Chapter 40 – Second Night (1)
“Long live the King!”
“Long live the King!”
The chants were deafening. The air was rife with fervor, the hearts were zealous.
Besides a few unavoidable casualties, the kingdom had not suffered much. The atmosphere was boisterous as soldiers, with pride, celebrated their victory against the Larks. Their chants were a tribute, an extension of their belief that their victory was made possible by the eminent presence of their king.
Kasser’s gaze swiftly ran across the soldiers hailing him. His calm indifference did not reflect any self-pride or delight as the hero that led the kingdom to victory. Since the time he ascended the throne, this was his first battle. He dared not be complacent or relaxed, for he knew not how many Larks awaited him the coming two months. So, to him, today was only just the first step, the first days of those two months. Today, he was more mindful than joyful.
That said, he was never the one to dampen spirits by letting his men know of his thoughts. He was certain they were aware and only living in the moment, throwing the thoughts of the impending danger to the back of their minds, extolling him as their leader. And perhaps, in doing so, even preparing for the future.
Thus, he let them be, let his men bask in this triumph, for in two months’ time, some would be severely injured while some would be out of sight forever.
A sacrifice is a sacrifice.
His wish was not to lose any of his people; truth was, it was only wishful thinking. It was between this wish and truth that the next two months lay.
He turned to face the vast expanse of the Dead Sea, turned again to look at the kingdom on the inner side of the wall… it’s streets… buildings… homes.
This was his kingdom. His people.
The treasure that he had to protect all his life was right here.
The Larks that lurked around the desert were monsters that were too dangerous for people to manage. It was rare for Snake Larks the size of people to creep into other kingdoms. But in Hashi, they were commonly found.
Without him, without the king, the people of the Kingdom of Hashi would die fighting these monsters. And before they knew it, the kingdom would have perished. It did not take much to imagine how wretched the kingdom would be without their king. Albeit it was terrifying to survive without a king.
There must be an heir. An heir who would protect the kingdom at all costs when I’m gone.
As he deliberated, surmised, and arrived at this conclusion for his kingdom’s situation, his thoughts slowly drifted to his father, the former king. Today, he was able to finally understand his desperation to give birth to a crown prince, even if it meant marrying that woman.
I am no different.
He sneered at himself. The former queen wasn’t a good person, an irreplaceable queen, or even a good mother to her children. And none of these was the reasons his father married her. Nor was it love. The sole reason, the only driving force, was sustenance. It was no different then, it was no different now.
I am wasting my time.
He felt he was entangling himself in trivial things, losing sight of his priority. What did it matter if the queen had actually lost or was pretending to lose her memory? As long as she could give birth to an heir, it did not matter what was up in her head.
The price of losing his three-year patience and the national treasure was a fortune. He did not have time to sit around and be emotional. An heir was no privilege, but a prerequisite.
With that, the last bit of skepticism that had bothered him all day, finally left him, and only determination stood in its stead.
As Marianne entered, she carefully studied Eugene’s face before opening her mouth.
“His Majesty has sent a message.”
“What is it?”
“His Majesty plans a visit here tonight.”
Eugene could not finish her words. It was obvious what it meant. He wasn’t going to lay side by side on her bed with her like last time.
Yes, about that last time… She, in fact, was a little hurt.
Two days ago, after their first night, he had not shown even a glimpse of himself, not even once. It felt like, when he had strode out of her chambers, he had forgotten all about her and her existence, not to mention what they had had just then. It was like she never existed… in his world.
Oh, how humiliating and annoying it is when a man abandons you like that!
But now, it didn’t matter anymore. Upon receiving Marianne’s message, she’d recalled the troubles that came with the active period.
This is a tragic period that implicates one’s fate of life or death. A Lark may kill the king, let alone his family, and he had no way of knowing when. Once she thought about how worried the king must be over the kingdom’s safety, she could finally understand him. A monarch’s shoulders bore the weight of his entire people, and a good ruler was liable to his people.
Seeing that Eugene had fallen silent, Marianne seemed to have discerned something.
“Are you reluctant, Your Grace?”
Eugene slowly nodded her head. Mind you, she felt pity for the man, but that didn’t mean that she was comfortable meeting him.
The two set aside their distant relationship and spent a rather obscene night together. Their night of intense passion had overlooked the void between them. It was this chasm that had left Eugene embarrassed.
“Of course, Your Grace.”
Eugene called out to Marianne who was ready to leave. “Is it okay… to turn him down?”
Marianne smiled. “Your Grace, intimacy should never be forced upon another, even in a marriage. It is imperative that both sides agree. If you are reluctant, then, of course, you may refuse.”
Eugene concurred with Marianne. But the social class that existed in this kingdom dictated otherwise. Besides, he was the king.
But wasn’t Marianne his nanny?
All along, Eugene had felt Marianne was a very conservative and orthodox woman. Having spent years under the imperial roof, she would be a stickler for etiquette- social and moral, and especially those pertaining to the connubial bed where it was taboo for a woman to refuse a man.
It seems that she was mistaken.
“May I dare ask, did His Majesty do something wrong?” Marianne asked curiously.
“No, it is just my problem.”
She nodded, understanding Eugene’s situation. “Then, I must leave the queen to her peace.” As Marianne left the bedroom, she tutted.
His Majesty must have done something wrong. Why else would the queen that lost her memory refuse to meet him? If His Majesty didn’t do something, he must have certainly said something wrong!
It was what Marianne thought was the king’s one flaw. He preferred to speak directly, even if it meant that the listener was left ashamed. No wonder, he never bothered to fix it.
One thing that Marianne had been particular about while raising this royalty was to instill in him compassion. She had especially made sure he did not grow up bearing deep prejudice against women owing to his mother. Whatever happened with his mother, it didn’t mean every woman was as such. To her, uprooting the unpleasant memories of his childhood, his experiences with this ‘good for nothing’ mother, were tantamount to his well-being. Marianne had worked hard to instill in him a neutral view of women. It was so that he was not deprived of certain affections that brought meaning to life.
His actions and behavior always came off as perfunctory, lacking the humane aspect to it. Interacting with people, expressing himself, and all those “emotional aspects”, were unlearned. Neither had she taught him nor had he learned on his own. Truth be told, this was not her forte. If one were to ask Marianne what the thing was she regretted the most, without batting an eye, it would be this very social inadequacy that she failed to ingrain in the king.