I met a handsome, smart young man when I was travelling across the Netherlands. I was in a weird mix of library and office, which could easily belong to either aristocracy, wall-street brokers or a boring old law-firm. It was a single large and long room; the ceiling was a bit low, considering how big the space was, and the bookshelves stood on either side of the walls, leaving the middle of the endless hall free for studying, reading, or working. It featured ottomans, armchairs, foot-rests, sofas and other sophisticated (though not particularly comfortable-looking) items of furniture formally distributed, in sober tones of beige, light-brown, grey and black. There were also low, rectangular hardwood tables with glass tops where extremely well-dressed, polished-looking people left their miniscule, barely-touched coffee cups and their Montblanc fountain pens, while sitting on the edge of stern leather couches talking finance and business and whatever else rich people talk about.
Even though I was deeply attracted to the room’s masculine and refined atmosphere, I felt completely out of place. Its luxurious decoration, in particular, the square lines and conservative furnishing, reminded me of those lawyers in mid-century noir films, or other law-abiding citizens that oppressed me with their solemnness. But then a flash of bright green went through me as I looked in his eyes, and a warm smile full of white teeth greeted me into that world. The sedateness of the library regulars’ financial talk disappeared into pale yellow hair and tanned skin – he just sat there as if he owned the place, but unwillingly, as if showing up and putting up a good face was part of the job. I couldn’t help but laugh at his aloofness and good humor – I had never before encountered such a nice combination in a man. His presence made the room more tolerable, but still I could hardly wait to get out of there and feel free and unencumbered again.
As I would later find out, the library actually did belong to a noble family. What utterly surprised me was that the noble family was Jacobus’ family – from the way he talked, acted, dressed, behaved, I would habe never expected it: everything about him was as unpretentious and unassuming as could be, as he appeared the complete opposite of what the large room represented. Jacobus was just James to me, and as soon as we met if felt like finding a long-lost part of myself that I hadn’t even realized was missing – a clear example of “soul mate” or my Animus, from a Jungian point of view. I was drawn to his simple, easy manners, and the fact he didn’t feel special or superior, or in any way entitled for being part of such an ancient line of successful and rich people. His family’s money was a means to an end: with it, he could support his favorite animal protection NGOs, travel and learn other cultures. His demeanor was as cool as your typical So-Cal surfer boy, and though his already fair wavy hair was almost white, and his skin as tanned as you would expect from someone who spent their days outside on the beach, his face was unblemished, unwrinkled and youthful, with a frank, open smile capable of melting heart and soul.
We formed a strong connection from the get-go and early on we were already living together in his family’s – for lack of a better word – palace. It was a kind of medieval fortress surrounded by water-filled ditches. Its architecture was impressive: huge, luxurious and functional. Besides being an administrative center and workplace, the castle was an ever-watchful guardian of the borderlands in that busy part of the country, so even though it was so big, one had ever the feeling of being watched. There were sentinels posted in strategic intervals around the moat, as well as customs offices – all this so as to observe and regulate all commercial transactions and human movements that occurred in and around the fortress.
The building itself was well-adjusted with its moniker, for it was made of stone with an ancient but robust aspect, bearing little to no evidence of alteration caused by the wear of time. It was in the perpendicular gothic style, imposing and detailed in a measure similar to Westminster Palace in England. However, this fortress was ample like a floating isle-city, extending itself horizontally for meters and meters, surrounded by water at all sides. There were canals and ditches, and also bridges, passages, and causeways, separating as well as connecting the castle from the encircling lands. Seen from above the moat looked like a thin black strip. There were also balconies projecting themselves from the castle towards the surrounding water.
James and I got married, and I went to live with him and his family in the castle. But I didn’t just become part of his family; everyone seemed happy and treated me well, but I couldn’t shake off the sensation that I was a prisoner in the castle, and that James was actually the only person inside it that really cared about me. This notion soon became clearer, as I noticed that the rest of his family, other acquaintances, employees and castle workers, foreign visitors and politicians, and so on, all saw me as a gold-digging upstart that should be watched and controlled. In the beginning it was all worth it. I could have tried to convince James to go away with me, but I didn’t want to impose a separation between him and his family, and he was, as I unfortunately discovered, too attached to his parents to be able to confront them and leave. And being the older of two brothers, he felt it as his duty to stand by his family whenever they needed him. And need him they did. It happened with subtlety, but I came to realize that even James was just a pawn in the middle of a greater scheme. The same way he was the only one there who cared about me, I was the only one who loved him too. He had disappointed his family by marrying me: his parents and younger brother treated him with indifference and coldness, for they saw James only as a political member of a party with higher ambitions. His job was to unite with a woman who brought more money and power to the family, and he decided to be with a nobody like me.
As I discovered myself pregnant, I trusted things would get better: it was his and my job too, after all, to expand the family name, and his parents, especially his mother, seemed to finally grant us the respect and influence that was our due. But someone didn’t seem happy at all, and that was James’ younger brother, Octavius. He didn’t behave or appear as a younger brother at all: with his broad, tall stature, dark hair and serious complexion, cunning, smart and absolutely unscrupulous, he aspired his brother’s status as first-born and would stop at nothing short of criminal to get it. Octavius also dressed himself as the complete opposite of James: he wore his dark-blue military uniform at all times, with a sabre latched to his waist, as a way to remind everyone who he was and what he could do. He began watching my every move, and falsified documents so as to make it look like James had been stealing from his parents’ fund.
On a cloudy, fresh day, I convinced James to take a tour around the castle’s bridges and balconies, following the line of the moat. I say convinced, for James was reluctant: he wanted to stay inside and work on a way to prove his innocence to his parents. At first, seeing the outside world gave us courage and strength. We felt again like teenagers in love for the first time, kissing in corners in utter bliss. We finally came to a part of the way that was interrupted by a stony arch that formed a sort of tunnel. Under it the water flowed, and to get to the bridge one would need to return to the castle and find another passage. Right after the bridge there was a security outpost, at that moment completely empty. That was our chance, I thought, the chance to escape. I returned to the castle and tried a different doorway, but it was like trying to find the end of a maze. James wanted me to turn back – he knew that if anyone saw that we were trying to escape our golden prison, we would be in real trouble. Octavius, however, was right behind us. He caught us right when we were trying to get out through a forbidden passage: the treason door. If anyone tried to go that way, he would be put in a high-security prison completely out of reach, and that was exactly what happened to James.
I never saw James again. In a way, I was “protected” by my pregnancy. But that didn’t prevent me from falling into despair, and I only kept going because of my daughter – I knew it was a girl. The envious brother was now the ruler of the castle and of his parents’ hearts and I was an obstacle that needed to be removed. My appointments with the doctor about the pregnancy were closely watched by Octavius, and he hid test results and other important medical documents from me. Finally, he began to tell me about how he had hid the exams because they showed terrible diseases and birth defects that my baby would have, and he wanted to protect me from the sad reality. I didn’t believe him, but his constant talk of genetic defects and infant illnesses began to affect my mental health. Even so, I remained physically strong and healthy. Soon enough, little “accidents” came to occur to me while I roamed through the castle’s great halls: tapestries that unfurled right above my head, carpets that slipped spontaneously below my feet, fireplaces that sparkled dangerously and almost set fire to my room, and so on. Of course, these were all part of Octavius’ plan to make me suffer a natural miscarriage or to just scare me to death.
His plans didn’t work, because I was mindful of everything I did: I took care of my body and my mind. The mind, however, is more easily affected by such persistent hatred and persecution. I couldn’t shake off the fear that my daughter would be born blind, paralytic, invalid, mentally retarded, without arms or legs… I decided it was time to run away and, if that didn’t work and Octavius remained victorious, I was going to kill myself. I ran desperately through the castle and Octavius followed me. I knew the castle’s secret passages well, but he knew it better. He caught up with me, and a huge painting suddenly dropped from the wall right where I had been a second ago; Octavius had to run so as to avoid being hit himself. I reached a salon with a huge fireplace and from a corner I saw that Octavius was watching me from the other side of the room. I considered throwing myself into the fire. I prepared myself and gathered all my courage, and as Octavius approached and grabbed me, I made a movement towards the fireplace. In a split-second he let me go, and realizing I was ready to kill myself if it meant having to be around him in that golden cage, he decided it was time to go away. He hesitated, I ran, and this time, he didn’t follow.