Clara could hear the rustling of the satin and tulle down the hallway. Her heart pounded wildly. Nervously, she smoothed her clothes and hair.
As the aging queen entered the room, Clara was overwhelmed by her grace and beauty. After proper introductions, the queen tried to put her at ease.
— Clara, I am so glad to meet you, she said softly touching her hand. I was looking forward to this interview.
Astonished by the queen’s simplicity, Clara struggled to find her words at first, but she began with the interview.
— Before we begin, I want to thank you, Your Majesty, for agreeing to this interview, Clara said warmly. My first question might seem silly but how has becoming a queen changed your life?
— Well, that’s a clever question — nobody ever asks what happens after.
— After what?
— After the fairy tale ends.
— Fairy tale?
— Nobody bothers to ask what happens after the prince and princess marry. Do you want to know why?
— Why? Clara asked, hesitantly.
— Because fairy tales are an illusion.
— I’m sorry your highness, but wasn’t ‘fairy tales’ the theme of your jubilee? What of the story of how the prince fell in love with you, an impoverished young woman, who had been abused and abandoned by her family. Isn’t this story true?
— Well, they stretched it a bit, but it was mostly true. The jubilee theme was all for show, she shrugged.
— I beg your pardon your highness, but I don’t understand. Isn’t that the dream? To marry a prince? To be lifted out of misery?
— This is where you are wrong. While it’s true that before I met my husband, I had encountered hardship. From the loss of my mother to the abuse by the family who welcomed me, but never could I have imagined my life would be worse AFTER the wedding.
— Yes, after. Before I leave this earth somebody should know the truth.
— Leave this earth? Are you sick?
— Clara, I am an old woman now, she said softly. Since the day of the jubilee, I have felt my force leaving me. The doctors don’t know why.
This is why I want to tell you my story. Everyone knows the story of my life before the wedding, but the royal family went to great lengths to cover the reality, so the illusion of my happily-ever-after would never come to life. From the beginning, I sensed something was off. My husband, the prince, was attentive and caring, but every now and then, I could see my mother-in-law give me the bad eye. She was jealous and bitter. She felt I was stealing her son and her kingdom.
She had me followed, tried to convince my husband I was having an affair. She denigrated me every time she could. Nevertheless, after our first year of marriage, I became pregnant. I was filled with felicity and joy. But the hatred of the queen had no limits. To her, I was still unworthy. I delivered a healthy baby girl at our vacation house, away from the queen-mother — I had accomplished my responsibilities as a wife and future queen — I had given the family an heir. I thought my nightmare would be over then.
In the following years, I gave the prince two more healthy baby girls… But my husband had wanted a son — he was disappointed. Of course, his mother convinced him that my impure blood would prevent us from ever having a son.
After his mother died, I got pregnant one last time. We prayed for a boy. When finally the baby arrived, our disappointment was only greater.
Our first son was stillborn.
The queen stayed silent for a few moments. Clara could feel her pain. When she resumed her story, the queen’s voice was hoarse.
From that day, I lost my prince, my king, as he lost his mind — he blamed me for everything, became paranoid, enraged. He believed our three daughters were possessed, threatened them with punishment — I feared for their lives.
With sadness, I sent them away. They were separated to keep them safely hidden — they would never know their true identities. The king and I ruled unhappily and childless until his death, last month — for me it was a relief.
— What became of your daughters?
— Although I have lived a long and harsh life — I’ve watched them come of age from a distance, and I know I’ve made the right choice. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story, Clara.
As she said those last words, the queen closed her eyes and vanished in a whirlwind. Her luxurious satin and tulle dress and jewels were all that remained.
Clara sat for a short while, wondering if she should tell the story or not. Would anyone believe her now that the queen was gone?
Getting back into her coat to leave, she felt a cold wind. Clara looked around to see the source of the wind when she began to remember — just then, she noticed the royal ring on her finger and the satin dress hugging her body.
Reaching in the dress pocket she found a note with her address and two others.
Catherine Labelle is a social-worker and short fiction writer based in Montréal, Québec. Graduated from McGill University in 2014, she pursues her quest for knowledge both in the arts and psychology fields. You can find her on Twitter @sirenecynique
Painfully Royal is a Fiction War Finalist entry.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @mikael_k