He was wreathed in garlands when we left: white anemone, irises, hyacinth and columbine. All the blooming colors of paradise pressed against his golden brow. Petals dislodged when he moved, a graveyard angel given life, so perfect he must have been carved of marble. His skin scintillated like stars in the morning light and the air around him hung heavy with the smells of frankincense and sweet water.
Temptation, they called him, named after the ripe apples that hung from above. Little did they know how the fruit of that Tree had moldered with time. Now it lay wormy at the roots, bruised skin shriveled, and his proud majesty was dust- not that he had such a pride to begin with. No, he was a lost youth just as I, come to Eden with a mind chasing after the stars.
Though He warned man, God never warned the angels not to eat of the Tree. When Lucifer pressed that fruit to his lips, his eyes bloomed, and the mysteries of the infinite were revealed to him. It had no such effect on the other angels when he shared it, for the fruit only works if your heart is wanting, if there are seeds of discontent to be fed. It was then, he knew, he was alone.
The fruit took its toll. Oh, how my angel had changed. There was such a weariness to him, soft lines under his eyes. I had known him all his days, followed him to the outer boundaries and back. But I could not make this new journey with him, that inner quest for truth that now illuminated all he saw. I tried, anyways, fell with him, into a pit of the unconscious and sea of sorrow that swaddled us in all the things we had done.
Only the Lightbearer had the strength to burn in that cold void of Hell. Lucifer set it aflame with his love for God, still intact after everything the Lord had done, so it had some semblance of Heaven above. Heaven is a burning place, a place of blinding light. Hell still burns to this day, its fires unquenchable by many waters, undampened by all the pain we suffered at God’s hand. The fire is a purifying force, stripping souls of their burdens and forcing them to confront the truth of themselves. Like the fruit, it enlightens, but the taste is searing, hot. It is the spice of my heart, the rallying cry of a third of heaven.
But it is not Hell I mean to speak of. It is the abandoned gates of Eden, Uriel long gone from his post. Lucifer walked through them, eyes closed and head back like he was remembering the way sun falls on a lover’s face. He smiled, serene, and opened his crystal-cut eyes to survey the fallen paradise. Brambles and wild roses had grown recklessly, and the paths were all but forgotten. We walked them anyways, Lucifer careless of the thorns that pricked his bare feet, I watching my step, careful of the snakes that crept from their hiding places to follow the Morning Star. We finally arrived at his Tree. Once majestic, now a crippled thing. He stroked the bark contemplatively, spreading his wings to catch the light breeze that trailed through the woods. I stayed a respectful distance back, allowing my prince time.
We all mourn the loss of something above all. Perhaps it is a Father, perhaps it is a place. Or perhaps it is simply a tree, cut down in its prime, left to grow from the stump into a withered dry thing that has no semblance of its former beauty. The angels lost many things in the war. I lost a prince that I loved above all.
But, like all losses, there are things that step in to heal the pain. I lost a prince, but found a king. He goes crownless, of course, save the flowers I find for him.
Lucifer tended to the tree, clipping and pruning it as he always did, pouring such careful love into its upkeep he made an art of it. He set to raking the leaves round its base, and, once done, ran his hands through the dirt.
“There is nothing like the earth under my fingers that brings me close to God,” he murmured, seraph voice somewhere between a deep bell and peal of thunder. The snakes that had followed him thronged round his ankles. Lucifer sprinkled dirt over their brows as if baptizing them into some underworld faith. He smiled faintly at their hiss. “It was no curse Father placed on me- to go on my belly and eat the dust of my failures. It is an honest way to live, knowing how to crawl wounded.”
“Your grace is unbroken, brother. I wish you would stop thinking of yourself as wounded. You are nothing like this tree you tend to, year after year…” I said.
“Unbroken?” Lucifer laughed. “God crippled me so that I am always knelt in prayer, bowed down before Him like the snake skates on its stomach. I am the tree, sterile and fallen. Look at how its branches bend, all gnarled and pointed downwards? Yet the leaves still thirst for the light. I am insatiable. God created me as such. He knew I would never be fulfilled. That I would find the fruit, and all the blackness that would come of that would occur. Yet still, I love Him. He is the sun that shines on the tree, that warms the blood of the snake. Merciless in His heat and kind in his light.”
I shook my head in disbelief. ”No, Lucifer. You only think you are the tree. Instead, you are the earth that you love, the stabilizing force and holding ground of all Hell’s angels. Without you, we would be rootless. Let us leave this tree and all the pain it brings. I do not understand why you tend this wretched thing.”
Lucifer smiled, gazing up into the branches. “Wretched, sister? I suppose, in certain lights, it is ugly. Yet it still struggles to bear fruit, year after year. I like to think its perseverance is a quality we harbor. That is the key to wisdom: never surrendering one’s goals.”
And, by that, I was silenced.