In the darkness, it is more difficult to pretend.
During the day, surrounded by people, light, and noise, it is easier to maintain the charade, to keep up the appearance of the good king with no worries. He can fill his belly with food, rather than filling his mind with painful memories. He can ride out to subdue his rebellious lords, instead of attempting to tame his rebellious heart. He can answer King Math's call against Arawn, instead of heeding his heart's call for love.
Yes, Smoit has always preferred the day. Because it is at night that the truth haunts him. He cannot escape it then … there is no hiding in the dark.
He has never been a coward, this king, and so he faces down these ghosts night after night, staring them full in their beautiful, hideous faces, accepting the pain unflinchingly … tasting in the full their despair.
First comes Seren, the lovely bride of his youth. She looks just as she did on their wedding day—alive, full of joy and expectancy, her warm brown eyes glowing with love, her silky black hair hanging freely about her dusky face. He was so young then! A bear of a young man, nervous about how to be a good husband, so afraid he might break her if he handled her too roughly.
Yet she was no fragile doll. She laughed in the gentlest manner at his clumsiness, teasing him about the bluster he used to hide his intense shyness and sense of inadequacy. She drew him out, helped him to grow … she brought so much joy into his life. With her by his side, he might have been a wise king, instead of the blundering fool he knows himself to be, trying to accomplish with brute strength what could be better done with gentle words.
She shimmers in the dark, and reappears as the new mother. If she was beautiful before, it was nothing compared to this. Her face radiates happiness, warm tears drop from her luminous eyes to baptize the head of their infant son.
Their son … Smoit sees him now, as well, standing before him as a sturdy toddler, strong on his own two feet, with Smoit's own flaming hair and Seren's brown eyes, the perfect melding of them both … a good king in the making, a worthy heir.
Bitterness overwhelms the king's soul. He sees his son as he never was, for the lad never lived past his first month. The fevers came and swept him away, followed shortly by his mother.
Seren's heart broke upon losing her baby boy. Though she tried to be strong for his sake, to help him through his sorrow, something deep inside of her withered away … and she died too. The court physicians mumbled nonsense about delayed reaction to the fever, but Smoit knows the truth:
She died, quite simply, of a broken heart.
He thought he might die too, then, but his body would not allow it. He was too strong. Besides, he knew he had a responsibility to his people. With no heir, if he died they would be easy prey for other cantrev lords. He could not leave them to be swept away, gobbled up by some haughty king who cared nothing for their needs, but only wanted to expand his own power and domain.
But he never took another wife. His lords urged him, reminding him that he needed an heir, but he could not do it. No woman could ever replace his beloved Seren. He could accept nothing less.
Now comes the final ghost. This one is new, the boy Smoit took to his heart and had to let go. He is as scrawny and ragged as he was when Smoit first saw him—a plucked rabbit, the king had thought him. He had been fond of the boy from the first, admiring his spirit.
When next the king saw him, he had grown, and the ghost shimmers as Seren's had done to become the strong young man he is now. The Gurgi-creature even appears at his side, faithful in phantom form as in the flesh.
Smoit thinks with wonder on the wisdom showed by the lad—unusual, in one so young. Dallben and Coll had every reason to be proud. He solved years worth of bickering with one simple solution.
He brought Smoit closer to the people, too. In the years since Seren and their son were lost, he has grown apart, keeping more to himself, only showing others the blustering, roaring king. He fills his days with music and food, trying to drown out the sorrowful memories, and cannot see his people's needs.
The lad changed that. He reminded Smoit that he has not been the only one to suffer. Others have loved and lost as well. Perhaps, Smoit reflects, if he had opened his heart to his subjects after Seren's death, showed them his pain, they would love him more now. He is afraid it is too late, now. He is too set in his ways to change them.
The boy, though … he could have helped. Smoit could have loved him, not simply as a wise counselor and potential heir, but as a son.
But the lad would not stay, and Smoit cannot but admire him for it, though he wishes it otherwise.
And so Taran's shade, too, fades away with the others, and the king is alone once more, as he is and always will be.
Waiting for the day.
Author's Note: Well, this turned out far more depressing than I anticipated. Encouraged by a dream I had last night (see the Prydain forum for details), I finally sat down and wrote this. It did not come out the way I thought it would ... but I'm not displeased. Constructive criticism is always welcome!
Seren is Welsh for "star," It seemed fitting