Within the canopy, under a coverlet of purest white wool edged with red satin, upon a downy pillow embroidered with thread of gold, lay a child of unearthly beauty. I saw his single eye, as it were a lucent cerulean orb, no bigger than a marble yet deeper than the sky, a little world within itself, cunningly and marvelously made. Where the other eye should have been was no empty socket or sunken lid, but rather something I cannot quite express – something like a star, a point of light of such intensity that I could not look directly into it, a flower of pure luminescence blossoming and unfolding gently outward. It was as if I saw again, compressed, miniaturized, and refined within the apple of that eye, the circle of the sun-gate at the edge of the western sea. The skin of the child’s face was like ivory or marble divinely infused with the suppleness of living flesh, solid and real yet somehow bordering on the immaterial, pellucid and radiant and warm in every pore and cell.
This child lay gazing up at me, his lips parted in the hint of a laughing smile, his little arms stretched out upon the coverlet, his tiny hands open as if in a welcoming gesture. His gown of white linen was unlaced at the throat, and where the garment stood open I saw the scar of deep wound just above the place of his heart.
Seeing that scar, I turned to the three ladies, my eyes filling with tears. The dark one knew my thoughts.
“He is much changed since you last saw him,” she said in reply. “And yet he is the same. His promise, too, remains and has been kept, and your calling fulfilled. For look! Here are the two of you, met together against all hope in this place beyond the setting and the rising of the sun! You have seen him with your own eyes! Christmas morning has come in at last!”
At this I smiled, yet still I pointed persistently at the scar. The lady nodded.
“Yes. He has been wounded to the heart. He has also suffered the loss of his eye. Such is the price he paid for a drink from the well at the edge of the wood. But mark this! His loss has not become the cause of darkness, but rather a perpetual spring of near insufferable light. And if you will accept it, this light is the same light that you and so many others have sought after and followed your whole lives long, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It is the light by which you have made your way to this place. That eye – or lack of an eye – is the star before the dawn. It is the sun-gate at the edge of the sea through which you passed so recently and yet so many ages ago.”
She bent to caress the child’s forehead, then looked up at me and continued.
“That drink from the well, the cost of which was so great, has made him what you see him now to be. He gave his eye and drank the draught that you and all these others might drink it too. He drank it long before coming to your window and enticing you to come out. Indeed, he took that cup before the foundations of this or any other world were laid.
“And now that you have seen and heard these things, there is one thing more you must know: what you have lived, suffered, seen, and felt in following him to this place has been none of your own doing. It is only the outbranching and effoliation of the root that was planted when he gave his eye and chose to take that drink.”
* * * * * * * * * * *