The sublime courtship

It was once so simple.

They were children and they danced because they wanted to,

holding on a little longer, tiny lights flickering like candles.

Gentle…luminous…softly melting

…gone by daybreak.

She, who was not yet Queen, used to say:

“One day I will make you my King.”

He, who could not yet read between the lines, would answer:

“And I will tell you stories.”

Once so simple.

But then there was wisdom,

the gathering of knowledge that came with years,

with learning how to walk their separate paths.

She became sovereign,

torn from girlhood, schooled by the finest minds.

He learned the craft of words alone.

Her task was to love the whole world,

his was to tune its voice into song.

She made the law; he wrote it down.

The Queen and her Scribe

…dancers no more.

Thrown together in one world, torn apart in another,

circling in cool orbit.

The familiar names of childhood were banished,

replaced by the titles of office.

They met for appointments rather than music.

Both knew it was the right way.

Neither challenged the verdict of reason.

He accepted that she was destined for higher things,

that her heart must beat for all her people,

that she must live forever.

In turn, the young Queen embraced her fate,

endowing it with a joy everyone could sense.

She was loved throughout the realm like no other.

The bounty of her giving brought spring to the trees, rivers to the sea.

Yet, with this regal noon came dark shadows,

deep pools of nocturne where pale ghosts still whirled,

dancing in whispers,

not daring to breathe life into the impossible unchosen.

Now so complex, so scratched over with corrections,

rewritten in a hand that looked like him

but sounded like her.

His quill, her decision, their sentence.

She was the stronger of the two.

The sages had taught her well.

She knew the value of eyes that beheld everything.

He became a detail she could look through.

Yet, in the quiet, in pinprick moments,

she faltered on her tightrope,

aware that from her lofty vantage

it was a long way down.

Closer to the ground, he saw her shivering procession,

yet did not wish to precipitate her fall.

Thus, by imperceptible degree, he retreated,

leaving her for the company of metaphors.

In between paragraphs,

in the intense nothing where one phrase ends and another picks up,

he would leave the trace of a kiss,

like the beating of gossamer wings.

It was a love unseen.

Not even they dared look at it.

Out loud, they spoke their cant.

“I must love everybody,” she would say. “This is my path.”

“I will love you regardless,” he would breathe quietly. “It is my joy.”

Yet, in the heart, the dialogue was different.

In the blood, another story.

It was made of silence,

of the seconds when their eyes would lock,

flashing with the double edge of recognition.

It is you…yet it cannot be.

“It is for the best,” he would agree.

“We shall rise above,” was her edict.

“A kingdom of possession will make subjects of us all.”

“If it was within my power to order it thus,

I would free us all from desire.”

He yearned every evening for such liberation.

She fasted and prayed and willed herself to wake from longing.

Each alone, they repeated the mantra.

“Let it go, let it go,”

and together they were the wiser and more steadfast for it.

Without hunger…

this was how they moved around each other,

and though the sky was sometimes bright with fireworks

they did not crane their necks.

It was, after all, decided.

And so the years went by,

with only momentary cracks of light

to suggest the existence of an ageless spark.

But the Queen and the Scribe reckoned without the Gods,

for the heavens are wont to undo any knot tied on earth.

The wisdom of men and women is proud and winged,

it flies, it ascends,

but there is always gravity.

The Gods smiled,

knowing that children and fools still understand

what the wise and mighty have forgotten,

and so they pruned the tree of worldly knowledge

that it might bear fruit anew.

To celebrate her twentieth year as sovereign

the Queen decided to undertake a pilgrimage.

“There is always more to understand,” she told her Scribe,

before setting out to visit every learned sage in the realm.

For months she travelled,

often alone, sometimes in disguise,

seeking audience with insight wherever it could be found.

One morning she rode into a village at the foot of a line of hills.

It was not a place of great note,

merely a collection of simple dwellings nestled in low slopes.

She asked, as always, for an audience with the wisest soul,

and she was taken to a well, where a haggard looking man waited,

his eyes as tired as the heather

before the surrender of winter.

The Queen asked: “What is it that weighs so heavy, old man?”

“All the things I know,” he answered,

as he hauled a pale of water from the well.

Intrigued, the Queen watched closely.

He washed his face with slow movements, drinking handfuls between.

“I stand at the well to remember the simplicity of water,” he said.

The Queen asked him what he meant

and he looked deep into her eyes,

themselves like pools.

“Will you tell me your story?” she asked, as if provoked.

“Stories are all I have,” he confessed, as if cajoled.

To the Queen’s surprise it was not an old fable, nor a religious parable

but a simple tale of a man and a woman,

and as it unfolded she felt, for the first time in years,

the urge to dance.

She closed her eyes,

felt herself turning in tune

with the echoes of a song long quiet.

He too was reeling,

each sentence making him tremble,

as if the truth of his tale was measured in the catching of her breath.

Only certain lines are remembered of the story told by the man at the well:

If I did not learn to swim I would not be drowning.

I have walked so far, not to get here, but to travel with you.

Many things have I learned, countless books have I read,

but nothing so wonderful as the feather of your breath on my neck.

So much my hands have grasped and shaped,

yet only when I hold onto yours…

At last the man could not speak, nor the Queen listen.

Instead, he cupped his hands, and from them she drank.

Thereafter, he bowed his head, and thus she anointed him.

“It is you?” she wondered,

recognising something in the sea of his voice.

“And you?” he asked, knowing all along

…and they rode out together, not a word to anyone.

Now so simple; love being love,

morning being the start of the day.

Legend has it that when the Queen wakes,

her Scribe, her King now chosen,

repeats the final words of his story.

“In each of us, everything.

In everything, you and I.

My love for you is my love for the world.

Only by loving, unadorned, do we bring together heaven and earth.

Come dance with me, my Queen,

where the arc of the bridge meets

and there is nothing

…save the instant before a kiss.”

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