Derrien walked with his hand squeezing Kyrian’s, their fingers entwined. Derrien had been struggling for weeks to impress her. His latest attempt had them taking an after-dinner stroll through North Park, the largest in the city. The northernmost city in Zadiasam, Bakar enjoyed the cooling effect of the North Sea’s temperate southern breezes. Given the time of evening, they only passed three other people as they made their way past the deliberately placed trees and bushes. At the park’s center, the winding paths led them through lush greenery to open on a large plaza.
“Here it is,” he told her as they came upon the ten-foot-tall marble sculpture, presenting it as though it were a gift. “I still can’t believe you’ve never been here before.”
“No, I really haven’t,” Kyrian assured him. “Stop laughing at me.”
“And you’re sure you’ve lived in Bakar your whole life?” he asked.
“You know how it is,” she said. “It’s one of those sightseeing things. You only go see it if you’re a tourist.”
“Well, yeah, for some things,” he agreed, “but this is art and one of the landmarks the city’s famous for. I mean, if nothing else, Bakar‘s famous for its art. We have more renowned museums than even down in Azirta, the glorious capital city.”
“I get it,” she said. “Some people come from the far ends of Tarakk for things like this and I‘ve only ever seen it in pictures before. It looks like a couple of blobs…hugging.”
“They’re the lovers, silly,” he said, laughing again. “The whole thing’s sculpted from a single block of marble.”
“It‘s more red in person than I would’ve thought. I‘ve never seen red marble before. It really makes the curves stand out. Lovers‘ Rock in Lovers‘ Plaza…”
“Yeah, but you know that’s just what it’s called,” he said. “That’s not its real name.”
“This isn’t Lovers’ Plaza?” she asked as they walked around the towering red and black marble.
“No, it’s Lover’s Plaza,” he said. “It’s not the Lovers’ Rock.”
“So the whole country, everyone in Zadiasam, and all around Tarakk, calls it by the wrong name. Alright, so what’s its name?” she asked.
He smiled knowingly, certain he had her full interest, before responding, “For that, there’s a story. This was back in ancient times and the artist, Rasbel, wasn’t famous yet. Anyway, he lived around here and found this block of marble in the hills. He spent days admiring it and trying to imagine what true shape was trapped inside it. He spent another week with hired workers moving it to his home. It was over three tons and a chore even for six men and a team of horses to move through the hills and forest. When he got it home, he was as frustrated by it as he was enthralled by its beauty and potential. Still, he had no idea what was waiting for him inside the stone.
“One day as he sat contemplating the patterns of the marble,” Derrien continued, “a stranger came walking through the woods. He was eight feet tall and his chest was as wide as two grown men’s. He didn’t speak at first, just walked to the stone without a sound. Rasbel watched the stranger, draped in green silk robes with mystic circles and symbols all over them. He had talismans hanging from his neck and bracelet charms around each wrist. His fingers were long and slender. Everywhere he’d touch the stone a magical symbol would appear then fade away after he moved his hand. The stranger looked down at the artist with glowing amber eyes and smiled at him, saying ‘You have no inspiration to guide this transformation.’ The artist confessed his frustration and asked who the strange giant was. He identified himself as…Valtanir.”
“The old Corican god?” Kyrian asked, smiling with polite disbelief. “Come on, really?”
“This is the story,” Derrien told her. “It’s all I’ve got. So, Valtanir said, ‘You must elevate yourself to hear vibrations higher than your own to know the essence of the stone.’ Rasbel felt a truth in Valtanir’s words and asked what he needed to do. How could he achieve such a state? ‘Walk away from the stone,’ Valtanir told him. ‘Embrace whatever you find with openness.’
“So Rasbel picked a direction and walked off into the woods. After a short time, he came upon a beautiful girl sitting beneath a tree. Her name was Tyla. She had gotten lost running from a wild animal and had twisted her ankle. He carried her back to his home and Rasbel saw the stone in the light of the setting sun. In that moment, realized that Valtanir had meant for the girl to be his inspiration and asked her to stay. He set up a comfortable bed for her near his work and attacked the stone with his artistic passion. Suddenly, he had no doubt that he could see the essence of the stone eagerly awaiting release. His heart soared to the heavens on the rapture of a song. She watched him as he worked into the night and he watched her to guide his hand even as she slept.
“As he worked on at a frenzied pace, Rasbel saw the rise of the sun and the return of Valtanir. He was excited to show Valtanir the progress he had made, but found his patron unimpressed. Again, the towering man-god caressed the stone, listening to it, maybe even looking into it, with his touch. ‘This is superficial,’ Valtanir told him. ‘You must reach deeper, beyond this juvenile effort.’ Rasbel, however, argued that the girl Valtanir had guided him to find had inspired him and that in touching his heart she had opened him to hear the stone. Valtanir laughed at Rasbel’s obvious infatuation, telling him that until he had learned to embrace all aspects of emotional experience available to him, the bitter as well as the sweet, the dark as well the bright, then he would never understand the full scope of passion and art. Fearful of Valtanir’s intensity, Rasbel recoiled from him. He staggered backward, stumbling into the half-finished sculpture. Somehow, despite the stone’s great mass, it moved. Almost certainly, it was Valtanir’s will.
“Anyway, the stone fell over, crushing Tyla as she slept and his heart as he watched, powerless stop the horror he beheld. Rasbel could still feel the thunderous tremor as he flew into a panic. He was unable to move the huge piece of marble and equally unable to move Valtanir with his pleading. ‘Now, search deeper,’ Valtanir challenged. ‘Use your anguish. Probe your pain. Let that guide you to cut the stone.’ With that Valtanir left Rasbel to his desperate work. By the time Rasbel’s brother arrived to visit him, he found his artist brother furiously cutting at the marble. He had been working it smaller, changing its shape and balance. He was nearly exhausted, his hands spreading his own blood on the marble as he worked to free a girl who was almost certainly dead. Once he had explained to his brother what was happening, the brother ran to get more help. When his brother returned, though, Rasbel had completely collapsed, later reviving only long enough to finish telling his story. Once the people were able to move the stone, they buried Rasbel and Tyla together where they had died. This sculpture was Rasbel’s last work.”
“The marble made red from both their blood,” Kyrian said, looking up at the time-worn artwork. “It’s so sad. And it’s very impressive you know all that.”
“Well, I paid attention in school a few times,” Derrien said modestly. “A couple of bits stuck with me.”
Just then, they almost walked into an impossibly tall man. They were stunned, looking up at him in his bright green jacket, almost unable to see his head past his huge chest, and wondering how they had managed not to notice him before nearly bumping right into him.
“Oh, um…excuse us,” Darrien mumbled.
“It really captures the moment of passion, don’t you think?” the tall man said in an odd, rumbling baritone.
“Oh…yeah,” the young man agreed.
“Still so evocative after so many years,” the tall man said. “I forget, what did they end up naming it?”
“Ummm…I…” Derrien fumbled, his mind reeling as he began to take note of the many talismans and charms that dangled from the giant’s wrists and neck.
He glanced down to see if magical words and symbols were scribbled on the ground at the tall man’s feet, but there was not enough light to be sure. Kyrian shook her companion’s arm, attempting to remind him that he was supposed to know the answer to this question.
“Oh, right,” Derrien said. “Rasbel’s Despair. Rasbel’s Despair.”
“Rasbel’s Despair,” the stranger echoed thoughtfully. “Perfect. I think she was some sort of an addict, if memory serves…Ahhh, no matter. Story’s better without it. Keep that one to yourself.”
With deliberate care, his long fingers plucked a golden chain from among the charms on one of his wrists. It snapped with a shower of sparkles, wriggling like a tiny snake whose mouth had just released its grip on its own tail. With a graceful toss, the shimmering strand flew to Derrien’s left wrist where it became a snug circle once again. A rush of dreamlike images flashed before the young man’s mind’s eye.
“A reward to complement your lovely gift of storytelling,” the tall one said, his amber eyes flaring. “Have a lovely evening.”
“Th-Thank you,” Derrien stuttered as Kyrian pulled him by the arm, leading him back toward the path that had brought them to the park’s center.
Derrien looked back as they walked away, but the stranger had gone, vanished into the night. Only Rasbel’s Despair remained.