Waking up in a castle is hardly a normal thing for a girl like me, but nonetheless, that’s what happened this morning. “Huh? Where am I?” I muttered to myself. I couldn’t recognize anything around me; cold stone walls and an elaborate bed were definitely not part of my small bedroom. Sitting up, I realized I wasn’t in my pajamas, either. I was wearing a very fancy dressing gown, and the bed I was in was covered in furs, not comforters. My door--a heavy wooden thing that looked like it belonged in Arthurian legend--opened, and a familiar face appeared.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Claire! What’s going on; where are we?” I asked. Claire’s brow furrowed.
“My lady? Is everything alright; you called me by the wrong name. I am Clarisse.” She said.
“What? Claire, this isn’t funny. What’s going on? Where are we?” I asked again.
“Forgive me, my lady. We are in your castle. We have been for weeks, since your last outing beyond the palace gates. Are you certain you’re alright?” Her voice was politely concerned, as if it was her job to care for me.
My blood ran cold. Peering closer, I began to notice miniscule differences. Not in her physical appearance, but smaller things, like the amount of grime on her face, scars and blemishes that shouldn’t have been there, the way she held herself in general. Slowly, it dawned on me. Even though she could be her twin, this was not my Claire.
This Claire--Clarisse, I reminded myself--was still looking at me with concern. “Should I call for the physician--?” She asked, half turning towards the door.
“No!” I blurted out. The last thing I needed was more attention in this bizarre reality. I forced a smile on my face. “No, I’m alright. Just a disorienting dream, is all.” Claire--Clarisse’s--face cleared with relief.
“Ah. Well, then, I’ll fetch your breakfast, mi’lady.” Clarisse curtsied low to the ground before exiting the room, closing the door behind her. Quickly, I jumped out of the bed. Or, rather, tried to, and ended up struggling against the heavy furs before finally escaping.
I searched the room, and was amazed at what I found. There were five rooms connected to each other in what felt like a rough circle, the bedroom being farthest from the hallway--I suppose it would be called a corridor in a castle--that I eventually found. Connected to the bedroom on either side were what looked to be a dressing room on one side and a bathroom on the other and what looked like some kind of greeting room straight ahead. The bathroom wasn’t connected to anything else, but the dressing room connected to the greeting room--parlor, probably--to the front and a game room to the side. The game room was stocked with what looked like board games that I couldn’t make any sense of; the only thing I really understood was the pool table in the center and the piano in the corner.
The bedroom was fairly simple; a bed, a chest at the base of the bed, and a table at the side of the bed. There was a large mirror in the corner, and a small table with two chairs set around it. I noticed tapestries hanging from most of the walls, but I had no idea how to measure the quality, or if they were just there for insulation. The bed was the true centerpiece of the room; four posters with decadent cloth draped from each pole, which had also been intricately carved. Looking closer, I could see images of dragons and crashing waves inlaid to the wood.
The chest presented me with what looked like dressing gowns or slips, as well as a few trinkets I assumed were the favorites of whoever was supposed to wake up in this room, as well as a few other baubles I could only assume had some emotional significance. The bathroom gave me nothing of importance, either.
Moving on to the dressing room was the greatest find. When I opened the dresser, I gasped. Inside were the most beautiful gowns I could have possibly imagined. Fingering the embroidery, I had to assume it was either real gold, or some other metallic thread. The jewelry box I found yielded similar reactions. Necklaces and diadems and circlets and rings and bracelets and clips and all manner of every type of accessory you could think of, all coated in diamonds and precious gems. A single piece was likely three or four times more expensive than anything I’d ever seen before in my life. Many of them were garish, but there were a lot of pieces there, and I found things that I marveled at, and simple things as well, that I might have had in my actual life--but there were few of those. I could hardly believe it could all belong to one person. Whoever Clarisse thought I was, she was very important.
I heard footsteps in the entryway, and quickly I chose a gown at random, hoping my limited knowledge and guesswork would lead me to something that wouldn’t raise suspicion. When Clarisse entered, she raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She bustled around the room, occasionally chuckling, setting up a breakfast that was far too large to be for one person. Finally, I couldn’t take it. “What?” I asked. Clarisse flushed and bowed.
“Forgive me; I was just wondering why you would wear the evening gown that Duke Borin gave to you in the morning. I was under the impression that you had declined his favor, and I was to put the gown with the others this morning.” She said, still in her bow. I sighed. How can I ask for help without letting on that I’m not who she thinks I am?
“I am not feeling myself today.” I tried to put on airs the way I thought the person Clarisse thought I was would. Clarisse’s face went up, and she spoke hesitantly.
“Mi’lady….would you wish for me to help you dress?” She inquired, unsure. Either this was not normal, or I had not asked for it in a long time. I sighed. Swallow your pride.
“Yes. Will that be a problem?” I raised an eyebrow. I’d already picked up on what she perceived the dynamic between her and who she thought I was to be, and I didn’t like manipulating that. But it was the fastest way to get out of this room with minimal questions asked.
“N-no! It’s just that I thought your highness still wanted your privacy, as you have for the past few weeks. Tis no problem at all.” I stiffened, but she didn’t seem to notice. I let her help me dress, offering occasional input; “pick something comfortable” “nothing too colorful today”, but I wasn’t really processing her responses. “Your highness”?? Did she think I was a princess??
“Mi’lady? My lady? Your Highness? Princess Emeline?” Clarisse was trying to get my attention, but her words turned me to ice. She did think I was a princess. One called Emeline. It was a beautiful name, but not mine. However, through the icy fog in my mind, somewhere that name triggered a memory.
“Emma, come inside! I want to show you something.” A nine-year-old me ran into the house from the backyard, where I’d been picking flowers. I presented them to my mother with a smile. “Thank you, Emma! These are beautiful. Here, I have something I want to show you.” My mother pushed a very large set of taped papers towards me. “I’ve been trying to track our lineage. If you look here,” my mother pointed to one of the papers. I squinted at the writing, which was fancy cursive. “Look what I found; we’re descended from a Scottish princess! And see, her name even sounds like yours. Emeline.”
The name echoed in my head as I remembered. Could it be possible? I tried to remember more, but the fuzzy memory was all I had. I hadn’t paid much attention to the mirror when I had examined the room, but now I turned to it, a growing sense of dread and horror birthing itself inside my gut. I almost gasped out loud.
Like Clarisse, my face was identical to the one I’d seen in the mirror when I’d gone to bed the night before, but also like Clarisse, there were miniscule differences that shouldn’t be there. They were much easier to spot on my own face. Or, rather, Emeline’s face. Because that’s when it dawned on me; I wasn’t in my own body anymore. Nor was I in my own time.Somehow, I’d inhabited the body of my ancestor, hundreds of years before I was even born.