The young girl was sitting on a large block of stone near where the small river met the lake. It did not matter to her that she inhabited the body of a grown woman, that a large part of her self was an adult trying to repress her feelings and function what she called normally in a world of work and duty and grown-up masks and appearances. Here, in the wilds, she absentmindedly handled the little colourful stones she had gathered from the lake shore, arranging them in patterns on the natural desk she was sitting on, now and then dangling her feet in the cold, dark water until her toes started to tingle and hurt. The boulder she was sitting on was partly covered with moss and lichen, almost as soft beneath her as a cushion. The fact that the moss was slightly moist made her adult self a bit uncomfortable, but this time she ignored her perfectionist desire to seek for a better spot. She wanted to sit as close to the water's shimmering wonder as possible.
How old was she? Six? Nine? Twelve? Fifteen? She did not know that herself. Maybe all these ages at once. She only knew she was the one whose sisters had been taken away from her. Repeatedly, in various ways. First there were her natural ones, two of them, who died before they were born. She remembered walking the late November woods holding on to her mother's hand, the bare trees preparing for a long dark winter, the dead leaves rustling under her feet, and how she had dreamed of her little sister that would be born in spring, tried to imagine what she might look like, dreamed up all the things they would do together as she grew up, dreamed of the new, miraculous world they would create together, a world just their own, a world where she would finally understand and be understood by a being like to herself. She was not sure if this snippet of memory belonged to her first sister-to-be or her second, yet she did not want to probe too deeply to find out, because there were other snippets, ugly, painful, agonizing ones, snippets she was quick to shove back into her subconscious as soon as they raised their heads to fill her with guilt heavy as lead, snippets that made her dream no more than that – a dream.
These early losses had already left her fractured with blame she had taken upon herself, sadness, sorrow and shame. They had already left her lonely and longing, believing that fate was depriving her of what she did not deserve, what she could not be entrusted with. And that belief had lingered.
She closed her eyes to press the teardrops from her lashes. Warm and heavy she felt them slide down her cheeks. Her gaze sought the surrounding landscape to flee from inner landscapes of pain. Majestically the mountains, the highest ones still snow-capped, framed the water's mirror in front of her, beneath her. The tallest peak disappeared into a large grey cloud bank which momentarily hung over almost the whole mountain range. To the West, though, it metamorphosed into a few sparse whitish puff clouds, between which gaps of light blue sky showed like windows. The oval expanse of water stretching out below them seemed untouched by the firmament's rapid changes and the dreary curtain it drew over its treasures. Like a jewel the lake sat enthroned in its rocky setting, its dark deep blue unruffled by the slightest wind. It was pouring forth colour in such an intensity that the eye was led to wonder if the lake harboured an inner light of its own in its unplumbed depths. Almost common in contrast the soothing greens, yellows and ochres that hugged its contours, greeting the mountains' half-dissolved shapes that were dimly reflected at the lake's fringes, the only intrusion from the outside world it seemed to suffer. Tall, mostly tough and stringy grasses, interspersed with heather, clad the turfy slopes that curved down to the waterside, dotted by boulders.
She sighed. If only she could be as unmoved as the water, as unimpressed by the demands of others. She shuddered as her thoughts involuntarily turned to the next person in her list of hoped-for potential sisters: The person who had claimed to be a sister, a best friend, the only one, more authoritative than parents. The one who had sucked her into dependency only to cruelly exploit and abuse her. She hated to think of her now as more than an evil tyrant, as someone she came to rely on and commit to, until in the face of truth it was too late to retract; yet in some corner of herself she knew the betrayal hurt most deeply because she had indeed considered that girl a companion, and because even when experience proved otherwise, she had still been clinging to her own ideals of loyalty and forbearance.
Her memory sought to escape from this precarious topic. Her fingers groped for the little stones still draped on the rock beside her, little treasures salvaged earlier on to seek solace in undemanding diversion. For a moment she felt the impulse to pick them up and hurl them into the lake, but then she refrained from disturbing its peace. Instead, her thoughts passed over the debris of other tales of friendship darkened or fractured with loss, betrayal or disappointment, moving on to the ones she loved most, the ones she truly gave her heart to, more fully if not completely. Again two of them stood out, best friends she now recognized as something like sisters, as if they were compensations for the natural ones she had been deprived of. All the greater her anguish when those were ripped from her, too, by an enemy sowing discord, accusing, separating, removing them from her life, one years ago, the other only recently. The first of these precious relationships had actually been restored into a friendship both beautiful and wholesome, founded on mutual freedom and now, she thought, indestructible. Nevertheless the intense pain caused by its rift years ago and her feelings of guilt associated with it were still lingering in some corner of her heart. From thence they now seemed to be irrationally reactivated as she was desperately trying to come to terms with the most recent experience of rejection: Loving hands that had held and cradled her heart like a treasure in trustful abandon, reciprocating the same intimacy of confidence and caring the other way round, then taken away and raised against her in a gesture of "Get thee behind me!", now finally formed into fists to exclude her completely. Lips that had stated her beauty and sworn undying allegiance, now having severed all bonds remained pressed together in silence.
Her fingers were still handling one of the stones, a tiny white pebble almost as perfectly rounded as a pearl. It looked and felt like something unique, even though there were countless similar ones nearby. Her palm closed tightly around it, then opened and released it. She stroked it in an almost motherly gesture, then gently put it down on a dent in the rock with a sigh.
It was her youngest layers, she conjectured, that suffered most from this abandonment that drove her to places she had not been to in a very long time, places of her soul she had been neglecting such as this lake, where she had fled this day to escape from the dullness of her depression, to mingle her tears with the river's.
Yet maybe she was older still, too, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two. For she was also the one who fell in love with those that turned out to be unattainable; or if by what seemed a miracle she did obtain their affections, those who were barred from her by insurmountable obstacles, seeming caprices, mockeries, even cruelties of fate.
She was all these. For it did not matter so much if her companion was male or female, a friend or a lover. What mattered was true companionship. Deep, spiritual, total. That was what she had always been looking for: nothing less than a soul mate.
Her gaze travelled over the lake's expanse. The sun had come out, had pushed away the cloud bank and was playing in countless piercing sparkles with the water's sombre surface. The girl tilted her face to catch the sun's warmth on her cheek and narrowed her eyes a little under the onrush of its rays. She imagined her tears to be minute sparks of diamonds, bobbing on the water. Wherever they were now in this vast body of liquid, they really looked like pearls of crystal. Only that no one saw them, and no one cared about them.
Suddenly the glaring sunlight was replaced by dim, comforting, pinkish darkness in which vaguely swam the shadow of a green iris. Hands were clapped softly over her eyes, making her see their own dim reflection on the insides of her lids that she had instinctively closed.
A soft smile played about her lips for a split second before she cautiously turned round.
"You." Her voice did not show much surprise and her face took on a sad expression once more.
"Will you give me a chance to be here for you?" The voice seemed to come out of nowhere and to mirror her sadness like the mysterious waters of the lake mirrored the surrounding mountain ranges: their all-encompassing gravity still present, yet mitigated by the deep blue of something other, their stark outlines softened by the constant movement of an element eternally alive.
"Please?" the voice added.
"I would, if I could believe you are real and not just a figment of my imagination."
Cupped hands appeared over one of the little waterfall pools, filled within seconds and splashed her face with a diamond shower of water. The sunlight on the brook twinkled with the echo of laughter.
Quick as lightning she stooped down and threw a handful of water in the direction the shower had come from, a broad, happy grin illuminating her features.
"You used to be willing to buy into that, remember?"
Her face fell again. "Those were different times. I was allowed to see you, to feel you, to touch you even, to hear you clearly."
"It was not always like that," the voice contradicted. "Remember when we got to know each other in settings like this one, you did not even know I was real. You thought you had dreamed me up, that with a little help from Tolkien you had invented that royal ranger of Middle Earth all yours, your personal Aragorn. As far as you knew, it was all you imagining our encounters, impersonating our dialogues, scripting our stories, writing our letters."
"What if it was just me, after all? How do I know that's not all there has ever been to it, in fact how do I know that's not all there is to it right now as we are 'talking'?" she replied defiantly.
"Exactly because you saw, heard, felt, touched, once even smelled me later on, and it was during those encounters that I assured you it had been me all along, only in various disguises."
Her face softened, the shutters that had clouded her eyes were drawn back again. "Can you help me, then? This time, too?" She really sounded like a child now. "Please?" she added.
"Beloved, look into the lake."
She bent down. At first all she saw was the still, blue surface that had been her silent companion for the past few hours. A gust of wind ruffled her hair but did not reach the water. Then slowly a figure emerged, dim, blurry, soft contours, muted colours, the form of a woman with long dark hair clad in a greenish gown, her body disappearing into the shoreline, the face looking at her – herself.
For a moment she wondered if that was what he meant.
"Not like before. More closely still. Look deeper."
She slipped from her rocky seat and got down on her knees on the turfy ledge, removing a few sharp-edged stones from beneath her that made her feel too uncomfortable. She stared at her reflection on the fringes of the lake, her mirror image that seemed to make no more of an impression on the polished jewel than the mountains skirting its gemstone oval all around, though her face in the water protruded further towards the centre than these. She probed deeply into the green eyes staring at her no less searchingly, as if either could find the answer to life's riddle in the other's sable pupil. Then her gaze travelled further, beyond her face, into the lapis lazuli field of brightest, darkest mysterious blues. Suddenly she gasped.
"There... there are stars in the water!" she cried. "Stars hidden in the depth, shining out from the bottom of the lake! It looks like a night sky!" She threw back her head to scan the sky and quickly beheld a light pale blue with a few wispy shreds of cloud, an already slightly westering sun still riding high overhead. She jerked her face back down again to the dark and shimmering wonder beneath.
"Mirrormere," she whispered.
"Yes, this is like Mirrormere in your beloved Lord of the Rings. Durin the dwarf, the first of his race and future king of a people of many descendants, saw his coming kingdom and home to be from its shores, looking up to the mountains. In the lake's mirror he then saw reflected his own face, crowned by a tiara of seven stars."2
Her eyes were wide with wonder although she had read the story before and had many years ago been enchanted by it in her teenage euphoria.
"Centuries later Gimli the dwarf took Frodo the hobbit with him to the lake as a special token of friendship and honour." Her companion's voice was soft and dreamy, matching the way she felt right now. "When Frodo looked in, although high up the sun was shining, he saw a dark evening sky bejewelled with stars.3 Moria, Durin's realm, had been conquered by enemies and its inhabitants had been slain; yet Durin's crown was kept for him in the sanctuary of the lake – a place whose core was unmarked, resistant against any imprints from the outside world – until better times should dawn and hope and life be reawakened."
"That's beautiful," she whispered. It strangely touched some chord deep within her. Yet the question that was momentarily foremost on her mind erupted almost without her bidding: "So... is this the authentic Mirrormere? Are there seven stars sunk in its depths? And do they really form a crown?" Hesitantly she looked to her left where she conjectured him to be sitting beside her or even kneeling with her though she could not see him.
"Have a look," he said with a smile in his voice. In her mind she could almost see him wink at her.
Her face, aglow with anxious anticipation, bent down to the water's surface once more, her hair, falling forward, nearly touching it, her fingers already laved by cool liquid where they were holding on to the bank's outermost patches of grass.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven... There are more than seven," she said with a twinge of disappointment.
"Twelve in all." His voice was calm.
"Then it's not the real Mirrormere." Her face fell a little.
"When Gimli and his companions looked into the lake of wonder," he said solemnly, "they could never see their own forms in its water, merely the mountain ranges around them, and the sunken stars within. The only one who saw his reflection in it was Durin, because the crown was his."
"Then... this must mean that – that this is my crown?" Excitedly she turned her face to her left. "Is that true?"
"It is your crown, because it is your Mirrormere. And there are more mysteries hidden in its depths, if you care to have another look."
Her eyes were almost glued to the lake at water level this time. Surprisingly clear her reflection shone out at her, the twelve stars adorning her brow and twinkling forth from between her hair before they completed their circle in the profound evening sky that interwove with her dark tresses. She caught her breath as she suddenly witnessed her green dress brighten into a shiny yellow and then a dazzling golden white. Her figure now loomed forth into the lake's centre, standing queenly, tall and erect. Where minutes before the bank had cut off her bent legs, her feet were now firmly placed like a conqueror's on what appeared to be the sickle of a winter moon.4 For a long minute she was silent, imbibing the sight.
"This is reality," the voice said with a smile. "It is a glimpse into your future."
"It's stunningly beautiful," the woman said with awe in her voice. "But you know what?" She turned away from the water and smiled sadly. ""I've never really wanted to be a queen. It's much too high for me and far too much of a responsibility. All I've ever truly wished for is..." She fell silent.
"My dove." His voice had never sounded this tender to her before. "There is only one reason why you will be arrayed like this."
Without her being able to say why, her gaze was drawn to the water one more time.
"Make a little room," she heard him gently say.
Against all logic she moved aside a bit. As she leaned towards the right, her reflection in the water followed, yet at the same time stayed where it had been. Gasping, she stared at what upon first sight seemed to be two mirror images of herself. Yet only one of them opened its mouth in response. The other gazed at her intensely with large eyes of midnight blue. The face was a little broader, the cheekbones a little more prominent, the hair a bit wavier, darker and only shoulder-length, the mouth a little firmer, framed by a short beard. She gave a cry of surprise and love. Feasting her eyes on his features, here in the water's shimmering mirror at last revealed to her after years of longing and waiting, and more clearly even than ever before, she saw the likeness between them, barely daring to believe it. Where she seemed robed in the rays of the sun, he was the sun himself shining in all his glory. Yet the more she looked upon him, the brighter her features seemed to glow with a light arising from pools of affection within. Where a tiara of stars lay shimmering around her head like a wreath of choice, delicate flowers, his crown was hardly heeded as living stars were dwelling, dancing, pulsating with life in his eyes. Yet having gazed into those glorious mysteries, when she cast a quick glance back into her own eyes, they seemed to twinkle with breath-taking blossoms of starlight now, too – a beauty kindled by love as it drank of beauty's and love's perfection.
"This is why you will be arrayed like this," she heard his voice close to her ear. "Because I am longing for a companion. Someone equal, someone like me. A soul mate. Your deepest wish is mine."
Tears welled in her eyes. Her heart started to beat wildly with anticipation, and a stab of longing so intense it took her breath away made her whirl around to her left – only to grasp air, to look on scenery that now seemed common, coarse and lifeless in comparison. She sighed.
"Beloved." The reflections in the water were already trembling, dimming, vanishing, whether because her tears blurred them or because the moment of vision had faded. Yet she thought she saw the vague shadow – for such they now were – to the left lift an arm to raise the chin of the shadow to the right. "Do you know why I chose Mirrormere of all places for this encounter?"
She silently shook her head.
"For one thing this lake is a symbol of my eyes. There you sit enthroned forever as the queen of my heart. Nothing and no one could ever remove you."
She exhaled deeply, feeling something within her heal at these words.
"Yet there is another reason, too," he continued. "Now you see as in a mirror, dimly, seemingly unreal. But there will be a time, my darling, even though that time is not now, when you will turn your face to mine, away from the mirror, and you will drink deeply from the deepest lakes of my eyes. Forever, my love."5
She sighed deeply. A responding sigh heaved in the breeze, bent the tough, wiry grasses, even ruffled the imperturbable waters of the lake. This more than anything told her his longing was equal to hers. More than equal.
For a moment it felt as if feathers had brushed her cheek. Feathers... or lips.
"Then you will know, my sweetheart, then you will see. Know fully, as you are fully known. Then you will understand, and enjoy."
"See what?" she murmured. "Understand, know, enjoy what?"
"Me. Jesus. Your soul mate. Your God."
1 Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen und Unwin, 1966. p. 416, 437-8.
2 Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen und Unwin, 1966. p. 416.
3 Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen und Unwin, 1966. p. 437-8.
4 Cf. Revelation 12:1.
5 Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12