Prologue: Silent Home Movies
Home movies at their heart capture loss-
The family on the beach…
The child taking the first step…
The dance at a wedding…
Each of these moments are lost immediately after being arrested-
Leaving the viewer with a bittersweet feeling-
It is never joy or peace when a person revisits an old film-
It is always something closer to mourning…
Home movies at their heart capture loss-
Consider the films of this family:
A happy picnic surrounded by servants,
The little moments of peace before World War I-
The father chases the son, not feeling the burden of a kingdom-
The mother content to watch and laugh with her brother-in-law-
The royal family, unlike normal people, never had to worry about holding the camera-
There was someone always there to shoot the family-
And those captured losses would appear in newsreels before the movies and performers-
The citizens of Denmark loved the king-
The citizens of Denmark loved the family-
The citizens of Denmark loved the young prince-
Time sneaks in-
With each newsreel, the beloved prince gets older and older-
There he is studying in the library…
There he is practicing his fencing…
There he is reading in the royal gardens (with a young woman spying on him)-
Then the final film reel:
The son returning to college in Germany,
The father embrace (tight)-
Little does either suspect it would be the last time-
Chapter 1: This Dead Hour
This is not where Marcellus was supposed to be.
This guard duty was a worthless task, usually thrown to the new soldiers or the ones that no one could stand to be around (either because of attitude or smell). For nothing happens at midnight. Even if some wayward right-wing revolutionary or anarchist found their way to the castle, they would probably select a more convenient entrance inside than up the parapet walls running around the great estate, the great border meant to keep the rabble out.
Little to see, little to do.
Most who walked this midnight shift spent their time complaining about the cold, what it would be like to be sleeping, and everything and anything they would rather be doing then this guard duty.
Marcellus had only been doing this midnight duty for a little over a month, but he was already feeling himself slip away. It wasn’t fair, and many said as much to him when he got the assignment. For over twelve years, he was a respected member of the guard, many times right near the royal family. The previous king (His king, Marcellus would note to himself) and his son even knew his first name! The king would always lean to Marcellus, choosing him to follow along, even once or twice turning to him with a little glance or a raised eyebrow when something curious was said or done near them.
Those glances meant everything to Marcellus.
Marcellus was good at his job then. In all his time, he had only made one mistake, the problem is he made it at the worst moment possible.
When it was announced in the royal chambers by the dead King’s younger brother, Claudius that he was going to marry the mourning queen, the response was supposed to be joyous. Marcellus was certain looking back at that moment that that is what the royal family wanted everyone to feel. A bright new future, a healing dawn. Instead there was silence, the most quiet and dead. Which, of course, made Marcellus’s outburst that much more noticeable.
Marcellus didn’t swear like some of the guards claimed. It was more of a grunt, but it was loud and it said more than most words would have. That singular noise was enough to make Marcellus an unsuspecting legend in the capital and tossed him to the worst guard duty in the kingdom.
Every 11 PM to 6 AM, poor Marcellus could now be found walking back and forth along the parapet walls circling the acres, taking the only occasional and quick glances down to the grounds far below, making sure no one was approaching the castle walls or sneaking around inside. Castle, check; private chapel, still there as well; the royal graveyard, check; gardens and maze, green and intact…
It was such a worthless task, created out of tradition, now continued out of laziness and ancient formality. Whenever Marcellus dared to look to the grounds in that darkness, the people would look just like black ants. And really how was he to tell the difference between the dark ant that was a washerwoman coming to do her cleaning and the dark ant that was a revolutionary with a hidden bomb? They were all ants to him!
Another problem for Marcellus is that he always had a deep fear of heights. Whenever he took the time to look down, he would almost immediately begin to feel dizzy, weak at the knees. There was even a time, during his first week, when he had to be saved from falling off the wall.
All of this because of a grunt.
The bitter thing that Marcellus had to stop thinking was that he knew (he knew!) that every soldier in the kingdom agreed with him about this so-called royal wedding. Some soldiers said this to him after his new assignment, others said enough with their little nods and glimpses. It was all too suspicious. The quick and strange death of the good king, the wedding of his queen to his brother, and the throne passing over the son to the uncle. Truly, this Denmark was not the Denmark they agreed to guard or the one they fought for during the great War, the War to End all Wars. Then they were following a king they believed in, a royal family that they cherished thanks to the newspaper stories and, especially, the newsreels. That is what they bleed for. A world where a perfect family like that could live in peace, set an example for all of them. The king lived a life that could only be compared to a dream, and the soldiers were guarding that dream.
A beautiful thought in a way.
Marcellus had no idea how long he was going to be on this assignment. At one point, he actually considered abandoning his post, collecting his saved earnings and escaping. He had nothing holding him to Denmark; no wife, no children. But as each day went past, the idea of escaping drifted farther and farther away from him. Soon every night, every moment began to bleed into each other, and shortly Marcellus didn’t feel time anymore.
You lose time when you lose the daylight. The only thing Marcellus had to mark time was the weather, the cold and the rain were different, but only slightly, for even the summer nights in Northern Europe can get pretty cold. It was almost shocking to him that it was only a month. It felt like all time, and none at the same time.
There was one fire on the wall, near the north-east back where the walls stop and the cliffs take over. Near it, were the scribbles of a hundred different solders, each tracing their now-forgotten name on the pavement. That fire had probably been kept ever since the first family, many generations ago, called the castle home. There was a disgruntled history in the fire, in the action of holding one’s hands over the flames. You feel warmth, you feel a little closer to the illusion of truly being alive.
It’s not as if the high castle of Elsinore in the middle of the royal lands was worth fighting for or protecting. Historical importance aside, it was an aging building and five steps from a wrecking ball. Too cold in the winter, too humid in the summer, the royal family would take any excuse available to abandon it for a time.
Elsinore was a place rich in ghost stories, with each room having its own devils and angels to draw a storyteller forward. For Marcellus, he felt the dark stories more. It didn’t help his nightmares that in the summer, when especially humid the walls would drip blood. Now Marcellus was wise enough to know that it wasn’t really blood, but poor construction and clay mixing with the water, still it was very disconcerting even to those with level-enough minds to know there is no such thing as ghouls.
It would have been wiser to just turn the castle into a tourist location. It could have easily been done decades ago. Maybe adventurous tourists would enjoy the discomfort and bleeding walls? The problem is that no king or queen wanted to be the one to abandon the location. It would have been seen as a loss, and no one in power wants to be seen as a failure in the eyes of a single peasant. So because of pride, the royal family suffered inside while guards like Marcellus suffered on the out.
The duty was all so monotonous, and Marcellus could feel his “wants” disappearing as each dark evening began. Lust for food, lust for excitement, lust for drink, lust for women, it all began to feel too tiring for him. A memory of his past life.
The midnight watch was his only life now, and all because of a grunt.
Prison would have been kinder. At least in a cell, he might have kept his soul intake.
Really it was not surprising that Marcellus considered just ending it, falling over the side. He imagined it being symbolic in a way, the guard jumping to his death as the kingdom falls around him. He probably would have enjoyed conversing about it, if he wasn’t the one to do the leaping. He could see the debates now, with soldiers talking about the troubles with the growing right-wing factions in Germany, the stranglehold communism had on Russia, the faltering strength of Denmark’s royal family, and everyone in Denmark, young and old, feeling like danger was a little too close.
Marcellus also liked how his leap may help to silence the other soldier he shared the evening with, Bernardo; or as Marcellus thought of him in his mind, “The Talker.”
Bernardo- the name could almost be a curse now for Marcellus.
Bernardo didn’t know when to stop talking! Thanks to his age, he was lucky enough to miss the war, and maybe, Marcellus conjectured that was why he couldn’t shut up. Yes, that must have been it. He was making up for the bravado he didn’t have on the field, the earned struggles and scars of the older soldiers like Marcellus.
Marcellus knew Bernardo was given this awful evening duty because of that mouth of his, but the young soldier had no idea. He truly thought it was an honor based on how the day guard described it. Oh, the foolish simpleton!
So it was on that evening, with Marcellus’s feelings of loss and hopelessness and the Talker going on and on about his future (from the woman he would marry and all of the other women he would impregnate as well), Marcellus walked to the edge of the precipice of the wall right near the cliff, ready to end it all finally.
It would be so easy… so very easy… all he would have to do is lean and then look really closely at the ground below. His fear of heights should do the rest. He probably would faint so soundly that he wouldn’t even feel the swishing of the breeze as he fell or the slam as he body broke on the rocks below.
Marcellus didn’t bother to take a deep breath or say anything profound. No need and not worth it. He just moved to the edge of the castle and looked down.
…But Marcellus was not looking at the ground.
There was a face looking right up at him, and for the very first time since that mistaken moment in the great chambers, Marcellus let out a second grunt of astonishment.
The face was gray, ashen in a way. The flesh was pealing, and the body connected to it was also ghostlike, invisible and solid all at the same time.
Marcellus knew that face, had loved that face! It was the face of the king. His king. The same king that inspired him to become a guard, the one that would wink to him, pat him on the back from time to time. The right king to be on the throne, not the usurper that sat there now.
Marcellus staggered back from the edge, falling to the ground (it bruised him with his military garb on but he would not notice his bruises until hours later). The Talker only saw Marcellus’s collapse and began to let out a laugh but stopped when he saw the great specter nobly and slowly rise to their level. Even in death he was greater than them and demanded respect.
The dead king was dressed as most people knew him. The same image that adorned many walls in the kingdom, from bars to their dining rooms. He was in his great armor, the same one passed down from generations to generations. The mark of the king, and he had taken it with him to his grave.
How was any of this possible? What did it mean?
While Marcellus just stared up in astonishment, watching as the silent haunt turned from them without even a glance and floated away down the wall, the Talker did the one thing Marcellus wished he could’ve done earlier.
Enjoying the writing? Why not show your support by checking out my newest novel?
Permanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.