7: Mirror, mirror on the wall
A/N: I’ve long been a lover of Dante’s work, even the courtly love poetry, as ridiculous as it may be. But ever since I read the Inferno many years ago, it’s held a special place in my heart. My Italian is terrible, but thankfully you don’t have to hear my interpretation of the poem; the translation provided in brackets after each line is by Allen Mandelbaum.
~~~Chapter 7: Mirror, mirror on the wall~~~
Wesley followed Galadriel from Celeborn’s study quietly, still wrapped up in his thoughts. He could see Haldir out of the corner of his eye and wondered if he was an escort or a guard, not that it mattered. The singing continued all around him, rising and falling with the breeze, and subconsciously, Wes found himself adding his own contribution.
Nel Mezzo del cammin di nostra vita [When I had journeyed half of our life’s way]
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, [I found myself within a shadowed forest]
Che la diritta via era smarrita. [For I had lost the path that does not stray.]
It was not a lament to Gandalf, however, and though she couldn’t understand it, Galadriel paused to listen. Wes murmured on, aware of his audience but focused on the words.
Ahi quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura [Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,]
Esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte [That savage forest, dense and difficult,]
Che nel pensier rinova la paura! [Which even in recall renews my fear:]
They stood on the edge of one of the stairway landings, gazing out at the silver lights in the trees.
Tant’ e amara che poco e piu morte; [So bitter—death is hardly more severe!]
Ma per rattar del ben chi’i vi trovia, [But to retell the good discovered there,]
Diro de l’altre cose chi’i v’ho scorte. [I’ll also tell the other things I saw.]
Wes breathed deep before finishing the last stanza, and when he fell silent once more, he closed his eyes.
Io, non so ben ridir com’ i’ v’intrai’, [I cannot clearly say how I had entered]
tant’ era pien di sonno a quel punto [The wood; I was so full of sleep just at]
Che la verace cia abbandonai. [The point where I abandoned the true path.]
“Is that your native language?” Galadriel asked softly.
“No. It was in Italian, very similar to Latin, a language I know well. My native language is called English.”
He thought for a moment, dissecting the word ‘poem’ then nodded. “A poem by Dante Algheri, written many years ago.” Wesley frowned, lifting his hand to rub his eyes. “He, too, was lost and went through much danger to… find?... himself.” A rueful smile twisted his lips. “I do not know the words in this language, but he spoke of ‘Courtly Love’ before he was handed, no, cast, out of Florence. Then his poems became… darker. I spoke the beginning to the Inferno.”
“What does that mean, ‘inferno’?”
Galadriel gestured for them to continue down to the open grassy area at the bottom of the steps. Wes shook his head. “After death, evil men go to a world of flames and terror. This is ‘inferno’.”
In his mind, he replayed the first conversation he’d had with Lilah after ‘the incident’. Still broken and bleeding, hoarse and unable to speak, he’s let her in with as much cheer as he would welcome a viper into his bed. Strange how true that sentiment had turned out to be. She’d brought him a gift, a worthy gift, and he could hear the words ringing in his head, the reminder of where his place in Dante’s afterworld would be, right along Brutus, Cassius, and Judas, mauled for eternity in Lucifer’s three mouths, ripped and torn, in agony over frozen Cocytus in the pit of Dis.
Quieter now, the urge to join in the vocal mourning had passed; Wes watched the elven lady in front of him. Her graceful, barefoot, silent walk was soothing; she fairly floated over the grass, barely denting a blade. He clomped along in his leather boots, smushing greenery left and right. The soft footed shadow of Haldir trailed along behind, making Wes feel even more out of place.
Eventually, they reached a small glen centered around a shallow basin filled of water. Nearby, a long necked silver pitcher stood, and the lady lifted it easily, pouring silvery water back into the basin. Wesley watched with interest, sure that this was a ritual of some sort. She stood opposite him across the basin and waved her hand over it once.
“This is my mirror, a mirror to see what was, what is, what could come to pass. Will you look?”
Wes blinked. Now wasn’t that the question, he thought to himself. It struck him then how little he’d been interested in prophesies about himself, should there ever have been one. Knowing the possible futures was for far more important people than him. But maybe things were changing… He steeled himself and leaned over, looking deep into the shadows of the basin.
At first, nothing happened, and Wes had to resist the urge to ask if it was broken. Something told him that things very rarely broke for the nice elf lady. Ever so slowly, a shimmer began to coalesce, forming the image of writhing tentacles and frothing water. He watched with only somewhat detached curiosity as the tentacled water beast thrust a slimy appendage through the rift in the dimensional walls. He saw himself fight through the crowd to reach Angel, Gunn, and Fred, and he saw, again, the looks of surprise and confusion on their faces when he was sucked away. What were new were the frantic jumps towards the closing portal that Angel attempted, swinging his microphone stand furiously.
The next scene was of Angel confronting Lilah in the parking lot of the lecture hall. Wes couldn’t suppress a small smirk as Angel ripped the top from the lawyer’s car, but his breath caught when Angel informed Lilah what happened after she’d left, accusing her of setting the beast on Fred.
There was no mistaking the look of surprise, and brief anguish, when she found out he was gone, and when the next image unfolded, he could have sworn she was near tears. It was a bright white room, empty save a small girl in the middle wearing a red dress. Her long hair was straight and unbound, and she tapped her black mary janes on the not quite tile floor in irritation. Lilah made her supplication again, but when the girl only frowned harder and waved her hand, banishing Lilah from her sight, Wes knew that her request to the senior partners was denied. Then Lilah was back at the office, going through files, her Wolfram and Hart work face firmly in place, no evidence of further thought given to his predicament.
He sighed when he saw Fred shoot her professor with a crossbow, only to be found crumpled and miserable by Gunn moments later. There was something broken about her now, the knowledge that she’d taken a life out of revenge, or so Wes thought. Perhaps this meant that the professor had been the one to set the portals on Fred both times, Pylea and here. He frowned.
He audibly gasped when his father swam into view, opening a slim envelope. The older man read it with shock then seemed to fold in on himself, open tears running down his face. Wes leaned down to get a look at the envelope, post marked Los Angeles.
Next was the Fellowship, his traveling companions, standing on the side of a great river, making camp. He couldn’t see who all was there, but there were three boats drawn up from the water. Strider shouted something, running off into the woods, and was soon followed by Legolas, looking alarmed.
Then there was blood, too much blood, splashed on blonde hair. A flash of metal and the solidity of stone. There were many orcs, more frightening the ones from the mine, rushing forward through jagged, broken walls, screaming.
The last image was of a blonde haired woman holding a sword and glaring fiercely. She stood proudly, shoulders thrown back, and seemed to be arguing with someone. She reeled back, as if struck, and coldness swept over her stance.
Wesley stumbled back, his head spinning. It was too much to take in all at once, and Galadriel laid a calming hand on his arm.
“Are you alright, Master Wesley?” He only nodded numbly, shaken. “All things here may not come to pass, though some undoubtedly have already done so. Those images, they were from your world?”
“Angel, Fred, Gunn, Lilah, my father.”
“All important people to you?” She took his hand and led him to a low wooden bench carved from a massive tree root. He sat gladly.
“Yes… they were, are, important.” He took a ragged breath. “I am not to return.”
Galadriel arched a perfect, pale eyebrow. “How do you know?”
Wesley turned stormy blue eyes her way, and spoke softly. “The ways home were denied, or not looked for. I saw my father read of my ‘death’. Then there were only… pictures..? of your world.”
She nodded, serenely. “Does this trouble you?”
“What is to be done with me?” The words rippled from his tongue before he realized what he was saying, and he marveled at how much easier it was to speak, as if the knowledge he was to remain had freed something in his mind, making the acceptance of another language easier.
“That is something we are in no hurry to decide. Your place in these times has not been revealed to me. I will meditate, and hopefully you will have answers soon. But perhaps now you would like to see your traveling companions. I know Master Took is most anxious about your welfare.”
Wes smiled at that, the image of the perky young hobbit erasing the mild horror seeing his father’s reaction to his ‘death’. He’d half expected his father to be pleased to be rid of him, the failure of a son. Seeing his grief, Wes felt a feeling of almost softness towards his father, something he’d not imagined possible these past few years.
He nodded, standing. Haldir stepped forward from the shadows, gesturing for Wes to follow him with a frown. The former watcher was beginning to wonder if the elf never smiled. He nodded to Galadriel, still sitting and lost in thought, and walked out of the glen. Under his breath he began singing again.
Lo giorno se n’andave, e l’aere bruno [The day was now departing; the dark air]
Toglieva li animai che sono in terra [Released the living beings of the earth]
Da le fatiche loro; e io sol uno [From work and weariness; and I myself]
Haldir jumped softly when Wes uttered the first words, and he knew the blonde elf was listening as he continued.
M’apparecchiava a sostener la guerra [Alone prepared to undergo the battle]
Si del cammino e si de la pietate, [Both of the journeying and of the pity,]
Che ritrarra la mente che non erra. [Which memory, mistaking not, shall show.]
They wove through the trees, passing other elves who showed mild curiosity at the stranger in their midst, clad in their garb, but Wes paid them no mind.
O Muse, o alto ingegno, or m’aiutate; [O Muses, o high genius, help me now;]
O mente che scrivesti cio ch’io vidi, [O memory that set down what I saw,]
Qui si parra la tua nobilitate. [Here shall your excellence reveal itself!]
It was with a shy smile of welcome that he rejoined his companions, settling down cross-legged next to Boromir. Pippin sat down next to him with a grin.
“So, what do you think of the elves?”
To Be Continued…