The flames dance merrily for my lackluster eyes. Even with all their dancing, they cannot warm the room. How I long for my nice, soft bed at Possi! Years have passed since I last walked those familiar halls. I miss my childhood in Bavaria, when my mother would attempt to train me to be demure like my sister, Helene, and my father would encourage my running wild. As soon as I was free of my mother, I would jump on my beloved horse, Punch, and ride the grounds, daydreaming or thinking up poems in my head about whatever I happened to see or be feeling at that particular moment. But those days are long gone. I went in my father's place to Bad Ischl to visit with Archduchess Sophie and the Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef, and discuss Helene's engagement to the Emperor. Unfortunately, I caught the Emperor's eye. We married when I was but a mere adolescent, and the series of events that followed were what brought me to my current unhappiness. I wish so much that he had decided upon Helene instead. Oh, I remember those sad words that I wrote on my leaving Possi to go become the Empress of Austria:

Farewell, you quiet rooms,

Farewell, you ancient castle.

Those first dreams of love

They rest beneath the waters of the lake.

My two best friends and ladies in waiting, Ida of Ferenczy and Marie Festetics, sit by my side, staring blindly into the fire, also. In a time when most everyone at court shunned me because of my political views and my ladies in waiting only listened to my wicked mother-in-law, this destitute Hungarian girl called Ida stepped up to be my confidante. I could talk freely to her on all subjects without having to worry about her ever reporting my words to the Archduchess. I told her about my fears for my little children, who I was not permitted to raise, my lessening feelings for my husband (and my growing feelings for a rebel named Guyla Andrassy), and my hopes to break free from the ever-constraining court and travel the whole world over. Never had I ever experienced true friendship until Ida came along. Soon afterward another Hungarian girl called Marie arrived and went into serving me. She proved herself just as loyal a woman as Ida. They, excepting my husband's mistress, Katharina Schratt, are my only true friends.

Katharina and I shared the most absurd friendship that there ever was. When I went to the Burgtheater that fateful night to see a play, I was infuriated at Franz Josef. He refused to make a stand to his mother, who degraded me so much. I gladly would've went and done it myself, but I was all too well aware that were I to do so, Archduchess Sophie would turn on to me and be more of a vicious hydra than she already was. Through the course of the play something about Katharina drew me in. Perhaps it was her acting or just the flamboyancy or the costumes she wore. Whatever it was, I decided that I was going to present her to my husband as his mistress. For the past year, I had been practically starving Franz Josef of the love that he so craved from me, and now I was ready to make the point clear to him that I no longer wanted to share my bed with him. So, I went backstage and presented my case to Fraulein Schratt, asking whether she wanted the job.

In response, she said, "I don't know what gave you the notion to want to do this, Empress, but I like it." And so began our friendship.

I could see the tears welling up in Franz Josef's eyes when Katharina first entered his chambers in her gaudy gown with its plunging neckline.

"Sissi?" he murmured, looking into my eyes, pleading with me. The pitiful look in his eyes nearly broke my willpower, but I remained strong. With an indifferent expression etched onto my face, I left them. When I got back to my chambers, though, I started to cry. Deep down, I believe that I still harbor love for Franz Josef, but it is the love that a sister has for a brother. I hated hurting him in such a way, but it needed to be done. We both needed to recognize how we'd grown apart.

After whatever happened in my husband's bedroom, Katharina somehow found her way to my chambers. Ida, Marie, and I were all sitting in my private parlor, playing cards.

"Can I play?" she asked. Not exactly sure what to do, I muttered that she could. Katharina was dealt a few cards and began playing. With her wild and boisterous personality, she immediately fit in with the group. Despite her profession, which gave her the ability to lie beautifully, I trusted her with my friendship, and to this day will never regret it.

My fingers grow numb, and I can barely hold my eyelids open any more. I want to sleep.


A/N: Do you know what I really love? Reviews! Please R&R!