Kingdom of Sardinia - October, 1857
I woke in a state of complete confusion to the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the hall. I vaguely remembered that something was wrong, but couldn’t remember what. I was warm, but the surrounding room was piercingly cold. I tried to burrow deeper into my cocoon of quilts but there was a deep humming noise nagging at my ears and I felt as though I had been underwater. I had never experienced such a feeling before. I shook my head to clear it and blinked disoriented. Glancing around the room I tried to grasp my bearings. My vision was blurry and my eyes stung as if they had been filled with salt. Once I was playing in the ocean on a vacation with a friend and a wave came and took us from behind. Even though we were close to shore, I felt like we were eight feet under water. Somehow I felt as though I flipped and somersaulted and I didn’t know up from down. I felt as though the water was a giant being and it was pressing me into the sand. When the waves finally passed over me, I scrambled to my feet, gasping for air. My whole side looked like it was ground meat. That abrupt and painful incident is the closest I can come to describing the feelings I experienced, but it still somehow falls short.
From what I could tell, I was lying in the centre of an oversized dark wooden bed in a room that looked like it was out of that Brothers Grimm ‘Ever After’ movie. I was quite sure I must be hallucinating as I recognized the high vaulted ceilings, pillars and arches as being fourteenth century. An architectural time period I had studied while at U of T.
“Where the hell am I?” The words came out as an audible whisper.
Just then the door opened, I squeezed my eyes shut and lied very still pretending to be asleep. The bed moved and a strong distinct musk stung my nostrils. The sudden feeling of a hand stroking my hair jolted my senses but I forced myself to be still. By the time the hand trailed surreptitiously from my hair to my chest, I was very self conscious and very aware of my nakedness despite the nightshirt.
“Sapphira, my flower, wake up.” The hand caressed my nipples which responded against my better judgment. Traitorous breasts, I thought to myself.
“We have unfinished business to attend to.” When I didn’t respond he tweaked my nipple hard.
“Last night was just a taste of what you’ll get if you continue to play coy. Tell me where they are and I’ll leave you and your family alone.”
His voice was deep and menacing and he continued to whisper lewd suggestive comments into my ear. Unsettled as I was by my experience, I was in no mood for his words but I sensed I should remain still and play dead. I felt a trifle queasy at the thoughts of what he said he was planning to do to me if I didn’t co-operate. Of course I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be co-operating about since he obviously had the wrong girl. I also didn’t know if he would carry out his words but I knew that I was going to be sick if his sour breath didn’t stop rolling over me. I was feeling trapped, my mind was trying to search for ways to escape but my senses were swimming. I felt so damn weak.
The arrival of a second set of footsteps created joy in my heart and apparently put fear in his because his hands released me. He must have jumped up quickly and disappeared through a second door in the room. I was torn between relief and anticipation at what might happen next. As I attempted to sit up, my head throbbed and I felt dizzy. A wave of nausea that could have knocked over a sailor rolled in causing me to swallow hard and choke a little.
“Perhaps it was not a good idea to sit up so soon.”
I closed my eyes and decided that I must be dreaming. None of this could be real. The best way to wake up would simply be to move around slowly even if it hurt. Eventually, I threw back the heavy quilts and swung my legs over the side of the bed.
There was chill in the air which seemed odd to me and yet I couldn’t place why. I was surprised by the large canopy over head as well as the fact that I was cold. Nothing seemed familiar or right. Wrapping a blanket tight to my bosom against the chill, I staggered out of bed and headed for the large marble fireplace that lay directly across the room. The cold seemed to help steady my head.
I stared down at an ugly Marie Antoinette looking doll with creepy eyes and let out a strangled giggle, how absurd a situation I thought. I allowed the blanket to slip off and smoothed the long thin nightgown down thinking how it may as well have been sheer for the coverage it provided. Continuing to stretch very slowly, I wandered over to the door that I had seen my visitor hastily exit through. I was surprised to find out that it was actually a closet. Inside lay a row of beautiful dresses, well the term dresses is probably a drastic understatement. They were actually more like ball gowns fit to grace the courts of Versailles.
“Strange?” I whispered not recognizing any of them.
As I fingered all of the richly embroidered gowns, I stood stock-still, feeling the hair prickle on the back of my neck. I realized that I couldn’t remember my name. Funny I couldn’t remember my name and yet I knew these dresses were not what I was normally accustomed to. As a matter of fact I had only seen dresses like this in the movies, or actually I had worn one once in a play and perhaps once at an elaborate Halloween costume ball in the city. As I looked around the closet I noticed a draft coming from the far right corner so I pushed the dresses aside and was amazed to have found a sliding panel. Ah ha, so this is how my molester must have escaped. Pushing the panel aside I saw a long dark tunnel. I decided I wasn’t up to exploring as of yet and closed the door tightly. Leaning against it, I thought of perhaps barricading it with something to prevent any further surprises.
I glanced to the left of the grate and noticed a desk near it with some papers on it. The desk was a deep dark wood that matched the bed and there were two drawers. Opening the first one I rummaged around and found nothing. I accidentally knocked out a small compartment and was surprised to find it sounded hollow. I rubbed my fingers along the back and found a panel that could be removed. Don’t ask me how I knew what I was looking for. Perhaps I was a thief or a pickpocket in another life or maybe this was a trick I had employed to hide my own contraband. Quickly I pulled the drawer out all the way out and found a small, leather bound book hidden inside. The pages were dense with large scripted writing. I flipped curiously through the pages; it appeared to be some sort of diary belonging to a woman with my initials. I flipped to the middle of the book and read a passage from an entry dated March 1st1857.
Yesterday while passing the King’s study, I came across something very suspicious. The study door had been left slightly ajar and two papers were fluttering in the air as if just being accidently dropped. I didn’t see their owner as the guilty party was just turning the corner as I entered the hallway; however, I did notice coat tails. I naturally stole down the corridor to pick them up. The moment I touched the papers the bumps on my flesh stood two feet high. I skimmed the papers as quickly as I could. At the outset, it didn’t make sense but then as the words unfolded on the page it dawned on me that it was a letter contrived to someone detailing some sort of scheme or plot. I had only seconds before I noted footsteps returning most likely to reclaim the ruse. It was very coded and hard to read but I knew in my heart that the words alone were dangerous. I quickly released the papers and stole into one of the nearby alcoves to hide. With only a tapestry to conceal myself behind I was too frightened to peak although I do have a sneaking suspicion that it may have to do with our midnight visitor from a few months ago. I am most terrified and yet I have no one to divulge these secrets to. Communications with Nice have been disrupted and Charles has been away for a month dealing with politics surrounding our position in the Kingdom of Sardinia. And mother of course is busy with her constitutions.
I breathed in, half conscious that I was sharing another’s personal thoughts and yet these words resonated deep within my soul as if I wrote them myself. The page had been signed ‘Princess Sapphira of Monaco’. I recalled of my visitor from minutes ago. I thought he had called me “Sophia” done with some sort of accent and now reading this journal it made sense that he had called me Sapphira. He thought I was the owner of this journal. The two names when spoken quickly did sound the same. I flipped to the next page dated for a week later deeply curious to find out more.
I realized last night after much reflection that I must try to retrieve the letter. I have a feeling that I may know who wrote it. There could be only one man brazen enough to sneak into the Kings study. The snake is up to something. He is aware that my brother has his hands full organizing La Societe des Bains de Mer to operate a gambling concession. Too many times now I have felt inappropriate touches in the night. Mother continues to dismiss his advances as affectionate and as a matter of fact I am beginning to think she encourages them. I, on the other hand know there is nothing affectionate about his lingering kisses or his desperate touch. He wants me to be his wife only for some deviant political reason which I have not yet uncovered. Proof would be the only way that mother would see how despicable he is. I despise the idea of opposing her but I refuse to concede to that sadistic maniac. Unfortunately, every time I try to confide in her, she interrupts me with mad rants and cries because the people dislike her. For the last three nights she has not even come to kiss me good-night. She walks around in a bemused state. I’m worried that he is somehow rendering her incapacitated, perhaps drugging her with something called opium. Thank goodness for Betty, my long time governess with her warm brick and pushy ways. I think she has come to suspect something and so she has taken to visiting quite frequently at night with the excuse of extra blankets and warm bricks. Yes, God Bless Betty, not that it matters; I’ve slept with a poker beside my bed for good measure just in case he should be stupid enough to return so soon.”
I lay down on the bed wondering just who this mysterious man she kept referring to could be? Obviously the same man who had just accosted me but what was his name. Feeling a sense of guilt at the intrusion I had been about to close the book when tiny knocks rapped at the door and a petite dark haired girl poked her head in. The sight of her shocked me back to full consciousness.
“Oh good, Mistress Sapphira you’re up. Are you feeling any better?”
They were obviously expecting me to be exhausted but adrenalin coursed through my veins. I tried to slow my breathing. The lady’s maid signaled the two women behind her and the three of them marched in opening drapes, unfolding a food tray and handing me a cup of hot broth.
“Please madam, tell us what ‘happened?” the tiny french voice cracked with excitement.
I sipped my broth, feeling as though I was an alien from another planet as they began to make the bed and compile garments.
“Do you remember any zing? She paused slightly and continued when I didn’t answer. “Do you know zhe Count discovered you floating in zhe river?”
I just stared, pondering what to say and contemplating my secret visitor from moments ago. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had something to do with it.
“Chloe, Give er a moment to compile erself.” Anais scolded leaving the “h’s” off her words. I assumed she was also French. “She as just ‘ehwakened and she probably desires to catch ‘er breath, no? Anais made a strange click with her tongue. “Tsch, Look at zhat nasty bruise on ‘er head.” Anais, the tall thin chambermaid or possibly housekeeper with the pinched face and the French accent patted me protectively.
Chloe, the waif-like pale house maid who had been bombarding me with questions, looked down with shame. I felt almost sorry for her. Of course almost being the instrumental word here because I really didn’t know how to answer any questions at the moment.
“Aye, weel there’s none to be done fer it” Betty, the older yet boisterous Scottish lady stepped in to examine clicking her tongue in a Scottish manner. She probably just tripped leukin for berries and chapped her heid in the creek. Isna that right dear?”
“But Madam, een zhe meedle of the night? Dzat makes no sense, no?” Chloe whispered.
“Didna talk daft, lass, will ye no leave her alone? The puir wee sowe’s had enough questions for one day besides she doesn’t need tae answer to us and it would do you good to remember that. Betty turned to me, “I suppose all that matters is that the handsome Count found ye and you’re home safe and sound wi’ us.” She finished sitting me up with a huff. “Now let’s take care ta get ya dressed, duine, so’s that the house will quit their gossiping and lollygagging and move on to the next wee catastrophe.”
I had to suppress a chuckle at how pushy she was. She reminded me a little of one of my Great-Grandmothers church friends, Mrs. Ida Abernathy. An elderly Scottish dame with a bark that was just as nasty as her bite, but she gave big hugs and made delicious chocolate chip cookies. Based on Sapphira’s journal passage, I had a sneaky feeling that this was the Betty she had been talking about and that she and Mrs. Abernathy had much in common. There was a long white linen chemise trimmed with lace. It took me a little by surprise when Betty threw my arms up and Anais yanked the nightie off over my head, bustling me out of my inadequate garments as if they’d done this a million times.
“Chloe, grab dzhe dress off dzhe back of dzhe door and bring dzhe jeweled panther broach.” Purred Anais
Too stunned to resist, I allowed Betty to tug and squeeze me into the corset bone dress. It was a beautiful bronzed gold with ¾ length sleeves and a scoop neckline. The material was made of a soft silk but the crinoline underneath looked itchy.
“Humph, d’ye think maybe ye put on a few pounds in your bosom Lassie.” She ran on, nipping and tucking me in as she yanked the laces tighter.
“I’ll say” I looked down to discover my ample bosom bulging out of top of the dress. We all laughed for a minute together, then Anais started tugging again.
“Euhhhh, ‘ave no fear Madam, we will get you eento eet, No?” She was soon squeezing me so tight I thought I might pass out. I was flabbergasted at the whole situation, never mind the near drowning; I thought to myself, it was going to be death by corset. They stood back, surveying their handiwork with satisfaction.
“Weel, now that’s a verra gude.” smiled Betty touching my cheek briefly.
“Alright Madam, we shall leave you to powder your face and we’ll be back to escort you to dinner in one ‘our.”Anais pointed to what looked to be a pot of rice powder on a tray. I assumed an ‘our meant an hour and silently wondered where all of the other make-up was. I didn’t want to show up to dinner looking foolish. I racked my brains for the right words. Blush, no that didn’t fit.
“Uh, Anais, where is the rest of it? Don’t you wear rouge or khol? Anais looked at me like my head had just spun around.
“Euhhhh, poor Princess, you must ‘ave really bumped your head in dzhat creek.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, pardone my saying but you know only zhe loose women wear dzat. Just pinch your cheeks, you know like dzis.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you Anais.”
I waited for them to close the door and then I ran to the window. There were beautiful rolling green hills for miles with a dainty little river running all around the castle.
What am I doing here? In a castle no less, and who is Princess Sapphira of Monaco? Strange thoughts crept into my brain but I pushed them to the side as I raced back over to the desk and began flipping through the diary trying to gain more insight. Feeling guilty but fascinated I turned to yet another one of the entries.
Panic flutters in my chest now day and night. Charles is unfortunately still absent and I overheard that Mother may soon join him on his travels to quell the political upheaval that we are faced with. I pray desperately that she’ll allow me to join so that I am not left behind with that snake. I was visited once again last night; he speaks to me as though we are betrothed bragging that my mother supports this decision. And he has curiously continued to ask me about my father’s dear friend Mr. Ferris. I dare not think it has something to do with his son’s visit from a couple of months ago. I cannot contemplate how it would even be possible for him to know of my father’s chamber and the hidden packages from the Ferris family. Sometimes I wonder if he had something to do with my father’s death. I am discerned that he must spy on us to know the things he does. I suspect that his delusions of marrying me are cold and calculated. Something tells me that his obsession has less to do with me and more to do with finding the cursed jewels. I’ve heard whisper that the jewels have powers and can give one reign over time. Whatever could he be plotting? I wish Charles would return but for now I have only this diary and God to confide in.
I continued on skipping a few pages pondering the words I’d just read, I lazily leaned against the fireplace causing me to jump out of my skin as a small passageway opened up. Another secret tunnel I thought to myself. My goodness, this is right out of a Scooby-doo episode. The passageway was cold, dark and dank and I recoiled at first.
“Come on, don’t be a chicken” I goaded myself into embracing my adventurous side. Grabbing the candle off the mantel I headed into the tunnel. Every few steps or so, there were holes or slats that allowed me to see out into the hall. I peeked out one, momentarily blind as I tried to adjust to the changes in light. Feeling carefully for any steps or holes, I walked on, and came up against a wall. There was only one way to go now, it was eerie pacing down the hidden corridor. I approached in time to hear a man’s voice. It was an exasperated yet familiar voice that sent chills dancing up my spine. I couldn’t see him very well from this angle through what looked to be a closet door but he appeared to be a tall muscular man. He was talking heatedly to a petite blonde girl of about eighteen. She looked quite shy and intimidated in a maid’s uniform; the duster in her hand trembled ever so slightly.
“I’m sorry Monsieur, but the doctor told us to notify the King and Betty already sent word.” She mumbled looking at the ground as she spoke to him. I got the feeling that he was a force to be reckoned with. I was about to sneak back to my chamber when I distinctly heard the man slap the girl hard directly across the face. I whipped my head back to try to peer through the slats.
“Salope” He grabbed by her the arms, hurling insults in French. From what I could understand, it sounded like he was angry that she had allowed the other servant to send for somebody’s brother or possibly the king.
“Je suis désolée. I am sorry. I didn’t-” the petite girl whom I suddenly recognized as Chloe the curious chambermaid, was cut off as the cruel man violently kissed her hard on the mouth before ripping the top of her uniform open.
I took a step back at the depraved outburst and covered my mouth not believing my eyes. What had I stumbled upon?
He squeezed her arms so hard that he instantly left welts and glared coldly into her eyes. There was a large dresser blocking my view and so I couldn’t see clearly who this sadistic bastard was but I could feel the steel cold hatred that oozed from his pores.
“What have I told you? Time and time again. Well next time perhaps you’ll check with me, before you do something stupide.” He bellowed.
“Oui” the girl sobbed. “I’m so stupide and I will remember next time.”
“Yes, you will remember. You most definitely will remember, won’t you, you stupid whore. You will remember that I am in command around here. You will remember that you are my slave, and you know what else you will remember. You will remember that you are good for only one thing. He jolted her to her knees and clumsily fumbled at lowering the zipper of his breeches.
“Only for this.” He hissed vehemently.
Not being able to bear witness any longer, I stumbled backwards colliding with the wall and knocking the candle out. No wonder Chloe had seemed so nervous asking so many questions. She was obviously compelled to spy for this man. I forced my numbed mind to think, how do I get out of here? The light from the hallway was slim and the gloomy darkness made it hard to judge distance. The wall rounded into a curve at the end of the corridor; I bumped into it and let out a yelp racing down the hall in the direction I had come from. The stone was slick at times and I slipped twice, banging my already bruised head on the ground. All I could do was pray that the sadistic swine was too encompassed in his ecstasy to have heard the candle hit the floor. The second time I fell and bumped my head I recalled the last passage I had read in Sapphira’s journal lapsing into some sort of dream or flashback.
Bored to tears yesterday, I went up to Mothers chamber, only to find her sound asleep as usual. There are a limited number of activities suitable on such a rainy miserable day and so I decided to borrow a book from the study. As I approached the familiar landing, I heard the rumble of voices from above; perhaps my brother the King was home after all. I listened closely discovering that the treaty of Villa Franca had ended the Second War of Italian Unification days ago and so we were having a celebration upon my brother’s return. I paused out-side the door, uncertain whether to interrupt.
"Why did the old fool have to be so unruly? I know there is a hidden chamber somewhere in this godforsaken fortress and I will find it."
"You’re an intelligent and powerful man, my lord. You will find it.”
“I know that, you fool. That treasure hunting bastard, Ferris. I know he gave those stones to the old fool to protect. If I could only find them; imagine what I could do? The Mogul Emperors Jewels; they say they hold the key to power the gates of time. I have been tracking them for too many years to give up now. I can’t believe I almost held them in my hands. If only I had beaten Shaffras to the Afghan.”
“The Afghan, who is that, my lord?”
“The Afghan, who was going to sell them to me. He was poisoned by Shaffras and thrown into the Tigris before I could take possession. That deviant Ferris beat me to them and I know he hid them somewhere in the palace.”
I decided that a third participant in this particular conversation would be decidedly unwelcome, and stepped softly back from the door, turning to go down the stairs when the next few words grabbed my attention.
“That stupid little brat knows where they are. I’ve caught her coming out of dead ends and disappearing into rooms since she was little. I know both her father and her brother have taken her into their confidence. If only I could gain her trust.”
“Well, it's past time she had a husband. Why don’t you demand her hand already then she will have to trust you.”
"Her brother is the problem. I will have to deal with him as I dealt with the old man."
I don’t know how long I’d been lying in the tunnel but my hands were numb and cold when I came to. Once back in the bed chamber I flipped to the final entry. Previously, the writing had been neat and circular, rounded and upright as though written with care but this last entry was fluid and scribbled almost as if written hastily. Something must have happened for her to have been this upset, I could relate to the feeling I thought to myself.
He has finally wrapped mother completely around his finger. I tried to warn her over breakfast this morning, of what I overheard but she refused to hear me. She listened to nothing I said, dismissing me as a silly child with an overactive imagination. Imagine, I am seventeen and she dismissed me as a silly child. She simply kissed me on the cheek, warned me to behave and left to meet up with my brother on his travels. I’ve decided the only way to survive will be to leave for the Village to find Rochus. I need to find out more about these jewels, if they hold half the power that Father said they do then perhaps they can save me.
I sat shivering on the stone floor of the beautiful Rococo styled boudoir, clutching the book between my knees and trying to get warm from the shock of the last hour. My knees and head hurt from falling and I thought I likely would never be warm again. The chill of Princess Sapphira’s words churned in my belly and resonated deep within my soul. Was I somehow this Princess? What had happened? Why couldn’t I remember more? There was a strange déjà-vu that I felt whenever I looked at that little brown diary.
I gently opened the book tucking the hidden map I had recently discovered tight to the spine in the back to keep it from falling out. I skimmed through the previous ten entries before closing the book and sliding it carefully back into the drawer. Rising to my feet, I stood staring out the window at the rolling green hills. I had learned quite a lot about the existence of the secret room as well as an Afghan traveler and his two baubles “The Great Mogul” and an amethyst known as the “Delhi Purple Sapphire”. I rubbed my hands over my face several times unconsciously biting my lower lip thinking of the possibilities. With the assistance of that tatty old map, I decided I had plans to find this hidden time traveling treasure but first I needed to speak with this Rochus fellow.