A short story by Stephanie Lyons
It was her loneliness that mothered her shame.
That was the trouble with having so many siblings. But by the princess' birth, the eldest two children are bones, the would-be heir and the cherished first daughter, who did not live long enough to have their stars burn in the king and queen's eyes. Her other siblings are grown when she is still a little girl. Of them all, the closest in age to her was Victoria. The older girl was hardly a doting older sister, but the princess had followed her all the same, hoping to win her favor. Sometimes she could be as cruel-tongued as she was beautiful, but she would also never kick the princess out of her bed after nightmares stalked her.
Or it might never have happened if she hadn't always been a little careless. Otherwise, she would have drunk the brew like it was the last drink she would ever have. It is the same carelessness that has her tutors sigh over her work. But what is the point when one is a princess?
She might be the tenth-born and therefore no foil to her siblings who delight with their bravery and spirit and wit and beauty. But she is still royal. She is still important.
Perhaps it was always meant to happen.
Serving girls see things, and it was a serving girl named Bea who noticed that the princess had no courses for three moons. One moon was one thing, but three? She went to the queen, and the queen went to the princess. The queen's face is pale, and she grips her by the arm. "My girl." The older woman's voice shakes. "Please say that I should whip your maid. For she has hinted something troubling about your virtue."
That could only mean one thing. The princess wrenches free. “I have not laid with anyone." A lie and her mother read it.
The queen summons a doctor, and he confirms her fears.
The king rages. "Girl, do you realize the depths of your folly?” Although afraid, the princess snorts.
"I'm the tenth-born. I'm so far down the succession line that I might as well not be in it at all. And what match were you going to give me Father? Some fat old lord who already has some ugly brats from a dead wife?"
Her mother, who is standing beside the king, flinches. Her father sighs. "There is only one thing to be done."
The queen then speaks. Gently, as if this will make it easier. “After you give birth, the child will be fostered by a trusted vassal. A girl will be promised to the Order, or a son will be trained for knighthood.’’
“Can I visit them?” The princess whispers.
Her mother bites her lip. “Darling-,” She responds. Faintly.
“It is better that you do not.” Her father interrupts. Coldly.
“Why?” She wails.
“Your child is a bastard who will count themselves fortunate to have stability,” the king snaps. Then his eyes softened. “I vow they will be cared for. But they have no place in the plans your mother and I have for you. Once your pregnancy ends, your marriage to Lord Wentworth begins.''
Since arriving, she has been in Sister Alice’s charge.
"My brother almost drowned as a boy, and it happened to be our Sister who saved him. Mother was so grateful that she promised herself that she would give one of her children to the Order when the time came. In the end, it was me. I suppose that comes with being the youngest. But I like to think it was because all my suitors were just too scared of me.” Alice laughed.
The princess does not want this woman’s kindness or stories. But she does need hope.
‘’I want to keep the babe,’’ the princess whispers tearfully to Alice a week into her arrival.
Alice's face adopts a sad, far-away look. As if she remembers something she would forget.
“You will never forget your babe. But you will have others.”
“Children that don’t yet exist. I want the child I already have.’’ The princess sobs.
Just a few days later, a visit from Sister Alice’s sister changes everything. “My sister wed a wealthy lord, and she has a generous heart. We will give you silver, and send you to some trusted friends across the sea.’’
The princess’ heart sings, but she is still afraid. ‘’But my father the king…’’
Sister Alice nods. ''I do not make this decision lightly. But I am a Sister, and the Faith judges the killing of one to be one of the blackest sins. But neither should you make this decision lightly. But if you leave, you cannot go back. Our friends will care for you, but not always. That silver will help you, but....,''
"I will sell my crown," The princess says firmly. Her crown will bring gold, and gold brings a manse and servants and guards. Perhaps in time, she can marry someone and lie about her child having a dead father who was married to her. Perhaps if the Redeemer is kind, she will not need to lie at all.
‘’It will not be easy. Are you certain my princess?”
If the princess does this, she will be entering a life where she is a princess just in name. Her life will be filled with uncertainty, in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people.
As she sails away with four guards (“We trust these men with our lives,” Lady Louisa tells her. Louisa is Alice’s generous sister. “So we trust them with yours”) the young woman makes a vow.
She vows to one day pass on the incredible kindness gifted to her to someone else.
As for her family… she does not want to leave them. They do love her, and she loves them. But they will no doubt create a story to cover her disappearance and placate her betrothed in some way.
And she wants her child more.