F R A U D
The candleflame and the image of it flickered in the mirror where it twisted and straightened when I entered the room and shut the door. I took off my helmet and came slowly forward. The stone floor scraped beneath my armored feet. Along the cold walls before me hung the portrayals of ancestors dimly known to me, all framed up in glass and guttered ornamentation carved and bespackled with gold and fool’s gold. I came to one and pressed my thumb to the waxy veneer. I looked at the face so caved and drawn inward and white, the yellowed hair and the thin pale eyes, eyelids shrill like paper. My father’s cruel visage represented here in a manner of one that was sleeping, though I knew beyond any shadow of my mind that my father did not know sleep; no, he still walked this world, and there would be no sleeping for him, not until he had wrested from me anything and everything I had so desperately tried to protect.
“You never cared to know me,” I said. I could feel him sneering down on me.
I left the room. Inside the hall there was no sound save the flickering of the torches. I went out the main door and let it shut behind. It was dark outside and cold and no wind to know. In the distance a horse bawled. I stood with my helmet in my hand. I walked out to the prairie and saw that thin grey reef beginning along the eastern edges of the world. Light of a new day, nascent and needing.
I came to a fence and stood against it and stared out at the darkened land as some supplicant to the night. As I turned to go I heard the hoofbeats. I stopped and waited for them. I could feel them under my feet. They came thundering out of the east like some army of muscle and steel. They slowed to a trot and raised their torches as they passed me by.
“Hail, my lord.”
I watched them go. I carried on into the camp where the refugees lay shuddered up in their little cots stuffed with cotton and wool and straw, bedded up on stilts or on the ground, or on boxes or inside old crates stuffed with hay. Women and children from a village not long ago raped and plundered by an enemy I did not yet know, but would reckon with soon. I moved about them and they stirred from their makeshift homes and called out to me. They were all of them Colovians, and though I was cold and though it was dark, I saw the light in their eyes, the warmth in their smiles.
I have always felt a fraud at my station, a man playing at a thing he could never do well. I have been known for my passions and obsessions, how they cannot be controlled. It is true that the stronger the passion, the more vulnerable the person. This may seem surprising, for it is the most passionate person who looks the strongest. However, I, like so many others, are simply filling the stage with my own theatricality; distracting my enemies from the true weaknesses I know. Greed, lust, fear—these are emotions that cannot be entirely concealed. Emotions over which we have the least control. If there is one thing I have learned from my father, it is this: what people cannot control, you can control for them.
I carried on into the morning walking the old war path to the south. My thoughts were on my father, and how I was not like him, how he was hated and feared. I tried to reason within my mind that it was not the same with me, but my mind continued backward across my recent memories, and in it a cold stone sank in the depths of my gut. I am hated. I am feared. But I refused to believe I was the same as he. I had decided long ago that it was better to be feared than loved, and perhaps that is why I am still alive—and so many others are not.