Set in early 1400s Europe, Close Your Eyes is a sincere, yet light-hearted and lustful, ode to love.
As Samuel, the court jester, struggles to describe why his friends, Agnieszka the cook, and Tycho the story-teller, fled the King of Gora's service, he learns that love was the beating heart behind everything that happened in the castle.
He learns as well that more ghosts than he knew of walked the midnight halls, and that the spirit of Jeanne d'Arc haunted his friend, and once slid into bed with Tycho, daring him to leave - to take to the cold roads of Europe, where he had once wandered orphaned and alone, and find his destiny there.
After my story last night, Agnieszka and I walked together through the castle, through the dark, echoing stone passages, and eventually found ourselves in the dining hall.
It was black and empty, and for several moments we simply stood near the entrance, listening to our whispers scurry off into the murky emptiness. I took Agnieszka's hand and guided her through the maze of invisible tables towards one of the fireplaces. I set her down in a chair, ran back to the hallway and brought a torch flaming before me into the room. With much effort I built a fire, fueling it with wood until it was high and warm, and Agnieszka and I sat in chairs before the fire, a great darkness above and around us, warm furs clutched tightly about our shoulders.
We spoke lazily, allowing lulls to exist in our conversation - long lulls when we sat listening to the crackling of the flames, content with silence, perhaps even comforted by it.
I asked her to explain how she felt for her husband.
The question turned her face to mine. "I love him, Tycho.”
"But love, Agnieszka, this word, I want to know what you mean by it."
Her beautiful eyes, harbouring a reflection of the fire, turned from me. In her silence I realized that she was struggling, for the first time, to put a true meaning to this word. I closed my eyes, enjoyed the glow and warmth of the fire upon my face, leant back into the embrace of the night.
"He makes me happy."
"I make you happy, as does cooking, and you would not use this word for us.”
"I would," she replied. "I love cooking, and I love you, in a way."
"It is not the same."
"No," she said, gazing into the flames. "No. It is a different manner of love." She told me how, after all these months, she could still feel the touch of his hand, could close her eyes and count, from memory, the number of wrinkles upon his forehead when he frowned. She spoke of the strength and warmth of his arms, how she could endure anything if she knew he was awaiting her, and how this separation, caused by Pawel's money, had caused a gnawing ache within her, affecting her so deeply at times that she merely wished to lay curled in bed, too weak to stand.
So, when Agnieszka says "I love my husband," this is what she means.
After a long silence, Agnes turned the conversation to me. I deflected her a few times, a game I like to play with her - she asks questions and I reply with non sequiturs which enrage her, but finally, and in exasperation, she said "You've never been in love, have you?"
It was no secret; in fact, I may even have told her as much before. I paused for a long while, staring at the fire, and then let slip an idea I’d long kept to myself, fearing to speak it, as though utterance would make it true. "My heart," I whispered, "seems not designed for love."
She was staring at me. "Tycho, I love you. I have told you as much."
The firelight was shining upon her face, in her eyes, across her long brown hair. I dropped my eyes from hers to look again into the fire, burning bravely in the vast darkness of the dining hall. "It is not the kind of love which can save me. Not the kind of love that will save me from the storm."
She didn't reply, my words stilling her, and after sitting long and silently by the fire, I guided Agnes to her room.
I feel strongly for Agnieszka, and perhaps it is love that I feel, but I long thought that the emotion which inspired Petrarch and Dante to write all those words for Laura and Beatrice, and which allowed Abelard to endure castration for Eloise, would be much different, and somehow allied to sex.
I wish Petrarch's spirit would visit me in my cold room. I would like to ask him what he would do - knowing that Agnieszka loves a man she is being kept from, what would you do? Is love so beautiful and precious a thing that you would sacrifice your life to it, though the love be not your own?
I wish you could tell me Petrarch. I do not know or feel love. I believe in love, and not only because of you and Dante and Abelard, but also because I can see it in Agnieszka. When she thinks of her husband something shines through her. She becomes distant, and strong, and weak. The emotions she holds for Michal could protect her against the coldest night, but somehow she also seems vulnerable, as though she would die if anything happened to her husband.
That, I presume, is love.
I believe in love.
I don't understand love.
Agnieszka is my friend.
I’m happy in Gora. I have a family here, and the thought of returning to the life I knew as a child - nights under open skies, praying in the early morning hours for sleep to return, even the sleep of death, so that I'll no longer feel the cold, terrifies me.
But this love, Agnieszka's manner of love, seems to be a very rare thing.
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