"Journal Entry for the night of August 23, 1876.
"Word reached me towards the end of the meeting I had been having with the Prime Minister that the unthinkable had happened - the news collapsed me. On their return journey from Hamburg, my wife and my son had an accident. The carriage had overturned, the messenger informed me, and the heir-apparent to the throne, my son, had been killed on the spot.
"My wife was wounded. Badly. Her head had slammed into the roof, and she had fallen into a coma. At a nearby lodging-house, she was looked after by the innkeepers and the doctors in a manner, I must admit, that befitted the Queen she was.
"If I appear to be emotionless when I write this, it's because the shock has numbed me. In spite of all the misfortunes that may befall a King, he has to keep a straight face - for in that face is the hope and the strength of a nation. But never in my life have I felt so powerless as I did when I saw my unconscious wife tonight. It took all my willpower not to drop to my knees and beg God for small miracles.
"In some rational moment, I learnt later, I had already dispatched men to France, to collect my only daughter. Now my only child. She was not to be told of the tragedy until she was in the company of friends - my word was inviolate.
"I must be strong. I must be there for my princess when she needs me, her father. I must be there for her mother."
The King rubbed his temples gingerly as he finished his entry for the day. It had been a terrible day; nothing had gone right. His daughter, the Princess Marie-Vigneta would be at the palace by ten in the morning; the unconsciously breathing body of the Queen would arrive by five. His body ached, the life gone out, as he reminded himself that his son's body, after being properly embalmed and bandaged, would arrive by midnight.
A life had been plucked; another hung in the balance; a third was still unsure of her place in the world. The King sobbed throughout the night, mourning his son and fearing for his wife. Each had been dearer than life, as was the seventeen-year old maiden that was his daughter. He prayed until daybreak that some one would rush in, just to pass on the good news. That the Queen had woken up.
For six months, no one rushed in.
It was the dawn of the Princess's eighteenth birthday. The country was in celebration, for the birthday of the heir-apparent was sacred; there was no doubt among the people that she would be the next Queen. Princess Marie-Vigneta was an extremely popular face in the country.
Graceful, elegant, polite. And in the midst of all the curtsied greetings, one got the impression that she saw everyone else not as royalty contemplating the commons but as an equal meeting with an equal. The perfect daughter for the King who had lost his wife - for indeed she was as good as death, though no one dared say it aloud - and the perfect woman for the country to adore.
On this morning, however, the Princess hardly felt up to a bash - doubtless, it would remind her of the previous seventeen occasions when her brother had been there to amuse her and her mother had been there to guide her. It would be painful to look around the ballroom and see the empty places where her brother had once stood, flirting with the nobles' daughters.
She glanced at the portrait of her father. He was a handsome man, age not yet having had its say with him, and beneath that tough exterior, she knew - she felt - the sensitivity of the man. Six months had passed since she had become his only family, and he hers, and they had grown to understand each other.
Even more, she realized, they had come to look upon each other for support.
The thought brought a warm feeling to her heart. They had never been close, her father and she, and like all bad things in life, the accident had spawned a turnaround in their relationship. The young girl blushed as she remembered how her father made her feel... special. She almost wished she were not his daughter so that she could...
She shook her head to clear the images that were starting to monopolize her dreams of late. It was wrong, she told herself, but it was so easy to love him. To be in love with him.
The roar of the trumpets pierced the evening air, drowning out the voices of the hundred-odd guests of the King. The enormous banquet hall, a 17th century addition to the palace, glittered with the brilliance of a thousand chandeliers, the cavernous dome strung from one side to the other with colored paper. The King, like the rest of his guests, turned around at the sound. The Princess had arrived.
King Henry Lucas drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the Goddess who descended down the stairs. Her beauty defied him; he wondered if he were really the father of the most beautiful woman ever.
The Princess was absolutely radiant in her blue shoulderless gown, with the diamond necklace, a gift of the King, hung around her long, graceful neck. The smile on her face was as brilliant as the lighting in the palace, and with slow, steady steps, she walked down the stairs to the banquet hall's floor. Her curly hair, just over a foot long, floated behind her like some golden halo on Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love.
As soon as she saw her father, the Princess smiled even more. The pearly white teeth contrasted the jet-black of her eyes, a combination that a couple of gentlemen had already termed deadly. The King made his way across the hall, the crowd parting more out of respect than out of command. The Prime Minister followed the King at a discrete distance.
"My dear Princess! You look only too beautiful," the King remarked as soon as she was within earshot.
She grinned at his compliment, managing to hid the blush on her face. "Why, Your Highness," she replied, bowing, "You are being too kind."
"I fear for this country," the King said, almost shocking everyone with the abrupt change in expression. "Such a beautiful maiden must be a delightful temptation even to the most rogue of our enemies."
The breath that had been held in fear was let out amidst giggles. Relieved courtiers and their families murmured their agreement.
"It is a good thing then, Sire," the Prime Minister interjected, "That I have placed our entire army at the gates - who knows what defense we may need?"
"What, indeed?" smiled the King.
"Flattery, Gentlemen," Marie-Vigneta replied, tossing her hair for effect, "It will get you nowhere! Now if you are done praising me without cause, perhaps someone would be kind enough to have a dance with me."
"Not entirely without cause, my dear! And it shall be my honor to lead you for the first dance for the evening."
The guests cheered as the Princess held out her palm. In the manner of a man engaging a lady, the King went down on one knee and kissed the back of her hand. Marie-Vigneta felt her heart beat faster. Much faster.
"Oui!" she said as her father stood up, hoping another language would disguise the enthusiasm that she felt. Her father was even more handsome in person, and she knew she couldn't find higher qualities in another man. He would have been the perfect man, but for one blemish that she had always been reminded of; he was her father. "Lead on, old Crown!"
The dance was magical, and even though it was their first dance together, there seemed to be there, between them, the connection that is often borne out of months of practice. They moved with rhythm and poise, their bodies melting into each other as they moved as one entity. It was a slow song, and the King realized how good it was to hold a woman against himself. Six months of chastity and faithfulness cannot substitute the feel of man against woman.
With an arm around his daughter's waist and the other held in her hand, the King realized how much this girl - this divine belle - meant to him. Her perfume, the scent of a hundred thousand roses, wafted in through his nostrils, lighting in him a flame that he had thought as dead as his wife. For a moment, he was troubled by the effect of his daughter on him, but put it down as his intense desire to see his wife alive again.
He knew she would come back one day - the vital signs were strong, but she was still in a coma. He needed her back.
Similar thoughts, but of a different reason and inference, coursed through the Princess's mind. She had come to accept the unacceptable a month ago - the truth that she had fallen in love with her father. It was a conscious decision, arrived at not because there were no other men for her to romanticize, but for the simple reason that she had understood him, as he had understood her. She had grown to love the man that had given her life. She loved him with all her heart.
In her father's arms, Marie-Vigneta felt safe. His grip was firm, yet gentle - so like him, she thought. She was amazed by the way he responded to every movement of hers; it was almost as if he could read every single one of her thoughts. She had danced with young men before, she had danced with a couple of them more than once, but never before had her partner been so attuned to her steps.
Then again, never before had she danced with her father.
It was with reluctance that both of them drifted apart at the end of the dance. The King walked back to his cortege of ministers as his daughter, the Crown Princess, was surrounded by excited friends. Their eyes met one last time, and he promised her one more dance before the night ended.
.... There is more of this story ...