Kevin looked around Lord Lewis’s parlor for a comfortable place to sit, but Duke Northstorm’s tempest had left the sitting room in shambles. Rather than try to set aright toppled furniture, Kevin cleared a space on the floor next to the weirding wall near baron Lewis, and then sat down crosslegged with his back leaning against the wall. Feeling a skewed sense of embarrassment for being such an indecorous host, Lord Lewis clambered to a spot on his side of the weirding wall that was side-by-side and back-to-back to Galwynn. Then Lewis sat down crosslegged as well and leaned back against his side of the wall. From there, either man could turn his head to the left to speak to the other.

“My lord, please pardon my intrusive fortifications and lack of hospitality,” apologized Charles, turning his head slightly, “but some would take away my beloved, if they could, and leave me abandoned once more. But let not my troubles interrupt our delightful conversation, Master Galwynn. Where were we?”

Kevin needed more information, but he had to be cautious not to stir up Lord Lewis’s paranoia. As long as he did not threaten Charles’s relationship with Alta Vystra, Charles would at least be calm enough to talk. And as long as the weirding wall was inviolate, and Charles was obdurate, talking was the only tool left to the Master of Enlightenment.

Apparently out of restlessness in this idle moment, Galwynn reached into one of the voluminous pockets of his tunic, pulled out a small crystal sphere crazed with an alabaster streak, and began to roll the sphere over his fingertips as skillfully as a street entertainer. Charles was delighted by Kevin’s impromptu legerdemain, and was engrossed by how fluidly the sphere rolled back and forth, back and forth, to and fro. It was…enchanting.

Casually, Kevin said, “Tell be about your remarkable beloved. How is it that you came to fall in love with a star?”

A nostalgic smile came to Charles’s lips as he recalled the moment. “On a warm summer’s night kissed by zephyrs and the scent of jasmine, and the sky was velvet black and strewn with stars, I perched in my rooftop observatory, peering at the heavens through my new gazing crystal array. As I contemplated the beauty of the heavens, a sense of awe and wonder came over me. 

“The stars were so bright, so perfect. And yet, somehow, one star was more brilliant and exquisite than all the rest.” Charles choked up, and had to pause a moment before he said, “It was Alta Vystra.” 

Although Lord Lewis was speaking sanely, his gaze was drawn by the glowing glass box on the far side of his workroom. “Night after night, I gazed longingly at her, for how many hours I cannot say, from star-rise to star-set. All the while, I wished upon the star to become flesh, to come to Land, and be by my side. Was that dream so crazy?”

“Crazy? Out of the ordinary, to be certain,” said Galwynn. “But crazy? Not at all, Your Lordship, you simply… fell in love.” 

Then Kevin asked Charles a question that gave the baron pause. “When you first fell in love with the star, how did that make you feel?” 

“You have an interesting way of thinking,” said Charles, pensively. “You are the first person to ask me how I felt. Very well, but my answer is manifold: I felt joyful, caring, compassionate, at peace with the world; and eager to prove my love to her, and earn her love in return. I unexpectedly felt lighthearted, and yet in possession of all my faculties.”

Kevin chuckled softly, so as not to be condescending. The baron was so grown, and yet so young. “What you felt,” said Galwynn, kindly, “was verus amor. True love.

“Now tell me, when you first beheld your beloved after anyone dared suggest you part, how did that make you feel?”

Charles’s eyes narrowed like a wolf, as he only just barely clung to reason. “I felt grief, abandonment, panic; and yearned to possess her love for only myself. I suddenly felt obsessed, and not in possession of all my faculties.” 

Kevin put his crystal ball back in his pocket. “What you felt,” said Galwynn, “was the obverse of true love; it was falsum amorem. False love.”

“That only proves my worst fears,” groaned Charles. “I feel both those emotions, true love and false love, but in the same heart. Those two emotions are so real, and in such violent conflict, that they threaten to tear apart my very spirit. One emotion craves to keep the star only for myself, while the other emotion feels the star’s distress and wants to free her in spite of the loss to myself. 

“How, Master Galwynn, can true love and false love exist at the same time, in the same person, unless that person is of a shattered mind? Unless that person is…insane?”

Looking obliquely through the weirding wall, Kevin could see Charles shivering like a frightened child. Kevin was sure Charles believed the love he felt was true and false at the same time, but Kevin was also sure Charles had come to the wrong conclusion. 

Kevin thought: False love is so self-centered, it would kidnap a star for its own gratification; regardless of her feelings, her family’s concern, or her Domain’s fate. True love would not. False love is so covetous, it would seek to possess everything about the star, even her freedom. True love would not. Though both passions cloak themselves in the name “love,” true love is true, while false love is a degenerate thing only vaguely akin to verus amor

Charles had already called that abhorrent thing by its right name: obsession. 

But after everything Master Galwynn had seen and experienced so far in the execution of his mission, he was too enlightened to believe that the bogus emotion of obsession just happened to be enough to threaten the doom of two Domains. Kevin knew intricate plots and cunning conspiracies seldom succeed, but sometimes a careless act can topple mountains.

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