The drink he had ordered had come, and Torlan downed it in one swallow and sent the cup back with the servant who had brought it. The sword had come moments later, and was now laying on the bed which was practically the only furniture in the room. No one had asked any questions, like good servants, and the king had soon been left to his own devices.
He left the sword lying where it was and moved to stand by the window, which faced out to the East, the same direction he had returned from just a few hours before. Standing with his hands linked behind his back, he shook his head slowly, as if resigning himself to some action he did not wish to take.
“Oh Railon, I wish that you would return now and not when you would. For I fear I have not the strength within me to last until that day.” Then he fell silent once more, but not for long. Crossing back over to the large bed in the center of the room, he took up the sword he had sent for. Studying it with the eye of a master craftsman, he remarked “You are a good blade, stout and true. You have served me well in the past. Do not fail me in the end if it comes to that.” Since he had taken off his sheath, he laid the sword down again, stepping away as if the sight of it brought some sadness to his mind. Suddenly he began to speak as if someone had begun to argue with him.
“But he is not fit! What if the people should call on him and he were to fail? Where then would he be?” He followed this statement with a long pause, and then started again, as if burdened down with misery.
“I could not have known. For all their hopes and dreams it is not given to men to know what may happen the next day, whether it bring great happiness or they are struck down by treachery to die.”
After a short pause, he spoke again, his voice rising until he was nearly shouting. “It was for his good also. I do not want him hobbling about here, every servant living for his beck and call. If he did not grow complacent and proud, he would instead lose himself in self-pity that he could not do as I can do. A man can not be a good king either way, for he would forget his true purpose.”
“No, I can not let him have a companion. Not even my daughter. It would not be long before a companion became a servant, whether by choice or by order. I have said why I can not allow that. Now leave me in peace!”
On a impulse, he snatched up the sword again, looking at with new eyes.
“Is this the end? Is there no way out of my misery but that I end it myself? The future of my people, the welfare of my son. Never can I choose between them which is the path I should dedicate myself to. Each day my mind becomes more unsettled. Why should I not end it?” He began to test the balance of the sword, as if he were wondering whether it was really true. With a sudden twist, he turned the blade towards himself - and stopped short, the point inches from his chest. A moment later, his sword hand began to quiver uncontrollably. As the sword fell with a clatter to the stone floor, Torlan himself soon followed, and on his knees he began once more to berate himself.
“No! No! This of all things I can not do! To end one’s own life is the height of dishonor. To be without honor is to be without a past or a future. Men forget the one and ignore the other. No, this I can not bring myself to do. To live is my lot; my son is unfit and my brother is gone and has not been seen for many a year. Who then would rule in my stead? My wife is ill and my daughter too young by years. Am I a coward, that I could think to end my life now? Better to wait until battle comes again, then I can put myself to rest and my honor will remain unstained. Oh, my son!” With this final cry, Torlan seemed to lose what strength remained in his body; from his knees he fell to his side and lay there, drawing deep breaths as if trying to hold back cries of pain.
He lay there without moving for some time. In his self-imposed misery he could not bring himself to rise off the floor, no matter that it was uncomfortably cold and hard and that a large and luxurious mattress could be had only feet away. In fact, no urge or impulse roused him until finally there was a knock at the door of the room.
Thrusting himself up wearily, he called out “What is it? I ordered that I should be left alone.”
The voice of a servant answered “If you please, my lord, it is the princess who asks.”
This announcement caused Torlan to brighten up considerably. If there was one thing in his life equal to his misery over his son’s plight, it was the love that he bore for his daughter. Trying to smile, he ordered that she be let in.
Miranda came skipping in with flowers in her hair and more in her hand. She came right up to him without a pause. It was clear that she had enjoyed herself immensely and wanted to spread the cheer wherever it would reach.
“Hello, father. I went down to the river and I found these. Aren’t they pretty? I think they’re the first ones this year.”
Deciding not to tell her that he had already seen some of these flowers days ago, Torlan looked down at her with a smile and said “Perhaps, my dear. It is the fortunate lady who is able to pick the first of the year. But they don’t have to be the first to bring me joy coming from you.”
As soon as he had finished speaking, Miranda thrust the bunch in her hand toward him. “Here, father, you take them. You look sad and I think these will help you.” With nothing more than a little wave, she skipped back out.
Torlan simply stood and watched her go, saying to himself “My dear, I think you are right.” He stood there silently as happiness began to creep back into his being, and it was a few moments before he realized that the servant was still standing nearby, waiting to be dismissed. Coming back to reality with a start, Torlan snatched up the sword and held it out to the servant. “Take this back where it came from and tell no one about it.”
With a nod, the servant left. As the door closed once more, Torlan turned back toward the east window, stepped over, and lay the bunch of flowers down gently on the sill. Allowing his smile to return at recalling his encounter with Miranda only minutes ago, he turned away and left the room.