Dispatches From St Helena

(As it stands, I’m still very much hoping to anthologise a collection of my shorts so I can focus onNanowrimo, but it’s difficult. As a would-be writer, the only thing more depressing than going over old stories and admitting they’re in need of improving is then finding oneself unable to think what the necessary improvements might be. Aside from one or two fondly remember but, frankly, rubbish stories, I’m still quite proud of most of them but I’d be much happier getting on with new stuff than polishing old efforts. The result is, I’ve not been writing a great deal of late. This is a rare foray into historical fiction, though I haven’t really researched it-everything hear is either made up, drawn from Wikipedia (nb, I realise the two aren’t mutually exclusive) or remembered from a-levels. As such, there may well be anachronisms and errors, but I hope I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

The servant is late with the post, and the Emperor barks a rebuke in accented English. If the servant quails a little, he knows it’s for show. The Emperor knows his bloated figure commands no respect, only Mr Lowe who can strike fear in his bones of the staff.

The diminutive stature which history will bestow upon him is not present when he’s viewed in the flesh. At 5’6”, the emperor is of average height but the years of obscure gluttony have had a distorting effect on his frame. Seen full on, he looks shorter than he is. As an effect, it’s less illusory than the way the tropical shadows turn this general into a figure of shame. Anyone seeing him for the first time would wonder if they’ve got the right person. Greatness, even contentious greatness, doesn’t come in mediocre packages as this. It is, in a way, a metaphor for the island, just as the island is a metaphor for him.

The boy gone, the Emperor sorts through his mail. For some time now, he’s suspected his custodians of withholding letters. There’s nothing, once more, from Marie Louise. It oughtn’t to pain him, her silence, but it does. It had been a marriage of convenience, after all, true love thrown over for trinkets and the promise of a child he’ll never see. Perhaps, he hopes, it’s her father who stops her writing. He sifts through the remaining letters in the hope of something to lift his spirits, but they’re bland, could have been written to anyone. He reads them, anyway; it’s his one connection to the world beyond his island prison.

Outside, it’s bright, tediously so, like it was yesterday, like it will be tomorrow. Every day is the same on St Helena, the monotony another form of torture. More than the loss of freedom, more than the cruelty of his captors, it’s this that threatens to drive him insane.

The Emperor looks around. As prisons go, it’s comfortable, luxurious even, though it’s in a state of gentle decrepitude. The sunroom could use redecorating, he thinks; perhaps he’ll ask Lowe. Last time, he refused but he knows there’s pressure from England to show some leniency, to treat the fallen enemy with that peculiarly British sham decency.

The letters folded and placed on the silver tray, he stands up. It should be time for breakfast, but he’s quite lost his appetite these past few months. His doctor-his personal physician, no less-is always reminding him to eat. His doctor, his personal physician, tells him he should walk more, too. Perhaps he will, perhaps not; surely it’s too late now to worry about his condition. He’s lost so much for what’ll ever remains to be worth saving.

The Emperor walks to his window, looks out to sea. A searing pain racks his body, like the guilt and the regret are eating him from inside. They’ve been coming more frequently lately. As the ocean reflects the sunlight tauntingly, one word flits back and forth across his mind and that word is-


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