Telling Tales 114
The Dream of an Old Soldier
The old soldier dreamed of days and sunsets long gone, of nights and moons, clouds and causeways. There was a dinner, he remembered in his dream, and in the dream of his memory he was sitting at a table with a man in a bright red suit. “I served with this fellow in my regiment,” the soldier was saying, and he was so much younger in the dream, “always had ideas for how to woo a woman. Always said it was a mistake to call them the gentler sex because they were as hard as men and fought as fiercely, though not always in the same ways. He did like ‘the fairer sex,’ but then that’s no surprise, is it?”
“I did everything I thought I was supposed to,” grieved the man in red. “I rescued her from her prison. I saved her from the evil wizard. I tried to defend her against the servants who came to return her to her torment and she went with them! She fled from me! I don’t understand. Why didn’t she love me? Why didn’t it happen the way it does in stories?”
The soldier considered the lessons that his comrade had related on long nights of the watch when they had stood talking if for no other reason than to stay awake. “Did you talk with her while she stayed with you?” he asked.
“Of course, we talked!”
“Yes, but did you talk or did you talk together? Did you listen? My comrade swore that while some women do in fact like to hear all of the things we men pride ourselves on, but that some of them like to be the ones that do all the talking, and then there’s a bunch – most of them, he said, that actually prefer conversation.” He threw up his hands. “I know, it’s crazy. It’s like the rules everyone says exist aren’t really there. We have rules for combat, rules for honor and honesty, rules for warfare and rules for the army. Why can’t we have a few straightforward rules for courtship?”
Queen Natanh laughed from where she sat at the head of the table. “Soldier, you excel at playing the fool, but sometimes I fear your jests go over the heads of my guests.” She turned to the man in red and explained, “He means the opposite of his words. Is it not ridiculous that there are rules for war, that most inhuman of acts? Why should you expect us to behave according to some calculus any more than you expect to win a war simply by having more soldiers?”
The soldier’s eyes twinkled in his dream. “You are wiser than I, Highness.”
She shook her head. “I am not, but I am kinder, and he is my friend and he needs comfort.” Her hand sat lightly on the man in red’s shoulder and the gold of her clothing made the color of his sleeve seem like fresh blood. She nodded at the bottle in front of the soldier as a reminder.
“I meant no disrespect,” apologized the soldier, and obediently took a swig from the bottle that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
“I took none,” despaired the man. “What you must understand is that my love for her is true and real and not the idle fancy she had for that other. It hurts me and I seek to understand my pain. If I could understand why she did not love me more, perhaps it would not hurt me so greatly.” He stopped abruptly and all at the table looked around.
Queen Natanh and King Ittindi stood at the look of shock on the man’s face once they realized there was another guest at the door of the room.
“Oh!” said the soldier to the new arrival. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”