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and the river ever flowing

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i.

They tell you that the lives of Elves are immeasurable, that the Elvenking who treated with your fathers' fathers is the same as the one who rules today, that his roots have only gone deeper in the ages that have passed.  They say the Elves are ancient and strange, ruins that walk and sing and laugh as if they do not know what they are.  They say that Elves die, but not as you do, and the muttering that follows is absent and vague.

But you have watched him, strange jolly ruin, barefoot and singing his sad songs in a river named for one of his kin.  She is not dead, you think.  The song does not tell you she is dead -- but she is gone, says the song; she was lost, and has not returned.  His hair is polished to gold by the sunlight and it falls around his face and he is singing a song for someone gone from this world.  You think of all the songs your kin keeps buried under the earth and when you glance upstream toward the mountains you think you see a wraith dancing, high up in the clouds.  She is grieving.  She is gone.

You do not tell him this then, and you do not tell him this now, months later, his hair kissed to black by the moonlight, his too-long fingers twined with yours.  The air smells like salt and sulfur and neither of you is home in it and he is staring out at the Sea with his mismatched eyes, singing still of sad things you would have thought rather to keep under a pile of rocks, safe.

He knows what you saw up in the mist.  He knows what he is.

ii.

You found her sitting under a tree in the undying light and she smiled at you, and you sat with her, and together for eons you have watched the world.  She is softness and sea-foam and silver and when you bring her flowers she braids them into your hair and kisses your ears and you adore her.  She is in shades of grey and black and you could spot her from forever away against the glittering heavens, and still then she would be smiling.

She is a dream, a shadow; and you are the vibrant sky after the rain, a ghost of fog and light.  You meet here in the houses of sleep where everything is more here than you, and less changing -- but for all the changing you have done you are still the same, still here.  You have been meeting here since before the dawn and you will continue meeting here until the end, and in all that time will have changed completely and not at all.

When the Sun is high you wake: you on the side of your mountain, turning like a flower for how many she has put in your hair; she in her dark and silent halls, a thread in her hands.  She turns toward the mountain and across the leagues and spheres and stone you see her smile.

iii.

He is dead.  He cannot truly die so long as the world is, but this earth is mortal and knows when strange things walk upon it, and when they abruptly stop walking upon it.  His brother is coming to see you, under the pretext of giving you the news, but he knows there is no point (or, at least, he should; but Elves find many things foreign that to you are natural as the Sun -- though there, perhaps, is the problem).  He is coming to give you the news because neither of you wants to be alone, and you are not sure where you would go.

There is no music in him now, as if he has not yet found the rhymes with which to sing of this.  He does not say that it is strange to mourn those he loves when he knows it is not the end for them.  He does not wonder at the emptiness his siblings have left in his heart, though in truth they have only gone back over the Sea.  But neither does he sing.  He only stands at the doorway like a Sun-crowned snowdrift and contemplates something just behind the things that are.

To live so long as the world lives is something you do not understand, and something in those pale eyes you cannot look too long into tells you that they do not always understand it, either; but in the interminable aging of a world not yet turning you think that maybe there is infinite time for laughter and tears and music and silence, regardless of how sure the march of fate.

iv.

There is a tiny dark thing in these woods, and you think he might be beautiful.  There is light behind you and light around you and light within you and you are facing a sprawling darkness; and out of the darkness he stumbles, just a little piece of it made flesh with two eyes bright with light like yours, and a precious wind that moves him.  The thorns have not touched him, since you have left the way open.  He is not looking to the light behind you, but to you.

You think he might be lovely, this little shade whose eyes burn with the memory of home.  You think he might look best in these woods of yours, this shadow of a shadow, if only he could be a bit more -- ah, there it is:  you have woven light onto his head and his hair is like your little sisters up in the sky.  You are taking his face in your hands and you are stitching light into it, into him; you are decking him in your light and you are bringing him out of the shadows, out of the haze.  You see him now, as he is meant to be, as something you can see properly.  The woods around you are going from dark to light, from light to dark.  You are weaving him into the wood as you weave yourself into it, until all the forest is is a dreamy in-between and you cannot tell where you end and he begins.  You see so much of your own light in his face now, and it belongs to him.  The forest shifts around you.

v.

You do not ask her who she is, tall and terrible like the first evenfall after the first dawn.  Her eyes blaze like the stars and her hair falls around her like a shroud, and in her hands she carries a thing you cannot see.  You do not ask her who she is, though lately you have wondered oft about names, because though you have never seen her there is no mistaking the whisper of magic that only comes from behind the place the Sun sleeps.

You do not remember this place and you were gone long before the Sun ever lay down on it, but you know what you left behind and you see a glimmer of it here.  It hurts the space behind your eyes to look, but it is such a pretty thing to see -- and sad, like the echo of a shout already forgotten, wandering the valley without aim; but, ah, this shiny thing does have aim, and purpose, and even a hunger you think you recognize.  She is burning bright as the dawn and you hate her as you hate the dawn; she is blowing cool as the dusk and you love her as you love the dusk.  You are staring at her and you are gnashing your teeth and blinking your eyes and curling your claws; and you hate and love and fume in silence.

It is not until her immaculate awful beautiful terrible lovely burning snatching scratching glittering hands are on you that you realize she was staring back.

vi.

Your head is a crown of leaves and berries, for the winter has come yet again.  The wood around you grows darker; it is closing its arms at last.  You know this because you are there; it is your grasp that is closing.  You feel the edges of the wood as if your bones are scattered there, and who knows?  They might be.  You can only guess; you are only a king.

There are brambles around your heart and ivy on your arms and your arms are also ivy now, or so like it it makes no difference.  It does not matter.  You are counting your bones that lie about in the forest.  They are reporting in.

When you were still young but the world already old you came here, only part of what you were, lost in an eternity you did not know what to do with.  The forest's arms were not yours then, were only part of the forest; and hand-in-hand with Elves strange as forest-sprites you walked into those arms.  Its roots dug into the empty parts of you as you buried yourself in the empty parts of it, and neither of you has stopped digging since, because neither of you has stopped growing.

When you were still young but the forest already old she came to you, a peal of laughter skipping out of the bonfire, dark stars speckled on her face.  She comes to you again now that all the fires have died and the leaves have covered up the sky, and her step is no longer unfamiliar woodnoise.  She brushes aside the branches and takes your face in her hands and kisses you; and her laughter is the same as it ever was; and her laughter is like nothing you've heard before.

The arms of the forest close around her.