Chapter One

Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver.

Sophocles, Antigone

I had never expected my life to end like this. Come to think of it, I'd never really thought about it. If I had, I would never have dreamed of this. I should be old and wrinkled. Not eighteen, and beautiful. I should be in a soft, warm bed, surrounded by my children, grandchildren, and maybe great-grandchildren. Not alone and wet, sprawled on the ground in the pouring rain. No one to hear my screams. I felt the dirty cobblestones under my cheek, the water pooling against my body, and I added salty tears to the rain. I know if I hadn't said yes to him then, this wouldn't have happened. I still can't come to regret the decision. I struggled against the memory flooding my already hazy vision. I had hoped in vain the rain would wash away the memory. I fought against it as the darkness consumed me, and then I relived that terrible day. . .

The weather was ironic. The blinding sun streamed through my windows to wake me up. The sparse clouds were no match for its dazzling light. I dressed in a hurry, putting on a light-colored gown. I had been eager to reach the garden, to feel the warmth for myself. Strolling along the path, as I plucked a rose from one of the bushes, Rena told me the news. She came running, her face red from running, and twisted with panic. "Go to your father." She told me. Her face conveyed what I thought I read in her usually calm voice, and I obeyed with out question. I knew something was wrong. I ran to his room, clutching the rose so tightly the thorns drew blood.

Clusters of people stood outside my father's room. Three of them bore incense, and their eyes were tearing. They parted for me. Some whispered condolences as they pated me lightly on the back, but I took no heed of them. I took a moment to prepare myself. As I entered the room, I saw what I had been dreading, the same thing that I had seen years before with my mother.

My father lay on the bed, breathing raggedly. A healing woman stood next to him. She turned to me, and, wiping the sweat from her brow, said, "He calls for you." I knelt down next to my father, and laid my head on his chest.

"Elizabeth," he whispered, reaching for his sword. "do you promise to be fair in all your judgments, and give punishments truly and justly?" I stared at him for I while and pondered it, knowing what he had truly asked. I heard the murmuring erupt around me. Only then did I notice my uncle off in the darkness of the room, and the livid expression on his face. Still, my father continued, panting heavily. "Will you treat your subjects kindly, no matter what their rank? Will you lead my people?" He stared at me, waiting for my reply. His eyes teard and I could no longer hold back my tears. I had known the possible consequences of my words, but I couldn't deny him his last request. My voice cracking, I whispered to him,

"Yes." He smiled at me, and placed the sword on my left shoulder, then my right, then finally my head.

"Then, I say, you shall be Queen, my daughter." He took from his own neck a necklace with our family crest on it, and placed it around my neck. Then I let loose, the tears coming freely. My ear leaning against his heart once again, I listened as the already feint beats faded, then stopped all together. I stayed like that for a while, and then I stood. I took the sword from him, giving him the rose instead. I kissed his forehead and exited without a word.

More condolences. Hands steadying me. People that I'd trampled on my way to escape. I took no notice of them. And there was no escape.

Rena soon met me in the hall. I had been staggering, unable to walk, to move on, move past. With her as my crutch, I collapsed. I remember vaguely wondering why she had the strength to carry me. Handmaids are not muscled. My mind didn't linger on that though. My grief dragged me under, and I did not resurface.