The Sadness of King Bruce

by Kalasin Ninde in Dark Ages

I'm sure all of us have at one point in our Aisling lives, went to visit the Castle Loures. If you haven't, I shall describe it to you: it's a large, spacious and majestic castle. A fountain is in the front, the falling water playing a soft tune to the trees. Rich carpets cover the stone floors of the long, dim hallways. Many would say it is a place bustling with life, what with the servants running to and fro and all of the mundanes ready to serve. But I disagree heartily. One needs only to take a glance at our liege’s face to see the infinite sadness and loneliness. To him, the castle is empty.

I wondered, why has not King Bruce a queen? So I wandered the castle looking for an answer. I dared not ask King Bruce himself, for the subject is probably too close to his heart still, for the sadness is deeply etched in his brow. In my search, I found a matronly mundane of indeterminate age, or rather, she found me. She introduced herself as King Bruce's nursemaid when he was just a boy, though she never mentioned her name and I didn't think to ask. She had heard of my quest, and had quite a story to tell.

I am but a humble scribe from this point on. This is the mundane's story, as she told it, scribed in my untrained hand:

"His Majesty wasn't always this sad. Heavens, no! Why, when he was a boy, he used to tear through the corridors, skipping about and terrorizing the servants. But he had quite the winning smile, he did, and everything was always forgiven.

"He grew out of his childish mischief, but acquired the mischievous ways of the youth. He was handsome, oh! incredibly so. I overheard many a lady say that his glance was enough to win her heart, and if he was to look away, break it as well. And although none of these ladies caught his fancy, he still liked to toy with them. Him and his noble friends! Pah! I would've liked to box their ears for such cruelty in the name of sport! But ah ... what's done is done and we cannot mend the past with actions in the future.

"I wasn't witness to all of these events, but King Bruce was a loving and trusting lad, he told me all of his secrets and adventures. It used to be that every summer, a friend of the Queen's, Queen Ninae and her daughter would visit. They were from some small, unknown kingdom to the north of what you Aislings call Mileth. King Bruce, as was duty as crown prince and host, had to entertain the young foreign princess.

"He found this to be boring as the Princess Caitlin was five years his junior and never wanted to do the things he liked to do. It didn't help either that the poor girl was in her awkward stages. Caitlin wasn't very tall, but her skinniness made it seem she was. Her red hair she always had pulled back into a bun so no one except the maid who dressed her hair every morning really knew what it looked like. Her pale skin was dusted with light freckles and her green eyes flashed with merriment. Awww .... even then I thought it was something akin to the twinkle of imagination that I see in the eyes of an Aisling.

"Every summer he played host to this girl whom he loathed his friends to see, who went around in her father's clothing and wanted to adventure with the youths. He thought she was too plain for words, and he almost laughed every time he was asked to introduce the 'lovely Caitlin.' The last time he saw her was two summers earlier. It was now well into the summer of his twenty-third year, and he thought he was rid of himself playing host to girls who played boys.

"He was walking through the garden one summer's eve, when he saw, as he told me, 'an angel tending the rose bushes.' I'm going by His Highness' description as I wasn't in the garden when he saw her -- a girl of some eighteen years was standing in the garden, her red curls arranged over her shoulders and shining in the moonlight, tall, and lithe, like the way faeries are described by fanciful story-tellers. She smiled at him in recognition, for she knew him, even if he didn't know her. She apologized softly to him for missing last summer and coming late this summer, but troubles at home kept her and her mother from leaving their kingdom. Then he realized it, the ordinary caterpillar had become a beautiful butterfly; it was Princess Caitlin.

"It was love at first sight for both of them, though looking back now, Caitlin didn't seem quite as devoted to His Majesty as he was to her. They would walk about the castle alone without chaperons (quite scandalous at the time, mind you!) and would shamelessly kiss and hold hands in public. Times are far different now, and you would think our old notions silly, but that's the way things were then. He wanted her to marry him right away, but every time he asked she refused him. Caitlin said she wasn't ready for marriage yet and that there was so much she hadn't done yet. She had a strong sense of adventure, maybe too strong for a mundane. But King Bruce didn't notice, and kept persisting.

"The last night of Caitlin and her mother's stay in the castle, she awoke suddenly from a strange dream. I was passing through the hall when I heard her start so I came in to inquire upon what was wrong? She said nothing was wrong at all, and she said it in such a tone that no one could've disbelieved her. She lied back down with a smile of secret knowledge on her face and said, 'Thank you for your concern though.'

"That morning, Caitlin told her mother she couldn't leave with her. The Kingdom of Temuair was her home now and she would be very happy with her new life. Queen Ninae, fighting back tears, said goodbye to her daughter and went home. Oh, but Queen Ninae was so sad. The whole castle mourned for her then, for who would willingly say goodbye to their child?

"King Bruce went to her in the garden where they had met that summer, and asked her again if he could have her hand in marriage. She had her back to him, but as he turned to look him the eyes, he saw something different. There was more than just the usual laughter and merriment that flashed in their green depths, but a certain elusive sparkle. Something a simple mundane couldn't dare to dream of ... imagination. Then he knew: Caitlin had become an Aisling. She told him their worlds were too different now. King Bruce vowed that he would change and that he would follow her in the adventures of Aislings. But alas, it wasn't to be.

She left soon enough, and the castle mourned along with their crown prince. All he could do was watch from the battlements as she walked out the gate into the dangerous world, wearing the clothes of a newly initiated warrior. She waved goodbye and nothing more. King Bruce shed a single gray tear, though its effect is still clearly seen on his old, care-worn face. Caitlin broke the poor lad's heart that day.

"King Bruce never married. The still unmarried ladies he used to tease in his youth were no longer as interesting to him and they still didn't catch his fancy. None of them were his Caitlin. When his father died, he assumed the crown. Up until the day she died, the Queen gently suggested to her son that he should marry but every time he shook his head sadly and would gaze out the window, past the castle.

"Alas, that girl broke his heart twice more. Can you believe it? Twice! King Bruce, well into his fortieth year, received news that Caitlin had passed into Sgrios' realm for the last time. He was sad beyond tears, and he wanted something, anything of hers to remember her by. The courier who gave him the tragic news handed him Caitlin's copy of her Aisling legend. He read it over, studying the life she led without him. Then, at the bottom of one of the pages was the source of His Majesty's last heartbreak. In Caitlin's flowing and light handwriting was written, 'Loves Kail'"

A tragic tale, for certain. I have so many questions to ask the old nursemaid, including what her name is, but I have never been able to find her again, and she hasn't found me either.

Now I look at our King, not a man who carries a mysterious sadness, but as a living martyr. His care-worn face tells a tale of a love that could light the very stars but yet went cold and hard. He has endured much; still he never breathes a word of what he has gone through. His story is one that deserves to be told. And I, Dear Reader, tried to do just that.