Nothing could surpass my sorrow, but, truly, it is pride that I felt. For my wife. She was kidnapped… was it only yesterday? But by a King! A king, no less. Surely, this should influence the final sentiment towards the whole affair? Have you ever truly loved someone, in a way that your empathy for them overrides any personal desire or need? An empathy so strong that your happiness for them overrides even your own sadness for your loss? She protested, of course. Not I. I knew that, in the end, it was for the better. The bigger picture, you see. But since she did protest, I was sent into darkness, into exile. It was all very fair. You will not hear me complain on the matter. Nor on the curious way this story unfolds. I lived out my exile. And more. Understand very well that my return could spoil her chances at a rich and happy life. Enjoying wonders, I could never have offered her.
Only many many years later, and only by chance, did I venture to return. So sweeping was my desire for her to accept her new circumstances fully, that I would never have returned voluntarily. There had never been a need for the King’s edict in the first place. I would have willingly exiled myself. Truly. In one blow, I was offering my wife the opportunity to know every luxury imaginable. Oh, I am perhaps not as altruistic as I may sound here. I loved my wife more than you can ever know. I would never have so willingly given her away. Never! The very thought appals me. Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to admit that I found great solace and satisfaction in the deed. Like when one knows invariably that one is a good person. I floated as on a cloud, glowing with pride at my good deed. And while my wife lived her new, better life, she would do so for the both of us.
In this sense, perhaps, when love is so visceral, so close to the heart, it can almost be said to transcend marital love, into filial love. I wanted the best for her, in the same way, I would want the absolute best for the children we might have had in another life.
I never doubted my path. In exile, I positively glowed with happiness, for my good deed and her good fortune. But then, one day, I made my return. Oh, perhaps I overplayed how completely accidental it might have been. But my intention was never to interfere in any way. Merely to witness. Perhaps even to pry a little. But harmlessly, I assure you. Only, to help me remember the virtue of my sacrifice. To revive the flame. To alleviate some tiny nagging doubts I sometimes accidentally entertained about the choice to relinquish my wife, which I had made so easily before. The morality of my action, which had been so crystalline had begun to blur around the edges, that’s all. A quick confirmation would do the trick. To see her in her Royal entourage, would suffice. Even just to see her smile a little. Then, I would leave. Be on my way, never to return. Certain once more that it had been a choice. You know, rather than a King’s order. That, even if there had been no other way, once his Majesty had made his choice, that it was truly I who had given my blessing. Not the greatest of difference, I agree, but important to me.
However, it was not exactly meant to be. Or at least not in so… shall we say, unconvoluted a way. Rather than lay eyes on my Queen, our re-acquaintance, as it were, was accomplished through an unexpected intermediary. Dwelling around the castle, inquiring on royal affairs, I gradually fell in line with a maid of my once-beloved. Still beloved. Still beloved, to be sure. Alas, the word she bore filled me with a veritable storm of sorrow.
On our first meeting, I had the misfortune of informing her of my burden. Or rather the burden I had travelled all this way to alleviate. There might have been some beverage involved… not that I recall the event clearly. Together we commiserated on our fates, sang a few songs of love lost, and, one thing leading to another, I confessed the entirety of my history with the now-Queen. I heard little of my beloved during that first encounter, the maid surely wanting to spare my feelings. During our second meeting, the maid was moved to confess her own history with my beloved. And what a sorrowful tale she wove. One of bitterness and wounded hearts, which left me breathless for days. How blind I had been to simply confide that her life would be better. And, what’s more, celebrate this. The ignorance! Time dragged on, and I began contemplating that I should leave, head bowed in shame.
However, the maid and I, it seemed, were destined to meet once more. On our third meeting, she came bearing more than news. The Queen, she informed me in a state of panic, had feigned a miscarriage. Having known her own fate ruined by royalty, the Queen had wished something other for her child. Even as street urchins, as the Queen had once been herself, they would have a better chance at true happiness.
And that was how I came about my first bastard.
I rescued the King’s progeny, took it in as my own. What would you have done? The bastard child was as close as I could get to my beloved Queen. But how many of these wretched bastards there would be, I could never have fathomed. The years passed. The King, desperate for a child born of his loins, a child to secure the throne, made proof of seemingly limitless promiscuity. And I, the Oh dear lord, enough, enough… oh, fine another, but that’s it, no more.
Years passed yet more. The King’s restlessness brought a consort to the forefront, as she, at last, bore a healthy boy and heir. That year, not a single bastard came, but an old weathered lady. What would you have done? I took her in. Perhaps, there was always a part of me that knew this lady to be my once love. But another part, greater still, refused to believe it. Discarded, old, and so like a baby again. I agreed to take her in, with fully the intention of dedicating myself to her. I would not pass this opportunity to make right whatever scraps were left to me to make right.
Alas, the stars were not exactly aligned for this, our second attempt, at love. By then, there were just too many of the bastards. I was trapped, you’ll understand. By design, rejection was the single thing the little unwanted bastards feared most. From the moment they could smell the faintest aroma of it on the wind, they would turn into these crazed demon-monsters, all thorns, pushing me away in their fury to be loved. I fought and fought against them, for them. It was a messy time. Every moment I chose to dedicate myself to my once love, and didn’t, for the sake of the royal bastards; they learned to trust me more, leaned into me more, and, thus, became ever more dependant. It wounded me deeply to deny my once love, now this old worn lady, my love. That very love I had denied her, for her own sake, or what I thought had been for her own sake. I was now given a second chance to prove myself worthy of her, and yet, was powerless to do so. And, every time I chose the royal bastards over my once love, I felt it an act of profound degradation.
By repeated association, I began to feel shame and guilt instead of love for the old lady, to whom life had been so unkind. And none the lesser for her circumstances being of my own orchestration. Not that, had I opposed the King for the right to marry my once love, any other outcome would have come from it than my death. But I certainly began understanding that my death would have been the worthy sacrifice. But then, however poisoned our current circumstances were, were we not now granted a second chance that would not have been possible were I to have fought for her and died?
The royal bastards resented their mother, for threatening their daily supply of love. And I, stuck in the middle of this whole affair. Unable to love without feeling guilty or ashamed. An odd family we made the fourteen of us.