I had spent a lot of years being at odds with the king, but now that I was forty, I felt that the time had come to forgive him for the years of blame that I had placed on him. I felt that the first step to doing this was to come to him with a problem that I would normally bring to Rossannah.
For fifteen years we had ignored the fact that we had children together, passing messages between the Hawk and Rossannah as a means of communicating what our roles should be with each child. I partnered with Rossannah to discipline and raise the children, and he partnered with the Hawk. We labored to keep our paths from crossing.
Today was different. I could have brought this problem to Rossannah and we could have sat the children down and talked to them together, but I wanted to build a bridge and so I sought him out.
I found him at the castle library, consuming one of the books that he had recently found himself on his latest trip to the west, which was becoming a regular thing for him as well. It was a romance novel. He was strangely intrigued by them. He had tried to pass one off to me, but I couldn’t make it through the first chapter.
“I think that we better talk,” I stammered, not entirely sure how to start a conversation with him that didn’t involve making decisions for a thousand other people. “True and Prince are fighting.”
“And you came to me?” He put down his book and raised his eyebrow. “This must be pretty bad.”
“It’s not that bad, really,” I sighed, “I just thought you should know about it. I don’t really think there is anything that we could do to fix it.”
“What’s going on?” He smiled widely and leaned forward in his chair to show that I had his full attention.
“True has a crush on this boy, Tommy,” I began, slowly. “Prince hates him. He is accusing True of bringing down her family with this guy. I don’t know where he is getting ideas like that.”
“I’ll talk to him,” the king promised. “Maybe there is something we don’t know about this kid.”
“This kid stands up to Prince,” I blurted out.
“Oh.” The king sat back, thinking meticulously. He was quiet for a moment or two and then looked up at me with realization on his face and grinned from ear to ear. “That’s great!”
“I know!” I exclaimed. “But we got to make Prince see that this is a good thing as well.”
“I think we should probably talk to True about this boy, too,” the king burst out as I turned to leave the room, “for her own safety.”
“What are you talking about?” I twirled around. “I don’t think she’s in any danger from having a crush.”
“Maybe not,” the king answered back, “but I found this book while I was rummaging through some of the more entertaining books and I think you should read it.”
He handed me a thick book that still smelled of fresh ink. It had obviously been transitioned very recently.
“All this time I have been worried about encouraging population growth,” he explained to me, “Maybe that was a mistake. There have been a lot of unexplained deaths around here lately and I have my suspicions that some of the things in that book might be to blame.”
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s a health book,” the king explained. “They’ve just found it. I had to wait for them to transcribe it twice before I could take it. Apparently, sex can kill you.”
I cringed at the word casually thrown out. It wasn’t something that I was comfortable talking about with anybody but Rossannah. I placed the book back in his hand and turned to leave.
“I’m serious!” he urged and I stopped. He stood up and walked around me until we were standing face to face. He placed the book firmly in my hand.
“Read it,” he ordered. “I read those books that you brought home. I know I resisted at first, but I read them and you were right. You have to read this, and then we have to bring it to the school. I know that I am right on this. If we ever want to accomplish this idea of independence that you are so fond of, we have to have people around to do it.”
I grudgingly took the book and stalked away from him. I went to my room and planted it on my bedside table. Then I left it there, convinced it was another abomination like the romance novel that he had tried to get me to read.
That night as Rossannah and I were lying down, I picked it up to skim through it, but found myself engrossed in the science. As Rossannah leaned over me to blow out the candlelight that I was reading by, I waved her away and continued to read into the night as she fell asleep and dreamed beside me.
“You were right,” I conceded to the king that morning at breakfast. “We do need to warn people about these things. I can’t do it, but it needs to be done.”
The first thing that we did was bring the book to the healer in town. Then we organized a mandatory class for all of the people of sexual age in town. It wasn’t well received at first and we noticed that several of the people didn’t seem to want to listen, but after a while we had gotten all of their attention.
It was too late to help the people who had already gotten sick, we didn’t have enough information to cure them yet, but we were able to prevent others from getting sick. It wasn’t anything that we had found in the book, it was something new, but there was no doubt in anybody’s minds that it was caused by intercourse. Not a single virgin had caught the disease, and those that had been faithful and had faithful partners were also clean.
The success of catching and containing a problem together brought the king and me closer together. We started spending time together for enjoyment rather than out of necessity. I had spent most of the last five years consumed with the school and reading for education purposes. I had rarely spent any time in the forest anymore. The king began to help me out of that mindset that had trapped me for so long. We read books together and then discussed them. We hunted in the forest together. We even took trips to the west to bring back more books together.
Rossannah was disturbed by my sudden friendship with the king. I understood her discomfort. If I had been in her position I would have felt the same way. The truth was I liked having somebody around who reminded me that life could be fun, and Rossannah didn’t do that anymore. I still loved her with all of my heart, but we had grown together and had become so rooted that there was never any room to take one foot out of the tree we had climbed into. I just needed someone to come along and help me out of that tree sometimes.
The school had a lot more helpers since the children who had started it were older and so I wasn’t needed as much. I started leaving early and skipping days so I could spend time doing things that I had felt I had missed out on in my childhood. The king often accompanied me.
One day I decided to leave school to meet up with the king and Rossannah caught me by the arm. She begged me to stick around and help her with some of the children. I was particularly frustrated that day and refused. She let go dejectedly and I stalked away, upset with her without knowing why.
I walked through the castle, making my way to the library when I realized that there were footsteps approaching me from behind. I turned around to scold Rossannah for following me but was surprised to see the Hawk standing there.
“Joby,” she whispered, urgently, “I need to talk to you now, before you get yourself into big trouble that you won’t be able to dig yourself out of.” She held out her hand to me and I took it nervously, not knowing what I was about to face. She led me to the council room where Rossannah, Shyla, and Ashlee were waiting for us.
“What’s going on?” I looked around the room, confused. “What are you all doing here? Who is running the school?”
“Don’t worry,” the Hawk reassured me, “It’s taken care of. We all came here because we are all worried about you.”
“I’m alright,” I scowled.
“You need to stop spending so much time with my son,” the Hawk said forcefully, “You are giving him hope and that is not good for you or for him.”
“What? We are friends,” I answered. “He knows that. He knows that is all that we will ever be.”
“No, he doesn’t!” Ashlee cried out mournfully. “I’ve heard him talking to himself about you.”
“He’s always been in love with you,” the Hawk announced. “I’ve tried to help him get over it, but he is trapped in this fantasy that you will eventually feel the same.”
“And I know for a fact that you could never return those feelings,” Shyla stared into my eyes. “I’ve told these women that much. It’s true. Isn’t it, Joby?” I glanced across the room at Rossannah; her head hung low staring at the floor. My heart filled with a deep longing for her.
“It’s true,” I conceded. “There will never be anything between the king and me.” Rossannah lifted her head and we shared a tender, meaningful look.
“What’s going on here?” the king appeared in the council room at my side.
“Hey,” I smiled at him warmly, “What are you doing here? I thought you were going to be in the library.”
“I was,” he explained, “but when you didn’t show up I came looking for you. We were supposed to go into the forest today. I brought my hunting gear with me.”
I looked around the room at the women with varying levels of concern on their faces. They had to be overreacting. The king had never once showed any interest in any romantic involvement with me and he certainly was not “always in love” with me as the Hawk had claimed. If he had our early encounters wouldn’t have been so traumatic. Besides, I think he knew somewhere within him that Rossannah and I were involved.
“Okay,” I answered, “let’s go.” We began to leave the room, but something told me that there was one thing that I needed to do before I left. I stopped to think about what it was. The king put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was all right. I looked at him pensively and then turned to the group of women. I walked straight over to Rossannah and put my hand on her cheek and leaned over to give her a deep, romantic kiss.
Everybody in the room gasped. I pulled away and turned to look at the king. His mouth was agape and he looked at me as if I had betrayed him. His face told me what I had needed to know. He glared at Rossannah and stalked out of the room.