30 One day in Autumn - 1227
1227 - Palermo
Among the walls of the study behind the throne room, paintings had been hung, portraying late sovereigns and their extended family. While at the centre of the ceiling, a chandelier illuminated the environment, populated by female figures in golden caftans that seemed to dance around the elegant spirals. I had seated myself behind my desk, making myself as comfortable as possible in the gilded wooden chair. Yet I felt stiff, I had been sitting here for the whole night.
By now, I was thirty-three years of age and had been on the throne for seven years.
In the room were but five people, myself excluded. Two members of my private guard stood on either side of the door that led to the great hall while three scribes stood behind my chair, handing me reports, noting down my every decree while muttering the agenda of this day.
As I accidentally touched my chin with the back of my hand, I reminded myself that I ought to have them shave me. As for the state of my dress,- the satin sleeves of my shirt were crumbled, and soft ink drops were visible along the seam.
I look more like a scholar than an sovereign, I thought.
Having finished reading the reports, I got up, shaking my wrists slightly as to lessen the strain; and, squaring my chest, I smiled joyously: not because there was anything particularly agreeable in my mind - the joyous smile was evoked by the prospect of a quick but satisfying breakfast. I was about to call for a change of clothes since I was soon to convene with the court, when childish voices were heard outside the door. They were carrying something, and had dropped it.
'I told you not to pull,' said a little girl; 'there, pick him up!'
"What chaos. They are probably running about by themselves." I called out to the guards, issuing them to open the door.
Violente and Conrad were standing in the middle of the great empty hall, still dressed in their nightclothes. My daughter was carrying a cat in her arms, snuggling it to her chest. Her brother, with his wild hair standing upright, picked up a smaller specimen of the floor.
Upon perceiving me, the girl ran up boldly, her loose blond hair trailing behind her. She embraced me, and hung laughingly on my neck, enjoying as she always did the playfulness with which I picked her up. At last the little girl kissed my face, loosened her hands, and was about to run away after the cat; I held her back.
"How is your mother?" I asked, passing my hand over my daughter's smooth, soft hair while smiling to Conrad, who had come up to greet me.
"Mamma? She is up."
A sigh passed my lips. That means that she hasn't slept again all night, I thought.
She was expecting, yet the baby had held her awake for weeks now.
"Well, is she cheerful?"
"She was angry with Henry."
"And where is your older brother now?"
"Still in his room, I heard him shouting."
"Miss Margaret was crying again," the little boy at my feet said. He was the spitting image of me, apart from his innocent eyes, which held all the virtue of the world. "She's scared of him."
"Don't worry. I'll talk to him. Go to your room, get dressed and meet your mother for breakfast."
"Will you eat with us?" The girl in my arms asked.
"The court is about to convene and I have yet to change. How about tomorrow?"
I set my daughter down, who took her younger brother by the hand and ran off. The abandoned felines on the carpet yawned, stretched, and one of them followed me at a leisure pace as I went to change my clothing.
The staircases resounded my step as I ascended them and the hurried scrabble of servants could be heard in the background. The empty torches of last night had not yet been switched, and an ash smell hung in between them. The sun hung low in the sky and cast long slender shadows over the roofs and the towers and through the tall windows. Upon arriving at my dressing, they led me to the middle of the room and started undoing my cloak. Lifting my feet one after the other, my shoes were being taken care of, all the while Violente's big cat snuggled in between the attendants, searching out attention. It was a young animal, though long and loving. Violente had named him Noviani, but I had dubbed him Breone in my mind, because of his red fur.
As I sat down to be shaven, I ordered Gabriel to bring me something to eat.
"Are there any fruits on there?" I asked him as he returned with a platter containing various nourishments.
"I brought your majesty some citruses."
"And get me a drink as well, there should be some Beaune left."
The dark damask fabric of the carpet adorning the stairs towards my throne contrasted the bright full height painted figures circling the dome overhead and the chandeliers with their gilded crowns. My throne itself was surrounded by a canopy of crimson velvet and golden braided tapestry, adorned with woven tapes.
The sun had been up for a little while now and the court was about to convene. Sadly - as Violente had informed me - my eldest had decided upon waking that he should take out his teenage rage on his attendants. I was seated on my throne, Henry before me, while outside, officials were waiting to commence with the day. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I listened to his reasoning.
"What is it this time, boy?"
"What interest is it to you what I do with my servants?" Henry said.
"You do realise I'm being tremendously tolerant of your incidents."
"Ah yes, father. How good of you to tolerate me."
"Don't act so childish. You are a prince. You have the power and the understanding to decide, on your own, how to treat your subordinates."
"Unlike what you believe, Henry, using them to satisfy your inexplicable rage is not what they are for."
"Alright, alright. Are you done with your lecture?"
One moment he is talking big, I thought, the next he crawls back. He is such a child. Seventeen years old, and like all youngsters his age he claims to understand the world.
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"I need you to promise me that you won't mistreat your attendants anymore."
"But by doing so, they will understand that I don't like something and they won't do it again."
"Have you considered telling them of your grievances before flying in a rage."
"I already did. They never remember. They don't respect me."
"I'm sure that isn't true-"
"You never listen! I just said they don't respect me. Why do you never listen to me?"
"Henry- don't shout young man. I find it-"
"Nobody ever listens to me!"
It wasn't unconscionable that this discussion would end in the same way its predecessors had ended; by him storming out, trashing everything in his wake.
As I made myself ready to continue our verbal sparing; a servant ran in, curtsied in haste and begged to be excused for his interruption. I saw Henry ready himself for a 'you rather talk to a servant than to me!?' But I issued him to be silent with a mere look and gave leave to the man to speak. He notified us of the arrival of the papal delegation and informed as to when they could be received. This had become quite a habit. Notwithstanding the fact that I had to blame myself for these constant visits, as I had, for years, been trying to consolidate imperial power in Italy at the expense of the papacy.
I sighed and told Henry to meet me again in the evening. Naturally, this didn't sit well with him. With another 'I don't care anyway', he stormed off.
The doors opened and revealed a tall man with a broad nose and neatly kept greyish facial hair. He was flanked by two similar men. I invited them to be seated on the long table further down the great hall in order to congregate. The priority of the few cardinals was, as always, to convince me to make true on my promise to personally travel to the Holy Land. At the beginning of my reign, I had involved myself broadly in the crusade, sending troops from Germany, but I had failed to accompany the army directly, despite the encouragement of the papacy, as I needed to consolidate my position in Germany and Italy before embarking on a crusade.
Yet now, I had a claim to the truncated kingdom, and reason to attempt to restore it.