An English castle; a pleasant, warm Saturday afternoon in June. It's a perfect day for a wedding.
There's a marquee in the garden, where comely young men are serving tea, coffee, cucumber sandwiches, fruit cup, wines, champagne. An elaborate buffet waits in the main hall. No women are present.
For this is a wedding of two men, conducted in the castle grounds beneath an arched rose-trellis. One of the grooms, languid and lovely, spun-silk gold curls tumbling halfway down his back, recites his vows and waits for his partner to follow suit. Rings are exchanged, and the assembled guests trade appreciative, relieved smiles.
Off to the side, a tall, dignified-looking German frowns and extinguishes his cigarette under the heel of his boot. He stares at the couple in disbelief and asks himself why, in the name of all things, he'd allowed himself to come here in the first place. Shouldn't he have said something ... done something ... to stop this travesty when the opportunity first presented itself?
It isn't right, he tells himself. It can't be right. Not this ... not this abomination.
Things were not meant to happen this way. There it is, right in front of his eyes; the end of a long-nurtured hope. And all because he’d failed to move quickly, back when the chance was there. Pushing the obvious to the back of his mind, because duty and honour demanded it. How could it be any other way? It was hardly his fault. He had been trained thus since boyhood.
The invitation had been the final insult. A sure sign that his feelings on the matter, unspoken yet surely felt, were of no more concern. That he no longer possessed the power to change things by presence alone. He had contemplated refusing, but his pride had prevailed and stopped him from doing so. He would go to the wedding and face the inevitable like the man he was. To do otherwise would spell the bitter defeat of a man who’d faced greater adversity in life.
He was better than that.
And in any case, he thinks, a wedding does not necessarily make a marriage.
Two men - one with a thick moustache, the other with a half-fringe of coal-black hair flopping over one eye - toss handfuls of fresh rose petals from ornate bronze bowls. They flutter over the assembly like butterfly wings; flakes of scarlet, peach, ivory, damask and palest pink. No yellow of course, for yellow roses symbolise love on the outs, and are therefore unsuitable for a wedding.
The German looks down. There’s a brief, tense silence, followed by loud applause, whoops of encouragement and happy sighs; he surmises the couple have kissed.
So, that’s that.
When he finally raises his head, the crowd has already begun to move forward, lavishing the happy couple with handshakes, hugs and congratulations.
All but one.
The tiny fellow with the black fringe over one eye looks away sadly, digging his heel into the turf. The German feels sympathetic, despite himself. He’s sad too, but the bigger picture …
He watches as the little man crouches to pick something off the ground, then wipes away the soil to reveal a shining coin on which his gaze is now fixed, his sadness already a memory.
Love and beauty at the heart of all things, but only if we're willing to look beyond the surface, without judgment …
… I wanted my son to have a good life, a clean life, an honourable life. True, there will be no children, which is a sorry state indeed but ... at least he is happy with what he already has.
And perhaps that is enough.
The thought comforts the Graf von dem Eberbach as he, too, joins the others to congratulate Klaus and his golden-haired groom.