Only a mile or two from the coast, in the far southeast corner of the island nation, there was a small but comfortable cabin. The cabin opened to a large main room with a warm cozy kitchen and sturdy oak table with smartly carved benches. In one corner there was a window overlooking the fields and, beyond that, the small bit of forest that separated the house from the seashore. By this window, there stood a red leather chair, which seemed grand and out of place amongst the otherwise simple setting. The ornate, luxurious piece was treated simply enough; a worn wool blanket was strewn casually across one of its overstuffed arms, and to its side, there was a small stool, which served as a side table. On the other end of the house a doorway led to a small room that served little function except to store several odds and ends that would otherwise unnecessarily clutter up the main room, and beyond this small antechamber was an entranceway to a quiet, simple bedchamber that tucked neatly behind the rest of the cabin and almost abutted the hill behind it. The cabin’s owner and his royal wife resided in this room, whereas their children, a lad and a lass, had the run of the place in the cabin’s loft, which was accessible by a steep narrow staircase in the corner of the main room. This loft had a shuttered opening on one end, just large enough for a child to crawl through, and when the weather was not too cold, the children enjoyed leaving it open and lying beside it, peering out at the fields of flickering fireflies and leaning out to see the stars. On still nights, they could hear the ocean waves in the distance, and on dark nights, they swore to each other that they could hear the ghosts in the woods.
The family had not been on the land for long. It had been a piece of the king’s lands—a sliver of the border which had remained a property of the kingdom vulnerable to attacks from the sea and therefore best used to stage and train troops. Much of these southern regions served this purpose, and it was during one of these training visits the owner first visited the land which would become his home. The man, then the king’s head general and military adviser, had been walking the ridge just above the site and looking out over the trees to the sliver of barely visible sea in the distance.
“Here,” the man had said to his majesty. “Here I would love to someday build a house and live a quiet life.”
“Here?” the king asked his trusted friend. “Surely you would not want to be so far away from the kingdom, in such a lonesome isolated place?”
“No, your majesty, I would never choose to be away from my duties. But if I should be so lucky as to live long enough to see peacetime, to see a day when there is no army, and we are all forced to choose a new profession, then I believe I would like very much to try my hand at this sort of quiet life. To live only for myself, and not feel the burden of deciding the fates and lives of others. Would your majesty ever wish for such a life?”
The king smiled and frowned at the same time. “It is not for a king to think of such things, dear Anton. A king must rule in peacetime as well as wartime. He would waste his time, and the time of his subjects, daydreaming about such fruitless topics.”
Anton said nothing. He had forgotten his place and knew not how to proceed.
“Ah, but you, my friend,” laughed the king jovially as he shook his friend’s shoulder playfully. “You shall have this and more—I swear it—if I ever have such a sad and joyful day to no longer need my friend’s services. I shall see you go, and you shall try this ‘solitude’ and ‘simplicity’ for the both of us.”
“Thank you, your highness, but I should never wish for more. What else could I want but a peaceful home?”
“Ah, Anton, there is always more to want. But come, we are losing the sun.”
Anton did not know it, but as he and the king stood on the ridge conversing that day, his first child was already growing in the belly of the king's cousin, a lady to her royal majesty the queen. When the child, a healthy, golden-haired boy, was born to the unmarried lady, she refused to name the father, and the queen, distraught at her closest friend’s troubling situation, allowed her to continue in her duties, and assigned her the further duty of caring for “the Child.” The Child’s identity was never fully explained to any members of the royal household or the general public but merely was considered by all as a child in which the queen took a peculiar interest, and that was to be raised in the castle, almost like a royal pet. It was forbidden to breathe a word of the child’s true identity, or the queen would surely throw the slanderer into the dungeons herself. Suspicions and rumors soon died out, and over time the child became known quite well as the special friend of the queen’s own firstborn son, Marius, the new heir to the throne, who was only one year younger than his mysterious blonde friend.
Eight years later, the king and Anton found themselves on the same ridge overlooking the small field and the forest beyond it.
“Anton,” started the king, “tell me, what do you make of those thickets at the forest’s edge? Should we build a barricade there to trap possible attackers where their bows would snag on the low branches?”
“Aye, your majesty, such a barricade would work well and would not take many resources to build.”
The king nodded. “But what of the stream? Could we not divert it towards the thicket instead and force the enemy to wade in the water, thus slowing their attack?”
“It would not be wise, your majesty. There is little chance of attack in this valley, as the ridge provides enough of an obstacle as is. Diverting the stream would take away much manpower, which we cannot afford now in the oncoming winter, whereas the barricade in the thicket would create a more than adequate fortification in only a fraction of the time.”
The king nodded again. He looked out, surveying the field before him. There was no thicket by the woods, and there was no stream anywhere to be seen. He sighed sadly and looked down at his hand as he spoke. “Anton, you have been a good general to me, and a great friend.”
“Thank you, my king. I am happy to do my duty.”
“How many battles have we entered together?”
“Dozens, your majesty.”
“And how many times have you sat at my table?”
“Countless times, your majesty.”
“And to whom do I depend upon more than on any other adviser?”
“I cannot speak for you, your majesty, but I have always strived to be trusted in my role.”
“Yes, dear Anton. But now tell me, when did you begin to lose your sight?”
Anton paused. “Your majesty?”
The king sighed again, and this time he looked up at his longtime friend as he spoke, “Anton, you have always, I believe, been honest with me in all things. Now be honest to me about this matter. The things which we discuss in this field—they are not here. The stream dried up two summers ago, and the thicket has been cleared for months as well. You tell me you see these things?”
“I . . . I remember them being here, sir. I remember this place well. As such, I do not look closely.”
“Then if you can see, what else has changed?”
Anton faced out over the view, pretending to scan. “I detect no difference, your majesty.”
“There is a house now, Anton,” said the king. “It is directly below us. The chimney is but ten feet away. It is newly built.”
Anton said nothing.
The king continued. “And it is now yours.”
“Mine?” wondered Anton.
“Yes, yours. You told me once, long ago, that you would wish to live here, and so you shall. You are still the greatest of advisers, Anton, but your sight, I know, has been disappearing. I do not believe that others have noticed, but you can hide nothing from me, you know. It is time, Anton. It is time for you to live your own life, not live to expand mine. Live here, Anton, on this stretch which I now bestow to you.”
“But your highness, I—”
“If not for you, then for your family.”
Anton was silent again. He had never discussed his child with the king. He felt a lump in his throat, but he managed to whimper, “So you know?” His blind eyes turned down to the ground before him.
“Yes, Anton, I know. With my blessing, take my cousin, take your son, bring them here to this beautiful place, and live, finally, a true life with those you truly love. Raise your son as your own, not as your king’s son’s friend. Kiss your wife without fear that a guard will see. Let her finally hold her child and her child’s father and feel no shame.”
“But the young prince, Marius, surely his friend—”
“Ah, yes, my son will be quite distraught at the loss of his friend,” laughed the king. “But I pray we shall count on the return of your young son, as training requires, and we shall groom him to be the next king’s military adviser, in the same way that you were raised to be mine.”
“What an honor, your majesty! Thank you, I . . .” Anton paused, and a tear ran down his haggard cheek. “This generosity, this kindness, I cannot repay you enough.”
“You have already paid me, Anton. Now live well for both of us, and ensure my son’s military adviser is just as capable and loyal as my military adviser has been to me.”
Anton nodded. He set his jaw, and together the two men rode carefully down the slope and entered the house, which unbeknownst to either party, would someday cause great pain.