By Ben Burke
Inspired by Scenes of July 1830 Leon Cogniet
A little chapel extends out into a lake and sits calmly upon an embankment. Humble, not imposing. The Bishop is long since gone, having fled in the night draped in a black cloak, holy book and scepter in hand. Praying for deliverance. The prayers were as much to God as they were to the Bishop’s own feet, having taken the task of flight upon themselves, hoping to reach the border by sunrise and be sheltered in a colleague’s cathedral.
But the Monarch? Alas, the Monarch sat alone on the cold stone floor, their flowing robes covering the entire chancel. They ran their hand along the fine fur that kept them warm through so many winters and unnecessarily made them boil through so many ceremonies. All snow white with black spots.
It was a gray day outside, the sort of dark gray where morning looks like night and the smell of rain permeates its way through stone walls. And this scent gave the Monarch some comfort for a moment, reminding them of days spent alone as a child, sitting upon a window sill and watching the rain fall from the sky and the city disappearing for a little while. Imagining their upbringing disappearing for a while, shedding their burdensome clothes and playing in the rain, bare, as the water washed the royal blood from their soul.
In the rare hour or two that the Monarch could find to be alone in the week after their teenage ascent to the throne, they would hastily send their advisors away and wait for rain to come as they sat alone in the courtyard trying to recreate the daydream from their childhood.
It was all futile.
The days when they could enjoy the luxury of their bloodline and wave off responsibility were long since gone, and they had felt from their early days that they might be nearing the last branches of their family tree, reaching desperately towards the heavens as an axe is taken to the base of the trunk.
Inside the chapel, the Monarch listened closely as a low dull roar began to materialize far away in the distance. They elected not to accompany the Bishop so as not to endanger a servant of God. They knew that their company would damn them both, but that alone the Bishop stood a chance at successful escape.
Almost involuntarily, words formed upon the Monarch’s lips. A verse of the holy book in Latin that their family always chose to ignore.
The Monarch sat alone, a young ruler nearly before the eyes of God, and lamented the institutions that were built upon marble pillars long before their birth. A birth that anointed and damned them at the same time.
The roar began to grow louder and the Monarch’s heart was heavy. They were certain of the fate that awaited them, but uncertain of the means by which it would come about.
And even more uncertain in the protection that the chapel walls had promised.
And even more uncertain still in their own claim to supremacy above the rabble that were closing in on them now.
They glanced around as the roar became discernible cries. The stained glass windows on any given side of the walls that surrounded the Monarch, one final attempt at sanctuary, told stories of long ago. Stories of adversity. Stories of ascension. Stories of redemption.
But it was all too late now. None of these stories would be theirs.
They reached their hands upwards towards their head, and felt the cool touch of a polished silver crown.
They placed the crown upon the altar.
They reached their hands towards their shoulders, and released the robe’s clasp upon them.
They placed the robe near the narthex.
A deathbed of welcoming, warm fur. Snow white with jet black spots.
The Monarch stepped forward onto the robe, bare, waiting for the royal blood to be washed from their soul.
And the chapel doors burst open.