He both enjoyed seeing her and did not. Elation was there, but also retraction. He could not be fully himself with her, but more himself than he was elsewhere. Indeed, he lived a divided life. At court, he needed her presence and yet dreaded it. At war, he was thankful for her absence, but he also missed her.
The war ended abruptly. The heroes were honored. Traitors who had once sought refuge outside their native land were returned. Their tortured bodies dangled from the gallows, being finally granted relief. In his mind, the heroes fared no better than the traitors, only their pain was of the soul and of the heart. From these they had no respite.
He sat at the right hand of the king that first night back. His deeds were lauded. They claimed he had slain hundreds, that he had ended the war. He knew otherwise. He knew the exact number of men whose lives he stole, whose chances at love he took from them. He had looked into their eyes as his own were tinged with the red rage of battle. He had heard their last words, words that should have been spoken while lying old in bed…at peace.
Her voice brought him back from his somber speculation. He looked up. His joy shone through his eyes, but he only partly smiled. She poured him a glass of wine, spilling a few red drops unto the table around his goblet. She apologized and moved on.
He stole glances at her, ignoring his king as much as he could, deflecting the admiring comments of the king’s daughters as though they were blows in a battle, rough and sharp. Her blue gown stood out from the dull browns and flickering fire reds of the feast hall. She moved gracefully, yet with a vigor. A passion for life was obvious in the slight bounce of her walk, in the dancing of her hair, and in her very eyes. He laid his hands down and made ready to stand. He was going to approach her, admit his feelings, an act that took more courage than he had ever needed in battle.
Greasy, gelatinous animal fat covered the hand that grabbed his and raised it high. He heard his king proclaiming his name, then something about being an ambassador. His heart stopped. Then it sank. His determination turned to dread. He tried to smile, but it lost what mock sincerity it had when she looked at him and drew his eyes to hers. He steeled himself as the king bid him stand. He let one tear unsheath itself from his eye, allowing it to flee to the dirty floor below. Flight, retreat, escape, all things he could not do.
The morning after the next full moon came too quickly. He had talked with her some, but he never once confessed. He learned to treasure every moment with her, every sound of her voice. When she was gone, however, his thoughts always turned to his future and her place in it. Her place being one that he dearly wanted, that is, at his side, but he knew his new career was even more dangerous than his last. His enemy would no longer be in front of him, yelling and wielding shining weapons. His enemies would now be everywhere. Nor did he want to take her with him into a place where even he, hero of the war, would not feel secure.
He looked down on her from his saddle. His robes were new, different from those of the warrior. He needed to look his part, but remain himself; a task more difficult than most would expect. But then she handed him a letter. They met eyes. He smiled and placed the letter next to his heart. Then, with a reverent bow, he left her behind. He laid his hand to that letter as he rode away, swearing that with it he would remain himself and that he would return for her.
Copyright 2013 by Joshua A. Spotts