I pulled you out of the river, girl, as if you were a swan maiden;
shot down by some cruel and greedy archer, hiding between the juniper shades,
the tip of an arrow pointed directly at your elegant and curved, long, neck;
the beat of your Scotch Mist wings, the gentle fluttering of a near-death experience,
only solidifying his cold-hearted intent.
Oh I watched you fall, but I couldn't stomach the sight of your rapidly drowning form;
now completely human, now completely mortal and feminine,
so lackluster, as all of the natural color drained from
your cheekbones, your lace-trim jaw-line and tulip mouth;
as your breath caught in your throat, eliciting only a handful of stuttering gasps,
desperately clinging to the fragile spring life-lines,
the thinning threads of a sinking star-ship, a silver-gold youth..
Flightless bird, I could not live with myself if I were to ignore your gargled screams;
the frantic splashing sounds of medusa-haired water,
all threatening and envy green-colored fear bubbles,
mirrored in the pool's celestial reflection.
So, I dove right in, without thinking twice;
I grabbed hold of your tired, yet, still warm body.
I pulled you out before the rapids could overtake us both;
before it was too late for my foolish and headstrong soul,
and in that moment, I realized, unexpectedly, that
I was just as desperate; just as nearly suicidal, as you must have been.
But we were both alright in the end; we both got out, in the nick of time,
and lived to tell the tale about how we had no choice but to leap off of a cliff,
our hands clasped and our hearts stuck in our parchment throats.
It was all a lie, but it did not matter because we both had so much to lose
in that moment; so much we could leave unsaid and buried deep
underneath September dirt and acorns, russet leaves and robin nests,
peeled blue eggshells, simply to dub no one the wiser; our legacy
nothing but blind faith and malt-tasting teenage runaway passion,
New Year's Eve regrets in rain-spotted silk.
Oh but nobody expected you to make it, girl..
When I found a village in Normandy, Lorraine,
with a tiny inn where we could stay a fortnight;
nestled between the huge alabaster rock formations and lavender fields,
with rose-tinted buildings and winding cobblestone streets,
I was carrying you, half unconscious form in my arms, girl.
And the woman inside the inn who worked as a herbalist and a part-time nurse
told me that you looked weaker than a drowned-out kitten,
a sick pneumonia-stricken child; and that
I shouldn't expect you to walk around, for a couple of days.
But truthfully, hearing this, I felt devastated, terrified
that you might never recover and that I would have to return to Paris
a failure; a killer by association, with the group of hunters
that had attacked and threatened to maim you, mar your exquisite form beyond repair.
Yet, soon I realized that if you had been strong enough
to survive such a far-off fall from the treetop heavens;
then, there must still be some fight left inside that still-beating Paisley heart of.
Now, I'm glad to say that I was right; after hours of restless sleep,
you started coughing up river-water as you tried to sit up in the narrow guest-room bed,
gasping for clear breath and almost choking to death, girl.
But I wouldn't let you sink back down into that dark and lonely state of mind and body,
almost losing touch with reality again.
No, I refused to cower in the corner and let you fall; and so,
I called the midwife and the nurses over.
They all gathered round and told me to lift your head up, so that
you wouldn't bite down on your tongue, accidentally.
And after a couple of gentle, yet, firm pats on the back;
a thimbleful of sage, brown sugar and vinegar,
we finally got you to settle down, Lorraine,
to breathe properly and easily again.
“There,” said one of the old women who had tended to your health,
who had eased my anxiety, as well, unknowingly.
“Now she is just tired from all that coughing, that wretched choking spell.”
She said to me in a motherly tone, “Just let her rest, dear boy.
I assure you that your lady friend will be right as rain by dawn.”
And, relieved, I smiled in gratitude; but before she left the room,
the old innkeeper's wife said, “Believe me, child,
you've done more than enough good, just by bringing her here.”
Oh even though I was grateful and I wanted to believe in that woman's words more than ever,
I also knew that I wasn't the one who was ill and in need of encouragement, and so
I sat back down in the chair in the corner of the room.
I waited for you to open your eyes and acknowledge my presence by your side
as something close to noble, by heart and not by blood;
because, honestly, it was the only thing that mattered
in that dull taupe and pumpkin-seed moment.
And when you did awake, the third time, you turned your head and gazed at me, solemnly,
You inquired in a hoarse voice, “Why are you here?”
Of course, we had known each other from Versailles;
from court where we used to walk down those dimly lit corridors,
almost knowing our exact place in time, almost feeling like we belonged
among the majestic peacocks with their vibrant feathers,
the tea-rose hedges and meandering maze gardens;
cathedrals filled with organ music and gold-trim finery,
locked-up jewels and phantom footsteps echoing, hauntingly familiar.
Yet, the truth is that we never really did fit in, did we, my Lady Destiny?
No, but we wanted to believe it so badly, that sometimes
we caught ourselves humming meaningless sonnets and Latin prayers,
distractedly under our breaths, walking like Egyptian pharaohs; young gods
and goddesses, teenage rulers of indestructible kingdoms.
Lorraine, you and I made quite an odd pair, for sure,
but still, I instantly answered your question with one of my own;
wondering out loud, “Where else would I be?”
Indeed, you fell from a cliff and almost drowned;
that's what I told you, darling, how I'd waded through
the early spring chill, the gray-green waves, and pulled you out.
I swore that I couldn't just leave you behind;
that I couldn't just turn my back and walk away,
climb up on my gypsy stolen horse and ride away,
as the April sun shone brighter in the marble-clear blue sky above.
And for a moment, you didn't say anything; you were
perhaps remembering the last time we saw each other at court,
when we were both dry and comfortable, both decked out in warm finery
and not at all desperate to survive, desperate to win back
some of kind of dignity and favor from the angels;
patron saints of lost and foolish souls, if not from our parents.
Yes, girl, you knew m,e but time stood still then..
It was almost like you were deciding whether or not
asking questions about our coincidental meeting,
our ill-fated run-in and complicated history; an undocumented past in the castle,
was worth bringing up in a not-so-casual conversation,
after everything that had transpired there, in this
peasant-inhabited and still charming part of the country.
“Oh but I would rather you didn't,” I was about to say.
“Please don't ask me anything out of the ordinary.”
Because there was nothing ordinary about our situation,
I knew that I could get away with being silent because;
for once, nobody had the right to judge me.
And truth be told, I felt like being snarky then; slightly disrespectful,
saying something that would label me a cad, for sure;
an illegitimate bastard with no manners or values at all,
with nothing to distinguish myself from a pine-wood wolf,
from a barbaric knave, exactly the type of creature that
people back home had never failed to remind me that I was.
Indeed, they all thought that I would end up just like this;
a runaway youth with no respect for the law, with no common sense
or voice, no clear conscience hiding beneath my seemingly wealthy
and well-fed, well-grown and dressed-to-the-nines, fake courtier appearance.
Yet, when I looked into your wide cedar-brown eyes,
I realized that you weren't at all like the other nobles who mocked me silently
behind their ostentatious peacock-feather fans;
behind their pearl-lace handkerchiefs and glasses of warm port cider, no.
Girl, you actually regarded me with serious understanding,
and this stopped me from making a fallen-dove joke or lying shamelessly
because I didn't think it would be fair, considering the astonishing fact that
you were now trusting me with your entire life on the line.
Yes, and so; I told you my secret, why I left the castle,
left a seemingly comfortable and worry-free lifestyle with an almost decent family.
I told you that my mother had begged me to leave; to run,
saying that there were spies watching my every move,
planning to harm and later dispose of the threat that I had unknowingly become
as a child of mixed heritage; both of noble and outlaw gypsy blood,
unlikely to ascend to any kind of high-ranking status,
yet still, not completely innocent and guiltless.
Unexpectedly, you placed a hand on my forearm then.
After my confession; Lorraine, you said,
“No matter what happens, I'll make sure that you get out of here alive.
No matter what; even if I don't reach my own destination, friend,
I promise that I'll find you a clear path away from all the lies and accusations;
the mapped-out violence and strategic threats
that may have followed you up until now.
I'll make sure that no one ever lays a hand on you,
never finds your hiding-spot and drives a bayonet through your chest,
impales your warm September heart,
as though it were nothing but rabbit meat,
meant to be roasted and gobbled up by greedy-eyed goblins over hellfire.”
Oh I told you, while shaking my head and smiling slightly,
“Honestly, my lady, you can really paint a macabre picture,
when you put your imagination to work!”
And I held my breath, not knowing if you would get upset
and demand my head on a plate, for what I had just said.
But instead of shouting at me in disgust or fury, you simply laughed.
Tucking a lock of mahogany hair behind your one ear, you casually
drew my eyes to the freckle on your neck, a tiny plum-colored dot
on your otherwise clear expanse of buttermilk-toned flesh.
And you seemed unaware of how you were affecting me, darling; and
and so, I diverted my gaze quickly as you agreed that your words were
indeed cynical, despite your intentions being all mercifully good.
All through the night, it rained heavily, then slowed,
the winds only whistling like ghosts; eerie songs as old as time,
as ancient as stone and mortar, brick and thatched cottage rooftops,
notwithstanding the silver-needle season's upcoming storm.
All through those fragile and unpredictable hours, we huddled together on the window-seat,
with a thick bearskin wrapped around our shoulders, watching the sky
outside turn charcoal-gray, as though we weren't at all
nervous and worried about our plans, our futures;
so easily changeable and sometimes impossible to believe in, fully.
Oh you were scared and you weren't too proud to admit it, usually;
but that evening, you held your tongue, refusing to scream at the sound of lightning
crashing against the wall of rain outside, like cymbals clashing,
like a Greek god's angry symphony of scorned muses with their siren-stringed instruments.
Yet, still; you didn't make a sound as you leaned back against my chest,
rested your head against my shoulder and let me pretend
that I was worthy of your summer-warm and inviting touch,
that I was noble enough to hold you in my arms, Lorraine.
But the truth was that I was never the ideal portrait of a romantic hero;
a prince, a soldier, even; painted in gold and purple and blue;
all holy royal colors, decorating the pages of storybooks read aloud to little girls
by their nannies and doting parents, just before bedtime.
Oh I'm sure that you were once just like those tiny princesses;
with flowers and seashells braided in your hair, dreaming of
a proper church wedding and love that will last longer than your Byzantine century,
following you all the way to your grave and keeping watch,
just like the angel with the flaming sword, guarding the entrance of the Garden of Eden.
Oh we both knew that I couldn't be that for you, even though
neither of us had the nerve to admit it out loud yet; how
I could never be a pure-blooded monarch because I was born out of wedlock, my mother,
a mistress; a favorite of the king but still a heathen, by a Catholic priest's standards.
We heard it all the time; gossip, back home in Versaille,
filthy tales illustrating my mother as a whore,
whispered by courtiers who loved to tear each other apart with words,
as well as jewel-studded daggers and butter-knives.
Lorraine, we always pretended not to hear, always ignored the facts;
the sad and lonely truth that even though I was privileged
to a certain degree of immeasurable wealth,
compared to peasants and luckless, shoe-less soldiers;
still, I lacked real friends who would defend me,
without being promised anything in return,
who would not label me a sinner; a mongrel, due to my mother's reputation.
I only had you, girl, and one other person;
your betrothed, the dauphin, the true heir to the throne, to call my comrades in court.
And yet, I felt like I was betraying you both,
and so; I held my tongue when you thanked me for saving your life;
when you pressed a kiss to my jaw line and whispered,
your eyes fluttering half-closed with sleep;
your voice merely a whisper, that I made you not feel alone.
Oh but when we heard that he was sick, the next morning,
we rushed back to a home that we had both abandoned.
And you were welcomed, of course, despite it all,
because you were still a monarch, still a lady and a bride-to-be.
I, on the other hand, was seen as a fiend, a traitor and almost sentenced to death.
Lorraine, once again, you spoke up on my behalf,
prevented the sword of authority and jealousy from crashing down over my head.
Lorraine, even though I am eternally grateful,
you told me; as we both stood outside the throne-room later, “Boy, don't thank me..
You saved my life when I fell from a cliff and almost drowned in the river.
I am simply repaying a debt.”
And for what it's worth, we both understood in the meaningful silence that followed,
that some debts can never be repaid because we were both sinners,
quietly longing for things we could never have in our teenage hearts;
red strings tied around our throats,
choking us and preventing our true feelings from rising to the surface,
our lips from taking shape around those damning, yet, truthful words.
We were both longing for the kind of freedom that we could not own,
could never afford to buy with countless strings of pearls or gold-silver coins.
We were lusting for firelight memories;
corset ties coming undone, bare shoulders and timid, yet, excited glances;
mahogany and cedar brown hair dripping raindrops, and the rush of a season
dying on the hearth, heat burning freckles
and rosy marks on devastatingly youthful and cheekbones.
We had both wanted that, Lorraine, in a wild moment of surrender;
a quick-tempered farewell to rules and regulations,
decorum be damned, when we thought to ourselves:
“I've got nothing left to lose, so why not dive right in?”
But that all changed when you woke up and heard the rumors in the town square;
when you received the news that our prince was ill,
and you realized that you could not kiss me and not feel guilty, not think of him.
Because he was my brother; my own flesh-and-blood,
I got up, as well, mounted the tan-colored horse I had ridden
out of the ancient city of my birth,
and followed you down the path that would lead us back home.
Though you looked surprised, girl, when you saw me at your side, you didn't say a word;
and I appreciate that, how you seemed to understand that
no matter what had or hadn't happened between us, the other night in the countryside,
we both had a higher purpose now, to serve the same young king.
Yes, for all intents and purposes, my heart would always belong to you in secret.
We never spoke of our time together after that, Lorraine;
we never mentioned our failed escape-plan or the map we still had of Scotland
tucked neatly in the knapsack that I hid in the stables,
the evening that we arrived back at the castle.
By dusk, you were with the king; you were with your beloved by his bedside
where you belonged, helping the royal physicians nurse him back to health.
And I was awaiting judgment in the court of my merciless power-hungry father,
later taken to the tower, facing charges of treason and
accepting imprisonment as a welcome punishment,
as opposed to a god-appointed monarch's sword.
Girl, you still fought to get me out of that dark and rain-damp cell,
but I wanted to tell you to stop, to save your voice
for more worthy causes, such as the fate of your people in Scotland;
your home-country, because the truth is that
you had no clue of the full extent of my guilt.
I was afraid that if you did know, girl, that perhaps
you would be so disgusted and appalled by my treacherously dark thoughts;
how much I thirsted for your summer-ripe lips on mine,
that you would never want to see me again.
Oh honestly, I could handle losing you as a bride,
but not as a friend, I knew for sure; and so,
I bit my tongue and kept my true feelings quiet, the remaining threads of
my tearing pride guarded, like it was the only thing I owned.
But of course, you would never let me rot in prison
because you were too kindhearted and honest, deceptively fair.
You came forward and told my brother everything,
all the details of our short stay in that cliff-side village;
how we were only there long enough for your weak and tired body to recover
after that nasty Doom's Day fall, and how
nothing happened between us to make us guilty of betrayal and fornication,
in the all-seeing eyes of the Catholic church.
Oh my brother believed you and pardoned me,
by morning, ordering the guards to release me from my chains,
but of course I was disgraced; of course I had to win back his praise,
his trust, slowly, even though I had no right
to stand before him and still complain.
I had no right to anything, really, but my own misplaced Burgundy pride;
and even that was dwindling in the light of dawn,
like sand in an hourglass, thinning, disappearing
like a phantom's icy breath on the back of my neck.
Oh Lorraine, you were still that exact whisper of fragile happiness,
loyalty stronger than desire or anything mortal;
and my brother was the crown, the cross, the bronze and rose-gold blood
that I had sworn to protect, even before
I had grown to full adult height and stature,
even before I had learned to form proper sentences with naturally lying lips
and an adolescent voice that cracked on the loneliest syllable.
Oh of course; I couldn't have you both,
Lorraine, and that was the whole truth of it.
I could either be a traitor or your your unnamed knight
who didn't really care about honor when he was kneeling before you, blessed
by the faith that your carob-brown eyes had
always shone upon only the luckiest of fools.
Oh girl, you could say you loved him unconditionally and not be haunted
by unrealized dreams of countryside rebellion,
gypsy dances and raw honest-to-god conversations by candlelight.
Lorraine, You could store my letters in a cabinet,
file away our could-have-been story-line for another lifetime;
but I, on the other hand, would always be reminded of that midday
sunlit hour of disappointment, of regret, when you told me that
we had to let go of what we could have had, for the good of our family and friends.
Oh you were right, of course; and I had no choice but to concede..
Dispelling dreams of you at dusk was easier said than done,
but someone much wiser than both of us once said that no matter how strong our loyalty,
fierce our affection or devotion; fiery the passion behind our eyelids,
we still have to remind ourselves that we don't belong to people forever.
No, darling; sooner or later, the clouds in the sky
above our fairy-tale castle will start to darken,
even without our noticing; and it will be time to blow out the candle,
to close all the windows, to say goodbye or goodnight,
whichever phrase leaves the best impression for all the holy seekers
of light and eagle-winged angels in the afterlife.
You experienced this when his hand slipped from your grasp,
when he collapsed after an afternoon horseback ride in the woods.
You held him there; inside a cathedral of cedar trees,
on a ground laden with crinkled bronze and orange leaves.
You cradled your prince in your arms, Lorraine; you called for help,
trying to steady his ragged breathing by stroking his cheek.
You did all the right things, but in the end, he was the one
who told you stop fighting against Fate and chance, heaven and everything.
He said, “No prayer or sacrifice, mortal substitute, can undo what has been
predestined by something supernatural long ago.”
Oh girl, you were shaking your head, still refusing to believe
that that was how your story would end; that was how
you would lose your first love, with blood-stained sleeves and
hot tears burning your eyes, to the point that your vision was blurry,
that you couldn't see how fragile your knight in shining armor suddenly looked;
how out-of-place the white-yellow poppies on the ground were,
clinging to the earth and calculating rain for a later time..
Oh nothing made sense in that moment; all you knew was that
you couldn't let him ago, not even when he whispered his last words.
Oh to you he said, you'd tell me later, “I want you to know that
all I ever wanted was to make you happy because you make me
wish for sunlight every single morning, even in the dead of winter.
You were always near, not just as a comforting presence,
but also as a guiding light; a flame that refused to quit burning,
no matter how bleak or cold the night that surrounded us was."
And you told me that he smiled widely for a second, that
he looked up at the sky and said, “Oh I wonder what I did right,
what I did to deserve you as my bride,
a fearless and merciful angel an unmistakable beauty by my side.
Rest assured, my queen, I'll ask God that very question, if or when I get to heaven.”
Oh he also said that he wished for you to marry again,
that he wished for you to move on with your days on earth and smile and do great things
in honor of the free-spirited child you once were,
remembering the day that you met him by the seashore, nine years ago.
Yet, all you could register in that moment was
the shock and pain of watching his eyes close;
of feeling as though a huge and invisible piece of yourself had been ripped off,
leaving your body hollow and soulless, even as
screams and sobs wracked your form, rattled your bones,
underneath the elegant brocade of your riding clothes.
And I wasn't there, but I can imagine it, for sure;
his fading legacy, your lover's, but he wasn't entirely yours.
No, truthfully; I am reluctant to point it out now,
but his grave was not the lily-white cradle of your arms,
no matter how much you longed to sink down into the dirt;
into the blood-stained ground beside him and lie there,
never to be dug back up and resurrected,
made to breathe summer night air again.
When I stumbled back to the castle, your eyes were
glazed over and you were stumbling,
even though you didn't have a limp or any sign of injury.
And I caught you at the foot of the staircase leading up to your bedroom;
and I stayed with you, Lorraine,
long after the burial attendants came and took our prince's body away.
After you had shed all the tears that your body had
saved up over the years just for this day,
you stared blankly at the dried blood on your hands.
And though I knew my place; I was still a bastard
with no real church-blessed claim to the throne,
with no right to stand so close to you, my lady,
to say your name with so much careless familiarity,
with so much shameless concern and longing..
Yet, still, I decided to forgo all rules of decorum, to say
“Damn it all!” to everything that had been
trying to keep us apart up until then because
seeing you there; looking so broken,
not even wearing a tiara, no evidence of wealth or stature,
I realized that even royal, you weren't any less human.
Oh that is why I sat down beside you on the last step of the staircase
and encircled you in my arms, girl,
let you press your cheek against my shoulder
and whisper his name to no one in particular.
If that was all you needed, then I was happy to give you all the time
in the world to mourn the friend that we had both lost,
our defender, leader; something like a St. Michael,
prepared for battle always with his fire-lit sword,
prepared to defy all forms of darkness, even the invisible demons that
humans create when they feel like they have nothing left to lose.
Oh yes, without a doubt; he was the one worth fighting for,
if there ever was a king so honorable.
And it isn't really the crown that makes you a monarch in the end,
we find out later that it is the sacrifices you make for your country,
for your people, for even the right to wear that precious crown
that define you as admirable or conceited;
whether you will still feel proud at the end of the day, despite
the weight of the jewels on your forehead.
Yes, I think; in that moment, we were both praying to the same holy ghost,
the same unnamed angel unlike all the ones we'd seen painted in churches
or standing tall in all of their marble glory, in cemeteries and tea gardens;
no, we were both thinking of something else, something new
and indestructible with the blinding light of a modern age in its topaz eyes,
when we asked for strength to make it through all the pain and
anguish of that earth-shattering, heart-wrenching, soul-tearing moment.
Oh whether royal or peasant; blue-blooded or illegitimate; noble or cast-off,
we were both kneeling on the floor of a makeshift temple in that instant,
with our heads bowed, not knowing what else to do but admit that we were
frozen in our numbness, in our still startled grief and wanted
to feel warm and alive again, like August sun-rays
reflected on the surface of a swan-bed fairy-tale lake.
Oh yes, Lorraine, equals we were, never having been anything less.
And you dropped your prayer beads at one point, darling,
the same ones that you brought with you as a child, traveling alone,
across the stormy-gray ocean from your native home in Scotland.
Reaching for my hand in silence, you didn't have to look into my eyes
to know that my thoughts and fears; my hopes, were the same as yours.
If we were going to survive this moment of confusion and shock,
overcome this dreadful loss, this traumatic season;
then, we first had to admit that we couldn't do it alone,
that we couldn't stand and fight as individuals,
when so much of our time had already been wasted
on a cold and hazy morning, shivering with no real reason.
Yes, darling, I think we were both thinking of innocence;
like the memory of our golden-haired king; still
small and reckless, chasing rabbits in the forest.
Darling, we were thinking of finding an angel with tiny fairy wings,
holding it in our cupped hands like a candle flame
or a glowing lightning bug, and asking this baby saint
for the chance to start again, for the desire to stay
and mend the pieces of our shattered meadow-lark faith.