Our names will disappear someday, though others say that we will be forever remembered.
Our lives, our stories, our loves will forever resonate within the hearts, minds and souls of countless peoples.
Day and night, people flock to the crypt and mausoleum of our burial and marvel at the power we held, and most of all, the love we shared with the ones buried beside us.
But in truth, they did not know the whole story. They did not know we shared another love. Our husbands, sons and daughters and the peoples we vowed to serve had everything that was us, but we also shared a great love: for each other.
This is the forgotten story. This is the story only we know.
The story of two sisters, separated by spite, hatefulness, prejudice, pride and the rivalries of empires and men, who despite all this, held through.
My name is Isabella, like the Italian. But I am Spanish by birth, and I also hold Greek and French blood among others, though I was never sure about the Italian.
And this was the day my story started.
I was a child, very small. My mother, Estela stared wide-eyed at the spectacle ahead.
She hated tournaments. And according to her, there was a time when my father loved it, before he grew to hate it too.
If he decided to hate it, because she did, it would not surprise me. Despite the fact, that neither of my parents had any say in the matter of their marriage, the two of them had such a strong and deep love, that I thrived. I was happy, I was safe and content in their love for me and each other. My home was not a cold and hostile place, strained with shouting, screaming, rages, harlots and beatings, where children hid and whimpered as their mothers screamed at their fathers for bringing in a new mistress or their father yelled and beat them. Or for long periods of icy silence. This was home.
The only thing that marred my happiness was I was alone.
My nursemaid said that Mama and Papa had at least six children before me, but God had decided, for reasons which only He knew, to take my siblings back to Him in Heaven before they came here. Maybe my brothers and sisters didn't want to come. I despaired. Why? Didn't they like me? Didn't they want to see me, to see Mama and Papa? Why didn't they want to come?
My nursemaid only looked at me sadly.
Mama was the most beautiful woman in Christendom or the whole world, that was what everyone said. Not just my father and the servants, but everyone. If you mentioned the name of Princess or Doña Estela, people would undoubtedly start gushing, muttering or breathing just how beautiful she was, and whenever people saw her, despite some seeing her so many times already, they would freeze, stare or gawk, and I always wondered if their eyes would have to be pushed back in.
Mother was breathtakingly, heartbreakingly beautiful to say the least. Princess Estela was willowy and graceful, with silken flawlessly pale skin with a sheen like crushed silver, pearl or mother-of-pearl that made it seem to glow. She had the blackest, thickest, silkiest hair that cascaded to her waist in gentle waves coloured like polished jet which captured the light and reflected it infinitely brighter, and the most delicate, exquisite, beautiful heart-shaped face. Her features weren't perfect. Mother's nose was exquisitely dainty, retroussé and beautifully-shaped but not like the others in character. Her rosebud lips were too lush, though it was perfectly rounded, and though her cheekbones and jawline were delicate and finely-cut and those lashes were the thickest and longest I had ever seen, her slanted eyes were too large, to be proportionate. But all these things were so beautiful, that everyone else fell pale and totally dull in everyone's opinion.
A good thing Mama was happily married.
On that fine day, my parents were in Majorca, our island home, watching as the annual games were undertaken.
My mother's brother was there too, the duke of Huéscar; a tall young man, lean and muscular, his skin the colour of rich, polished teak, his regal face heart-stoppingly chiselled; somewhere between handsome in a masculine way and feminine beauty. His black hair gleamed and flowed until it was cut just under his chin and his eyes were a deep molten gold. He was devastatingly beautiful, timeless and surreal. But one thing marred his handsomeness: his icy demeanour and evident cruelty. Whereas nobody could find a single bad thing to say about my mother's character as was with her appearance, Duke Rodrigo was a different matter.
Nobody liked him, simply put. He was as cruel as she was kind, as loathed as she was adored, as feared as she was friendly. And if there was one person to prove it, it was someone whom I adored more than anything in the whole world, besides my parents.
My cousin who was around my age, and had inherited her father's looks, but was the opposite of him in character as different as fire and water.
She was forbidden from sitting anywhere near me.
You see, Sancha wasn't loved or as half-as adored by her father as I was by my parents. Why? Because she was illegitimate.
Sancha's mother was unknown. Her father had been married to this woman, whom I don't remember. But according to the gossip, she was a thin, sickly creature whom my mother pitied. Duke Rodrigo ignored her, spiting her by taking a mistress, an exquisite concubine, the maids whispered. A gypsy girl. He wanted his wife to produce a legitimate heir, but the poor creature died, released mercifully from his terrible mistreatment of her. The wife gave birth to a stillborn son, the mistress- or concubine- gave birth to Sancha. After which, for some reason or other, Sancha's mother was kicked out. Some say she overreached herself and offended him, others say that he simply got tired of her. Those two were likely, but the third option, him feeling guilt and realising he was being punished for his wife's death- was unlikely. Maybe he felt fear of being cursed, though not overtly superstitious, but never guilt.
He was too cold and cruel.
Sancha was raised by her godmother and our grandparents, often and lived with us, but Rodrigo had refused to allow her to be my equal. She was to be my serving maid. Nothing else. Her godmother was Inez, a servant chosen by the last minute, and her baptism was hurried and hushed up, the priest arriving and leaving by the secret passageways.
Sancha was wide-eyed, the gold of her eyes big as she watched the war games. These were fun, informal exercises as opposed to the large games where King Enrique would finally attend. The rest of us took this opportunity to enjoy ourselves, even with Rodrigo's icy, but handsome face stonily staring up ahead.
The ships out in the distance fired and did their drills, play-acting mock-wars. Steps were taken to ensure their safety, so that was more of a relief and a good show for all. Supporters cheered the riders on, their horses' hooves beating a thunderous beat as they raced to keep ahead of one another. Foot-soldiers raced too, but every time they passed my father, proper respect had to be given, meaning a salute was in order.
How I wished nothing more than to have Sancha by my side! To giggle, laugh and enjoy the moment in each other's presences. But despite my mother's arguments, Rodrigo had stubbornly refused to let Sancha come near me, in fact he was generous enough to let her attend. The last time something like this happened was during Christmas- Sancha was locked in her room- if you could call it that- while the rest of us ate our Christmas feast and watched the fireworks. She did nothing wrong, everyone knew it. Even Mama and Papa disagreed strongly with Rodrigo. But Rodrigo exercised his power as a parent, a duke and a powerful ally of my father.
The aristocracy and minor royals lost the right to raise their own forces long ago, but my father retained the right to have his own private army. He and his family were far too adored and respected to have that taken away from them. Alfonso was the greatest so far in a long line of warrior princes, people said. They spoke of him in hushed, revering and awed tones, the same way they spoke of El Cid, our ancestor.
Mama allowed herself to relax, at least this wasn't a tournament where knights in armour tried to knock each other off with their long sticks- lances on either side of the fence. Those had been outlawed centuries before, and were stupid anyway. It did little to prepare anyone for the realities of war.
Papa was there, tall even on horseback, his skin bronzed a honey-gold from the sun, hair slightly windswept and raven-dark. I clapped eagerly at the sight of him. But everyone else cheered and roared their approval as he organised the men he had to fight another regiment. On his black stallion, he gave a salute to the men with his sword, and off they went.
Mama winced, though she tried to hide it. It was still a vigorous, powerful fight, where bones could be broken, even if the swords were not at all sharp. And of course, Papa was smart and strong enough to win. Same old story. Tomorrow was the more formal- and sobering- war games.
Rodrigo looked slightly bored. For someone who was the richest man in Europe, people tended to be wary of him, or at least those he considered beneath him. His sculpted lip curled in contempt, his gold eyes showing his disgust. I was afraid of him, and often begged Mama and Papa to take Sancha away so she could live with us- always. But Mama said that even though she was his sister, she could not afford to offend Rodrigo, and Rodrigo hated Sancha from the moment of her birth, he considered her a reminder of his 'mistake' or sin. He had atoned and confessed, made penance, but when someone- not the priests and nuns I know- said that God was punishing him with his lack of heirs due to his adultery- Rodrigo saw Sancha as a mockery and a punishment. She was beautiful in the way that those of my mother's line were. She would have been perfect, only her mother was not his wife. He had paid penance (though I wonder if even the Merciful God can forgive him) but saw Sancha as a reminder and sought to punish her in every way he could out of spite.
I wished he wasn't here at all. King Enrique and Princess Leonora didn't come, so why did he have to come and spoil it? Everything would have been perfect otherwise.
But as luck would have had it, Rodrigo stood and strode off, his bodyguards trailing after him. He allowed Sancha to stay- thank God for this wondrous mercy! Rodrigo ignored her entirely which was a blessing as opposed to his attention.
"Anita," Mama spoke. "Bring Sancha over here, so she may enjoy the spectacle."
"Si, mi señora." The maid bowed and hurried over to where Inez and Sancha were.
"About time," Madre muttered. "I knew Rodrigo didn't like these things but…"
Sometimes, I wondered how on earth my sweet, wonderful kind Mama who never had a single bad thing to say about anybody could not only be related but is able to stand Rodrigo.
An explosion occurred, diverting our attention. Mama enjoyed the games but she feared someone would get hurt.
Inez and Sancha appeared. Sancha beamed at me, and I beamed happily in return. We stood in silence watching the explosions rock the place, and the men go wild, laughing as they finished.
"Mama," I said suddenly. "Why didn't King Enrique and Princess Leonora come today?"
"His Majesty is a king, querida." Mama murmured. "Kings are usually very busy."
It was only a few years later that it became clear this was, well if not a lie, it was still not the whole truth. Kings were usually very busy. Enrique was not. He might have been a king but he was a slob.
"But they will be coming tomorrow, His Majesty and the Princess of the Asturias." Mama replied.
I said nothing, but Sancha and I caught each other's glances and grinned.
The trumpets called out, tolling my father's victory… Afterwards, my mother went to congratulate him whilst I ran forwards, relishing his strong embrace and warmth as he lifted me up to the cheers of the crowd.
My parents' marriage held such a strong and powerful bond that even star-crossed lovers will envy.
But it was not star-crossed in the way people imagined it. No star ever decided my parents' fates. Only my grandparents.
My father's family's power and influence knew no boundaries, even from outside of Spain. Their titles, their names and their power were whispered of in awe, as the legends that precede their arrival grew. Wide eyes, gasps of shock, my father was no exception. Descended not only from El Cid, but from a countless line of warrior princes such as the champion who won Granada and the rest of Southern Spain for Isabel la Catolica and Fernando, our first monarchs, he also held a strong dose royal blood hence his title of prince. In Germany there were countless minor royals and in Russia prince or princess were aristocratic titles too. Our family were minor royalty but our power, prestige and the mystery and aura that surrounded us were no exception.
My mother's family, on the other hand, came from the wealthiest aristocratic family in Spain. The single-wealthiest in all of Christendom, perhaps in the whole world as a matter of fact. She had royal blood too, but my grandfather owned more titles than all the kings of Europe. He was a duke eight times over, a Marques nineteen times over, a count twenty-two times, a viscount, a lord, a count-duke and who knows what else. He owned palaces, priceless works of art, treasures and more that kings would covet. And all that Rodrigo had inherited.
Rodrigo had been married young, but he loathed his wife, just as he despised everyone else. I think even my grandparents were ashamed and concerned about him. They could not understand how anyone could be so heartless. It wasn't just his wife and servants he mistreated, and he had once been a very violent man. Only now, did everything turn to ice, and his words and orders affected others instead of blows. But even so, words and his mistreatment were worse than torture.
Sancha had been born when my grandparents were still alive, as was I, so they took charge of her upbringing and did whatever they could to protect my bond-sister and keep her out of her father's way. But as much as I adored my grandparents they were not the perfect beings. The reason my parents married were for spite and paranoia.
King Enrique had notoriously offended and estranged countless great houses. He was a slob and did not bother to attend meetings, or else appeared unwashed, and in the filthiest clothing that the poor would have never dreamed of touching without recoiling. But that wasn't even the worst of it: King Enrique never kept his promises. One day he would promise to pay this person off due to a debt with this money, or this painting, but it was never given. You could wait years, even decades for King Enrique to fulfil them, no doubt he was hoping that person would forget. He was weak-minded, though we never said it out loud, and would often change laws or approve decisions after an official meeting, and then a few minutes or hours later, he would change his mind and veto them instead, or the other way around. Then he would change it again.
Spain had gone into deep decline during his reign, much to everyone's disgust. Then next thing we knew, he had offended the Ottoman Turks. Though the Spanish Inquisition were banned, and the days of Torquemada long-gone, our relationship with the Turks was prickly at most. Of course Enrique just had to offend them, then one thing led to another and there was open conflict. Frustrated with Enrique and unwilling to endanger themselves, all the other nations refused to ally with Spain. Worse still, he had seriously offended my father's family- by making his bastard son Duque de Palma de Mallorca. Duke of Palma of Majorca.
Palma was the capital of Majorca- our territory. Enrique never had the right to give that title away and by giving it to an illegitimate son was a public insult towards us. Grandfather refused to fight. As a result the Ottoman Turks won a decisive battle against Enrique's puny forces. Their demands however, were devastating, and I must admit, my grandparents had responsibility in this as well. Their orders: hundreds of Spanish boys to be trained as yeñiçeri, the elite soldiers of the Ottoman army, to be delivered, along with hundreds of girls to be trained in harems as concubines. My father was one of the boys. As a young child he was a hostage along with several other boys from some great houses. I sometimes wondered if Rodrigo had been among them, but I never knew. He wasn't overly-badly treated, as a prince he said. But no doubt he was brutalised, taught to become a child-soldier, force to kill or be killed, forced to endure whippings, lack of food, warmth and water for days, forced to watch as others were tortured and slaughtered- including his own companions. Sultan Mustafa Han was not the kindest of rulers or masters.
He was eventually rescued by forces of the Habsburg Empire and raised in the imperial court. He became such firm friends with then-Crown Prince Ferdinand that the two of them were bond-brothers. They took an oath, though a few were unhappy with the political consequences of this, including King Enrique. They couldn't have been closer if they had been born brothers.
The public blamed King Enrique, and conveniently forgot about my grandparents and the others involved that led to this disaster and tragedy. He was far from popular, even amidst his own family. And he had conveniently- no doubt paranoid about my mother's family's wealth and influence- offended them as well. As a result, both my paternal and maternal grandparents wanted to put up and united front- and spite him. My parents were married because of this, to ensure their safety as well as cause King Enrique shivering, sweating, sleepless nights.
Who knew that a match made in such anger and malice could end up with something so powerful and so pure?
But my parents and grandparents had drilled it into my head: never trust King Enrique. Or Princess Leonora. But never challenge or cross them either.
And certainly not his daughter, Princess Leonora. If Enrique was weak, incompetent and a foolish, sulking brat, Leonora was brilliant, capable, and a scheming, born-politician to say the least. I was my parents' sole heir. They had stillbirths and miscarriages before I was born, but I was the only one to have taken a breath after I emerged into this world.
My father was the greatest hero Spain had, a great warrior and a strong commander who had never lost a single battle. My mother was the most beautiful and gentlest woman who had ever lived.
My name is Isabella, daughter of Alfonso, Prince of the Balearic Islands, and Estela, daughter of the Duke of Alba and sister to another. I am my parents' heir and poised for greatness before I was born. My very existence is a threat and an advantage to the ruling dynasty of Spain.
But what people do not know, is that I am a sister. A sister whose story should never be ignored for my own.
My mind, my heart and my soul shall never forget that.
Sancha and I watched, wide-eyed as the servants bustled about.
A frantic frenzy was in the air. Not just in the palace of Majorca, but the whole island.
Amidst the whispers of excitement, frantic scurrying, fearful, panicked scolding and rushing about I discerned two words: "Emperor Ferdinand."
My father's 'brother' was coming here.
My godfather. Sancha and I hid, peeking between banisters and servants rushed about, hissing at each other, screaming at the slightest mistakes. I doubted Emperor Ferdinand would ever behead anyone or declare war on Spain because of a broken vase, but who knows?
I had never met him. Or at least, I didn't remember him.
What was more? Princess Leonora and the king would be there.
Sancha and I looked at each other and simultaneously agreed: this day was going to be interesting.
"Do you think it's true?" Sancha said suspiciously. Her gold eyes narrowing. "That the Habsburg family has a better claim to the throne."
"Sh." I whispered. "Don't let anyone hear you. They'll cut your head off, and Duke Rodrigo will allow it."
He was never uncle or father, much less 'papa' to Sancha.
"I don't think our families will," I said hesitantly. "But Duke Rodrigo will do just about anything."
Sancha nodded grimly. For someone who had been warned, she seemed... Determined? Courageous? Or foolish?
"He'll let anything happen to me, as long as he doesn't get in trouble. He'd be happy to see me dead."
I felt ill. I wished my maternal grandparents were still alive, at least they would keep Sancha safe. Why did Rodrigo have to be born in this family?
"You should still be careful." I stated. "Besides, Princess Leonora's mother was a Habsburg." Until she died. Like my poor aunt, her husband despised her for being unable to bear a son, though he took advantage of her Habsburg birth. Emperor Ferdinand was her cousin, his father's sister had married King Enrique. He might not be too happy to see him.
The Habsburgs were direct descendants of Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon, our first monarchs, the ones who conquered Spain and the Americas. When their grandson Emperor Charles V had inherited- both the Holy Roman Empire and Spain- he became one of the greatest and most powerful leaders in history. But according to Papa, he saw the cracks. There were problems. The empire was vast, but split up. A huge expanse of ocean separated Spain from the Americas, and Spanish territory from the Holy Roman Empire. So when Charles abdicated, he gave the Holy Roman Empire to a brother Maximilian (though eventually Charles' own descendants ended up marrying back into the line), and Spain and its territory to Felipe, his son who also inherited Portugal from his mother. The Spanish line of Habsburgs eventually died out, but the Habsburg line in Austria-Hungary continued to thrive and grew stronger.
Eventually the French took over, the Borbons, and other dynasties succeeded them. But there were rumours of illegitimacy, false claims and so forth. It was difficult. In some countries, people counted the lineages from the father's line, like in France. But Spaniards counted lineages as coming from both Father and Mother, and inheritance laws, despite King Enrique's disgust for his lack of sons, no longer cared for who was male and who was female, but who was the firstborn, or eldest surviving. This saved us in numerous occassions when the list of heirs fall short, but it also got us into deep trouble. The French-extracted dynasty who succeeded the Borbons had little of Isabel and Fernando's blood. Plus, like I said, France only counted the male lines. So for them to take advantage of Spain's laws as opposed to their own, people saw it as hypocrisy. Many longed for the golden age of Habsburg rule.
It was dangerous, I thought, for Emperor Ferdinand to come here. For people to see young, handsome, regal and incredibly intelligent and wise Emperor Ferdinand as opposed to King Enrique... And for my father to be the one to host him? But then again, we were hosting the royal family. I fearfully wondered what Princess Leonora was going to do to avenge this insult. She had a reputation to make my blood run colder than in my uncle's presence.
"Princess Leonora is going to be there tonight." Sancha whispered. "I can't see any of it. Can you tell me what will happen?"
I nodded without looking at her. That already goes without saying. She didn't need to ask anything like that of me.
"Isabella!" A voice hissed. "Isabella!"
That was the voice of my niñera and she was scowling.
"Come. There is much to do!" She said imperiously. She left Sancha behind, ignoring her because no one dared think of what Rodrigo would do if his bastard daughter showed up. More so, if she made herself visible in front of the king and princess, and the public- especially Emperor Ferdinand whom everybody wanted to impress.
"The Emperor is coming, your godfather, you must be on your best behaviour and do exactly what we told you too." My duenna insisted.
I nodded. "Yes Doña Anita."
"Remember, all eyes will be on you." She stated. As if that was supposed to make me feel any less nervous. "The king and the Princess of the Asturias will be there as well, along with countless nobility and minor royals, and the emperor's entourage."
I took a deep breath. "I'm ready."
I wore a gown made of the finest silks and lace. My hair was bound in jewels. Mama had picked everything out for me.
Little did I know what lay in store after that night.
As I've mentioned, this is a historical AU. What if the golden age of Empires had never come to an end- or periods like the Habsburg and Ottoman golden age never did?
Some characters have real-world inspirations but are completely unique, others are purely fictional.