Tuesday, July 11, 2017

King Claudius

King 👑 Claudius
A recovered fairy tale style tragedy told in the real olde style, or
a tale of revisionist history as tends to be promulgated by those readily bamboozled by the perfidious among us

Claudius, while in his first marriage to the lady Philomena, sired two daughters. The older was Genevieve, a dark beauty, and the younger, Letitia, a redhead with green eyes and melodious voice. 

Claudius, while his daughters were still babes in arms, upon seeing Philomena in the gardens laughing with a young nobleman visiting from far away, grew jealous. In his dream of a night, he saw the two of them escape in the moonlight and make love in a bower of grapes. The next morning, he came upon them sharing a breakfast of figs and honey upon the terrace and became enraged.

The nobleman hastily took his leave, and Claudius confronted Philomena with accusations of adultery. The proud queen refused to answer his assault on her dignity, and in a rage he beat her and banished her from the castle. 

Later the king spread the story through his henchmen that Philomena had not only engaged in adulterous behaviors with the nobleman, but that the two of them had hatched a plot to do away with him and take over the kingdom. According to Claudius, the plot had been foiled when the nobleman was found with poison he was pouring into the wine Philomena was about to bring to the king before bed.

Philomena had no intention of giving up her daughters, and arranged for them to be brought to her by her lady in waiting, to a stronghold in the forest where she had taken refuge. She listened with horror as her lady recounted the stories being told in her absence.  Over their life together, Philomena had spent many a mead drenched eventide at the grand table in the castle. listening to the King's endless trove of stories of evil deeds being done both within and without the kingdom. She had come to understand them as confabulations, stories built with sands of truth and mortar of pure lies. That most within the court accepted his nonsense as if God's own word had been apparent. Recognizing that Claudius had seen to it that her reputation would soon be ruined throughout all the kingdom, Philomena was forced to flee to a neighboring realm with Genevieve and Letitia. She abandoned all hope of ever returning to life in the castle. Her daughters grew in good physical health and in beauty, and yet could not help but wonder what they had lost in having been removed from the neighboring kingdom and the castle, and their birthright as princesses, by their mother.  

The terrible story of Philomena's betrayal of the king seemingly became undone by time and by her comportment that befit a lady of compassion and dignity. Philomena while deeply wounded by the stories that had circulated in the kingdom at the end of her marriage to Claudius, had thought little of them in the long years since. Her daughters, neither of them old enough at the time to string together more than two words, would not have understood what was being said had they heard the whispers in the castle.  Over a decade of life tied to the all important King had been enough adventure of that sort, and once Philomena recovered from the indignity of her abrupt exit from the castle, she made a life more to her liking. She found contemplative pleasure in planting and tending orchards and gardens, independent of all need for favors from the man who had been more trouble than he was worth. 

Of a late afternoon filled with boredom of plants and filtered sunlight or the sullen gray up country mist, the king's daughters, now old enough to have heads full of ideas of how much better life might be somewhere else, mused what castle wondrousness had been wrenched from them by their mother's foolishness. 

Claudius though kept as if a personal treasure his outrage that his kingship had been sullied by his own wife, and continued to feed that anxious cauldron of personal betrayal. In subsequent years, when the girls were of an age to visit his castle without their mother, he spoke to them directly the stories of Philomena’s supposed treachery, as they ate quail with wilted spinach and honeycomb, and caught the flirty eye of certain of the knights standing guard.

Unfortunately the young women had no way of knowing the truth about their mother. The king had seen to it that no there was no one left in the castle who remained loyal to the old queen. For her part, in earlier years, Philomena had not been able to keep her rancor as to Claudius fully hidden, and had oft times had unflattering and unloving things to say about the king. The girls grew into maidenhood with the rage their father felt for their mother trapped within them, that rancor awaiting its own birthing, as moths of fate in their chrysalises.  The distrust and betrayal felt by their mother was dimly perceived by Genevieve as richly deserved. Following the tormented path set by her father,  in the weeks of her visitations, Genevieve liberally spread her own version about the castle of not only Philomena’s dalliances with the nobleman, and the thwarted poisoning attempt, but added titillating details that made for rich table talk over pints of ale, as her embellishments found their way into the village. 

Letitia was more internally torn and could not resolve the matter in favor of either parent. She was developing a philosophy of life that held each person's truth to them, as a flame to a candle. Neither daughter took up the tales with their mother, who was unwittingly exposing the girls to the festering unresolved bile their father still harbored for her. Philomena even then as the old stories were crawling out of the swamp of unresolved disappointments of father and daughter, rested in the comfortable illusion that the King's angers like her own had dissolved in the wash of years gone by. Although generally aware of Genevieve's attitudes of disdain for her and the life she had chosen, Philomena thought of it as a natural phase that many daughters pass through where their mothers are seen as wrong through and through. She thought ahead to the days when her older child would become more forgiving and mature in her thinking. She was as unaware of the renewed tittering in the old castle as the woodpile is of the mice nesting within it, as tittering it was, a nervous sort of laughter in response to stories no one really wanted to be hearing about someone long gone from their view. 

Over a few short seasons of periodic castle visits, the rift between the old queen and King Claudius manifested in differing forms in the daughters. Genevieve grew to hate both her parents, and became obsessed with punishing them for depriving her of the life of the castle that had been taken away. First, when back with her mother, she destroyed the few things the queen had removed from the castle when she was banished. The rings and bracelets her father had given her mother vanished from the vault. A painting of the dogs of the castle was slashed with knives where it hung in the dining hall. Genevieve built a storehouse of favor with Claudius by bringing him made up tales of Philomena in exile, leading a life of decadent debauchery, until such time as she made her home back at the castle, a princess restored.

One might think her wishes fulfilled, Genevieve would settle into a life of riding the Arabian horses and having her hair set in braids with adornments of ivy and daisies, perhaps learning French and practicing a demure glance through lowered lashes. Instead, Genevieve set about to destroy the king's trust in her sister. 

Letitia had caught the eye of several young men of the court, and was enjoying the life of a sometime princess, albeit removed from the castle. Claudius had taken a new wife, a woman of frail health. Genevieve filled the king's ear with lies about her sister, accusing her of duplicity and ill will towards her father, and alluding to rumors of promiscuous liaisons about the castle. At the same time, she made confessions to the frail queen about having been raped by the king's own knights and brutalized by her mother's guards. She swore her stepmother to secrecy, saying she feared if her father knew, he would have everyone involved including her mother put to death.  The new queen Alouise begged Genevieve to allow her to share at least the identities of the castle guard who had pushed her against the wall and taken what was not theirs to even touch. But Genevieve warned her stepmother against any such betrayal, and Alouise wandered the parapets in the middle of the night when she could not sleep, wondering which among the knights standing guard below might have been the ones who hurt the king's daughter. 

Claudius, ever mindful of his own reputation and fearing it could suffer through his younger daughter’s improprieties, brought Letitia before him and forbade her from indulging in the attentions of the courtiers. He threatened to confine her to a convent if her behaviors did not improve. Once again, Claudius blamed Philomena for failing to raise Letitia with manners appropriate to a princess, and lauded the pernicious Genevieve, rewarding the older girl with travels abroad in the protection of the very knights whom she had told her stepmother were savaging her.

The unwell Queen Alouise could not bear to think of what might befall the girl in such company. She agonized over having kept the secret, understanding it was too late to act. After sleepless night upon sleepless night, she suffered a burst blood vessel in the brain and died while Genevieve was away. The girl hurried back to her father's side, meantime confiding to Letitia that she had meant to hasten the death of their stepmother with her tales of relentless, soul searing sexual abuse. This left Letitia wondering if indeed her sister's torment was due in part to having been so ill treated, or whether the tales of sexual violations were more of her sister's inventions designed to cause anguish to those who loved her. 

It seemed that wherever Genevieve inserted herself amongst the people whom she ought to have cared about, she found ways to not only do mischief but cause deep pain. Genevieve had taken a fancy to one of her sister's suitors. Letitia and the young man were secretly discussing plans to wed, and Letitia had made the grave error of sharing that secret with her sister, such was her joy in anticipation. Genevieve lured the young man, Joffrey, out in the moonlight and cried bitter tears about her sister's insanity and multiplicity of secret lovers. The foundation for these lies having already been laid in the stories of Letitia's promiscuity let the vague and pernicious tale fall into the heart of the young man like the lethal arrow intended.  Genevieve of course consoled him passionately and in so doing wooed him away from Letitia. 

After that act of cunning betrayal, Letitia abandoned her father's court and her perfidious sister, and confided ever more readily in her mother. Letitia did not however ever bring up the story of the mother’s nobleman in the garden and the poisoned wine, as she could not bring herself to repeat this story to her mother. Perhaps she was afraid to hear it might be true, or maybe she was not ready to face her mother’s unleashed and perhaps predictable pent up anger at the king. We cannot know if the course of events would have changed even had Philomena been made aware at that late date of the king’s continued lies being fed to Genevieve and Letitia, as the damage had been fully done. 

On a happier note, Philomena had also remarried, and was living a modest life in the countryside of a neighboring kingdom, where she contented herself with her pear orchards and her dogs, the kind attentions of her husband, and loving friendships with others who peopled the wooded vales. 

The time came when the king once again became enamored of a young woman, and began a time of feasting and festivals with his announcement that she would soon take the place at his side as Queen of the realm. The years had flowed by like the rivers. Long before now, he had taken pity on his younger daughter when her favorite suitor had abandoned his affections for her, and indulged Letitia's desires for a summer cottage by a lake with swans. His generosity toward her sister infuriated Genevieve, who had grown accustomed to the King's primary attention. It appeared she could not be happy if she did not receive her father's undiluted, single focused affections and interest. Claudius, unnerved by the intentions of his older daughter to occupy a primary position in the castle in the face of his intended nuptials, sent a long letter to Philomena.  He informed her that Genevieve had threatened to abandon him forever if he married again. He also said the older girl had demanded that he give her a wing of the castle and assign her a retinue of knights and ladies in waiting as befitted a queen. 

The advisors to the king, upon being told of these demands, cautioned him against giving in to Genevieve’s whims. Furthermore they informed him that both his daughters were rumored to be plotting against him. Ironically the plot was to poison the wine that was to be brought to him and his newest love interest, the lady Umberphalia. As King Claudius and Lady Umberphalia plumbed the sources of these rumors,  they uncovered a plot wherein one of the servers was to pour hemlock into the king's wine the next full moon feast day. Letitia by all reckoning had nothing to do with it and knew nothing of it. That left Genevieve. Claudius and Umberphalia were reluctant however to release either girl from suspicion.

As was his wont when matters of his daughters troubled him, Claudius called Philomena before him and expressed his outrage at the scheme one or both had planned. Letitia appeared in this audience by her mother's side, and burst out with the obvious fact that this was a duplicate story of what he had accused their mother of years before. 

Philomena was rendered speechless with the double shock of the hearing the old fabricated tales of false betrayal coming out of her daughter's mouth and the horror of Genevieve's possible level of hatred for her father.  The entire episode reeked of the penchant Philomena knew the old king had for putting forth the worst face of any matter. She fully recognized her ex-husband’s artifice at work in the tale. Her sensibility that Genevieve could not have been involved in any such plot was shattered to rock dust under the quiet counsel of Letitia who conveyed Genevieve’s expression of malevolent disdain for all of them, communicated by her stated wish for their deaths, every one of them. She heard and not for the first time the stories Genevieve had told her stepmother, and the credit the girl had taken for driving that queen to her grave. But just as Letitia could not resolve the stories told by father into a single truth, her mother could not know with certainty what part of the tales of Genevieve were embellishment and which real. She did however know that anything Letitia said was true, the younger daughter did believe. 

Philomena, whilst believing in Letitia's truthfulness, and having felt Genevieve's endless disdain enough to know the girl held a grudge long and hard, knew as well as any person alive that Claudius was prone to falsehood.  She simply could not fully accept the story about Genevieve let alone believe in any collusion between the two girls. She urged Claudius to be merciful toward their older as well as their younger daughter, expecting that if it proved impossible to eventually peel back the layers of this latest deception and arrive at truth, time would plow it all under the earth and life would go on its desultory way. Put in another way, Philomena might have said, it is not after all, all about us, but it is about the love we make and the love we keep.

Philomena pleaded on behalf of Genevieve even though her daughter had removed herself fully from her mother’s life, and no words had been spoken between them for so long that the dogs that had come along from the days of living at the castle had both died in her absence.  A new pair of dogs had grown white muzzles without ever having felt the warm touch of Genevieve, who had always slept with the first dogs in her bedroom. For Philomena who had not seen her daughter’s face since the days of yore, her heart memory was of the innocence of a girl napping with hounds and awakening with stories of dreams of sugarplums. 

Claudius had by this time confounded his sense of all three women. The old king had grown silver with age and hobbled slightly bent forward with a spine that barely served to hold him upright. He no longer knew whether Philomena had betrayed him with the long ago nobleman, nor did he care. He seemed oblivious to the damage the story had done to his family, or even that he was its author and promulgator. The idea of being poisoned by a woman he trusted felt all too familiar yet he too remained reluctant to fully accept that either Genevieve or Letitia could harbor that degree of malice. Upon being assured by his advisors that whatever concerns he entertained as to Genevieve were entirely justified, having taken to heart the lady Umberphalia's wishes on the matter as she had a keen sense of the characters of his daughters, and finally hearing whether in his sleep or while awake, hatred of him from the lips of Genevieve herself, Claudius was forced to act.  If nothing else, he would preserve his reputation and his legacy, even at the cost of his daughter's dubious affection. 

The king announced his engagement to Umberphalia, and commanded Genevieve to absent herself from his kingdom for all time. He handed her a dowry of 100 horsemen and 10000 pieces of gold in return for her promise never to return. 

The day Genevieve left, there were fires set in the woods surrounding her father's castle. Some say they were the work of Genevieve’s protectors around the kingdom, among the revelers who had passed many a midsummer night becoming intoxicated upon the wines from the castle storerooms she smuggled out for their moonlit parties, where she entertained the revelers with colorful tales of bad doings within the castle walls.  There are always plenty of people eager to believe scandal about those in high places. It was said too that Genevieve stole as much of the treasure from the king’s storerooms as would fit in her trunks, a tale fed by the king himself over pheasant and spirits the evening of his wedding several seasons later to Umberphalia. Letitia continued to spend summers in the cottage by the swan lake for many years to come, relieved at last to no longer be ridiculed and shamed by her sister. For her part, Philomena refused all further audiences with the king, absenting herself frequently from her gardens, as she and her happy husband devoted themselves and their modest treasure to the cause of protecting elephants being killed for their ivory.  

Genevieve vanished from sight henceforward. No one knew whether she had ventured onto a sunny sandy island in the Mediterranean or traded part of her retinue for passage to Africa, where some said she had joined her mother in seeking an end to trophy hunting. Philomena would have wept pearls at the return of her daughter, but alas, their separation was a permanent one. Rumors flashed periodically throughout the kingdom and some continue to this very day. It was told far and wide that Genevieve had become pregnant and it was because of who the father was that she was forced out of the castle by the combined efforts of her father the all powerful king, her estranged mother and her sorry sister Letitia, and her father's new consort, all of whom ostensibly vilified her to protect their own shadowed truths and iniquities. But no one could quite agree on who the father of Genevieve’s baby had been. Some mused it may have been the king himself, a story even Umberphalia is said to have laughed into the vaulted ceilings of the royal bedchamber. And yet, the stories persist, even at this late date and in these enlightened times.  

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