Try finding Tutti Frutti’s song “Ne bojim se drugova tvoga frajera” (I am not afraid of your boyfriend’s mates). It is a bit old and (not) cool in Croatia so I assume non-Croatians might not appreciate it either but hey, it did trigger this story and, to be honest, I am cool enough to have a liberty of being who I truly am all the time so I insist on you finding THAT particular song.
During the whole trip the weather has been pretty cold. They were all very grateful for that. Nobody wanted to find out what smell does a 5 days old corpse have on a warm and sunny day. It was mostly quiet cortege, Laura’s daughter stopped sobbing this morning and her husband was keeping his sorrow for himself. All of the empress’s siblings with their families where in a cortege. They wanted to escort their sister properly and to say goodbye to her on a local graveyard, where all their ancestors were buried.
Empress was with them too. Her husband stayed in the mansion. He had to take care of all empire’s affairs. Emperor decided to assign his personal army adviser to keep empress safe. Even though there was enough room in the carriages, she was riding a horse, trying to bare her sorrow in solitude. She would often ride next to the carriage that carried Laura’s body and if somebody would show desire to talk to her, she would just ignore the person.
When they arrived home, their father was there, broken. He had received a letter from Laura’s husband two days ago so he prepared everything for a funeral. That evening they all sat at their father’s table. They had Laura’s favorite dish, žganci with chicken livers, for dinner. Father was watching his 4 remaining children and felt incredibly alone in this world. His wife had passed away two decades ago. He barley survived that loss and has never dreamed about being forced to survive one more loss, his oldest child. Laura’s husband joined the dinner too. His children stayed at home, they were in no condition to participate this dinner. It would be too hard for them to listen to all the dear memories about their mother. Emperor’s personal army adviser was sitting in the dark corner of the room. He didn’t want to impose his presence, he was here merely to look after the empress.
Each sibling shared one memory of Laura. There were lots of tears mixed with laughter but at least they were all together. Empress’s old bodyguard didn’t seem to listen to any of them. None of the four stories were important for him. Yet, when observing carefully, one could notice a barely visible twitch of his mustache when the youngest sibling started to share his memory of Laura. Bodyguard wasn’t aware of his hand touching the abdomen.
“I was 16 and I went to a pub searching for a fight. My girlfriend at the time was a girl from the village. She knew I was asking for trouble so she ran to Laura begging her to send some help. Laura quickly assembled a small army of 10 of the finest guards my father had and sent them to the pub. In the mean time I started a fight with 25 guys at the same time. Boy was I foolish!”, he stopped to drink some water. Even a short story like this one made his sad throat sore. When he emptied his glass, he continued,
“In the middle of the fight, they surrounded me and I fell on the floor. I lost consciousness and, in that very moment, guards, which my sweet sister sent to help me, barged into the pub. They saved my life. Dear Laura has always been looking after us. I wouldn’t be here with you guys now if it weren’t for her.”
When the dinner ended, empress went for a walk, allowing her bodyguard to join her. Usually, she would wish to have some privacy but she knew she has been neglecting her bodyguard ever since they left the empire so she decided to behave like a tamed empress now. She was surprised when she heard him start a conversation.
“My empress, I listened to your youngest brother’s story. I never expected your brother to be so clueless.”
“You must forgive him, he was a foolish child then even though his heart was in the right place. He was sure he is protecting his girlfriend in that pub. My foolish brave brother. He grew up in such a wise man. You know, we are lucky to have him.”
“He either doesn’t know the whole story or he hid the truth on purpose.”
“I am sure he said all he remembered about that evening.”
“So be it ma’am. You may not know it but I was there too and, unlike him, I remember all the details. I remember a man entering the pub few minutes before your brother passed out. That man started pushing his way through to your brother ma’am. By the time he reached him, your brother was hit in the head and tumbled to the floor. His attackers were ready to drag him out and finish him. This man held a knife in his hand. He stood above your brother ma’am. Guards which Laura sent weren’t the only ones that saved your brother ma’am. It was that man too, that man and me.”
Bodyguard made a pause, to see what will empress say to this part of the story. She allowed their eyes to meet. Her eyes were gray. They were always gray when she was sad or mad but even in this poor moonlight he could see their depth. He hoped to see something in them. There was nothing there though, nothing for him to see. He continued.
“He was standing above your brother, his legs on either side of your brother’s body. Attackers were shocked at first, they had no idea why a stranger would help your brother. The man wore a hood over his head so no one could see his face. Attackers didn’t contemplate about the situation for too long, soon fists started flying. Man was successfully dodging most of them and cutting a few of the limbs by his knife. He even gave a nasty deep cut on a cheek of one of the attackers. When one of them sneaked behind him, I stepped in and pushed him away. Man turned around and stabbed me with the knife. I still don’t understand why I didn’t anticipate that. He pulled the knife out of my abdomen and continued to defend your brother. Soon Laura’s guards arrived and the man dragged me away from your brother. He saved my life ma’am. I will never forget him that.”
“Well, it seems that my brother wasn’t the only fool participating that uneven fight. There were more fools beside him.”
Emperor’s old army adviser laughed.
“Yes, ma’am, two more fools.”
“Tell me, why did you jump in to help that man? He might have handled that backstabbing attacker without your help.”
“Oh, that wasn’t a man, ma’am. This is why I jumped in. I said to myself, I cannot come to the old emperor saying I found a perfect wife for his son and I let her die.”
“What made you think it was a woman?”
“I have been in a few battles and quite a few fistfights. I have seen men fight, angry men, sad men, drunk men, brave men, stupid men, smart men. She was moving like a man, she was as fast as some of my best soldiers, but ma’am, she was not only fighting, she was observing too.”
“You said she stabbed you and then that she saved your life. How is that possible?”
“I lied, she didn’t stab me, an attacker behind her stabbed me and pulled the knife out to stab her too. That girl watched me fall while disarming a poor guy and sticking that same knife into his shoulder. When the guards barged in, they captured a few of the standing attackers and told a story most guards would tell. A story in which they were the only heroes. Hmmm, actually, I think they didn’t even notice the two of us. She dragged me to the opposite side of the room and stuck her two fingers in my abdomen wound. That almost completely stopped the bleeding. Bartender fetched the doctor, he stitched me up and sent me on my way as soon as I was able to ride. Do you know what she was whispering to my ear while we were waiting for the doctor?”
“You damn fool, you could’ve gotten killed. And for what? For nothing, I had things under control. Damn fool, listen to me when I talk to you! Don’t you dare pass out on me, you fool! Man always think they need to save people. You old fool!”
Old man laughed.
“You are right ma’am. She was trying to sound like a man but she was a girl. I helped her and she was still complaining, nagging – if by then I wasn’t sure about her gender, that nagging proved me I was right.”
“Why did you told the old emperor about her?”
“I saw the way you fight, take care of your own, tend the wounded and through all that you managed to be humbled. You payed for the doctor too, didn’t you? He didn’t want to take anything for the service he provided. When I was about to leave, the bartender told me in which Inns I should sleep in while I am on my way to the north. He told me to use his name and in those Inns I will always be welcome. He was right ma’am. They all were very hospitable towards me. And this, ma’am, this was a lady in you. You told him that I am under your protection. By then I already knew you would be the perfect bride for our new emperor.”
“You never said that to my husband, why didn’t you?”
“I decided this is your story to tell, not mine. Not even the old emperor knew why I chose you. He trusted me with everything so in that case he trusted me too. And he never regretted it.”
“Lovely story. Now, excuse me, tomorrow is a very hard day for me and I need to get some rest.”
Old bodyguard accompanied her to her room and went to bed. He told everything he knew about the story. Yet, not even he knew the whole story. He didn’t know how she felt while holding her two fingers in his wound, feeling his insides and blood under her fingertips. He didn’t know what was the real reason she was breathing so fast. Young girl jumped on her horse and rode back to her home. She let the servant take care of the horse and then ran into her room. This room. She was looking at her two fingers now just like she did that night. Now they are scented, then the blood was already dry on them. She relived that night in her mind. The smell of the blood on her, her laying on the bed, licking her two bloody fingers. This time there is no blood on them. But her body remembers the taste from that night. She put her hand on the same place she did years ago, closed her eyes and celebrated a victory in her first men fight.