Amidst the sand
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25 When sleep fails us - 1220
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Amidst the sand
Author :Sighe
© Webnovel

25 When sleep fails us - 1220

I left my childhood rooms behind and made my way towards my earlier destination. The fire was lit and the imperial quarters hung in a warm halo as I arrived. The walls of the room were characterised by mosaics that covered the walls with profane hunting and paradisiac scenes. Arabic lettering was visible around the modest cupola.

I looked out of the grand window. The curtains were open, drifting in the breeze, and I saw a familiar range of trees. There were flowers in the beds below and behind it was the rising arch of the grand almonry. Beyond the picture of the sunlit garden appeared a range of towers, distant and light, charming Arabesque domes amidst the surrounding trees depicted an elegant cloister; the view changed to a clear day in autumn, where I had sat by the fire with my mother and had drank thinned wine while looking out over these surroundings. But I did not want to think of that. I wiped it from my mind, dropped the blanket I took with me at the end of the bed and left for the next room.

This had been my late father' private study.

The backs of the books stood in rows, I knew them all still. I remembered arranging them in order when I was younger. Images floated through my mind, but they did not grip me, they were mere shadows of memories. Wearily I took one of the books, intending to read, and turned over the pages. I put it away and took out another. There were passages that had been marked and I slit my thumb across them. It had been long since I had chosen to think of my father and wondered why he had done so, mark these sections. The late emperor. An unknown man whom I shall never come to comprehend. You are a stranger to me. Everlastingly. I looked, turned over pages and took up other books. Already were they piling up at my feet. On the top left shelve lay drawings and rough sketches, partly pushed in between the volumes.

I stood there. Dumb. Dejected. Slowly I placed the books back on their shelves. Never again. Quietly, I left the study.

I departed for the Council room, as I had agreed to meet with Alessandro and Louis concerning Honerarius's demands. The pope wished to bound me to the crusade, coercing me, since my position as Holy Roman Emperor titled me to comport myself as defender of the Church. I was reluctant to do so - though I had vowed upon it before my coronation.



Well into the night, I encountered Julius roaming the hallways. I had been conferring until late, and upon returning to my quarters I spotted him stalking through the dim corridors like a madman.

"Julius? I thought you would be asleep by now."

"So what- you're up too."

"But I'm headed for my bed. What are you- are you drunk?"

"I needed a drink." He swallowed a mouthful from his bottle, his fingers trembling on the neck.

"You abandoned Gian for alcohol?" I tried to guide him back towards his quarters and stole the bottle from him.


"...That's my cider."

Ignoring his protests, I held the liquor away from his searching arms and abandoned the bottle in the hallway for some servant to find and clean it.

"You've had plenty."

"I still have plenty..." he produced another flask from the inside of his raiments, which hung open at an unfortunate angle. Seeing that I was about to take the flask away he cradled it against his bare chest. All the while, I gazed at him, studying the lines of sleep-deprivation and weariness under his eyes.

"You're pale. Is it Gian? Did something happen?"

"Why'd you bring him up? He's fine, we're fine. He's at his own room, he's going hunting tomorrow, didn't want to wake me when he rose early."

With a tender hand, I guided him through the door leading to his rooms, directing him back to the bed in the gentlest of manners. It now occurred to me he had lost weight.

"I can't sleep." Julius' voice was but a whisper - a short, choked breath. I looped my ams around him and cupped the back of his head, stroking soothing fingers through his hair as I guided his head to rest on my shoulder. I felt his heart pulse as if it might escape his chest.

"Breathe."

"I can't."

"Relax. Talk to me."

He shook his head. "I'm lost."

"No you're not."

"I am. I sit in the same chairs and sleep in the same bed and I cannot help but think. My walls are still adorned with the paintings I took interest in and the birds in my cages still sing; my wardrobe is full of the finest garments and the feathers on my hats stand upright; I am treated as if I were part of your line." He buried his head in my chest. "Yet a good day is spent sleeping and a good night is spend drinking. I am roaming around every night, spooked by the slightest."

My friend grieved his losses. I sat there, on his bedside, unable to refute him; had I not been clenched by melancholy but hours prior in the privacy of my rooms? It lay all here before us, reduced to sand, lethargic men as we were now.

"I cannot find my way back, I am shut out. Listless and wretched like a condemned man, I sit here and the past withdraws itself. I have nightmares, every time I return to those wretched battlefields. I thought being home might help me - yet I feel detached." His facial features evoked an angels's torment. I laid a hand to his cheek and bid him to calm. Pulling my legs up on the bed and resting myself next to him, I issued Julius to close his eyes. Obediently, he did. His hands lay trembling between us as he curled up under the sheet.

The night continued. For hours I lay at his side.

The moon hid behind the clouded sky, and in the light of a sole lantern, I watched over him. Julius belongings were scattered throughout the bedroom and I arched over his sleeping form to remove several papers. To my delight, I discovered them to be poems. Sitting upright against the headboard so I might be closer to the light, I gathered them - carefully not to stir their author.

They were testaments full of despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. Words of despondency, undeniably ever so pitiful in the knowledge of the cheerful and romanticised content of its predecessors, that likely still lay in the map that I had found in my old chambers.

There lay a gorgeous pink glow over the sky when morning came, and it almost seemed as if one could reach out and grab a handful of clouds. I turned over on the bed, as though I could sink into a long sleep again and vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side. I buried my face in it,- yet noticing a gleam of light peeping in beside one of the heavy curtains, I dropped my feet over the edge of Julius's bed - who was stil asleep - and felt about with them for my shoes. I rose and opened the curtain slightly, so that I might balm in the heat without waking my friend.

Further down, I spotted Henry and Auguste in the morning light. My guard was helping the frail boy on a horse. It was a peculiar sight. Henry seemed ever so slender and frail; contrasting the stout mare between his legs and the towering, red-haired guard handing him the reins.

I wished to join them swiftly. Leaving Julius to rest, I went down, passing the sixteen statues divided among the four sets of stairs leading to the largest fountain in the center of the open hallway leading into the gardens.

Seated beneath an awning so that I was protected against the sun - amidst the blossoming flowers, ripe fruit, burbling waterfalls and terraces exuberant with rich foliage - I watched over Henry with Auguste standing by my side. A cup of wine had been handed to me, and upon summon, a bowl of fruits was placed before me.

"Father!"

Henry' s voice came from afar, pulling Auguste and me out of our brief conversation. In a wild gallop, he came towards us, guiding the brown steed in between the varieties of trees, shrubs, and vines. He came to an abrupt halt before us - causing me to lean back in my seat and Auguste to step back in order to prevent being buried in a shower of sand and grass. The poor wine-bearer wasn't fast enough and the man blinked furiously as he attempted to shake the earth from his bound hair without compromising the flask he held in his hands.

Inspecting the horse, it once again occurred to me that it was a sizeable animal, and though I had seen Henry handle it with great skill, my son looked delicate and tenuous on the beast's back.

He should get down before he hurts himself, I thought.

"I was told that you were a fine rider," the young man said. I looked up to meet his gaze.

"I'm not."

"No? That's not what he told me." He threw the man next to me a menacing look.

"Auguste has to say that, it's part of his job to belaud me. Don't listen to him."

I heard the man chuckle.

"It's true you know. He's a dreadful horseman." Julius's voice came from behind me. I turned to look. The blond man was lavishly dressed in the blue tunic he had slept in, his white shirt hanging open. He looked slightly better. Setting himself down next to me in the shade with a lot of theatrics, he continued to cause me to lose face in front of my son: "the first time your father rode out into battle he fell off his horse and lost the poor animal in the process."

"Don't listen to him either, he exaggerates," I turned to Julius - who had, by some magical occurrence, taken possession of my wine - and said between my teeth, "I didn't fell off the animal, the animal fell from under me and you know it."

"Such an unfortunate creature, she was such a wonderful mare. But fate is cruel indeed. Of all men, she had to be presented to you."

"Give that back." I reached for my cup.

"Oh! How this beast of yore could have triumphed over the battlefield; yet she was mounted by his majesty, and thus she had to yield."

"This is why you are a terrible poet."

"And while he is now trying his best to set the course of this conversation afield."

"Get out of here."

"The tale of the poor mare of yore shall be revealed."

"That's as poor a rhyme as it gets."

"Suits the subject; it concerns your horsemanship," he said, having drawn up his legs over the edge so he lay draped over the bench. He selected a few grapes and threw them up in the air.

"Is that true?" Henry asked me.

"No. Now leave the horse. Come down and sit with me."

"Alright."

He was so well- behaved on such moments. It was a pure delight. In the distance I could hear men shouting; gardeners were constantly adding to the tree orchards. In between the pines, cypresses and junipers; almond trees, ebony, rosewood, olive, quince, and terebinth had been added in the years that I had been away. Some of these plants were suspended over the terraces and draped over the walls with arches underneath.

Julius was without his beloved count. I had presumed that he would seek solace with him after last night. It was then I remembered that Gian had taken the liberty to go hunting - something I knew Julius only to partake in whenever social conduct desired it from him.

"Gian went out?"

"I believe so."

"What did they go for?"

"Boar, I think."

"Louis with him?"

"Yeah."
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"No boar," I said. "Louis never hunts boar anymore."

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