Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Bohemian Princess

When the pilgrim saw the princess of Bohemia, he forgot whence he came and whither he was going. Her face radiated light and love, her voice sounded melodious and mellifluous. “Would that I could make her mine,” he told himself. “I would love her all the days of her life.” However, he knew in his heart of heart that he could never approach her, let alone join with her in holy matrimony. His father was a well-to-do peasant, so the most the pilgrim could offer her father, King Rudolf, was a bushel of corn and a goat, not the riches beyond compare that the proud sons of nobility far and wide had presented to her family. So he pressed on and continued to traverse the earth looking for salvation alone. Alas! Wherever he roamed, she would always be in his heart.

Despite two years as a novitiate at a Benedictine monastery, the pilgrim became disillusioned; everywhere he turned his gaze he beheld war, rape, and plunder. Seeking the understanding and solace that had eluded him heretofore, he relinquished the monastic life and entered the academic world. Thanks to his intelligence and financial support from the cathedral chapter, the pilgrim received an education at the local Latin school and eventually attended the university. Decades later, after the Great Conflagration had ravaged the land, after the pilgrim exchanged his walking stick for a goose quill, and after Cossack invaders destroyed his village, he chanced upon the woman of his dreams praying in the Cathedral. She was older now, but no less beautiful. Her beauty and grace, however, were no match for her wicked husband, Duke William the Arse, who had married her solely with the hope of someday inheriting the kingdom of Bohemia. As it turned out, he retired the duchess to a nunnery in her home country when she failed to produce a daughter. He had planned to  arrange a marriage between his offspring to the Duke of Warsaw's son in order to form a political alliance.  Duke William sought an annulment so that he could remarry and continue with his plan.
For a brief moment, the pilgrim caught the duchess's pale blue eyes. When she let a smile escape her pious face, his world lit up and his passion for her intensified hundredfold. Circumstances would never allow them to be together, for they had come from different social classes. Moreover, the pilgrim had by now become the rector of the Latin school, and the prestigious position required the vow of chastity. Yet everyday he would look out at the wall of the nunnery located across from his office and dream of a life that could never be. Occasionally he would see her and they would steal glances, but he had never told her how he felt and that tore him up inside. A twist of fate would strengthen his resolve to profess his enduring love for her. The papal legate had pressured the king of Bohemia to clean its realm of heresy. One of the men on his list was the pilgrim, who by this time had become a staunch Soperite, a follower of the wayward preacher Tomáš Sopr. Knowing his life was in danger, he finally gathered up the courage to tell the duchess his feelings. He figured he had nothing to lose, so he waited until she entered the Cathedral for her daily devotions. “Please don’t be alarmed. I might continue in this life, but more likely I will die at the executioner’s hand. You must know that nobody will ever dethrone you from the deepest confines of my heart, a place you have firmly resided these many years.”  Some lucky souls, blessed by their Maker and unfettered by social convention, get to find a modicum of happiness in this life.  Others, like the poor pilgrim, who too often followed the narrow path, must learn the hard lessons of this life.  Sometimes love will not suffice.  Would that it were not so....