlin turned toward the door with a grin on his face. The door opened, and the grin faded. His father had emerged wearing a long, plain grey robe with a leather belt slung about his waist. In his left hand he gripped a tall staff, the very same one, Corlin suddenly realized, that had been leaning upon the wall beside the hearth for his entire life. He'd never noticed before how broad his father's shoulders were. Corlin stared, for he saw for the first time a figure of power and ancient wisdom.
"Don't gape, Corlin. It's unattractive."
Corlin blushed. "Look!"
He pointed to the sky. Rolan was standing two dozen feet away, his head thrown back, a hand shielding his eyes. Olorin glanced up and strode quickly to Rolan's side. He joined him in his up-gazing stance.
"What do you think, a gyrfalcon? No! A peregrine!" said the falconer excitedly.
"Yes! No creature in all of Arda is as swift."
Rolan stared as the man beside him raised the staff skyward, put his fingers to his lips and let out a piercing whistle.
"Watch out!" Corlin cried, and Rolan looked up again. He heard a faint screech, rapidly growing louder. He gasped and jumped back.
The falcon fell from the sky like a meteor plummeting to earth. Just before she seemed ready to smash her talons into Olorin's upraised face, she fluttered her dark wings and landed softly on his arm.
Corlin ran to join them. He stared at the beautiful peregrine clutching his father's sleeve. The bird's grey feathers were an exact match for his father's eyes, he thought--and his own, if he had known it. The falconer listened in amazement as the bird screeched and chattered, her head darting side to side, wings flicking open and closed. Then, even more astonishingly, similar sounds came forth from Corlin's father's mouth. The wizard turned to the young men and smiled widely.
"She says you are known, Rolan, among her people. They say you are young, but good-hearted. You have treated them well enough, she says, as falconers go, and are considered the fairest and most honest falconer in these parts. But she has come with a request from the Council of the Falcon Queens."
Rolan's face was white. "Yes?" he croaked.
"They ask that you forego the bindings. The hoods they will tolerate, for they calm them when they are on the ground. But they dislike the jesses. They will stay with you, as long as it is a fruitful partnership for both. The peregrines have long had friends among men, and they say you are trustworthy. But they would prefer, she says, to work with you as equals. What shall I say is your reply?"
He was grinning crookedly. Suddenly Rolan realized that if he gave anything but an assent, he would never see another peregrine in his life. If they were really this clever, they could easily evade his feeble snares and nets.
"Tell her…tell her I shall do as the…the Council of the Falcon Queens requests. Say that I would be honored to work together with such magnificent creatures as she and her people as an equal. I will not use jesses again, you can give my word."
They listened again as Olorin conveyed the response. Then there was another, longer exchange. Corlin saw his father's face change. The falcon bowed, and with a toss from Olorin, she flew off.
"Have you had news?"
"Yes. Not good, either. I'll have to leave sooner than I thought. All I lack is a horse. I was hoping, son, that you could advise me on the best stable near here where I can purchase a fast and fearless mount."
Corlin's eyes smarted. "But I thought we'd have more time together. I thought we even might travel together for a while, and get to know one another."
"I thought so too. But I've been avoiding even gathering news for many years. Things have gone on without me, for better and for worse—mostly for the worse. It's time I begin my journey again. And it is a journey I must take alone, Corlin."
"Will you at least tell me what you've heard, what seems so urgent?"
Olorin looked solemnly at his son. "Rumors. Disturbing rumors. I must go and find out if they are true."
They stayed up late talking. Yawning, Rolan gave up after a few hours and went to bed. The father and son seemed intent on staying up all night. Once they were alone Olorin at last didn't hesitate to probe his son with questions about his abilities, his dreams, any strange things that had happened without explanation. After hours of it, he was satisfied. His son was thoroughly a mortal man, except that he had a rare way with animals, and had an exceptionally keen awareness of when people told the truth and when they did not.
"It is a valuable skill, Corlin. Use it wisely. Know that not all falsehoods are done with ill intent. Sometimes only a lie will keep someone out of danger. Sometimes a lie is the only way to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain. You may know an untruth has been spoken, but that doesn't always mean the best thing is to unmask it. Follow you heart in times when you're not certain. I think your heart will guide you to know when the truth is necessary and when it should be left alone."
Corlin heard the hidden words in his father's speech.
"Father, the other night you said that you had never lied to any of us, but did you ever lie to Mother?"
He looked at him sadly. "Yes. Once by something I never told her, and once, near the very end, I told her what was, as far as I know, a complete falsehood."
"Will you tell me?"
Why not? he thought.
"Very well. I failed to tell your mother that, while she was pregnant with your sister and I was far away on the road with two dozen freed slaves, I slept with one of the women. It was only one night, but she was determined to bear a child by me. I have every reason to believe that she did, for she was a skilled midwife in her own country and would know these things with precision."
The son swallowed hard, and without knowing it his jaw thrust out defiantly, just as Corli's would have.
"Were you in love with her?"
He sighed at the still-fresh memory, trying to imagine what Nelika would look like now, if she were still alive, whether she indeed had borne him a child, and where Kutumi, Farased, Suli and all the others might be--and Nod, who led him into all of this in the first place. He reached up and under the fabric of his robe he fingered the single strand of faded, fragile beads that was all that remained of the gifts they had given him.
"Oh yes, I was in love with her. Nelika was like Corli in many ways: just as stubborn, just as intelligent, just as loving and passionate."
Corlin flushed. As most children do, he found it difficult to imagine, even now, that his parents had been—or in the case of his father, still were—passionate people.
"And the other? The complete falsehood?"
Olorin considered his answer as he recalled his last words to Corli. He truly didn't know the fate of mortals. Only the One knew. Death was called The Gift of Iluvatar to the Mortal Race, and what lay beyond it was hidden. The fate of the immortal Ainur who had made Arda with their music was said by some to be tied to Arda's fate, as was that of the Elves; others said the Ainur, arising from the One's thoughts, would be as they were, always, as long as the One endured, even if Arda, their creation, was no more. But the race of Men had formed out of a theme in the great music that had begun with Iluvatar's voice alone, and their fate was said to be separate, and unknown.
And what was he? Ainur, but now mortal. Which would it be for him, if death and not a returning ship took him from these shores? Did Manwe know? Perhaps only Iluvatar knew. And if it had been decided that he was not to share in the Gift—whatever it was, or if it indeed was anything other than dust and decay--might he not ask Manwe, who had the ear of the One, to petition for him, to make an exception for him, as legend said had been made for Luthien, so that he too could join his beloved in some far off time and place? Yet such a request would have to wait for his task to be completed, and that might take a thousand years or more.
He had once believed without doubt that something lay beyond death for Mortals. Now, after witnessing so many meaningless and hideous deaths, and after causing many by his own hand, he was no longer sure. He was no longer sure what he believed.
There were too many uncertainties, too many things to explain. The truth would merely trouble his son and make him fear death all the more. But a lie was unnecessary. And one kernel of truth could be told without any doubt.
"I cannot tell you that. But know this, son: I lied to her because I love her dearly—I will always love her--and because I would like to believe that what I said to her was true. And perhaps it will be true, one day."
Corlin searched his father's eyes. "I don't understand."
Olorin gazed back at his son. "If my wish is granted, someday you will."
They talked quietly about simpler, easier things for the rest of the night. Olorin mostly listened and watched his son's face, knowing it would be the last time he would ever look into the eyes of another mortal with whom he shared the bond of blood. His brief time with Corli and their family had been blessed and blissful, but he knew he could never again allow himself to indulge his soft-heartedness, at least not in this way. Unfortunately, Curumo was right, though for all the wrong reasons. The risk was too great; the grief was too much to bear. He couldn't imagine finding anyone like Corli again, and had no interest in trying. And he had too many dark things to attend to, and he would not endanger others by his closeness to them. It wasn't why he'd been sent.
The sky was just beginning to lighten in the east when Corlin at last went to bed. He and Rolan woke at midmorning to find Olorin gone.
"He didn't even say goodbye!" Corlin cried as he stood gazing out the door.
Rolan came to his side. "He spent all last night saying goodbye, Corlin." He placed a hand on his shoulder. "From what I've learned of your father in these last weeks, I'd say you were all very fortunate to have had him in your lives for as long as you did."
"But I miss him so," Corlin said in a choked whisper.
"I know. You'll miss him, and your mother, for the rest of your life. But think how many more years he will miss you." He squeezed Corlin's shoulder. "Let him go. Wish him well and good fortune, for his sake, and for the sake of the future of our world."
They stayed on the farm for another week, enjoying the peace and sweet scent of herbs. When they left, they rode by Olori's house and gave her the keys.
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