Title: De Rore Coeli
Fandom: King Rat
Summary: Peter Marlowe dreams of Changi, while his mother watches over him, and of the King and the father who protected him. [King Rat fandom.
A/N: Written for the Malachy O'More challenge by Qoheleth. The motto is 74th on the list and associated with Pope Urban the Seventh. This challenge is one where each writer is ascribed a Latin motto with a meaning, from a man who is supposed to have described each pope from the first to the last. To find out more, or to join up please visit Qoheleth's page!
The day was baking hot, the heat beat down on the heads of those foolish enough to sit in the heat, lazy eyed men, limbs burnt brown and hardened by the sun. Some few like lizards seemed to relish the heat, but they were men whose minds were broken by the shouts and taunts of their captors, and by that private hell that only the human mind can inflict. Few moved much, energy was conserved as far as possible. Except for one man. The King stood tall where others bent double under the weight of living, and scuttled like crabs before the all devouring rays. He was crisp and clean in cool white shorts, and pressed white shirt. He wore immaculate sandals, and his eyes a cool blue were shaded under dark sunglasses. He was a man in a world of unmanned men.
Cool cotton sheets wrinkled under grasping sweat soiled hands, the blankets thrashed here and there by wayward limbs. Broken half moons of words tumbling out in dizzyingly kaleidoscopic parodies of children's words. He tossed and trembled, sweat slicking limbs in moist parody of the tears that leaked from unseeing eyes. His words were indistinct, mumbled into a reality that only he could see, and the woman by the door could not understand a single word, as it was in some Oriental dialect. She stood there, sadly watching the restive movements of the man in the bed. She was rather younger than she looked; truly only in early middle age, yet grey had touched the darkness of her hair, and grief dulled the calm blue of her eyes. Elizabeth Marlowe had been a beautiful woman once, when her husband had married her, when she wore a white dress with orange blossom in her hair, and red roses in her hands. Now the white dress had been folded away baptised with tears, and bathed in camphor. And the handsome husband lost to an enemy she had never understood. While her son cried, and talked in Malay of things and people she had never known.
Peter Marlowe looks up from the ground he has been studying and his eyes are arctic blue and cool in the light of the day, when the King squats down beside him. His smile is deep and warm and genuine, and the King instinctively smiles back, in pressed white shorts and a smile almost as white. Peter is wearing only his sarong, and his armband, and it is no hidden subtlety that the King can spot in the conflicting halves of Peter's nature. They sit without speaking; idly enjoying the other's company, while the King ruminates over what he has to say. "How's Mac holding up?" he asks at last, and for a moment he hates himself, and hates Peter for the opening.
Peter's hands stiffen for a moment, but it is only because Grey has just walked into view. "Not so bad old chap," he says casually. "The tablets really helped."
The King closes his eyes for a brief second. "Great. Peter could you help me translate tonight? It's only small." He is careful to keep his voice down. "Just a Ronson." He pretends not to notice that Peter's eyes dull just a little, though something inside him that he hasn't felt for years clenches, and he's not sure whether it is pride or sorrow.
Elizabeth Marlowe leans on the doorframe and watches. She is thinner than she should be, just as she should be rounding out into comfortable middle age. Not as thin as the man in the bed though, with ribs that can be played almost stark in the beauty of the skeleton. The pigmentation that used to mar his skin has been removed through long months of scrubbing and washing, and waiting for a new layer of skin to grow through. She closes her eyes and tries to dream of what he has experienced, but her mind cannot imagine the indignity. Whereas she can imagine that maybe there wasn't much soap, she can't dream of long lines on men squatting on the ground, almost like animals relieving themselves in public in front of friend and foe, and impersonal eyes of their captors. She can't imagine it, and maybe she shouldn't have to.
The day is hot as always, stinking hot and the smell of death hangs heavy upon the air. Peter doesn't know the King yet and he sits and gazes at the ground. Larkin is the one squatting beside him. "Are you going to see Hamlet?" he asks softly, and with a depth of compassion in his voice that Peter has not heard in too long.
He ponders what to say, then at last he simply nods his head. Why not. Why not take some pleasure in the damn thing, if Sean has seen fit to turn into something that is not himself, however much he may protest that this is the real him. His gut twists in agony, and for a moment he's not sure if it's a twinge of dysentery or grief for Sean. He can't bear the thought so he doesn't think of it.
Later that night around him people clap their hands raw and call Sean's name until they are hoarse. It sickens Peter, and he remains unmoving. This damn war that has stolen innocence, health, their lives and everything else that ever belonged solely to them.
Outside the room, rain has begun to fall- an English winter come early, and it's drumming seems to quieten the man in the bed, he seems to raise parched eyes and arms and hands to the ceiling, then falls back helplessly. Elizabeth Marlowe gazes at him silently, and wishes Thomas Marlowe was here to calm and guide his son, for Peter has never needed him more. But Thomas Marlowe is in an early grave, and there is no help from him. No guidance from beyond death, and it is the prerogative of the dead to be silent. They are left in the wilderness with none to guide them, no father to pray or shelter them. Alone in the storm.
"Captain Marlowe RN is, er, I'm afraid your father is dead. Killed in action on the Murmansk run. September 10, '43. Sorry. Next!"
Almost the worst words that Peter has ever heard. He is silent, and unknowing. His father, the man who influenced his actions throughout his imprisonment is dead since '43. Yet Peter can hear his voice, gentle yet firm counselling him through his most difficult times. Times when he was tempted almost beyond bearing by the King's offers of wealth gained through camp trading, trading on the difficulty of others, when all the world knew Marlowes were not in trade. Thomas Marlowe is dead, and it is a searing agony that hurts even more than his arm, almost more than the thought of the King alone and grieving.
Elizabeth Marlowe hides her face in her hands. Anything that has mattered has left her life. Her handsome wonderful husband who protected her through everything, the beautiful girl in the white dress and orange blossom that she had once been, her good-looking courageous son reduced to a shadow of his former self. Wracked with illness, grief and rage, he is like the walking dead, and she can't live with it anymore. Can't live with the silent accusing faces of the women whose son's did not return, and those who think she is lucky that her son did return. She wants to shout in their faces that he is not her son.
The day is going to be hot Peter knows. He's lifts his face to the coolly tinted sky in pinks, blues and the delicate spectrum that heralds weather that is all too good. Then he kneels to the ground. He has been here a year now, and still not lost hope, and dipping his fingers in the cool dew that liberally besprinkles the grass he prays that he will not do so. The coolness on his fingers and mouth seems to call to mind England, and the life he has lost, and in an instinctive motion he crosses himself with the droplets.
Elizabeth Marlowe closes the door.