King Theodore jumped from his bed. Beads of sweat slid down his temples, as his heart threatened to beat out of his chest. Howling wind forced its way into the king’s chamber, extinguishing the dim candlelight.
Braving the cool stones of the castle floor, he walked to the windows at the far end of his chamber, where a soft tendril of smoke danced above the blown-out candles. Relighting them, he watched the soft orange flames flicker in the wind.
Now awake, he leaned over the windowsill, peering into the courtyard below. Nothing stirred in the darkness. Small flecks of glittering light reflected off the garden’s fountains. Around it, dark cobblestones curved and disappeared into the growing shadows.
Looking past the courtyard, beyond the castle walls towards the eastern mountains, he watched the rolling hills disappear under a wave of fog. He let out a great sigh, wishing memories could fade the same way.
King Theodore wrapped his velvet robe tighter as the wind blew against his face. As his eyes sought clarity from the outside, his mind wandered back to the nightmare that plagued him. Every year on the eve of his children’s birthday, King Theodore relived the same dream.
The warm summer breeze and the horn’s song greeted him as he stood at the window. A line of royal visitors and merchants lined the rolling hillsides on their journey to Soron. In anticipation of the summer tournaments and royal births, attendance doubled, bursting the seams of the small kingdom. Peering into the courtyard below, he watched the frenzy with a smile. Under colorful banners, people ran back and forth, carrying bundles of fabric, bouquets of wildflowers, and piles of farm produce. The smells of freshly-baked breads and pastries wafted up, mixing with the spicy blend of the wizard’s incense.
A soft tap on the shoulder brought him back to the room.
“My King,” the wizard Elias whispered. “There’s nothing more we can do for her. The queen has passed beyond the grasping hands of our magic.” King Theodore’s heart dropped. The room filled with sage and sandalwood spun as he looked at the group of wizards surrounding the bed. Stumbling forward, he dropped to his knees, cradling Eleanor’s pale hand in his.
“My life, my love, I am lost without you!” The king wept, burying his tear-stained face in his hands.
“We knew this day was coming, my lord,” Elias said, sharing a look of concern with the other wizards. “The mirror warned that a sacrifice was necessary to protect and save the kingdom. She died for you. Giving her life to bring you these wonderful children and save…” Elias stopped, as his eyes connected with the kings.
The tears froze on King Theodore’s face. His jaw clenched at the wizard’s words. “She did this for me?” the king bellowed, heat rising in his cheeks. “She sacrificed herself and left me alone for my benefit? How dare you! This was not a sacrifice she needed to make!”
King Theodore stood, and looked the older wizard in the eyes. His face deepened in anger until it matched the red in his velvet robe. “Hear my words, great wizard. This will not go unpunished.”
Waving his arms abruptly, he ushered them out, shutting the door in haste behind them. He approached the queen. His body shook as new tears rolled down. He wept quietly until the golden light from the windows faded. Standing quietly, his fingers lingered on the Eleanor’s silk gown.
The morning sun rose over the horizon, streaking the countryside with an orange and red wave. King Theodore did not notice this beauty—or any beauty. Sitting calmly in his throne, he watched as the room slowly filled. His face, like stone, refused to give way, noticing but not reacting to the growing crowd, or their sympathies.
With weary eyes, and a tight jaw, he looked over the room. Faces painted with anticipation, fear, and curiosity stared back at him. No one had expected him this morning. He barked an order to the nearby steward, breaking the silence.
The steward’s eyes bulged as King Theodore delivered his message. With a curt nod of approval, the steward lifted his horn to his lips, announcing the royal decree.
The horn echoed off the stained glass windows crowning the throne room. The gathered crowd quieted, looking at the steward expectedly. The knights stood straight against the side wall, and the wizards folded their arms inside their robes.
“By royal decree,” the steward’s voice croaked, “the services of the wizards are no longer needed or approved of in this kingdom.” The uproar of the room overpowered the weak voice. The other wizards leaned in towards their leader, Elias, with questioning looks. Elias refused to break eye contact with the king.
With another nod, the king encouraged the steward to continue. A small smile broke the severity of the king’s face as he heard his orders proclaimed. “By order of treason, you are to be punished with death.” The steward hung his head with the last words.
A shocked gasp ran through the hall. With a wave of his arm, the king directed the knights into position around the unarmed men.
Elias tightened his lips, and kneeled before the throne. “My Lord, please reconsider these actions. It is not our fault. You must know that.”
Every head turned to the king.
King Theodore stood, amplifying his authority. “I thought the proclamation was simple to understand. You said it yourself. That you knew of the tragedy before it happened.” Taking slow steps towards Elias, he continued. “You saw this coming—the death of my wife, your queen—and you did nothing. With all your power and foresight, you did nothing to stop this atrocity. That alone is punishable by death.”
The king hesitated at the depth of grief in Elias’s eyes. “However, you are my beloved’s kinsmen, and so I shall save you. Death may be too extreme, but exile is generous. You are to leave by day’s end. Be warned, if you so as much enter the kingdom, or whisper its name, your protection will be gone and I will not stop my men from killing you.”
King Theodore stormed out, amidst a confused uproar of questions.
The next sound King Theodore heard pulled at his heart. Outside the royal nursery, his hands stayed on the steel handle.
The nurse opened the door, bouncing a baby on each shoulder. “Your Majesty,” she cried exasperated. “The children, they cry for you.”
“No,” he answered, looking down at the woman, “they cry for their mother.”
The wind shrieked through, blowing out the candles once more. King Theodore let the darkness hide his tears.
“My Eleanor, sixteen years have passed, and the children and I still grieve for you as if it were yesterday,” King Theodore quietly cried into the night.