“WAKE up. Wake up, your majesty!”

It was the familiar voice she heard every morning, when the day was just announcing the crack of dawn. The tone was soft and tender, but hearing it for the past 18 years of her life, Sofia had grown irritated to the noise that disturbed her from slumber. The silk cloth of her bed hung loosely over her lily-white legs and she felt like demanding for a couple more hours of sleep—a couple more minutes would do. But she was never the one to have that kind of privilege, not for someone who had a role to play.

She sat up right and Theresa came in with the tray of the same jam and bread she ate every morning, the same orange juice and the same tea.

“Buenos días, your majesty. A lovely morning, isn’t it?” Theresa said, as she always did every morning. Sofia never liked being addressed with any royal title and had many times told Theresa not to call her such. But Theresa never followed her; of course, what could she do when Sofia’s father, King Paul of Greece, had instructed them to regard all royal-blooded with high esteem? But Sofia couldn’t help but shrug in disgust to this. She felt that there was more justice in being an executioner at a beheading than in the rude awakening she had to deal with every morning.

Escaping the sticky holds of marmalade and jam placed in front of her, she pulled herself up from one of the pillars of her four-poster bed and began to drag herself across the parqueted floor of her room without even touching her food. She ran her fingers down her tousled hazel-brown hair, and little by little, picked the crusts that formed around her eyes.

“Your majesty, the piano teacher would be coming in in a while. You have to take a bath now.” Sofia always loved taking a bath and how this gave her peace and solitude she had longed for, but not with Theresa always standing behind the frost-covered glass divider, towel and bathrobe draped over her one arm. Sofia felt like continuing her slumber as she rested her head against the rim of the white marble tub where freedom was warmly welcomed. Theresa called out her name and she jolted from her half-sleep. Her piano teacher had already arrived.

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This was the worst part of her daily routine: getting into the layers of all the stomacher, the farthingale, the heels, and the ridiculous hair. She couldn’t help but curse under her breath as she squeezed herself in those form-hugging garments.

Sofia came about half an hour late into the music room where the piano teacher busied himself from cracking all the bones in his hands. He had a very strong cheek bone, creases lined his taut face, and his eyes so deeply sunken that Sofia at first mistook him for the undead. That was why she never kept her gaze straight and kept a foot distance or two from him. She stole a glance and saw Theresa keeping a noncommittal smirk at her.

They began with Fleur-de-lis, which was being taught to her for the hundredth time, although she wasn’t sure of the count. She had mastered the piece that she could even play it with her eyes closed.

The session ended at around nine and she felt the muscles in her back stiffening. Another piano lesson would crackle the bones in her fingers.

The weather was a bit warm, unlike most days when the breeze cooled the entire castle. She felt a film of sweat under her armpits and an uneasy feeling at the back of her neck, like an insect was creeping from behind.

“Princess, you will start your equestrian training after half an hour,” Theresa interrupted her.

“You ride the horse for me,” she said defiantly.

“The queen is expecting you, your majesty.”

“Will the whole family be there?”

“Only the queen, your majesty.”

“Tell her I am not feeling well.”

“But—”

“Besides, she would be too busy consorting with the other families. She would not even notice I am not there.”

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“I’m sure she will, princess. There’s nobody in the world she wants too see more than you. And one day you will realize what the queen is doing once you inherit the responsibilities.”

The word “responsibilities” sickened her more than anything else. It had an odd ring to it, and the thought was enough to overcome her.

“Theresa, take me to the poor people.”

“What for, your majesty?” she said, not really knowing what the princess had in mind. Although a part of her knew why; she just could not place her finger at to what exactly.

“I want to be part of the poor—free from all these constraints. I’m sick and tired of it. I’m not cut out to be like this.”

“I think I am not supposed to grant that request, princess.”

“Theresa, I’m the princess of this kingdom, you, like all royal subjects, should obey me.” It was the first time she had ever risen her voice in front of Theresa and felt the joy out of it. It was the freedom she had longed for and she decided that it was by being poor she could acquire this.

With much reluctance and feeling the fervor in Sofia’s voice, Theresa sighed her heavy sigh and looked wearily at the princess, who stabbed her look straight into her eyes.

“As you wish, your majesty.” It was not submission to authority as it was giving her a favor. “But princess, you could not go there looking like that.”

Theresa helped her undress all those gaudy and excessive garments and lent her one of her normal clothes, one which the commoners wore. Sofia undid her hair and collected it in a messy bun, strands of her dangling from her face. She walked toward the fire place, picked one of the charred woods and smeared the charcoal across her face. For a moment, Theresa hardly recognized Sofia, but she also saw in the princess’ eyes that it meant no joke for her.

Sofia clad herself with one of the tattered robes one of the house maidens left in the kitchen and pulled her wool down her head. She moved furtively across the grounds of the castle, the guards in their ramrod-straightened backs observing like crows awaiting its food, until finally they reached the exit of the century-old stonewalls. For the first time she felt a kind of relief, but of what exactly, she wasn’t sure.

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The commoners’ landing was 25 miles south off the castle. They had to trek the unforgiving road that it left Sofia’s legs with minor scratches. It was already nearing dusk when they arrived at Theresa’s house. They were met by Theresa’s grandmother who was imprisoned in a worn-down wheelchair with one missing wheel. Her grandmother too had for so many years served the royal family, but still wasn’t able to scale the walls of poverty.

The house was hidden somewhere in a narrow and dark alley that reeked of dead rats. Nondescript flowers laid withered on the ground that mixed with the miasmic smell of the gutter. People, hundreds of them, clothed only by what looked like potato sacks, jostled for space through the narrow alley. As Sofia tried to peek through the cracks of the house, she was overwhelmed by the ghastly sight of the surrounding.

It could have been a corpse she was smelling, or herbs that had rotten over time. She felt her head dazed and nauseous that she felt like vomiting. She wanted to go home, under the sheets of her silk bed cover that smelled of jasmine. She lost her balance and tipped over from the threshold of the door and onto the jostling passersby who carried her some meters away. She tried to rise to her feet but she felt fatigue rocking her to sleep.

And for a moment, she remembered the taste of jam and bread and how it melted in her mouth, the sweet orange juice that quenched her thirst and the fresh chamomile tea.

Like a gong disturbing the perfect stillness of silence, she heard someone say:

“Wake up. Wake up, your majesty!”

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