In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
[In a Dark Time, Theodore Roethke]
She traced the path of his chin with shaking fingers, moving higher and higher and hesitating with a tremble just before her fingertips touch the scars. She hears – no, she feels – the sharp and short intake of air, as if somebody plunged unexpectedly a spear into his flesh. It’s me, she thinks, slightly amazed. But she does not look up, her eyes half-covered by her eyelids, looking at the carved breastplate and seeing her own blurred reflection.
How improbable, she muses, to touch him. To touch him like this, to strip him of his deepest-rooted boundaries.
She knows, now she knows, that the true scars are not the ones that you bear on the surface, the ones everyone can see. No, the true scars are those hidden deep in your soul, scratched into your heart. Those are the ones that cannot heal, that stain you forever, that hurt the most.
Seeing him like this, she wasn’t afraid – not as much as she should be, at least. It wasn’t the wisest thing to do, perhaps, and her Septa – was she still alive – would surely scold her. Alas, there was no one left to scold her now. One moment she was a child, a blossoming maiden, and then suddenly she was pushed into the world of men of age, the one she wanted to enter so eagerly once upon a time. Had she known what sacrifice would it take to get there, what the price would be, maybe she would hesitate before stating her wishes. But maybe not, because the child she once was didn’t believe that the world can hold anything painful for her; that child could see only a bright and carefree future stretching before her, full of love, devotion and admiration.
How silly that child was, she thought, a small smile full of wonder tugging on her lips as her index finger touched fleetingly the corner of his eye, tripping for a short while over the barely-discernable wrinkles. Soft, she wondered. How is it possible. Why.
Her hand, so pale against his sun-burned skin, so small. And yet how much stronger it seemed now, caressing his tense tendons, propping his veins, feeling his blood circulate quicker and quicker. There was a power in it, power she could – should – use. Try to persuade him to–
But even the merest thought of lying to him made her chest grew tighter. Fear, she half-lied to herself. He was strong, he was cunning, he always saw through all the ruses. He was fearless. He was restless. He was heartless.
That’s what they all said about him.
Maybe she believed it. Earlier.
But now, now–
Now she couldn’t help it. When he stood so close to her, his flesh hot as fire, his armor cold as ice – both burning her body through her dress – the wind flowing through the open window and tickling the back of her neck, moving her hair so slightly, resembling the gentlest caress of his fingers she yearned to feel.
It filled her with a sense of distant wonder, as if she was looking at someone else’s life, like it wasn’t her own. As if she was listening to the minstrel’s song of heroes and their fair maidens. As if it was a fairytale – one filled with horror and pain, where no one believed in happy endings anymore. Full of tears and pleas instead of laughter and confessions of love.
And maybe she was right. Maybe there were no more happy endings; at least not for her.
Or maybe I was wrong, she thinks when his eyes finally meet hers and, for the first time, she does not fear to look. And to see.