This is the story of when Benjamin met Tia. Benjamin's gifts are explained in Breaking Dawn, but Tia's gift is not. I've always imaginged that Tia has the abilty to divine truth, and so that ability is alluded to here.
Thanks go out to my wonderful beta, Mr. Bigg.
This Dark World and Wide
This Dark World and Wide
I loved coming to this spot on the river.
I remembered playing on the banks while my grandfather watched from atop this very same dune, beneath a similar tree. He was such a bright spark, full of life and willing to share it. Although I would simply splash around and pretend to be swimming, he would watch me with utter fascination, as if I had some secret knowledge that could only be observed in play.
How could I know what he saw in me? How could I know that he saw some of himself in me? So much had changed in the span of years I'd come here; it wasn't abnormal for a span of life as long as mine.
My grandfather's love is my most cherished remembrance of him. He was patient and kind, accepting my mischief and rejoicing in my childish triumphs. He would recount stories of this wide world with mastery and poise, instilling in me a love of language though I had no poetry within me. Though my grandmother had died so many years before I was born, he could paint such vivid pictures of her with the love he felt for her and his gift for words.
"Benjamin, your grandmother was a woman of beauty in the truest sense. The first glimpse of her always centered on her hair: black as a starless night, straight as an eagle's flight and unbroken as a stallion's spirit – it was as if the spirit contained in her tresses would reach out and pull you in. Once tied in those beautiful cords, her scent would enfold you, her eyes would entreat you, and her lips would cause rapture when she spoke your name. How tragic you did not know her.
"She would have loved you. Your laughing smile and bright dark eyes, these are sights she missed. Since she is not here, I must love you all the more. Am I not the most fortunate of men? This is the simplest task of my life."
The day he told me this was the day I began to notice the world.
I had wandered through my land and through my life. My grandfather's love had never left me, even when his life did. He could not understand why I did not age beyond my twenty-two year old visage, but never objected to seeing me when I was able to return.
On that last visit, he found the courage to ask about my eyes, never stating his suspicions outright, or voicing rejection to the effects my transformation had on me, and those who fed me.
"My son, do you rest?"
"Yes, grandfather, I rest when I am weary."
"But, do you weary? Do you tire? Your eyes are different, restless and hungry. I worry for your eyes, boy."
"Grandfather, I am well. I have the gift of health, though it may not bring me joy. Still, I am here beside you, and that brings me peace and joy. My eyes shall never tire of your face," I whispered gently. His old skin was pulled taunt against his bones; a death rattle rumbled deep within his chest. "Please, Umri, calm yourself. Rest now."
"Benjie," he croaked, struggling to sit up as life left him. "You must never regret the gifts you have been given. Never." As he spoke, the ground below him shook and heaved. I could not understand this; I had willed no such movement.
"Umri, please, rest. I am here, I will stay beside you."
"But you must hear me, nuur eni. I know you are different; I can read it in your eyes, although I don't understand all it signifies. Meaning is not always ours to hold, but love, love is life, love is ours. Your life, your song to love, is your home and rests in your heart even as it no longer beats. I love you, now, before, and tomorrow. Nuur eni, I love…" And he was gone.
I sat and watched the river flow, remembering this story and savoring its song. Those whom I had loved were no more, lost to wander in the darkness. The moon shone on this windless night, uninterrupted by cloud or stars, as if it knew I had been deprived of the sun and wished to atone for that depravation.
I had often wished that the river of time could flow in either direction; or that as I could change the course of the river, I could change the course of time. I played with the small talent I had been given, pushing the water up the bank as the raven flew overhead. The water saturated the dry sand and the river flowed, though the raven's course did not alter. Time flew on, unaffected by my desire. I released the water to run its course through riverbed. In this lonely world, my childish tricks were as meaningless as time had become.
I sat for so long remembering my grandfather, I did not notice the figure that came to kneel by the water. As if awakening from a long, extended dream, I saw a mass of long, black rope cordoned atop some human form. How odd that a person would have such a thick and massive headdress, I thought, when I suddenly realized it was not rope at all, but luxuriant, thick twists of hair. I had never seen such a color to crown a head in all my travels or days.
I remained motionless, watching the kneeling figure from my vantage. My stillness cloaked my position.
As I sat in silence, I saw a hand cross the body to gently carry a cord of hair over a shoulder. Ah, a woman, I thought. This must explain the splendid condition of the silken ropes. I watched, fascinated, as she leaned forward, cupped the water in her hand and ladled it over the voluminous strands of hair. Her hand held a comb. She began stroking the sinuous rope with the gentleness of love's first kiss.
Her skin was olive as mine, but pale and glowing in the moon's reflection. The folds of her lemony cotton gown came into view, as the hair moved in a light sway with the movement of her body. Such grace, such an indescribably profound aura of beauty… This was typically reserved for those of my kind.
I watched, enraptured by this beautiful stranger. Each movement, each bend and dip was graceful and timeless. She washed and combed each stranded, twisting the rope to reseat it on her crown. I watched mesmerized, unaware of time or movement of the earth. Soon, the sky whispered the approach of dawn. I peered away from the river, over my shoulder to the small structure that hid me in daylight, judging the distance and the time I had left to observe her. Time enough to watch, time enough to wonder… I turned back to the beauty on the banks – and she was gone.
"How many times must I read the same paragraph?", I wondered to no one in particular. I read the lines aloud, willing myself through my favoritetome of Milton. "When I consider how my light is spent. Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, And that one Talent which is death to hide…" I knew the author spoke of his oncoming blindness, but he reached to me through the years and bemoaned my current plight.
This small abandoned building near the river sheltered me from the light and became my daytime tomb. It was cool, close and dank, but no sun leaked through and I was secure. The world above was quiet; the candles I kept for reading were burning low. I hadn't intended on staying this long.
Would she return tonight? Would she ever return? I didn't know. Time passed without meaning until darkness fell and my hope rose. I couldn't know if she would return; all I knew is that until I saw her one more time, paradise was lost.
I climbed the stairs to the darkened structure above, a ghost emerging from death's door. The night's stillness was full and deep. Silently, I ran to my vantage point, to sink in and endure my nightly vigil with hope my only companion.
Still as the air, I sat and waited. My grandfather's words came back to me again, unbidden.
"Benjie… never regret the gifts given to you." I could see once again, the love in his aging eyes, the spark of life almost extinguished. "Love is life, love is ours…" Had he know how long I'd wander?
I awoke from my reverie to see her kneeling by the water again. She faced the river, away from me, the folds of her gowns pressed into the sand.
"I know you're there," a voice as sweet as birdsong filled the air. In that moment, I knew.
She was grace.
She was beauty.
She was… one of us.
She rose, still facing away from me. "How long have you been waiting?" she asked, as if she could sense my purpose there.
My stillness did not alter her perception, and at last, I spoke. "Longer than I intended, but long enough for my heart's desire." My words were apt, carrying the hope to entreat her to continue to question me. My voice trembled.
"Ah," she sighed. "I see your meaning." And turned slowly around.
Through my years, I stood before beauty in countless forms. I realized I had never seen before this moment; I had been blind, living in this world dark and wide. Her eyes were dark and hungry, but not wild. The inexplicable inner life of her hair thrilled me; the luminescence and paleness of her skin calmed me. She was a vision of love as I had never witnessed. I staggered forward, my mouth open in awe.
She did not move or retreat, but faced me with curiosity. I managed to croak, "Who are you?"
"I am Tia," she said softly, casting her eyes down in a sort of bow.
"Tia, I am Benjamin. I have waited for you." I was forward and clumsy, an awkward boy before a goddess. My eagerness caused her to look away, embarrassed, turning to once again face the river.
I dared not look away. She commanded my attention, but claimed my fear. "Please. Don't leave." My voice was awkward and clumsy, my fear pushing my voice aside. How could I speak my heart when my mouth would not obey? I reached to the river.
I willed the water rise and show her what my words could not. The water rose, taking shape before her. A large oval separated from the river and rose to level with her head. The moonlight shone through the water and reflected face, creating a sort of mirror. I could see her beauty through the watery window, her startled smile enhancing her grace. Tia soundlessly reached to touch her watery reflection, without surprise, fear or shock. Her fingertips became moistened with river water, and as she put them to her lips, she spoke.
"Why do you show me this?" she whispered.
"So you might see the rapture I behold." Slowly, she turned to face me and my heart leapt with joy. The rivers of time flowed without direction, and I felt my grandfather, standing with me, proud and loving, pushing me toward this woman. Without reluctance, without fear, I moved to stand before her, my breath rapid and ragged. She watched each step, willing me forward. I came to stand before her, to declare myself to her, to rid the night of its pitch. I lifted her moistened hand and kissed her fingers.
"Tia, walk with me."
"I see the truth in you, Benjamin. I hear your heart. I have waited for you as well, habiibii; no longer will you wander in loneliness." Her dainty hand fit in mine, slipping between my fingers to find their place with me.
I held her hand in mine, timeless, unafraid. I looked to the moon, eager for the days to come. "Thank you, grandfather," I said as I kissed her fingertips. "I am home."