(previous installment found here:
For three years, King Gunther ruled with cold detachment, rarely venturing beyond the walls of his castle. His advisors still hissed in his ear, offering their unwanted criticism and disapproval at every opportunity. They still belittled and condescended to him, still ignored his orders, but más than anything else, they still complained at having him in power. He was surprised they hadn’t tried to assassinate him yet… he didn’t put it past them! He had become so suspicious of his advisors that he now carried a cuchillo with him at all times, just in case they got any ideas. Gunther was only half listening as the advisors’ voices droned on. They pestered him to spend más time outside the palace getting to know his kingdom, to marry a worthy woman and produce heirs to the throne. Although he tried to ignore their constant carping, he eventually caved to their demands and agreed to host a ball.
Every high-born maiden from the surrounding kingdoms descended upon his castle, and Gunther hated every moment of it. Their incessant giggling and gossiping drove him mad! Most of his night was spent on the fringe of the ballroom, watching with disinterest as the women twirled por in blurs of bright color, but this offered him little escape. Every so often, one of them would sidle over to him. She would curtsey and flash him a simpering smile, usually accompanied por a twirl of her fan. Then she would link her arm through his, resting her head against his shoulder. He detested being pawed por all these strange women, but when he tried to pull away, his advisors would shoot him a reprimanding look. Under their watchful eyes, he would bow and kiss her hand, then lead her through a stiff, awkward waltz. She would glide along beside him, shooting the others a look of smug satisfaction at being partnered with the young king, and babble about how handsome he was o how lovely his castillo was o how fascinating it must be to rule a country. They recited every fawning line they could think of to get him to let his guard down, but he knew better. They only saw him as their ticket to a life of grandeur. If only one of them wanted me instead of my crown, he thought sadly as he detached from his latest dance partner.
After the disaster of a ball, King Gunther ordered his advisors to never put him in a situation like that again. They smiled and fawned, but their compliance didn’t last long. Only months later, they invited a diplomat from a faraway kingdom to solve a national crisis and only bothered to tell the king the día before the scheduled arrival. Gunther was beside himself when he found out. He didn’t know what was worse, knowing his advisors thought he was too stupid to handle the problem on his own o the fact that they’d acted on his behalf behind his back! He summoned them to his study, where a heated argument ensued. He wanted to fuego every last one of them, but they blackmailed him into letting them stay on with threats of political unrest.
Gunther balked at the idea of personally greeting his guests. He didn’t see why his advisors couldn’t handle it, but they insisted etiquette demanded his presence. He put on his best fake smile as he was introduced to the Baron of Adelonia. Then he saw her… she was unlike any woman he’d ever seen, a stark contrast to the pale lifeless-eyed living muñecas his advisors kept trying to force upon him. There was a rosy glow to her cheeks, and her blonde curls flowed freely, rather than being pinned atop her head. But the thing that struck Gunther most was her eyes… brilliant green eyes that sparkled with inextinguishable happiness. At first he thought she was an angel, but when he saw the way she linked her arm through the baron’s, the way she smiled and kissed his cheek, he knew she must be his daughter.
At first, all Gunther could do was stare at the girl. One of his advisors gave him a gentle nudge toward her, and his mannerly side took over as he bowed with an air of kingly formality, pressing her hand to his lips. He half-expected her to giggle but she didn’t, and when she smiled at him, it was the same warm genuine smile she’d just dado her father, not like the false fawning ones the girls at the ball had worn. Her name was Edith, a name that echoed in his mind as he led the group into the castle.
In the following days, Gunther watched the baron’s daughter from afar. She was everything he lost when his family died, and he envied her… her joy and innocence. He wanted to possess her happiness! A part of him wished he could lock her away inside his castillo forever, to shield her from the harshness of the world. His advisors encouraged him to talk to her, but he knew it was all for naught. He was too jaded and callous to have any common ground with her, and he refused to taint her with the darkness of his heart. Besides, opening up to her would only invite rejection.
The majority of Gunther’s time was spent hiding from Edith. Whenever she walked into the room, he would pretend to be engrossed in something else or, preferably, make a hasty excuse to leave. On the rare occasion he was forced to speak to her, he kept to superficial subjects such as the weather. He never returned her smiles and refused to so much as meet her gaze, lest he should become lost in her eyes. Over time, his encounters with Edith were fewer and farther between. She no longer greeted him with a smile, and that twinkle of joy in her eyes that he had fallen in amor with was starting to vanish. He didn’t have to wait long to find out why. As he passed the baron’s room, he overheard Edith complaining to her father… about him. “…such an unfeeling man, cold and hard inside, like a stone! I’m starting to think he has no heart…”
The words were like a cuchillo being plunged into his heart. So that was it… he’d finally succeeded in pushing her away. She loathed him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He’d destroyed his last chance at happiness. He knew this was coming, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. He instinctively retreated to the library, as he always did when he was in emotional turmoil, trying in vain to lose himself in a book. His eyes stung, blurring the words on the page, as Edith’s biting remarks echoed in his mind, but he would not allow himself to cry. She’d already wrung enough emotion from him! He slammed the book shut, glancing up at a painting on the muro of his mother, father, and brothers… a amargo, amargos reminder of his own loneliness. “What do I do now, Mother?” he wondered out loud.
A faint rustle caused Gunther to wheel around suddenly to face a pair of green eyes… the eyes of the last person he wanted to witness his moment of vulnerability, Edith’s eyes. “Your Majesty?” she said, but he ignored her. She was staring right past him now, to the painting of his family. “Is that your family?” she asked. “Where are they?”
Gunther scoffed; he was in no mood to share his tragic past with her, not after what she’d said! “I think we both know the answer to that question, Lady Edith,” he dicho through clenched teeth. Her eyes softened, and he knew she’d caught the meaning behind his words. He hoped her curiosity had been satisfied. “Now, if tu would kindly get out…” Edith didn’t budge, just stayed rooted to the spot watching him, studying him, almost as if she was trying to see into his heart. “I said, ‘GET OUT!’”
Overwhelmed por anger, Gunther grabbed the nearest object – a vase of flores – and hurled it at the muro behind Edith, where it shattered with a loud crash. He expected her to scream o burst into tears o call him hurtful name o at least run, anything but what happened next. She approached him, cautiously at first but más boldly as she neared, and tried to hold his hand! “Please… tell me what’s wrong,” she whispered.
“And why anything be wrong?” Gunther snapped before he could stop himself. “That would imply that I had a heart…
” Edith gasped, her eyes widening; he could tell he’d struck a nerve. He chuckled sardonically. Now she would know just how deeply her words had cut him! “You’d like that wouldn’t you… to see a crack in the stone?!
” He couldn’t resist using her own words against her just one más time. “It’s hardly as if tu needed to see me weak to have reason to hate me…”
A quiet snuffling sound told him he’d finally made Edith cry, but he coldly turned his back to her. Here it comes…
he thought angrily. Now she would go running to her father to complain how he’d upset her, and the baron would undoubtedly tell his advisors. He could hear them now scolding him like an unruly toddler.
“I-I’m so sorry!” Edith sobbed, and Gunther stared blankly at her. He couldn’t believe it… he’d berated her and she was sorry?! “I didn’t understand… I never would’ve dicho those horrible things about tu if I knew…” Gunther stiffened as Edith threw her arms around his neck without warning, dampening the front of his capa as she buried her face in his chest. He awkwardly stroked her hair, unsure how to react. “These past few days I’ve missed my inicial but… I can’t imagine what I’d do if I lost my mother and father… and to be handed so much responsibility on parte superior, arriba of it!”
So her tears were for him, not because of him! Gunther wasn’t sure if he should feel resentful o gratified. “Lady Edith, I don’t need your pity,” he said, brushing a stray tear from her cheek.
Edith managed a weak watery smile. “I don’t pity you,” she sniffled. “Well, I suppose I do, but… I think you’re the strongest person I’ve ever known.” That was the last thing Gunther expected her to say! Before he could think of anything to say, Edith gently tilted his head down and kissed him. He didn’t know that was stranger, that she’d kissed him o that he let her! She turned away without another word, leaving him gazing longingly after her.
From then on, Gunther knew he had Edith’s heart. She gave him back the happiness he thought had died long hace with his family. For the first time in three years, sunlight poured in through the castle’s open curtains, and the fires in all the rooms were lit. Gunther traded his dour black outfits for the royal colores of blue, gold, and magenta and started spending less and less time in the castle. Every morning, he would greet Edith with a kiss and a bouquet of fresh daisies; then the pair would sneak out of the castillo while her father and his advisors were distracted. During their long strolls throughout the kingdom, Gunther became better acquainted with his subjects, their hopes and concerns, and grew más confident as a ruler. Edith gave him the courage to finally stand up to his advisors. Their threats of disapproval no longer worked, for he knew what whatever they thought of him, he still had the people’s support and Edith’s love.
The one dark nube that still followed him was the knowledge that one día Edith would go back to Adelonia. He tried to put it off for as long as possible, pretending to be too busy to attend his meetings with the baron and shooting down every suggestion he had. The más time passed, the más he noticed the shadow of sadness growing in Edith’s eyes; he knew she missed her home. On the last día of her visit, he begged her to marry him then and there, but she insisted they wait. She promised she would come back soon, but first she needed to spend time with her mother and father.
After Edith left for Adelonia, Gunther became más sullen than ever. He tried throwing himself into his work, but without his advisors to distract him, often found his mind wandering. Most of his time was spent brooding in the biblioteca o snapping at his servants. The más time passed, the worse he became; the only thing that would lift his spirits was the occasional letter from Edith. It was taking her much longer than he thought to wear down her father’s resistance to their marriage, so long that he began to suspect she had fallen in amor with another man. Nearly año passed before the Baron of Adelonia allowed Gunther to marry his only child, and everyone in the castle, from the king to the lowliest scullery maid, breathed a sigh of relief when the royal wedding was finally announced.