Chapter 13

He knew that some faces were more beautiful, intelligent and purer, yet he also knew that there was no other face in the world that had such power over him. And wasnt he the one to endow it with such power?
Erich Maria Remarque

   Three days later, the Emperors carriage was once again racing towards the village where Daniel Adamson lived and worked.

  Laras legs could barely hold her up because of the onerous worries. As soon as she entered the physicians cabinet, she nearly collapsed onto the chair.

  The Emperor stood behind Jus back, and both had their eyes fixed on Daniel.
Finally, the young man shrugged and announced with a smile, The tests have positively shown that the madam is in good health.

  Lara jumped up from the chair and turned around to look at her lover. They were afraid to rejoice, but the joy was simply bursting out of them.

Really?! Could it be?! God! Im healthy, Daniel?!

Are you sure? Antonio kept double-checking.

  It turned out that all these years, Lara has been tormented by fear in vain.

From now on, you should always listen to the voices of two organs, the physician advised her, Your heart and your intuition.

Intuition is an organ? Lara asked, laughing.

It is! Daniel smiled. He put his hand on his chest, Although invisible, intuition is the second most powerful organ, surpassed only by the heart.

   The happy couple couldnt wait to celebrate the recovery. They rushed to their secret castle and as soon as they flung open the doors of the bedroom, they forgot about everythingthe worries, the jealousy, and the grudges. Antonio ravaged his lover like a sea captain who has just returned from a long voyage, starved for a womans affection, while she laughed, showing off her even, shining teeth. The Emperor tore off her clothes until reaching the ill-fated birthmark.

You silly thing, why on earth did you hide this marvelous velvet treasure? he asked, kissing Jus back all over. I adore every little crack, every rough surface and every uneven speck on you. My love, I am crazy about your flaws just as much as your charms. Do you believe me? Really, do you?! Thats what true love is Antonio kept muttering, as if delirious.

   Lara removed the remains of her clothing herself and contentedly stretched her entire body out on the bed sheet.

Kiss me, Antonio Kiss all of me

  Once they had their fill of lovemaking, the lovers fell fast asleep, wearing sweet smiles of two people who have just experienced a miracle.

   They slept till evening. Antonio opened his eyes when the sun was about to begin its descent. The last scarlet rays made their way inside through the cracks between the curtains. Lara breathed heavily, her face buried into the pillow. Her sleep was careless and sound, like a childs. She was no longer embarrassed of anything and lay on the bed in the position she loved moston her stomach. The bunched up blanket barely covered her.

  Antonios eyes found her velvety mark. In the sunlight, the tiny golden hairs opalized as if they were nacreous. Feasting his eyes on the discovery, the mans eyes moved to the scattered birthmarks under her left shoulder blade, and then to her delicate white wrists Laras fingers were thin, but not as long as Elizabeths.

  Antonio suddenly trembled, wondering why he was constantly followed by his wifes image. He gently put his lips on Jus soft hair. This was probably the first time he was looking at her so closely and for so long. The usually unnoticeable details now seemed magnified.

  Antonio noticed a broken nail on her pinky finger, which was tiny and not as oval as his wifes. Her face was slightly squished from being buried in the pillow, and a line of wrinkles stretched towards her ear. The observer suddenly realized that her auricle reminded him of an embryo, and the ear lobe He winced. Laras ear lobe was large, even somewhat deformed.

Damnnn! What is going on with me? Devil, dont do this to me! Dont gnaw at my imagination! Let me enjoy my quietude! the Emperor entreated himself. Stop looking at the things that repel you! No beauty in the world can be perfect! Antonio forced himself to turn away from Laras ear, but now he had an urge to see something ugly and repulsive in her.

  In the morning he once again noticed some barely perceptible signs of deformity in Laras beauty. This shocking revelation weighed down on the Emperor, never easing its grip. Yesterday his attention was drawn to Laras oversized ear lobe, and now her white foot soles invitingly beckoned him from under the blanket, although devoid of the aristocratic delicacy that Elizabeths petite feet possessed.

  Yes, these were trivial details, but Antonio had always valued precisely the details. He loved to find aesthetic beauty in them. His particular fetishes were toes, slender ankles and sharp hipbones.

  Antonio noticed long ago that Laras hip bones protruded excessively, although there was something attractive and touching about her sickly thin figure. But the soles of her feet These were far from perfect

No, no! The Emperor rebuked himself. This nonsense shouldnt get in loves way! He curbed his qualms and then immediately concluded that if he were to start seeing Lara every day, the trivial details would definitely unnerve him, disenchanting his love once and for all. Besides, Ju will start aging soon and her face will be covered in unsparing wrinkles just like any other.

  Elizabeth already had the first fine lines around her eyes, although all the details that Antonio cared about remained unchanged. Nevertheless, Antonio lost the feeling of attraction to his wife. She was no longer a sweet treat to him, becoming reduced to a mere friend and the mother of his children.

Antonio, the Emperor said to himself, Dont make this fateful mistake. If youre going to replace the Empress, then replace her with a young beauty. As soon as he thought this, he reproached himself for the treacherous idea. No, no!
I am in love! I love Lara! I love Eliz! Oh, God!

  Tormented by pangs of conscience, Antonio kissed the sleeping womans shoulders, neck and hair.

   Lara slightly opened her puffy eyes, gently smiled and yawned.
Antonio forced himself to admire her the way one admires a child, yet he kept seeing repugnant images, which obtrusively came to the fore. He struggled to keep his imagination at bay and decided to take his pills before bedtime no matter what.

  Lara was wearing a childish, open smile, Darling, I know the perfect way for us to start this wonderful day she murmured lazily.

How, sweetheart? Antonio asked, feeling alarmed for some reason.

Take me to the azure lake. Lets go and enjoy the beauty of that heavenly place How do you like my idea? She asked with a na;ve smile, not even suspecting what was brewing in Antonios soul.

Youve seen the crystal lake?
Without lifting her head from the pillow, Lara wound her arms around his neck and laughed like a little girl.

You wont believe it, honey! Last week I was driving down a forest road when I took a turn towards a meadow, and suddenly, I sawoh, such splendor! A castle, hidden away beyond the treetops. It was nothing short of a miracle. I immediately knew that this was the gift I had turned down till now. Silly me. Lets go there and see it! I dont want to refuse a gift of such beauty! You certainly know how to give a gift, my love

  She pulled the Emperors head close and started smothering it with tender kisses, letting her lips go wherever they pleased, which always made Antonio roar with laughter. Now, however, he cringed and even recoiled an inch.

What? Lara asked, bewildered. Whats wrong? Arent you glad? I have just agreed to spend the rest of my life with you To live together with you Scared of hearing his response, she continued affectionately assuring him, I have no more reason to fear death. I am happy and want to make you happy as well, my love Does that tickle you? Let me kiss you with all that I have

  Antonio felt his heart growing cold. It lay heavily inside his chest like a stone, its sharp edges bearing against the living flesh. For several days now, the phantom of Elizabeths would-be happiness has been lingering in the castle.

  Antonio personally made a visit to this phantom in the gallery with the painting on the makeshift easel. He had his craftsmen prepare a golden easel, yet decided to save this one, which had been concocted by Elizabeth out of branches, as a relic. His wife would surely appreciate the surprise. No, he would never, ever give that castle to Lara now!

  The Emperor fervently kissed his lovers insatiable, open lips, Im sorry, dear, but thats impossible. I am distraught. I need to visit home.

What? What for?

My dog is terribly sick. It wont eat unless Im there. I have to make sure its all right. Im sorry, but I cant enjoy anything until I see Jackie

And the children? Lara surmised.

The Emperor lowered his eyes.

And the children.