She remembered the figure being dark… and desirable in his darkness. But now he was all lacy white and flame. But still desirable. His touch awoke a trembling in her as he held her passionately in his arms. She almost flinched away at first as his mouth met hers, the corners of her mouth bending down in sorrow, but the kiss was breathless and filled her with cold then with flame. When her eyes opened again she saw differently.
The fire remained in her and burned, spreading itself out from her arms in great trailing wings.
Another presence stood besides her now, more fish than bird, more water than fire… but the fire was still there, burning in him as it did in her no less passionate for its gentleness. And he was familiar to her.
The source of their fire stood before them an spoke, it’s voice terrible and cold and warm and sweet. “Will you help to make the world with me?”
She looked out, brow furrowing, across dark waters. “But I thought the world drowned…”
“The old one yes, it has gone beneath the waves. It has gone to meet me. But a new one is coming. Have you ever seen water lilies in one of the garden ponds? One flower may sink, but another one waits beneath the murky surface.”
“So will you help make the new world with me?”
She hesitated briefly, then asked, “Will there be flight?”
“My dearest, the birds have their wings still, and humans are doing new things with wood, and metal, and electricity every day. If you will it…”
The fire in her rose up and what passed for her face now took on a new expression.
The other presence spoke.
“Can there be art?”
“My prince, my beloved, when in human history hasn’t there been?”
At the first words, his form throbs with memories that, despite being half-remembered, filled him with exquisite desire. There was despair and shame mixed in it too, but those faded here, were consumed.
“Nothing with armies, though if that is possible.” He frowned, as old sorrow flared through him at the thought.
“I believe it can be.” A wry grin crosses the figure’s face.
The surface of the water is like a mirror, and she can see the fish-presence like a reflection below. Following her movements but turning them to his own purposes. Encouraging the new world upward.
Her cry echoes over the waters, and phoenix-like she flies from wave to wave…
Somewhere near the ocean, among sand dunes and beach grasses, a person checks over the wings of their newest device. It awes them to think that soon, once again, this thin layer of lacquered cloth will be all that stands between them and death – a long fall through the open air. Their breath quickens at the thought. Of course, the glory they are achieving now cannot be without its danger. To fly free like a bird, wild and alone… To flirt with the wind… To see the whole world spread out below, perfect for all its pain. A bird… They breathe in a ragged breath and look over at their aeroplane. Well, right now it’s a somewhat gangly brown-and-white bird. Much like the seagulls that bob and weave in the air nearby. Not everything can be poetry…
But in the air everything seems like it.
Somewhere in the woods outside Mayerling, a man takes out his paints. His coat is worn and only a thin layer of cloth stands between him and the bitter cold of the morning. He takes off his gloves to uncap the paint and more delicately handle his brushes. The cold touches his fingers and it feels like painful kisses. His hands tingle and his breath catches at the sensation. He uncaps a tube and dips his brush into the resulting smear of green and begins to paint the curves of the crocuses and snowdrops – arching their thin necks above the snow.
His heart swells at the sight of those curves. The palaces of Vienna are grand, he tells himself, but the style has a strictness and harshness to it under the gold leaf. Every time he passes by he finds himself weeping. Mayerling is his refuge, despite the dark stories that surround it. If he ever has his own house, he will build it in a new style, one that will involve the curve of the snowdrops.
In Buda, a woman, a mother answers her child. Yes there is a chance he could be in the parliament of Hungary. It’s not likely, but there is a chance. The words flow off her tongue like water through a particularly rocky stream, in multisyllabic and melodious Hungarian… in Magyar. She thinks to herself, “Maybe he will take the oath of office in Magyar too”.
She would like to take that oath herself, but it seems impossible. Maybe her daughter, or her granddaughter, if she plays her cards right… a sharp, prickling hope grows in her chest.
She thinks of the suffrage pamphlets tucked into her in her bag… And idly pins back an escaped curl of frizzing hair. Nestled in her dark curls, the single pearl on her hairpin gleams like a star.
It is October the 28th, 1918 – and the sun shines off one of the many small streams that wind through Buda before spilling into the Danube.
A pair of shaking hands pluck an aster from the streambank and pin it to the band of a cap. They pause before smoothing the front of the thick, quilted overcoat. Not enough to stall a bullet, but maybe a blade…
A voice speaks out of the shadows, low and rich.
“Your hands shake because you know what might happen. You may be resting in my arms before this evening is through.”
“Yes” the young man answers.
“And yet you continue?” The great voice continues, rich with what might be emotion. Curiosity?
“Some things…” the human pauses before resuming in a stronger tone, “are worth it.”
A warm human hand reaches out and takes the one made of dark and cold, and the two walk together towards Buda Castle, and all their people waiting for them.
Waiting for a new world.
The young man reaches the line of people, and an old woman with another aster tucked in her bluegreen headscarf smiles and offers him a place besides her. The people link hands and begin to walk forward.