He sat down on his mahogany desk, his eyes faraway. Principea came to his side and looked at him with that half smile that he loved so well. She laid her hand on his shoulder.
“You think I am too hard on them.”
She shrugged slightly. “Perhaps a bit.”
Rhutgard covered her tiny hand with his own and drew her in front of him. Sighing deeply, he shook his head. “They have no idea what is happening around them. None at all. I don’t know if that is best for them, or if I am failing them as a father.”
Principea brushed her lips across his forehead with a small kiss. “Rhutgard, these are terrible times. They have yet to know what is happening. But – he is right, dear. They are sixteen. Men grown now.” She looked at him with sympathy on her face.
Rhutgard stood up and walked about the study, his blue eyes clouded. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin as he stared out the window for a moment, then turned around.
“Sixteen. At sixteen, I was –” And he trailed off. Sixteen for him had been vastly different than for his sons, who rode about on – on picnics, and hunting expeditions, and archery practice.
“At sixteen, you had command in an army. But there was a war going on at the time, Rhutgard,” Principea reminded him. “There is no war right now.”
Rhutgard snorted. “There is, Sweet Pea, just not one being fought on a battlefield.” He strode to the portrait of his father and gazed up at it, as he had so many times before, eyeing each of its minute, painted details. He sighed. “I miss him so much. He would be able to help me so much right now….”
“I know how you miss him. I wish I had met him,” commented Principea. Then she said, “I think it’s time that we had a new portrait of you done. I’ll have one commissioned.”
Rhutgard scoffed and waved his hand in dismissal of the idea. “No. I could hardly sit still for the last two.” He continued to gaze up at his father. Putting his hands on his hips, he read the title entered below on the gilded frame. “‘King Galvin Firthing, the Victor of the Twenty Years War’”. Rhutgard sighed. “What would the portrait of me be named, ’King Rhutgard Firthing, the Unaccomplished?’”
In disgust, he shook his head and stalked across the room.
“My love, your accomplishments are so many. But few know of them….”
“Yes, and that’s the truth of it.” Rhutgard studied his wife. He rubbed his jaw, an old habit that he barely recognized. Suddenly he said, “What if something were to happen to me? No one would know she was out there. No one would believe she was truly mine, ours, if I were to die….”
He worried about this more and more as the years passed. Only Principea knew his pain. She said, “They are sixteen. Is it time, then?” He detected a hopeful tone in her voice.
Rhutgard thought of the serious turn of events that had taken place over just the last year alone. “Not yet. Soon, but not yet….”