The Greatest Pain by Fernando Raffani

Ching. Ching. Ching. Ching. The clock chimed four. It was taking too long. By that time, he should have already decided. I could only fear the worst. I couldn't stand it anymore, walking around that large hall, sitting on the chaise, looking out of the window, staring at the clock. That hall, that I loved so much when I was younger, or so they say because I can't really remember, had been turned into a torture chamber. I had to wait for an answer, an answer that could change my life. By the way, my life had been tumultuous in the last few months. I was living my boring life as princess heiress when something happened. What happened, I can't tell, but I only remember that I woke up in the arms of a man. That is the earliest memory I have, and the sweetest one. From that moment on, my life had had ups and downs like a rollercoaster ride, whatever that silly ancient expression means. I had already lost my hopes until I saw him marching down the throne room. Oh, my heart almost stopped. I was so happy! Then, when I was ready to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him till both of us died from exhaustion, there was some hesitation. There was her. And now he had to choose.

Tick tock thump thump, the clock seemed synchronized with the hard pounding of my heart inside my chest, from anxiety. It was difficult to stay on my feet as my legs were shaking. It was difficult to stay seated, with my arms crossed, waiting for what fate had reserved for this poor and wretched daughter of the creator, whoever he or she is. Laya? Great Light? God? The Big Bang? It didn't matter. What really mattered was that, in a few moments, either I'd be shot to the highest heights of heaven or be sent crashing down to the deepest depths of hell. My fate was in the hands of him, my love, my savior, my everything. But why did he break my heart with what I have to think an excuse? Weren't we supposed to get married? If he didn't want to marry me anymore, why did he travel through all of this joke of a planet that no one can understand its shape just come here and say no? Rhys, my life, my love, could it be that you hated me so much that you risked your life to come here just to see my tears as you jilted me? No, that couldn't be. Maybe it was that I was getting mad and I'd confess that I was closer to madness than to reason, as the anxiety was overwhelming and all that was left for me was to wait.

I think waiting is the worst torture any person can endure. I've already read of terrible things in books, but they were no match for what I was feeling. Being imprisoned in a dark and damp dungeon? Being burned alive? Being covered in molten iron? Being attacked by monsters? Getting keelhauled? Being electrocuted for hours? Suffering deprivation of sleep, thirst and hunger? Being abused? No, all that was terrible, but they meant being a victim of evilness. Waiting for someone to decide on my future was certainly worse because it meant torturing myself, hopeless and helpless, as if my life was not worth anything and they were playing with it. At least the traditional methods of torture meant your life was valued, otherwise the torturer would not waste his time on you. Well, I may be talking nonsense, but such was the feeling I had. Waiting was killing me. I longed so much for an answer that every noise outside got me startled, every crack on the stupid wooden door made my heart race like mad inside my chest. Ching. And that was half past four. How long had I been inside that hall? Hours? Days? Years? I'd bet a lot that I've been there my whole life. I'd lose it all with that pleased grin of the gambling addict who lost with a full-house against four-of-a-kind. He lost, but he knew that was the correct bet. And this would be my bet.

Tick, tock, click. Click? Click! Yes, finally. I jumped from the chaise and waited for him, trembling in excitement. It had to be him. The wait was over. Finally. The squeak of the old door, oh, it was music to my ears. I knew someday my prince would come. And he was there, to tell me he would marry me, so we could live together, forever. Oh, as the door opened, I was jumping in excitement. Rhys! My love! I'm ashamed of how excited I was when I screamed his name. I had my hands clasped and my eyes shone in different hues of cyan. I was really acting like the foolish teenager I was. I had to fight the urge of running to him and throwing myself desperately in his arms.

Oh, Maia... The embarrassed grin in his face made me die a little. It was not what I was expecting from the man that crossed the whole world, facing the greatest dangers, just to find me. Where had all that excitement gone? All that passion? All that love? It was as clear as crystal that he had chosen the other woman. What would the jilted Marlena do now? Marry Lyle? Become a virgin priestess at Laya's Temple? Be sent to the dungeon for the rest of her life? Be kidnapped by a weird man? Find true love in the arms of a woman? Be saved by a gentle commoner? Though some of the possibilities were appealing, what I truly wanted was to marry the man that I really loved. I just could not understand him. Did he not love me? What could have changed so? No, he had to explain that.

You have chosen her, didn't you? My tone was more aggressive than I expected, but I'd rather play the angry woman than the fragile girl.

How... He hesitated. His countenance betrayed he was surprised. Do you know it already?

Oh, Rhys, come on, you used to be better than that. I crossed my arms and closed my eyes, for I couldn't keep staring at him, or I would cry. And I didn't want to cry. Not in front of him. It is blatantly obvious! Where had that fire in your eyes when you looked at me gone? Where had that lovely smile gone? Where had all that excitement you used to have when you were with me gone? Now you come here like a diplomat saying Excuse me, princess Marlena, I have some news to inform you of. My tone was very sarcastic. I was mocking a real diplomat and surely I'd laugh at myself were I not so sad. I'm no fool, Rhys, I'm no fool!

Oh, Marlena... my love... I could hear his hurried footsteps coming towards me. I know it is not easy, but I hope you can understand...

Understand what? Is there anything to understand?

Please, Maia... His tone was really of a worried man and it made me feel guilty. I didn't want to hurt him. After all, I love him. He was everything in my life, my love, my savior, my prince. Oh, Rhys, how could you do that to me?

You loved me so much back then. What happened? Why don't you love me anymore? What have I done? I opened my eyes and stared at him, who was already standing in front of me. I didn't want to cry, but I felt my eyes tingling. Oh, Rhys, I didn't leave you. You know I didn't. I was kidnapped, then made prisoner in my own home. Oh, Rhys, how many tears I cried, how many arguments I had with my father...

Maia... He looked down. I could see he was not feeling well.

When I saw you walking down the throne room, I was so excited, my love. I swear to you, I was praying for your victory against my own father. That thick-headed man... I love him, but he would not listen to me, he would not believe you were a good and respectable man, worthy of my love. Not even with cousin Lyle at your side. How it pained me every time he struck you. How it made me grin every time you struck him. Yes, you were hitting my father, but I was happy because I wanted you to win the fight. I only had eyes for you. I only have eyes for you... I didn't want to cry. I didn't want to cry. But I did anyway. I did and I became the pathetic teenager again. But I'm not angry at myself for that. I had the right to cry then because I loved that man more than anything. More than myself.

Oh, Rhys, I gave myself completely to you. I had nothing in my life, no place, no past, no one who knew me. I trusted you. I loved you. I placed my fate in your hands. Rhys, what happened? Why don't you love me anymore?

Maia... He sighed deeply and then stared at my eyes. I really loved you. You were a nameless stranger and I was the prince. But even so, I fell in love to you. I really wanted to marry you. Despite my parents' opposition. Despite the fact I didn't know who you really were. You could have been a spy, trying to infiltrate my realm and murder me. You could have been a murderer, a fugitive criminal, a street harlot, already married, anything. It didn't matter to me. I wanted you for who you were. I wanted you because you were a lovely girl, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent, good-humored, pretty... the prettiest girl I've ever seen.

I was still fighting back my tears, but I was losing the struggle. It was so hard to listen to that. It would be far easier if he had told me he had never loved me. I think there is nothing worse than hearing your loved one confirming his or her love for you and yet saying you can't be together. No, that should have been something else. So it was that... you wanted me because I was the prettiest girl you have ever seen. But now the magic is over. Why? Because I'm a Layan? Is that it? I never expected that coming from you, Rhys.

It is not that, Maia. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact of you being a Layan. I really loved you. I still love you, my dear. It is just that I knew Lena...

Oh, how that had hurt. It was as if he had stabbed a knife in my heart. So she was better than me. That was it. I was a lovely girl, but nothing more. Maybe she was more mature than me. Maybe she had more to offer to him as a wife than me. I'm surely prettier than her and I'm honestly saying that, though she was still a lovely girl herself. But maybe it is just that, I'm like a porcelain doll. The prettiest woman in the world, but still only worthy to stay quiet, on display. Maybe I was not a good fiancée. Maybe I was too distant, too prudish for his tastes. I surely loved him, but maybe he couldn't see that. Maybe that Lena was better at displaying her emotions, her love. Maybe she was bolder when it came down to pleasing him. I don't know, I just don't know. What I know is that my beloved prince considered her more worthy of his love than me. The poor and wretched princess from the distant kingdom was not good enough for him. The amnesic shallow princess. But do you think it was easy? To not know anything that had happened during the first sixteen years of my life? To be a stranger to everyone? To be a stranger to myself? Well, my life was crashing and crumbling before my eyes. I was half-way to the deepest depths of hell. Everything I knew, everything I loved, was being taken from me again.

Oh, Maia, my love... Rhys' eyes were wet. Don't think it was easy. You and Lena. What could I do? I had to choose. It was not an easy choice. I admit I don't know if I have made the best choice. There is a good chance that I'll regret this choice in the future. But, please, Maia, understand me. I had to choose. I knew I'd make one of the sweetest girls in the whole world sad. But I couldn't avoid it.

So you chose her to be happy and me to be sad. You don't know how it hurts, Rhys, you don't know how much it hurts. I really love you. You are everything in my life. I have no past. I have no friends. No one who could love me but you. I gave myself completely to you and that was not enough. I'm a failure. Besides, it was not the same. We had our wedding interrupted. Technically you had even vowed to take me as your bride. It is completely different than telling that Lena girl you were already married and not even start a relationship with her.

But we were not married yet, Maia. Of course I sought you, but I couldn't ignore her. She is so lovely.

His eyes shone when talking about that woman. That made me angry. I was trying to tell him something serious, but he only ignored me when thinking of his new sweetheart. Ha, so if we were married, you would cheat on me with any lovely girl you couldn't ignore.

No, Maia, honor comes first.

So why did you come here? Why didn't you go back home when you decided Lena was better than me?

Because I needed to see you. I couldn't decide without seeing you again.

I couldn't stand it anymore. I broke down in tears. Tears of rage, for I considered that he had cheated me. Tears of frustration, because I thought Rhys' love for me would be more resilient. Tears of shame, because even so, I still loved him the same way and would do anything he asked me. Anything. Tears of sadness; after all I was being jilted. Tears for a love I'd never be able to live. I stayed there, weeping bitterly, for a long time. The only sounds I could hear were my weeping, Rhys breathing and the tick tock of the clock. It was as if my life had come to an end. There was no hope left. There was nothing left for me there. I'd rather be dead than having to face the painful reality. That was much more painful than any physical pain I could ever feel. Crushing the body, as painful as it could be, would never be so bad as crushing the soul. The body's wounds would heal or end up killing me. The soul's wounds would neither heal nor kill; they would be there, forever, hurting me every single day of my life. They would become part of me.

Rhys gently touched my face with his hand. Maia... I held his hand in mine and kept weeping for a while. Oh, his touch was like something magical. It was as if his touch could put me under a spell. I gently caressed the back of his hand. Maybe he was just joking with me. Maybe he could still change his mind. I had nothing left to lose. I have already lost the love of my life, all my hopes, all my happiness, everything I owned. I'd do anything I could in order to not lose him. Maybe it was too late to try again, but if I did, in the future I could say that at least I tried.

Rhys... oh Rhys... I love you.

Oh, Maia... As he closed his eyes, I could see he was moved by my appeal. I had to try, maybe he would change his mind.

Rhys... I love you. Please, say you love me...

Maia... He gently caressed my cheeks.

Please, Rhys. Tell me it isn't true. Tell me you love me and you will marry me. Please, Rhys, tell me it was not serious. Tell me you still love me. Tell me we will be together. Please... Rhys... my love...

He silently shook his head. That made me cry even more. There was no hope. I was being jilted. I had to accept the truth. Rhys would not be mine. I had lost him. His heart was hers. Nothing I could do would change a thing. He would be hers and she would be his. It would be Rhys and Lena, not Rhys and Marlena anymore. Well, at least it would be easy, he would only have to strike three letters from the wedding invitations and that would be enough. Oh, damn, how could I come up with such a stupid joke in one of the most serious and depressing moments of my life? Maybe that is why Rhys is not marrying me. Maybe I'm somewhat crazy. Maybe I have a crooked sense of humor that scared him away. Maybe I'm just not the perfect fairy tale princess people kept saying I was. Maybe I'm just an uninteresting girl with a pretty face and an attractive body. Maybe I'm just a fool, the biggest fool that ever lived in this world. And that silence only made me feel worse. My mind can't stop. I'm always thinking of something. Something stupid usually. And I think that was the case back then.

Ching! Ching! Ching! Ching! Ching! Oh, no, that stupid clock again. The clock chimes acted as if they broke the spell Rhys and I were under. It was so good to feel Rhys' hand caressing my cheeks. I wish I had died during it, so I'd die happy, hoping he still loved me. But it was not meant to be that way. Startled by the chimes, Rhys took his hand from my face. That would be the last time I'd feel the touch of the man I loved. Rhys was embarrassed. I think he was still in doubt about his choice. Maybe if we stayed together for longer, he would reconsider his decision. Or maybe not and I am just a fool to have believed such. In any case, I was losing him. I was aware of that. And I thought it was time for some parting words. I had nothing really important to tell him, but we all have our egos, I have mine, so I would not let him go without saying something mature, something wise, to show him I was not just a little girl crying over a lost love, but a woman on my own, an intelligent and altruistic person. However, to be honest, I really was just a little girl and parting in silence would be the best thing that could have happened to me.

Well... Rhys sighed deeply. It was clear from his face that he wanted to part ways with me as soon as possible.

You are not staying with me. I started wiping the tears from my cheeks, as I was regaining control of myself.

No, Maia... sorry. I could see his eyes were wet, but he was trying to hide it from me.

It is hard letting you go. I feel like my heart is being torn apart.

It is not easy to let you go either, Maia.

But you chose it. You are letting me go because you have something better. It is not the same as me. I only had you and now I have nothing. Don't take me for a fool, Rhys.

Sorry, Maia...princess Marlena... I think I should use your proper title from now on...

His embarrassment made me angry. I was sure he was hiding something from me. Something he would not tell me. It didn't matter anyway. Even if he confessed he loved me, but was being forced to marry the other girl, that would not change anything. That wouldn't make him love me. That would not make him marry me. So it was better to let him go. I confess I am not sure if what I have is better than what I'm losing, but I've already made my decision. I'm sorry, but I'm sure you will find someone better than me, Maia. You are a precious girl, you deserve to be happy.

Thanks, but no thanks. Your generic well-wishes will hardly make me feel any better. Now I was angry at him. I didn't need those disrespectful well-wishes. If I was good enough for him, he would have stayed with me. To throw a silly you will be fine is easy. You can always do it. Sorry, I left you, but you will be fine. Sorry, I stole your money, but you will be fine. Sorry, I burned down your house, but you will be fine. Sorry, I killed your mother, but you will be fine. Sorry, I severed your legs, but you will be fine. What kind of fool did he think I was? Sometimes I wonder if he really loved me, if he was really worthy of my love. But I knew that was not the case, I was exaggerating. Maybe he didn't love me like I thought he did, but he loved me anyway. I know him too well to know he was terrible at lying. He could not convince anyone, even if his life depended on it. I knew that he was hiding something from me, but I was too depressed to keep asking. So I let him go.

Sorry, Maia. I really wished I could do something to ease your pain.

Though his tone was sincere, in the state of mind I was, I couldn't let it pass. You know what you have to do to ease my pain. But I don't see it happening. Well, Rhys, it is useless to keep you here. You have a woman to marry and you have a kingdom to take care of. I have nothing to do, but to grieve alone. So I'll not waste your time anymore.

Well... Rhys shrugged. Sorry, Maia. Sorry to leave you like that. I came here with the best of intentions. I meant you no harm. It just had to be that way, unfortunately.

It is okay, Rhys. Please, before leaving me, I'd like you to promise me two things, if you have some love and respect for me.

Two things? Rhys seemed surprised by my request. He hesitated for some seconds and then shrugged. Say it, Marlena. You know I have a lot of respect for you.

Alright. I felt it was time to play the mature woman, so I changed my posture, from a poor victim to an active and dominating posture. When we want to teach the others something, it depends more on our posture than on the real content of the teachings. I really hoped Rhys would comply to my requests. It was time to not think only of myself. First, I want you to promise you will always respect Layans as if they were Orakians. We must finish this stupid struggle between our people. From the time I stayed with you, I've learned to respect and love your people. From what you have learned from me and my cousin Lyle, you know that we are like you. When you return to Landen, please, promise me to fight all the prejudice between our people. I couldn't do much because my father is thick-headed, but you know you can trust me and cousin Lyle to treat Orakians accordingly in our lands.

Well... Rhys rubbed his chin. You are completely right, Maia. I'll do the possible and the impossible to make sure Layans are respected in our lands.

Thanks, Rhys. I knew I could trust on you.

What about the second thing?

Well, Rhys... I swallowed hard. It was painful, but I had to say that. Though I tried to look like a mature woman to make a deeper impression on him, what I had to ask him came straight from my heart. I really meant it. Rhys... promise me you will always love that Lena the way you would love me, even if she doesn't love you the way I love you.

Oh, Maia...

Please, promise me that. If you really love her more than me, make sure to do her justice. Or at least do me justice. Though it is hard and painful, though it will take me a long time to get over all this, or maybe I will never get over it... Anyway, though it is terrible to know you are breaking our engagement to stay with another woman, I can accept it if you really love this woman more than me. But I'll never forgive you if you are doing all this for a woman you love less than me.

It was very painful to say that without breaking down in tears again. At least it had the desired effect. Rhys hesitated. He rubbed his hand on his temples. He was really moved by my last words. For a moment, I thought he would break down in tears. For a moment, I thought he would admit and confess he loved me more than her. For a moment I could see a faint light in the end of the tunnel. His eyes couldn't hide his despair. I don't know what he had in his mind, but he must have been facing a dilemma. Anyway, I was a big fool to try to build up my hopes over that small hesitation. I knew his answer would come crashing over my frail castle of hope built in the air.

I promise you I'll love her more than you.

I closed my eyes and abandoned my head. I wanted to abandon myself completely, but that would not be adequate. It was over. I had lost him forever. Rhys would marry Lena and I would never see him again. That was it. All the love in my heart, all my dedication, everything... wasted. Could it have been different? Yes it could. It would. If that damned dragon had not spoilt the happiest day of my life, I'd be married to my Rhys. I'd be the happiest woman in the world. I'm sure I would. Then, no Lena could steal my beloved from me. Or could she? Would Rhys cheat me with her? Would he abndon me for her? From what I could understand, she was an Orakian princess. Would I stand a chance against her? No, I can't let him go without asking him what would have happened if that damned dragon had never appeared. Or even if he was too late to prevent me from marrying Rhys. Click. It was my last chance.

Rhys?

Huh?

Just one more question before you go.

Yes?

Had that damned dragon arrived late for the wedding, would it really have made any difference?

Rhys left the room and, before closing the door said his parting words. I'll never forget them. Never. Never.

It would have made all the difference, Maia. Farewell.

Click. He was gone. And, naturally, I broke down in tears again. My feelings were confused and I was deeply hurt. I've lost the man I loved. I was abandoned, as if all my love, all my dedication was not worthy of consideration. That was very frustrating, I was sure I had given him all my best, I had been faithful to him, I had been honest. One day I was dressed in a wedding gown, with a radiant smile on my face, walking down the palace main hall, hand-in-hand with the man I loved, ready to vow to love him for all of eternity, ready to enjoy all the pleasures of married life, ready to live my personal fairy tale. Now, the same man came here to tell me he didn't want me anymore, that he had found another love and would be married to her. In just a few weeks. How could my life go from the most complete happiness to the greatest sadness in such a small amount of time? How could the true love Rhys said he felt for me disappear? Oh, I cried a lot. A lot. I remember that the only thing I could remember after Rhys closed the door was the clock chiming eight times. My mind was in complete disarray. My heart was broken. I knew I had to rearrange my thoughts, recover my strength and keep on living, but I was just a fragile young girl, so I think I had the right to cry and suffer. They even say it is better to let your emotions flow, so I did.

It has been some time since that day. I confess I'm still sad about what happened and the memories still hurt me. I still love Rhys. I think I'd run into his arms if he asked me to go. However, I don't see that happening, so I'm still trying to turn the page. I know life is not perfect. Someone is laughing while someone is crying. When there is someone winning, there is always someone else losing. That was my turn to lose. It hurt, it made me cry, it made me feel desperate, it made me go crazy. Yet, I survived. It was obviously harder because I was just a young teenager, losing my first love when I'd been so close to having him by my side. It was even harder because I was amnesic, so it was as if my life had always been blessed with his love. Anyway, it is gone now. Thinking back now, maybe it was better this way. If he loved me the way I loved him, he would never leave me for any other woman in this world. Maybe someday I'll find someone who will love me the way I loved him. Maybe I won't. But I have to keep going, keep trying to do my best, trying each day to be a better woman than I was the day before. Ching Ching Ching. Well, at least I can hear the clock chimes again without crying. That is already a start for my life without Rhys. It will be better than to keep looking back for a love I'll never have again. Yes, it will surely be better.