by Susan Willis
a glass of Bavarian Beer
Jenny walked through the throne room staring up at the turquoise domed ceiling. It was beautiful.
The tour guide, Geoff, called her name. ‘Jenny, come back you can’t go over there!’
They were in the fairy tale Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. Geoff had just finished telling them King Ludwig II’s life story and how he had built this castle on the top of the hill for a place of refuge and secret retreat. Jenny loved to hear the human-interest stories behind famous people, it made her want to jump back in history and step into their world.
Ludwig and his brother, Otto, were born in Hohenschwangau Castle in which his father, King Maximilian II, and his mother Queen Marie, were obsessed with the legendary world. Most of the walls were covered with fairy tale drawings and tapestries. Ludwig was an immensely good-looking man, and because at an early age, Otto was incapacitated by mental illness, it was his role in life to marry and carry on the Bavarian monarchy. Unfortunately, it was other men Ludwig wanted to be with, not women.
She’d wandered over to the corner of the huge throne room which was so full of gold-bling it made her head spin. With big Lapis Lazuli blue pillars, she stood with her mouth open gaping at the splendour of it all.
In front of her was a small spiral staircase. The thick rope that was usually on private areas was not stretched across the opening to the stairs and hung limp from its hook.
She stood still and glanced furtively over her shoulder. Jenny licked her dry lips, where was Geoff now? Could she slip up the staircase without him knowing? Was there time?
She noticed that he was shepherding the group out through the far door into the next room. She swallowed hard, when would she ever get another chance to pry into a secret place in the castle that no one had ever seen? It’s now or never, she thought, just go for it.
She skipped up the first step then hurried up the small spiral stairs with her heart hammering. What would be at the top? Probably a castle official, she thought, shouting and shooing her back downstairs. But as she rounded more stairs, she could see an opening ahead with daylight and the blue sky above.
Suddenly, a man’s head popped around the top of the last stair. It was him! She gasped. It was King Ludwig or, someone dressed up to look very much like him.
He looked about twenty and his lovely melancholy face broke into a small smile. ‘Come up,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t let them see you or they’ll arrest you!’
The hairs stood up on the back of her neck and she gaped at him. It couldn’t be him. He’d started this castle when he first came to the throne in 1866? Her mind was playing tricks and she shook her head vehemently to rid herself of the apparition. But he was still there so she hurried on up to the top.
He was standing by the side of the tallest turret dressed in his long black shiny boots and eminent bright blue military jacket. The chain of gold medals around the red sash over his jacket shimmered in the direct sunlight.
She had to look at him directly because they were very high up on the roof and she wasn’t good with heights. The third rung on a ladder was usually her limit. Don’t look down, she chanted to herself while creeping towards him.
She whispered, ‘Is it really you?’
‘Yes, yes, it’s me,’ he said. ‘Have you brought someone to make me marry the princess of Austria?’
She shook her head. ‘Em, no, it’s just me, Jenny Wilson from Scotland.’ She realised how stupid it sounded. But, there again, how could he think she was from the 18th century when she was dressed in white jeans and a T-shirt?
‘Ah, Scotland. My father told me about your Edinburgh castle.’
Jenny filled with pride at the fact that the old Bavarian King had known their castle and she smiled. ‘Yes, it’s quite magnificent. We love it, just like you love this one.’
‘You haven’t brought Queen Victoria here to make me get married, have you?’
Jenny rubbed the back of her neck and frowned. ‘No, of course, I haven’t.’
‘Because I just can’t do it,’ he said. ‘I can’t lie with a woman and consummate the marriage. I just can’t…’ he put both his small hands out to her, and she grasped them between hers. She squeezed his hands and gave him an understanding nod.
His face was beautiful. His skin was smooth with a small-button nose and pink sweetheart lips. Thick black eyebrows held such dark-hooded sad eyes that she couldn’t help but stare at him. ‘Hey, it’s okay,’ she said trying to reassure him. ‘Don’t upset yourself, we’ll sort something out.’
His eyes filled with tears. ‘I can’t sleep,’ he said. ‘I hide away up here in this huge castle. But I stay awake all night and read. I’m reading a whole book every night because if I close my eyes, I’m tormented, and the devils come to get me in the dark. I find it easier to sleep during the daylight.’
She remembered what Geoff had told them about his sleigh rides in the night and how shy and lonely he’d been. She sighed feeling his hands tremble in hers. ‘Is there no one here that can help you?’
He shook his head miserably and bit down on his bottom lip. ‘No. I’m going to the devil when I die because I’m not normal. I’m not a strutting ram wanting to bed one woman after another like my father was, but I just can’t help it!’
Her heart went out to him in his torment. She knew he’d visited and loved Versailles, in Paris, especially, King Louis XIV, and she could tell he would be much happier in those surroundings. He was theatrical, loved music, especially Richard Wagner, and highly imaginative trying to stage his kingship in magnificent ways. But all she could see was a deeply unhappy man.
She heard Geoff’s footsteps charging up the stairs and his voice calling her name.
‘Sorry, Ludwig,’ she whispered. ‘I have to go.’
The sun was streaming into her eyes and she squeezed them shut. When she opened them again and put a hand over her eyebrows to shield the sun, he’d disappeared behind the turret. She looked around the side, but he was nowhere in sight.
She staggered back to the top of the stairs and saw Geoff’s head appear.
‘What are you doing up here, Jenny. You’ll get me into trouble!’
She grinned. ‘Sorry, Geoff, but I saw him! I saw King Ludwig.’
‘Yeah, right,’ he sniggered. ‘I think you’ve had too much sun!’
Maybe he’s right, she thought, and stepped down onto the first stair to follow him downstairs. She turned ever so slightly and saw Ludwig’s face peep back around the short turret and wave at her.
She waved back knowing she’d been part of one of King Ludwig’s fairy tales from Bavaria.