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El Desdichado

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I am the darkness – the widower – the un-consoled,
The prince of Aquitaine in the ruined tower;
My sole star is dead – and my constellated lute
Bears the black sun of Melancholy.

The non-born king is as yet unborn, and Unifex lurks in the darkness of space, waiting. The drama has not yet played out to its fullest – this is, in a way, the opening act.

Unifex unpacks memories like jewel-boxes, piece by piece. The Shining One and the Angel of the Abyss had come together with darkness and gold, and one overarching desire – they'd had one night, had stolen it from fate and the coming Nightfall war.

Aiken, in his golden suit, with a grin that never faltered, even when he feared – with hands that were gentle – he had been the one to reach out, to touch Marc who was standing there, in the darkness and the shadows.

In the chateau on Black Crag, they'd shared a glass of mulled wine, and popped corn over the fire. No longer King and Adversary, they'd spoken of simple things. Elizabeth hadn't intruded – the others had kept their distance. If the old monk had any suspicions, he kept his silence.

Marc had given Aiken a flower, a rose cupped in the palm of his hand. He'd not thought to do it, but he'd plucked it from Elizabeth's garden and held it for a while before passing it on to him. Flesh to flesh, they touched – mind to mind – and like the morning star, he had burned.

He had tasted spices and mulled wine on Aiken's lips. Marc had touched him in Elizabeth's garden, had felt his flesh – the muscles hard under his hands, the bones unyielding. Aiken had never yielded.

If his mind cried out for another when he was in Aiken's embrace – if Aiken's thoughts had been with his dust-dead queen – neither of them gave any sign of it. Their minds were closed to each other, their thoughts shielded even as they touched, as they tasted.

Unifex shudders with the memory, with soul-deep weariness. He had seen Aiken across the field of battle, had schemed to defeat him, had saved him at the last – but it was not enough.

He has kept watch, from time to time, over the mountains of old Earth. Searching for the ruby-red glimmer of two minds spinning together in eternal duality – as Unifex is old, the planet has weathered these years as well. I knew a woman, lovely in her bones… but the years have not been kind; continents have shifted and mountains have crumbled. Somewhere, the only others who have kept vigil over these long years are buried under a mountain of stone, the two of them consuming their mad love and consumed by it.

Unifex has never found them.

Felice and Culluket bound together, like Madame Guderian and Claude who leapt to their deaths as one – lovers who were not given the pain of leaving each other, who were united in death….

Unifex turns from the thought. Unity cannot soothe him tonight. The hum of many minds around him, the pleasant harmony of their concordance – it is overlaid by the fear that he has erred, that his memory has failed him on some crucial detail, that he has failed.

Marc strides the corridors of Concilium Orb, even now, sure in his abilities and his righteousness. He does not believe he will fail – he has not yet been haunted by dreams that grow large in the dark night, in the longest hours. He has not yet searched the galaxy, star by star, and landed on disappointment.

Unifex does not know if he is bound to watch Marc make his mistakes, if he should be forced to endure them again. He had been tempted, once, to reach out and touch Marc – to bridge the gap with the last fading molecules of his body, to know him mind to mind.

To know the feeling of flesh again, to taste the flesh of wine-sweet apples, to smell pine and sweet white roses and savor it from Marc's point of view … to change the world … no, there are temptations that Unifex can resist.

He has had a lifetime of practice, after all.

It is not as though his options are limited. He has watched Paul philander his way through the galaxy – watched Rogi drink bottles to their dregs – listened to Teresa, her voice ascending to the rafters. He has spent evenings with Jack, speaking across the lightyears, occupying himself in futile attempts to satisfy Jack's insatiable curiosity, in futile attempts to avoid the touch of that familiarbeloveddreaded mind. He has spent nights with Anne, kneeling with her in penance and dreadful knowledge. Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron…

He has crossed that river, and lived to tell of it. Not as his children did it, over the bridge of years in a single leap, but Unifex has crossed that river, all the same. He will cross it again, soon – he has been waiting for it.

This is the opening act, and the stage is set for the rest of the story; all of the actors are poised for their roles. On another world, he could be watching Mercy Lamballe grow dissatisfied with her life. La belle dame sans merci … and he could watch over Bryan Grenfell, who is not yet ready to make that leap for her. He could search out the others from that group and find them before they make their journey to the past.

Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

He had loved Cynthia and in his way, he had loved Patricia and Elizabeth, the women of his Exile. Bodiless as he had once longed to be, he had loved Emanant Hope and Manifest Charity and had generated new life with them. But Aiken is the one who matched him and challenged him, the one who had seen past his shields and asked why he did not love.

He had loved. For one night – foolishly, incandescently, gloriously – he had loved.

Unifex could go to Earth and pass the evening with Rogi and Marcel and a bottle of Wild Turkey. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou… but that is a sentiment for lovers.

His melancholy, on this night of all nights, is ill-placed. Tonight is only the beginning.

He has options. There are places he could go, people he could watch – he would find no ill-welcome with his adoptive kin or with Rogi, tonight – but instead, Unifex stays, waiting in the ether over Dalraida. He hovers there through the night until he senses the first burst of light, incandescence coming to this planet.

You who consoled me in funereal night,
Bring me Posilipo, the sea of Italy,
The flower that pleased my grieving heart,
And the trellis where the vine entwines the rose.