The Pen and the Sword by Olan Thorensen
To others, an enigma paced the room, the click of his heels on the polished plank floor synchronized to alternate heartbeats. Yet he didn’t think of himself as an enigma but as an imposter.
None of them knew the truth. How could they? Or maybe he was a mirage, something they wanted to exist so badly that nothing would shake their unwavering belief.
A light appeared in the corner of his vision. He turned his head toward the source—a full moon peeking through an open window. The second moon had already set. The scent of coralin vine flowers, pungent and sweet, wafted into the room. Once he thought the odor alien, but now he pulled the aroma deep into his lungs, anchoring himself.
“If just once to see the one big moon again, the one I was born under, or to smell jasmine or pines,” he whispered to the night. At times, the longings were a probing knife, though only a pang this night.
“We’ll be ready in a few minutes,” called a woman’s voice from the next room.
“That’s fine,” he responded.
Take all the time you want, take forever, or go without me.
He turned from the window and strode to stand before a full-length mirror framed in fine-grained kaskor wood. A stranger stared back, wearing a plain but finely tailored dark brown suit of clothes over a sturdy physique marred by a scar from his forehead edge to above the right ear and a sudden limp, as both men turned to complementary side views. They each raised one hand to gently stroke their head scars, while their other hands reached down to rub the shins below the knees.
“Nothing we can do about the head scar,” they’d told him. “The limp and ache in your leg will fade with time, although you may notice it during cold and damp weather.”
Not mentioned was the third scar, angry across his left side, the injury healed after his nearly dying. He remembered all three moments, the impact on his leg and the pain that only came later, a searing sensation as a jagged wood fragment slashed his head, and the flash of light and then darkness, awakening to agony. Three scars and a limp as lifelong companions, the scars always visible and the limp and ache recurring enough for him to . . . remember.
More voices. Soon they would come for him. He looked deep into the eyes in the mirror, eyes that could hold anyone’s focus: a rare pale color that in different lights changed chameleon-like among shades of blue, gray, and sometimes an unidentifiable hue, unsettling the object of their attention. Not that the man realized the effect.
The man standing before the mirror had brown hair. It had darkened in the first year after his arrival, now with only streaks of the original color left. How his hair darkened, he didn’t know, although he assumed it was tied to what the Watchers had done to him. He also remembered himself as young, with an unassuming form, a confident pleased-with-himself manner, a secure and comfortable future, and no urge for noble commitments. A man who knew his place in life and was content. In contrast, while the man in the mirror might appear young, a closer look belied the impression. Not that the face was older, merely . . . more lived. A determined face, a face with responsibilities, with resignation, with apprehension, a face foreseeing an unchosen future.
The man standing before the mirror remembered who he had been, while part of the man in the mirror longed for the same, someone with a quiet, unexciting life. Someone without monumental responsibilities. A different life from that of the man in the mirror; the man before the mirror had seen much, accomplished much, and lived thirty years in the last four. He was a man who knew his life would not be quiet. It would a meaningful life, one with joys and darkness, a life of making a difference, but also a life of burdens as heavy as a mountain. Both men recognized an irrevocable moment; after today, there was no turning back. The parting smile needed no words, because the men knew they would not see each other again. A smile of melancholy farewell. As they stared at each other, the man before the mirror morphed until the two men became one. He shifted his shoulders to adjust the new suit of clothes.
Voices again. The women’s voices he recognized, one in particular. She and others had told him this day was stirring, exhilarating, inspirational, and other words holding no weight for him. They were words he didn’t want to hear, words whispering “duty,” even if not voiced. She chided him for behaving as if it were an appointment to have his teeth pulled. In her annoyed remonstrations, she would never understand the depth of his reluctance. His acceptance would never be matched by any yearning for what others assumed for him—or themselves.
Questions. There would always be questions: Did all this really happen? Am I insane? Has it been nothing more than a dream? A nightmare? Who am I? Do I even exist? Will there ever be answers? A wry smile followed the last question and a gentle shake of head attested to his expectation. No, there would be no answers. There was only . . . to be.
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