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loyal cantons of contemned love

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I.

I my brother know
Yet living in my glass

Viola had forever been two: not only Viola, but Sebastian as well. One half of a whole.

Without Sebastian, who had ever existed at her side, she ceased to be Viola – his counterpart. In his absence, she needed to create herself anew to stitch the ragged void his demise had ripped into her heart. To save them both, she became his likeness, became Cesario, who was half Viola and half Sebastian, and yet neither.

Every morning his face returned her gaze from the looking glass, and every morning he was yet alive inside her.

Every morning, they were both alive.

 

II.

Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife.

The want for secrecy forbade her tongue to speak the truth about her state.

She owed the duke her life as much as she did the captain who'd rescued her from the sea's violent gorge. By accepting her into his service, he'd saved her from drowning in grief over her lost sibling, supplied her with a purpose and breathed life into Cesario, thus completing her concealment.

Though her purpose be the messenger of love between her lord and his lady, swift and sure-footed and sworn to silence – she would be content to live out the remainder of her days as mute of heart if, like this, she were allowed to spend them by his side.

 

III.

If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!

In his dreams, the duke meets Olivia in the orchard by her house. The air is ripe with spring's perfume, yet autumn's colours tinge the leaves. Half the trees are blooming, half are bowing under the weight of their offerings, and some have shed their crown that now crumbles to dust beneath their soles.

Orsino bids Cesario find the sweetest, most succulent fruit for his mistress, and so the boy does. Yet when he returns, carrying a red apple in either hand, Olivia is no longer beside them.

Cesario seems not to notice, holds one fruit to Orsino's mouth, inviting him to taste its nectar. There is no resisting the glint in his eyes, and so Orsino grasps the boy's wrist, brings the apple to his lips, and the boy's fingers with it.

 

IV.

Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.

In her dreams, Olivia marries Cesario in opulent splendour. In her dreams, he says yes. He would give his life to her. Fanfares are sounding in her head, and on the morrow, she knows what she must needs do.

On the morrow, she fashions her dreams into reality.

 

V.

But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much.

What better fortune could Orsino, whose bosom in confusion churned before the revelation, ask for than a wife who is both maid and boy?

Her presence as Cesario, his trusty confidant, confounded his desire for Olivia's hand. Sending him to yond same sovereign cruelty to address the love Orsino bears for her ere long became a routine measure. No longer could he trust his senses in this youth's presence. His lean limbs, his womanish voice, his adoring eyes all stirred a tender attraction in Orsino's heart he could scarce ignore.

By Jove, the intensity of what was brewing to a storm inside the enclosure of his chest rivalled the ocean's hunger, ever-growing and insatiate, for he knew it could not be. His love he owes Olivia, as he proclaimed so oft, and his pride would not accept rejection as an answer.

Yet when gentle Viola unveiled her true identity and Olivia released him from his vows, he was saved from disgrace and shame. He could love this boy-turned-woman without remorse.

 

VI.

For youth is bought more oft than begg'd or borrow'd.

The day after the wedding, Olivia still shines like a most radiant jewel, for she's in love – and her love is finally returned. It matters not whether it was bought or earned; its worth far exceeds all the pearls in her possession and she'd gladly make a present of them all, so long as his affection is assured.

("Ce—bastian," she stutters, remembering his name. The likeness is too great.)

(It matters not, for she's in love.)

Yesterday brought on so many changes, her head is spinning to catch up.

Fortune has granted her not only a husband, but a sister, too. Her suitor lay down his suit in favour of another, and she is free. The world is bright and sparkling and new, and Olivia is singing praises in her heart.

Nothing exists but herself, her husband and their shared joys, like tidal waves, lapping away the world's edges.

 

VII.

I should my tears let fall upon your cheek,
And say 'Thrice-welcome, drowned Viola!'

Now that the ocean has returned her brother, Cesario reverts to being Viola once more, giving up capes for shawls, swordfighting for embroidery.

Yet her corsets constrict her breathing more than the bindings round her chest ever could, and her stockings prove little relief for the exposure she feels beneath her skirts. To think three months could undo a whole life's upbringing.

Viola muses that never again would she wear a woman's attire with the natural ease she had seen on Olivia.

 

VIII.

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons.

The duke had it almost right. A similarity so striking as to fool them all. And more fool Olivia, for having married whom she thought she loved. Sweet Cesario, who turned out to be not Cesario at all. And the real Cesario... Well, Viola was a rare comedian. A beauty in her woman's weeds, yet dressed as a boy, her youthful disposition allows her to perfect the habits of the other sex.

And yet her voice is gentler than Sebastian's, her shoulders softer, her tread lighter. And her laugh like chimes... ah, that Olivia did not spot the difference! Was she so enamoured of the praises Cesario sang that her love for him really did blind her?

Although, Olivia need not be so hard on herself, for she was not alone. Viola has tended on the duke for three months and he was as surprised as the rest of them.

Still, she cannot unsay her vows, vows binding her to a man she thought she could love for the resemblance to his sibling. Not so. Her heart is constant. It will not allow her to bend to present circumstances.

 

IX.

Blame not this haste of mine.

She beseeched Cesario – Sebastian – not to let her haste taint his opinion of her, and now that very haste is tainting her opinion of herself. It was not seemly, it was not becoming, and it certainly was ill-advised.

It could have been so easy, loving Sebastian. He was kind, he was gentle with her, and above all, he was beautiful. Yet he was not whom she wanted.

Alas, her eyes may be fooled, yet her love remains with Cesario. And what was Olivia to do about that? He was gone as surely as her dear brother, and yet he has left no remains for the Earth to shelter, whereto she could pilgrim and water the ground with the brine from her eyes.

 

X.

Cesario, come;
For so you shall be, while you are a man.

Where Orsino felt drawn to stand close enough beside Cesario that no other person could come betwixt them, he now adds an extra foot of distance and feels not uncourteous. Indeed, blind is he to the coldness in his actions, for the fire in his heart that he so cherished has expired, the appetite he wanted fed has sickened and died.

Was he so naive as to believe he could have retained both woman and boy by marrying Viola? And did not his pages wonder at his choice, when all her deeds these past months were borne from deception? Curio would not have stood for it, or so he mused in his master's hearing, and Valentine remains uneasy in her presence, remembering the jests they shared.

Was it naive to forego blame, because he still sees Cesario locked behind her eyes, because he thought they could continue living as before?

Was it the thwarted possibility of having that he loved and not the having itself? Olivia, when she would not see him; Cesario, when he was a man; Cesario, when he was no longer?

 

XI.

I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

Olivia sits up at night, feigning insomnia that plagues her so she cannot sleep.

Sometimes, she would walk the gardens in her shift, wrapped in a warm cloak and carrying a small candle to light her way. Her feet follow the paths she trod with Cesario before, as though secretly she hoped to find him hidden behind the briars.

In the darkness that envelops her, she can hear the wind whispering her name, can imagine it is Cesario reading the chapters of his heart – though it never was his book that he unclasped; it was borrowed from Orsino. And yet, the words did charm her, as though his voice was laced with spells of love.

"Come to bed, my love," Sebastian would say when he finds her sitting beneath the apple trees. His voice is soft, if a pitch darker than Cesario's. His eyes are, too – sorrow casts a shadow over them. He has come to regret his decision, as well.

Olivia averts her gaze; even in the dark she cannot bear to look upon his face, for Cesario's ghost does haunt his features. She half-mourns him like her dear lost brother, though he had never been.

A wedding with his likeness could not quell her love for him. Or transfer that same love to his likeness. If she still loved Cesario, and Cesario was Viola, did Olivia then love Viola?

She knew no answer, and had no one to give her counsel. The house is quiet with Feste and Malvolio gone, with Toby and Maria honeymooning, with Sebastian staring at the sea, longing for companionship no wife can offer.

So strange to think that this good fortune offering to them what they most desired turned out to be not what they wanted at all.