Ban learned languages, just as he learned to play the violin, to dance, to fight, to kill, and to know the old serpent in his blood. He learned poetry at the old witch's knee -- a pathetic turn of phrase, but a true one -- in different forms for different languages. He learned a thousand curses.

He could talk about love, but he doesn't. This is, you understand, a could in the sense that nothing is impossible, but it is not something that he would do. Volition bars the way, and no expression is necessary for what is understood on both sides.

If you want something, and you ask . . . There was no conscious prayer to that moment of question and answer, no deliberation, no known choice, merely what he had said and what Ginji had replied.

Raitei had stood there amid the rubble and desolation, crowned by the sun, as splendid and terrible as an unleashed hawk, and he had turned to look at Ban, and the hawk had looked through Raitei's eyes and seen Ban there, and known the ancient serpent within him. And Ban had spoken, and Raitei -- Ginji -- had answered.

Hawks shouldn't love serpents and serpents shouldn't love hawks. Ban knows enough to know that this is a bad thing, a dangerous thing, and what may come of it. He could read the hieroglyphs that spell it out, see the carvings on Mayan temples. He saw them on the altar where Himiko lay naked beneath the pitiless emptiness of a thousand mirrors. He sees them on the ancient stonework of a smiling armless woman who looks at him with blind eyes and who knows the truth just as well as he does. He doesn't care.

He is a contradiction in terms, in any case. A serpent is a poisonous creature; he has healed with his blood. The chanting of the verses from Scripture, the boy's body, Maria's smile, Lucifer's sword. A serpent fascinates with its glittering eye; the dreams he gives bring clarity behind them. Look. Look. See. See. The serpent bites its own tail, and has neither beginning nor end.

The hawk pins the serpent, and holds him, and will not let him go.

He could just as well have turned to the three Kings who came seeking their Raitei, and said to them; it is not I who hold him, he holds me. He has my soul in bondage. He knows words which could make them understand such things (and what are such words if not a spell?) but he will not speak them, because serpents are proud and that will not change.

Ban does not think in these terms. There are things which he knows, but he is conscious enough of his own thoughts that he can choose whether or not to turn them over in his mind. This is; this is not. He/Ginji have each other. This is what is.

It will exist for long enough.

This is an eternal moment. The day will never end, and though the sun goes down and rises again, though the seasons change from summer to winter and back to summer, time has stopped for the two of them, for hawk and serpent, in this instant where they have found each other. Somewhere in the middle of the metropolis, in this playground for lost souls, where the last descendant of a cursed tribe can be sure to find others who share his grief, on the fringes of the Infinite Castle, they met and clung together, two poles of a magnet, two broken things finding a match.

Ban learned a thousand words, and he could say whatever he wanted to, if only he chose to speak.


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