Evan Quinlan

The Missing Email

In Fiction, Short Stories on July 29, 2014 at 1:43 am

The Queen returned from supper to find that her bed had been removed from her chamber. The job had been quick; a thin line of dust on the floor still traced the perimeter of the missing item. The first thing she did was to shut her door. This caused one of her handmaidens to become stranded in the hall, but no worry, that one would become useful later. She walked briskly to the spot where the bed had been, turned, and faced the door. Her handmaidens, well trained, stood still, favoring inaction over incorrect action.

The Queen’s reasoning went thus: No one could have removed my bed without permission. Thus, somebody gave them permission. However, this person did not send for my permission or consent, so they wanted me to discover the missing bed myself. Surely this person expects me, then, to seek them out and inquire about the missing item.

She clapped her hands. “Dress me for sleep,” she said, and her commands were realized. While hands worked at her garments, she ruminated upon her resolution.

Do not do as expected because someone else expects it.

The Queen lived by that rule; she would die by that rule. Debt, her father had told her, is an expectation of payment by another. It follows logically, then, that to gain wealth one must propagate the reverse, which is to cause all others beside yourself an unexpected loss. The Queen had become Queen in this way. She had risen above her father’s station in this way, even caused his death in this way. Never did she do what others expected because they expected it; no one would cash in on bets placed at her expense.

This person will come to me. And with that conviction, the debt had been reversed. Another would pay, but not her.

And so it came to pass that at around midnight a handmaiden opened the Queen’s chamber door and admitted the King, alone. He observed his wife through cautious lids, tipping his brow carefully to catch her expression. The Queen wore a mask of stone, she knew; the King would not break it. He did not have to: he had already come to her, which meant he knew he had already lost value. That he came so quickly spoke volumes. What could he want so badly?

“I had your bed removed,” he said.

“Is that so?” the Queen replied. “I was sure something had gone missing. And here I’ve been, getting ready to sleep and having no bed in which to do it!”

“I have come with no advisers, no councilors, no wise women, no friends long unseen. I come only as a man, this time, you see?”

The Queen squinted.

“I have come as a man comes to his wife.”

“And how is that?”

“Humbly.”

“Humbly! By that you mean humble thievery? Or humble sabotage?”

“You know well I cannot steal nor sabotage, for everything is mine to do with as I please.”

“You are like the visage of Humility herself.”

The King gestured to the handmaidens, not a sweeping gesture but a series of personal allowances. “May we have privacy?”

“No need to ask the property to leave,” said the Queen. “Why not call back the men who removed my bed?”

The King said nothing more until the rustles of soft shoes had disappeared down the corridor outside, then he spoke.

“I have truly come here in humble form,” he said, “though you don’t yet know it.”

“Prove it.”

The King nodded. “Very well.” He moved to sit on a short chest of drawers, found it an awkward height, and stood again. He cleared his throat. “I had hoped… you might share my bed tonight.”

The Queen met his gaze, which soon fell to the flagstones. He told the truth; winning her to his bed was the only thing she could think of that would cause him to act so rashly. She let down her guard, easing her posture. The King caught this slight motion in his periphery and looked up. She allowed a trickle of softness to bleed through the wall between them, which had been erected by months of prideful bickering and unintended harms. For all that the Queen lived by her father’s rule, she did not want to include the King among the party labeled “all others”. However, circumstance, as of late, had necessitated as much.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “I can’t come to your bed. You haven’t figured out how to call me there.”

“I’ve sent you flowers.”

“Many.”

“I’ve written you poems.”

“Lovely as butterflies.”

“I’ve gotten down on my knees and pleaded.”

“Hyperbole, but accurate enough.”

“So I thought I would try this one last, desperate attempt.”

The Queen shook her head sadly. “At least you know it’s desperate. There must be a hundred other beds in the castle I could requisition at a moment’s notice. What makes you think that without my bed I’d choose yours?”

The King waved his hand. “Oh, the bed has little to do with it.”

“Then, pray tell, to which desperate attempt do you refer?”

“It’s something new I’ve decided to try. A habit that could use forming, especially in this time of war. I don’t mean between us, you understand, but out there.” He gestured toward the window.

The Queen shook her head expectantly.

“It’s listening,” the King said. “And I know I haven’t done it before.”

The Queen shuffled, waiting for more words, but none came. Of course, she thought, he’s ‘listening’ now.

“Darling,” she said, “I do appreciate this gesture. But listening is a process, not something that can happen in the span of an evening.”

“But what if,” the King replied, “I could prove to you that I’ve been listening for longer than you think?”

“I did already make known my predilection for proof,” she said.

“Alright, then. If all my machinations tonight had nothing to do with your bed, but I still surreptitiously removed it from your chamber—why would I do such a thing?”

The Queen shrugged.

“Might it be,” the King continued, “because in order to gain something you want, you must cause all other parties involved to lose something unexpectedly?” He smiled, then, a last, desperate smile.

And the Queen smiled back.

“Now that,” she said, “is a start.”

“A start is better than nothing.” The King shrugged, a gesture she’d not seen since the early days of their courtship.

The Queen crossed the room and kissed her husband. “If my father were here, he’d point out that, if a start is better than nothing, it follows logically that nothing is worse than a start. So be careful what you ask for.”

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