WHAT PRICE LOYALTY
He was born Constantine Hierax. After leaving home, he took on the name Constantine Gerakis, and he was later named Constantine Phaulkon. He was known, too, as the King’s Favorite and Luang Wijawendra, Superintendent of Foreign Trade. The French, when referring him to King Louis XIV of France, called him Foreign Minister of Siam.
To his European enemies he was simply The Greek At his trial he was called Phaulkon.
He was asked to confess to crimes he had never committed, and to things he had never even thought of. In a letter that was written while Phaulkon was in prison being interrogated, Beauchamp, an officer in the camp of Des Farges, reported: “He was made to suffer for more than three weeks with every barbarous villainy of the most horrible kind.” Phaulkon was put to torture to force him to disclose his complicity with the French and for his attempt to convert the king to Christianity.
Phaulkon denied all charges. Nothing could make him change his mind. He swore before his accusers, with God Almighty as his witness, that he was innocent. What he did, he did for Siam. His pleadings fell upon deaf ears.
In the meantime King Narai was dying and General Phetracha had cleared the way for his own accession to the throne. He had done away with the king’s two brothers and the king’s adopted son. He announced he was taking King Narai’s daughter for his wife, to give his reign some sort of authenticity. Only Phaulkon stood in his way.
Marie did not give up hope. “Maybe it’s all a terrible dream and I will wake up,” she kept telling herself When she had to admit it was no dream, she thought it might be rumor that her husband was in prison. Maybe it was a cover up. That was it. The French had rescued him and he was aboard a French man-of-war. But when no word came, only hearsay, she decided that she had to find out for herself. She would go to the prison. She put on her simple Japanese robes, no makeup or jewelry, and had Diego take her to the prison. What she didn’t expect was to find both General Phetracha and Sorasak there when she arrived.
“And what can we do for you, Madam Phaulkon?” General Phetracha asked.
“She came to see her husband,” Sorasak smirked. Marie’s fear was confirmed. Her husband was not safe aboard a French man-of-war. He was here, in this terrible prison.
“My husband is here, isn’t he?” she asked.
“Your husband the traitor,” Sorasak said.
Marie could see she had to appeal to their emotions. She began to plead with them both to spare Phaulkon’s life. “He had every opportunity to leave Siam but he chose to stay and as long as the King is alive,” she cried.
The men laughed. “But he didn’t leave,” Sorasak said. “And that was his mistake.”
“Please, let me see him,’ she pleaded. “I beg you, let me see him.” She fell down to her knees. “Please, let me see him.”
“Why not,” Sorasak said to the general. “Why not let her look at her hero now. Why not let her see that he is nothing, and that he never was!”
General Phetracha, amused at the thought, told the guards to lead Marie to Phaulkon’s cell.
The sight of Phaulkon was more agony than Marie could bear. She fought hard to keep back the tears. She knew she must be brave, but how could she when she saw her husband’s torn body. They had tortured him to where he was almost unrecognizable. She reached through the bars and was able to touch his outstretched hand. He pulled at his chains and moved closer. She touched his face and brushed back his hair, and he took hold of her hand. He kissed it and let it rest against his cheek. He told her how pretty she looked and he asked about their son. She told him Fanique was beginning to enjoy being a grandfather and was teaching their son to speak Japanese. “He’ll be just like you when he grows up; he’ll speak many languages,” Marie said proudly.
“I never was good at Japanese,” he said. “Teach him to speak French. That way the French can’t fool him.”
Marie changed the subject and begged with him to call in the French troops. “There is still time,” she said.
“This would be the worst mistake I could ever make,” Phaulkon said. “The French are prepared to take Siam. As soon as the king dies, they will take Siam by force and Siam will become a French colony. That is exactly what the king has been trying to avoid. If I call them now, they will not come to rescue me but to claim Siam for the King of France. Do you know what that means? King Narai must not know that his friends have betrayed him. He has very little time left. The pain would be more than he could bear, to learn that he had lost his kingdom to a foreign power. Perhaps Siam may fall into the hands of the French but I will not be the reason for it.”
“You speak of the king’s pain, but what about ours, our pain, yours and mine, and all those who love and believe in us?” Marie asked.
“And the Siamese, are they not our people too?” Phaulkon asked his heartbroken wife. “Does their pain not matter to us? Do we only measure life by the pain it brings? No, not at all. Pain and love, they are part of living. When I first saw you, I chose to love you forever, and I have never loved, nor could I ever love another woman as I do you. When I chose to serve the king, I chose to serve always, until his death. And when I chose Siam to be my home and my country, I was bound by my choice to live and die in Siam.”
Marie, clasping Phaulkon’s hand, made a desperate, last plea. “To live yes, but it is not your time to die, not like this. You are too great to die like this.”
“Greatness, what is greatness when it comes time to die?” he asked.
Words, words could not comfort Marie. “You still have a choice!” she cried. “Don’t leave me, please, please don’t leave me!’
“Marie, please listen. If I were to call out the French troops, and they were to come, Phetracha would execute me instantly. Either way, I am dead. I would rather go this way.” He then took out her letter he had tucked in his torn shirt and held it up to her. “What about this?” he asked. “Are these just words? Don’t they have any meaning? Nothing can separate us, not kings, not gods, not even death.”
Marie wiped her tears and tried to gather her composure. “What shall I tell George?” she finally asked.
“Tell him the truth,” he said. “The truth.”
The guards came and took Marie away. She did not go easily. She clung tightly to the bars and, as the guards dragged her by her arms down the corridor, the prisoners in all the cell blocks could hear her screams. Phaulkon heard them too.