Six years.

Over 2,000 days, 72 months, and God only knew how many minutes. The world still continued to spin, completely indifferent to the pain and suffering of its lowly inhabitants. Surely, the sun and moon had dulled these past six years. It simply wasn’t possible for life to continue as if he’d never existed. Not only was it impossible, Richard was convinced it was an outright obscenity.

Richard knelt deeply before the candle, prostrating himself in a well-worn ritual of grief. Each year on the anniversary of his passing, the ghost would wrap itself around him. Tendrils of smoke and anguish, lost yesterdays and bleak tomorrows. The urgency of the candle’s smoke, its heady fragrance bringing back his loss in all of its painful detail.

January 23rd.

Never had a more repulsive day graced the earth in a bleak, unforgiving month. Richard never liked January before, but now he could barely tolerate waking each morning in its grip, a relentless occasion that brought him deeper into his grief as the awful day approached. He’d heard that “time lessens all wounds,” that one day he would finally come to terms with this loss and learn to live with it. That hadn’t happened yet and Richard was convinced it never would. Why on Earth would he want to lessen his pain? It was the only tangible thing he had left of his dearest friend.

He laid his sword gently upon the altar. They’d been brothers in arms, the only true home he’d ever known, the royal court of his upbringing being a horrid place of intrigue and falsity. The blood, the swords, the lethal entanglements of war had always ruled his imagination. It was no small thing to be King, even more so with a legendary, scheming mother and the reputation of the great man himself to live up to. He’d had a belly full of rebellion, deception and intrigue. The regrets of Richard’s past actions piled up as the old man drew his last, painful breath, his favorite son’s name dancing upon his lips.

John, always John. God’s Blood! The humiliation of it all!

The battlefield was his only respite, a glorious way to escape his past, the machinations of his mother and grasping, power-hungry brothers.

Richard had married, done his royal duty. There was no shortage of pliable women willing and ready to warm his bed, but both he, and they, knew his heart lay elsewhere. On the blood-soaked fields of battle. On Crusade. His older brother, the Young King, should have been the one, leaving the second brother to the furies of war. Where Richard could finally be his one true self. Where they could live and love and fight, together as free men.

The candle blew itself out in a sudden gust of wind. He rose slowly from the altar, his armor loudly clanging in the quiet sanctuary. Richard made the sign of the cross and allowed one final wave of grief to wash over him, remembering that his companion had died honorably. In battle. He could only pray to die such a death. His annual ritual complete, the Lionheart turned his head away from grief and back into the world.

And into glory.