Margaret gazed tearfully at her reflection in the mirror.
She hadn’t moved for at least an hour.
The paralysis of fear had taken over as she tried desperately to accept the fact she was about to die.
“God save the Princess!”
“Long live the Princess!”
It was all very real now. They were getting noisier out there. And the louder they got outside, the sicker she felt on the inside. They’d locked her in chambers since the trial, but even in isolation she refused to break down. The idiotic guards might see her—and she must never appear weak, even if it was her last day alive.
But the noon hour approached quickly and the urge to cry was stronger than she was. Cook tried in vain to comfort her with a good breakfast, but who could eat with such a nervous stomach. The quail’s eggs and brown bread sat in a solid lump between her throat and belly now.
Boom. Boom. Boom-boom-boom.
Wouldn’t be long now.
She pulled her hands to her throat, rubbing it with trembling fingers. Her skin was pale and smooth, never having been exposed to much sunlight. She’d spent her entire life in a fancy chair wearing heavy dresses while being primed and educated to rule her country. Learning French, learning Spanish, etiquette and horsemanship . . . learning everything except how to have fun, it seemed. Now, she’d have no opportunity to use her French. C’est la vie.
“God save the Princess!”
“Long live the Princess!”
Babies cried and dogs barked amongst the townspeople below. She was grateful for their attendance, though whether it was for support or entertainment she couldn’t be sure. She turned to her friend sitting next to her now.
“Do you think it will hurt, Sara?”
“I couldn’t say, Margaret . . .”
No one besides Sara was allowed to call the Princess by her first name.
“I imagine it would only hurt for a moment,” she answered softly.
The Princess returned to the mirror, eyes resting on her necklace.
“And who shall have my pearls?” She rubbed a pearl between her small fingers. “I hope . . . I hope the axe doesn’t . . . .ruin them.”
“You don’t want anything happening to your pearls Margaret, that’s right,” she said slowly, “Your mother gave them to you—how terrible if they fell into the wrong hands.”
“Oh dear Sara! You’re right!” She fiddled at the back of her neck. She wasn’t supposed to take them off. Not until her coronation. “Please take them!”
“Are you sure?” She leaned forward, already reaching for the necklace.
“Yes, I’m sure. You’re my dearest friend and I’m ever so grateful. If only they’d let you testify on my behalf.” She slipped the jewels from her fingers, placing them on the table before her.
“You know the Court would never listen to me.”
“Yes, I know,” she sniffed, feeling odd without her pearls. “Imagine declaring me mad without consulting those closest to me! If mother was alive, she’d never let this happen!” She burst into tears, burying her face in Sara’s lap, a sobbing ball of blue satin and blonde curls.
The chamber doors slammed open and Friar walked in clutching his Bible. He’d been watching through a crack in the door for the past hour, hoping and praying for a way to save the Princess. It wasn’t right to execute someone so young, even if she was insane. But going against the Court without a shred of evidence would certainly put his own life in danger. The Court was in a sensitive position to safeguard the throne; the Kingdom could not afford another failed monarchy and foreign royals would never take them seriously with a mad Queen. This was justification enough to order her death.
The Princess jolted to her feet, backing away while Sara stared at the floor. He prayed his voice wouldn’t shake.
“I’m sorry My Lady . . . it’s time.”
“Sara, please help me,” she sobbed.
“Please Highness, we needn’t make it worse.” He squeezed the Bible. “They’ve paid for a special executioner…the blade is new.” He searched her face. “It will all be over quickly . . . please.” He put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her gently.
The guardsmen marched into the chambers, taking her by the upper arms. She allowed herself to be guided a few steps then stopped and turned, making eye contact with her friend.
“Please don’t let them ruin my things.”
Sara nodded solemnly.
“Let’s go,” said a guard as they led her away.
The Friar walked quickly to keep pace, reading the Holy verses as fast as he could and Sara rushed to the window, peering to the courtyard below. Naturally, the kingdom was horrified to learn of Margaret’s fate and a small sea of people crowded the wooden stage below, many shouting curses at the tall, muscled executioner who, as was the custom, wore a black mask to conceal his identity.
“Coward!” they screamed.
But he ignored them, his mouth expressionless while sharpening the shiny blade towering a foot over his own head. The castle doors opened and townspeople booed as the guards ushered the Princess through the bellowing crowd.
“Make way!” the Judge called out, his red robes clean and silky. It was he who presided over Court and delivered the verdict. But the crowd knew better than to shout anything directly at him. He waved a finger at a man to adjust the basket. God forbid another head roll off the stage.
The guards tightened their grip on the Princess’ biceps, her feet barely touching the ground as they carried her through the mob. Men, women, and children screamed for their Princess, reaching out, trying to touch her.
“I’ll take her in!” they shouted.
“May God forgive you!”
“She’s just a child!” a woman called. “Have mercy!”
The guards shoved the ragged woman from their path, making their way up the steps. The Judge met them at the top, raising his hand to silence the crowd. They hushed themselves quickly.
“Princess Margaret, do you understand the charges brought against you?”
She raised her chin.
“I find it most interesting you’ve waited until now to ask me my thoughts . . . Sir.”
The Judge held her stare before looking on the crowd.
“Does anyone have evidence contrary to the findings of this Court?” he called. “Any knowledge that will save the Princess now?”
“She’s loony as a jaybird, Judge,” said one of the guards. “She been talking to herself the last hour,” he scoffed through brown teeth.
“Is this true, Friar?”
“Your Court made this ruling,” he answered tightly. “It has nothing to do with what I say.”
“Answer the question, Friar. Is it true what the guard says?”
The Princess turned to him, her blue eyes darkened from an hour of crying.
Please child, he met her gaze, please understand I cannot lie.
“Yes.” He looked at the floor. “It’s true.”
The Judge stood still a moment then nodded at the executioner.
The crowd erupted again, their screams amplified by the stony walls enclosing the courtyard. In a panic, the Princess wrenched her arms free, looking to the tower. She wished Sara was here holding her hand, making it better, but the guard grabbed her neck, wrangling her towards the block.
“Don’t be so rough with her! The Friar lurched forward. “For God’s sake, have some respect!”
The Princess smiled feebly and knelt to the floor, allowing them to tie a sash around her eyes.
Boom. Boom. Boom-boom-boom.
She laid her neck down, her blond curls spilling over the wooden block and the Friar leaned close. “God is always with you,” he whispered, tucking a curl behind her ear. “Even now.” The guard yanked him back.
“In nomine Patris et fillii et Spiritus Sancti-”
The executioner stepped forward, raising his giant axe.
Sara gazed sorrowfully at the scene below.
She never meant to get the Princess in trouble. So many times Margaret begged her not to go and how could she when they always had such a good time together! Margaret would’ve missed her terribly if she’d gone and never come back! And there! She just looked up in her final moments! Didn’t that prove they were the best of friends?? The executioner swung his giant axe. Sara closed her eyes as Margaret’s head thudded to the stage. Idiots misplaced the basket again, she sighed, running the pearls through her claws. They were still warm, having been around Margaret’s neck since she was a baby, thirteen years before.