The woman drew her spine straight though no one would accuse her of slouching. She glared at the shoulder blades of the retreating clerk but soon sighed deeply and settled her face back into its usual expression of benevolent calm. It wasn’t this dreadful man’s fault that the news he carried was so bleak. She had never known an officer from the merchants’ bank to come bearing anything but vague threats and insincere apologies.
In truth, she had inherited an impoverished realm but wasn’t given a single clue about how to rescue it. For more than two generations the family had eked out an existence on the afterglow of remembered opulence alone. But even that dance with delusion had ended, finally and without ceremony. She smiled wryly to think that there wasn’t money for ceremony anyhow.
Regardless of what the bankers said, there would always be enough to keep them fed and clothed. Mostly, she didn’t care if they had to move to the castle gatehouse because the roof of the Great Hall finally caved in. Though she hadn’t realized it at the time, she had made that decision long ago.
Before she ever wore her father’s heavy crown upon her head, she married a good man who would always be able to provide the essentials of life. But, of course, she had always been raised to expect more.
Nothing but the finest dreams and most gossamer promises were good enough for the young princess. She had been permitted to marry a man for love and was still allowed to keep the expectations of a bride who had made a strategic match based on riches and position.
Only now that the princess’s fantasy had dissolved into a sovereign’s reality did she see the weakness in the story of happily ever after. Now, she had her own daughters’ legacy to consider. And what about the ancestral ghosts that would lose their home if this palace was allowed to slide into the sea?
She took off her crown and looked at her reflection in the rosy gold. Her mind made up, for the first time in her life she looked into the eyes of a queen.