“I can see that you are troubled. You toss and turn in your sleep. Why? What disturbs your dreams tonight? I expect you have forgotten about me, haven’t you?”
A ghost from his past has come back to haunt the dreams of the great Holy Roman Emperor, the Stupor Mundi—Wonder of the World, Frederick II. The ghost is bitter. He has not been treated well by the Emperor. But he does not seek vengeance. He comes offering redemption for the Emperor, if he will only listen.
“Stupor Mundi: The Life in Death of Frederick II” is an historical fantasy short story.
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About the same time, Frederick, the greatest of earthly princes, the wonder of the world and the regulator of its proceedings, departed this life, remarkably contrite and humbled, after being absolved from the sentence passed upon him, and, as it is reported, having taken the habit of the Cistercians.
Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, extract from the entry for the year 1250
I can see that you are troubled. You toss and turn in your sleep. Why? What disturbs your dreams tonight? I expect you have forgotten about me, haven’t you? No doubt other matters take up much of your time. Events have turned against you in recent days. Perhaps you regret your actions of a year ago?
What was that? A sound? Now you awake. The candle by your bed flickers. You get up and go to the window to see if it is open. It’s a cold night in the mountains and you did not leave it ajar, it is locked fast behind the heavy shutters. So why do you shiver so? I watch as you look around your room. I smile to myself.
You can’t see me.
But it is interesting to watch you.
You pick up a poker from the fire and prod around the dark corners of the room, lifting aside the curtains and drapes, opening the wardrobe door carefully in case anything lurks within. I wonder whether to make myself known, but your look of fearful bafflement is too entertaining to halt just yet.
Then you speak. “Is someone there?”
“Only the dead,” I reply.
“Who are you,” you ask, “an assassin?” You step back looking for your sword. I wonder if you will be able to see me. I am dressed in the court finery I wore when they arrested me, now stained by the blood of torture.
You do see me.
Your reaction to my appearance is curious. I have never seen you fearful at the sight of anyone before.
“It is I, your humble minister, Piero delle Vigne. Or should I say ex-minister, or perhaps ex-Piero would be more appropriate.” I bow low, my courtly manners not forgotten.
“I must be dreaming.” You sit on your bed, your hands rubbing your face.
“I assure your majesty that you are quite awake. I am what is called a ghost.”
You laugh. “A ghost? That is a good one. So now the Pope invades my sleep as well as my lands! If you were truly Piero, you would know that I do not believe in ghosts. This is a dream. I will wait until I wake and shall not converse with you further.”
Your logic, as always, is impeccable. This might not be as easy as I had thought.
So you sit down, eyes closed, on the edge of your bed, your arms folded waiting for your dream to disappear. I try not to laugh. To do so in front of my Emperor would be most improper, yet this moment is highly charged with comedy. Would Juvenal find a plot fit for his satire out of this, I wonder? But your tastes never did extend that way, so I dismiss the suggestion from my ghostly mind before speaking again.
“Sire, Frederick, Emperor of the Romans, King of Sicily, King of Jerusalem, this is no dream. I am happy to wait upon you until morning, but you will find that what passes for my visible body will fade with the morning rays of Apollo’s chariot. I hoped that our consultation might be conducted face to face, although I apologize for my appearance tonight.”
One of your eyes opens, and then the other. “So you are still here then ghost, demon or phantom of my sleep?” You get up slowly, your body tired from the most recent attack of illness. But when you stand, there is the old determination on your face and the pride of the Hohenstaufen is evident even to one who has spent the last twelvemonth with sinners in the inferno.
“Sire, I am sorry to disturb your sleep, but my mission here is one of great import.”
“Who sent you? And tell me, are you a painted player or demonic illusion conjured by the curia of Rome? The effect of the blood on your face has been very poorly done.”
For the first time since my return I feel hurt by your barbed words. It reminds me of our short interview before my imprisonment. That was the first time I felt the cruel power of your anger directed at me rather than at another.