Smile? Why? What for? Why should I smile as I watch the breath leave this warrior? As I watch the tension of life slip from hardened muscle, seep away and leave his body lax, if only for a few hours? For soon it would be rigid…
Why would I smile when tears swim in my eyes and threaten to spill forth? They will not, for I will not allow it – not here – not now. ‘Smile’ he had whispered, a simple word uttered almost wistfully, a tentative question as his last breath ghosted over my clutching white hand that tried and failed to stop the flow of blood, a steely fist of red velvet and leather.
I smiled, just as he had asked, and felt utterly pathetic, and yet his own dying eyes lit up for just a moment, the corners of his blood-stained mouth turning upwards fleetingly, before his eyes dulled once more and slipped to the side, never to see again.
How could he ask me to smile? What was he thinking? And yet who can say what a dying elf may think – what is important to him in those final moments when certainty finally registers? I wonder when my time comes, if all I hold dear will seem – frivolous to me then, in favour of other things that seem just so to me now, in life. I cannot know and yet, intuitively, I believe this to be the truth.
What is truly important then? I wondered again to myself as I felt the body in my arms wax heavier and heavier, the head rolling uncontrollably into my chest. I looked down then, upon he who had been my comrade for so many years, my faithful warrior who had risked his own, precious life so many times. I had cried with this elf, tears of sadness and of frustration, tears born of physical pain and that which comes with loss. He had gone and I remained, and I had smiled through the hideous mask of my own pain.
Yet I digress – if there was one thing that I could say beyond doubt was the most important thing in life – what would it be? Love? Goodness? Service to others unto sacrifice? Perhaps, and yet there was something amiss – they were indeed important, but I could not say any one of them was more important than the other. So what was this magical ingredient, this one, all-encompassing truth that surpassed all other matters of importance in life?
His name had been Idhrenohtar – the Wise Warrior, and not in haste had he been named thus, for wise he had been, given to philosophizing and rational thought. Some thought it antagonistic with his status as an elite warrior, yet I had never thought so. If Idhrenohtar had asked me to smile, there was a reason for it, it was the key to those his final thoughts upon Arda, but the answer slipped through my now flexing, blood-stained hand as I finally released the death grip I had held upon the gaping hole in his chest.
A smile … it speaks of joy, of happiness and good things. I smile at the one I love, or when Spring regales me with the green buds and shoots of life reborn. I smile when life gives me satisfaction, a kind word or a deed acknowledged. Why would the Wise Warrior ask me to smile in the face of his death, one he knew would cause me – nay, all in this The Company, a grief so deep it would gnaw at us always – what has joy to do with grief?
And then something clicked in my battle-addled brain and I wrenched my eyes from those of my dead warrior. Yes, I had it, I had finally understood. Just ‘smile’; he did not intend perhaps that I should smile upon his impending death – it had been a message. And therein lay the answer to my question.
What was the single most important thing about life? … Joy – yes, joy in love, in service, in laughter, in family and friends, in the joy I give to others … in life! I knew I was right, this was the message that Idhrenohtar had intended for me for my own continuing life, one he knew he could no longer witness. ‘Find joy in life,’ ‘smile, though your heart is breaking’* … mine was, and yet now I understood, and I smiled in genuine joy as I cradled his body against my own.
Be at peace, my wise Wise Warrior…
Author’s note: OK, just a little something to while away the time until my writer’s block comes to an end! A little tribute to a person that meant the world to me, and to Charlie Chaplin, for so alike they were…
Chapter end notes:
*”Smile”, by Charles Chaplin, ©Copyright 1954 by Bourne Co.