On a cold winter morning the guards led me out to a snow-covered field where a massive stone chopping block and an executioner with a heavy wooden axe were waiting for me. I was part of a large family that had ruled the kingdom for ages. But now the family had been deposed and all the other family members had been eliminated. I was the last one that they had left to deal with. The young prince of the new ruling family stood beside the executioner as a witness, his pale face hard and petulant, his arms folded across his chest, his right fist flexing and cracking the leather of his black glove.
As the guards were lowering me to my knees before the chopping block, the prince put up his hand to stop them. He gave them a short nod, indicating that he wanted a second to speak to me, to indulge his curiosity. Then he asked me the simplest question of all. He asked me if I was angry. I laughed at the question. I told him that the magnitude of what was happening was far beyond the possibility of anger. I looked out to where the sky and snow faded into grey on the horizon, and I told him that I felt like a bird that was about to fly away and vanish forever. How could I be angry? What good would it do me?
The prince still had his hand held up as he took a moment to consider my answer. Then he flipped his palm over and gestured for the guards to help me to my feet, and I knew then that I had been spared. “From now on, you will be just another commoner,” he told me. “Your family name will be stripped of any significance that it once had. Any thought that you might have of regaining power will be like trying to grasp at the air. There will be nothing there for you. You will be no one.” He said that I would become the caretaker of the castle, serving the new ruling family. And in a briefly improvised ceremony, a broom was brought out from a stable nearby and placed into my hands as a coronation of my new position. I nodded eagerly. I accepted everything gladly. I clutched the cold wooden handle. There were chunks of snow and ice in the bristles.
And so I stayed on, sweeping the halls of the castle clean in the winters, and tending to the gardens outside in the summers. And that feeling of being a vanishing bird carried me through the rest of my life. I felt it whenever I passed by a window and saw the clouds in the blue sky, whenever I paused in my sweeping to look at the portraits hung in the main gallery, whenever the midday shadows fell deep along the stone walls, whenever I heard the bells toll the birth of a new royal child, or the marriage of the princess, or the crowning of the prince. I swept down through all these moments, days scattered by the handful, only ever touching down slightly, grazing them barely, like things dreamt of or already remembered, beautiful, beautiful things of no consequence whatsoever.