The Narrator / The Boatman Quotes in The Buried Giant
I have no wish to give the impression that this was all there was to the Britain of those days; that at a time when magnificent civilizations flourished elsewhere in the world, we were not much beyond the Iron Age. Had you been able to roam the countryside at will, you might well have discovered castles containing music, fine food, athletic excellence; or monasteries with inhabitants steeped in learning. But there is no getting around it. Even on a strong horse, in good weather, you could have ridden for days without spotting any castle or monastery looming out of the greenery. […] I am sorry to paint such a picture of our country at that time, but there you are.
“But isn’t it hard, sir,” Beatrice asked, “to see what truly lies in people’s hearts? Appearances deceive so easily.”
“That’s true, good lady, but then we boatmen have seen so many over the years it doesn’t take us long to see beyond deceptions. Besides, when travelers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them to disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together.”
“But Axl, we can’t remember those days. Or any of the years between. We don’t remember our fierce quarrels or the small moments we enjoyed and treasured. We don’t remember our son or why he’s away from us.”
“We can make all those memories come back, princess. Besides, the feeling in my heart for you will be there just the same, no matter what I remember or forget. Don’t you feel the same, princess?”
“I do, Axl. But then again I wonder if what we feel in our hearts today isn’t like these raindrops still falling on us from the soaked leaves above, even though the sky itself long stopped raining. I’m wondering if without our memories, there’s nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.”
What had brought the pair of them to that village that morning? Axl remembered the cries of outrage, children crying, the looks of hatred, and his own fury, not so much at Harvey himself, but at those who had handicapped him with such a companion. Their mission, if accomplished, would surely be an achievement unique and new, one so supreme God himself would judge it a moment when men came a step closer to him. Yet how could Axl hope to do anything tethered to such a brute?
“What do you suggest, mistress? That I committed this slaughter?” He said this tiredly, with none of the anger he had shown earlier in the tunnel, but there was a peculiar intensity in his voice. “So many skulls, you say. Yet are we not underground? What is it you suggest? Can just one knight of Arthur have killed so many?” He turned back to the gate and ran a finger along one of the bars. “Once, years ago, in a dream, I watched myself killing the enemy. It was in my sleep and long ago. The enemy, in their hundreds, perhaps as many as this. I fought and I fought. Just a foolish dream, but I still recall it.” He sighed, then looked at Beatrice. “I hardly know how to answer you, mistress. I acted as I thought would please God.”
Yet I was a good knight who performed his duty to the end. Let me say so, and he will see I do not lie. I will not mind him. The gentle sunset, his shadow falling over me as he moves from one side of his vessel to the other.
“What did you hope to gain, sir, preventing not just your wife but even yourself grieving at your son’s resting place?”
“Gain? There was nothing to gain, boatman. It was just foolishness and pride. And whatever else lurks in the depths of a man’s heart. Perhaps it was a craving to punish, sir. I spoke and acted forgiveness, yet kept locked through long years some small chamber in my heart that yearned for vengeance. A petty and black thing I did her, and my son also.”