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The Knight of Infinite Resignation

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Judge Vilhelm

He loves her.

They walk together down their usual lane, one morning in June. Elm trees, still the paler green of new foliage, shade their path. He speaks to her of Xenophon's Oeconomicus; she makes pointed comments from the perspective of Ischomachus's wife. Sunlight catches in her eyes each time she laughs, and he thinks that he has never loved her more, has never loved anything more than her.

He pauses at the corner, stopping her movement with the gentlest of touches on her arm. "You must never lose that smile, you know," he says, quite serious. "I should never forgive myself if you lost it on my account."

"Silly man," she says, and the smile softens. "You must know by now that you are its cause, and always will be."

You are too young to speak of eternity, he thinks, but says nothing. When he cups her face and bends down for a kiss, her lips feel wonderfully soft, like kissing a sun-warmed rose. He pulls away, still holding her face, and laughs at the ridiculous metaphors of his love-struck mind.

It begins to rain -- no mere sprinkling but a sudden torrent, the sort of summer storm that pours from the sky with the rumble of constant thunder, soaking them through. They feel drenched to the bone by the time they have run back to Regine's house, giggling and panting for breath. Once they huddle by the entrance, half-sheltered by the eaves, Regine's expression shifts suddenly. Her eyes are wider, expectant, tremulous; Søren can see through them her awareness of the soaked summer dress that clings to her skin translucently. He glances downward, just once, and flushes when he sees the reddish tips visible on her breasts. Regine's lips are parted, soft, mutely asking a question.

He realizes that he knows the answer. Gently, carefully, he pulls off his rain-sodden coat and wraps it around her, pretending not to see the disappointment in her eyes. "We must keep you from catching a chill," he says, and opens the door to let them in. He loves her, and he knows his duty.

By August, the engagement is over.

Constantin Constantius

He loved her.

They lie in his bed together, on their sides, face to face, naked as children. He knows, without looking, that every part of her is beautiful; were he a painter, he could devote years to the study of each limb. But he is no painter, and so he closes his eyes and tells her how lovely she looks. He knows, without opening his eyes, that she thinks his words lies.

Everything felt so easy, the first time. All he wanted was to give her delight, and her gasps and sighs each time he touched her skin were thanks enough. Alone in her house for the afternoon, they had taken tea together, leaning their faces closer with each sip. He had kissed her, tasting the hint of lemon on her tongue, and threaded his hand through her hair -- soft, so soft. "I could hold you like this all day," he said, and meant it.

She kissed him again. "I should not mind that at all, I think. But -- Søren, we are alone. No one will disturb us for hours."

He had frowned a moment at the non-sequitur, then understood. "You would like me to . . . approach you as a man approaches his wife?"

"Yes, my husband to be," she said, formally, with a tender crinkle at the corner of her eyes. "That is precisely what I would like."

"I see." He had followed her to her bedroom, then unlaced her corset with care, slipping it off with the shift underneath. Each time a new inch of skin was exposed, he kissed it, marveling at its smoothness. Only when she stood before him, nude, did he remove his own clothing with quick efficiency. "I have not . . ." he began, then trailed off.

"Then we will learn together," Regine said. She showed him where to touch her, when to stroke gently or firmly; he suppressed a flinch when her fingers touched his manhood, unaccustomed to another's touch, but focused on the simple physical sensations until he hardened in response.

After the coupling had finished, Regine's face resembled a love-drunk goddess's, a deeper and more peaceful joy than he had ever seen. He continued to watch her face as she nestled into the pillows, drinking in every detail and committing them to memory. "I shall never forget you as you are right now," he said to her, so quietly he could barely hear his own words.

Indeed, he has not forgotten. Like a ghost hovering above her face, the memory of that joy haunts him, perfect in all the ways this moment is not. He tries to repeat the motions that made her breast arch with desire -- strokes her hips, kisses her neck -- but the touches feel artificial, a tale told third-hand. Stripped of the revelation and newness of that first encounter, she sees him truly, and she sees that all his pleasure in the love-making derived solely from hers.

He envisions their future before him, for a moment -- the wedding night and beyond, countless moments tainted and unendurable by comparison to that perfect hour. Repetition is impossible, and that memory of bliss will never recur. Perhaps it never even existed outside his memory.

By August, the engagement is over.

Johannes the Seducer

She loves him.

Perhaps the shadow she has seen in him only increases her love, brews it thick with desperation. Perhaps she has deceived herself about him, imagining him a lover greater than he himself could be. Perhaps he was the deceived, thinking she had the wit to recognize the doubts that echo unspoken in every conversation.

They meet, still, every morning. Søren knows that Regine is no less lovely, no less clever, but each day he dreads the encounters. He knows how this morning will play out, just like every other. He will greet her at the corner, and the delight in her eyes will pierce him like a poisoned weapon. He will make conversation with her, chattering about music and literature, and she will reply, speaking as freely and easily as if they had been married for ten years. He will respond without thinking about his response, focused on all that is wrong, and on and on the conversation will go, until it ends with a painfully guilty sense of relief.

This morning, though, something in his mind says, enough. He lifts his melancholy spirit like a babe from his breast, setting it aside and apart. When he glimpses Regine, he thinks only of possibilities and change; he directs his mind to the interesting, and not to the good.

"You're very beautiful today," he tells her, and he means it. Perhaps the blush of exertion on her cheeks had been there every morning, but today he sees it anew, a mark of change. He strokes a finger up and down one of the ringlets framing her pretty face, teasing at it so it begins to split apart.

"Stop that, Søren," she says -- still smiling, but with a hint of annoyance. He ignores her. Instead, he plays with the ringlet until it dissolves into tangles, wondering when she will pull away from his touch. "I mean it," she says crossly. "Stop." Still, he notes, she does not move. Her hair under his fingers feels pleasingly soft.

Just as the last ember of sympathy in her eyes is about to vanish, he releases her hair and kisses her forehead lightly. "Forgive me if I find you too touchable to resist."

As soon as he says the word "touchable," hope shines visibly from her face, utterly erasing any irritation. He marvels at the ease of the transformation, and at how completely she has given him the power to control it. This new game -- this cold, incisive place inside him -- has transformed an ordinary walk into a fascinating revelation of character. He wonders what else it could do.

Søren knows, of course, that this cruelty is transitory. Soon, even eliciting her love will become tiresome, and he will move to a new cruelty: the merciful cruelty of endings, which has its own dark fascination.

By August, the engagement is over.

Johannes de Silentio

He loves her.

The weight of his love crushes him, a yoke on his shoulders that feels unbearable when he considers it, so he attempts not to consider it. He rereads the Symposium and cannot find himself in the light banter; he rereads Goethe and scorns the shallowness of its passions.

He turns to the Bible, hoping to take solace in the tale of Isaac and Rebekah. Long ago, so long ago, he met a grey-eyed young woman taking tea with her friends, and fancied himself like Isaac glimpsing Rebekah in the field. This time, though, he continues on, reading the tale of how Isaac's wife impassioned him so deeply that fear of death could not keep him from her embrace. I am no Isaac, he tells himself. If anything, she is the Isaac in our tale -- she the one who seeks out my touch, even when we both know it to be foolishness. She is my Isaac.

So he looks at a different tale.

Once upon a time, a man named Abraham loved his son Isaac dearly, more than his wife or lands or life itself. This love was a good and virtuous thing, the love of a father for his son, his long-awaited heir. What Abraham desired and what duty demanded were happily aligned, and only one thing countered them: the immutable, irrational word of God. Yet Abraham took his son to kill him on a mountain.

Søren tries to understand what sort of man would do such a thing, and whether he is that sort of man. Nothing could be more terrible than losing Regine. Nothing could feel more impossible than a life as the husband she deserves.

He avoids Regine for a week, to see if removing himself from her would make the sacrifice easier, but only when he sees her again does he truly understand. A sacrifice like this cannot be made easier, or its value is lessened; only if he destroys her in the fullness of his love will the gift be perfect.

He is a monster, he knows, but perhaps he was a monster from the first moment he set eyes on a grey-eyed girl and decided to court her, knowing the melancholy of his mind, knowing the disinterest of his loins. Yet even that cruelty pales in comparison to this, for only now can he destroy her while knowing that no one will ever be so dear to him; no one will ever be so beloved.

She is his Isaac, but he is no Abraham. Abraham kept his faith, even with the knife pressed to his son's throat, that all he desired would still come to pass. Søren knows his faith is not so strong; yet in his hand, the knife grows heavy.

By August, the engagement is over.

Søren Kierkegaard

He loves her.

He writes books for her, and as he writes he knows that they will endure for generations. All of them are about him; none of them are about him.

He writes letters to her, and says he does not love her, and knows she knows he lies.

He never stops thinking about her as his wife -- his spouse, his beloved, his own -- and when he hears of her marriage to another, his first thought is bafflement, that she should be able to do such a thing. But Schlegel is a fine man, an ordinary man, and he cannot touch the ageless Regine in Søren's mind.

He hears the rumors swirling around him, naming him a seducer, a villain. He welcomes them, just as he welcomes the rumors that his affections never faltered. They free him from new feigned attachments, from the charade of dances and flirtations and matchmaking parents. Purity of heart is to will one thing, he writes, and it matters not what the girls think his "one thing" is, so long as they know it not to be them.

He loves her. Such an easy statement to make, so full of ambiguities that anyone could approve. But he is not himself -- just as he is not the writer of any of his books -- and she is not Regine. She is his muse, his love, his wife, but she is all these things because she is no flesh-and-blood woman. She has no desires, no disappointment; she will never confront him with her nakedness or her impatience. She is his everything, his one perfect thing, and by giving her away he has preserved her for infinity.