North-East Of Joyous Garde

Alone and defeated, he wandered the battlements of his fortress, broken in heart and in spirit. It would be better for all concerned if he were already lying cold and dead beneath the long, marble slab upon which his name had been carved centuries before, deep in the bowels of the castle. But it was not to be...not yet. He must suffer the indignities awhile longer. He raised his weary head to the wind which whispered "Jenny" and blew with increasing intensity from the north-east.

This place had been a dark and gloomy pile of weatherworn stone when he had taken upon himself the task of driving out the evil paladins who dwelt within. Little more than a youth, he had gone single-handed into the fray, eager to prove his worth and allegiance. His efforts had been rewarded with respect, love and, most of all, trust from the one who mattered most...or who used to matter most, once upon a time. The castle had become his own private showplace. Diligently, he had rebuilt, refurbished and reconstructed until it was transformed into one of the most magnificent spectacles of the western world. In the end, all for nothing...all to no avail. He raised a hand to his forehead, his hair ruffled by the blustery north-east wind which echoed "Jenny."

Initially aloof, he had remained detached and impassionate...or so he believed. All too soon, admiration had arrived like a thief in the night and, fiber by fiber, stolen his reserve, whittled away his devotion and stripped him bare of any shred of decency. He gouged at his eyes, wishing he had been struck blind before he ever saw her, dancing like a faerie queen on that Spring morning. Desire had burned more fiercely than a flaming spear as she danced around the Maypole in her pale chiffon with her hair loose and flowing. He had been fascinated and bewitched by her elegance and beauty. How enticing she appeared, first in light and then in shadow. Even so, he had struggled...Lord knows, how he had struggled. Thou shalt not covet what belongs to another. The commandment had been irrevocably breached. His fist smashed against the roughly-hewn plaster as the wind which whimpered "Jenny" gusted ruthlessly from the north-east.

From every corner of the kingdom, he had transported silken tapestries woven from brilliant silks to decorate the inner chambers of his citadel, had commissioned the most skilled artisans to paint the ceilings with romantic murals, and had the dark outer walls covered with gold leaf so they glimmered like the setting sun. It was a palace fit for a queen...but the queen of his choosing was not his to take and, compared to her, all others were but pale specters of insignificance. He wanted no woman if that woman could not be her. Tears burned as he watched the north-east wind tug furiously at his once proud banners flying from the watchtowers, threatening to carry them away while screaming her name.

To the south-west, he could plainly see the ruins of what had formerly been noble and majestic reduced to nothing more than a few pitiful mounds of ash and rubble. They had been instrumental in that downfall, he and Jenny, severing the bond of brotherhood and shattering loyalty like a splintered shield. The once powerful monarch was gone, the once mighty magician was gone, the dream of a golden age was gone...even Jenny too was now gone. He fell to his knees as a bellow of primal agony was wrenched from his soul, mingling with the ominous thunder astride the north-east wind which roared "Jenny," as its destructive force pounded his tired body.

He shook his head in desperation. Once, this place had been known as Douleureuse Garde...Sorrowful Guard...before he had claimed it and turned it into the glittering stronghold which he called Joyous Garde. To Douleureuse Garde it had returned and, eventually, would disintegrate into only a heather-clad mound covering the vault which would contain the mortal remains of what was once considered to be the most gallant and chivalrous of all men. It was no more than he deserved.

"May God forgive me," he muttered, "though the realm be in tatters, I would change nothing. If I had it to do again, I would follow the same path, willingly make the same mistakes. We will be judged and condemned for the error of our ways and charged with selfishness, sweetheart, my Queen. But I pray they also remember how much we were in love."

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