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During the early days of World War II, an English princess living with her controlling uncle must fight to keep her fragile world from unravelling. He knew everything about me -- what scared me to death, what made me cry, feel uncomfortable, what made adrenaline shoot through my veins like burning acid, what made me want to hide away forever. Perhaps he wouldn't comfort himself with those thoughts if he knew that it was all him.

Romance / Drama
Age Rating:


The previous night’s air raid had rendered me sleepless.

I remained within the same position -- upon my large canopied bed, my nightgown stretched over my knees -- in which I was when the sirens died and the world returned to normal, watching the window with a dulled anxiety. It was the impending -- and possibly short-lived -- calm after the storm. Uncertain. The feeling dissipated entirely when the sun’s first rays crept over the horizon and bathed my room in a gray haze.

I wouldn’t have long.

In haste, I brought my wildly curly hair from its moorings and secured it in a bun at the back of my head; satisfied and stripped down to my undergarments, I chose a cream sleeveless shift dress, matching stockings, thick navy overcoat, and shoes from my wardrobe and slipped into them quickly, stealing glances in the mirror as I buttoned my dress, pulled my stockings over my knees, buckled my shoes. I took one last look at myself -- the marionette reflected a careful smile of composure -- and left the room as it was and closed the door behind me, entering the large hall that housed the bedrooms.

The enormous expanse of the chatêau was devoid of life, save for the priceless Baroque artifacts and precious paintings of chubby, baby-faced princes and handsome ponies, regal ladies posed in rose and apricot painted gowns, and gorgeous landscapes done in pointillism. The paintings watched me as I darted between halls and corridors, as quiet as a church mouse.

I pushed open one of the great double doors just enough to sneak through; as if propelled by a phantom power, the door quietly returned to its former position. Only for a breath did I look at the gray lady that was the chatêau, hoping that no one had seen me. Then I made my way down the small steps and the path that led to the garden. Beyond the garden and the iron gates surrounding the chatêau laid the dark, imposing forest, contrasting against the dull sky.

Before me was the garden, an immaculately kept mess of roses in myriads of colors, chrysanthemums, peonies, and other various breeds of flowers. The grass is sprinkled with fairy tears, lush under my shoes. The air is rich with the smell of nature -- damp and fresh and chilly. The perfect transition between the balmy English summers and frigid autumns.

I laid on the grass, caring little if my clothes would stain. Above me, there were no individual clouds; just clumps of them, a thick blanket covering the countryside. But even as I tried to distance my mind from all the thoughts that raced like horses through my psyche, it was futile. It was inevitable, all of this: war was upon England, for a year now. Our nights were reduced to rubble, running in our nightclothes, shaking and cold and bleary-eyed, to the air-raid shelters. Anxiously sitting in the darkness, waiting for that whistle and the aftershock of the explosion. Is it near? Is it over? We hung our heads and prayed to an invisible, omnipotent power that didn’t hear us. Eventually, in the gloom, we heard the siren, signaling the end. Nobody knew if this was a drill or if the Germans had come. Nobody wanted to know. We shuffled back to our beds, but our minds were not quelled. Safety was thousands of miles away, where the Germans were not pummeling the cities with their lightening war. When would it be when their great metal dragons would drop their insides upon the countryside? And when would it be, when England would be at the mercy of our enemies?

I shuddered to think of it, did not want to know.

What I wanted was to be a child again, innocent and free and happy, running about gardens and hiding in corridors and laughing and pretending to be whatever I wanted to because I could, with no worries of anything. There were no fears, no air-raids, no talks of war; only daisies in my hair and falling asleep in the garden, tearing my dresses climbing on trees, waking with a smile on my face at the prospect of facing the day. But I was a child no more, not innocent and free and happy any longer. The daisies in my hair wilted and died, my hazy room was the only place I fell asleep in, tearing my dresses gave way to punishments, climbing trees were something vagabonds and peasants did, and I woke with a needling anxiety each day. Pretending to be older was a thing of the past, once a great, wild dream of mine; that came no more, too. Now, I was a lady of sixteen, and desperately wanted how everything was back.

Vee!” My name was like a sudden gunshot and I was up on my feet in a flash, standing in attention: arms at my sides, feet together. Breathe.

“Victory Grace!” My name -- fully -- came again.

I watched as a figure -- dressed in a white collared shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows, dark pants, and dark shoes -- emerged from the path, coming my way. I held my breath and braced myself.and the figure was before me. A handsome man, my uncle David.

He asked of me, hands on his hips, his voice a tightened coil ready to spring, “What have I told you about going out without my permission?” He might’ve meant it jokingly and might’ve put out a sinew hand and patted my head, laughing. But he didn’t. Uncle David wasn’t like that.

“I-I...” I paused to regain strength and attempted a facade of fearlessness, though I was too petrified to look him in the eyes and blurt a lie. My heart pounded in my throat. “I’m sorry. You were asleep; I didn’t want to wake you. I couldn’t sleep, the air-raid...” I, unintentionally, let my voice trail off, dropping my gaze to my shoes. Within my heart, I might’ve been sorry for disobeying him -- or his overtly protective orders -- but I was allowed to have a few moments of peace to myself: looking up at the sky, hearing the grass crunching under my shoes, smelling the air. I’ve not committed a heinous crime.

He said nothing for a few moments; his gaze was like a hand: on my cheek, the lock of hair behind my ear, my right index finger, my bare shoulder under my coat, the thick scar on my back, the yellowing bruise on my abdomen. He could see right through me. I was as transparent as glass, he’d mentioned once. If I held my hand up to the sun, it would shine through my skin. He knew everything about me -- what scared me to death, what made me cry, feel uncomfortable, what made adrenaline shoot through my veins like burning acid, what made me want to hide away forever. Perhaps he wouldn’t comfort himself with those thoughts if he knew that it was all him.

Perhaps it would because it was what he wanted. He was in constant control. I was the variable he could change whenever he wanted to.

“Sometimes I wonder, Vee,” he said. “If you do this to me intentionally.”

My entire body froze. “No. Of course, I wouldn’t--”

“And yet you continually disobey me.”

I took a moment too long in answering. “I didn’t mean to.”

He said something, but I couldn’t hear it. Then I felt him pull me to him forcefully, so I was trapped. I could hear his heart beating -- thumpthump, thumpthump -- calmly against my ear, while mine sped. My breath caught in my throat, as he kissed my right temple and said, “My princess.”

That was it. That’s what he called me -- 'his princess’. I was small, weak, naive, as delicate as the thinnest glass, too soft to do anything on my own. I didn’t know or understand the intimate, inner workings of the world or the people within it. My decisions were hastily made for me; there was always a hand within reach, to help me down the stairs or to choose what to wear. Men with guns were, too, within reach, paid handsomely and ordered to protect me with their lives. Meals were always taken with others. I was never to be left alone, not for a moment, or I’d die of solitude.

But all of this, as I’d often been told by outside forces, was done out of pure love and dedication. I was so divinely loved by my uncle David -- the former King of England, the current King’s elder brother -- that all of his time and energy was put toward me, the apple of his eye, his only princess. I should be proud, they insisted, to be so loved -- by a King, no less, former or not. They said I should be grateful that I had a roof over my head, warm food daily, a clean bed to sleep in, clothes to wear when people across the street, across the sea, had nothing at all, and teenage boys playing soldiers on the front were starving and dying. I only nodded and took their words into consideration.

I felt him pull away, leaving me shivering in my coat, head down. I hated it when he touched me; but I craved a loving touch, too, -- a gentle pat on the head, a jovial embrace that lifted me from the ground, a smile that lit up the room -- from the man who was my blood, my guardian.

He reached out and his hand caressed my cheek. Time froze. “Look at me, Vee.”

I obeyed as I always did, meeting his gaze. He was a handsome man, that I could not deny. He was lean and tall and charismatic; he only had to flash a smile, say the positively right thing, and people were instantly in his favor, much like this talent was conjured up by a magician’s spell.

The edges of his mouth crooked up. He did not show his teeth when he smiled. He said, “You know that I adore you, don’t you, lovely?”

“Yes, sir.” My voice was small and weak.

“I’m sure that you’re of understanding age, Vee, to know that we live in a very dangerous time right now, what with the war.”

“Of course, sir.”

“It’s not safe for pretty young things like yourself to be out on your own, not even in the garden.” There was an uneasy edge in his voice, intense, anxious. “Why, just last week, when you went out for a walk in the forest, have you any idea what was going through my head, what could’ve happened to you? My dear, I hesitate to say...”

This was my cue to say my lines, to show that I understood. I inhaled, exhaled. “Someone could be finding in the trees and take me up--”

“There!” he said sharply. “Some evil, evil person could be hiding in the trees and sneak up on you -- a beautiful young lass with wealth and a title, no less! -- take you up to god-knows-where and possibly hold you for ransom -- or worse. And I could not live any longer, knowing that I could not protect the one little thing that I had vowed to keep safe.”

“I’m sorry that I worried you, Uncle,” I said lowly.

My apology pleased him. A smile came to his face. “Of course you are, my love. I trust we won’t have any future problems with this issue, am I right?”

“Yes, sir.”

His voice lowered now. “And should you disobey me again, my pretty thing, the consequences will be dire. Is that understood?”

Should I have still been a child, I would’ve been reduced to tears by now, just from the talk of the chance of being kidnapped and held for ransom, not seeing anyone I loved ever again. But this has been a talk between Uncle and me for years now and so my emotions have been blessedly numbed within that time. I never cried when he spoke to me about such matters, and only doing so would show him that he’d managed to break me.

I nodded.

“Good,” he said, satisfied that everything had turned out the way he’d wanted to. As always. I felt another unwarranted statement -- I like being outside[ -- bubble up my throat. Then he would look right through me again, looking for flaws, and find a flaw, call me a stupid child who didn’t learn, didn’t understand the ways of the world that seemed to be written in some unreadable language. But as long as all was well in Uncle’s world.

“Auntie is waiting for us for breakfast.” His arm was on my shoulder then, propelling me forward on colt-like feet. As we walked up the path, gravel crunching under our shoes, his cold digits found the edge of the neck of my coat, and eventually the first knob of my spine, his thumb pressed against the protruding circle, a worry stone. My skin broke into goose flesh; his touch was a plague upon me.

The doors to the chatêau were opened for us by two, tired-looking guards. His urges quelled, Uncle took his hand from my skin and we silently made our way toward the grand dining room, passing the paintings and heirlooms that watched us. I walked behind him like a good little duck, my quivering hands in my pockets.

When we arrived in the dining room, my aunt -- the raven-haired Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee my uncle had lovingly given up the throne for -- was already waiting for us, seated at the left of the head of the table, swathed in a robe and pouring gin into her morning coffee.

“Morning, dear,” Uncle said, rounding the table to go and give her a kiss on the cheek. She sullenly returned the gesture and watched him from the corner of her eye as he sat near her. I, too, took my seat at the left side of him, opposite her.

“Good morning, Auntie,” I said with a smile. She only turned and looked at me, her expression blank as she took up her coffee and took a healthy swig. She didn’t need to say anything for me to know that I wasn’t liked by her; her actions spoke much louder than words. She blamed me, silently and verbally, for stealing her husband’s affection, something that she’d fought tooth and nail to secure. She claimed that I, a stupid sixteen-year-old princess, upstaged her, pulling the rug out from under her. She never wanted to hear that I didn’t want his morbid affection for me in the first place; she had him, always, whether I was around or not. And so, we went along tolerating each other. Not hating, not loving.

Breakfast -- hot cereal made with water -- was brought out moments later by the silent waitstaff. A newspaper was brought for Uncle, which he took to reading immediately, ignoring my aunt and I. I began to eat what was put in front of me; the cereal was otherwise tasteless and watery, but it was food.

“David,” Auntie said brightly, dropping her hand to her lap. “I was thinking...once Vee leaves for ballet, you and I could, y’know, spend some time together...” It was a desperately sad sight to see: a woman begging for her husband’s affection. Instead of giving it to someone who yearned for it, he gave it to someone who didn’t. Uncle said nothing. From the corner of my eye, I saw his gaze never leave the paper.

She sighed. “Honey, I miss you. I cry for you at night. You’re always so busy.”

The sight burned a hole in my conscience. “I should go,” I said, standing up far too quickly. The tasteless mush swayed in my stomach.

“Sit down, Vee,” Uncle ordered, folding up his paper and removing my aunt’s hand from his knee and setting it on the table. The look on her face was as if he’d shot her. “You’ve barely touched your breakfast.”

“I’ll be fine,” I mumbled.

“Yes, dearie,” my aunt said, shooting a glare at me. “Why don’t you get going? You don’t want to be late.”

I did what my aunt said to do -- and attempted to ignore my uncle’s heated glare at my back -- shutting the door behind me and leaning against it. I shook like a leaf, petrified that either of them would come out and beat the living daylights out of me; him for not listening, her for taking her husband from her. Behind the door of the dining room, their private conversation continued.

“How dare you tell her what to do?” Uncle snapped.

My aunt spoke, venom dripping from her words and burning holes in the floor. “You should see yourself, David. You’re positively obsessed with her.”

“I love her,” Uncle said. “As one should love their flesh and blood.”

“I don’t love her,” she said. “She’s neither my flesh nor blood.”

“She’s come first.”

“And what about me, your wife? All you’ve done lately is ignore me.”

“You shouldn’t drink in the morning, Wallis,” Uncle said dryly. “Or anytime of the day. You drink far too much.”

“I miss you desperately.” Her voice lowered, but I could still hear. “I pleasure myself now and I pretend that it’s you touching me like that.”

Silence. My aunt made a sound that was a cross between a sob and a moan, a horrible noise. “What does that simpering little princess have that I don’t?”

“She’s our niece, Wallis,” Uncle said.

“She’s not my niece!” my aunt shrieked, banshee-like. A chair was pushed back and something made of glass crashed to the floor. I jumped. “I want her gone!”

“When you married me, she became your niece as well. Now sit the hell down and compose yourself, for God’s sake.”

Silence again. My aunt’s voice was monotonous as she said, “When was the last time that you fucked me, David?”

Uncle didn’t answer. Another glass item crashed.

“When you brought her here, that’s when!” my aunt screamed. “One year -- one goddamn year! You haven’t fucked or touched me in over a year! And it’s all that little slut’s fault!”

“Sit down, Wallis.”

“I want her gone,” my aunt said, sobs echoing in the room. “I want her absolutely gone. Send her back to her grandfather. Send her...send her to I don't care where, but send her anywhere. What’s the use of her being here?”

“She’s mine.”

“Oh, for God’s sake--”

“No, Wallis.”

“I’ll kill that łittle whore...”

“You touch a hair on her head and I’ll--”

“You what?”

“I love her. She’s my girl, my niece, my princess. She’s not going anywhere. She belongs to no one but me, do you hear me?”

She screamed again, saying that she hated him, hated me, wanted to kill him, wanted to kill me, how she wanted me gone for good. Blows rained down. She was slapping him and crying, sobbing so hard I thought the walls might crumble down. I left the hallway quickly and ran to my room. I shook -- sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, so sorry, so, so sorry -- as I entered, my heart a mess, chest heaving, guilt gnawing at me as I leaned against the door and slid down it. I was an evil girl, evil and disgusting and ugly at heart. I was, unwittingly, ruining my aunt and uncle’s marriage, something that the both of them fought so hard and sacrificed so much to secure: he’d abdicated, giving up the most powerful throne in the world for her, and she’d divorced her husband to marry him. How could I be so selfish, continuing to wish and pray for my uncle’s love, when I would continue to send their marriage into ruin?

After allowing myself a few moments to compose, I rose, head hurting and threw my things into a ratty old bag and left, making sure to avoid the dining room. When I made it to the courtyard, Uncle’s faithful driver, Jack, was already waiting for me. He didn’t say anything as he helped me into the Bentley and went around to slip into the driver’s seat. He gunned the engine and drove out of the gates, leaving the chatêau and the monsters that kept it behind.

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