Once upon a time, a mighty man lived atop a windswept mountain. He was feared throughout the land. His words flew on death-dealing wings.
But he was alone when darkness fell. He filled his days with warring words and the press of combat. He lived by day, but at night he cowered. There were no battles to fight when darkness fell. The wind howled and he shuddered, a lamb alone.
The mighty man took a wife, a bride of prepossessing beauty. He took her to his mountain lair, and when the day’s battle was done, he filled his evening with loving conquest. But at night, when passion was spent, he cowered; there was neither battle nor desire by which to measure the soul within him. The wind howled and he shuddered, a lamb alone.
One night he found his wife’s mirror, left on a table where she would adorn herself with lover’s pearls.
"Ah," the mighty man said, "a mirror. I will not be alone any longer when the night wind howls." He held the mirror and looked into it, anticipating the sight; was he not a warrior mighty in love and war? But there was no image to be seen. The mirror reflected what was within the man. The glass was empty. And there was nothing, nothing when the man was alone and the wind howled, and he shuddered.
The man feared the mirror. But he was the master of his fear and he turned the mirror into a weapon. "My magic mirror," he called it. He learned to use the mirror to seduce others in gentler arts than war and love. As he grew old and time chisled tawny youth into pitted granite, he learned to conjure with the mirror, to bend others to his will.
"See, see how much I love you," he would say, and hold the mirror up so that another could behold their own satisfied smile. "You are great," he would say. "Like me, you are a mighty warrior," he would tell others. And they would look into the mirror, and know that all was well. They loved the mighty man for making them happy with his words and his presence. But they loved him most of all for holding a mirror tinged with the silent validation of their hopes.
The magic mirror became the mighty man’s prize possession. He created a castle in which to house it, and people came from far and wide to bask within the image it cast. All wanted to be like the mighty man, and when he sang sweet songs of praise to them while holding the mirror, each saw a better version of themselves, a version they could adore, much as they adored the mighty man.
But time steals vigor even from the mighty. The man grew tired of holding the mirror. He would try to put it away, but the quiet silence when there was no war, no love, no adoration left him empty. The winds would howl day and night, and he shuddered, a lamb alone. He needed to hold the mirror so that others could look at him and believe they were seeing themselves.
One day an admirer asked to hold the mirror. He wanted to hold it so that the masterful warrior could see the comforting image within. The admirer had taken the mighty man’s words to heart. "If I am loved, should I not love?" he said. "If I am great, should I not share the greatness?" He believed the mighty man’s words and wanted to return the things he had been given that the mighty man called gifts.
But the mighty man knew that the mirror was empty for him. And he recoiled in horror. He could not sit for a mirror held by another. He would lose his power if others knew that inside him there was not even wind, only a howling chasm that could only be filled by the conquest of another, whether in war, in love or fawning praise.
So the mighty man reached for the mirror, and as he did so it slipped from his grasp, shattering into tiny shards when it hit the dry dirt. The many who came to view themselves as he sang sweet songs of love were terrified. No magic mirror left them like the mighty man, empty and alone.
So they scurried, each of them, to find a tiny shard to cast a reflection. In a thousand directions they scattered. Each one struggled to find happiness in the wordless reflection of a fragment of the magic mirror. They had come to crave the mighty man’s praise. They sang to themselves but were not satisfied.
The mighty man now had nothing. No mirror to hold, no person looking toward him rapt as he held his magic tool before them. He withered, this man of oak. No war, no love, no one to beam at the sound of his voice. And the man died, becoming a silent wind, passing empty and alone over desolate places.
His admirers wept great tears the day the man was buried. They named the castle after him, and vowed never to forget how he made them feel. They put the pieces of the shattered mirror together and took turns holding it for one another. They pretended they, too, were mighty. But as days passed into weeks and then months, their tears continued and a great pond formed. They did not know what the mighty man knew: they were empty, so they poured themselves out in saline streams of sorrow.
The admirers would gather around the pool of tears and sing songs about the mighty man. They hoped he would return. They called him love and declaimed that love lasts forever. They vied for the honor of caring for the pond.
One day, an admirer bent to pick up a feather floating on the surface of the pond. As he bent, he saw his full reflection for the first time since the magic mirror was broken. The reflection was pure, there were no lines betraying the cracks of the reconstructed mirror.
"Look, look," he said to the others. "It is me. The magic is back. I am whole and I am alive," he said. His tears dried and he saw a smile, true joy on the water’s surface.
But the others saw only water from where they sat. Each looked away and then into a tiny shard of the shattered mirror. Each kept a tiny relic for themselves, savoring it. But in each mirror they saw only a silent reflection of what was once glory, and they hated their gleeful friend at the pond. They hated him because he was happy alone when the mighty wind came. The others did not want to be lambs alone; they preferred the comfort of the herd.
They sit still on the windswept mountain playing at might and cowering through the nights. And they are alone, forgotten when the winds howl. They sit still waiting for the mighty man to reappear with the magic mirror to make them feel as though they are alive. They sit waiting to die and not fearing death because they are not truly alive without the magic mirror and the mighty man to tell them how to live.