Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The King's Prerogative

[My current writing project is in the non-fiction realm: a column for the diocesan newspaper. Once I finish that, I will return to posting new fiction. I got an idea today that I think will be good.]

Honor and modesty are ornaments of the soul without which the body, beautiful though it be, should not be so esteemed. – Don Quixote

The newly crowned king of the land strutted confidently – almost arrogantly – down the aisle toward his throne. Yesterday had been the coronation; today he would choose a bride, and two days later they would be married. His mother would bless them, and they would be king and queen.

“This is the good life,” he thought to himself as he settled into the throne to await the beginning of the ceremony. No thoughts of his father clouded his mind, because his father was still alive and well. No man ever died king, unless he died in battle. The new king’s father was old, older than most were when they handed the crown to their son, but he was healthy. Still, the king had felt it was time to hand the kingdom over to his successor, and so yesterday the old man had taken the crown from his own head and placed it on that of his only son. The king had looked him in the eye and said, “The responsibility is now yours. Do you undertake to serve your God, your country, and your family?”

The young man had replied, “I do.”

“Then I place into your hands the welfare of the people, the safety of the land, and the care of your parents and sister. May the weight of the crown never be a burden to you. May it serve as a reminder of the cares you will face in this life, and may its glory be your glory.”

The old man had then turned toward the court and announced in his strong voice, “People, your king!”

Yes, that had been a fine day, when his father had entrusted him with the responsibility of a man, and a king.

Today the ceremonies would continue with the selection of the new queen, who would then be allowed one day and two nights to take leave of her family and prepare for the wedding.

The young king looked around him at the faces in his court. Some were old – the faces of his father’s friends who would now serve to moderate his youthful passions. Others were no older than he. They were the friends that he had grown up with and that he trusted.

A herald approached to announce the beginning of the day’s ceremonies.
“My king, I present to you – in all the fullness of their natural beauty – the fifty maidens deemed most worthy of your choice, both in character and personal beauty.”

The king’s stomach tightened with anticipation as he spoke. “Maidens,” his voice thundered through the hall, “approach, that you may be judged.”

The monstrous doors swung wide and the girls began to step slowly into the hall and down the aisle toward the king. They were, indeed, in the full state of their natural beauty, for not a single one of them wore a shred of cloth to hide herself from his eyes. The king sucked in his breath at the sight. As the girls reached the end of the aisle they spread out in a horizontal line before him, their heads held level, their eyes averted but not fixed on the floor. Their hands hung close to their sides without giving any impression of awkwardness.

The king allowed his eyes to scan from one end of the row to the other as the girls continued to file in. There was a slight commotion in the back of the hall and the king looked up to see the last girl in the procession marching down the aisle. She was fully clothed in a simple but elegant cream colored dress that formed a stunning contrast with her thick black tresses. The king was shocked.
“Do you dare to ignore the law of your land? You were selected to appear before your king, and you have the impudence to defy all laws and traditions? Speak, but speak wisely, for such defiance is no light matter, and your life may depend on your words or my whim.”

The girl curtsied so low the king thought she must lose her balance. “Majesty,” she began, “do you not have a sister?”

“Yes, what of it!” he snapped.

“Majesty,” she tried to look calm, but her shaking hands betrayed her fear, “do you allow your sister to parade herself around in public?”

“Certainly not.”

“Majesty, may I ask why not?”

“You have no right to ask such a question. I do not need to justify myself.”

She continued, “Of course, Majesty, but would you allow your daughter, if you had one, to parade around in such a way?”

“My girl, I most certainly would not. Such behavior would be a disgrace upon the royal family.”

“Is it not a disgrace for the future queen to be seen in such circumstances?”

“Eh?” he finally began to see some sense in what she was saying, but he held his ground. “Sister, I certainly have no wish to disgrace my wife; however, I must be allowed to make an informed decision. This is what the law provides for. Would you buy food without first examining it for flaws?”

“Majesty, you called me sister just now,” she whispered.

“Eh? So I did,” he caught her drift. “The title is an arbitrary one. You are no blood relation of mine.”

The girl kept her voice steady. “Majesty, of course I examine food before I buy it, but the food has no shame to be concerned over. Would you insinuate that we are but pieces of fruit and bread?” She was stepping further onto the ice and she new it. “I did not ask to be selected to appear before you…”

The king interrupted her with a glare, snapping, “Do you mean to imply that you are not honored to be here? The idea is a disgrace to yourself and your family. My patience wears thin…maid,” he uttered the last word with a hint of disgust.

She dropped her eyes and her voice softened with humility. “I did not mean that, Majesty. I am honored beyond what you can imagine to have been chosen to appear before you, but remember that I, too, am a sister and a daughter. I cannot put my father and brother to shame anymore than you could let your sister or daughter do what you ask me to do. That it is the law does not make it right.”

“My dear, you have no choice. This is my prerogative.” As he said this, though, his heart began to tighten inside him. He admired the girl’s courage and modesty, even more than he admired the haunting eyes and slender figure. He could not make up his mind. The law clearly stated the procedures for how the king was to choose his bride, but he was finding it difficult to think about what was prescribed for those who defied the law.

“Majesty, the beauty of the soul far outweighs the form of the body. My honor I cannot compromise. What the king would not allow, he should not require.”

“Those are bold words, my dear. You do understand that you could be hanged for them, do you not?”

“Majesty, I have appeared before you that you may judge my beauty. Look upon me. Does beauty require the absence of modesty?” She lifted her head and looked straight into his eyes.

The king had been looking at her – all thoughts of the other forty-nine beauties had left his mind. He was intrigued by this girl, and he found himself becoming more and more attached to her spirit. Those eyes…they were…captivating. That was the only word for them.

“Majesty,” the girl said, “if I must be hung for my act, then I must be hung, but I refuse to compromise my honor and shame my family. If you are not pleased with what you see, I beg you to let me return home unharmed, if only because my helplessness touches your heart. If, on the other hand, you are pleased with me, I would be willing and honored to be your wife.”

The king marveled at her words. Never had he heard a girl speak so firmly in his presence. He scanned down the row one more time, but his eyes kept returning to that cream colored dress that stood before him. Her head was bent now and he could no longer see her eyes, but their image was still burning in his mind.

“Guards…” he said, almost musing aloud.

The guards stood ready and the girls visibly tensed.

“Guards, I have made my decision.” He paused. “Escort these others back to their chambers. This one,” he indicated the girl who stood humbly before him, hands clasped loosely over the front of her dress, “let her return to her family, that she may prepare herself for the wedding day.”

The girl lifted her head a little and blushed scarlet, but her face broke into a subdued smile.

“My dear, what is your name?” the king asked.

“Starla, Majesty,” she replied.

“Starla,” he whispered, “Starla with eyes like the stars. Very well, Starla, go – prepare yourself. Your courage and beauty have served you well. Two days hence you will become my bride.”

Starla curtsied and turned to go.

The king watched her as she left, fascinated. Those eyes, he could not get them out of his head. They were so blue, almost violet. Well, being a king wasn’t exactly what he had expected, at least not so far, but he had a feeling that this was a good start. What a girl she was. She would make a good wife, a good mother, and a good queen.

A thought tugged at the back of his mind. Was he right to disregard the law? Well, why not? After all, that was the king’s prerogative.

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