Emperor Claudius held his royal staff in his left hand. His body leaned towards the right, his elbow on the arm chair bearing the burden of his weight. The Emperor wore his ceremonial “trabea” entirely covered in purple. What was it that he was celebrating with a wide smile across his face?

His eyes had settled on a man who kneeled before him. The man bowed before the Emperor not out of respect, but forcefully. He had no fear in his heart, no regret on his mind or guilt on his soul. In the silence of the court, the only sound that echoed the corners of the court was that of the King’s staff tapping against the royal floor. Courtesans looked in curiosity for the Emperor to deliver his verdict. Most were not in his favor. But then, who were they to judge the King who ruled several realms of Rome?

The man who kneeled before the Emperor was known to one and all. He was the most beloved man of Rome, the man who touched a million hearts and summoned words that spoke only the language of love. His name was St. Valentine.

And his guilt was to only have spread love without the Emperor’s consent.

“Do you confess to your guilt?” the Emperor questioned pointing the staff at Valentine.

To this, Valentine only nodded in denial. Nothing could more aggrieve the Emperor than a foul criminal’s ego. No one could stand challenge to the might of the Emperor.

“So be it,” said Emperor Claudius. “Your debauchery has cost me gravely. You decimated my army with a single word, love. I, Emperor Claudius, banish you from any freedom Gods can offer. May you rot and die in the dungeons of my prison when the time be right. From thus forth, Rome will never see a marriage.”

And so it was decided. Valentine was thrown in a remote cell where not a speck of sun’s light could touch the walls. Not a soul wandered or a whisper lingered. The man of love spent his days in a corner, only wishing the Emperor could understand the essence of love. So he believed that God’s angel will send a cupid and the Emperor will be diagnosed of his hatred and filled with love and only love. He pondered over those he had secretly married off against the Emperor’s will.

Days turned to months and months to years. He was reduced from muscles to bones. Soon his time would be due, he knew for sure. And one day, what had not happened in years, was about to ensue. An echo fell on his ears, one that he had not heard in a long time. The footsteps were soft, gentle, like a breeze touching a leaf. His eyes searched in the dark until they found a figure standing outside a cell.

She had long hair. Her eyes did not look into his but he could tell the color of them.

What game the mind plays in my dying days? He thought.

He closed his eyes wondering if this was a dream, and opening the eyes would make the figure in front of him vanish. Not that he wanted her to go. No man in his right sense would want to stop looking at a beauty as such. For a brief moment he pushed his mind to focus, to relieve himself of this beautiful dream.

When he opened them again, the beautiful lady was still standing in her place.

“She is my daughter,” said the guard approaching the cell.

Valentine had not spoken in years. But the love inside him was still afresh. He smiled at the new face. For a day, he had seen too many good faces. He could only ask for more.

“You may not remember me,” the guard continued. “Long time back, you had secretly married me to a girl, against the will of the Emperor.”

Valentine had married off thousands of couples. In fact, more men than there were in the Emperor’s army. This was the reason he was where he is. Not once he regretted having married off those lovely couples. The love in the eyes of the groom, the bride in white shinning gown and the blessing he showered in whispers. The secrecy he never revealed to anyone, the promises he kept for the couple, and he never regretted any of those. His years in this cell were worth each of those moments.

“It is because of you that I am blessed with a beautiful daughter as such,” the guard was in tears now. “You do not deserve this for the blessings you bestowed upon us. When I narrated your story to my daughter, she insisted on meeting you. I could not keep her away. How could I deny her from meeting a man so full of love?” He turned to the entrance and back to the cell. “I must leave you two alone here. I will stay guard by the door.” Saying so he left for the door.

When Valentine turned to the guard’s daughter, he looked directly in her eyes. She had dreamy eyes, a strand of hair fell across her face. It was as though he was rewarded with a second life. It was not until she spoke her first word, that St Valentine’s heart was overwhelmed with such happiness that his weak body could bear no further. Streams of tears began to roll down his cheeks. Not since his birth had he cried like a baby.

“My love,” she said reaching through the cell rods, “what injustice the Emperor does to a man who knows no hatred?” She reached for his hands and held them firmly in hers. Valentine was coming back to life again.

As days passed on, the guard’s daughter frequented her visits to Valentine. For hours they would talk. She would describe to him the happenings outside the cell. She would cook for him healthy food. She would stay by his cell till he had had his food and drifted off to sleep holding her hand. She would then leave for her place, only to look forward for her next meeting with Valentine.

Daily and slowly, her presence lifted Valentine’s spirit. When he felt retrieved in his prime, with the help of the good guard, he started secretly marrying more couples. This he did with the help of his lady love. He taught her the rites which she performed secretly outside.

But as fate had it, the Emperor was relieved of the treachery one day. His heart was filled in such rage and hatred that he decided to finish the tale of Valentine on the same day. The day was the fourteenth morning of February, 269 AD.

In a public gathering, the Emperor held captive the guard, St Valentine and his love. Not a moment he spent in beheading the guard with his own sword for his treachery. He turned to the St. Valentine, “You dare defy the words of your Emperor. No more shall I let your love prevail. Your last wish?” he asked.

To this, Valentine produced a piece of paper. Turning to his lady, he read through it,

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

That day, St Valentine and his love was sacrificed on the altar of hatred. Years later, we still continue to celebrate this day, to spread the love that originated in the heart of St Valentine.

Note: This is my version of the story of Valentine. The story may defer as per the source I read from.

Poem Courtesy: St Valentine.