With his sword brandished faintly in one hand, and his quill resting aimlessly in the other, the King sat complacently upon his cold and stony throne, sighing through his castle window at the summer’s final breath. It was now more than ever when he would become somber and nostalgic; his spirit downtrodden by the winds of time, as his candle’s flame flickered an ironic echo in the reflection of his glass. Whiskey, he had chosen tonight. He had become accustomed to drinking wine in his late years but alas tonight he longed to remember the feverish and fiery nights of past, when his drinks were more hearty, and his heart was more drunk. He thought back to the beginning, his ascension to this now tired and restless mantle.
A brash and idealistic youth, with impassioned tongue and unyielding charges he had led his brothers-in-arms across an empire to fight for a dream of freedom, whispered in the hearts of angry, idle men by a tyranny that tried to tame their spirits. And yet their resolve could not be repressed, nor their principle corrupted, for the fight they fought was just, and so it must be that their victory would bear fruit their noble intentions. Or so he had believed. For alas, history is a jealous mistress, and while her heroes fuel faith in the possibility of success, and inspire the wills of men to action, so too do they demand destiny’s balancing hand in revealing and unraveling the true eventual nature of the victor, as the spoils of man will, in their undoing, come to spoil the man.
His queen was of no solace in these restless times. Once a striking beauty with auburn hair and piercing eyes that could disarm the most stoic of men with a single wayward glance, she had grown cold and distant, her moon-lit eyes now dulled by the passing of her pain, and the punishment of un-chosen purpose. Where she had been companion and confidante to the King in earlier days, her ears holding divine right to the stolid soul-confessions of the high majestic tongue, now her affairs had taken to the mundane musings of a matriarchal monarch; she courted the pleadings of superficial noblemen and held banquets for their vapid wives. She too, ached with remembrance of an insurmountable passion that stood now depleted, of a forlorn love now forgotten, or forsaken, she knew not which anymore. At times, in secret stolen moments and corners of a cold castle, she would entertain and enthrall herself with the company of young knights or scholars of the court, any who would momentarily remind her of that brazen, clever man whom she had once adorned her heart.
The King knew of these affairs, informed by a maiden of the Queen who herself wished to share in the intimacies of his own nightly rituals, but he would not dare or care to intervene; his envy now replaced with somber affection for a woman he loved too much to inundate with more burdens than he had already laid to rest upon her all-too-caring and resilient shoulders. No, to him, she was entitled to whatever comforts his esteem could still afford her, and he would leave the unpacking of his soul’s plagues to the feral farces enacted with courtesans of the local brothel, whose tried and tested senses would not take offense to the pain and fury of his conquests. For him, it was enough to know that despite the tears and years that had been shed, despite their bodies entangled in the embrace of others, their love, though tattered and tainted, stood true to one another. It is another of life’s cringing ironies, he thought, to be with the one you love and be unhappy. It is now that he thought back to his father’s wise words many decades ago, on the eve of his royal wedding, and wished that he had listened upon them more intently.
“Are you sure she is the one?” asked his father, a son of humble farmers by birth, retaining inheritance to his humility as a scholar and teacher to the children of peasants in the poorest of the Kingdom’s villages. “The one with whom you would seek to spend all your days, all your nights, share all your secrets, confess all your sins, and rule an empire alongside?”
“Father,” the young King sputtered back with a coy and cunning smile, “all I know is what I must know, she is the one I love.”
His father smiled back soberly, with affectionate wisdom gleaning from his eyes, “Ah, but my son… love alone is not enough.”
He remembered not understanding the meaning of his father’s words, and thinking him cynical and embittered in his old age, unable to grasp the veracity of love’s truth. And yet now, as he descends the winding staircase to the stables for his evening ride across the countryside, he sees the foolishness of his own reason, as his father’s foresight becomes clear to him only when the time to act upon it has transpired.
“Another fucking irony…”, he scoffed silently to himself as he climbed up onto the saddle of his horse.