When those Gray Eyes turned Blue.
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her. I was seated calmly in the royal box, watching the rest of the court frolic—gracefully and respectfully of course—across the golden banquet hall. The beautiful ivory porcelain touched my lips, and I closed my eyes for only an instant, unaware then when I opened my eyes again, my life would be changed forever. The moment was bittersweet—no, it was bitter and sweet at the same time, like the coffee-milk mixture that had just rushed down my throat.
She was wearing the deepest shade of royal blue, a color that never graced my imagination until that moment, and never left it to this day. As her delicate, pale white hands moved to rustle the stiff satin of her shawl, it seemed that every pair of eyes looked at her with longing, yet shameful desire. Years later someone would tell me that my gray eyes turned blue that day. Perhaps it was because my gray world suddenly turned painfully vivid.
"She's really something, isn't she?" my father asked in his usual voice—it always sounded dark and cruel. He sipped his drink of choice, but I cannot recall when I had ever seen the heat of black coffee dye his lips red with desire. "Especially for a whore," he concluded as he looked at me with those piercingly manipulative eyes. I wanted to look away, or maybe… I just wanted to look at her.
"Who is she?" I asked, suppressing the rapid beating of my heart. I hid my eyes but my voice, I am sure, revealed my interest.
"Her name is Tier. She is the richest courtesan in this entire country. Every two years during the royal festival, she graces our court to make new acquaintances." As my father spoke, his voice never changed and you would never have guessed anything different from his presence, save the redness of his lips. I realize now that only she could stir such a reaction from the king who loved his late wife so dearly. "She's famous, coveted enough that she can even choose her customers. You know, she's only nineteen, a whole two years younger than you."
He was mocking me. "The next few years she'll become even more beautiful for sure. You'd be lucky if she would choose you, Ethíl." For the first time in the months since my mother had died, his laugh managed to pierce my heart, through the callousness I had built to protect myself
I sat down slowly upon the old mahogany chair, and exhaled cold air into the stifling warmth of the teahouse. I could feel the snow on my coat melt, but I did not expect that my heart would soon melt along with it. Not after so many years of being frozen. I was what they called an ice queen, beautiful but cold and mysterious. Men really do have strange taste, or else I would not be as successful as I was.
I heard the chair across from me squeal as strong hands gripped its frame gently. When I looked up I saw his image stare at me with those deep blue eyes. No, it wasn't him. The man standing before me was younger, and the shade of his eyes was unmistakably different—warmer. I chuckled a little to myself as I began to examine him. He had a strong, sturdy frame, but he seemed frail. Possibly, probably…definitely a virgin. I would be lying if I said that fact didn't make my heart race, just a little. Here he was, almost begging for me to steal his heart. Or would my heart have spun so fast, if he wasn't in his image?
"My name is Ethíl," he said in his warm, demure voice. When I think back on that night, I sometimes miss the utter frailty that hid beneath the surface.
"Do you think that telling me your name will get me into bed?" I asked briskly. He looked hurt, but I doubt it was my words that had such an effect. He had been distant since he got here. We sat in silence while the waiter brought us warm Belgian coffee. The snow flurries danced outside.
"Why are you here?" I could not control the anger in my voice. Why am I angry with him? I reprimanded myself. I should save my wrath for his father. But I was always too scared, or too in love to seek out the real source of my unhappiness.
"Because you are beautiful," he replied simply, but the warmth in his voice had disappeared. I was startled. For the first time in a long time, a compliment had touched my heart.
"Were the other women of the court not as beautiful? I find that hard to believe."
"No," he answered, raising the dark coffee to his lips. The delicate china looked small, but prominent in his large hand. "You just have something—"
"Special about me?" I offered. I had heard that phrase so many times, it only ringed in disappointment. "Every man who sees me says the same." I don't know why I was suddenly so resentful.
"No," he replied, still staring into the distant white fields. "you have something…familiar about you, something that reminds me of myself. Now that I've found it, I don't want to let you go."
"Is that really your choice?" I took the last sip from the green brim of the delicate china and brought the soft silk napkin to my lips. The rouge on my lips left a stain.
I got up to leave as I left him to pay the bill, but he seized my arm suddenly. At first I was reminded of his violent behavior, and I expected the grip to tighten around my wrist. But my hand slipped so easily away from his. I realized that he had never meant to keep me there; he only meant to signal that he wanted me to stay. I wasn't particularly impressed with this man, although he was rich enough, and I didn't particularly find him attractive. Yet I stayed.
"You're distant. And cold. But I can tell that you have a lovely heart. It's only shrouded in loneliness." I heard the chair's legs scrape the marble floor as he got up and took a step towards me. I knew that he would slide one arm around my waist and place the other on my own, but I did not, could not resist. If he did not look like his father, would I have stayed that night? "I know because you are like me. Am I wrong?"
"And if you're right?"
"Stay with me tonight." He looked at me with those lonely, deep blue eyes, and I realized that he was, indeed, right. "I'll pay you, the normal amount. You don't even have to sleep with me, that's not what I want from you."
"Then what is it that you want?"
I already knew the answer.
He smiled gently. "Only your company."
"Then I shall not refuse," I looked at his lonely expression and wondered if I could cure it the way he had hoped.
Holding her in my arms as we stepped into the cold made me feel, just for a moment, less lonely. Even though I knew I could not have her. Even though I knew I would never be enough for her. Was this what love felt like? Or infatuation? Or… did they even have a name for this hopeful despair?
Outside she had always seemed strong, cold and mysterious, but holding her in my arms told me that she was just like me. Alone, and searching for something…someone to fill the gap. She clung tightly at my grey scarf, probably from the cold, and I seized the excuse to pull her closer. At that moment, I wanted to know everything about her. I wanted to know where she came from. I wanted to know how she ended up this way. I wanted to know what would make her happy…. I wanted to know if maybe, just maybe, I could make her happy. Even just momentarily.
The familiar red tapestry greeted us as we stepped into the private villa. I felt ridiculous for taking her here, but there wasn't anywhere else we could have been alone. Yet now that we had arrived, I wished I had not been so rash. Now that we had arrived, I was at a loss as to the next step. But she wasn't. She draped her blue coat on the tall rack and began to unfasten the buttons on my overcoat. I was embarrassed to have her refined white fingers so deftly unclothe me, but I couldn't bring myself to stop her.
I watched, with an awkward expression as she pulled my tie apart and gently straightened the white collar of my shirt. When she looked at me, she smiled that lonely smile of hers, but I couldn't tell if it was just an act or if… if what? If she smiled because she was happy? I think too much I thought to myself and shoved my questions to the back of my mind.
We sat down on the velvet couch and, instinctively, I slid my arm around her tiny waist. She's so delicate. How is it that she has already been touched by so many? I wondered to myself. Looking slightly shocked, she quickly gathered her composure and sat back. Suddenly, I felt as if my very body had been sculpted to fit her perfect shape.
I'm not sure how long we sat in silence. It seemed like ages, yet it passed too quickly. Perhaps it had only been seconds. "Are you going to ask me?" she started suddenly.
"I promised I wouldn't ask you to sleep with me."
"Didn't you bring me here to ask me something? I can feel the way silence intensifies your impatience." At that moment she returned my gaze and I felt my throat tighten. I quickly looked away until I was assured that her eyes had wandered elsewhere.
Silence. After all, snow doesn't patter on the rooftops the way rain does, although I wished at that moment that it did.
"So what's your story?" I asked hesitantly.
"I slept with your father," she replied apathetically. "And then I was rich." Her brevity shocked me. Or perhaps it was the fact that she slept with my father, even though I should have known all along.
"And yet you are not happy."
"What is there to be happy about?"
"That… that you are alive?" I asked rhetorically. What a laughable thing to say, even I didn't believe it. But I suppose I didn't know how else to answer.
Her eyes looked into mine, with penetrating severity. "If that were something to be happy about, why are you unhappy?"
Silence. The leaves whispered secrets. Our eyes wandered aimlessly to the bookshelf. To the coffee table. Then to our beautifully tailored shoes on the patterned carpet.
"I'm lonely," I answered finally, though she already knew this.
"So why is it you haven't slept with someone already? Back in the day, the king-to-be was always coveted game. Circumstances shouldn't have changed." I hesitated with my answer. Was I going to tell her the truth, the truth I never even told myself?
"Because it never felt right." As I said this, I looked at her slender neck and wondered if it would feel right with her. More silence. My fingers clung desperately onto the blue satin of her dress. I really didn't want her to leave.
Suddenly she laughed, and her low, seductive voice poured into the cold silence like rich, melted chocolate. I couldn't help but smile, knowing that our souls had finally harped an accordant note. She placed her hand on top of mine and I held her closer. We were both seeking an escape, no matter how ephemeral the feeling.
"Sometimes I think its better, that sex doesn't feel right. That way…" she paused as if to gather her thoughts. "That way you won't blindly trust that it actually is right." I didn't know what she meant, yet I felt like I understood. I understood that her sorrows were so much more complex than mine. Those beautiful green eyes knew what true pain was, and I looked into them, hoping to somehow shoulder that despair.
"You really look like him. It's unsettling," she commented.
"Everyone says so. They say I have his eyes." I didn't realize how strange it was that I knew who she was talking about, or that she was talking about him at all.
"No, you don't. Yours are… kinder, less sharp," she reached up to touch the corners of my eyes, yet I did not flinch. "And the shade. It's inexplicably different, a deeper, more brilliant hue. Similar, but different." As she spoke I could tell more and more that my father wasn't just a notch on her bedpost. It must have been the same for him, or he would not have become so shamelessly lustful when she entered in hall earlier tonight.
"You remember a lot about him." I don't know where my boldness came from, and I regretted it the moment her eyes turned dark and sullen. I could only squeeze her hand in reassurance.
"I think… No, I'm sure. I'm sure that I loved him." She spoke slowly, full of sorrow. "I wish I wasn't so sure. Maybe then I could still hope, hope for happiness. But I'm sure." This is what I saw in her, this helplessness.
I woke up feeling as perfectly calm as I did the first night I slept in his arms, and I was glad. It was already the fourth night I spent with him, yet I felt as if I would never need anything else, if I could just hold onto this feeling forever. I loved the way he looked at me as if already desperately captivated, already completely in love. Was this selfishness? To stay here only because I was addicted to his love?
No matter how wonderful I felt when I woke up, I always fell into darkness when we returned to the court. Merely seeing the king's face—that cold, domineering smile, those sharp, piercingly unfeeling eyes—brought back the pain I had tried to escape in his son's arms. I constantly felt his gaze upon me, silently mocking as I worked my way around the room, meeting old friends and making new ones. This was the way he had ensnared my heart, and this was the way he was determined to torment me.
At that moment I became violently furious; perhaps it was Ethíl's love that had poisoned my mind into delusion. Slowly, I ascended the steps towards the royal box. Women like me usually weren't allowed up the stairs without invitation, but I suppose the guard thought I had certainly been invited. He gently knocked on the oversized, grossly embellished wooden door, then entered. A few moments later, the king's figure appeared from behind the door.
"It's been a while hasn't it?" His familiar hand touched my cheek, as if I was already his again. But as much as I wanted to resist, I could not command my body to react coldly.
"Yes it has," I replied quietly. He had nothing to say to me; he only wanted to touch me again, after these three long years. All of a sudden, everything came back, as clear and passionate as it had been back then: the way he wanted me, almost more than he wanted anyone else and the way I couldn't resist his advances… the way I was trapped in his violent lust.
"My condolences on the recent death of your wife. She served the country well." I broke the silence, in hopes of… in hopes of what? Escaping his suffocating presence?
"I was disappointed that you had not come to visit me earlier. It was really lonely, the past few months without her." He pulled me closer, and I buried my face into his shoulder. The smell of his white mantle made me drunk with hedonistic, irrational desire.
The large doors suddenly swung open, and I could feel the rush of air disturb the stillness of our clothes, but it didn't unsettle the fixated obsession in my heart. Save me Ethíl! I cried weakly to myself, but I wasn't even sure if that was what I really wanted. He looked at me with those sad, brilliantly naïve eyes, and I'm sure he was hurt. Yet he smiled sweetly, as if he were happy.
Suddenly, the king shoved me away and I felt myself gasp in anguish. "You can't be serious!" he exclaimed, staring into my eyes with pure anger. "You must be very proud of yourself at this moment." Ethíl and I looked at him with bewildered expressions, afraid of his wrath.
"Father, please calm yourself." Ethíl's voice was steadfast, yet weak in fear. The king turned to glare at his son's face. Quickly, his wrath melted into a smirk.
"So you actually managed to sleep with her? I'm impressed." Ethíl looked shocked.
"I…" his eyes fell to the floor, "I didn't manage anything." The king seemed less angry.
He patted his son on the back, with satisfaction. "I'm glad then. Don't let this courtesan taint you. She'd sooner leave you for someone more experienced." He didn't look at me, and I was glad to have escaped his glance, yet I felt wrought with guilt. What he said was true; I was desperately clinging to Ethíl's love, as if it could cure my insecure heart.
"He needs you," I told her as we sat in the royal box. My father had gone. "He doesn't want to admit it, but he does." I don't know why I was encouraging her to go after someone like him, someone so cold and violent. But I know, despite the image I have painted for myself of my father, that he was capable of love. As a child I had always seen the way he was charismatic and loving when around my mother. But the past months have changed him. His coldness and his violence were remnants of his own loneliness.
"He wasn't like this three years ago, when we first met," she began. "He was so strong, charming, confident. But he's always loved her."
"She's not here anymore." Now I didn't know why I was encouraging her to go after him when I really wanted to hold her and beg. Beg for her to love me instead.
"You really do look like him. Sometimes when you reassure me it feels like he's still with me." She looked happier. But I hated being in his shadow.
"Then you should go to him when he needs you." I tried to hide the coldness and anger in my voice, but I'm not sure that I could. She smiled, and I felt happy and sad all at the same time. These stains of violent red and cheerless indigo… where these the stains that my father saw as well, when his wife's breath was stolen from him?
I didn't want to hide my anguish, yet I didn't want her to know how deeply it was I wanted her. I was afraid because I had already given too much to her. Afraid because I still wanted to give more of myself to her. Or maybe I was afraid that telling her would make me want her more. So I kept silent, perhaps not admitting even to myself how much I really loved her.
As I entered my villa later that night, I dreaded spending the night alone. Four nights with her, and I had already forgotten the dry taste of solitude. I slammed the door behind me and moved to unfasten my coat. The buttons felt unfamiliar, and I realized how unfamiliar I was with myself, now that she was gone. Had she cured my lack of self-awareness? Or was I deluding myself into thinking that she had? My legs felt weak and my body slammed involuntarily into the steps of the large staircase. I held my head in confusion for a long time until I heard the door swing open.
"You should really bolt the entrance shut," came her lilting voice. The cold winter air undulated over my clothes, seeping into the depths of my bones, yet I felt instantly warmer.
"Why are you here?" I tried to sound cold and distant, to… to what? To protect myself from her answer?
She bolted the door shut.
"I wanted to escape his distant, violent eyes, and come running to yours." She smiled, and I hoped I had made her smile. "Even though yours are equally distant." Her delicate fingers began to unravel my cashmere scarf.
She came out of the bathroom as I was drying my hair with a towel. Even though I had already seen the way her skin glowed after it touched water, tonight was different. I wanted to admit how much I wanted her so I could have an excuse to touch her. But I couldn't, I just kept telling myself I didn't need her.
She sat herself next to me, and I feigned apathy, still toweling the water out of my hair. Suddenly, I felt her hands touch the collar of my shirt, beginning to undo the buttons. Instinctively, my hand moved to stop her.
"Just let me look at you," she whispered. Was it this difficult for all men to resist her seductive tones?
As I looked as his powerful body, I suddenly had the urge to know even more about him, to know how someone so strong could be so fragile inside. I pushed him onto the bed, immediately surprised at how easily he followed my sudden instructions. It was as if his every movement beckoned me to draw closer. Before I knew it, I was kissing his neck with my eyes closed. I didn't care if I couldn't see his expression, and I didn't care if I didn't know what he wanted of me next. I just trusted that I was doing everything right.
What was this trust? Was it because I knew he had never gone to bed with anyone else, so I didn't care if I made mistakes? Was it because I didn't think he would respond to my advances anyway? Or was it because… it just felt so right, so sinfully right?
"Are you trying to seduce me?" he whispered softly as I worked my way up to his left ear. I didn't want to answer. I didn't know how to. And I didn't want to stop.
"And if I am?" I replied slowly, in a low voice I had practiced so many times.
"I'd ask you why." I wrapped my hand around his neck, holding on as if I could hold onto the taste of his freshly-cleaned skin. But he remained unresponsive.
"What's it going to take to get you to sleep with me?" I asked as I raised my lips away from him, though I still hadn't had enough. "Shall I beg?"
His deep blue eyes looked sad as always, and quivered in the soft light of the white moon. "No, begging doesn't suit you," he answered, looking away suddenly.
"If you don't want to give yourself to me, you don't have to. It's just that you've kept me away from other men for five days now." I sounded angry, and I couldn't control myself—my tongue yearned for his taste.
"Are you implying I owe you something? I've paid you." I didn't know what to say.
"You look like him," I answered darkly, "and I miss making love to him." I don't know why I told such an atrocious lie.
I looked away, not wanting to see his hurt expression. Why do you insist on treating him so? I asked myself. It was the first time I had ever intentionally tried to hurt someone because he was hurting me. Yet I knew I had no right, I had no right to toy with his heart just because it was mine. But if I knew all of this—if I knew that I was being unfair, why couldn't I stop? Could I really not handle the idea that he didn't want me more than I wanted him?
"But if you don't want me—" I began, still looking away at the lavishly decorating pillows.
"I want you." He spoke so suddenly I barely noticed how tightly he gripped the back of my neck to keep me from rolling away. "I've never wanted anyone so badly." I finally found the courage to look into his eyes. They were smiling, even through my injustice. Even through my selfishness.
My body sank into his, the way I wanted my heart to drown in the blueness of his eyes, in the vastness of his sympathy… in the depths of his love. As I kissed his perfect mouth, gently at first, I felt myself needing more. My teeth gently preyed on his lower lip, trying to taste more of him. His fingers lightly touched the small of my back and brushed along my spine, but it wasn't enough. I didn't even know what my body wanted from his anymore, I just knew I wanted more.
Suddenly I felt his body become unsure, and I knew he wanted to pull back, so I forced myself to withdraw. "What's wrong?" I asked. My voice was sincere for the first time that night, even though my skin itched in irritation.
"Just because I look like him," he answered hesitantly in a voice more timid than before, "doesn't mean I can please you the way he did."
I stared at his young face and striking features and couldn't help laughing inside. "Do you think this is the first time I've had sex with a virgin?" My fingers quivered in excitement. "You're safe with me." I whispered softly, but I really wanted to tell him how endearing I found his anxiety. I really wanted to tell him that I had never wanted someone so badly. I really wanted to tell him that he was nothing like his father.
I slipped to his right side and his body turned to meet mine. As he slid on top, I felt he was no longer afraid. My back arced to his in hopes of getting closer and my fingers ran through his soft hair. I could feel my entire body tense up with anticipation, with hope, with desire…with impatience. It was as if I had been waiting these long five days for him to finally touch me, yet it still wasn't enough.
My fingers grabbed at his upper back and I'm sure he knew then that I couldn't wait any longer. I made it a promise to never show how much I needed someone, yet I couldn't listen to any of the lessons I had learned. These three long years had taught me everything there was to know about making love but at that moment my body wouldn't listen. Was this what they called instinct?
When he finally entered me, I could feel him trespassing into the depths of my cold heart. Trespassing? I use that word although I'm sure I let him of my own accord. My limbs relaxed and I sank deep into his bed, his world. I wanted to let him smother me with his naïveté until I was finally pure. Because… for the first time, I felt unclean.
When I woke up the next day to see her elegant figure sleeping peacefully beside me, I was sure my life had been inexplicably changed. For the remainder of the day, I enjoyed the new brilliance the world carried, and its brightness became less painful. My thoughts of her were no longer stained with violent red, or cheerless indigo. Later I would realize that perhaps I was only delusional to think those colors had disappeared.
"You shouldn't look at her like that," my father commented, closing his eyes as he sipped his black coffee. I didn't even realize that I was looking at her, but I suppose there was no where else I would have been looking.
"Like what?" I asked nonchalantly. His cold sarcasm would not get to me today.
"Like you've already fallen in love with her." I knew his eyes were staring at my reaction, yet I couldn't help clenching the cold armrest in anger.
"And if I have?" I retorted. He stared into my eyes and I knew he was reading my every emotion, but I was too stubborn to look away. His eyes narrowed in disbelief. Was he seeing those stains of violent red cloud his vision?
"You let her seduce you?" he asked coldly. Silence fell in the royal box, but I wanted him to reprimand me, to strike me, anything. I just wanted a reaction because silence always augmented his penetratingly cold presence.
Finally, he smiled as if he had won, but I couldn't figure out what it was that I had lost. "Sleeping with her really was a mistake. You do realize she was with you for the same reason she is with everyone else?" I did know, but I wouldn't admit it to myself. His voice was determined to spear my strength. "Because she loves me," he whispered cruelly. I wanted the cold silence to come back.
"You really enjoy tormenting people, don't you? If you know she loves you, why can't you release her pain? You don't deserve to have her!" I exclaimed firmly. Then, I quickly left the royal box, returning to my own sitting room—I didn't want to hear anymore of his hurtful words because in the back of my mind I knew how true they were.
I always knew that I loved her, but I never wanted to say it out loud, or react to how my heart cried for her presence. I was too afraid, too afraid that she wouldn't want me. Afraid? No, I was sure that she wouldn't want me. Despite my resistance, despite the barrier I had put between my heart and the rest of my existence, my father seemed to open it with such ease. Now that I had shown him my anger, I realized that he really did win. Now that I had shown him my anger, I could no longer pretend… pretend that I didn't love her.
Yet as I began to admit that I loved her, as my heart began to cry louder, I became confused. I saw the way her heart had wept when he left her. I saw the way she couldn't let him go. All I wanted was to see her smile. I was angry at my father for winning, yet I was also angry that he wouldn't take her back. I was angry that he had denied her endless green eyes the boundaries that they needed—the boundaries that embraced them and protected them… from the truth of pain.
I heard the latch on my door slide open as my father entered. I could hide my tears from him but there was nothing I could do about the pain in my chest. I felt as if my heart were contracting, looking for a way to hide from the reality. "I'm sorry for what I said, but you are my son. I have to protect you." His voice sounded sincere, for the first time since my mother died.
"Don't feign altruism. You need Tier too, don't you?" I wanted to open his heart and show it to him, the way he had shown me mine.
"I do want her, but I wouldn't hurt you just to have her. In fact, I am hesitant to see her because I worry about you."
"I'd rather see her smile." I wanted to believe my own words, yet my violently red world wanted to keep her for myself.
"Then can I at least offer you half a year abroad?" I looked at him with a confused expression. I couldn't believe what he was implying. "Think about it before you answer. Lord Eman's son is leaving in two weeks, you can accompany him." He left, as suddenly as he had entered.
I couldn't face her, I didn't deserve her. What was this violence, this jealousy…this possessive tendency? I could still taste her deadly ecstasy on my tongue, and I should have been satisfied with that, yet I wanted to taste more. I could still smell her mysteriously alluring scent on my fingers, that scent that wouldn't disappear even when I tried to scrub my hands clean, yet I wanted to clench it even tighter. I couldn't face her, I didn't deserve her.
It was then that I realized that I needed to leave the kingdom. I needed to clear my head, I needed to grow up. I needed to rid myself of this violent red that had conquered my world. I wanted to stop hating my father for taking her away. I wanted her mere smile to brighten my world, the way here mere presence had given birth to color. Only then…only then could I possibly be good enough to love her.
The day he left me, I stopped seeing clearly. I never realized that with him I could discern every line, every feature, every subtle nuanced change in color…every beautiful reflection of light off even dulled surfaces. I felt constantly as if I had lost something, something that I never knew I had. But I convinced myself that I only felt so only because of the king's suffocating love.
The king had never been gentle with me, always holding so tightly onto the fabric of my dress, onto the smallness of my wrist…onto the weakness of my heart. Yet no matter how violently he forced himself onto me, I always felt it wasn't strong enough. I wanted him to love me more, want me more, need me more… because I was always afraid that he didn't love me the way I loved him.
The sun's rays pierced through the window panes and awoke me—I hadn't slept well in months. The king still lay next to me, asleep. Yet his face was tense and I knew he still felt alone, the way I did. I wrapped a white sheet around my bare body and moved to look outside at the carefully paved pathway, bordered and framed with happy flowers. Spring was finally here, yet my heart still felt cold.
I heard the clicking of horses' hooves approaching, and I soon realized why they sounded like nails being driven into my wooden heart. The unmistakable royal carriage, with its lush green and red lining pulled to a halt and I felt my heart stop. He stepped out, looking as beautifully, perfectly young as the day that he had left, yet what was it about him that had aged? His loneliness perhaps?
The bed sheets rustled as the king slipped off, walking towards me. Before I knew it he was by my side, forcefully clenching my shoulders with those hands of his… those hands that knew how to make me beg for more. Yet I didn't want to turn away from the window, as if I would lose Ethíl again if I did.
Although he certainly saw the royal carriage, he pretended not to notice, instead closing his eyes and kissing the lackluster coldness of my neck. My body involuntarily responded to his as we moved back towards the vast ocean of bed sheets. I couldn't taste his scent; I couldn't feel his icy warmth, yet for some reason I still thought I could feel his pleasure become mine.
Suddenly my body remembered the softness of his son's fingers and the king's forcefulness became painful and unbearable. My lips remembered the forbidden sweetness of his son's taste, and the king's lack of taste made my mouth dry. Yet I was still trapped in my love for him, in my hedonistic, violent lust. My fingers clenched at the skin on his back, grasping desperately for the remnants of a disappearing sentiment. Or perhaps, the sentiment had never been there? Did I dare? I did dare… to say that I never loved the king.
No, I had to have loved him. I had to have known what it meant to love... Or else my pain, my despair, my loneliness the past few years would have been wasted on a fabricated feeling. Suddenly, I forced myself on top, and I knew he was surprised. I wanted, more than ever, to make love to him—to make my every movement imply my obsession. I wanted to feel that exhilaration, that unbearable pleasure…but when had I ever felt it? How did I even know what that felt like?
Suddenly it all came back to me. The way his son's touch made my body respond involuntarily, the way his son's kiss awakened my sense of taste, the way his son's brilliant, naïve blue eyes showed me a clearly defined world…the way his son's gentle voice drowned me into an illusion of love.
I clenched my eyes shut, hoping to block out the image of his son's innocent smile. The king was finally mine, yet I already began to take my fortune for granted. He could leave me at any time, and I couldn't lose him. I would love him, I would make him love me, and I would sink myself into his violent, capricious, ephemeral love.
I felt his lustful kisses upon my neck and desperately whispered a promise, a promise that I would always love him.
I took a deep breath in preparation before entering those large palace gates. It seemed to take a lifetime for ten men to pull those doors open, yet I couldn't ask for the lifetime to last long enough. The time finally came for me to test my will, test my strength… test what those six months had taught me. But had I learned anything, or was I simply reverting to the way I used to be…before I knew she existed?
I was so afraid to see her again, especially after I had let her stay six months with the one she so desperately wanted since they met three years ago. Since she gave herself to him… Since before I could even imagine what it was like to express love. Upon seeing her would my jealousy come back, those violent stains of violent red, followed by cheerless blots of indigo? Would I still feel as if my life depended on possessing her, the way my life had always depended on possessing the treasures of the world?
Before I could even think further about how I would face her, a score of various lords and duchesses covered the path towards the palace doors. I wanted to escape from their stifling presence, and already I could anticipate the jealous, impatient frenzy that would choke reason from my grasps upon seeing her. It was only eleven; with lunch at twelve and tea lasting until three, it would be hours before I could see her and assess if I had grown. Could I expect to survive these remaining hours when I already couldn't breathe regularly from anxiety?
I gasped in the fresh spring breeze as I finally escaped the suffocating presence of the court, but even being outside couldn't erase the obstruction that had lodged itself in my throat. I wanted more than ever to see her, thinking it would calm my eager heart…no, hoping it would calm my silent cries. But what if seeing her only made those cries audible to all ears? I had to get away, far away. I couldn't face her—after six months, I still couldn't face her.
Before I could even think about where to find my escape, I saw her familiar figure appear from behind the lavish flowers. Everything came back, the way she tasted, the way her voice could lull and arouse my every desire… the way her body met no resistance when it commanded mine. Yet those brilliantly vivid stains didn't cloud my vision this time. Instead, my painfully colorful world seemed less overpowering—the colors… they seemed honest and true to their existence, the way my heart suddenly threw away its shell and fell truthfully bare into my hands, begging to be given to her. Was I good enough now?
She was wearing a white nightgown, as if she had just gotten out of bed. I could only imagine what she had been doing in my father's room until now, but I shook those thoughts from my mind. Her expression changed suddenly as she realized my presence, but I couldn't read her face the way she could read my desires.
"Ethíl," she started, but her voice trailed off in the light breeze.
"I'm back," I replied, softly so she could only see my lips move. We began to move towards each other, instinctively, as if we had practiced this moment over and over again in our minds. I could suddenly smell the fragrance of the various flowers present, and I expected it to be painful, the way color was when I first saw it. But even though every other sense in me awakened, it felt as if I had always known, in my dreams, what they felt like. They were all so truthful, and I couldn't help but want to be truthful with her. But could I muster the courage?
We stood only a couple of feet away from each other; six months ago I would have grabbed her arm, timidly but violently and hoped to god that she could be mine. Now, it was enough to only look at her, and pray to god that she could bless my world with a smile. The silence drifted above our heads like silk suspended in the spring breeze. I smiled weakly.
"How have you been?"
"Good… I've been good," she answered but her expression remained indecipherable.
Suddenly I couldn't wait any longer.
"Are you happy?" I asked weakly, as my eyes turned to the whiteness of her palms, hanging sadly by her white dress like the branches of a weeping willow. "Tell me that you are happy. Tell me that he makes you happy." I couldn't stand the way she didn't answer, not even with a smile. "If you tell me that he makes you happy, I will be able to let you go. I will be able to—" I couldn't continue. I took her hand, gently as if I could hand her my heart. But as I felt the weakness of those fingers, overworked by the tyranny of my father's suffocating love, I wanted even more for her to tell me that she was happy…that I was reading her every reaction incorrectly. "Just tell me that he loves you, the way you want him to. Tell me, and I will calm my beating heart. I will endure this despair that—"
She fell into my arms, before I could utter the words I had so carefully selected. I felt her shivering body, the way it weakly gave into even my frail presence. I knew then that she wasn't happy with him, and perhaps I should have been hopeful because I finally had a chance. But I wasn't strong enough to please her, to comfort her… to shoulder her pain and blow it into the slight wind. At that moment I hated my father. He was the only one strong enough to gratify her, but he wouldn't even surrender a fraction of his strength to love her the way she should have been loved.
I softly promised her I would sacrifice my entire existence to make her smile… even for a fleeting moment.
As he whispered his kind, loving sentiments into my heart, I thought I would be overpowered with avarice—I thought I would only beg for him to love me even more, the way I begged for his father's empty love. But instead, my soul grew quiet, my mind grew tranquil and my heart grew soft. Was this what Ethíl's gentle love felt like? So this was the way he had loved me all along, unbreakable in its strength, yet unrivaled in its vulnerability.
We stood there, and I let him hold me not because I wanted more and more from his love, but because I was finally satisfied, finally happy. He didn't see my expression, but I smiled innocently, in a way that I had forgotten three years ago. I held onto the whiteness of his shirt as the softness of his neck filled my frailty with strength. No longer was I drunk with hedonistic, possessive lust.
It shocked me, how easy it was to part from his embrace, how easy it was to smile sincerely and look into his eyes. "I'm glad you're back," I told him, finally able to bare my heart to him…and to myself. "Now I can finally smile…"
I saw the way his brilliant blue eyes turned even brighter. The gray shroud that had seemed so familiar half a year ago had been lifted. The remnants of his inexplicable loneliness had disappeared. I closed my eyes and fell… no leaped into his delicate love. Never had the taste of someone's lips satiated my ever empty heart with elation. By and by, I felt the desperation he had seen in me that cold winter day escape my body and I wondered… I wondered if my eyes also changed color because finally… they could see clearly.