I sit to write you what I cannot say to your face, yet I find my words are almost as unpolished and awkward as when I speak aloud. 'Tis strange that I, who have commanded so successfully so many hundreds of men, have not command of my own tongue, and I would wager because of that you think me sullen and rude.
Do you remember the night--it seems so long ago--shortly after we first began the journey here to the castle Tremayne? 'Twas the night the world seemed more still and silent than you or I had ever seen before. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the moon and the hundreds of stars shone down and lit the whole countryside with their silver light. 'Twas the night you asked me who I was and where I had come from and what my life had been before I became a soldier--or had I always been a soldier? I told you not then; I said it did not matter, but the truth was I was too ashamed to tell you.
I suppose I must have had a mother and a father, for what man does not? But I never knew them, for they either died or abandoned me--how often I wish I knew which it was--and I was left a child on the streets of Errylon.
The capital city can be a dark and dangerous place for those who have neither homes nor families to escape to, and it shows no mercy to those who are weak. I learned to be strong. I learned to fight. I learned to never show pain. I learned to hide all of my emotions under a proud, dark, ruthless facade. And I learned to hate everything and everyone.
There were a few who excused my actions, saying I had no father to teach me that which was right; how could one expect me to be other than what I was? But deep within my heart I knew what I did was evil, but I could find no way to escape. I continued to kill because it was the only way to live--because if I did not I would be killed. I continued to steal because I had no other way to gain that which I needed. I continued to be ruthless because if I ever showed mercy, others would take that as a sign of weakness and throw me down from the position of leadership which I had worked to hard to attain.
I hated my life. I hated what I was. I hated the chaos, the cruelty, and the blood, but I saw no way to leave it. I sought comfort in the arms of women, but all I found was emptiness and despair, and I learned to hate and despise them even more than I hated and despised the rest of mankind.
When I was, perhaps, nineteen, King Ashlin ascended the throne and, almost immediately following, declared war upon the neighboring kingdoms. He sent recruiters throughout the whole of the country, first asking then forcing men to join the army. I had no wish to become a soldier, but I had no choice in the matter, and I decided that if I had to be a soldier I might as well be as good a one as I could. I soon learned that I had rather a talent for spilling blood in the name of the King, and I progressed quickly through the ranks until now I am a captain, and who knows but that I might soon become a general.
I hated the army even more than I hated the streets of Errylon. In the capitol city, what I and other criminals did was illegal, but in the army, not only was it accepted, it was, in fact, encouraged. Farms were pillaged, men murdered, and women ravished. True, I did not rape the women or join often in the looting, but I did not speak out against those who did. In sooth, 'twas not any great morality on my part which kept me from doing as the other men did but simply because I knew I would not be filled.
I longed so much for death to take me, but it would not come on the field, and there was something within me that would not allow me simply kill myself. So I continued on murdering men with whom I had no quarrel and conquering countries to satisfy my King's lust for power.
I know not whether you know this; if you do not, I now tell you. 'Twas I who was largely responsible for the destruction of the city Marise and thus the fall of your country. The battle plan was mine, with but a few changes made by General Raleigh, and 'twas I who led the main charge. I have never seen so much blood as that which I caused to fall that day, and the shame and sickness which wells up within me at every thought of it I know I shall never lose.
That night, when the battle was finished and Marise destroyed, I stumbled through the broken remains. My way was lit by smoldering fires, and my ears were filled with the cries of looting soldiers and the screams of terrified people. I knew not what I was doing or where I was going. I simply wanted to escape, but it seemed the further I ran the louder the cries and the more ravaged the city became. Around me I could see people running in terror and soldiers destroying that which had not been already destroyed. I wanted to cry--to scream--for them to stop, but no words would come.
I stumbled forward and fell to the ground, and as I scrambled to my feet I suddenly caught sight of you. You were lit by the red glow of a dying fire. Three men stood before you, and you were backed up against a wall. Your eyes were wide with terror, and, in your hands, though I know not how you managed to do so, you held a sword that seemed nearly as long as yourself.
For a moment I could do nothing save stare. Your dress was torn and your face streaked with dirt and tears. Your auburn hair fell wildly around you. You seemed so very innocent, and as I looked into your eyes it was as though I saw you screaming out in anger and accusation. What had you ever done to deserve such a fate?
Suddenly, one of the men ran forward. You lashed out at him, and I heard him give a cry as your sword cut into his cheek, but, even as he did so, one of the other men grabbed you by the arm and struck your sword from your hand. I could hear your screams of terror; they seemed to pierce me to my soul, and suddenly I heard my own voice join yours as I found myself charging forward. With all my might I pulled one of the men from you and threw him to the ground.
All three soldiers turned to me and would have fought me had they not suddenly recognized me. 'Twas I who had been responsible for the day's victory, and, as such, the first of the spoils went to me. With words of anger they turned and left.
I reached down to help you rise, and with a cry you sent your nails digging into my cheek. Anger filled me and I grabbed you tightly by both arms and yanked you to your feet. You struggled with all your might against me, but I paid you no heed. I dragged you after me through the city, and the more you fought the tighter I held you. My fingers dug into your skin, and I knew it hurt you, but I could not keep myself from doing so. All I knew was that if I let you escape another man would take you.
I brought you to my tent. You were still trying so desperately to escape so I tied you up. You begged, you wept, you pleaded for me to let you go, but I would not listen to you. I was so overcome with the fighting of the day and the turmoil I had just gone through that it took all my energy just to roll up in a blanket before I fell asleep.
The next day I learned that the war against your country was finished and we had been victorious. I had served well and faithfully and was, therefore, allowed to return home. I considered releasing you, but then I realized there was nowhere for you to go. I had destroyed your home, and now it was my duty to take care of you. I know you viewed it not so then, nor do I think you do so now, but there is nothing I can do save ask for your forgiveness.
I was still afraid that you would try to escape so I kept you tied. Your stony silence was almost more than I could bear. I tried to act as though it did not matter, but I would wager all I succeeded in doing was making you believe I was even more a brute and monster than you already thought me to be.
As you know, I did not keep you bound for the whole of our journey to the castle. After about a day you seemed to grow slightly more acceptant of all which had taken place, and so I thought it safe to let you go.
I will not forget a day of that journey. You were so very sad and silent, and yet not even all which had happened to you could keep you from noticing the beauty which was around you. Several times I saw you looking up at the trees or the sky, and there was such a look of happiness upon your face. But, beneath the happiness, there was an unmistakable sorrow--a sorrow which I had put there. Every time I saw your blue eyes lit with joy, I could not help but wonder what they would look like had war--had I--never come to your country and put that hint of sadness in them.
I know not whether it was truly you or simply my wishful thinking, but you seemed to grow more content as the days went by. Several times you tried to converse with me, but each time I said little in reply. The truth is I was too guilty to speak with you. I had destroyed your country, kidnapped you, and forced you to come with me to a strange and foreign land...and, on top of that, the more time I spent beside you the less I wanted to leave you.
I am certain many a man before me has told you how beautiful you are. Coming from my lips, it must seem repulsive, yet still I cannot help but tell you. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and the most sweet and noble and innocent. Would you despise me very much if I told you I loved you?
I have wanted to tell you that from almost the moment I first saw you. Several times I tried, but when you looked at me the words died in my mouth, and instead I said something about the weather or how long the journey was, or I fell silent altogether.
Each day of our journey was both a torture and a pleasure. Each day I told myself I would tell you how I felt, yet each day passed without me doing so.
Finally, the day came when we reached the castle. It was built within the highlands, far different from the forests of your native country. It was mid-morning, and the sun shone brightly out from behind the hills. We sat upon our horses at the base of the hill, and for a moment you simply gazed up at the castle. The sun shone across your face and made your hair sparkle in its light. Your eyes seemed fairly to dance, and a small smile played upon your lips.
As I looked upon you my heart sank, for I was struck by the sheer baseness of my love for you. You had suffered far more than anyone, much less a woman, should have suffered, and 'twas because of me that you did so. Yet, in spite of all you had been through, you did not let pain and sadness rule you. You laughed and smiled, and, though I know not if you know it, you were more noble and gracious than a queen. I turned quickly from you and looked up at the castle myself, for I knew then that I would never be able to tell you what I felt.
I have done all that is within my power to make your life here at Tremayne comfortable. I pray I have succeeded.
Since you have come into my life, I have been filled with more joy and yet more sorrow than ever I have felt before--joy in that I have found in you all the nobility and peace which were denied me during my days on the streets and in the army, and sorrow in knowing that any kindness you return me I will not deserve.
I have stayed silent this whole year, but, though I know I deserve you not, I can keep silent no longer. Will you be my wife?
The King has called all men to arms, and I am off to war again. I know 'tis rude to ask you such a question in a letter which you will only read after I am gone, but, perhaps, it is for the better; my absence will remind you of what I am and that which I have done.
I pray with all my heart that, in spite of my past, you love me and will consent to be my wife, but, if you do not, you have nothing to fear; I will speak no more of it and will continue to provide for you as I have up until now. If I die during the war, you also have nothing to worry about; I have seen to it that all which I possess (no small amount) will become yours.
If what I have said has insulted you and you wish no longer to see me, I can find another home for you--perhaps one closer to your native soil. Or, if you desire to remain here at the castle, you have but to tell me, and I will take myself somewhere else.
There, I have finally said all that for so long I have desired to tell you. And, now that I have done so, I find that I am at a loss as to how to end this letter. A formal ending seems not proper, but I wish not to insult you by sounding too familiar. So, with the risk of sounding once more too brusque, I end it simply--