Amidst the sand
22 The young man before me - 1220
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Amidst the sand
Author :Sighe
© Webnovel

22 The young man before me - 1220

I saw the mass before me move with ludicrous slowness; I saw their gaze pass over her, Constance of Aragon, as she made her way towards me. Behind her, a youth followed in her footsteps. Thirteen years old, older than me when his mother and I had conceived him. He had apprehended her countenance, so he appeared rather feminine, though the unmistakable jawline and sizeable shoulders were clear characteristics he had inherited from my line. Constance had an air around her that seemed to be intrepid, yet as much did the youngster appear rather timid, since he refused to meet my gaze and remained strained, focusing his eyes on the carpet in front of him.

I had not dared to have any expectations concerning my son. But seeing him there, I felt overcome. What had he been told of me, his father, likely the most powerful man on our side of the world, by the people who had raised him?
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I am ought to give him a title, I thought, and I should have done so sooner.

Constance bowed her head slightly, and I felt the wish to be near her arise. Beneath her gaze, I underwent an experience as if I were but a simple man. Notwithstanding the fact that I had felt indifference towards her in the past, there was now an unmistakable pull along my chest.

"Your Majesty," she said, her tone lingering and soothing.

I rose. Descended, took her hand in mine and guided her to take a seat next to my own. I barely perceived my surroundings as I turned towards the audience and recited the welcoming speech Phillip had instructed me. The youngster at the bottom of the stairs seemed to brim with mirth, though I could not beckon him to lock eyes with me. He looked behind me, towards his mother, and an inexplicable need for conformation settled in my chest. Though as I finished, I heard him speak up;

"Thank you, your Majesty. For your hospitality and such a warm welcome."

I was taken aback. Against from what his seemingly timid nature had led me to believe, his voice had great quality. Seldom had I heard such a deep resounding sound. I smiled, and he seemed pleased. Next to me, though seated, his mother bore him an acrimonious look. Wondering whether I had correctly heard a derisive tone lingering between his words, I said;

"My pleasure. I must say that I have looked forward to meeting you."

"Likewise. Your Majesty." The boy bowed his head once more, and when he looked up he finally convinced himself to look me in the eyes. He was to be a tall man. Taller than me, though at this age he still had a smaller build. I invited him to join us on the elevated platform, though etiquette required him to remain a few steps lower than me, and the chance to converse with him was lost.

As I was sitting down, the first entertainment of the evening was presented. I felt uneasy. Alongside me, Constance had barely said a word, while before me, I saw but the back of my son's head. Louis and Phillip were standing even further, opposite of the clergy, where Alessandro must have been. Even the bright, well-known head of hair belonging to Julius was undeferential in the mass. Shifting in my seat as a group of dancers made their way to the middle of the hall, I felt every bit as lonesome as I would have been had the throne room been deserted.

Feature after feature came out to entertain the court. I remembered none of them. What was I doing here?

I wished to be in my beloved Palermo again, the city that was truly my home. The city in which I got to spend my unconcerned childhood, away from the crown which they wanted to prepare me for. I used to dream of sitting on this throne when I was a child, but that were dreams given to me by my mother and the supporters of our lineage. Yet now I could think of nothing but the meadows in the palace gardens of Palermo.

There used to stand a line of old poplars by the stream that ran towards the coast. They were visible from a great distance. Even as children Julius and I had had a love for them, they had drawn us thither, we had played by them and had listened to their rustling as I escaped the lessons of Vastiano. We had sat beneath them or the bank of the stream as we let our feet hang in the bright, swift waters. The pure fragrance of the water and the melody of the wind in the poplars had held our fancies.

When following the steam towards the coast, one encountered a modest lake. The deep and cool waters had been ideal for swimming, featuring a large, glassy pool before it sped up and led to a steep waterfall that fell of the cliffs and into the sea with unforseen violence. Those brave enough would swing into the pool from the overhanging trees idyllically lining the lake's edge.

We had loved these places dearly, and the image of those days made my heart pause in its beating.

The musicians ceased playing. The hour to dine was there, and I led Constance by the hand towards the grand dining room in which a festive audience had gathered. We took our place on the head of the long tables set out before us and bid the assembled nobility and scholars to sit down.

The kitchens had outdone themselves, though I hesitated to converse with either my wife or son. Anxiety had seized me. What was there to say? What was I to tell them? More than a decade lay between us, yet I found no event to tell them about.

Halfway through our meal, I inquired after their wellbeing and whether their journey had been pleasant. Constance answer came in long charming responses, appealing to the aristocracy within earshot; she enraptured them with tales of Sicily. I merely pretended to listen. Henry, sitting next to her, held my interest. I studied the boy, analysing his every move. Whether he felt my gaze was none of my concern, I was lost in contemplation, musing on our irrefutable bond.

This was my son, and though I might not have felt a ruse of parental care wash over me upon meeting him, I was captivated in a state of thoughtful evaluation of Henry's attitude. And what I saw, I liked a great deal. He was charming yet reserved, in a diffident and guarded way, though I imputed that on the fact that he was still not accustomed to this new environment. And though I still pondered over the perhaps derisive tone lingering between his words when he had greeted me, I gave him the benefit of the doubt in a wave of benign fondness; and I was unable to correctly comprehend where it originated from.

And so the banquet ended, in silence on my part.


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