In a tavern in a port on the shores of an ancient land, I stole from a man his beauty.
He begged it of me, his haggard face beautiful despite his sorrow, his slumped shoulders too well-formed to betray his anguish.
“Look there in his eyes, I heard the crone say.
He is in pain, and none will know.
He is alone, and none will approach, assuming always he is with another.
He thinks and feels deeply, but none will hear for the fierce beauty of his eyes dancing to rhythms which are not his.
You can be burdened with too much beauty.”
I stared at him, this man, and stole from him his beauty. Not too much, just enough to make me rue what I had done. His presence no longer commanded distance but coaxed pity, his tired form now naked to the world. I finished my drink, stood from my table, and began to leave. But I could not take my eyes from him, this pitiable man, stripped bare of what made the world forget he could hurt.
Our eyes locked. He smiled, sadly, and I nodded my head.
“You will give him something in return,” the crone said, and I suddenly understood her trick.
“I could give his beauty back,” I said, but that would be more cruel than theft.
I could give him intelligence, I thought, but then knew he already had enough.
I could give him wisdom, I started, but then knew I had not enough for myself.
“What you have in excess he will now need.”
I became angry.
“What you will give him, you have too much already.”
I grew tired.
“What will carry him without beauty is what has carried you already too far, over mountains you did not need to climb, through pain you did not need to endure.
What will help him survive the terror of love is what has made you endure too long the sorrow of its absence and the hatred no man should accept.
What will teach him to be more than what he appears has kept you from accepting what you are, striving too long to become more when you have always been enough.”
I began to cry.
“It’s all I have,” I said to her.
“Not anymore,” she replied, turning her face towards mine.
At the door of the tavern I turned to look at the man one last time, and sighed.
“For your beauty which I have stolen, may you endure all things.
But not all, only when it serves you.
“For the beauty which you no longer need, may your patience be endless,
But not always, only when the person loves you.
“For the beauty which has held you back, may you know how to hold back
But only sometimes, and never out of fear.
“For the beauty which I now hold, may you know you will always survive,
But demand more, as I have always failed to do.
I turned to the crone and she smiled, her cracked, weathered skin suddenly beautiful in the grey light outside the tavern.
Hers was the beauty of the wise, who survive not everything, but only what could be made beautiful.