On my Earth, there was a myth about willows. Curiously, my mother would often recount it to me before she tucked me in at night. When I learned my true name, I recalled it faintly as it bubbled up from the back of my mind, but I pushed it away, not wanting to face the truth. It took me a long while to realize that this story from my childhood would inexplicably shape the course of my life.
It was all in my name. It had the power to invoke the situation I currently found myself in. I could have stopped it... I could have taken steps to prevent it if I made the connection, but I didn’t.
As my entire existence flashed before my eyes, I remembered my early life in the Realm of Knowledge. I was four when we moved to a shabby plantation house in Louisiana; it was just one of many moves. Yet, this house stood out in my mind, because there was a large willow tree in the front garden.
I recalled lying beneath its umbrella of leaves as a breeze passed through its hanging branches. The leaves shook as the air brushed against them, creating the unique sound of weeping. In my young mind, this sound of broken-hearted despair was linked to Orpheus’ ballad.
In the myth, Orpheus, the son of a Muse and a Thracian prince, was given the gift of music by his mother, mastering it as he grew into adulthood. No one could resist his gift for song, and he gained the heart of a beautiful maiden named Eurydice, but their happiness was short-lived. Directly after their union, Eurydice was stung by a viper and died.
With her soul resting in the eternity of death, Orpheus became depressed, wanting nothing more than to reach the end of his life quickly so that he could be with Eurydice again in the afterlife. But instead of the days flying by, time seemed to slow to a snail’s pace, prolonging his suffering. Then he had an idea. Rather than wait on death, he would travel to the Underworld and retrieve his lost love, using his gift of song to put the ruler of Hades under a trance.
Without delay, he journeyed with only his lyre made from the wood of a willow tree. The gods looked down on him favorably, and his plan worked as no one could resist him when he sang. He was granted his wish of being united with Eurydice under one condition.... He was not to look back at her as she followed him out of the Underworld. He happily agreed.
His journey back out of the underworld was uneventful. He trekked to the surface in silence, but he could not resist the urge to look over his shoulder, needing confirmation that Eurydice was indeed following him. As he climbed out of the darkness and into the twilight of the surface, he turned around and gazed upon the face of his lost love, but it was too soon. Still in the cavern, Eurydice faded away, returning to Hades. Unable to journey back into the Underworld, Orpheus lived the rest of his days in agony over his mistake, singing mournful ballads about his lost love as he played his lyre. It was the same lyre which was made from the wood of a willow.
The willow tree will always be associated with the grief of a love lost. Did Nalin know that when he named me Willow? Did he know that he was setting the both of us up for failure and dooming us to be separated by the realms?
I fought until every muscle in my body burned for relief, quivering until I couldn’t bring myself to attempt once more. My breathing was ragged from my efforts, and as evidence, my brow was damp with droplets of sweat. Hell was hot, and I couldn’t continue to strain my body without fuel. It was becoming depleted of its electrolytes. My mouth was as dry as cotton ball by the time the effects of dehydration began to settle in.
My mind became clouded, making it increasingly difficult to form a solitary thought. Working twice as hard to concentrate, my eyes began to play tricks on me. I began to glimpse shadows which stood just beyond my peripheral vision. In my current state of exhaustion, I thought I saw a familiar silhouette which surprised me.
“Nalin!” I called out, keeping my tone low. Straining to hear the slightest sound, I was greeted with more silence. “Nalin, is that you?”
My heart was aflutter. I scanned the room, waiting anxiously for him. Yet, I was greeted with more silence. Disappointed, I slouched in my chair.
My mind replayed the tragic scene that occurred only a few hours before. Nalin would not be coming to my rescue. It was doubtful that he was even alive. He had been badly, perhaps fatally, wounded when he was cast off to another realm. Still, in my heart, I had hope. Picturing his handsome face in my head and holding him for that short moment, my hope was revitalized before our fortunes were turned once more, and he was ripped away from me. Now we are separated once again by realms and restraints as if I made no progress at all.
Forcing my head forward, I gritted my teeth and tried to shift myself off of my seat by sheer will power. However, the crown on my head was on its own a device of torture, squeezing my skull like a vice.
I cried out, collapsing in my seat once more.
My heart fluttered within my core, gently reminding me that it could not keep up with the elevation in heart rate for much longer. Instinct wanted to choose flight over fight, but since fleeing was not an option and fighting was useless, the only other option was to give in. Bound to the armrests and legs of the throne with golden shackles, I wept silently, but my body couldn’t afford to part with a single tear.
I conceded to defeat. I was dying. I knew it, and I couldn’t deny this fact to myself any longer. The Dark King’s spell was killing me. I could feel the poison in my veins as a paralyzing cold grabbed hold of my legs and slowly began to work its way up my torso. At first, the cold was tolerable, but as it rose from my limbs to my core, my heat reserves suddenly vanished, and my blood began to feel as frigid as ice water.
Shivering, I struggled to breathe as the cold worked its way up to my lungs. I could see my breath as it left my nostrils in a white cloud. “What is happening to me?” I asked myself, confused.
“Soon you will be ready to join me,” the Dark King’s voice echoed through the room, answering my question but choosing to remain hidden. “Soon the old Willow will fade away and be lost forever.”
I shook my head defiantly. “You are a liar, a deceiver,” I told him bitterly. “I will always be who I am. You can’t take that away from me. You can’t strip me of my spirit.”
His footsteps echoed through the perimeter of the hall, shaking the stone floors. “You are but half a being, half a soul,” he answered, his voice booming from the dark corners of the chamber. “Something which was never meant to be created, but yet, exists. You are something... strange.”
“But I am a person,” I shouted angrily, insulted that he was devaluing me. “I have a soul! I will not permit you to just discard it.”
“What choice do you have in the matter? You have stained it beyond measure,” he replied, his tone playful as if toying with me. “Souls are curious in that way. They hold no value until they are lost.”
I stared wide-eyed into the shadows, anxiously trying to catch a glimpse of my enemy as it stalked me.
As his footsteps grew distant, he laughed as he retreated further into the darkness. “When you brought that blood-stained horn to me, I knew I had a foothold,” he said, his voice fading as the distance grew between them. “In the simple act of killing something innocent, without stain, you forfeited yourself to me, body and soul.”
In a last stitch effort, I contemplated praying to the Creator, hoping that in his mercy he would grant me freedom, but I realized I had never invoked his help before, and I wasn’t sure how to at that moment.
Frustrated and scared, I leaned back in my seat and glanced up at the vaulted ceiling. There was so much that I did not get the chance to see... so many experiences that I did not live. I would die with many regrets but none as great as the loss of time. I had spent so many years on the human Earth that I could have spent beside my twin soul. I painfully thought of the life we could have had if attempts had not been made on my life, and I hadn’t been stolen away. Nalin and I could have formalized our union. We could have had children, but this life that I dreamed up for us was not meant to be.
As the cold overtook me, I relied on my connection with Nalin, and I spoke as if he could hear me... as if it were the last time.
“I love you more... than I have ever loved anyone... in my life,” I whispered, gasping for air as my lungs began to freeze, and my vision blurred over. “I can’t imagine dying. I am so... scared. Most of all... I am scared to be without you forever. Find me, Nalin. Find me in eternity.”