The fourteenth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
My room was neat and tidy, just like my mother wanted it. She seems to have a way of getting exactly what she wants. One day I’ll ask her how she does it. It’s that magical power that’s the reason I’m locked away. No one outside of this palace knows I exist. Only the most trusted servants are sent here to look after me, and even they don’t know my true identity. To them I am the ward of the King, but I am really his eldest daughter.
My official title is Anastasia Victoria, First Princess of Persina, but everyone here knows me as Anastasia, the daughter of the King’s sister, who fell from grace when she eloped with a footman. That is true. Eleanor disappeared twenty years ago and has never been seen since. She never had a child, at least not one the King knew about. Unfortunately for me, the servants don’t know this.
The truth is a lot less kind.
I was born nineteen years ago at the Royal Palace in Trevere, the capital city of Persina. I was the third child my mother gave birth to and the entire country was holding its breath. I was a disappointment from the moment I was declared a girl. My parents hadn’t even seen me. Even though my father already had two healthy boys to secure his line of succession, a girl was a blow to him. Girls were useless. They couldn’t hold any power or have any money of their own. The only use they had was in forging alliances with other rich and noble families, and for that they had to be beautiful.
Here again, I failed as a daughter. I was told that my mother screamed when she saw my face for the first time and that my father couldn’t even look at me.
My problem was I had been born with a very unfortunate, but very noticeable birthmark. If it had been somewhere it could have been hidden then everything might have been alright, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Instead I had a large blotch on the left hand side of my face, like a large fist, spreading from the middle of my forehead down my nose to just above my lips.
Such an imperfection couldn’t be associated with royalty so the Royal Council decided I should be disposed of. It was at this point that my mother intervened and did the only good thing she ever did for me. She begged that my life be spared.
The Council couldn’t refuse the Queen’s wishes and decided that I should be removed from the Royal Palace in Trevere and given a new home somewhere remote, away from prying eyes. The public was told that the Queen had given birth to a daughter who had unfortunately died soon after she was born. Meanwhile, under the cloak of night, I was driven away in a non-descript carriage with a nursemaid. That carriage brought me here, to the only home I have ever known, the Summer Palace. That was nineteen years ago and I haven’t left since.
And how do I know all this? Because the nursemaid who carried me to the carriage is now my maid and my best friend, Natasha. She told me everything when I turned sixteen but made me swear to say nothing to anyone.
I kept my promise, as hard as it was to pretend my mother was nothing to me, but I knew the trouble Natasha would be in if my mother knew what she had told me.
I suppose you could say I had a happy childhood; for the majority of it I had no idea what had happened when I was born, only that during the summer the King, Queen and their children would come and visit me, and for six glorious weeks I would have someone to play with. And as the years passed there were more children.
There were my two elder brothers, Lukas, Crown Prince, and Arthur, and a year after I was born I had a sister, Charlotte. After them there followed another daughter, then two sons, but I was always closest to Arthur and Charlotte as we were the closest in age. Lukas was five years older than me and a very thoughtful child, who didn’t enjoy running around playing with us in the gardens.
Arthur was much more fun. He was only eighteen months older than me and had a nose for adventure. He was always getting me into trouble for stealing food from the kitchens or getting my clothes dirty. We were quite the double act.
Then Charlotte wanted to join in. Arthur wasn’t keen at first, not wanting another girl in our group. Looking back on it now he was probably just scared I would like Charlotte more because she was a girl, but in the end I convinced him to let her play with us and we became a trio. I was eight.
Now, eleven years later, I was waiting for their arrival. Lukas wasn’t coming because he was learning how to rule the country with the King, but Arthur and Arianna had written to say they were coming.
My heart jumped as I heard the carriage coming up the driveway towards the front of the house. I ran from my room along the hallway with its thick carpets and walls paneled with dark wood, down the beautiful intricately decorated wooden staircase and into the spacious entrance hall where I threw my arms around my sister who was standing there waiting for me.
‘Lotta!’ I cried, holding her tightly. ‘I’ve missed you so much. You haven’t been writing to me this year.’
‘I know Ana and I’m sorry for that, but I’ve been very busy. In fact, I have some very exciting news for you. ’
‘Tell me,’ I said excitedly.
‘Not here. Mama wouldn’t approve of me telling you as it isn’t official yet, but I simply must tell someone.’
‘What is it?’
‘I’ll tell you later,’ she whispered as the sound of feet on tiles signaled the entrance of the rest of the royal family. ‘Meet me in the library before dinner and I’ll tell you everything.’