The Story of Axilles and Astrogarde - Part 7 - The bride of Astrogarde
It seemed for many years like a golden age. Axilles had inherited his fathers land and was a much fairer and kinder duke who did not starve or beat his workers and Astrogarde visited him regularly and they spent many happy days together but fortunes move in a cycle like the seasons of a planet and the Father of Astrogarde,king of Lovingod was soon gray and old and weak and awaiting his passage into heaven and the next life and thus his thoughts turned to finding a wife for his son.
“You must marry”, the king told Astrogarde, “Every king must have a queen to bear him a son. I must have grandchildren and thus you must have a wife”.
Thus it was arranged that all the daughters of the highest ranks of Lovingian nobility be invited to visit the palace at Klanbeck so that Astrogarde might select one to be his queen.
Axilles,however,was horrified by this news. “Finally. The demons have arranged an obstacle that my powers cannot overcome. I cannot allow it, for some witch to come between I and my love. I will not allow it”.
But Astrogarde was not as reluctant to marry. “I have told you often that my duty to the kingdom will always come first”, he told Axilles, “Though my love for you is great, my love for church and country is greater and if I must marry to serve these pillars then I will”.
Axilles was very angered by what he saw as his friends betrayal of their love. “Nothing means more to me than our love. House,kingdom,heaven or hell, I do not care for anything above our love”, yelled Axilles and he asked Astrogarde to leave his home and never return.
But, in his mind, Axilles was concocting a plan to use his locket to prevent any woman from marrying Astrogarde. Every time a young dukes daughter was invited to stay at the palace of Klanbeck, her bed chamber was invaded by the terrible ghost of Klanbeck, an invisible fiend that wailed and moaned.
“Go. Leave. Do not marry Prince Astrogarde!”, the ghost would say, “For he is cursed and any woman who marries him will be cursed and her offspring cursed. Go and say nothing to anyone of your reasons for leaving or ghosts shall haunt you until death”.
And so, every prospective wife who stayed at Klanbeck would, the very next morning summon a coach and flee back home, a terrified expression upon her face and no explanation as to why she had to leave so suddenly.
Fifty came and fifty fled,some even running off into the night while still in their petticoats, but, finally, one woman, Onya, the eldest daughter of the duke of Constan who had no real desire to be married, came to stay at the palace and Onya was not like other young aristocratic women because she did not find ghosts frightening. Infact, she was exhilarated by the thought of living in a haunted palace and Onya told Astrogarde about the Ghost and Astrogarde immediately suspected his friend Axilles of being responsible.
The next day Astrogarde went to visit Axilles and told him that he had made a decision, that he would marry Onya of Constan.
“Not only do you exile me from your arms, Astrogarde but you come to kill me with this news”, said Axilles, “How can you love me and abandon me in this way?”.
“And how can you love me and expect me to abandon my duty as king. If I had a brother or even a sister who could rule instead of me then I would happily leave the throne to them but I am an only child, a child who loves his nation,his people and his father and how can you ask me to leave them for you?”.
“But would I not give up all my property and title for you in an instant?”, asked Axilles.
“And who else would look after the land and the people if you tossed away your responsibility to them. You would be like a mother abandoning her infant to run off with some lothario and I would have no respect or love for you anymore. Oh my good and noble Axilles, my love for you is built on more than merely lust or even friendship, I also believed you were a person of intellect, of compassion,consideration,ideals and principles and though my heart could easily forgive you for weakness and wavering, I could never forgive you for totally abandoning yourself, for then you would not be the good Axilles that I know,then that good Axilles would be dead and best remembered as a hero who fell at the battle of Silfawn. The good Axilles, I know would let the person that he loves fulfill the duty that they must. The good Axilles would know that our love exists on many different planes,not just the physical but in the realms of mind,heart and soul and so no distance or obstacle could really keep us apart or put an end to our love and how could you have terrified those poor women so, do you think that they want to marry me out of love or out of duty to their families. They, like me, are locked into a sad and loveless marriage of convenience and I would not begrudge them a thousand private infidelities as I’m sure they would not begrudge me my love for you,oh Axilles”.
“So you swear that the princess you have chosen is not in love with you,infact will never be in love with you”, said Axilles,his heart slightly buoyed by this fact.
“I more than swear it”, said Astrogarde, “I will make certain of it. I will forbid her ever to fall in love with me”.
“Does the princes power extend to the territory of feelings and the human heart?”, asked Axilles,doubtfully, “If you ordered my heart not to love you, I’m afraid that my heart would rebel against you; an uncrushable rebellion of love, a martyr heart that would prefer death to obeying such an order”.
“If she does not vow never to fall in love with me then she can never vow to marry me. That is how I will put it to her”,said Astrogarde.
And so Astrogarde told Onya of Constan these conditions, “If you vow never to love me then you may marry me”.
“That is a very odd thing to ask a person to agree to”, said Onya, “May I ask why you wish me never to love you?”.
“Because my heart already belongs to another whom I am unable to marry and since I cannot marry the person whom I love, I must not love the person whom I marry”,replied Astrogarde.
“And may I know the name of she who owns my master’s heart?”, asked Onya.
“No. It is my secret and any woman who I marry must also promise not to pry into it”, said Astrogarde sternly. “Now tell me, will you vow never to love me or not?”.
Onya was both perplexed and saddened by the Princes request, “Are we not even allowed to be friends?”, she asked, “I feel that I would like to be your friend”.
“Oh,well,of course, friendship may be allowed on the condition that friendship never graduates into love”, said Astrogarde,his heart softening slightly.
“Well”, said Onya, “I will need time to discuss this with myself, marriage is like an unmarked bottle,they say,you wont know if its wine or poison until you sip it”.
“Of course”, said Astrogarde, “Take time to contemplate. I will be patient in awaiting your answer”.
And so Onya went up to her private chambers to think but though she was alone her head was filled with the echos of propriety; the voices of her parents; her extended family and peers urging her to marry Astrogarde. She heard her mother with two voices, one a proud,happy voice bursting to boast about how her daughter was going to marry the future king and how she would have princes for grandsons,the other voice was one of weeping and disapointment that her daughter had been foolish enough to throw away the title of queen. She saw her father's face both smiling and turned away. She heard her aunts,uncles,
nieces,nephews,brothers,sisters and friends
both in an approving chorus and in a disapproving cacophony and in the far corner of her head she saw herself and heard her own quiet voice asking, “Is this what I want for myself?” but unlike the others in her head, she had no second voice or second face,only silence behind a white veil.
Later in the day,she took a glass of wine and went down the winding palace stairwell to announce her decision to the king. “I agree,my prince”,she told Astrogarde, “That though I may be your wife and mother to your heir, I will neither love you nor expect any love from you beyond friendship”.
“Do you swear it before the almighty mother,our god?”, asked Astrogarde.
“I do”, said Onya, “And if there is a flicker in my heart let thunder fall and break my head”, she said but,behind her back, crossed all the fingers upon her right hand with her left and hoped that god could not see.
However, Astrogarde was satisfied with her vow; Axilles was satisfied and, when the engagement of Onya and Astrogarde was announced, the houses of the king and Constan were also satisfied.