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My Head is Loose

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Iachimo entered Cymbeline’s tent in chains. He had been captured. Britain had beaten the mighty Rome, the underdog rising to the top and with it cruelty towards all Roman soldiers.

“Thou comest not, Caius, now for tribute that the Britons have razed out, though with the loss of many a bold one…” Cymbeline was babbling formalities, rendering Iachimo confused at why this usually composed king was so undone.

But he had other matters to think about. He was going to die now, which was what he wanted from the very beginning of the unraveling of his plans… right? Maybe he was wrong about his desires, for his stomach was stirring a very different tale. More like hurling.

And then Caius Lucius started to ramble. It seemed as if all the men with titles had decided that orderly conversions that quickly got to the point were overrated, which Iachimo strongly disagreed with. He felt ill with his guilt and fear. The ring was hot on his knuckle, sweat pooling between each finger. Imogen’s bracelet was tight and uncomfortable, and he worried it would cut his circulation off. Although, he guessed that wouldn’t matter. He would be executed long before the slightly tight manacle became a problem.

As Iachimo tried to focus his attention away from his nausea and towards the political discourse, it became apparent that Cymbeline had asked the boy in front of him to be released from the chains that bound his wrists. Could he, Iachimo, be spared? Hopefully not, for he deserved nothing less than a long and painful death. Death would feel better than this gut-churning guilt that turned him inside out. If only it would open his mouth to confess that which tormented him to conceal.

But of course, being the coward he was, he would never do such a thing, even if every cell in his body was screaming to rebel against his gutless thoughts.

The boy was shorter than Iachimo, although seemed to be the same age as him. He had curly hair that was held back in a ponytail. He was short and dainty, almost angelic. And with eyes as fierce as Cymbeline’s. Very similar, in fact. The boy looked over at Iachimo and seemed to pry all of his secrets out of his clammy grasp. Then he looked down at Iachimo’s chained hands and seemed to become even more menacing with his eyes. Iachimo shivered and sweat even more profusely. Could he have somehow recognised Posthumus’ ring? No, ‘tis impossible… he would never have had status great enough to walk the court of Cymbeline, and Posthumus wasn’t the sort to converse with strangers. All the same, the boy had seemed to pin the ring to a greater story, another puzzle piece.

After he was freed from bondage, Cymbeline asked the young Briton, “What wouldst thou, boy?”

“My boon is, that this gentleman may render of whom he had this ring,” the page said without turning his head to Cymbeline. He seemed to be fixed on Iachimo, the miserable wretch that he was.

Remembering the word choice of his earlier meandering thoughts, Iachimo stood up, slightly hunched as he was still attached to the other prisoners by the chains. The guard released him, and Iachimo straightened his back to meet glares almost colder than Iachimo’s core.

“I am glad to utter that which torments me to conceal.” He started across the tent, head bent to watch his feet take strides subconsciously. “By villainy I got this ring: 'twas Leonatus' jewel…” He tried to not let his voice break, for it was trembling precariously, threatening tears. “Whom thou didst banish; and, and--which more may grieve thee, as it doth me-- a nobler sir ne'er lived 'twixt sky and ground.” Iachimo begged his words to not betray him and leave him a sobbing mess on the ground. “Wilt thou hear more, my lord?”

“All that belongs to this,” Cymbeline replied, gesturing to the diamond that Iachimo had essentially stolen.

He tried to steady himself, feeling faint from nausea and that he was confessing all that criminalized him more than he already was as a prisoner of war. “That-- that paragon, thy daughter-- for whom my heart drops blood, and my false spirits quail to remember--” He couldn’t go on, he was starting to see black spots. “Give me leave; I faint.”

And at that, he collapsed to the ground, his head feeling loose and his legs too feeble to carry the weight of his confessions.

“My daughter! What of her? Renew thy strength: I had rather thou shouldst live while nature will than die ere I hear more: strive, man, and speak.” Iachimo’s words seemed to spark a flame in Cymbeline, especially at the mention of Imogen.

Unsteadily, Iachimo forced himself upwards to speak to the king. With a quiver in his throat like that in his unbalanced legs, he continued to say his story, marching himself to execution with every word. “Upon a time,--unhappy was the clock that struck the hour! It-- it was in Rome-- accursed the mansion where… ‘twas at a feast-- oh, would our viands had been poison'd, or at least those which I heaved to head! The--the good Posthumus-- what should I say? He was too good to be where ill men were--”

“I stand on fire: Come to the matter,” interrupted Cymbeline, who was pacing and wringing his hands, impatient for the mention of his daughter.

“All too soon I shall, unless thou wouldst grieve quickly,” Iachimo responded to Cymbeline’s frenzied pace. “This Posthumus, most like a noble lord in love and one that had a royal lover, took his hint; and, not dispraising whom we praised,--therein he was as calm as virtue--he began his mistress' picture-- which by his tongue being made, and then a mind put in't-- either our brags were crack'd of kitchen-trolls--”

“Nay, nay, to the purpose!”

Leaving out how the wager began as it made the king more and more impatient, Iachimo decided to be blunt. “Your daughter's chastity--there it begins. He spake of her, as Dian had hot dreams, and she alone were cold: whereat I, wretch,
Made scruple of his praise; and wager'd with him pieces of gold 'gainst this-- to attain in suit the place of his bed-- and win this ring, by hers and mine adultery.” Iachimo had lost the war against tears, for he now wept, his voice breaking at the sentencing word adultery. “Away to Britain post I in this design: where I was taught of your chaste daughter the wide difference
'twixt amorous and villainous. By wounding his belief in her renown with averting notes of chamber-hanging, pictures, this her bracelet-- oh cunning, how I got it! Nay, some marks
Of secret on-- on her person, that he could not but think her bond of chastity quite crack'd--
I having ta'en the forfeit. Whereupon--: Iachimo squinted as one of the Roman prisoners slowly stood, his hair unkempt and tangled as the web of lies Iachimo had spun for himself. Posthumus Leonatus. “Methinks-- I see him now!”

“Aye, so thou dost, Italian fiend!” Posthumus spat the last words at Iachimo. He stormed to the cowardly Roman, and Iachimo, not knowing anything else to do, took off Imogen’s bracelet and Posthumus’ ring to try and hand them back to where they truly belonged. This seemed to break Posthumus, as if Iachimo had reminded him of the wife he had lost to Iachimo. “Oh come! Oh, give me cord, or knife, or poison, some upright justicer!” Posthumus stumbled back, curling onto himself with shame and disgust. “Let every villain be call'd Posthumus Leonatus,” he pleaded to the king, desperation etched on his face. Was Iachimo so corrupt that he had driven such a good man to believe he was the real villain when the true one, Iachimo, was only a few feet away. “Be villany less than 'twas! O Imogen! My queen, my life, my wife!” Posthumus turned away from Iachimo and staggered towards the front of the tent.

Then the page ran towards Posthumus, looking… almost, relieved. He gasped out, “Peace, my lord; hear, hear--”

Posthumus interrupted him by turning around and slapping him across the face. “Shall's have a play of this? Thou scornful page, there lie thy part.”

And the boy fell to the floor, having fainted from shock.

Pisanio ran out to meet where the boy had fallen “Oh, gentlemen, help! Mine and your mistress! Oh, my lord Posthumus! You ne'er kill'd Imogen til now. Help, help! Mine honour'd lady!”

This piece of news along with everything else that had happened this evening brought Iachimo to his knees. The page who had sat so close to he, Iachimo the Villain, Iachimo the Thief, Iachimo who had stripped Imogen of respect, was the wife of Posthumus? Was Imogen?

The king was apparently very confused as well. “Does the world go round?”

“Wake, my mistress! How fares thy mistress?” Pisanio controlled the attention of the room once more. All except Iachimo, who wallowed in guilt and self-hatred. Because he knew he would do it again, given the chance. Or would he? Would he risk the lives of so many to win a diamond? A band around a finger? A small dazzling jewel for a kingdom’s loss?

Iachimo didn’t know. He didn’t expect he ever would.

As Imogen began to awaken, she saw Pisanio and flinched as if Pisanio had pricked her. “Oh, get thee from my sight; Thou gavest me poison: dangerous fellow, hence!”

“Lady, the gods throw stones of sulphur on me, if that box I gave you was not thought by me a precious thing: I had it from the queen,” Pisanio tried to reassure Imogen.

Iachimo stopped paying attention. Either way, Imogen was alive, along with Posthumus. But he had broken both, shattered their hearts and sprinkled the shards over the battleground. Could they ever recover from what Iachimo had done? He had tricked them into not trusting the persons they felt closest to, each other. He had taken away what little feelings of comfort they felt in this world, all for a single ring and something to gloat about. He had seduced the married princess of Britain, or so he could have boasted.

Iachimo stood up, and paced his little corner of the tent, holding both ring and bracelet in his trembling hands.

“Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?” Imogen’s elatedness brought Iachimo’s attention back to Posthumus and Imogen. Posthumus had such a gorgeous smile, wide enough to accompany dimples that made his beautiful face shine with relief and happiness to have Imogen back. If only he would look at Iachimo like that.

-

Iachimo was lost in the tumbling waves of his mind. They were roaring, deafening him to all of the things happening around him.

Posthumus then spoke directly to him, bringing Iachimo’s mind out of the turbulent sea he was drowning in. Speak, Iachimo: I had you down and might have made you finish.”

Posthumus was referring to the battle, when he held his sword and Iachimo’s before him, a sniveling wreck kneeling before two glinting weapons of silver. Posthumus had shown Iachimo mercy, dropping Iachimo’s sword and stalking off to another fight.

Well, now was the perfect time to die, with Posthumus’ sword threatening him once more. And so he also mimicked his stance in the fight. Kneeling. “I am down again,” Iachimo started, his eyes not daring to stray up to Posthumus’ face lest he begin to sob from fear. “But now my heavy conscience sinks my knee, as then your force did. Take that life, I beseech you, take that which I so often owe.” He held out the ring and bracelet for Posthumus to take so that they wouldn’t be stained by his blood when he died.”

Posthumus and Iachimo stayed like that, perfect statues made of marble for what felt like decades. Posthumus considering, Iachimo waiting and hoping for the cold touch of the sword to put him out of his misery.

Posthumus broke the stilled and intense silence between them. Kneel not to me,” he replied, shifting his sword to his side and away from Iachimo’s head. “The power that I have on you is, to spare you; The malice towards you to forgive you: live, and deal with others better.” At this, he turned away from Iachimo and walked to his wife’s side. They were reunited once more, no thanks to Iachimo. Iachimo the Thoughtless. Iachimo the Unwise. Iachimo the Lost. Iachimo the Wrong. Iachimo the Coward. But at least he wasn’t Iachimo the Sentenced.