[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.VII
My sparse visits home during the last four years had not prepared me for the changes I experienced when I returned there to stay. Servants I had known well had retired or moved on and been replaced by strangers, others had moved into different positions. But it was I who had changed the most, something I had not expected to discover upon returning to a place so familiar. My old room had been aired out and made ready for me and I noticed immediately that it was exactly as I had left it when I departed. The shelves were full of my books, toys and games, and the closet hung with fanciful clothing that my nurse had had to force me to wear. At the academy I had become accustomed to living with less and the richness of my childish accoutrements seemed excessive. The first thing I did was strip all that I considered excess and bundle it up to be distributed to less fortunate children, keeping only those things that had sentimental value. Otherwise, I was content with my text books and scrolls and the few dresses that I needed to wear under my wizard’s robes.
Perhaps if I had been more flexible, more able to revert to the rôle of princess and younger sister, I would not have been as restless as I was. I tired of being waited on and found the attention irksome. The servants started to avoid me, and even courtiers I had known all my life treated me coldly. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were all afraid of me. I had left their midst a spoiled princess and returned a master wizard. They eyed the amulet I wore on the outside of my robe with wary respect as though I might change them into newts or bats if I were displeased.
Fortunately, my own family was disabused of such superstitious notions. My brother treated me as he always had but he came and went, never at home for long enough that we could spend much time together. My father was forever closeted with his ministers and I began to understand my mother’s sense of neglect. As a child I had been used to him playing with me; now I rarely saw him. On the other hand, Margaret was extremely happy to have me back in the family fold. She insisted on calling the dressmaker to sew me some new gowns which she personally supervised, even though I insisted I didn’t need nor want any more clothing. She wanted to know everything about my schooling, but I soon found out that it was my relationships with my fellow students that interested her more than my hard-won arcane knowledge. She asked about my friends, where they were from, where they had gone after graduating, and especially if I had met anyone “special”. I hadn’t the heart to tell her that I loved a girl from a poor family on the other side of the kingdom whom I would probably never see again and simply refrained from answering.
It was during this time that I got to observe Grethe again. She sat mute and compliant while my mother chatted with me, working a bit of mending or embroidery, although her stitches in the latter made no sense. She merely sewed for the pleasure of it. Her long, golden hair gleamed with health, but her cornflower blue eyes were as vacant as ever. I experienced a twinge of pity as I watched her and idly wondered if it were possible to heal the lesion in her mind that prevented her from forming new memories and living life as the rest of us did. When my mother stopped for breath, I mentioned this thought aloud. Her reaction was swift and not what I was expecting.
“Oh, Elizabeth,” she cried with a note of desperation in her voice, “can you? Can you heal her, make her well?”
“Why?” I asked. “She has always been thus. Even if it were possible, I don’t know if she would benefit from suddenly being awake in an adult body when she would still have to learn those things one experiences as a child. Would she welcome such a change?”
My mother looked down at her hands in her lap and spoke without looking at me. “I don’t know. I am in agony not knowing. But I have to do something.”
“Mother,” I said, “why did you engage Grethe as your maid? She can barely perform the necessary tasks and, although she appears content enough, she would probably have been happier in the kitchen with Mistress Rose and the other cooks. I don’t believe you wanted her here just to remind yourself of me.”
Margaret raised her head and looked toward the chamber door, tears glistening in her eyes. I had never seen her look so stricken, not even at my grandfather’s funeral when she had been beside herself with grief. With a silk handkerchief she wiped her eyes before turning to me and whispered, “Help me, Elizabeth.”
My mother’s anguish pulled at my own heart and I instinctively put my arms around her and drew her to my breast as she had done so many times when I was a child. She laid her head on my shoulder and her shoulders heaved as she sighed deeply and essayed to gain control over her emotions. At length she drew away, more composed.
“I have a favour to ask of you,” she said, “but it requires great secrecy. If you can’t help me, I don’t know what I will do. I cannot go on living with myself otherwise. Everyday I yearn for death, either mine or another’s. I often look at Grethe and wish that our situations could be reversed, that she were the queen and I were the one without memories. Please help me, Elizabeth. You are the only one who can.”
I clasped my mother’s hands, disturbed by her obvious anxiety, and said, “I will help you if I can, but shouldn’t you be talking to father about whatever is troubling you?”
“No!” she hissed, taking me aback. “Your father can never know any of this. He must not, ever. No one can know. You must swear that you will tell no one, for his sake and for mine. Please, Elizabeth!” she begged.
I looked at her trembling form and remembered the scratched-out names in her letter, the tightness of her script, her choice of Grethe for a maid, and realized that she had been trying to tell me something but could not for fear of discovery. Overcome with compassion, I answered, “I promise. I will try to help you if it is possible, and I will not tell anyone. I swear.” To underline my words, I grasped the amulet that hung gleaming from my neck.
Margaret let out a shuddering sigh before continuing. “I am frightened,” she began, “and I feel as though my heart is being carved into little pieces and plucked from my body daily. I can say nothing to anyone, and I cannot act without bringing great shame on our family and those I love most. For the last two years I have been the happiest I have ever known and yet suffer daily knowing that it cannot be, that what I desire most cannot be.”