20 We were but children - 1215
For days, the city of Aachen had been preparing the solemn entry of their new ruler. Along the route to be followed by the royal procession, the doors of shops were painted brightly. Clinging to the windows, flags and banners were dancing in the wind. The forecourts of the cathedral and churches had been cleared of the beggars who slept there.
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The safety of the city was ensured by the presence of seven thousand horsemen and eight thousand men infantry. Those present would welcome and celebrate the soon to be king of Germany, chime the bells and enjoy the public rejoicings - in a military occupied city. But that day, at the approach of the royal cortege, no one thought of the threat.
The sky was blue and without clouds. During noon it grew sultry and the heat rose from the earth. When the wind turned, it brought the smell of roasted bovine, which was heavy and sweet.
I was preceded by lords and ladies dressed in fine fabrics, by the members of the different associations displaying their banners, the representatives of justice and the university, and the aldermen with their keys.
Reigning my horse to a slow pace, I advanced through the streets surrounded by my guards and officials. Dressed in white and gold, wearing a velvet cap. Cheers erupted from the mass, and looking out over the assembled heads, I no longer thought of the line of bodies lying on the plains of Italy and Germany, with their dangling tongues blued, and their eyes bulging. I remembered everything else, especially Philip's proud gaze once victory had been ensured. I detained the urge to look. He rode but a few paces behind me, yet I wished to see whether the normally inscrutable man looked pleased.
The solemn entrances were followed by numerous entertainments and free distributions of food and wine. The people ate, they drank, they feasted. When the German crown was placed upon my head, the crowds' enthusiasm was carried to its height.
When the festivities were over, I did not linger in Aachen. We travelled back to Italy, to prepare for my imperial coronation.
Once we arrived in Rome, I took residence in the palace. The night of our arrival, after endless discussions and honorifics, I found myself looking over the rooftops of Rome once more, in the company of my dear friend.
"Seems like a lifetime ago," Julius said.
"It was colder then. End of the winter."
"What to do now?"
"Govern," I leaned my forearms against the marble railing, watching about the monumental city, "it isn't a given as much as you would want to believe."
The cool stone was quite refreshing in the evening heat and the smell of warm clay and waste that often lingered in the alleys wasn't detectable up here. Before me, the cathedrals and the regal basilica rose up in a statuesque manner.
"It seems dull," he said.
"In comparison, yes."
"You see me as a lord?"
"You aren't one."
"You could make me one."
"You want me to? I will. Choose whatever land you wish for, I'll make you its lord."
"No," Julius walked back to the chairs behind us and took a seat, reclining against the back he continued: "what am I to do with a castle?"
I turned my head back to the rooftops, watching the colours from the descending sun wash the sky red. I squinted my eyes as the reflection against a glass pane of the Santa Maria cathedral momentarily blinded me.
"I shall give you one nonetheless."
"I'd rather have you not." He seemed genuinely aggrieved.
"I'm giving all the others one, what would you want?"
I stood with my back to him, but I felt Julius stare at me for a bit, ruminating his answer. He shifted. I kept silent for I knew any encouragement may only silence him. He decided against whatever was weighing on his mind, and afterwards, I would regret not pressing him.
"What would it look like?"
"It would be a castle with a magnificent gate and grand windows. Your walls would be hung with tapestry and your grand hall would be the place to host grand feasts. All the dogs of your farm-yards would form a pack of hounds at your command. You shall go hunting with your huntsmen, and the curate of the village shall be your grand almoner. They shall call you "My Lord," and will laugh at all your jokes."
"You would fit right in. You already have the wardrobe."
"Says the one person who wears satin shirts under his armour."
"It's comfortable. At least I would never think to dye it."
"I looked amazing!"
"You looked like a damned peacock. How did you get your hands on the paint anyway?"
"Too bad, I know Auguste and some of the men to have money riding on it."
"What is a peacock anyway?"
"Some bird. I'll show you a drawing."
Silence. But not of an uncomfortable kind. We watched the dome of the basilica on our right colour and darken as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
"You think I could write something that would be worth anything?" Julius said. I looked back at him. The lanterns above and beside held his form in a warm, benign halo. His cheek rested in his hand as his charming features wore a pensive look.
I had known beautiful men and women, but in that moment none of them came even close to rivalling Julius, a vision made all the more startling in the soft clinging drape of his shirt, the satin so thin and delicate as to reveal a most tempting shape, long, long legs, wondrous hips, a narrow waist, that my pulse began to pound. If I had been an old master I might have painted him, but I lack an artist's hand.
"You could try. Why did you quit in the first place?" I said, though desperate to ease my hoarse voice.
"Because I couldn't delude myself any longer."
"What are you going to do then?"
"Go someplace and write good straight poetry as well as I can write it."
"Stay, any place is good, I imagine."
"No. Any place isn't good," Julius said, "I know that. They're good and then they go bad."
"Sure. But this is a good place now. Maybe it won't always be. But it's fine now."
"What's making you so melancholic?"
"I simply feel," he searched for the word, "detached."
"I don't think I miss the war."
"Me neither - no, really - but everything else seems so bland and juvenile."
"It is quiet."
He made a broad general gesture towards the streets. "Look at these people. Going on about their lives, you think they care that we fought? That we won?"
"Because the longer I think of it, the longer it seems as if they don't. And why would they, really?"
"I am their king, soon their emperor."
"Why would they care who's on the throne?"
"Because I'm the rightful heir."
"Look at them, then. Really look at them. Remember the first time we passed through these streets, four years ago? Is there a change? In their daily lives, I mean."
"I don't understand."
"When I see them here, in their alleys and houses, in their shops, about their occupations, I feel an irresistible attraction to them. I would like to be like that. Without having fought in a war. Forgetting the fights and battles, uncaring wether someone is fighting one, or has won one. But it also repels me. It is so narrow. How can that fill ones life? How can they do it, while I have witnessed these horrors? They are different people here, people I cannot properly understand, whom I envy and despise."
I frowned. Unable to apprehend his meaning, unable to find words fit for an answer. So I simply shook my head and said: "go to bed. You're being bizarre."
"Perhaps. I don't understand the dark apprehension I'm feeling; it's as if I'm wandering into a dark cave all alone. All these people are just as they always are, despite the fact that we killed on a gruesome scale."
"We won. Is it not good?"
"I can't say wether it is good or bad. It's just that I have changed."
"Haven't we all?" I regarded him. "Now, go to bed."
Soon enough, the aristocracy who sided with my dead enemy rebelled, preferring the risk of eradication above the demolition of their noble status.
But time I had, and in my victorious - almost delirious - state of mind, I found that I missed the battlefield. I was eager to pick up the weapons against these aristocrats. Everything else seemed juvenile in the eyes of us, boys, who were forced to grow up through war and battle. I was young, but nineteen years old, and it seemed to me as if I knew nothing else.