This Insubstantial Pageant’s Faded

I was 15 when I was married. He spoke to me softly then, told me in words as gentle as caresses that he would honour me, value me, love me. He had seemed beautiful too, white and flushing pink as he worked beneath the sun, colours unknown on our island of green and brown and gold. I was dazzled, of course, and my father’s insistence on our separation only increased the attraction, although in retrospect I can see his subtle direction, how he shifted me like just another actor in his spectacle.


When I first arrived in Naples, I was taken in by its structured disorder. The buildings sloped down to the water, stopping a little short of the docks, where the ramshackle wooden sheds were clustered close to palaces of stone; from our bedroom, I could see a tower of a house that seemed to sway with the wind, always appearing on the edge of collapse. Inside the palace there were tapestries and curtsied maids, the glitter of jewels and the chiming voices of courtiers, and, of course, there was my husband. At first, I loved Naples.


The illusion faded quickly, though. I should have known, with Ferdinand; his first question to me was whether or not I was a maid. I ought to have taken the warning. Instead, I treated him as a temple, and, in the first months of our marriage, he touched me lovingly, brought me gifts, delighted in my words and actions as one delights in a newborn child. But he soon grew bored with my naivety to the civilized world. I fell from his favour, and my heart felt ruptured, my lungs became stone.


When his father died and Ferdinand became the King of Naples, he was an ineffective leader. It was not surprising. If he struggled to carry logs, where would he find the strength to carry a nation? My father stepped in to assist, and, though he had abjured the roughness of magic, he still commanded complete control over the action of the courtiers. Naples became like the island, my father its god, the people his slaves.


I grew more and more nostalgic for the island, though. I missed the sunlight and the lull of the ocean, the gentle breeze of Ariel as he swung between the trees. Mostly, I missed the books. My books, too, although they were my father’s first. He never thought if I should want them before he drowned them, but during our years on the island, I became well versed in their philosophy. It was through their knowledge that I taught Caliban, gave him language, gave his garbled sounds a meaning, a purpose. That was before he – before the attempted – but it is a long time since, and I have almost forgotten his violation.


It was not so bad, otherwise. Now, when I lay down to sleep in my royal bed, the sheets of silk and my husband’s body sweating close to me, I miss the music most of all, the sounds and sweet airs that gave delight and hurt not. I try to remember the harmonies that echoed through the night, the chords of longing and serenity that danced upon the air, but here, they elude me. The pageant has faded, and I am left alone, exhausted, crying quietly into the sheets as my husband snores with sleep beside me.

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