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The Fire Sermon
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In the morning, even with only a little sleep, it is possible to put aside the dark thoughts that have twisted us throughout the night. And so it was; I woke, and the sun was shining, and it was a new age, and I had lived to see it.

And, as the days passed, I found also that for the first time in my life, I was my own master, and I discovered that I liked it. So long had deference been my custom that I had too easily forgotten that I held opinions, and that they were sound, and that people would listen and hold my views worthy of account. And if I thought of the White Lady at this time, it was to wish her, with all my heart, all the health and happiness which, if she had allowed it, I would have gladly given her.

And so April wore away, and we would hear news of the approach of the host and the captains, and I would wake each morning refreshed, and eagerly anticipating the day that was soon to come. A staleness seemed to lift from the White Tower, and I moved from the study which had been my father's into a new room, which caught the morning sun, and in which even the papers that came with my office could not depress me. And then I turned my attention to the house in which I had grown up, and I opened windows and unsealed rooms, and brought out many things that had been put away, and sent away much for burning.

Early one morning, I stood on the steps of the Tower looking eastwards and enjoying the cool sunlight that would later become warm, which I heard my name called, and turned to see the Warden of the Houses of Healing. And he spoke to me of the Lady …owyn, and how it seemed she sickened, and my fragile peace was shattered.

Straightaway I went back with him, and waited for her again in the garden. Not four weeks had passed since I myself had been dwelling here, and yet I felt the world had changed. And when she was brought to me, I saw that she too was changed, but she was sadder, and ill.

She greeted me with a small smile. 'Dear friend. I thought you had forgotten me.'

'You asked me not to come.' I took her arm, and we walked once more again along the walls. 'Surely you must know by now, …owyn, that I could not forget you, even if I wanted to.'

She gave a sigh, soft and sad. 'My friend - ' she began. But I too was changed, and this time I would be heard. And I asked her again why it was she remained in Minas Tirith, and I overcame my fear, and I offered her myself, if she would have me.

Even in the dead of winter, something remains alive, embedded deep below the frost, waiting for the first sun of spring, however faint, to call it forth. Slowly, it puts out tendrils, delicate at first, then more eager, pursuing the sunlight which, although still weak itself, is still warmer than the hiding place below, and holds more promise.

For fear there may be a late frost, which could kill whatever had begun to bud, one protects the new life, nurturing it, keeping it from any cold that might suddenly descend. And then there comes a moment where the roots are strong, and beneath just a gentle breath of warmth, flowers come forth.

To behold such a transformation - and more, to be intrinsic to it, both first cause and final destination - is consummate; an extinction of the self, which is melted in the crucible of the other, and together they are forged, through some exquisite alchemy, into a new self.

What was latent in the other is awoken. What was barren in her I enrich; what was cold in me she warms. She bursts into flower beneath my touch and I; I am on fire. She transforms me, and what had been my deepest terror becomes fundamental to our self, half of the essence of our new being. Our fears become foundations.

The fire of our first kiss as lovers flames through the city. And this our own rebirth reflects and augments the greater renewal - the turning of the year to summer, the regeneration of the land, the restoration of the king.

On a clear day at the start of May we come forth from the city Gate. The man who is to be my king stands before me; the woman who is to be my wife stands behind me. She completes me. I am complete.

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre -
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Author's note: All the poetry is from TS Eliot: at the start of chapters 1 and 3 from The Waste Land, chapter 2 from Ash Wednesday, and the big chunk at the end from Little Gidding.

The story continues in A Game of Chess.


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