CITY BY THE SEA
It never bothered Charles that he essentially belonged to someone else from birth. Ever since he could remember he had been told stories about the mysterious prince who was his betrothed, and who one day would be called husband. As he grew older, Charles caught his thoughts drifting away from lessons under his stoic tutors, his mind slipping into the hazy daydream of his life yet to come. He imagined he could see the prince’s face painted in sunlight through the stained glass in the library, or hear his voice in each note of music, each murmured conversation. He couldn’t shake the looming promise on the horizon, or the multitude of questions swimming through his brain.
What would the prince think about science and biology? Would he wonder about the universe? What colour would his hair be after the rain? Would he be quick to laugh - and what would his mouth look like when he smiled? Would he create war, or music or brilliant thought? Would his hands be callused? Would he be rough when he touched Charles, or would he move softly in the dead of night, under finely spun sheets…
Charles was not afraid of being married off to a virtual stranger in the name of peace and politics. When he thought of his future husband, it was with excitement and longing. He counted the days until his eighteenth birthday when he would come of age and escape the stone prison of his childhood, his isolation and aching days and nights alone. He thought of his future and was full of hope. He wanted to belong to someone and keep that person tucked close to his own heart in turn. That more than his husband, he might call the prince his friend, might get to call him by that short perfect name he had rolled around on his tongue and tested out, muffled into his pillow as he drifted into sleep, and breathed onto frosted windowpanes. Erik.
Charles’ birthday came and went without much fanfare. There was a lavish ball where Charles was polished to a shine and seated atop the center table for everyone to look at and admire, but there was no personal touch, no loving embrace as he bid fond farewell to his childhood. It would have passed like almost any other birthday, except for one thing: this birthday signaled the end. And the beginning. Soon he would trade his shining cage for another. He could only assume that life was about to get better.
And then suddenly the day was there. The day when the doors were thrown open and his piles of well tailored clothes were loaded into heavy wooden trunks and heaped onto the carriage that would take him away. That would take him to Erik, who he had dreamed about for so long. He wondered if he would be smart, or handsome, or funny. He hoped he would be kind if nothing else. Charles had not experienced much kindness in his eighteen years.