"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.
It was close to midnight by the time the last guest had been seen out, and although the Princess was usually asleep by this time, tonight was an exception. She did not feel sleepy; not surprising, she thought, for she could still feel the warmth of her father's embrace as he whirled her around the dance floor. They had danced three more songs, and she remembered her father's comments that a lot of young men were disappointed that she chose to dance with him instead.
Her answer had been a cheeky peck on his lips.
As she relaxed in the bathtub, almost overflowing with the warm water, the young woman closed her eyes and went back into the recent past, when she had danced with the man she loved in a way she shouldn't. The velvet dress lay on the bed, carefully laid out beside the diamond necklace - for the simple reason that she had been wearing them during their dances, the Princess wanted to cherish them.
"Journal Entry for the night of February 17th, 1877.
"The birthday banquet for my dear beloved Princess went off well. However, there were times when I really missed my wife. I suppose it was the intimacy of the dance that I shared with my daughter, for I can think of no other reason.
"I must say that Marie is really growing up into a wonderful woman - one day, I will be relieved to hand over the kingdom to her, for I believe that she will make a better ruler. She is mature for her age, and mixes her statesmanship with her youth and innocence to the best effect. I admit I was quite flattered when she opted my hand for four of the seven dances, and I am sure that there were scores of young men who would have given anything to be in her arms tonight.
"I do not know if she was just putting on an act for my sake or if she meant it, but she seemed as if she enjoyed the evening. She must have missed her mother and her brother terribly - God knows I did - and I am also sure that if it hadn't been for her, there would have been no more royal celebrations as long as I am the King - the memories would be too painful to endure alone.
"I have come to look upon her as a friend, no less - perhaps more. I do not know how to define my feelings, the more I think about them. I realize that she is my daughter - therefore, a maiden worthy of my highest respect - but my rationale fails me every time I think back to how fulfilling a woman in my arms could be.
"I am almost ashamed to put this down in writing, but I hope that the written words would always provide me with that inspiration to keep my feelings for my daughter under control. I must respect her as a woman, but I must treat her as a daughter. I fear for the latter, for sometimes, it is she who rules my dreams."
The King stood up and stretched his muscles. Abruptly, he tore the paper off - the admission contained in the words was too risque to ever risk exposure; he crumpled the paper and threw it into the fire. He watched it burn.
Sleep wouldn't come; he knew that it had something to do with that strange warmth in his heart, a warmth that was his daughter. He couldn't accept it - denial was his defense. Reality was his damnation.
Marie-Vigneta had just reached for the towel when the door opened and her father walked in. It was hard to say who was more shocked - the young woman who was naked from head to toe, or the older man who perceived before him his most unattainable desire in all her Maja glory. They just stood there staring at each other, each unmoving, eyes meeting.
It was the Princess who recovered her composure first. She wrapped the long towel around her body, aware of a warm feeling spreading across her body that she quickly attempted to quell by telling herself that it was wrong. One does not feel such things about a father, she chided herself. Still, a part of her yearned that it was not so.
"I am sorry, Marie. I thought you were asleep... I just wanted to check in on you, that's all," the King started to apologize for his intrusion. After all, he hadn't bothered to knock - therefore, it was his fault.
"It's all right, Father," the maiden replied, "I should have locked the door. It's just that I couldn't find sleep - I figured a bath would induce the necessary drowsiness."
"I'll go outside," the monarch offered.
"Wait! Would you mind waiting in the balcony while I dress? I mean, if it won't be an imposition."
"Most certainly not, my dear. Most certainly not. But why, may I ask?"
"Nothing," she replied, wishing she could let the towel fall down once more without being too obvious. She had liked the look in his eyes when he had seen her nude; she prayed that it had been love and lust that she had seen. "It's just that we so rarely get some time together nowadays."
"Yes," her father agreed ruefully. "The pressures of running a state."
She joined him in the spacious balcony less than a minute after he had stepped out. The King was gazing up at the cloudy sky, where a lone star twinkled from among the darkness of the clouds. Not wanting to distract him from his reverie, she walked silently towards her father and linked an arm through his. Without looking at her, he placed an arm around her waist and pulled her closer.
Princess Marie-Vigneta sighed. How beautiful the world was as she looked at it from her father's side.
"That's your brother," the King said, pointing up at the lone star. His voice was not the strong, decisive voice of the monarch, she realized, and instead, it was the sad, melancholy voice of a father who had lost a loved child. She hugged his hand in response, as if wanting to reassure him that he was still loved and wanted by a human soul.
"He seems to be telling us something," Marie murmured, more out of sympathy for her father than due to any genuine empathy she felt.
"Yes," her father replied, just as softly. "I wonder what."
They gazed up at the sky for some more time, savoring their momentary freedom from the anachronistic chores of daily life. The air was humid, but there was a gentle breeze that drew the humidity away from their attention. It was some time before the King broke the silence.
"You will make a very fine Queen one day, my dear. I couldn't help but notice how regally suited you are for the role."
His daughter blushed at the compliment. She tried to search for words, but they just wouldn't come.
"If I should become the Queen one day, Father," she finally said, "You should be by my side."
The King groaned inwardly. Did his daughter know what she had just implied? Still, he was her father, and as such, the last person who should exploit her innocence. He called upon all his years of diplomacy to come up with as plain-faced a reply as he could. "I will be behind you, my dear Princess. Your King shall be beside you."
Silence for some more time. Princess Marie-Vigneta didn't know what to say - she had no idea how to express what she wanted. And then, as is the way of Fate, she suddenly found within herself that ounce of courage that she had always lacked. It was time to reveal her true feelings.
"Why not? Why, my dear Father, can't I be your Queen? YOUR Queen?"
It took the King all of two minutes to formulate a reply. He did not want to offend his daughter, and he did not want to take advantage of her innocence. As much as he wanted to, he knew he couldn't ever tell her that she could be his queen. As much as he wanted to, he could never ask her to be his wife.
He cleared his throat. "Well, you see, my dear, there are laws against it. It's incest."
"Laws!" she spat out with a contempt that he found uncharacteristic. "We make the laws. You are the King; it's your duty to make laws. To correct them. To alter them. For God's sakes, if you want me, all you have to do is ask." Abruptly, her voice changed; she started to sob. "I am sorry, Father, but I am in love with you. I am sorry. I am an unworthy daughter."