Modern Prose


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Once upon a time two senior courtiers chatted casually as they strolled through the lush and aromatic gardens of the palace of King Leontes of Sicily. The first courtier was Camillo, a confidant of King Leontes. The other was Archidamus, who held a similar position with King Polixenes of Bohemia, then a guest at the Sicilian court. Polixenes' Sicilian visit had already been a long one since these kings had spent much of their childhood  together and both had cherished their friendship into adulthood. Sadly affairs of state meant that they did not often see each other so when the occasion arose for a prolonged visit to Sicily, Polixenes seized it.

"If you visit Bohemia, Camillo, on a state visit similar to our stay at court of King Leontes, you shall, as I have said, see great differences between our Bohemia and your Sicily," said Archidamus, worried about how the largely-rural and undeveloped state of Bohemia would pale in comparison to the baroque splendour of Sicily.

"I think this coming summer the King of Sicily means to pay the King of Bohemia the visit that is long overdue," replied Camillo.

"Then our hospitality shall shame us! Hopefully our genuine love will excuse any shortcomings. For indeed-"

"Don't say another word, Archidamus!"

"Camillo, what I say is true. I speak in the freedom of my knowledge. We cannot match the magnificence of Sicily. We will give you night-caps disguised as cocktails, then your dulled senses will neither praise us nor accuse us!"

"You pay a great deal too much attention to what’s given freely."

"Believe me, I speak as my understanding instructs me and I know my words are true," Camillo assured Archidamus.

"King Leontes cannot show himself over-kind to King Polixenes, they have been friends since childhood and between them there has grown a bond which flourishes even more so in adulthood. Since their royal positions and responsibilities made separation inevitable their official encounters have been delegated to officials who have executed an exchange of gifts, letters and embassies. Indeed it often seems they are together even when absent- shaking hands across the sea from Sicily to Bohemia, embracing, as it were, from the corners of the four winds. The heavens ensure their friendship continues!"

"I think that there is not in this world neither malice nor matter to threaten their friendship," Archidamus said as Camillo nodded in agreement, adding:  "You have an unsurpassed comfort in your charge, young Prince Mamillius. This child shows the promise of becoming one of the finest gentlemen I have ever encountered."

"I very well agree with you in your hopes for him. He is a gallant child. He rallies the natives, makes old hearts fresh. Those who staggered on crutches when he was born yearn to live to see him as a man."

"Would they otherwise be content to die?" Archidamus asked in an unexpectedly serious manner.

"Yes- if they had no other excuse why they should they desire to live?"

"Surely, if the King had no son they would desire to live on crutches until he had one!”