For Whom the Bell Tolls
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours."
For the softest of these silver mornings, where birds do not feel the damp of dew, where wind does not move for all the silence of the dawn just breaking. Where the trees are bowed to this lack of wind, more so than they would be to the greatest of storms. Where spiders, in spinning the complications of each meshing thread from deep within themselves, pause with their legs at angles to see the sun rise, or simply feel of its warmth upon their backs. Where creatures snuffling low in the dark dirt pause, their breaths bated, as sunlight comes, human intelligence in their mud-colored eyes.
But in this moment, before the sun appears: the grayness. Cooler than empty, almost without any color, almost like ice, only more passive and more numb. An ancient chill, or a scar remembering the strength of such a wound, such a wound as caused it long ago.
How long has it been? He wonders. How long? And it does not matter, for it has been long enough. Even an instant in this time before the dawning of the sun, it is so, so easy to forget how warm and how soft and how loving the sunlight is, when it shines upon you and bathes you golden. No matter how bright, no matter how adoring, it once shone.
It was like being reborn, this learning of another body.
And this particular body, perfect and smooth, skin perfect and smooth, lips perfect and smooth, was so unlike his own, and yet he was so in tune with it that it was to this moment a wonder to him, each time he touched, each time he kissed, each time he re-learned and rediscovered every inch.
"'Lendel," he said, "'Lendel, 'Lendel, 'Lendel..." Over and over, because he loved to say it. Because he loved his own voice when he said it as he loved nothing of himself and nothing of his own, when his tones got a little breathy and a little high and just pleaded with the golden figure of his lover, just loved him, just by saying his name. It was so simple, he knew now, to open yourself up, when you knew there would be no pain. Not yet. All was simple, all was assuaged by the soothing touch of such love. And yes, perhaps he had thought once that Savil was entirely right to think them strange, a bit too sugary for any normal person's tastes. After all, they never fought and they never argued, and they certainly never thought of anything but the other's happiness.
But then, there were times like these -- and times like these happened to be every time they were together.
It was, as he had explained it in his mind, for in case. In case they lost each other. It was to have, to have as much as they could manage, because there was always the terrible possibility of what if looming over them like dark stormclouds drawing closer.
I love him, Vanyel thought to himself, over and over which each repetition of his lover's name, I do. I love him. It was something wonderful to admit, wonderful to even think, wonderful to know that 'Lendel knew, and felt the same. Wonderful just to think it, more wonderful still to know it, and feel it, and hear it like blood in your body, replacing your veins, thrumming in your muscles, pounding behind your eyes and at your temples.
"Van -- ashke -- Van..."
And it was easy enough to know that 'Lendel loved him, to hear that 'Lendel loved him, from those simple words. Soft, and just as breathy, and just as light.
Then, they were kissing, and all of Haven disappeared into the warmth of the spring night.
Why did I have to find you at all? Why couldn't I have been alone, and in that loneliness, content?
It was a place Vanyel Ashkevron disliked to return to.
It was a place Vanyel Ashkevron would rather forget than remember to mourn.
It was a place he could not banish from the echoing in his mind, deep to the recesses of the burn in his chest.
No matter how iced over he grew, no matter how calloused his fingers and no matter how weary his soul, it was a place he could never forget, a place he could never reject. There was no way to transpose it to music or commit it to song. No way to translate such misery into the dance of notes from fingers, from instrument, into the air.
It was a place that made him now, above all, feel very tired.
Why did you come to me?
And there was the wind singing through the leaves of the trees but from that voice he remembered so fadingly and yet, he thought, so well, there was no answer.
Why is there love, to be taken away only?
And still there was just the music through the rustling trees as they drew closer, and then pulled away.
"'Lendel," Van whispered to the air, which held no comfort, which offered no arms, which was golden as Tylendel's curls had been but was as light and as intangible as the memories of his lover were, now, "'Lendel. You left me. And I could have stopped it..." That, the greatest knowledge of all, the heaviest weight, the most miserable burden. Under it, his shoulders sagged, and he fell to his knees in the waving grass, for once ignoring dirt, feeling the fingers of wind ghost up and down his spine.
It is better to have loved and lost, said a terrible voice, than to never love at all.
It was his own voice, Van knew.
One memory with you is worth a thousand years without.
He could not carry life as a cross upon his shoulders, but there were times, anniversaries that marked loss and grief, and not joy, delight, laughter -- times like these -- times when he felt above all else the acute stab of his loneliness -- when he wondered. All that 'Lendel had given him -- what was it, now that it was taken away? What was it, now that 'Lendel was long dead, long gone, growing flowers from the deep earth beneath the marker over his grave? Just a stone. Just a memory. Just the way Van's own name had been spoken.
But nothing more.
Vanyel had seen his lover soar from the window, arms spread-eagle, eyes wide and jaw tight and the knowledge of that firm ground that was to come to his bones and his weary body like some sort of grail to achieve, some sort of rest so greatly desired. The light had glinted of 'Lendel's golden curls and he had seemed at that moment to be perhaps a phoenix, a bird whose plumage was spun of sunshine.
The bell had tolled from the high tower the second his body crunched in that sickening way to the ground, and that moment was the time just before the dawn, gray, disbelieving, ominously silent, perpetually without emotion. Van's heart grown fallow, in the memory of love gained, love lost, the hollow sound of the Death Bell as it tolled on the rainiest of nights, beneath the darkest of skies.