37 Of shattered glass and wine stains - 1228
My grief, which I had hitherto tried to restrain behind a wall of fury, now burst forth in a violent fit of hysterical sobbing that lasted the better part of the night. I had retreated myself within the salon by the conservatory. Upon the carpeted floor I sat, my head against my pulled up knee, the other leg laying about; my back rested against an upholstered chair and it seemed I had been sitting there forever. The fire held me in thrall, it had since long expired to a mere gloom beneath the charcoaled timber, - the cooled ashes seemed to dance and disperse in the moonlight that fell through the doors of the terrace as I had neglected to close them. I looked around for the fire poker, and to see if there was any wine left. I saw neither glass nor decanter and found that the fire was too great a distance away - I would have to rise in order to bring it to life.
Such was my state when Constance found me, possibly hoping to converse with me on some state affair I had no interest in.
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"What are you doing?" There was no parsimony in her tone, her vocals were soft and resonate.
I tipped my head back against the winged chair, uncaring of her judgement. Minutes went by, she was walking about the room, touching the burning timber in her hand to the candles upon the tables one by one. The little flames rose by the tensome, and the painted mosaics glittered in the light: the exotic animals upon the walls seemed to come to life for a fading moment as the shadows played their game with the candles and the moon.
"Let the servants do that, lest you burn yourself."
She turned around. Her garments caught in a brief dance of gold and red silk around her. "The ones you troubled and imprecated in your drunken state?"
Had I been drinking? Yes,- yes I had. Damned be all, why did I do that... did I become violent? Had I not simply been sitting here?
I turned on my side. My left shoulder pressed against the couch, my legs lay sideways, while I rested my forehead against the seat. My breath heated the fabric. "Did Violante and Conrad,-?"
"They did not."
Remnants of the glass and the decanter lay across the floor by the opposite wall, right beside the doors. I closed my eyes in embarrassment. She came to stand before me, reaching out to me. Outside, the dark sky once again flaunted its frozen flakes upon the earth. I looked at her fingers touching mine.
"Are you going to be fine?"
"No. But I shall appear to be in the morning."
"Would you wish to talk?"
I shook my head, upon which she took back a step and stretched out her arms as if to say: follow me. She was standing in the midst of the room, her figure sharpened against the dimmed light of the heard. Her hair was so long it fell to her waist, a great mass of soft blond curls. Seemingly ivory, I realised. Full and thick, inundating, and I felt the urge to touch it, see if it was as still as soft as it had always been. How miraculous that I could be distracted by something scenic as this moment, that it could make me feel unscathed; as if nothing had happened.
In trance, I rose up and held her two hands and I could think of nothing except holding her, embracing her, never letting her go. I swayed somewhat and lifted her off her feet. Without notice, I swung her up in my arms and we turned round and round. Subtle laughter welled up. For a brief moment, both of us were fifteen years younger, conducting ourselves as the youngsters in love we had never been allowed to be.
Then bitterness threatened to take me down its daunting slope again, and I put her down.
"I do not wish to tell you what ails me," I said under my breath. "Or at least not what ails me tonight,- perhaps one day. You know it yourself, don't you? The sleepless nights?"
Her expression turned cold. "Yes. But I never allowed my sorrows to take me into such a state as you are now."
"I know," a vague laugh passed my lips, "but I was never as strong as you."
"Don't compliment me when you wish to use it as an excuse for your behaviour," she arched an elegant eyebrow, seemingly studying me: "This is neither about Henry nor the Holy War, is it? Perhaps the continued confrontations with the papacy?"
"I don't care for them. Save for Henry."
"I realise that well enough. Word came to us from Rome, Phillip is warning us. As we speak, Honorarius is seeking to excommunicate you, if you keep up your insubordination."
"He used those words? Insubordination?" I felt that I wasn't shocked by this. Perhaps I'd been waiting for it. She already knew it, I realised, as my reaction did not disturb her.
"Has this not been your deliberate doing?" She asked.
"I even don't know it myself."
"Then why do you feel impelled to gain power at the expense of the Church?"
I shrugged, swaying once more. "Because I can."
"They are too powerful an enemy," she shook her head in suppressed exasperation and went to close the doors leading to the terrace. The loss of warmth in my arms was immediate and uncompromising. Her back was narrow and straight, her hands at her sides, bejewelled with rings; she must have been looking at the high dim clouds, the drop of snow that shimmered through the dark layer of nightly mist beyond which the full circle of the moon occasionally hid itself.
"If only I could give it all to you."
"What makes you think I would accept it?"
I didn't know. I only knew she would be better.
She continued; "don't let my past involvement or practices fool you. I am not what you define as a righteous autarch."
"Is my definition wrong then? For I know my perspective of you is not."
"You are a blind fool aren't you?" The factualness with which she gave her statement made me laugh,- a doleful and morose sound. "The image of me you have created in your head is not my responsibility. I am under no obligation to follow that image of a immaculate sovereign."
She stood before me now. I saw the tiny laugh lines at the edge of each eye, and a very tiny crease on either side of her mouth. Her lips were the softest shade of pink. I closed my eyes and opened them again.
"I am not what you make me out to be. I rule, yes, and it wears me down. I requite and reign and repress and debate and grow wearier by the year."
"Who are you then?" My voice was a hoarse whisper.
"Your wife. Who tires from your self pity."
"I'm not self absorbed."
"If you say so," she inclined her head towards the door. "Now go and sleep, lest Conrad or Violente do see you like this. We shall talk once you are able to think clearly again."