|The Guard's Tale
© Gemma L. Holliday
I have decided to leave this letter for you so that you may know who I was, and why I have done what I did. I leave you this letter in a hope that you will understand, and that you will forgive me. For today, I am to be executed.
I was almost relieved to be dying, for it meant I no longer had to hide and scheme. Never again would I have to lie to you. Now, I mourn my loss. Through my actions, I have betrayed your trust, your faith and your friendship. I have betrayed the one I love. I have lied, schemed and plotted to keep a secret, which had no need of keeping, and to remain close to you. Death will take me further from you as I ever was in life. My Queen, my Shandril, you are not the only one I have betrayed, for I have betrayed myself as well.
I was born into a lowly peasant family, with no prospects other than slow starvation or life as a brood mare. I was willing to entertain neither of these prospects. I hated the lot I had been given and was determined to improve it.
Improve it I did.
I was a robust child, and I worked to keep my physique and strength far more masculine than was proper for a little girl. I was called abnormally strong, a freak of nature, and evil's child amongst other things. So my father hid his shame by hiding me in male clothing and I became his son. I am not sure whether he was really proud of my accomplishments as a boy, but he always seemed to be. I was allowed to do all the masculine things. I fought, I learned how to hunt, I helped in the fields and forests. In short, I was the perfect son. Yet my heart was not in the simple village life. I wanted more. I needed more. I knew that in my little village the secret would soon be out, and that I could not allow. So, I played the roughest, worked the hardest, and never let anyone close to me.
I killed my first man when I was twelve winters old. He was a bully of the worst kind and he pushed me too far. I snapped and gutted him. When I was brought before the village elders, they seemed pleased that I had removed this particular problem. They informed me that they were not going to punish me for my crime, simply ask me to leave them for a little while. Perhaps they thought me too stupid to realise what they were doing. How could they not be punishing me when exile was worse than a death sentence?
I did not regret my actions and was in truth more than eager to leave the constraints of the village where I had been born. So, shortly before the anniversary of my thirteenth winter, I presented myself at the Palace gates to begin training as a Royal Guard.
I think the guard at the gate was amused by me. He laughed and told me to go home. Well, I was not going to be brushed off by this snivelling little weasel. Yet, I knew I had to hold my temper in check. I was a tall child for my age and eventually grew to tower over everyone. So I drew myself up to my full height and looked him straight in the eye, saying in a very quiet voice, "I wish to join the Royal Guards."
Again, I was laughed at. Laughing at me had never been a very good idea and I saw red as I started towards the man. I had lost my volatile temper in a matter of heartbeats. I am not sure what I thought I could do to a fully trained and grown man, but I was willing to try anything. I would not be turned down. I would become a Royal Guard, and I would be the best there was!
It was pure luck that the guard's commander was walking past at that time and it may have saved my life. Suddenly the guard who was taunting me stood to rigid attention and a sharp command to stop rang out across the courtyard.
"What is going on here?" the officer asked. He was a big man with a bushy beard and kindly eyes, which at that moment held a hard and dangerous glint.
I observed the guard and snapped myself into a fairly good approximation of his stance. Again I could see a smirk hovering over his lips.
"Soldier, do you want to be cleaning the middens today?" the officer asked congenially, but it was enough to wipe all traces of the smile from the guard's face. I was very impressed and I managed to keep it from my face. The officer turned to address me, "Now, young man, what can we do for you?"
"I want to be a member of the Royal Guard," I replied as politely as I could.
He did not laugh or even so much as smile. He merely nodded. "Then you must begin your training." I could see the guard I had first met spluttering, and the officer simply turned to look at him. "You are dismissed, soldier. Report to the duty officer and tell him you are on midden duty!" The insolent problem now dealt with, he turned back to me. "Now, son, let's get you sorted out." I imitated the guard's smart salute and turned to follow the officer. "My name is Captain Jacobson, and I am Captain of the Royal Guards."
"Daniel, sir." I introduced myself
"Your family name?"
"I have none," I replied simply. I did not want my past to become common knowledge. He simply nodded. And that was how I started training for a position in the Royal Guards. I was by far the youngest member, and was generally left to myself, so my secret was easy to hide.
Puberty was an interesting problem. However, I never developed large breasts, and it was easy to pass them off as muscles with a little binding. I had also been blessed with a physique no one would ever suspect could belong to a mere woman. I rapidly progressed through the ranks of trainees and was even selected to learn how to read and write. I was on the track to be a personal guard to the King. Yet, my temper became legendary.
At first, I struggled to control my anger. If I missed a parry or made a mistake on the practice field, I would often lose my temper and end up breaking bones of my opponent. I cannot remember the number of times I was given a dressing down for that. Eventually I learned that anger would never help me in a fight, cunning and skill would, and so I began to learn how to use my temper outside fighting. I learnt how to channel it into actions other than blind rage. As I grew in my knowledge, the bullies started to suffer from my temper. I was not above beating them up, yet I began to prefer more devious methods of dealing with them. Beating them up was too easy and rarely provided a lasting lesson. My activities on this front got me into trouble as well even though I was always careful not to do permanent damage. I had learnt that lesson, and I would never again kill in anger. I gained a reputation for my coldness and for defending those weaker then myself. My temper is still a fiery thing, but it now manifests in calculated planning instead of burning rage.
When I was sixteen winters, my training was over. I was informed that I was to become your personal guard. At that time, you were simply Princess Shandril, heir to the throne. Despite my being nearly two seasons younger than you, no one questioned my right to be your guard.
The morning I took up my duties, I marched to your chambers and the yeoman announced my presence. You always had a beautiful voice, like velvet, and its rich smoothness reached out from the chamber wrapping me in its cushioned embrace, inviting me in. I had never seen you up close before, and I was struck dumb by your beauty. I still am, even after all these years. I remember your long red blonde hair framing beautiful green eyes and a captivating smile that held me in it's dazzling beauty from the moment you turned it onto me. You held out your hand to me, and I took it, delicately pressing it to my lips as I bowed low over it, as I had been taught to do. I think I had already lost my heart to you. I just did not know it then. Your first words to me were gently spoken. "Relax. I would like us to be friends."
I smiled somewhat shakily. My duty was to guard you with my life. I wasn't sure that meant I should be your friend as well. Yet, you are my ultimate commander and it turned out to be the easiest order I had ever obeyed.
We talked about everything. You were vibrantly intelligent and my own knowledge increased tenfold during our conversations. Soon the tentative friendship blossomed into something much greater. I was a damn good guard, too. I lived for my job, and I would let no one stand in my way. A year later, the King died. You ascended to the throne and I was promoted. I became the Queen's Personal Guard and Captain of the Royal Guard.
Then, disaster struck. I realised I had fallen in love. I began to live for our daily conversations, for the honour to be with you at all hours, simply for the joy of hearing your voice. Yet I could never reveal my feelings. For that would lead to my secret being revealed, and that I could not allow.
Little did I know that you felt the same way I did, that my feelings were returned. Together we suffered in silence, neither willing to reveal her feelings, although for very different reasons. I encased my heart in stone and buried my feelings as deeply as I could, yet it was not enough. I loved you, and once that realisation had escaped, I was doomed.
The rumours started about eight winters later, snide comments about my being too effeminate and more like a woman than a man. At first it was more a joke and the rumours were easily dealt with. I shipped off those that were spreading the rumours to the ongoing war. But, no matter how many men I moved, the rumours kept getting more and more vociferous, until, I could no longer justify removing so many. Besides, the war no longer needed more men. We were winning, so my excuse for removing the men had neatly vanished.
I had to preserve my secret. I believed I could not let you know what I really was, for that would mean the loss of my position, and maybe even my life. I still had no idea that you loved me, and I had even less clue that you knew my secret. However, you supported me, and our friendship grew faster by the day. As did my love.
Most of my men did not care about the rumours. They felt that I was the best Captain they had ever served under and it did not matter to them that I was effeminate. I applauded these men, and put them into the more coveted positions. Yet I could not get rid of those damn rumours. I knew there had to be a core of men keeping them alive, and I knew I had to do something about it. Then one day I found out who was perpetuating the rumours.
I was surprised that there were only five men involved, and it was unfortunate that one of them was the son of a very influential lord. However, I could not let that deter me. I had to quash these tales so that you would never find out my shameful secret.
One at a time, these men disappeared. One was found at the base of some stairs with his neck broken. Another was found drowned. The rest were never found, or so I had thought. Yet one had been discovered, the one that I had hoped would never be found. My dagger leaves a distinctive wound, and I only used it on the one victim, the first victim who also happened to be the lord's son. I had buried the man deep under a layer of stones, but he had been found and my fate sealed.
It took many months for the investigations to be carried out, but I knew it was a mere matter of time, and so I did all I was able to ensure the Guard was left in capable hands, and silently awaited the day I would be taken away. Then, the day finally arrived. I was taken into custody, tried, and found guilty.
I can still feel your eyes boring into me when they announced the sentence. That was the worst part, the knowledge that I had betrayed your trust and lost your friendship. Lost everything I had worked for. As they led me away, I bowed deeply to you and whispered, "I am sorry."
I never thought I would see you again, my Shandril, but, despite everything I had done, you came to me.
A knock at my door had interrupted my introspection as I awaited my execution and the guard admitted you, hooded and cloaked against the cold night. You were the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, I had hoped you would come to me, and I also feared it. I could not bear to see my betrayal shining in your eyes. Yet to see you standing before me once more gave me a brief spark of hope, although hope for what I was not quite sure.
I rose to my feet and bowed low to you one last time. As my sovereign and the woman I loved with all I was, I could do no less. I could not quite believe you had come to me, yet here you were. Fearfully I questioned why you had come to see me, a convicted murderer. Your words were free of the flowery court speech as you told me simply that I was the love of your life.
My jaw just about hit the floor as I stared at you for a few moments. I did not quite believe what I had just heard. There were hundreds of thoughts chasing themselves around in my brain, but not one single response. Eventually I settled on falling to my knees before you. Your fond smile sent my heart racing as you told me to stand, and informed me that you had loved me for many years. The lump in my throat did not prevent your name from dancing off my tongue, and the words that followed were the most heartfelt I had ever uttered, " I have loved you since you came into your birthright, and I will love you for the rest of time. It feels right when I am with you, I feel at home for the first time in my life." Then, for the first time in my life I could feel my heart breaking as the shame crawled up my cheeks and the tears budded in my eyes, for I knew I had to tell you my terrible secret. "Yet, you can never love me, for I am not what I seem." Even with my death looming and the knowledge that this would be the last time I would ever see you, I could not bring myself to speak the words.
"I know." Those two words rocked me to my very core. You knew my secret? You knew I was not what I pretended to be? "And, my love, I really don't care. I have known for many years, only a little less time than I have known I was in love. You are the other half of my soul."
I could not believe you. "How can you love me? I killed in order to be as close to you as possible, so that I might indulge my own private fantasies." My voice broke as I spoke. "You love me despite my lies?"
"Yes." You replied simply. "And nothing you can say will push me away."
Your words halted the crumbling of my heart and provided the mortar with which it could be rebuilt. Still the tears built up. All that wasted effort preserving a secret that was no secret. I had ruined both our lives, and now I was going to pay the ultimate price. "My Shandril," I whispered as the tears began to fall and great wracking sobs escaped my body. "I did not know what to do. I loved you so much it hurt and I could not bear losing my position. I could not bear to no longer be near to you. I could not bear the shame."
Before I had finished speaking you had gathered me into a gentle embrace. I could feel your love for me as your lips gently brushed the top of my head, and you simply held me until my sobs had eased.
"My love." Your voice was gentle and seemed to wrap around me like warm velvet. "I will be issuing you a pardon tomorrow morning."
"Shandril, my love, I have been rightfully sentenced." I spoke softly, each word like a knife twisting in my soul as I realised what I had to do for the sake of my love. "I deserve to die. You have a duty to this great country. To the people. To the line. I could never be yours because of that." I could see the tears forming in your eyes and I hated myself for what I had to do. "Just as you have your duty, so I have mine. I have a duty to the country, the people and to you, my queen." As I finished speaking, I could not look at your eyes. I feared what I might find there. I had just finished telling you I loved you, and then rejected your offer to help me.
You started to speak, but I could not let you finish. I had more to say. "I love you with all that I am. I will always be with you. I promise I will protect you past death. I am your personal guard and nothing will remove that right from me, not even death."
You did not speak, just touched your lips to mine, tentative at first, but with growing confidence. We let our hands roam as we explored each other's bodies, and we slowly began to undress each other, fumbling with the cloth but eventually managing to unwrap our gifts. I had never before experienced a feeling like this as my body responded to your touch. We moved together. Hands and lips exploring, feeling and touching. I never knew I could feel so intensely as we confirmed our love. I surrendered myself to you as you gave yourself to me completely. I saw then what heaven would be as we moved to an earth-shaking climax. I also saw my punishment, for each day without you would be painful beyond belief.
You stayed with me for the rest of the night and when you left me. I knew what I had to do. I resolved to leave you this letter and then I spoke to my guard quietly, asking him to carry out one last order for me. He cried as I asked him to end my life as it should be. He is a good and loyal man and I humbly ask that you do not punish him for what he has done.
You told me the words I had always longed to hear, and you offered me a royal pardon. However, I cannot accept it. I know I told you this, but I also know you. I did my duty to the best of my abilities, but I let fear run my life, fear of discovery and rejection. I love you, with all my heart and soul, and I can only hope that my last act in your service is enough to redeem myself.
You have a duty, the same as I did. Do not fail in it as I have failed. I betrayed you, and I cannot allow my guilt to besmirch your good name. You must produce an heir. You must care for your people and country. You must be a right and true queen. I know you are the best, and I know you will be the greatest monarch this country will ever have.
I ask only this, do not forget me. Please. I am so sorry that I betrayed you as I did, and that I must break your heart once more. Yet I shall be waiting for you. No matter how long you take, I shall be in your heart and soul, guarding over you until you come to join me. I will be a faithful guard in death as I was in life.
I love you my queen, with all that I was and am. With all my heart and soul.
Your ever faithful and devoted servant,
Shandril was informed of Daniel's death later that day. A stony mask settled over her features as she received the news, her heart shattering into a myriad of tiny pieces. Slowly she stood, outwardly composed. "This realm has lost a true and loyal subject." Her voice, deepened by her loss, was clear as she addressed the court. "In recognition of his faithful service, I offer him full pardon."
She could not bury her feelings underneath the practiced composure any longer as the last bonds holding her heart together shattered. Slowly she left the throne room. She could feel Daniel beside her as she walked back to her chambers; the ghostly presence of her love both comforted and pained her. They had shared so much and could have shared so much more, yet now they were parted.
Quietly she dismissed her maids as she felt the last vestiges of her control slip away. The tears started to cascade down her fine cheeks and heaving sobs shook her body as she sank to the floor. "Why?" She screamed out to the uncaring gods. Her grief overwhelmed her as she drew herself into a foetal position.
She did not know how long she had lost herself in her emotions. The storm of her grief left her weak and empty. She knew part of her had died along with Daniel and it was with more than a little trepidation that she saw the letter addressed to her in Daniel's neat script. Carefully she broke the seal and began to read, her love's heartfelt and honest words causing the tears to fall again.
That night, she cried herself to sleep clutching the letter her lover had written in her final hours tightly to her breast. She knew her duty, and she would carry it out as her love had wanted. Yet her heart would forever remain faithful to the guard who had claimed it so many years earlier. Her only comfort was Daniel's ghostly presence, guarding her in death as she had in life, just as she had promised. Never again would she have a personal guard. The task that had been Daniel's in life would remain hers in death.
The gentle presence continually at her side helped lessen that pain of her loss, but the pain never left her, yet she carried on as her lover had asked her to. She bore a healthy son to carry on the line and taught him all he would need to be a good and just king. She had ruled to the best of her abilities, yet never once forgetting the woman she had loved more than life itself.
Many years later, she clutched Daniel's letter to her breast and cried. Every time she read the heartfelt words, written while her lover awaited execution, she felt the pain of Daniel's passing as keenly as the day it had happened. Yet this time the tears were more of joy than of loss, for she knew tonight she would join her love. Tonight they would finally be reunited.
As Shandril closed her eyes for the last time in her mortal life, she saw a ghostly figure coalesce into the solid form she remembered so well. Daniel held out her hand to the dying queen.
"My love, please, join me?" she asked gently.
Their hands met and both felt a click as their souls locked together, never again to be parted. Together they turned their back on the living. Both ageless, both young, both together for an eternity.