Matty heard a story once, and she wasn’t sure if it was true, but it felt true, even though it had a goopy, gossipy tone, of a young princess and a king. The princess was beautiful and opaque. She did not reveal herself to anyone, king or peasant, nor bend to another’s will, save for her father’s: at his command, she was marked for marriage to the king.
The king, when he was a boy, had been chosen to serve the people by divinity, to serve as a powerful bridge between the old ways and the new path, a king to help lead his country out of the past and into its future. Here was a king who served the incumbent and emergent gods, the pagans and paladins. He was fair, just, and good. Deeply good. His tolerance in the ancient ways and the redemptive power of the new dawn made him a beloved leader by all.
His young bride, however, did not feel the warmth of his sun, or the pull of his gravitational gravitas. Mortal or deity could not fathom her immunity to his centrifugal charisma. In her, a blue light danced deep: potentially incendiary, and did not need or seek the yellow-white light of his noble nature.
Comrades would tell tales of his frequent generosity. If he met a woods-witch, he offered her food, ordering the group’s cooks to make specialties for her, especially mashed apples and potatoes. He knew elderly women had trouble chewing, their teeth long gone. If the princess came upon a woods-witch in her way, she ordered her foot soldiers to whisk the woman off the path, dispose of her, like a black cat, unlucky and superstitious. If the king met a priest or priestess, he would offer them alms for the poor, and his blessing upon their works, and his gratitude. The difficult work and burden of healing through spiritual guidance were lessened by the king’s favored blessings. The young princess, soon to be queen, did not share in his support of the healers. She saw them as overstuffed dressing gowns of mana, and puffed up by spirits (she was afraid these spirits would harm her, because she was ignorant of their abilities).
Every woman in the kingdom would have given her life to spend a single night as his queen. Though he was righteous and pure, to them, he was also a man, a man of power, grace, and attraction. But he chose an outsider, a golem of soul: a princess who did not love him. Not only was this an insult to him, but to all of the women of his kingdom. “Who does she believe herself to be? Does she think she is above us? Better, perhaps?” For the princess’s own safety, she was protected by thick castle walls: the women’s scorn scorched holes in the backs of her servants, and only out of loyalty to the king did they remain calm and not shred her hair or claw her face.
The king, in all his purported wisdom, saw none of this, and was as blind as the sun, not realizing his light did not shine in shade.
The princess and king married; the princess became Queen.
No one questioned what happened next, no one looked deeper. All assumed that the new Queen overplayed her hand. Never coming close to garnering even one female friend, or confidant, she isolated herself in her daydreams and loneliness. She succumbed to lust, and the blue flame ignited the kingdom. The Queen defiled her marriage by cuckolding the King. And the paramour? The king’s most trusted friend, his knight by his right hand. No one blamed him --he was just a man, after all.
When Matty heard the tale, at first she felt pity for the king. The king had done nothing wrong to deserve such heartbreak. Each time the story was told, the injustice to the king’s heart grew to legendary proportions.
But then she thought of the women in the story: the women of the kingdom were betrayed, too, because of their familiarity, their open, heart-on-sleeve adoration, but mostly their commonality. The king dismissed them: too domestically grown. Soul mates are of the highest elevated realm, on pedestals, he imagined. There were a few young women in his kingdom who were beautiful, intelligent, and honest; however, the king chose the one who was unattainable, at least in reciprocated love.
And what of the Queen? Was she misunderstood? The story, told by women to other women, certainly had a slanted perspective, where the Queen always played the villain. What if she was just an inexperienced young girl who didn’t really understand her power? Powerful men sometimes use their strengths to suit their singular purposes, to fulfill their own needs. The Queen’s choices were limited: exile, or marry a man she did not choose or love. She was dammed before the wedding night, banished by her own heart.
A moth seeking a dark flame is not enough to warrant a lifetime of fidelity. The king, in choosing this far-away bride, tore out his own roots from hearth and home, and suffered pitifully.
Soul mates? What a dangerous notion.
An elusive, biting myth, the belief in soul mates: that there is one, and only one great love out there for each of us binds us to a lie none can navigate clearly. This lie keeps us in fog and steam.
But of all the players in this sad tale, the King, the Queen, and the women of the kingdom, Matty sympathized mostly with the young women who would never catch the eye of a king. No other choices, save the nunnery, witchery, or drudgery.
Stories of punishment for the second-best were abundant. Stories of stepsisters and handmaidens who lied, cheated and stole to win over the hearts of kings and princes. Stories of sins, in greed for love, these women subjected themselves to cruel compromises. Horses’ heads were nailed to gates. Poisonous fruit served. They cut off toes to fit in slippers, or rolled in barrels of spikes as retribution for lying about love.