She walks the rooftop, playing with her long golden braid, fingering the wisps that blow loose in the wind. The sun is setting and she is lit by it, golden against the rooftop, trapped in a realm of beautiful things.
She watches as the last vestiges of the sun sink beneath the horizon and the shadows grow closer. She turns, her silk robe softly hissing as it sweeps across the floor, as she pads down the steps and into her chambers.
There are all manner of curious and interesting objects here; her father has ensured that she will be knowledgeable, cultured and entertained. She lifts a silver goblet and admires the intricate workmanship, the setting of the gems within it, then walks toward the window. She raises the star-sprinkled curtain and looks out into the velvet night, turns to find Haggai standing guard. Haggai, her watchman, her confidante and sole friend, the only man she has ever seen, a eunuch appointed to guard her and save her from the fate her father has foreseen.
She raises a hand and walks lightly over to him, her satin golden slippers sink into the rich Oriental rug. The colors are vivid and true, deep greens and purples and golds at odds with the cherry of the room, the mahogany veneer of the furniture. She seats herself at the grand table in her room; it is covered in red velvet. Objects and knickknacks are strewn across it; gems, curios and other trinkets litter it. She sweeps aside a place and makes room for Haggai; he seats himself beside her and she smiles upon him.
She commands and the two spirits that attend her await her orders; she requests food and drink and the choicest victuals are spread out before her. She lifts her goblet and toasts to Haggai, then sips the deep red wine, her eyes shining a beautiful green. Haggai is stern and does not smile; he is always at attention, always involved in his duty. He allows her her privacy; she may sleep in her room and he stands guard outside the door.
She has everything she could possibly desire, an orchard with the sweetest fruits, of all kinds, oranges, plums, nectarines, peaches, mangos, bananas, every form of exotic variant that could exist. She has bowers full of flowers, gardens and gazebos, every beauty that is available to man. Her rooms are alternatively spare and functional, as the observatory seems, or richly decorated and beautiful, as her personal chambers are. They are lined with the most wonderful works of art; her favorite features a woman kneeling before a prince who has come to claim her; it is Brynhildr- the two of them are surrounded by a ring of fire. Siguror, wearing Gunnar’s form, has just passed through to claim Brynhildr; she is overcome by joy.
That one is her favorite because it speaks to her heart; it is what she most wishes, what she most desires. Brynhildr did not come to a happy end but she was rescued, taken out of her ring of fire and saved for a little while. Surely she deserves such a chance?
She looks at the platters, at the grapeleaves stuffed with meat, the pilaf with its tantalizing aroma, the various forms of rice, some dotted with golden raisins and fried potatoes and other delicious foods. She stands up and pushes the plate away, turns her face away, once again unhappy.
Haggai sees this and feels for her but he is here to do his duty; her father the king asked him to protect her and that is what he shall do. She has not been told of the fate her father foresaw for her; she has no idea that her father desires to save her from marriage with a mere pauper, a beggar, a man who does not deserve her. Her father merely desires to avert the danger and then to wed her to the most accomplished man he can find. He does not hate her; he loves her dearly.
She has met her father, spends many hours in his company or otherwise watches him in the magic mirror that hangs in her room. It is the repaired mirror of the Lady of Shallot; it features shadows walking through her father’s kingdom. She can watch where she will, look upon any who intrigue or interest her. But surely languishing in front of this mirror cannot be good for her, all it does is infect her with the desire to escape, to leave this place.
There are no doors, however. Haggai himself has been sealed into this tremendous castle; there are orchards and land but there are strong fortified walls with sharp spikes at the top. The only way her father is able to come is on a well-trained eagle; he has taught the eagle to glide over the spikes and land on the rooftop. It is very difficult to train birds to act in this manner so he is well-assured that his daughter will be safe.
Haggai looks at her, slender and soft and very delicate, her hand abstractedly caressing one wrist. She walks, paces; her multicolored robe swishes as she does so. She wears a diadem upon her head and large gold hoops hang from her ears; she acts in a manner that befits a princess but she lives a life that is completely solitary and it weighs upon her.
She does not complain. A murmur, a momentary sound and that is all. She walks the gardens at night, especially the rose arbors; their perfume brings a sense of comfort to her soul. Haggai guards her from a respectful distance; he is to shoot at the first sign of a man. The king’s daughter cannot be wed to a pauper.
He is worried that she does not eat. He looks at the untouched platter and takes a little bread, walks over to her- she stands next to her beautiful golden harp- and begs her to eat a little. “Please, Princess,” he requests and she looks at him, her eyes dull and sad, but she takes the food he offers and places it upon her tongue.
The silence destroys her. She is a prisoner, and though the prison may be beautiful, though she has much to interest her and capture her attention, it wears upon her to be unable to speak.
“Haggai,” she says suddenly, breaking the silence, “surely you know why I am here. My lord father cannot mean to be cruel; I cannot see why he must do this. Can you not tell me?”
Haggai strokes his pointed black goatee and growls in his throat. “I cannot tell you, Princess,” he answers firmly, “only know that it is for your own good that you are alone. Your father does not wish any hurt to befall you.”
“But surely-“ she starts and walks forward a step, as though to implore him. The ring on her finger catches the candlelight; it is an opal and sparkles for a moment, stone of tears. She notices it and looks down, sees how richly she is garbed and how beautiful her room is; notices the stained glass that makes up her windows, the spectacular designs painted on her wall. She has the most magnificent tapestries created by the most splendid artists, but none of this avails her, none of this pleases her.
“Haggai,” she questions, “would you let me walk in the rose gardens?” She, of course, can command him to do so but she prefers to act courteously, always sweet, always decorous and giving.
“Your wish is my command, Princess” he answers and follows her into the night.
The roses glow in the evening; they are lit by the moonlight. She walks through the twining vines, stopping and clinging to the door of the gate, violently shifting her head down so that she can intake their sweet smell. Her braid shifts and catches itself amongst the thorns; he is sure it is deliberate when she presses one thumb down upon a thorn. She bleeds and he immediately hands her a white cloth to staunch it but she waves him away.
She walks amidst the different colored roses, the golden, white and red ones; the pink ones and the ones that have been sprinkled with glitter and gold dust. She likes these the least; she prefers the natural ones. She lingers long over the red ones. And then, with a light and quick step, she steps behind and finds a rosebush different from the others, a rose that is not of any color she has ever seen before.
Curious, she draws near and sinks down to examine it; what manner of flower is this? Haggai does not come too close; he looks all about, at the shadows that the vines cast, the white trellis, the moonlight dancing over the path. She notices a particularly beautiful rose; it appears to glow as though it were afire. It emits a kind of light. She reaches for it but her arm is not long enough, she steps forward and snags one slipper upon a root; it falls off her foot. Abandoning it, she struggles for the rose and finally manages to pluck it; she sees now that it is pure white and emits a snowy light. She hugs it to herself and kisses it, feeling as though it were a sign, though she does not know of what.
She looks back at Haggai again; notices the two swords strapped across his back, the dagger at his belt. He looks dangerous and competent but she knows that he is kind, that he will not mind her taking this one rose back to her chambers. Why then does she feel compelled to hide it from him? But hide it she does, placing it inside one of the folds of her colored robe. She rises from the ground and walks onward as though nothing were different, wanders through the many gardens in search of something unidentifiable for which she still yearns.
His name is Joseph. His comrades have abandoned him, marooned him on this island; they resent his dreams and his predictions, the stories he tells of the beautiful maiden who awaits him. They threw him into a dark valley and he huddles there, hearing the hisses of snakes and scorpions.
In the morning the sun scorches him and he opens his eyes only to shut them at once. The valley floor is littered with diamonds, uncut blocks of rock and smaller shards that will cut his feet if he tries to walk. He hears a shout and a slab of meat falls inside the valley; he understands what this is at once. The merchants will throw slabs of meat into the valley, the diamonds stick to the meat and an eagle comes to claim the meat. The merchants then drive off the eagle who drops the piece of meat and it is in that way that the merchants collect diamonds.
But he is burnt and blind, for he cannot open his eyes due to the dazzling effect the shimmering diamonds have upon his sight; the sun hurts him and blinds him. He shouts until he is hoarse, hoping that the merchants could see or hear him, but the valley is large and deep and no one hears him.
He is about to give himself up to despair when he feels a great rush of air around him; there is a great flapping of wings and he can tell that this is no ordinary bird, no eagle. This is a roc, large and dangerous. Joseph undoes his turban and crouches underneath the roc as she feeds, gulping down the meat and the diamonds together; strangely the gems do not harm its maw. Joseph uses the long strip of linen to bind himself to the roc’s feet; he hopes that when she sets out to journey he will be able to follow.
He spends a long and desperate night beneath her, hoping that she will not scent him or resent his presence. In the morning he is lifted into the air with a sudden jolt; he swings perilously but the knots he tied are firm. He is at a great height, flying, joined with the roc. He has his knife in his teeth and hopes to cut himself loose as soon as the roc alights on land; he is terrified as he looks down and sees that he is being carried over an ocean. He is slightly sick and closes his eyes, feeling rather than thinking, hoping that his dreams will come true.
It is dusk again and she is in her chambers; Haggai guards her from the outside. She has access to the balcony but it is narrow and her tower is too high to allow for anyone to join her.
She looks about as though to make sure no one can see her, then pulls the white glowing rose from her bosom. She runs her hands alongside it and feels the strangest desire to pluck out one of its petals and throw it to the ground, almost as though that could make something happen, cause something to occur. Following the impulse, she does so, and that is when she notices the strange shadow in the air.
A great, a giant bird comes toward her, but she can see something entangled in its claws, strips of white linen wrapped around and wound about its talons. She sees a man, exhausted, hanging from the bird; he is burnt and hurt and she is overtaken by an immediate feeling of pity and compassion. The bird sights her and she is frightened, but then it gentles; its eyes are drawn to the white petal on the floor. It lands upon her balcony and the man utters a small moan; immediately she runs over to him and places her hands over his mouth; she must prevent Haggai from knowing that she is not alone. She reaches for his knife and cuts his bonds; the roc looks about with its beady eyes and then departs.
Where to hide him? she hurriedly thinks, knowing that Haggai and her father would not approve of his being here. She must not change her routine; she is already in her white wrapper edged with lace; she must allow Haggai to think that all is well. There! She sees a large chest and lies down so that she is whispering into the man’s ear, “You must walk- you must hide inside the chest. I shall help you as soon as I can. But make no sound, upon your life, make no sound.”
The man, who seems weary and delirious, opens his eyes blearily and focuses in on her. She catches a moment where he seems to be shocked and then a moment almost of recognition, but it couldn’t be. How could he recognize her, she who had seen no men but Haggai and her father? No. She helps him to stand and hides him inside the chest; she then opens the door to her chambers and sweetly bids Haggai a good night. She waits until he takes up his vigil outside her door; it is only then that she pads over to the man inside the box and allows him out.
“Who are you?” she asks, breathless, and then noticing the angry burns upon his body takes him to her bathroom, where she opens the cold water in preparation for his bath. “You came when I threw down the rose petal; you must be the legendary Finist.”
“I am not Finist,” he answers hoarsely, and she sees that he must drink; immediately cups her hands beneath the water and brings them to his mouth. He lowers his head and drinks water; she laves her hands again and bathes his face; he is burnt and exhausted and ill but he is hers, company for her, a man about whom her father and Haggai cannot know.
“If you are not Finist,” she teases, “then you are Cupid, though you have allowed me to see you so it cannot be so.” She eases his tunic off of him; he winces and she sees that it is caught because of a cut he has on his chest. It is clean, as though it were made with some kind of gem- a diamond, she thinks, only a diamond can cut so cleanly.
She blushes, then, for she realizes that she is alone with a stranger in her own private rooms. She leaves him to bathe, returning to help him dress. She helps shave him and feeds him, calling upon the two spirits who attend her to do all she desires. They provide her with a robe for him; he is fed and dressed and looks up at her at which point she feels like he recognizes her once again.
“I am Solomon’s daughter,” she confides, but she does not know if he understands her. He nods and looks into her green eyes and tells her that he is Joseph, a dreamer in the tradition of the first Joseph. He tells her that he has dreamt of her and that is what is so strange, tells her too of how he came here.
She is fascinated; her eyes alight, and the two of them sit within her chamber and converse in low whispers. She is like a child compelled by a toy, amazed by his adventures and seafaring expeditions, alternatively horrified or astounded by his exploits. She clasps her hands together and he smiles at her childish eagerness to please; he can see that she is an innocent and has no idea of her effect upon him. This pleases him because he knows that she is to be his bride; he has dreamt only of her so what else could she be to him?
“I don’t know why I am here,” she confides in him, and his gaze is drawn to her long plait of golden hair, for she is stroking it absent-mindedly. “My father placed me here when I was a child and all my life I have been guarded by Haggai, the eunuch. He is a good and kind man but I do not know why it is that I have been placed her; I cannot but feel that it is unfair.”
He immediately takes her side and supports her in her decision; it is only late at night that the two of them plot and plan in order to keep his being here a secret. Where shall he hide? Where shall he remain? “Haggai follows me at all times,” she answered sweetly, “I shall simply make sure to walk far from wherever you are and he will follow.”
They did this for a time, but Haggai could see a difference in the Princess’s demeanor and attitude, a difference in the way she walked and acted. There was a shine to her face, a gleam in her eye, a desire that he had not witnessed before. He was glad of it but puzzled, certain that there was something mysterious afoot.
One night she chanced to leave the door to her chambers open and he heard a voice, a male voice, and horrified he entered her chambers. He saw the two of them; she looked stricken and turned to him, guilt written all over her face. The other man looked strong enough; he was a handsome fellow with golden hair and tanned skin; his eyes too were strangely golden. “What is your name?” Haggai asked, his voice steely as he pointed his sword at the man.
“My name is Joseph,” the man replied, unafraid, and laughed. Haggai was astonished by his laughter; how could any man face death and laugh? But then the Princess dashed in front of him and threw herself on her knees, weeping and begging Haggai to spare Joseph’s life. She swore that he had not touched her; he had done nothing to her but provide her with conversation and companionship.
Haggai was deeply torn. On the one hand, he was sworn to Solomon and knew that such an event ought to be reported at once; indeed, the man ought to die for having dared to approach the princess. On the other hand, he had seen how listless and depressed the princess had been and this man appeared to restore joy to her.
He determined that he would watch the two of them together, accompany them everywhere and never allow them to be alone. In that way she would keep her secret from her father but he would not allow the prophecy to be fulfilled; she would not marry this poor beggar and all would be well.
But Haggai had not counted upon the ingenuity and creativity of the Princess. Despite his best efforts to forbid her to leave his sight, she managed to hide away with Joseph. Haggai was sure she cared deeply for the man and this frightened him, especially as King Solomon was soon to make his royal visit. He went to speak to both the Princess and Joseph.
“You must know,” he said in a severe tone, “that your lord father will arrive shortly and you must not be seen with this man.”
“I know” the Princess answered demurely, playing with the bangles on her wrist. “I shall hide him.”
“How shall you hide him?” Haggai asked suspiciously.
“I shall find a way,” she answered. “I shall place him in my closet, in my chest, perhaps bury him alive in the ground. But I shall find a way.”
Haggai knew it was worth his life to allow her to do this but he loved her as his own daughter and saw that he could not separate her from this man. So he allowed her her deception and hoped that she would not be found out.
King Solomon alighted from his eagle, handing the golden reins to an invisible servant. He was a distinguished man, a man with a silver beard who wore a thin golden circlet in his hair; his robes made of the finest materials, the kind of cloth that was expensive but light. He despised gems being sewn onto his garments; he wanted raiment that was light and serviceable at all times.
He went to greet his daughter and kissed her warmly on each cheek; they breakfasted in her chamber and it was then that he took her hands in his and said, “My daughter, I bring you good news.”
“Yes, father?” she asked hopefully, thinking only of Joseph, whom she had hidden in her closet.
“The wealthiest man in the continent has requested your hand in marriage,” he told her gravely, chafing her hands in his own. “He is a prince, a man descended from a good and noble lineage, a man who I believe will love and cherish you and adore you as you deserve.” He looked into his daughter’s green eyes and noted the sudden rush of tears. Stricken, he paused. “Of course, if he is not to your liking you need not have him,” he continued. “I have accepted on your behalf because I am certain he can do you no wrong.”
She still looked up at him with unhappy eyes and a terrible stillness about her soul so he paused and sharply demanded that she inform him of the matter. But she did not, only told him that she felt weary and must lie down. He allowed her that excuse but knew it to be false and headed to the gardens in order to clear his head and understand why she had looked so miserable and so unhappy.
Surely she could not have met the man who had been appointed for her, that miserable poor savage he had done so well to guard against? No man could climb over those sharp walls, no man could have seen her. Besides, Haggai was a loyal man and would inform him of the matter.
But there was Haggai, approaching him, and he looked grave.
“Kill me, my lord and master,” he said in greeting, “for I have failed you.”
“What?” King Solomon asked, his eyes ablaze. “What have you done?”
“The promised man appeared,” Haggai answered, “though I swear he has not touched your daughter. Even now they sit within her chamber and speak to one another. At the time I thought it best to let it alone for your daughter was so despondent I feared that she might waste away to death. And she became so set on his company…” he bowed his head. “Kill me, master.”
Solomon allowed him to kiss his ring. “I shall deal with you later,” he said, and his voice was cold. “Now I must control my daughter.”
Summoning a demon to aid him, Solomon burst into his daughter’s chambers. Horrified, he saw that she and Joseph were locked in an intimate kiss. It was not anger that ruled him but righteousness; his daughter froze while the pauper looked up into the angry eyes of a king. Solomon made a sign of power with his hand and Asmodei removed Joseph from the chamber. Solomon locked the door and his daughter wept inside, beating against the door.
“You have defiled the king’s daughter,” Solomon stated, looking coldly upon Joseph. “You have defiled her and therefore must die.”
He paused. “But I shall spare you that,” he said, twisting the ring upon his finger, “for my daughter’s sake. This I will tell you, however: she will marry the suitor I have chosen for her. If you marry her, I will kill you.”
He looked into Joseph’s defiant eyes and his voice softened. “Ah. So that is how it is,” he mused aloud. “In that case, if you marry her, I will kill her. And you will have to live knowing that you have caused her death.”
“Yes,” he said, “that is how to go about it. You may remain here, if you wish, in the guise of a servant. But if you touch her or marry her she shall die.” He gave a self-satisfied smile. “And you shall not be able to speak of this, for I would rather like to cause a rift between the two of you.”
He summoned Asmodei once again and the demon sealed the young man’s mouth so that he could not explain himself or his sudden change of heart.
“Indeed, I shall punish you,” Solomon ruled, his eyes gleaming with disfavor, “by having you near her, always, and having you repulse her.”
She fell on him as soon as he entered the room, never noticing the sadness that covered his eyes and marred his soul. “Joseph,” she wept, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph; I worried that he would kill you.” She kissed him and he stiffened, then turned away. Anguished, she drew near him. “What has he done to you?” she asked, terrified. “Why don’t you turn to me?”
“He has done nothing to me,” he answered, and forced himself to inject disgust and revulsion in his tone. “Take your hands off me. I am your servant, nothing more. It is dishonorable for the princess to touch a servant.”
“What?!” she cries, horrified. “How can you say that to me? How can you do this? You are not so cruel! He has made you do it, oh, I know he has! I hate him!”
She throws herself upon her bed sobbing, her tears soaking into her pillow. “I know you love me,” she says violently. “I know it, I know it! He has done this to you, caused this sudden change in feeling. He is at fault. He!”
She threw herself on her knees before him, kissing the hem of his robe. “Tell me what it is,” she begs. “Tell me what he has said he will do. I will brave anything, anything for you.”
He gives her a sardonic smile and laughs. “You think too highly of yourself, Princess,” he says, though his heart is breaking. “I never loved you; I merely pretended to do so. All I desired was to add another story to my list of adventures, to say that I had charmed a Princess and made her love me. I am a seafarer; this is my craft- to charm and to entertain upon returning safely home from my voyages. You were merely a form of amusement and indeed, I am weary of you. Your father has offered me a high position in this household; he desires me to be your personal guardsman. It is a well-paid position, and I? Well, I am somewhat of a mercenary.”
He gives a self-deprecating look and smiles at her. “Indeed, it is quite odd, isn’t it,” he muses aloud, “having tasted of those lips, that your father trusts me with you. But it is clear why he does. After all, the sum he is paying me is rather tidy.”
She looks horrified, hurt, broken; he feels as though he has smashed her in the face, struck her some cruel blow. She flies at him with her nails bared as though to rake his face; he merely laughs at her again, a cruel laugh so that she will learn to hate him, so that she will think that he is the truly despicable person he is pretending to be.
She chokes on a sob and runs from her chambers; he sees her run to her father, who comforts her, stroking her golden hair. Joseph feels sick, revolted by what he has done and who he has become but he knows that he must and that he will do it again, for he values her above all else, even above his own happiness.
King Solomon leaves in order to escort her new husband to this palace; he plans a grand and sumptuous wedding feast. The Princess is dull, passionless, unable to speak or in any way participate. She does not fully believe the lies Joseph has told her and still fawns upon him and plays upon his affections.
At night she wears her most seductive dress in order to disturb him; she comes to him and begs him to elope with her, to come with her, to fly away with her. She imagines impossible scenarios in which he and she are together. He responds politely to all these advances by telling her that she is mistaken about him, that he does not love her and never shall.
One evening, after enduring this several times, she slaps him hard across the face. She then begins to rain blows upon his head as though hitting him would help her, she stops then, horrified at herself. An ugly look appears on her face, she spits at him to get out of her room. He believes that she has learned to hate him and bows his head in sadness; she cannot know what he feels, how it tortures him to be near her, to see her slowly accepting the lies he feeds her. She feels used, betrayed; she sees him as a man who played with her love and who did not mean anything he said to her.
Eventually she dismisses him, does not look at him anymore, does not try to win back his affections. She hates him, it is clear. She assigns him menial tasks for absolutely no reason; she enjoys punishing him. But he does all she asks and more and considers it a labor of love, considers it his way of serving her and binding himself to her.
King Solomon arrives with his retinue and the promised Prince. The man is handsome as a god; he is strong and mighty, young and glowing with health. His hair is a deep, rich brown and his eyes are blue; he sees the Princess and views her as a prize; he courts and woos her in the acceptable fashion.
It is now that Joseph sees that she still cares for him; she does everything she can imagine to make him jealous. She struts about with her betrothed on her arm, she laughs in Joseph’s faces and forces him to serve them both candied nuts and drinks while engaging in the most intimate conversation. She allows him to overhear snippets and hopes to hurt him with her words; he does not show any interest even though in truth every word from her lips engraves itself in its heart.
Remember, he tells himself, if you touch her, she will die. It is for her sake that he must refrain, for her sake that he must not go near, that he must engage in this hateful sham, that he must force her to hate him. And she will never know.
It is the morning of the wedding and he is forced to watch and to partake of the festivities. Solomon watches him wisely; Joseph sees that he is pleased with the punishment he has meted out; it is fair and it is just. Joseph struggles with his feelings; he is angry and wants to tear the Prince to pieces; he cannot even look at the Princess because he feels so deeply about her and is not sure of his resolve.
He turns away and slinks out of the ceremony; she notices, their eyes catch for a moment, then she stubbornly turns away and says her vows.
He watches her rejoice, sees as she engages in the various festivities, the dancing and singing, the merrymaking, and he sees- or perhaps imagines- the edge of unhappiness, where she really desires to be with him but is too proud to admit it, admit it to someone who has so thoroughly rejected and degraded her.
Haggai stands behind him; he too was spared by the King, though Joseph does not know why. Haggai does not know why Joseph has suddenly become so cruel towards the Princess; he therefore despises him and takes every opportunity to hurt him and lash out at him.
“I can’t do this,” she says, and her eyes are wild and the Prince, tangled in the bedsheets, soothes her and strokes her golden hair. “Come back to bed,” he says and laughs, “you are nervous, it is your first time. I tell you it will be pleasurable.”
“It isn’t that, damn you,” she says, yanking the sheet away from him. “It is that I don’t love you and I never will; I love him even though he hates me, and even though I convinced myself that I do not. Let me go to him, let me go!”
The Prince wrestles with her and pins her to the bed; he does not let her out for the world has turned red before his eyes and he is overcome by anger and jealousy. But suddenly he sees what he is doing and he goes cold and pushes her away. “Go,” he says as his anger subsides, “go from here and see him, and when he spurns you I shall have you back. But go to him.”
She finds him on the hearth where he is sleeping; she pushes him away and he looks up to see her tangled matted hair and the sheet she clutches to her. This sickens him; she has come to him from the bed of another; he feels a pang of loss and sadness and rolls over onto the ground.
“I don’t love him,” she says, and her voice is so truthful and sincere that it hurts him, “I love you. So please,” and her eyes are pleading, “please, find a way to be with me or marry me; we shall elope or do as you will, only please help me, you must…”
She trails off and takes his hands in hers but he shrugs her off and she looks up at him in pain-filled eyes.
“Why not?” she asks and it is harsh, guttural, angry. “You loved me once, I know you did, you’re lying when you say you did not; what has he done to you that you will not have me, how has he threatened you, what has he said?”
He tries to answer but the words catch in his throat; Asmodei laid the charm, the spell and now he cannot speak.
She is wild and she is angry; she tries to persuade him and entice him and he finally answers, “All that you are doing is making a scene. Go back to your husband and live with him as man and wife; I am a hired soldier who enjoys his pay. I do not love you and never have; you repulse and disgust me. You are fickle and flighty, you stand before me, having run from your husband’s bed- how could you attract me? You are nothing. You are nothing to me.”
She loses her color, turns white and pale. “How can you say such venomous things to me?” she whispers and looks so bewildered, so hurt. “You truly hate me,” she says and her eyes open as though the truth has dawned on her at last and it kills him but he gives a large yawn and motions as though he is going back to sleep.
She stares down at him again and runs from him; she returns to her husband for she sees this as her only choice. She takes the white rose from her bureau and viciously rips its petals, throwing them onto the ground and stomping upon them. Her husband does not know what to make of it until she comes to him and comes in anger, trying to make it so that at least this one finds her desirable and beautiful, at least this man will love her.
He sees all this in his mind’s eye; it haunts him in his dreams. It sickens and disgusts him but he knows that it is necessary and he will live on the sidelines all his life; he will watch her grow to love and live alongside her husband and will love her all his life but he shall never touch her or approach her because of her father. And she will never know and will hate him; she will never know that every day that he lies to her he is saving her life, and every day he has to fight the battle anew.
Because there’s nobody in the world he loves more than her.
And therefore, there’s nobody in the world he must hurt more.
He prays for his death but will not kill himself; he wants to run away but know that the king desires him to remain here. This is his punishment for having dared to love outside his station; this the pain that is his to bear for the rest of his life.
He runs a finger over his lips and remembers the kiss she once freely gave him; he turns onto his side and settles in the hearth, amidst the ashes, and a tear trickles down his cheek. He extinguishes the candle burning beside him; he lies awake in the dark, replaying her words in his mind and wishing there were some other way…but there is none.
Credits: This is a retelling of the midrash on Solomon's daughter. I have incorporated sections and elements from Esther, Genesis and Exodus. I have also used the second voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, referenced Finist the Falcoln, the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the Norse myth of Brynhilydr and Gunnar. Part of this is also similar to Don Juan and Haidee/ Tristan and Isolde. The end has a touch of "Moulin Rouge" (hurt him to save him.)