Chapter 1


My father’s reign was disastrous, as you know. As much as I loved him as a child, I know him now for a self-indulgent fool in a time that could ill afford luxury of any sort. When he should be inspecting troops before they were sent off to guard the borders against the very motivated invaders, he was inspecting wines instead. When he should be conferring with his generals on the best way to address the new war machinery that Rome’s engineers had wrought, he was conferring with his own court engineers on a new mechanical toy to be unveiled at my next birthday fête.

He indulged me at every turn when I was a child, and so those years are still magical in my mind. It’s still hard to separate those memories from the knowledge that came later — that spoiling me so shamelessly came at such great cost to the kingdom and of course, ultimately, to our family.

My mother, on the other hand, was a pragmatist. You don’t read this in the official histories, of course, because the queens of our dynasty were considered to be little more than decoration, bought and sold to secure alliances and quiet border disputes.

She was brilliant, though — I know that now — and it’s her ingenuity that saved her life and mine. I despised her for years for her role in my… fall, I suppose you could call it … but I have my life, and a long one, thanks in no small part to her very … flexible … attitude.

Pah. Putting this delicately doesn’t suit.

The final years of my father’s reign, you may recall, were fraught with trouble: King William’s troops were growing more and more audacious, and my father’s indulgences were reducing the coffers too rapidly. People were suffering as he raised taxes to finance his fancies, and William knew it. So where he couldn’t break borders, he sent spies who both listened and spoke, planting the seeds of destruction in my own people’s hearts — and honestly, it can’t have been too difficult. My father’s undoing was of his own doing.

Oh, allow me a bit of poetry, you young fool. I made my life on it.

A soldier knelt before me, that fateful day, a tragic look on his face.

“Your Majesty.”

“Majesty?” I piped innocently. “You must be new. My mother is the Queen…” I was only 11 years old.

The soldier remained silent.

It took me a moment.

“Majesty — ” he said again.

My knees trembled.

“What are you saying? Where is my mother?”

The castle was still secure, but by then half the city was occupied by William’s forces, or held by his sympathizers, or both — and for once my father had gone out with General Cricket. You know, to this day, I am uncertain of his name. Kurkeet? — I think — I could never pronounce it correctly as a child, so I just called him Cricket. He didn’t seem to mind. My father had imported him from some country to the south that he visited before he married my mother. Cricket was always kind to me. I wonder whatever happened to him…

He returned home? Well, I suppose that makes sense. I am glad he survived that nonsense, and I hope he had a barnful of happy fat children. Good.

What?

Oh, yes, that kneeling soldier. Apologies, my mind wanders these days.

So there he was, kneeling and looking miserable, and it finally occurred to me that he had called me “Majesty” quite on purpose. That could only mean one thing, and that’s when my legs began failing me.

“But… I am not the Queen,” I think I said. “That’s my mother. Where is my mother? Mother? Mother! MOTHER!” A nurse snagged me just before my head hit the floor.

I don’t remember much about what came after, except that a train of generals kept asking me “What is thy will, Majesty?” How the hell should I know? I was eleven!

But I tried to muster what grace I could, and gather details of my parents’ deaths. My father had come to his end in the merchants’ district, trying without success to hold back William’s forces there. When he fell, General Cricket stood over him, so I was told, yelling at the top of his lungs that my father had died honorably, and that his body should not be desecrated. William was apparently nearby, heard the commotion and stopped the battle to honor my father and this strange, dark General who had defended him.

I suppose that’s how Cricket managed to get away with his life. That makes sense now.

Hm? Yes, certainly, William was an honorable man — or as honorable as any of that lot are. He gave my father a decent end to his wastrel reign and set his country to rights as well as he could.

He was awful to me, but that should come as no surprise — I shouldn’t have lived, and by the time they figured out who I was, I had already secured a kind of fame they couldn’t well ignore. William would have met a similar end as my father, I think, if he had killed me. Isn’t that an irony?

But back to that day — my father was known to be dead, and nobody seemed to know what had happened to my mother. It is perhaps to her great benefit that nobody particularly cared. She had made herself unwelcome by questioning my father’s excesses, and her presence caused discomfort in a court whose primary objective was the exact opposite. Her loss was not especially felt, though of course she was officially mourned along with my father.

That left me and my legion of nurses, many of whom took the opportunity to flee in the confusion — taking no few precious things from my chamber on their way out. I don’t begrudge them any of it. They earned it. I was an unholy spoiled little shit and no doubt treated them abominably.

Have I shocked you again, archivist? You poor dear. You do look a bit green. Look, if you want my story, then best prepare yourself, for there’s much worse to come.

Besides, I spent far too many years protecting the delicate sensibilities of that pampered nobility. They can stand a bit of blunt talk — they seemed to enjoy it well enough in their bedchambers.

Shall we rest a while? I am a bit hungry, and my goblet’s drained.

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