With the advent of the Great Dispersion upon us, emphasis is being placed upon the education of the general populace regarding the incident on Empathy, and the days on Earth before the re-creation. While the university strives to meet the needs of the crown, humanity is far too numerous to be educated by traditional means prior to the dispersion. Therefore, by order of the High King, ancient Nathanael Schmolze Alandi has been commissioned to rework the Tomes of Empathy into narrative form, for broadcast among the nations. Footnotes are provided by university president Levi s.o. Ahithophel Empatheadi.
It was nearly thirteen minutes before someone at the wedding recognized Leah Hammondi, ancient. Twelve minutes and forty-three seconds, her Word-bearer Hammond replied by thought.
“By my Word! Is that…?” somebody shouted during the forty-fourth second. “Helaen, see this! Lady Leah Hammondi has come!”
“And Lord Hammond Hammondi, if I am unmistaken,” a companion voice – his Breath-bearer – replied with measured awe.
Fantastic, Hammond smiled in her mind. They have recognized me too. A brief glance around the forest clearing confirmed what her Breath was already telling her; the young Word-bearer’s outburst had caused every gaze in sight to converge upon her face. Well, hers and Hammond’s.
Hammond laughed, secretly blaming her for the recognition. Hey, I tried to dress down, she mentally replied, stepping toward the young couple who had exposed them. I really did. I cannot believe we are still being recognized at these things!
“My lady,” the couple spoke in unison, bowing their heads.
“Oh please, my children,” Leah sighed, placing her hand under the Breath-bearer’s chin to lift it. As the girl’s face arose, her eyes lighting to rest upon Leah’s gaze, her awe and excitement transmitted itself into Leah’s hand. To Leah, it seemed a strange addendum to reality that emotion could be transferred by touch, from one Breath-bearer to another. I cannot imagine what it must be like for Empathy, she noted.
“You must pardon my Word-bearer’s display of excitement,” the young Breath-bearer cleaved to the arm of her husband; she shrugged. “We have never before met anyone so ancient as you.”
Leah graciously smiled, and Hammond laughed, then the expression on the young Breath-bearer’s face changed to one of inquiry. “Did I speak something amiss?” she wondered.
Her companion glanced to the side, presumably recalling something from the Word. “Oh,” he started, glancing to his Breath-bearer to explain. “There was a time, before the re-creation, when it was considered an insult to call attention to a woman’s age1.”
“I see,” she nodded, clearly still confused by the exchange; Leah decided to change the subject. What is the Word-bearer’s name? she asked Hammond.
Ethrick, son of Mithraphel Hammondi, he replied to her wordless request; Leah smiled her gratitude. She hated not knowing her descendants by name, and did make a point to attend as many births and weddings as she could; however her offspring on this planet alone were too numerous to count. She had a hard enough time attending all of her grandchildren’s births! Fortunately her husband provided instant access to the Word network’s database of relations.
“Ethrick,” she began, turning her gaze to the young Word-bearer. “How much have we missed?”
“They have not yet emerged,” he replied, jerking his head upward and to the side. “Two days, fourteen hours, and eight more minutes before they do.”
“Give or take,” his Breath-bearer – Helaen daughter of Aerioch Hammondi – added with a smile.
Leah followed Ethrick’s gaze, across the forest clearing to the base of a young cedar tree. Turning her sights upward, she found a new addition to young Mithraphel’s elevated mansion, a tent made of living spearmint, resting upon the boughs of the cedar.
“I like it,” she decided. The use of spearmint was a nice touch; it would make for a pleasant aroma while the bride and groom consummated their marriage.
Still, she shook her head in bewilderment. She could never determine what exactly had compelled her children to choose to live in the trees. Leah enjoyed the forest as much as the next girl, but she much preferred life on the ground, out of the air and close to the streams. Close to living water.
She took a breath, and took a step into the clearing and away from the others; a chattering brook could be heard nearby. The ground beneath her was soft; it felt…fertile. She scrunched her toes, grabbing little foot-fulls of moss and soil.
Suddenly, the ground fled away as she was whisked into the air by two unrepentant arms, and set down upon the highest boughs of one of the highest nearby trees. She stubbornly held on to her foot-fulls of earth.
Hammond chuckled. “Can you honestly say you do not enjoy that, flight through the air?” he asked as he released her, then seated himself by her side.
Leah shook her head with a sigh. “Our children certainly did not get that from me,” she commented. “You are the one always zipping around in the sky; I blame you.” Nevertheless, as she sat there dangling her legs from the branch, Leah found herself releasing the foot-fulls of earth from between her toes, and watching the clods dive into the forest below.
See, it is not so terrible, Hammond nudged her; Leah sighed, and cleaved to her Word-bearer’s arm.
“Just in time for starset2,” she commented, lifting her eyes to greet her husband’s descending star. “Are you certain you can stay? Two days, fourteen hours and eight minutes is a long time to be away from home.”
Your planet is and always will be my home, Hammond replied. “My star is simply my work.”
“You know what I mean. With the Great Dispersion but five hundred years away, there is much work yet to be done.”
Five hundred and three years, seven months, two weeks, three days, fourteen hours and five minutes, Hammond thought reflexively, then winced at the correction. I’m sorry my Breath. You know how difficult I find imprecision.
“I am just glad you are not giving it to me in milliseconds anymore.”
To that Hammond smiled, and Leah entwined her hand with his, lifting her eyes to watch the starset. Word-bearer and Breath-bearer, and their union was good, she recited. As darkness fell, she looked down into the forest, to the dancing lights of their children.
And their union was good.
Somewhere below them on the forest floor, Empathy daughter of Hammond Hammondi did not feel good. That wasn’t to say that she felt…what was the word again? ‘bad’? No, she simply felt not good.
Her mother had once provided a phrase to describe her predicament, a saying taken from ancient Earth – she was ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. Empathy enjoyed the phrase because it consisted of a single conceptual rhyme, and she, like any Breath-bearer, could appreciate an instance of pattern-repetition; she was, after all, designed to respond to such a thing. On the other hand she also disliked the phrase, because it spoke truth regarding her state of being, and she did not like her state of being. It was ‘not good’.
Where is Father? she distracted herself, noting how the thought seemed to resound throughout the hollow of her mind, uncaught and unanswered by a corresponding Word-bearer’s response. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, she sighed, peering through the forest for some glimpse of her father’s light. She found no success.
As the eldest Word-bearer in the star system, his light shone far brighter than those of his children; yet, as she wandered the wood, no such light stood out. She therefore searched a while for Mother’s light, knowing that she would be wearing the most intricately colored aura on the planet; of course the last time she had seen Mother, she was dressing rather plainly – something about trying not to stand out.
Empathy grew frustrated, once again, at the fact that still she was unbound to a companion Word-bearer. This time her frustration stemmed more from practical deficiencies than lacking romance; the Word could locate her parents in a matter of milliseconds.
And she so hated to ask a stranger for information from the Word; it was embarrassing. Before, when she was less than a millennium old, people would assume that she was a child, unmarried because of youth. But now, without fail, every Word-bearer she would look to for help would look to her forehead, and then to her ear, tracing the ribbon of white that now trickled down the right side of her face. And he would wonder, not infrequently aloud, why at this ripe stage of her life she had no Word-bearer of her own.
“Excuse me,” she drew in her courage, touching the arm of a Word-bearer nearby. The gesture proved a mistake.
Emotion flooded through her fingertips and, for some reason, caught her by surprise. “Hello!” the Word-bearer responded, a little too quickly for a casual greeting. Curious, Empathy gently narrowed her eyes, noting that something seemed amiss in the young Word-bearer’s one word, in his tone. She sifted through his raw emotion that now faded from her nerves, and found therein a pleasant surprise – she found attraction within him. She managed even to extract a memory, an image of herself as the Word-bearer examined her beauty not moments before. She could feel the blood rushing to her face.
“I…apologize; My name is Dirthriel, son of Mithraphel Hammondi,” he offered his hand.
“Brother of the groom,” she took it with a smile.
“One of seventeen,” he allowed. “And your name?”
“Empathy,” she stated succinctly, specifically leaving out her lineage. It seemed an awkward answer to the question, since he was clearly expecting more, but she knew it to be a necessary discomfort. If he knew her parentage, he could learn from the Word her age, her marital status, and the reason for her marital status in a moment’s time. Without it, he would have to run her image through the Word’s facial recognition software, providing her with at least a few minutes respite before facing his rejection.
“May I ask, Empathy, why you walk alone?” Dirthriel wondered. “Where is your Word-bearer?” he asked in a not-so-subtle attempt to elicit her attachments the hard way.
Empathy sighed, No way around a direct question. She told him, “I have no Word-bearer,” and he glanced at her hair.
“You must have at least two millennia,” he observed, overshooting her age by nearly nine hundred years. It was meant as a compliment, she knew, because if she in truth carried two thousand years within, her entire forehead would be clearly peppered with ribbons of white. Regardless of his intentions, however, his expansion upon her age felt less like a compliment and more like a…not complement. Every year he added to her would be a year she had spent alone, unmatched.
And of course, it took no more than two minutes before she found herself alone once more. Once the Word had determined her identity and returned her information to Dirthriel, he understood her deficiency, why she had never married. More to the point, he understood perfectly why he could never be with her, not if he valued his future. Turning her away was the intelligent choice, and Word-bearers were predictably adept at choosing the intelligent choice.
At least he told me where Father is, she sighed, aligning her steps with the eastern bank of Mithraphel’s brook. As she moved forward, the quiet churning of the lightwaters began to wash over her mind, and that unyielding sense of contentment began to set in.
It was an interesting tension that breathed within her, contentment leading her to love what grace had already given her, and desire leading her to seek the one thing that she lacked. She was reminded of a conversation she had once partaken of with Mother, one of the few survivors of ancient Earth.
“Five?!” Empathy repeated, aghast. Mother nodded. “How could you have had five husbands?!”
Mother glanced away. “They were different times,” she spoke quietly. “I could not bear children at the time, and each husband divorced me once he learned of it.”
Empathy felt confusion, and some other emotion she could not name. “What is ‘divorced’?” she wondered cautiously.
“It means to not be married anymore.”
“Oh,” she looked down; she did not realize that was possible. “Will I be divorced, if I cannot bear?”
Mother looked up in shock, and laughed. “Oh dewbreath, infertility is not a part of this creation. Of course you will have children.”
“Mother,” she reminded her, “I am a Savant3,4,”
“That does not mean you cannot bear; no one has ever proven that.”
“Yes, because no Savant has ever married!” she returned, laughing to mask her concern. It did not work.
“Empathy, you need not worry about finding a Word-bearer,” Mother expressed. “In some ways, I believe you to be more fortunate than most.”
Empathy laughed. “You deem marriage an unfortunate condition?”
“Not on this side of re-creation,” she smiled. “But most of your brothers and sisters married young, with little more than thirty years of desire within them.”
“I would say that they are then the more fortunate,” she contended.
Mother shook her head in disagreement. “If I have learned anything from marrying five husbands and one Word-bearer, it is that desire only grows when left unfulfilled. And, while living in that unfulfillment must be difficult for this season of your life, when that day finally comes, when you finally marry your very own Word-bearer, your love and desire for him will be all the greater.”
“You truly believe that I will marry,” she observed with measured surprise.
“Empathy, I expect that your story, whatever it may become, will be the substance of legends.”
Of course that was five hundred years ago. Now, five hundred years later, her supposed legend had yet to begin. Quite to the contrary, as she walked along Mithraphel’s brook, she was in very much the same condition in which she always was, serving as a witness to the wedding of others. To this unbearable day, she was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
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