18. Home

I spent nearly two weeks at the Duke's castle. From the moment I stepped into his home, servants saw to my every wish. At first they bathed me in milk and honey and clothed me in silks and satin. I dined with the Duke and his nobles, and always I sat in the seat of honor and feasted upon the choicest foods in all the land. Musicians played for me. Jesters entertained me. Women danced for me.

With every command that brought me pleasure, I saw the Duke's calculated mind working behind the mask of his eyes, noting each gift, weighing the compensation he would exact at the appropriate time.

From the beginning I could see through his ploy. How could I not? It was as blatant and clear as day. But I was filled with unreachable memories that dangled beyond my consciousness. Memories of a future yet to be, or a past that never was. I did not remember whether those memories were good or bad. I did not remember what it was he was trying to buy from me. But because I remembered something, it made me feel good, and I let him draw me into his confidence, and steal away my loyalty with his deceit.

When I was around him, I really felt like a child full of whims and fancies, and he was quick to cater to all of them. I rode horses one morning, and flew in a hot air balloon the next. I jousted with the knights and wrestled a crocodile. My days were full and happy, but at night I could not sleep. I kept hearing a sad siren's song coming from the tower high in the West Wing.

Whenever I asked the Duke about the voice that I'd heard, he quickly drew my attention away by producing a magician who would perform just for me, or presenting me with a gold lute to play at the fair.

But as I lay awake at night listening to that angelic voice, she seemed to be answering all the questions in my mind. I did not need the Duke to tell me that I was hearing the Queen, a captive in her own land. I knew she was to wed the Beast, who was coming to claim the Kingdom as his own. And I knew the Duke was his slave.

On the twelfth night after my arrival, I saw the Duke unveil the cloak of his deception. A messenger had brought him word that his master, the Beast, was soon to arrive. I saw the pain in his eyes and I finally knew what the Duke wished of me. He longed to be free of his chains. Free of his servitude to the Beast. But what had I to do with that. How could I set him free?

I longed to talk with him, man to man. To tell him that I knew his desire. To find out what he wished of me. But the Duke was busy making the last of the important preparations. And as night fell and I was about to retire, I realized that I had not had the chance to speak with him.

Melnor tapped softly on my door, in the rhythmic pattern that I knew to be his. He had been true to his promise about being my faithful servant, although he was much too subservient for my taste. Each day I would beg him to at least look at me without bowing his eyes in shame or fear or loyalty. "I am your friend," I would assure him for the thousandth time.

He stood at my beck and call at all hours of the night and day, and he was around much too often to suit the Duke, of course. I did not understand why the Duke disliked Melnor so, although I had noticed that it gave the Duke great pleasure when Melnor was at his most subservient.

Melnor had the habit of coming to my chambers before I retired each night to make sure that I had all that I needed. I often coaxed him into playing a game of cards with me before he left. I enjoyed those games, for it was the only time that Melnor treated me as his equal as we battled our wits against each other; although he did apologize profusely the few times that he was victorious.

I was rather looking forward to a game of cards on that night, for I really needed to talk to him about the Duke, and what I had discovered. But when Melnor entered that evening, I knew we would not be sitting around playing cards, nor would there be time for discussions. "Captain Rogetto, my lord," he whispered. "We must leave here at once!"

He handed me a cloak, and I did not argue or question why this name that the Duke had called me when I arrived seemed to fit now. I slipped the cloak on and followed him out the door and down the darkened hallway. Until that moment Melnor had never spoken without being spoken to, and had always stayed two steps behind me wherever we had gone. I was filled with anticipation as we slipped into the darkness and our new roles.



©: 1992-2015 Robert Alan Silverstein

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