I knew all along.
Oh, yes, my son, my darling boy, I knew the moment I laid eyes upon you.
How could I not recognize my own flesh and blood? The child I'd labored to bring into the world, now grown and standing proudly in the marketplace, looking around with the proud scrutiny of a man whose heart already knew he had come into his own.
You did not know me, but why would you? Men do not have the instincts that women do. You hadn't known your own father when you met upon the road, a chance meeting that led to his death. Why, you hadn't even known he was the king, merely some passer-by who wouldn't yield the road to you.
Of course, in that first sight of you, I did not know that you were the traveler that had slain my husband, your father. I did not know that you had innocently avenged the hurts he had caused you, the wrongs he had done us both.
He always kept me guarded. From the day he decided I was to be his wife, he would tolerate the eyes of no other man caressing the plump swells of my breasts, the ripeness of my mouth, the flaring curve of my hips. Those riches were for the king's treasury alone, he told me.
Locked away, he kept me locked away, with only gossiping maidens and dowagers to keep me company. Sometimes he would permit me to sit with him at the feasts, but always with a watchful demeanor, often with a possessive hand clamped over my arm or on my knee.
And always, after those occasions, he would take me to his bed with such roughness that I had to bite my lips against screams. He would thrust angrily into me, battering against me, as if to punish me for any glance that had happened to fall admiringly upon my beauty -- and yet it was he who always commanded me to adorn myself in my finest.
No other man should share my life, he vowed. And that vow he meant to keep, even at the cost of his own son, once he saw how it was between us. Between you and me, my darling boy.
A perfect infant, you were. Perfectly formed, and definitely, defiantly male. When the midwife gave you into my arms, when I first placed you to suckle, the pains of your birthing were forgotten and only pleasure remained. A pleasure the likes of which your father had never given me.
We would lay together in my bed, and I would tickle you and cuddle you. You would reach for me so trustingly, so lovingly. I would bounce you on my lap, cradle you against my breasts, rest you atop me as I reclined on the pillows.
Your cherubic naked form enchanted me. I took to rubbing you against my legs, your skin like silk against me. I found I could slip your tiny feet along the softness between my thighs and know such delight as I had never imagined.
That was how your father found us one day. Enraged, he tore you from my grasp. The feet that had so delighted me, he ordered driven through with a spike.
He dared not kill you, but had you taken by one of his most loyal servants to the slopes, where you were to be left exposed. Then, should you die, it was clearly the will of the gods and no act of man.
I begged with him, but he would not hear my pleas. The last I saw of you was as a small bundle, carried from the palace and out of the city.
Your father never touched me again, but instead filled his bed with mistresses. I remained queen in name only, alone in my misery. Alone for long years, nearly twenty of them.
And then came the news that my husband was dead, slain upon the road. Oh, what mingled joy and terror that news brought! I was free of him, and yet as a widowed queen with no heirs, I feared what might befall me.
The Sphinx saved me from that worrisome fate. I was not to be cast out, but to be married off as a prize to whichever hero might answer its deadly riddle and win the crown.
That, my darling, was how you came to me. You, raised as a prince in a neighboring land, hungered for a kingdom of your own. You solved the riddle, and presented yourself as king. And so the land that would have rightfully been yours by birth became yours by deed.
As I said, I knew you from the beginning. I did not even need to look to your poor dear swollen feet to find the truth. I saw it in your eyes that had once looked so adoringly into mine.
I knew, and said nothing.
You cared not that I was older than you, for you admired my mature beauty nearly as much as the other treasures of the palace.
I will never forget how I welcomed you into my arms, into my bed. That selfsame bed where we had so sweetly played when you were a babe in arms was now the bed where you came to me as my husband.
When you entered me, sliding deep within as if to regain entrance to the very womb from which you had sprung, I was overcome. You thought my tears were of grief for my lost husband, but you were so very wrong!
I hungered for you. Night after night, I lay beside you, always fulfilled but never sated. I would wake sometimes just to feast my eyes upon you, curling your hair -- so like mine, yet you never noticed -- around my fingers. My secret knowledge only inflamed me further, only made me desire you more.
Those years were happier than I could ever have dreamed. Even the gods, slumbering on the foothills of Olympus, could not have known greater contentment. And that is why they struck our city with plague.
Some might say it was our crime that led the gods to punish our people. If so, why did they wait long years? Why wait until our daughter was full-grown -- indeed, why give us a daughter in the first place if our crime was so great?
No, it was not justice the gods gave us. It was envy. Just as your father had been jealous of the happiness we found together, so too were the gods. We made our own Elysium on earth, my beloved son, and they punished us for that.
You, though, trying to be a good king, were determined to appease the gods. Our city had never seen so many sacrifices. But even when the last goat, the last ox, were offered to the gods, the plagues raged on. You demanded to know why.
When the oracles told you that someone had murdered his father and married his mother, you were repulsed. You vowed to find the villain who had done such an evil thing.
I said nothing.
No one would find out, I thought. The plagues would pass as they always did, as the fickle gods grew bored with us and went on to some other entertainment. Nothing would come between us. Our love and passion would withstand this storm and you would go on unknowing.
Or so I hoped, but it was not to be so.
You would not rest until you had learned the truth. Somewhere in your kingdom was a man of such a vile nature that he would murder his own father, lie with his own mother, and you could not bear the thought of it!
Still I said nothing.
All would have been well, if not for the arrival of our neighboring king, who came to lend his aid in our land's time of need. He happened to mention, in the presence of your father's old servant, how he had found you upon the slopes.
I tried to silence the servant, but was too late. He told all.
Oh, my son, my darling boy! The look on your face laid my soul bare and tore it to pieces. You loathed me, you loathed yourself, you saw in that flash of insight everything between us turn hideous and foul. It was that, not my own shame, that sent me fleeing. I could not live another day, having seen that loathing upon your face.
Now I sway from the rope, and you approach me. You reach out, and I think for a moment that you mean to embrace me, to forgive me.
You do not.
Your hands find my breasts, but not with desire.
You tear the golden brooches from my gown and raise them before your eyes as if you have never seen them before, but it was you yourself who gave them to me.
My darling boy, what do you mean to do?
Copyright 1998 by Christine Morgan