Heart to Heart

“Did you know that my father died in the War Between Land and Sky? It happened many years ago, Charles, just before the end of the war when I was a mere child. You might think I wouldn’t remember something that happened so long ago. However, my father was a legendary war hero, like his father and his father’s father before him, whose memory is deified in my family’s history. 

“But even without my family’s constant adoration, and even though I was only a little boy during his lifetime, I still remember my father. To others, he was a no-nonsense, courageous, boisterous, autocratic, and dare I say, frightening, professional soldier. And yet, to me, he was only playful and kind. Perhaps I was the apple of his eye because he had had me late in life, and old men are given to reconsidering their life choices. Regardless, I cherished him.”

Northstorm paused to reminisce a private thought, ended it with a dignified harrumph, and then continued his explanation. 

“My nannies and guardians tried to hide the horror of how my father died from me, but even as a child I was too cunning, too relentless, and too curious, to long let secrets be kept. Inevitably, I heard how my father died; aye, I heard. 

“My father had led a brave battalion of knights onto the last fog and blood-covered battlefield of the War. My father protested to his superiors that their battle plans were folly, but he was a dutiful knight and followed orders. After the battle, the cold, motionless, bloodied bodies of the armies of both Land and Sky were still frozen in mortal combat until the dawn burned away the murk and dispatched the dead to their proper Domains.”

Northstorm had to pause to compose himself. If he were here, his father would chastise him for displaying his pent up anger and grief. But despite his best efforts, when he resumed, the undertone beneath his words was as sharp as a dagger. 

“The generals who led the War were fools! Neither side could win, and both sides vowed to die before suing for peace. Endless war was inevitable. Instead, the forces of Sky should have struck ruthlessly, without warning or regard for the chivalrous manners and protocols of combat. Then Sky would have won a quick and decisive victory, and my father would not have died! 

“The incompetence of the generals cast a new future, where the pain and suffering of relentless conflict would be everlasting. That new future so distressed the great slow god, Terra, that he was quickened from his lethargy; and the festive gods, Emperor Sun and Empress Moon, put a stop to their dance. To recast the future, the gods of both Domains were forced to intervene and impose peace. 

“But by then, it was too late! My father was already dead. The war with you Landfolk was to blame for his death—and I wanted revenge! 

“That’s when I decided to put on a convivial face; to become a merchant who traded with every Domain, including Land; and to learn the faults and weaknesses of the folk who dwelled there. Was that not a reasonable thing to do, Charles? Was that not what a dutiful son should do?”

Lord Lewis did not answer, and for a while, Duke Northstorm was lost in thought. Only the howl of the windstorm that still raged around Lewis manor could be heard in the peel tower.

“You were different, Charles, from any Landfolk I had met before. I liked you from the start. You seemed as estranged from your fellow Landfolk as I, a foreigner from another Domain, felt from you Landfolk. That surprised me. At first, I thought we had nothing in common, but the more time I spent with you, the more I discovered reasons for a type of rapport.

“In a way, we are direct opposites. I can talk utter nonsense to anyone for hours, and they’ll be fascinated. While whenever you speak, your forward-looking and carefully considered ideas and conjectures are dismissed as feverish delirium. But I had befriended you already, and had seen the products of your ingenuity.” By way of proof, Northstorm swept his gray-gloved hand in a long arc around the peel tower, pointing out all manner of plans and clever devices Lord Lewis had invented to make best use his barony’s resources, and to make it prosper.

“When you said you had been watching the night sky and had become hopelessly enraptured by the beauty of a certain star, I listened to you. And when you said you would use all your knowledge and inventiveness to bring the star down from Sky to join you on Land, I believed you. I admit, I had my moments of doubt. But of all the humans I had ever met, I believed you could make your dreams come true. 

“I was right to believe in you, Charles. But your success has had such catastrophic consequences! How could you have been so blinded by love for a celestial, that you did not calculate the possibility of disaster?” Charles hunkered behind his weirding wall, but said nothing.

“I suppose we both made the same mistake,” Northstorm mused. “I’m a merchant, which is to say, I’m a type of liar. Do you know the secret to lying, and therefore selling, effectively? Don’t try to appeal to your customer’s common sense or actual needs. That seldom works. Instead, be outgoing and convivial. And between jokes, reminiscences, and amusing stories, take your customer’s measure and learn their truest, deepest, desire. 

“Then it doesn’t matter how exaggerated or overoptimistic is your sales patter. Your customer will buy whatever you have to sell, as long as you can convince them that what you’re selling will help them obtain their truest, deepest, desire. You see, you are not persuading your customer to buy; you are letting your customer’s deepest desire relentlessly nag, and prod, and compel them to buy. 

“My deepest desire was for vengeance. Your deepest desire was for love. It took only my persistent encouragement that you pursue your desire, and my timely supply of hard to get parts for your machine, to compel you to do what you already wanted to do. Our desires blinded both of us, and compelled both of us to believe what we wanted to believe. And now, because we were blind, everyone and everything we hold dear is forfeit.” 

Duke Northstorm shook his head the way only fools who finally comprehend the ramifications of their foolishness, can do.

“I only needed to conceal your connection to Sky, through me,” said Northstorm. “But the Sky King had already been told that remnants of your machine had been thrown across the veil, and had landed in a meadow. The remnants would be collected soon, so it was too late for me to simply dispose of them and pretend they never existed. But I hoped that if I corrupted the evidence enough, no one in the Sky King’s court would be clever enough to puzzle it out. Meanwhile, I would steal away to your manor when I could, and appeal to you to resolve the problem.

“What I didn’t anticipate was that the Land King would send his Master of Enlightenment to help King Cirrus. Kevin Galwynn is very clever—for a human. He suspected my interference and found another way to the truth. 

“So Charles, my friend, that is how we find ourselves on the brink of disaster. Little time is left for us to save ourselves.” On the other side of the unbreakable weirding wall, Lord Lewis looked wretched and contrite. “Now that you know the whys and wherefores, now that you know what’s at stake,” said the duke, “will you not heed my last entreaty, and free the star-maiden?” 

Lord Lewis’s wearily looked up to gaze at his friend. There was a wan, hopeful smile on his face; and he surely was about to say something, when an errant ray of torchlight ignited a strange glint in his eye.

Free her?” said Lord Lewis, as his eyes widened in terror at the mere mention of giving up the object of his adoration. Charles flew across his workroom and threw himself in front of the glass prison as if to shield the star-maiden from even hearing a whisper of Duke Northstorm’s blasphemy. Charles’s arms were bent at crooked angles against the glass, and starlight cast his contorted shadow across the laboratory. 

“I know I should free her. I know what I’m doing is wrong,” Charles confessed, mournfully. “I can hear the star murmuring in my mind at night, pleading to be released. Don’t you understand? I do not want her to suffer. I love her,” Charles exclaimed, almost sobbing. “I know I should free her, Clarence, but I cannot let her go. Even if worlds fall to ruin around us. My beloved and I must be together—always!

Surprisingly, Northstorm laughed. He had tried persuasion, reason, and force of arms, but now he had to admit that none of those things would move Charles Lewis. “It is as I expected, my friend: madness prevails.”

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