The Sunflower King sat on his cold throne of petals brooding. The shadows in his Court were growing long and the Sun was nearly set. Everyone was gone. They were always gone. He thought he could smell the kitchens firing and hear the clink of glasses being set out in the garden. In an age long gone, he had married a beautiful Sidhe princess under the maple and the Midsummer Sun. Her throne now sat empty next to him. But, once a year on the Midsummer night, she appeared by him again.
“My dear, how the time has flown. What have we left to do?”
He closed his eyes tight shut for a moment, but then turned and looked at the throne next to him. She–his Queen Cereus–was sitting there as beautiful as the day he had married her. Suddenly the Court was full of people, bustle, sound and light again.
“Yes, my love, the time has flown. We have the banquet to attend.”
The real curse was not that she was taken from him nor that she reappeared once a year making it impossible for him to let go of her. No, the real curse was that if he told her about the curse, she would never come back. The fragile spell that brought her back to his Court once a year would shatter and the darkness that had cursed her would take her forever. And he would be forever alone sitting in his empty throne.
“Banquet? I do not recall a banquet, my dear?” Queen Cereus asked frowning. She shivered involuntarily but did not seem to notice.
The Sunflower King smiled and reached out and squeezed her hand–it had been a year since he had touched her! “It is a surprise, my love, a surprise just for you.” It always was.
“What a beautiful Sunrise, my dear,” Queen Cereus said, her head nestled in the Sunflower King’s shoulder. They were sitting atop the highest spire’s peak overlooking the grand entrance of the Sun. The blood red sky was breaking into other colours as a golden fire began to touch the horizon.
“Yes, my love, what a beautiful night,” the Sunflower King breathed, his arms suddenly empty.
He was alone at the peak of the highest spire in his castle overlooking his Kingdom. Queen Cereus was gone and would be gone for another year. His Court would be empty again.
He let his arm drop to his side and he sat in silence and watched as the ball of glowing fire burnt the start of the next year into the sky. It would be a long, lonely year again.
The Sunflower King could not remember how long this had gone on for, but over the years he began a conversation. Each annual appearance of his Queen when his Court was full and they held a banquet, he would try to get her to remember.
He could not tell her that she was cursed. He remembered the witches curse clearly. But, he could get her to remember this for herself.
“Do you remember where you were yesterday?” he would inquire between mouthfuls of nectar wine while the Court musicians played.
“Oh, my dear, I-I was here with you,” the Queen would reply, each time elaborating just a little more as something inside her began to get dislodged, “Didn’t we have a banquet too? We have too many banquets, my dear, we should do something else in the evening, don’t you think?”
Each year each time, he got just a little more of an answer from her. But then, the Sun rose, she left and the Court, draped in shadows and loneliness, was empty for another year. He would spend his time waiting, watching the sunrises and sunsets on his own again while planning how to get her to remember. Nothing else existed.
“Do you remember where you were yesterday?” he asked, holding her hand tightly as they both sipped their nectar wine. The Court was full and the musicians were playing a particularly soft, dreamy piece of music.
“Oh, my dear, I was here with you,” the Queen answered, yet more convincingly, and then she turned her head and looked directly at him, “No… No, you weren’t, my dear. Where were you yesterday?”
This was a new line of conversation. He had never gone down this road before. Gazing at him with her beautiful eyes wide open, she involuntarily shivered again.
“My love, I was right here sitting on my throne and waiting for you in our Court,” he said slowly and deliberately.
“No, my dear, you weren’t. I was in the Court and talking to the Elders. They were saying–” the Queen tilted her head to the side like she was trying really hard to remember and her eyes moistened, “They were saying that I should consider remarrying because you were gone and not coming back. I don’t want to remarry, my dear, I love you. I love you so much.”
The Sunflower King was confused. This was not what he had expected. The curse had obviously confused her.
“But, my love, I am not gone. You–you are–” he paused, he could not bring himself to say it or risk breaking the enchantment, “I sit all year long in the empty Court and I only get to see you once on the midsummer night’s full moon.”
The Queen’s face wrinkled in confusion. Or was it sorrow? Her eyes were wet and the Sunflower King suddenly had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“But, my dear, it is not midsummer night’s full moon tonight,” she pointed up and suddenly the Sunflower King saw it, “it is All-Hallow’s Eve on Samhain. You are the Sun while I am the Moon. You are the Day while I am the Night. And, you can speak with the living while I can speak with the dead on such a magical night like this…”
The Queen let her voice trail out. She was looking intently at him and, in fact, the whole Court had grown quiet. Even the musicians had stopped and everyone was looking at the Sunflower King. Slowly he began to remember and realise.
He remembered how beautiful his Queen was on the day of their wedding. But he also remembered how the wicked witch had appeared in their midst and he had struck out with his blade to defend his love.
Then he realised why his Court was always so empty. Why his Court was always in shadows and his sunrises and sunsets were always alone.
“I-I am dead,” the Sunflower King breathed, suddenly hearing the echoey sound of his voice from the grave.
“Yes, my love,” Queen Cereus said, looking at the pale apparition of her former husband before her, its light flickered and she saw its face contort in pain, a tear rolled down her cheek, “Yes, my love, you died defending me, but you need to move on and go to the Summerlands. I will find you there. My love will guide me.”
For the last time, the Sunflower King looked at his Queen Cereus. A single ghostly tear ran down his face and disappeared. He began to speak, but his image was fading fast and all the Queen heard through her own tears was:
“I miss you, my love. I just miss you so much…”