11 Regardless of all that brought terror - 1211
Minutes fled in silence.
A servant entered, bearing new garments. Julius withdrew together with the man before I could tangle his fingers in mine, as if to beseech him to stay. However, he shook his head and told me to sleep. The canvas fell back into place. I was alone. The delicate raiments lay over the easy-chair but a few paces from my billet.
A letter arrived later that day, from her majesty; Constance of Aragon. My wife. She was twice as old as me, and we had been married two years ago, in August, just before my departure to reclaim my father' throne and title. Back in Sicily, I had a queen on the throne - whom I barely knew - reigning in my place. Raising a son, I had never met.
My heart held no warm feelings for her, nor did it hold any resentment. I had married her because it had been expected of me, and I remained indifferent towards her. My gaze darted to the chest not far off the table, next to my armour. Between the personal trinkets, I knew it to hold a small miniature of my wife and our infant son, Henry.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Regardless of the burials taking place outside, I stayed in my tent for the remainder of the day. The fabric cancelled out most of the priest' voice, and the rhythmic tics of my rings against the wooden table mingled with it. I detained from seeing anyone. No matter how pressing the matter.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me"
I kept chewing over the same bite of fish over and over and over. After the sightings in the basin, I had temporarily lost my appetite for red meat. My mind was devoid of anything but the feeling of that man's body under me: warm and filthy, taking hoarse breaths, dying between my legs.
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over, surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
As the priest outside finished the final line, I swallowed and whispered: "Amen."
More unpleasant, prolonged fuss at the entrance made me look up. The fabric was pulled back and Phillip walked in. He made no move to formally greet me, and with us being the only people present, I made no effort to correct him. I wanted him out.
"How's that catch?" Looking around as if it was the first time he set foot in here, Phillip pursed his lips and crossed his arms.
I kept silent, chewing my dinner and reminiscing the horrors that had occurred in the earliest hours of the day.
"I'm glad you at least have an appetite," he turned his back to me, seemingly distracted by my armour on its stand.
I followed him with my eyes but looked away as soon as he looked back in my direction. I didn't want him to see my tearstained eyes, I couldn't handle his sympathy, as I couldn't handle the casualties enveloping me.
"You're ought to get used to it."
I nodded and swallowed. Phillip' blue eyes stayed on me. The air became suffocating as a delicate balancing act was set in motion. Neither of us spoke, the only sound was the humming of the people outside and the ticking of my rings, which were practically deafening in the absolute silence of the tent. Time dragged, apparently weighed down by the humid air and the sounds of passing horses. Soul-crushing, suffocating silence for long, long seconds that were stretched into years.
Ultimately, Philip was the one to break it, "raise your head. I don't have the time to read your mind."
"No? What is it that you'd like to share then?" My voice sounded hoarse and tired, Phillip noticed immediately and I recognised the faintest sign of sympathy when he answered me;
"The campaign for that matter. One setback isn't enough to do us under. There's the troops' morale, which brings us to the war council," he walked over, side glancing my dinner, "they'll need to see your majesty as well, our troops-"
"- need some confirmation about your wellbeing. I hope you don't plan on staying here all day."
"I'll do what I like," without meeting his gaze, I took another bite.
"With all due respect, we have to move soon if we want to meet the reinforcements at Scaela. Certainly if you are to sail to Gaeta."
When I refrained from answering once more, his expression softened and conveyed concern as he eyed me up and down. "I understand you are taken aback after these developments, but it won't be the last time this happens, sometimes even you will be in the direct line of attack."
"I have been. There have been numerous attempts on my life - even in Sicily," I faced him and felt the tears well up again, "but never like this," I shook my head and hiccuped. To hell with dignity. I was terrified. If one man knew that, it was Phillip. I covered my mouth with my serviette. It seemed as if I might throw up my dinner. "Never like this..."
Philip nodded and smiled warmly. "I know," he whispered and bypassed the table, "I know."
"I killed a man..."
"Yes, I saw him."
"I've heard and seen it so often, but-"
"Doing it is different, I'm aware," his smooth baritone voice with a drawling accent had a calming effect, his hand rested on my head as he pulled me closer, "don't worry. You won't always have such a fragile heart."
Am I fragile? Perhaps I am. I must be. Kings don't cry. Mother told me before she passed.
I stared at the wooden surface of the table, my hands in my lap, hidden between my legs. I heard Phillip continue:
"Clean yourself up. Eat more, no matter whether you cough it up, you shall do so in the privacy of this tent. Contain yourself elsewhere. There is one more matter to settle before the day ends."
"No! They fought! They hid me and they fought."
"They may have tried to protect you, but they failed. Though you might have some sympathy for them on account of them saving your life."
"How ridiculous!" I cried, and the hand upon my head hardened in grip, "we are fighting for power! We are worshipped by many! Our names are being glorified! And yet we have to punish those loyal to us? That I cannot possibly understand."
Philip retreated and lay his hands upon my cheeks, lowering himself so we might be on the same eye level. The gesture should have looked reassuring. Comfortable even. But the words that followed were everything but:
"Listen, boy. This is the damned reality you are ought to learn by heart: sacrificing those loyal to you; those whom you consider close to you; those whom love you; is nothing but an actuality we all have to recognise."
I did not venture to retreat my head. I did not dare to move, negate, or even comply. It was only when he appeared satisfied with his diatribe, that he let go of me and bid me to dress, to arm myself, and to step outside, where he would be waiting.
It would take me long of time before I had gathered enough courage to set foot outside the safe harbour that was my tent. In full attire, my head raised,- though my upper lip was lined in sweat and I could barely hide the tremor in my hands.
Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
Not far from me, dislocating himself from a group of men, the tall build of Philip of Paleria was elegant in staid black, with his lustrous eyes and dignified, regal demeanour.
"Follow me," he beckoned, and so I did.
He led me into a solemn tent lacking of any furniture, which I deemed to be more a halfway thrown-up canvass than a true shelter. The underground consisted of blazed grass and blackened earth, upon which a small group of men had been forced to kneel. The remainder of my forlorn guard. The first, and closest to the entrance, was a good looking man, with short blond hair, broad shoulders and a strong chin. He refused to meet anyone's gaze from the small ensemble within the restricted perimeter. The second, whom I deemed older and more robust in stature, was supporting a third, who seemed to be in such a state of delirium, that he might not have had the faintest idea of what was happening. A cloth hid most of his face, and any child could have deducted that he would not live to see the morning to come. Four lightly armed knights flanked them. Men whom I knew to be part of Phillip's sentry.
"You surely know for yourself what the consequences for ignorance and base incompetence are," the duke of Paleria said. He then turned to me, "kill them."
"They are inept. Kill them."
I was unable to swallow, nigh coughing as I tried to conjure up a sentence that might turn this alarming ordeal around. Horrified, and loosing whatever self-possession I still might have had, I pleaded: "though they might have committed a mistake, do I not share in their faults? Did they not act upon their best beliefs? Would it not be wrong to punish them because one man was able to reach me?"
His eyes darkened. "I do not care to know who is wrong. I do not care to know who was at fault. I do not even wish to vent any anger or resentment." He went to stand behind me, laying his hands on my shoulders, "however, they failed their tasks. They will pay a price for their carelessness. Because I want you to remember; being merciful is not a virtue."
Phillip seized my arm. I startled and gave an involuntary draw backwards but he resisted and guided my hand to draw my weapon.
"This shows your people they will not be allowed to fail. Consider it a plain lesson in survival," he whispered, a sickening sound that originated from right behind me. "This is simple accustomation."
"No,- please,-" I said. "Phillip. Phillip,- please."
Perhaps more afraid than the men kneeling before me, I closed my eyes so I would not look upon their faces as I would cut their throats. My mouth opened in a soundless scream, a gruesome silent imitation of the cries of those before me.
The first blow was given. The flesh parted with less ease than I had imagined. It was sickening. The second was finished as I heard the first body drop. Strained to the uttermost, I did not dare to breathe.
A brutal warning came from the man handling my arm; "keep your composure."
For the third time, I felt something give in against the steel. The weapon retracted. Phillip did not.
"Open your eyes. Take a good look. In this world, many things, whether right or wrong, happen without regard for the injured party. Don't forget it."
He released my arm. "Now retreat back to your tent."
I barely contained a cry of hysteria. My legs betrayed me and gave in. Phillip had to support my back in order for me to remain upright.
"It's all right. You shall feel more at ease in the future as you get used to it. Sheath your sword. Lift your head. Walk back to your tent and watch the men you pass; knowing that you may pride yourself in the fact that they are willing to do this every day for your sake. For your crown." He turned to his men, "put them up. Have them buried when we break up camp in the morning."
At that moment I didn't know whether I wanted to become used to it. It felt wrong. It was considered a sin for a reason. Yet while these thoughts plagued my mind as a child, they would dull into a numb feeling in my heart. Philip would be proven right; in the future, I would often come to find myself in the line of battle - certainly as a young man, with an eagerness for glory - though it would become less and less as the years aged me, and my armies grew all the more.
While reminiscing my first years in the grips of war, I'm fully aware that my younger self would tremble in fear, seeing what I would become over the course of a decade. I almost yearn to become that good-hearted boy again. Almost. I may have lost my youth and naivety to the throne, but despite that... I do not mourn it, and I never will.
Because regardless of the terrors along the years, I think I've grown fond of that which accompanies me down this cryptic path. It's better to enjoy the bliss of an adventure, or a new perspective, than be consumed by the fantasies about what could have been.