Did you see me through her eyes, beloved? Did you see the pain you had caused me by leaving? Or perhaps you were as oblivious to her as she was to you. I like to hope you would have come back if you had known how it hurt me to see a stranger in your body. But hope is not belief.
In the months and years you did not return, I grew to know you better than I ever had while you were here. When I finally understood, I wept for the suffering that had brought you to me. But selfishly I could not wish it otherwise. Even knowing how short our time together was, I would not sacrifice it. For a long time I blamed the stranger for taking you from me. But you have not been her prisoner all this time. Indeed, it seems at times the opposite has been the case. I will not blame you for seizing back your life. But what have you done with it? You could have returned to me, had you wanted to. I thought we were happy together. Were you happy, or simply waiting for something better to come along?
Did you borrow her beauty, beloved, or she yours? Such distinctions no longer matter, if they ever did. You need it no longer. May she have better luck with it than you did. Whatever lies ahead of her, she will face it without you. You cannot undermine her plans. You cannot steal her pleasures, nor shield her from her pains. And soon enough, she will die. Perhaps you will meet in the hereafter, you with your body and she with hers. Perhaps then, when you no longer need to fight for control, you can finally make peace with one another.
But for now, once again it is you who have come to me and she who will be leaving. Seeing your beauty on her face, I wish I could make her stay. But she is not you. She does not know me, nor I her. She may have taken you from me once, but before that she brought you to me, and for that I am thankful. I am thankful that she led me to see the truth that she does not suspect herself. And I will repay her the only way I know how: by freeing her to walk the rest of her path alone.
Goodbye, my beloved. You promised yourself to me long ago, as I did to you. And though you tried to be false, in the end you did come back to me. I will say the farewell you denied me so many years ago. And you will never leave me again.
I waited for you to come back. It was not the first time you had gone wandering, and always before you had reappeared eventually. Then, after a few weeks, I thought you had returned to me. I did not know that it was a stranger wearing your face. It took me years to understand.
I had never met a man like you, beloved. A man, you left no doubt, but soft and beautiful like a woman. I never knew such a delicate body could please me as you did. I doubted that such soft lips could kiss me so urgently, but you never doubted yourself for a moment, and you proved me wrong.
Soft of body, but with a soul as hard as bronze. You never liked to talk of the past that made you so, but I wanted to know you. I collected the hints that dropped from your lips, and treasured them all the more for their rarity. Of the hunger that drove you into hiding. Of the freedom you found here on the mountain, to be yourself after so many years.
You spoke little of your past, and if you had I would not have understood. Even today I may not understand, had the stranger not come to see me. Brief as the visit was, it was the key to unlocking your past.
Technically, it’s a fact-finding mission. Travel around, searching for any sign of a long-lost aunt who was kidnapped decades before I was born. I don’t think anyone expects success. There’s little chance she’d still be alive now, even if she’d never been taken. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was “kidnapped” the same way I was “lost”: traded away to maintain the family’s hold on power. But apparently her loss is still a sore spot for the king, all these years later.. And who would have more insight into a long-lost member of the royal family than me?
It’s a convenient pretext to get me out of town anyway, and it suits me as well as it does them. If I turn up any sort of lead at all, then I’ve exceeded expectations. If not, then at least I’m safely away from the scheming eyes of my many brothers and sisters. Best of all, I never asked for it. I’ve reluctantly accepted the responsibility at the king’s insistence. No ambition to see here, please move along.
In a dozen different lands, I’ll get to sample the luxuries of their palaces in my role as a visiting foreign dignitary. There’s bound to be a few novelties among them. When my welcome wears thin, it’s on to the next kingdom, continuing my noble quest to reunite dear old aunt whatsername with her loving family.
And let’s be honest, that’s not the kind of trip I could take a wife on, even if she had come down the mountain with me. She’d have been stuck in the palace back home, surrounded by enemies in a world she didn’t understand. I’m sure she’s much happier on the mountain. She’s probably already forgotten about me. I bet she never thinks of me any more.
Just like I never think of her.
I suppose it was inevitable. Fun times, or the appearance thereof, couldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, Responsibility would come calling. It seems I’ll have to start earning my luxuries.
I can’t say responsibility has always been my best thing. A responsible man would probably have at least said goodbye to his wife before leaving the mountain. But when an opportunity like that comes along, you don’t get hung up on what you’re leaving behind. Or who.
If I’d given her the chance, I think she would have volunteered to go with me. Perhaps she would have insisted. But her place is on the mountain. It would have been cruel to take her away. She wouldn’t have any kind of future, far away from the only home she knows. But she probably would have tried, for my sake, and ruined herself in the process. Better simply to leave, and let her get on with her life.
Sometimes, in a spare moment, I’ll find myself wondering what Oenone is doing now. Fortunately, there aren’t that many spare moments. It might seem idle, but catching up on a lifetime of hedonism can be hard work. And now, of course, there’s actual work added into the mix. Of course, when I say work, I mean in the sense that I wasn’t given any choice in the mission that I’ve been assigned. Not in the sense that it involves actual labour.
No, it’s more a way to keep me busy and out of everyone’s way.