Crack’d From Side to Side
"Four Grey Walls and Four Grey Towers, Overlook a space of flowers, And that silent isle imbowers The Lady of Shalott." -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Love is always a trial, but unrequited love is the worst. Gain your heart’s desire and then comes time, which undoes all. You’ll see the flaws, shout the arguments, bear the lying down and the getting up and the doing it all over again on an otherwise unspoiled day. But unrequited love? Might have beens? Imaginings? What you think you’re missing is always worse than the truth, and you never quite get to the truth.
I will tell you this one thing, for what it may be worth—no matter who hurts you, no one can do it more thoroughly than yourself. Believe me, I know. I’m a master.
My love is weaving her magic web of tapestry. She does that when she’s bored. She’s always bored. I could show her anything, wonders beyond the world. She never expects that, never wants it. She only wants to see what’s outside the window of this very tower and sometimes not even that. She likes colors. The flowers below, the lilies that grow along the banks of the river. The bright banners and the trappings of the horses and riders as they pass by. All this through me, but not of me. I am her mirror and she never sees me. She only sees what I show to her. What she wishes to see.
“She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.”
The fools say a curse is on her. My lady, confined to this island, to this tower, thinks the same. The forces I unleashed dictate that she has no memory of the event and so cannot know, but there is no curse, at least not on my lady. It’s something worse that imprisons us both in this tower. Something older, far more powerful than a simple curse. A geas, men used to call it–a divine and irrevocable obligation.
I didn’t mean to do it. It was my desire that became her obligation, but I can’t change it now. That’s not how these things work. I wanted matters between us to be different. I did not wish her to look upon the other lords of the Faerie Queen’s court. I wanted her to see the entire world reflected in my eyes alone, and so now she does. Literally. I got my wish, but of course it’s not what I meant.
That’s no excuse, I know. A being of power such as myself cannot afford to be careless, and I was careless. So look into my eyes, my love. I will show you the world that you cannot touch, while I look at my world that I cannot touch but only reflect.
If there is a curse, it’s on me. I placed it there.
“And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two by two.”
Here they come again. They’re all bad but Lancelot is the worst. Still, he’s well-formed for a mortal man, I’ll give him that much. He would not be out of place at the Fey Court among my former comrades and my lady’s former companions. I do miss my friends, despite it all. I wonder if she does the same, but she never says, nor can I ask. I can do only this one thing, and so I show her the knights on the road to Camelot. I show her that one silly mortal knight. I can’t help that, but I also can’t help but be jealous.
She says nothing, merely goes back to her weaving, but I am not fooled. It is his portrait that appears now in the thread, in the warp and weft of her web of magic. I’m trapped there too, and so I know what she sees of me: gilt frame, blued glass, perhaps one or two distortions that might be in the thread and might be in me; I can never be certain. I’m always there, in her weaving, but I’m never the subject of it. Lately it has all been that one knight.
She’s in love with him. I know it. It’s my fault, I know that as well. My fairy lady would have taken no notice of him, save for me. Being mortal, in a blink he would have come into this world and passed to dust, unworthy of her notice. And yet here I am and here she is, with only one view of the world with one road, that being the road to Camelot, with nothing to do save to weave and to watch, and I show him to her whenever he comes. I don’t want to. I must. The obligation works both ways.
I should think of it as a riddle. What is the obligation that overthrows obligation, what is the power that fields no army and yet destroys kingdoms? Love. Also time. Stupid riddle. Stupid answers. Inevitable results. My love is restless.
She would have been content to look at the world and weave what she saw there forever, except for him. One mortal man with the face of an angel and the sense of a rutting elk. I could have kept my lady content and perhaps even forgiven my own foolishness in time. No, enough, it doesn’t matter now and there’s nothing to be gained in contemplating old scars. One path taken and one path left alone, and only the taken path has its story to tell. She loves him, and there’s no obligation, no geas that can withstand the simple reality of that.
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.”
Last night I saw the meteor. An omen of doom, as if I needed one to know the end of this song. I reflected the truth of it for my lady, but it was useless. She was dreaming of him again. Such things I know because I cannot help knowing, burn me though that knowledge does. I feel the gilt around my frame starting to peel like mortal skin too long in the sun. I of a race that should never know death, I feel it. I am mortal now, despite the fact that I do not truly live, and I feel that mortality as if some great hungry beast approaches through a thicket. Death is almost upon me. Almost upon us both.
Would she care, even if she knew? If I could tell her I truly loved her, that I was sorry for what I had done and ask her forgiveness, would it matter to either of us? I don’t pretend to know. I can only continue to reflect a world that contains him, just as the world within this tower does not. It’s not enough for her, not now. It was for me, but then this was my doing in the first place. I would pay the price alone, but that is not my choice to make. The obligation rules us both now.
“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.”
Strange. After all this time and portents and dread, I don’t think I really understood any of it until just now. That moment when she turned away from me forever and looked out the window. What my desires cost both of us. What the price of love would be. I have had no breath in a score of years, but now I miss it. Now I want to breathe, breathe so I can cry and scream and weep. My breath still does not come for me. I gave it up. I gave up everything for her, and yet look what I have done to her, to us both. Love makes us fools but will not pardon our foolishness.
I will not be forgiven.
“Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.”
No more. My heart is broken. I am broken. I once cast a true reflection but even that is gone now, gone to distortions and repeatings and fractures. The lilies separate at the stem and their images move together, impossibly, but it is not real. What I show now is not real. I do not know what is real. I find the greatest part of myself that remains and try to ignore the horrors in the rest.
I can still see a little. She has taken a boat by the water’s edge and moved it into the stream, but Death is in the lilies and stalks her close. She understands now, I think. The boat will not sail without him.
The cracks are spreading. We who traded our souls for immortality have nothing except immortality. When that is given up, nothing remains. I see the world within me sundering, repeating, sundering again. I can no longer see her for the cracks in our world.
I’m sorry I left you no choice save that one. I’m sorry you did not love me, but most of all I am sorry that I was not strong enough to bear your indifference. Good-bye, my lady. We who have no fear of hell have no hope of heaven, so I give to you the only consolation I have, the only promise that I know I can never break: we will not meet again. Your fine boat sails on to the towers of Camelot where Lancelot lives, but I know only the beast remains to steer it. In your tower, I can no longer see you. All my reflections and illusions are shattered and fall within the empty tower.
I am dust.
“And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.”
– The End –
©2017 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved