[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.X

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2012-09-06 13:41:05
short story
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I slept late the next morning, the events of the previous night having exhausted me completely. In spite of what I had espied before finally retiring, once I had made sure there was no remaining trace of our presence and the wards were removed from the chapel, I had enjoyed a deep and dreamless sleep and awakened midmorning refreshed. Instead of bothering the servants to fetch me breakfast, I dressed and went downstairs to Mistress Rose’s domain to make some tea and beg a bit of bread for toast.

The kitchen was perhaps the only place in the palace where I truly felt comfortable, aside from my own room. I loved the smell of baking bread and stewing meats and I looked forward to breaking my fast among people who were not continually bowing and scraping, but were occupied with their own tasks and barely spared a glance for a red-haired woman wearing wizard’s robes. As I ladled boiling water from one of the kettles over the leaves in my cup, Mistress Rose herself bustled up to me wearing a worried expression on her face.

“Ach, Elizabeth,” she said, “Grethe was here. She’s changed, she is. What did you do? You’re the only one who could have fixed her mind.”

I nearly dropped my cup, I was so surprised. “She was here?” I asked. “What did she say? What did she want?”

“She wanted to thank me,” said the older woman, “for taking her in all those years ago and giving her a home here. She said she was going away and wanted to let me know that before she left.”

“Thank you, Mistress Rose,” I said. “I must go now,” and without having had my toast, I ran upstairs to my mother’s chambers trying not to spill my tea in my haste.

I heard raised voices as I pushed open the heavy door. Margaret was seated at her writing desk, Grethe stood by the window and Stephen paced between them, his hands behind his back and his face flushed.

“What have you done?” he was shouting. “How could you do this thing?” When he saw me burst into the room, he turned his anger on me. “You!” he cried. “You did this!”

It took me a moment to catch my breath. I set me teacup down on the nearest surface as calmly as I could, made sure the door was closed securely behind me, and said, “You are forgetting yourself, Stephen.” He lowered the finger he had raised toward me and bowed his head.

“I apologize, your highness,” he said. “I’m upset.”

“I can see that,” I answered. “Sit. Have some tea. I just made it fresh. Now, what is the problem?”

Stephen sat down on the harpsichord bench, but refused the proffered tea. I sipped it instead, grateful for the reviving warmth. He looked at his hands before speaking. I glanced at the other two women. Margaret looked defeated, slumped in her chair with tears running down her cheeks. Grethe was turned so that I could not see her face, looking out the window to the green beyond the castle wall. I took my mother’s hand and squeezed it.

“Grethe came to me last night, came into my bed while I slept,” Stephen began, obviously uncomfortable with the subject. I nodded encouragement. “She seduced me.” He stopped abruptly, looked up at Grethe, who continued to look off to the distance. “Then she said she was Margaret.”

Grethe turned around. “I was Margaret,” she whispered, “and she was I. We were one for that moment.” She became silent and turned back to the window. The sunlight suddenly streamed in and illuminated her golden hair.

Stephen turned to the Queen. “Is this true?” he asked. She nodded, looking miserable.

“It was the one thing I have never been able to give you,” she answered, “and can never give you again.”

Stephen looked back to me for answers. As I watched the emotions wash over his face, I realized that there had been one flaw in my mother’s plan. She had never consulted with him, never asked for his approval. “I saw Mistress Rose,” I said, “and she said that Grethe is going away and that she came to say goodbye.”

Grethe turned from the window at last and walked over to where my mother sat. “I cannot stay here,” she said. “It is Margaret Stephen loves, not me. Edward is Margaret’s husband, not mine, as you are her daughter. I am grateful that you gave me my voice, but I wish I did not carry the burden you thrust upon me.”

“Mother?” I asked. “Tell him. I’ve warded the room. No one can hear.”

Margaret cast a grateful glance my way before turning her glistening eyes on Stephen. “I love you,” she said. “I will always love you, always. But we cannot be together. I love my husband and will not leave him. You deserve happiness. That’s all I ever wanted, is that you should be happy.” Her tears started afresh and she turned away, unable to continue. Grethe took up the thread.

“So she asked Elizabeth to make me her, to be the one you could love, to heal my mind and fill me with her memories so that I would love you as she does,” Grethe said, her hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “None of us knew if Grethe, if I, would survive; not my body, but what little was left of the child I was before my accident.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “But even though I was Margaret when I lay with you last night, I am not now she. I have all her memories, her emotions--I love you as much as she--but I am myself. I can understand if you don’t want me. I have no right to you, as I have no place here.”

“Stephen,” I asked, in the uncomfortable silence after Grethe’s speech, “do you love my mother? Would you willingly have sacrificed anything so that you could be with her?”

He nodded and said, “I would,” his voice hoarse with emotion.

“Well,” I responded, “she has made the sacrifice instead. You can reject this gift and quit the palace alone, leaving all three of you desperately unhappy, or you can accept it. For you know you cannot stay here now after this. I cannot bear to see my mother suffer so, or Grethe.”

Stephen stood suddenly. “I need to think,” he said and left the room.

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