At the end of Part 3 of The Girl with the Heart of Gold, the king entered the chambers where the knight was trying to convince Carrena to run away and save herself….
The knight was frightened. But then, living in the kingdom, he was always frightened. The king was unpredictable, a taskmaster and a tyrant. The knight always feared for his life, but this time, his fear was different, it was for another. He feared for Carrena’s life and he didn’t know what to do.
As the king entered the chamber, huffing and puffing from the long climb up the turret stairs, the knight stepped in front of Carrena to block her from the King’s view. He bowed his head and knelt down on one knee. It was the way the king insisted on being honoured when he walked into a room.
Behind him, he could feel Carrena standing tall. He reached back one hand and tugged on the soft cotton of her skirt, trying desperately to get her to kneel.
People had been beheaded for not kneeling in front of the king. He wouldn’t let that happen to Carrena.
But Carrena kept standing. And as sunlight streamed in through the turret windows, she stepped around the knights bowed body to stand beside him. She placed one hand on the knight’s shoulder as a beam of sunlight shone through the window slits in the turret walls. It cast a golden glow around Carrena’s body.
Blinded by the light, the king shifted his eyes to look around the chamber. He gasped when he saw its soft drapes and boughs of flowers and the sleeping mat with the blanket of moss. It was unlike any room in his castle. Fear rose up as memory of another place, another time stirred in his mind, fluttering as gently as butterfly wings.
“Why have you prepared the room for her like this?” the king demanded of the kneeling knight, completely ignoring the young maiden standing in the light beside him. “You have wasted my precious resources on a peasant.” And he turned to his minions crowded in the doorway and ordered them to remove the fittings to the room. “This room is grander than my own chambers. That cannot be so!” and the king turned back to the knight and ordered him to stand.
“You have offended me. You must die.”
The knight stood and bowed his head lower. “Yes my liege. At your command.” He had been the king’s right hand knight for three years, a record achievement in the king’s circle. No one before him had lasted that long without being killed for doing something to offend the king. He knew his fate had been determined the minute he tried to protect the girl.
Carrena gasped. Kill the knight? For what?
Just then, two sentries stepped forward to apprehend the knight. She could not stay silent. She stepped out from the ray of sunlight streaking in through the turret windows and stood in front of the knight. Gently, she put one hand on each of the sentries arms as they approached the knight. Like the knight, they too felt the unaccustomed warmth of her hands and were entranced. They stood still, soaking in the beautiful feelings of warmth and comfort that her touch evoked.
“Is this how you treat all people when they have done your bidding?” she asked, looking directly at the king. Her voice had the lilt of a morning bird’s song, its clear notes echoing throughout the chamber. “He came to my home and brought me here against my will, just as you ordered and now, you want to kill him? Does that make sense to you?”
The king, unaccustomed to being questioned by any of his staff, let along a peasant girl, began to huff and puff and sputter. His face grew red. His eyes bulged as he bellowed, “No one dares to question the king without paying the consequences.” The king spluttered and frothed at the mouth. He closed his eyes tight as if wishing away an apparition. He balled up his hands into tight fists.
Carrena softened her voice even more. “I experience you as someone who has long forgotten what it means to feel loved,” she said.
“What? What?” the king shouted, once again opening his eyes wide. “Do not dare to speak to me about love! You don’t know anything!”
“I know that I am here at your command,” Carrena said. “I know that you seem angry and that you are behaving in ways that hurt your heart and everyone around you fears you. Is that what you want?”
“Yes!” yelled the king, puffing out his chest and pounding it fiercely with both fists. “Fear is my greatest weapon!”
Carrena smiled and in her smile the memory of something long ago stirred once again in the king’s mind. He could feel it, tugging at the back of his mind, pulling at him like a child tugging on his sleeve pleading for his attention. He wanted to swat the memory away. Shove it back into the pit of darkness where he had buried the past. But it would not rest in peace.
Around him, his staff stood in slack-jawed consternation. They had never before heard anyone talk to the king in such a soft and gentle way and they had never ever imagined the king would allow it.
“Does fear get you more of what you want in your life or less?” Carrena asked.
And the king could not answer. He could only stand in front of Carrena whom he could see for the first time with clear eyes as the sun slipped away from the turret windows and eased beneath the far distant horizon.
And memory invaded his mind and one, tiny, precious tear escaped an eyelid.