The Story Of Axilles and Astrogarde - Part 11 – A hermit comes home and love outlasts a heart.
Odd things often come in pairs, they say, and so it was that on the same day that Axilles had felt the fatal thorn of his lovers betrayal, a wandering hermit came to the dukes house seeking food and water,offering blessings in return and since it was considered customary by lovingian peoples to give kindly to sacred wanderers,
Axilles ordered his servants to let in the hermit and feed him. The old man wore long turquoise robes and a cowel covering his face and he held the winding staff of a wandering monk.
“But do not pester my servants for too much, I have had bad news today and am not in a kind mood”, Axilles warned the hermit.
“Ahh”, said the hermit, “I know the sound that hurt love makes”.
“How would a man who abstains from such love know that sound?”, asked Axilles.
“Because your mother often made the same sound when her shameful husband trampled upon her heart”, the hermit replied.
Then Axilles recognised the voice as his fathers voice and he bid all his servants leave their presence so that he could talk with the hermit alone.
“In Lovingian law the banished can never return except to face the executioner. Why have you come home,father, when ‘home’ only means ‘the grave’ for you?”,asked Axilles
“Because wandering,living on the wind, has worn my heart into a new shape. I have been a beggar, a flute-player, a shell-picker, a boot-polisher,a rag-man,a carpenter,a gardener,a gypsy and a monk; I have seen both great cruelty and great kindness, looked at all sides of heaven and hell and the more that I saw, the more I could see; the more I was able to see myself. One night I remember, when it was so cold,I wandered into the forest to find some sticks and branches for a fire and while the fire was burning I tried to sleep and through the smoke of the fire I thought that I saw the shape of a strange beast among the trees looking at me with burning eyes. Its face was terrifying and its mouth was full of a tangle of long terrible teeth that dripped blood onto its chest and, startled, I siezed a branch that was lying by my side, hoping to use it as a club to defend myself but when I got to my feet the strange beast had dissappeared and that was when I realised that I had seen myself in the smoke and darkness, a beast dripping blood from its mouth and it was shortly after that I stumbled upon a monastery, the fraternity of Zinoba and they took me in and gave me work to do and allowed me to meditate upon my life”.
“I am happy for you, father and wish you a long life now that you have a heart to appreciate it but I have other things crowding my head and turning my ears inward at this present time”, said Axilles.
“But that is why you must hear me”, said his father, “Two things occurred to me in the monastery. That I must confess to you the monster I had been to your mother, the brightest light that has ever shone into my otherwise dismal life, and that I must make amends to her by guarding and caring for her child. You must know what kind of a brute your father was, draining all the money we had on drink to forget our poverty, treating your mother with so much disrespect,lying to her and beating her, just speaking these words makes me gag, and then, after you were born she grew so ill and while she lay in bed I left her and did not come back until after she was lying in a coffin”.
“If I had known all these vile things before I would not have asked for your life to be spared. Now I think a noose is well suited to your sinful neck. Before I thought that you were just a hopeless sinner but now I know you are truly a devil”, said Axilles,his tone growing harsher with every word.
“That is why I have to warn you, hopefully there is more of your mother in you than there is of me, more of the gentle maiden than of the devouring beast; but if I am to divert you from a tragic course, you must heed me and look beyond yourself, look beyond your own ends,do not mistake love for self-love, bless the little luck and love that you have,bless and cherish it and do not squander,despoil or destroy it as I have.”
But Axilles did not listen, all he saw was a monster grinding its jaws and all he heard was a monsters wail. “However you waddle and flap your tongue it will not fly, not into my heart,father. He who has no right to breath has even less right to speak and all your penitent words sound brazen to my ears. I think that if your heart was truly penitent it would fast from beating and if you are truly a new man, born again and not just a reptile that has swapped its scales for a habit then you had better leave your old life behind. Go now, sweep your self out, you dust-speck, before I use my sword for a broom”.
And so the Father of Axilles walked out without a whisper and Axilles felt that a crowd of silence then entered the room and he worried that he had perhaps spoken to his father too harshly, “I would have been kinder to my father if my heart were not already run through with the sharpened shadow of stolen love”.
And then he heard the icy sound of a demons laugh and a demons gleeful,vengeful voice hovered over his brain, “You know what must be done. The law of your heart has been broken and the law-breaker must be justly punished. Evil lays its worms in the heart of the abused and your heart is a writhing mass of murderous and vengeful thoughts. Go and take your sword, listen to the voice of your anger, anger lulls your conscience to sleep, go and take your sword and if he must lie down with another then let it be with death”.
But the words of the demon only revolted Axilles and so the demon said, “It is easy to recognise a demon voice or a demon face when it can be heard or seen but behind the mask of your own feelings I am as camouflaged as any predator is in forest and darkness. Now I will be silent, now your injured heart will become deafening”.
And so the demon voice departed but it was only replaced by taunting echos and visions of Astrogarde and Onya and though Axilles struggled not to think of them it was as if the wind had blown open a door and was fighting to keep it open. “Kill the flower and you will kill his thorns”, his heart seemed to urge, “Your love is your world and Onyas cursed kiss puts out your sun,darkens your skies,covers your world in black ice and devestates all. What do death and murder mean now”, he reasoned madly,“Death and murder only have meaning when life has meaning and if life’s meaning has left you then why not murder. Why should a priest continue to honour his Gods commandments when his God has abandoned him to hell the way that Astrogarde has abandoned me. Oh, what can comfort you when your only comfort becomes your greatest pain, what can cheer you when your only joy becomes the cause of your greatest grief, the only comfort I can think of is death and the only joy; vengence”.
And, coming to that conclusion, Axilles began his fatal course. Seizing his sword in one hand and his locket in the other, he willed himself to the bedside of the sleeping Astrogarde and saw how the princes arm was wound around Onyas waist and vowed in his heart to cut her body from his arm “the way that a surgeon might remove an evil
growth” and,casting the shadow of his blade over their skins, he prepared himself to murder.
Destiny often darts about in a
strange,unpredictable way like a creature impossible to catch and so it was for Astrogarde, who, innocent of the blade that hung over his heart, began to babble in his sleep; an odd side-effect of the potion which Onya had given him, “Axilles”, he said, “It is lost, Axilles. It is you that I love but I cannot find my heart, someone has hidden it from me”.
“It is me that you love? Truly?”, asked Axilles, whispering.
“It is you, my noble Axilles, but some spell has stolen me from myself”, answered Astrogarde, though still unconcious.
“Some spell, some evil magic, like a demons locket. I know such things well”, thought Axilles, “My poor Astrogarde is innocent. His conscious heart has only love for Onya but his unconcious heart confesses his true love”.
And so Axilles, his jealousy and anger quelled, slid his sword back,slowly, into its scabbard and all would have ended peacefully if the noise had not woken Onya and she had not begun screaming.
This was not the old Onya, the one who had been so brave that she would eagerly chatter with ghosts, that Onya had surrendered to married life and love and had tried to be content and the new Onya was much more easily frightened by strange things. She was already guarding the seed of Astrogarde within her and would one day bear twins, a prince and princess and so when she saw Axilles standing in the dark of her bed chamber, she screamed, shook Astrogarde and shouted “Assasin!”.
Astrogarde was slow to react and could not see clearly in the dark but others heard Onyas scream, the Palace guards, who nightly stood watch in the torch lit hallway outside the princes bed chamber and they poured into the room clutching their pole-axes and, over-eagerly, set upon a startled Axilles, beating him onto his back and wounding him through his stomach and heart.
“Astrogarde”, Axilles screamed as he fell.
“Stop”,ordered Astrogarde, “Don’t hurt him. I know him. Stop”.
The Guards backed away from the body of Axilles. “I feel that I, think that I know that mans voice. Do not hurt him. Bring me a candle so that I can look upon his face”, ordered Astrogarde.
In the flickering candle light Astrogarde examined the face of the fallen Axilles and
gasped, “That face is the face that appears to me nightly in my dreams. I remember now. I remember. His flame lit face is like a spark, the seed of a sun that is returning to my memory. Axilles is his name. Axilles my friend. Axilles my love. Oh, Axilles I remember! I remember it all. But look at your wounds, Axilles, you are badly hurt”, said Astrogarde in horror, “Go someone and wake the physicians now, this mans wounds need tending to”.
“The wounds are fatal”, said Axilles, “I can feel it inside. Their pole axes went deep into me. Oh, Astrogarde. I am dying”.
“You are not.dying. The kings physicians are the best. They learned their profession
on the battlefield, saving scores of injured soldiers”, said Astrogarde.
“There is nothing to be saved now except my soul. Oh Astrogarde, you must forgive me. Jealousy brought me hear. Jealousy drew my sword. Astrogarde, I came to kill you, I came to stop your heart, I could not bear its beating for Onya instead of me”, said Axilles, “You must forgive me. You must.”
“I forgive you and I understand you. Life is too complicated and time too short, death and killing are simple, swift answers, that seem to lead us out of the maze but only lead us deeper into it. I too have been tempted by defeat to smash apart the puzzle with a rock. I too have felt like a butterfly, not within a chrysalis but mummified upon the spiderweb of societies rules, dreaming of being free while listening to the scuttling legs of the majority crawl about me”, said Astrogarde, “How strange. I have been afraid to speak my mind until now but now the words bleed out of me and there is no fear”.
“I am afraid, Astrogarde. Your words are my hearing, your life is my breath but your
words grow fainter and my breath is running dry. Astrogarde, you wanted to be a priest so tell me, where am I going to, give me a spark of liturgy to reignite my faith because the darkness that is infront of me looks a million shades darker than the night outside”, said Astrogarde, “When the movement leaves our bodies where does it go?
When the vision leaves our eyes, what does it see?”.
“Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?”, asked Astrogarde.
“I want to stay and look at you”, said Axilles, “I want your glowing presence around me more than any halo”.
“Oh, Axilles. In time, wherever you go, I will follow too”, said Astrogarde.
“Hurry then. Astrogarde. Whatever Heaven I go to, it will not be completed until you arrive”, Axilles said and then died.
“The Physicians have arrived”, said a palace guard.
“They have arrived too late”, said Astrogarde, “Forget the physicians and send for the priests. A mountain of mourning now rises before me. A grotesque infant of grief that sucks on my eyes, that wails intolerably in my heart, that grows at a frightening rate and bizarrely, like a backwards birth, labours to drag me inside of it but, mother of salvation, I must resist.”, said Astrogarde and then standing tall he gave commands to the guards, “Tell the priests to come, and four men to bear a body and dig a grave and wake all the courtiers and servants and tell them to dress in their palest white and lower their faces in mourning, gather up the other guards and tell them to wear red regalia for a funeral, let the lovingian lion fly at half mast and tell the bell-ringers to toll solemnly and set the stone carvers to work so that this man will have a worthy monument and wake the gardener and his son too and tell them that a hundred roses, either white or palest pink, need to be picked for strewing. There are so many things to be done and nothing is enough for my sweet Axilles ”.
“This was your secret love?”, whispered Onya, sadly, into Astrogardes ear, “This man? If only I had known”.
“What is left for me to conceal now that his beautiful soul lies beyond the invisible
veil? Yes,beloved Onya, he was my lover,like my brother, my greatest and nearest
“My husband, I have sinned against you so heavilly, I am the bearer of your loss”,
confessed Onya, weeping, and she told her husband everything which she had done, how she had poured love potion into his wine and, to her surprise, the prince forgave her. “Why shouldn’t you have love and freedom and happiness too”, said Astrogarde, “Why shouldn’t we all have our share of those things? You fought for the same cause as we, but tragically, you fought upon the opposing side. You and Axilles would have made greatest friends if you had only met but I was the thing that came between you”.
And what became of the soul of Axilles? Well, if Astrogarde and Axilles had only payed more attention in their faith classes they would have remembered verse 4, chapter 10 of the sacred lovingian scrolls which state, “Heaven is not only in the afterlife,infact throughout our lives we are a part of god,connected to god and this connection is what is called our soul and so the soul is already in heaven long before the body and the brain dies, the soul is the part of god which is part of us and since it cannot die thus the soul will not die. Only evil can sever or deteriorate this connection from god and thus all that is loving and kind is safe for eternity”. Before his birth,during his life and thus after his life, Axilles had always been in heaven, if only he could have perceived it and luckilly,despite his flaws, he was a good person and so his soul stayed within god.