Friday Flash Fiction – The Last Royal
On the morning of his thirteenth birthday, Louis Felipe Ariza received three unexpected gifts in quick succession. The first, a pair of his father’s red leather dress shoes, were thrust into his hands by the great man himself.
Louis’ shock at seeing his father before the official daily appointment, in his room no less, was eventually overcome by adolescent curiosity. Louis inspected the shoes, presumably at least three sizes too big for his premature feet, and asked his father if they were really his to own.
Louis’ father had all the qualities a good leader must possess. Anton Daniel Louis Ariza was wise, resilient, commanding and able to make tough decisions that would overwhelm weaker men. He was strong, respected and powerful. A man of emotion, he was not. And yet, as the statue of a man stood barefoot in the boy’s room, Louis could sense that something was wrong. The cold eyes and tight mouth were contorted somewhat. His father did not look sad, that would be an exaggeration, but he was clearly in a great deal of discomfort.
Before his father could respond, the second gift arrived in the form of Louis’ mother. Looking as fierce and beautiful as Louis had ever seen her, Isabel Ane Garza Ariza declared that everything was a lie and that she intended to rescue her beloved son from a life of treachery and disrespect.
Louis knew better than to ask for details, but he understood from his mother’s instructions that this new life could not begin soon enough. She also made it very clear, with various silver-tongued barbs aimed at Louis’ father, that the main condition of their happy new life was that it would start as far away from him and his wickedness as possible.
Louis’ father’s voice was like thunder, and his mother’s, the well-timed lightning that scorches the earth. At first, his father batted away the accusations with the paw of his hand. He could not believe that Isabel would choose poverty over their kingdom, could not imagine that his pampered wife possessed the strength or resolve to walk away from their glittering life. But Louis saw the fire in his mother’s eyes and knew instantly that by the morning of his next birthday, he would no longer be a prince.
As Louis’ parents extinguished the last embers of their marriage in front of him, the now teenage Louis received his third and final gift of the day. Aunt Maria appeared at his arm and wordlessly led the boy out of the room and into the quiet of the parlour. There, she pointed to the two monogrammed trunks that stood at the door.
Aunt Maria explained that the trunks were packed as per Louis’ mother’s request, containing adequate clothing and home comforts for the pair of them. It also contained a selection of the piles of birthday presents and cards that were littering the reception room.
“If for some reason they do not make the journey,” Maria said, prising the shoes out of Louis’ arms and placing them inside a plain backpack. “This bag is all that matters. Take good care of it.”
Along with the shoes, Maria had stuffed the civilian’s backpack with Louis’ prized possessions; photos of the family, his American baseball, his grandfather’s watch, various pieces of jewellery he could easily sell, and preserves of cherry and almond cake from the palace’s kitchen.
It was only years later, when the bag’s lining finally tore, that Louis realised the true worth of the gift. His beloved Aunt Maria, the woman who had practically raised him, who had delivered her final parting act of kindness, and who had betrayed Louis and his mother so deeply, had inadvertently handed Louis the means to claim back everything that was owed to him.
Wearing his father’s red leather dress shoes, the soles twice repaired, an eighteen-year-old Louis kissed his mother goodbye, placed the mended backpack over his shoulder, and set to reclaim his kingdom once and for all.