Prince of Exile, 12

5.

A brazier stood on iron legs at the foot of the King’s bed. Croayl the priest sprinkled sandalwood on the coals. As the scent spread through the room the King opened his milky eyes and said, “Do not bury me while I am still breathing.”

Croyal moved closer to the King, touched his dry cheek, and laid his hand on the King’s hand. Both hands were long and bony, darkened and weakened now with age, but they had both been strong hands in their youths. Croyal said, “For weeks I have asked you, as your priest, to repent. I fear for your soul if you do not. Now I ask as your brother. Do not go into that cold night unclean.”

“Can you?”

The King’s voice was hoarse and weak. Croyal leaned closer and asked, “Can I what?”

“Can you, for one hour, be my brother again, and not a priest?”

“I cannot stop being what I am. Either part of what I am.”

“Nor can I. As my brother, I have loved you even when it was not easy. As a priest, I would spit in your face if I had the strength.”

“I know.”

“I, too, can only be what I am. I repent of nothing. I abjure nothing. I have lived my life with all my heart and I only regret leaving it. I regret no part of it.”

“Is there nothing you would change?”

The King was silent for a while. The numbness had reached his stomach, and within minutes it would no longer matter that the brother he loved was also a priest who ranted at him. His hand tightened on Croyal’s and he said, “I would give anything to see my wife’s face again.”

*****

We were unseen as Croyal held the King’s dead hand. Greyleaf stood a little apart. That which was corruptible lay cooling on the bed. We watched as the incorruptible and timeless essence of the King rose up and looked around bemused. He beheld Greyleaf; there was shock in his eyes, then tears. She moved forward into his arms. I could not hear what was said, but I could see their faces. I would gladly die to feel the happiness I saw there – if the dead could die again.

Their bodies were melting together; going smoky; gone.

I turned to the Prince and caught a look of longing on his face. I said, “I thought . . .”

The Prince replied, “The King’s exile was ending, not beginning. It started the day she died. He will never be one of us, and Greyleaf will no longer be tortured and half complete. They have found their peace in one another – again.”

“And you? And the rest of us?”

For a moment I glimpsed broad vistas of eternity and deep valleys of pain in his lean, handsome face. Then he restored his customary look of calm and said, “For each of you, your exiles will end. But I am the Prince of Exile.” finis

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