24. Candles In The Wind
Chapter 23 Candles In The Wind
At Olori's wedding, her father made the most spectacular fireworks any of them had ever seen. She was pleased, because she could see how it pleased him to do it, but she had outgrown her delight with fireworks. In fact they frightened her a little, all the smoke and bangs and hissing noises. Her new husband Bartos and his family seemed impressed, though Olori saw her mother-in-law looking askance at the extraordinary proceedings.
Corli and Olorin had decided long ago that they would be truthful to their children about how they had met and who their father was. What their children decided to do with the information was up to them. Olori left most of it unsaid, and told a few half-lies to her new relations to explain why her father looked younger than her mother.
"She is a bit older than he, you see. She saved his life once, and that was how they met," she confided to her father-in-law. "You know how it is for women, Mother," she muttered into her mother-in-law's ear. "Bearing children takes so much from us. We can be the same age and look older than a man."
When the double weddings of Mithra and Gand came along, the twins parted ways seriously for the first time in their lives. Gand had begun concocting elaborate stories from the very beginning to explain things to his fiancée Kenna and her family. There was a perfectly rational explanation why his mother, now forty-seven, had so many more strands of silver in her hair and lines on her face than his father, who looked five if not ten years younger. There was long life on Olorin's side, he said solemnly, and exceptional health. And Corli had taken a younger man as her husband, he winked to his father-in-law.
Mithra's anger erupted when he heard of it.
"That's absurd, Gand. I've told Mariel the truth—all of it--and she thinks it's wonderful. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Father doesn't seem to care a bit, nor mother. Why should we worry about it? Besides, in time they'll see it for themselves. The facts can't be hidden!"
But now that Gand had constructed his wall of tales, he was at a loss as to how to dismantle it.
At the wedding celebration for his older brothers, six-year old Corlin stood by and helped with the display. Corli was worried at first, but she had to admit that the boy seemed completely safe with the powders and fuses. He was very exact in his ways. Olorin seemed to trust him, and gradually he showed his son everything about fireworks-making that could be taught.
As Corlin grew, he looked more and more like his father every year—or more accurately, he looked as his father had once appeared, for Corlin's nose was straight and unbroken. He had a way with animals, though he didn't seem to be able to converse directly with them, as Corli still observed Olorin doing regularly. The family of badgers that was descended from the one who had given his life for Corli still lived in a den behind the barn. The woodpile that hid it had rotted away years ago. Olorin and Corlin dragged stones from the woods and fields to build up a sort of shelter for the animals, so they could come and go from the den without being seen. Corli would watch smiling from the window while her son sat for hours awaiting the appearance of a striped nose from beneath the ground. She listened with rapt interest as he reported on the health of this season's badger litter to her.
Corlin learned healing skills from his mother and used them to care for animals. He was sought after from far and wide for his ability to cure sicknesses in prized horses, hunting dogs or cattle, and for his knowledge of breeding and animal husbandry. Before he turned twenty he already had a circuit that took him to all the big farms in the area. He made and set off his own fireworks as a sideline, and he was in great demand for festivals and celebrations.
He would travel for weeks, returning home flushed and smiling, full of stories and wonder at what he was discovering in the wide world. Corlin took no wife, but came home to his parents' farm again and again, traveling for long stretches of time and appearing unannounced, but never unexpected. His father always knew when he was headed home.
Olorin held back his desire to try to find out how much like him his youngest son was. It would show in time. He knew that the young man had a warm heart, a good heart. And as his dear friend Schlain had said, that was what mattered. It was the only thing that mattered.
Schlain was the first to die. His mischievous heart stopped beating one day during a long afternoon nap in the sunlight. Olorin knew he was gone long before they got the news by messenger. He told Corlin to explain to his mother where he was headed. He galloped past Frin's new apprentice on the road.
Olorin had seen death many times, too many times to number. He thought his need to outwardly express grief seemed to have tempered somewhat with time. He had grieved in anticipation of grief enough so that when it finally came he thought he would be ready for it. It wasn't so. When he saw Schlain's lifeless face, he turned without a word to the widow and ran stumbling to the smith's workshop. Frin stood in her doorway listening. She had never heard such awful cries. She didn't know what it meant, and she fretted as she waited for Corli and her son to arrive by cart and do something. She was the bereaved, not him. What was wrong with him?
Corli went first to her friend and consoled her, then found her husband where he sat on the bench, staring at the still-glowing brazier in Schlain's workshop. She scolded him angrily. He gazed up at her in confusion, his face filled with anguish. As she stood close and pressed him into her waist, she felt him shake with mute sobs. She tried to explain the hierarchy of mortal grieving to him, but her words rang hollow, even as she spoke them. She let him be and went back to Frin, and by the day they put Schlain in the ground her husband had control of himself.
Corlin was visiting again when Frin clasped her head and fell dead to the ground just a year later, and he helped his father care for his grief-stricken mother. Corli wept for days, and apologized again and again for how she had chided Olorin for his unseemly behavior when Schlain died. The bond of friendship was different than any other, and Frin's death left a hole in Corli that no one could fill.
The wind began to rise in the wizard's life. He had not called it down, and he could not control it. The candles began to waver in the storm.
A team of oxen, frightened by a hissing snake, went mad and trampled Mithra as he plowed the fields on his nearby farm. Olorin arrived before Mithra died, and Corli didn't stop him from laying his hands on him as he tried to take hold of his son's fleeing spirit. But it was too late. His injuries were too severe, and all of Olorin's power was useless as Mithra slipped from him. When Corli pulled his hands away he did not resist. This time the father found some way to contain his emotions so they did not overpower the weeping of his daughter-in-law Mariel and his grandchildren.
Iorla died peacefully at the age of seventy-two. She had a long private talk with Corli's husband before she passed, and both seemed easier for it. Then Olori's second son caught a raging fever, and the boy was gone in a week. Gand's beloved Kenna died bearing his third child despite all the efforts of Corli and her daughter Olori, whose skills now nearly equaled those of her mother. Olorin's heart broke as he could do nothing to soothe his son's unbridled anguish.
The wizard was forced to make agonizing choices. These people were his own flesh and blood, but Corli was right, he would need every ounce of strength to continue his real work long after all of them moldered in the ground. He could not stop the passage of time. He could not stand in the way of mortality. It grieved him to withhold what he had within him almost as much as each loss itself.
At every deathbed and at every grave Olorin was there, nearly unchanged, his face still clean-shaven and his mostly dark wavy hair trimmed to above his collar. There were only a few more single strands of silver on his head than the night Corli had dragged him into her cart, fully expecting that all her work had been futile and the man who had given Nod his chance for freedom would die before daybreak.