Perhaps it was the smoke on the horizon that turned the setting sun into a dropped blood orange, or perhaps it was the pus-slimed wound in the his side, but the King was coughing–quietly, almost apologetically, a diametric opposite from his stentorian speaking voice–when the Knight entered, fresh from the battlefield.
No words were exchanged about the battle. Truths that are both obvious and distasteful are unspoken in the company of honorable men.
The King, when he recovered his voice, his eyes swimming in unacknowledged pain, spoke instead of the light of his dimming life, his child, his daughter, his sole heir.
“At dawn they will have the castle” and the Knight lifted his head from the flagstones at those words, loyal, eager to be of use, but knowing it was not necessary to confirm what all knew, “and I need you to be far from here, in deep and hidden places, with her.”
Since the Queen’s death there needed no antecedent for that pronoun. The princess was the only “her”.
“Liege” was all the Knight said.
“You must teach her” continued the King, and his wounds wept the tears that his eyes could not. “You must show her what it is to be broken and still live. She must learn to accept the oppressor’s lash with open eyes and a clear heart.”
And there is within the Knight that which knows that more than his blade is required to be laid at the feet of his realm.
“I am weak” and although the Knight’s soul cried against the charge he kept silent, “I know only the conquest of strength. You must teach her the conquest of surrender.”
The King coughed blood and the Knight looked down at the flagstones, as if the work of men centuries dead was new to him.
“I have chosen you of all my men because you see the truth and do not turn away. Teach her how to rise above the humiliation of defeat. Show her how to accept, how to surrender and arise victorious.”
The King’s eyes locked upon the Knight’s, and he heard himself, far away, ask himself if he ever before had noticed what a vivid green they were, “Break her. Break her to your will, with love and loyalty, and give her the strength to rise from her knees and shake off the chains and rule… else the realm is as dead as I.”