“I don’t like this painting.” Emily stood in front of the copy of Brugegel’s Two Monkey’s and frowned. It hung in Joseph’s study over a comfortable red leather chair next to an arched window.
“Why is that?” Joseph smiled and held out his hands.
Emily shivered. The monkey on the left stared with sorrowful black eyes while the other gazed out of the arched window where the Scheldt River and the city of Antwerp stretched out. But the monkeys themselves sat chained to the windowsill in a darkened room, destined only to stare into the world beyond their solitary prison.
“It seems so cruel.” She went to him and sat on the edge of his chair.
“Ah, but in its day, it might have been considered a pun on the political times of the fourteenth to sixteen centuries. Then there was much “singerie” or monkey tricks for control of the Scheldt. On the right side of the river the count of Flanders was allied with France, but on the left the marquisate of Antwerp was aligned with Germany. In Bruegel’s time, 1562 the Emperor removed all room for maneuvering from his rivals. He chained them, so to speak.”
“I suppose that’s what successful monarchs do.”
“Sometimes one must be ruthless to maintain a kingdom. Yes. That is true.” He stroked her hand. “But it not something for you to worry about.”
“Will you do something for me?”
She leaned closer, her golden hair tumbling over her shoulders, and her deep blue eyes filling slightly. “Will you take the picture down?”
He kissed her hand. “For you? Anything. Consider it gone.”
She flung her arms around him. “I do love you so much.”
“And I you, my dear.” He kissed her and glanced at his watch. “Now, we must get dressed. We cannot be late for a state dinner.” He looked at her and tilted his head. “Wear the blue velvet. It’s particularly becoming, and the diamond necklace.”
“It’s very heavy, Joseph.” Her voice trembled a little.
“Nonetheless. It suits you. And that suits me.” He kissed her again. “Now hurry, my dear.”
She gave him another tremulous smile before she hurried from the room.
Joseph waited for a moment before he stood and walked to the painting and pulled it down from the wall. He would replace it with something else from his cache, something more–what was the word–upbeat. He smiled and carried the picture with him. He told people it was an excellent copy, and they believed him because everyone knew the original sat in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin.
It was such a small picture, just 19.8 x 23.2 cm. Freedom and captivity. The two animals formed a perfect spiral from the ring that held their chains to the arch of the window overlooking the flowing river, the cathedral of Antwerp. That was the eternal dance—hope and hopelessness.
Joseph went to the wine cellar, and used the special key to open the door hidden behind a rack of exquisite French burgundy. He descended deep into the bowls of the house.
The two men sat in cells across from each other. They had been proud men once, even handsome men. Now both were stooped and gray. They stared at him with flat red-rimmed eyes.
He didn’t believe in torture. They had light—albeit dim light—water, food. Their waste was removed twice a day. Their clothing was grey, almost like a doctor’s scubs. Easy to remove and clean. Their left ankles were shackled to the floor by substantial iron chains.
He regarded the men. “And how are you, this afternoon?”
Neither man answered. Men without tongues could not talk or plot.
“I have brought you a present. Just for the night. Alas, I cannot afford to leave it here any longer for your enjoyment. But I feel you’ll both appreciate the picture for what it is. My new wife did not, and I will do anything for her, especially now that she bears my child.”
He propped the picture on a ledge. “It’s a reminder. You believed I would spare you because you’re my sons?” Joseph shrugged. “But you forgot I am the master of the game. No more monkey tricks for the two of you.”
He heard strangled sounds that sounded like sobbing as he made his way back up the stairs.