I was born the last child and sixth daughter of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley and his lady wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy. I was christened Felicity for the Saint of Rome and Elizabeth for my doting mother. I couldn’t have understood the plans my mother and father had for me at birth, and was content to babble for months on end. When the babbling ceased, the sentences came, as did the constant stumbling in an effort to walk properly. Once Mama no longer had me in her endless keeping, I would follow my brothers and sisters around the manor, and, some more than others, delighted in me.
Fitzwilliam, Charles, Jane, Mary, George, Adelaide, Charlotte, Henry, and Augusta would either play with me at the best of times or wave me off at the worst of times, and I would soon learn—or attempt to—to look out for their attitudes whenever I found myself in their midst. Fitzwilliam was already married when I was born, and Charles had found himself engaged the summer before. Fitzwilliam had married our cousin Alexandra Bingley, and they themselves had three daughters—Honor, Grace, and Mercy. Charles was to be married to Caroline Wickham, another one of our cousins, and though Mama and Papa weren’t fond of the match, they knew that Charles loved Caroline more than life itself, and needed to marry her.
My childhood was spent in the idyllic country manor of my father, Pemberley, which I was told from babyhood would go to my eldest brother Fitzwilliam and his family upon our father’s death. Such a thing seemed so far in the distant future that I did not put much thought into it. It was when, after my sixteenth birthday, however, Mama and Papa were discussing a young princess, just my age, that my interests and hearing suddenly improved. Who else would go to serve her but me, for I’d no marriage prospects then and the princess and I were of the same age. Of course, I knew our breeding was as different as could be—while she could inherit the English throne, and I was merely the youngest child of a wealthy man, I felt a hope for my future that I’d never even dared myself to consider.
Mama and Papa proposed the idea to me that Christmas, and I was eager to accept, although I did so with civility and grace. The young princess was called Alexandrina, they told me, and such a name sounded so lyrical and lovely that I was positive it had to belong to a princess. They informed me that Princess Alexandrina was housed at Kensington Palace with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, under strict rule of a man named Sir John Conroy. Something within me shifted upon hearing that name, and I immediately made up my mind to dislike this roguish-sounding man.
Mama and Papa corresponded with the king himself, who normally didn’t want his niece interacting with someone who was not of royal blood, but quickly made an exception for me. However, a dark shadow passed over my parents’ faces in shock upon his next letter, whereupon I was called in to see them immediately. They did not speak for a period, almost as if the pair of them were attempting to gather their thoughts and weren’t managing to do so.
“Is something the matter?” I said at last, not wishing to speak out of turn, but hoping beyond hope that I was still permitted to serve the princess. I was nearing my seventeenth birthday and I knew that the age of majority would soon follow, and I should be privy to knowledge about me, I decided. “Have I done something to offend either of you?”
My father sighs, getting to his feet and pulling me into his arms for a brief period before finally letting me go. “We told you of King William’s dislike for non-royals being in contact with his niece?”
“Yes, and I firmly agree with you that it is utter rubbish,” I reply.
Mama covers her mouth, stifling a laugh. “He is our king, Felicity, and, despite the fact that we may not agree with his reasoning, we must respect him.”
“Anyhow, the king has decided that it would be appropriate for you to have a title, so as you serving his niece would be seen as suitable in his eyes,” Papa continues at his leisure.
“A title?” I breathe, shocked beyond words. “I don’t understand...”
Papa smiles. “King William is prepared to make your mother and I a generous allowance as befits the Viscount and Viscountess Pemberley,” he tells me in his patient, even manner. “That would make Fitzwilliam Lord Pemberley, and the rest of you lords and ladies.”
“You would be known as Lady Felicity Darcy,” Mama tells me quickly. “That way, you would get a far more advantageous match, although your father and I still encourage that you marry for love.”
“It is just as well, for your family would be a step higher than that governess of hers,” Papa says, his voice nearly a hiss. “A German she is, but a good, fine lady she is not. Constantly with the princess, whispering a bit of poison in her ear when she should be listening to the duchess and to Sir John.”
“You know Sir John Conroy, Papa?” I ask.
“Intimately,” Papa replies, “to be sure. We served in the army together. He can be a bit rough around the edges, but is fiercely loyal to those who know him.”
“And that is how my place in the princess’ household materialized,” I guess aloud, rolling on the backs of my slippered feet upon the fine carpet of the drawing room at Pemberley. “So... When is the journey to begin?”
. . .
My journey was delayed for another few months, so much so that I passed my seventeenth birthday in the process. I was told to perfect various ladies’ arts, including painting and needlework; another thing that I was made proficient in was singing and dancing, of which the young princess excelled in. One thing that did not require as much tutelage was languages, as I found they came quite naturally to me from a young age. By the time I was due to leave for Kensington Palace at the age of seventeen years and three months, I’d mastered, in addition to my native tongue, French, Italian, German, and Latin. I’d soon been told that the young princess spoke these languages as well, and although I supposed that she would be shocked, I did hope she would find me somewhat impressive.
It was on the occasion of a week before I was due to leave for Kensington Palace that I received a letter from young Princess Alexandrina. My mother, mercifully, left me alone to read it, although I was positive that she was to tell my father of my important correspondence. I took the sharp letter opener, heavy in my hand, and delicately sliced open the envelope, praying that my hands weren’t shaking. At last, I lifted the parchment upwards and caught a glimpse of the looped and perfectly accurate handwriting.
My dear Lady Felicity,
It is an honor to finally put pen to paper before our initial meeting, of which I am quite looking forward to. I know of your father’s friendship to Sir John Conroy, and while I find my opinions differ greatly from his, I fully understand that you were not raised under his influence. It is quite a pity that his daughter, Miss V. Conroy, was employed as a spy to watch over me, but I should hope that this is not the case for you.
Baroness Lehzen and I are quite looking forward to meeting you. You shall have fine apartments in Kensington Palace. You shall be quite lucky in that you are permitted to have your own rooms. I have heard of your mastery of French, German, Italian, and Latin, so it will be wonderful to speak in such a way about the house.
I look forward to your arrival.
Please, don’t write before you come—it is difficult enough to smuggle letters out, and I know that Sir John Conroy and my mother will likely read what you have written me.
See you quite soon.
Princess Alexandrina Victoria
. . .
Papa accompanied me to Kensington Palace the following week, and I knew that Mama was quite sorry to see me go. Fitzwilliam and Charles, along with their wives, were able to send their good wishes, while the rest of my siblings now had homes of their own, all over England, and could not. As we got into the carriage with the royal seal emblem on the side, I waved off Mama one last time, forcing the tears out and away from my eyes as I situated myself comfortably. As we set off from Pemberley, Papa smiled at me and handed over a hat box, which had been clandestinely given to him by Mama as they’d bidden farewell.
“Because the Duchess of Kent is so fond of hats?” I joked, and it was then that I heard a rustle and a slight whimper from within. “Wait a moment... Hats don’t cry out!” I said, and unclipped the buckle on the side of the thing and opened it, a small, furred spaniel popping up immediately, and rewarding me with a wagging tail and an eager expression. “Papa!” I cried out.
“The young princess is quite fond of her spaniel, Dash,” Papa replied with a quick smile. “I thought it right, as her newest companion, to have your very own little friend to keep by your side.” He watched with delight as I lifted the little thing out of the box. “I’ve been told it’s a girl.”
“Then I shall call her Flight,” I say with pure, unadulterated delight. “Since the young princess calls her dog ‘Dashy’, I shall call mine ‘Flighty’. What a pair they shall make, running about the halls...”
“I suspect the young princess will approve,” Papa says with an indulgent smile as he takes the hat box away, permitting Flighty to settle onto my lap. “That little one will need fattening up, but I’m sure Kensington Palace shall know what is appropriate to give her.”
The carriage ride lasts for four hours and soon, just as twilight has begun to settle in, we arrive on the grounds of Kensington. Papa will only stay briefly, to greet Sir John Conroy and to be sure that I am settled, and then he shall return to Pemberley as quickly as possible. The carriage stops before the front doors and a manservant steps forward to let us out; I keep a grip upon Flighty as Papa gets to his feet without much assistance and steps out, reaching up for my hand. I take it and am lifted down, looking up and all around me, the impressive doors of the palace slightly open, and a formidable man standing just beside them, which I instinctively know is Sir John Conroy. I immediately pull Flighty closer, fear ebbing through me, at the first sight of this frightening man.
“John!” Papa calls, and Sir John Conroy immediately smiles at my father and springs into action, approaching Papa at once and shaking his hand with eager anticipation. “Old friend,” Papa says warmly.
“Always a pleasure, Fitzwilliam,” Sir John replies with equal warmth before turning to look at me with cool eyes. “Ah, yes. This must be your lovely daughter Lady Felicity,” he says, reaching for my hand and bowing ever so slightly over it and catching a glimpse of one of the fine rings I wore. “A pleasure.”
I feel ill as he snatches up my hand in his own and kisses it, and find I am thankful for the gloves and kneel in a respectful curtsy. “Sir John, an honor.”
“Viscount, eh?” Sir John asks, dropping my hand and turning to Papa as a shadow fills the doorway, and a slight woman with dark hair is staring at me. Sir John must hear something for he turns around then and spots the woman. “Ah, baroness. Here to fetch Lady Felicity?”
“Those were my orders, Sir John,” she says, fighting to keep the contempt from her voice, her dark eyes sliding back to me.
“Fine, fine,” he says, growing impatient. “Have the servants been sent to collect her trunks and things?”
Baroness Lehzen smiles tightly; she hates this man. She moves to the side as several servants come outside and towards the carriage, ready to collect my things in a rushed manner. “Lady Felicity, I will take you to the princess.”
I give her a curtsy. “I thank you, baroness,” I reply with a small smile, before turning to look at Papa. “I shall see you soon?” I ask as his eyes turn to me, and I sense that Conroy’s mannerisms have already drifted to him.
“Yes,” he replies coolly, leaning down and brushing his lips on my forehead without much feeling. “Go along, then.”
“Very well, Papa,” I reply, hiding my tears and walking towards the doors, where the baroness is awaiting me.
“Don’t cry,” the baroness orders me firmly, steeling a final glance at my father and Conroy. “It gives them power over you, and we cannot have that.”
I quickly dash the tears from my eyes. “Course not,” I reply, following her. “We can’t have that.”
The entryway to Kensington is long and understated, and we make our way up the stairs and towards what I assume is a sitting room, which had its doors open to the world. There is a slight yelp of a bark coming from within, followed by quick yet gentle admonishing, while Flighty begins to struggle in my arms, eager to see what all the fuss was about. The baroness leads the way into the room, where the young princess is playing with Dash and who can only be the Duchess of Kent is looking over a magazine. There are three women in the room, and none even looks upon me as the baroness advances into the room, nor do I expect them to, nor do I particularly want them to.
“What do you think of this one, Lady Flora?” the duchess asks the woman sitting beside her. “Are the feathers too much?”
Lady Flora peeks into the magazine that the duchess is holding and considers it for a moment. “I should think the black ones are better, versus the cream,” she replies rather diplomatically. “The cream would dull your skin, whereas the black would accentuate it.”
“Your Royal Highness, my lady duchess, Lady Flora,” Baroness Lehzen says, and sweeps an immaculate curtsy as the young princess turns to look at us for the first time in awe. “Forgive me, but Lady Felicity Darcy, daughter of the Viscount and Viscountess Darcy, has arrived.”
“A new title,” Lady Flora sneers disparagingly.
“Yes, Drina—how do we know she can be trusted?”
“She is English, Mama, and of good breeding, or so I’ve been told,” the princess replies tempestuously, smiling at Lehzen before turning to look at me. “Oh! You have a little dog!” she cries, immediately coming to my side and greeting her with delight. “Hello, there! What’s she called?” she asks, looking up at me, her silver eyes far paler than her skin.
“This is Flight,” I reply. “Flighty when she is well behaved, I suppose, Your Royal Highness,” I tell her.
“Was he a farewell gift from your father?” she asks, raising her eyes to mine and scooping up Dash, so as Dash and Flight are nose-to-nose and enraptured in one another. “I suppose it cannot be easy, leaving home for the first time.”
“She is your age, Drina—one must sometimes leave one’s home to reach greatness and that greatness is you,” the duchess says plaintively.
“I am hardly great yet, Mama—merely a penniless heir to the English throne with no real power, surrounded by people I don’t like...” The young princess quickly banishes the petulance from her face as our eyes meet again. “Are you quite fond of dolls, Lady Felicity?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply. “Quite. I brought some of mine with me...”
“I’ve over a hundred and fifty of them myself,” the princess confesses with a short little laugh reminiscent of a sunbeam. “How many were you able to bring, Lady Felicity?”
“Oh, five, if that,” I reply, waving it away. “Mama would not allow my suitcases and trunks to be heavied down with something she deemed to be so unimportant, I’m afraid, ma’am.” I stroke Flight’s ears, watching as the princess does the same to Dash. “I find that most of my belongings are full of my notebooks and diaries that Mama was so tempted to read them. I may be the youngest child in my family, ma’am, but even I do wish for some privacy from my younger siblings...”
“Diaries?” Princess Alexandrina asks, interested. “However did you manage to keep them hidden? Is Pemberley a large place?”
I shrug, hating the notion that I was unaware of something. “Perhaps the same as Kensington—I would not know, I’m afraid, ma’am. But to answer your question, I found that simply hiding the diaries was not enough.”
“What did you do next?” she asks, soothing Dash.
“Wrote in another language, that only I could be bothered to speak, ma’am. My mother and father employed the best tutors they could afford, but I’m afraid that only I was able to take up languages seriously...”
“Languages?” the princess asked, a little too eagerly. “What can you speak then, Lady Felicity?”
“English, French, Italian, Latin, and German, ma’am,” I reply without hesitation or very much confidence. “I find languages relaxing. I was due to start Greek last year but the tutor employed by my father fell ill and left us, so my mother and father decided that five languages was quite enough...”
“Quite so,” the Duchess of Kent replied stoutly, causing me to lower my eyes in shame at the condemnation of her tone. “Can’t have very many noble maidens fluttering around spouting nonsense. Although it is good she can speak German, Drina—it will be beneficial to you when you are queen.”
“Of course, Mama,” the princess replied. She waited for the duchess and Lady Flora to resume talking again before she suddenly leaned forward and gripped at my wrist in an unexpected gesture. “Lehzen heard Sir John whispering yesterday that he intends to make you yet another one of his spies for me,” she tells me in hushed tones, in Italian. “I want you to swear your loyalty to me, Felicity, and then I want you to tell Conroy, when he asks it of you, that you will accept, but in reality, you shall be working for Lehzen and for me. Is that understood?” she asks, desperation hiding at the back of her tone.
Quickly, seeing no other way out of it, I nod. “Yes, ma’am,” I reply.
Princess Alexandrina smiled at me, relaxing her grip upon my hand then. “Thank you, Lady Felicity,” she says, and raises her voice again, resuming our discussion in English. “Mama, Lehzen and I are going to show Lady Felicity to her new rooms,” she then announced.
“Splendid,” the duchess replied, handing over her magazine to Lady Flora and getting to her feet. “We shall go together,” she decrees, roping her arm around her daughters’ amid the princess’ nonverbal protests. “Come along, Drina—it’s not polite to keep your latest companion waiting.” The duchess raises her eyes to mine and I see that there is nothing behind them. “Baroness, why don’t you lead Lady Felicity to her rooms?”
“Of course, my lady duchess,” Lehzen replies, turning about and walking out of the sitting room.
I immediately move to follow, keeping a good grip upon Flight as I go; I sense the duchess and the princess just behind me, and something tells me that Lady Flora is coming along as well. The rushes on the floor are patterned with flowers, yet are frightfully dirty from, I suspect, muddied footprints making contact with them. The wallpaper too is in dismal disarray, fraying in some places and peeling in others. It is an unfortunate place to live, I realize then, and find that the princess would likely be happier at Pemberley.
Lehzen opens the cream-colored doors at the end of the corridor, which boasts a generous amount of gilt-work, although the gilt is in sorry shape. It is stained from the sun and from age, and the door handles squeak most uncomfortably when Lehzen opens the doors for me. The sound bounces off my eardrum in a most unpleasant way, and both Dash and Flight squeal in discomfort. I know then that I was deliberately given these rooms not only for my close proximity to everything but also because of the doors. Conroy wanted to know when I was entering and leaving my rooms at all times, and the very notion made me ill.
The rushes in my new rooms were an improvement from the ones in the hallway, thank goodness, and the curtains were thick about the windows to keep the cool winter nights at bay. They have been washed recently, I see that now, as I step closer, and also see that the furniture has been dusted accordingly. There is a circular table in the center of the room, with three chairs, plus a generous fireplace, and abundant bookshelves built right into the walls. Many paintings cover the walls as well, and I detect Holbein, Titan, and da Vinci among them, and I find myself at ease being surrounded by such great artists.
Lehzen shows me to a second door, which she opens with more ease—as Conroy apparently did not mind which room of my own I was in—and shows me its inner contents. The bed is massive, big enough for two, with attractive deep red curtains surrounding it. The coverlet itself is deep red as well, and I suspect filled with goose down; there is another fireplace—marble, as white as snow—across from the bed, and another painting above it, although I don’t know of who. There is a vanity table along the wall to the back of the room, with a door beside it which Lehzen informs me there is a jug and basin, along with a bathtub in case I wanted a more thorough wash. There was a toilet in there as well, Lehzen explained, and the young princess attempted to hide her smile at this declaration.
There was a wardrobe next to the fireplace, which Lehzen informed me now held my trunk, and that a maid or two would be along shortly to set my clothing to rights. A shelf in the room now held my dolls—all five, as I’d told the princess—and she now found herself drawn to them. She questioned their clothes, which were very fine, and I stated that our seamstress had made them. The princess was disappointed at that, for I would soon come to realize that she herself stitched all her dolls’ clothes.
Lehzen, the duchess, Lady Flora and the princess then proceeded to leave my rooms, informing me that the maids would be along to assist me in putting on something more appropriate for dinner. After they’d gone, I shut my bedroom door and set Flight down, and she immediately hopped up onto the window embrasure and fell asleep. Next, I opened the wardrobe and saw that the new gowns that Mama had ordered for me were all hanging appropriately, and it was then that I dug into the secret compartment of my suitcase, finding my diaries and secreting them away beneath my mattress.
The maid soon arrived to dress me for dinner, while another came along to take Flight outdoors for her evening restitution. The maid stripped me of my traveling clothes and scrubbed me down with fresh, warm water from the basin, before taking my hair out from its pins and brushing it, before fashioning it to a style that she said the princess would approve of. I tried not to roll my eyes, for I knew that it was Sir John who was dictating how I wore my hair.
I was laced into a green off-the-shoulder gown which would swish along the floors when I walked, due to my shortness in height. I found myself merely one inch taller than the princess herself, and wondered if she would make me not wear heels in her presence, or perhaps to slouch. Once my own was laced properly, an emerald drop was tied into my hair, and two emerald rings—one for each hand—were put onto my fingers. Next, an emerald pendant for about my neck, and then I managed to step into my stockings and slippers before there was a resounding knock at my bedroom door.
“Enter!” I called out.
Sir John opened the door himself, and it barely squeaked under his immense strength, although the floorboards did seem to moan as he stepped onto them. He gave me a tight, unfriendly smile as he crossed the room, taking my hand and kissing it again as I curtsied to him. “I came to escort you to dinner, Lady Felicity, if that is agreeable to you,” he states, not letting go of my hand.
“Perfectly, Sir John,” I reply.
“I also came to ask you how you found Princess Alexandrina,” he says, without a moment’s hesitation.
“She is kind, Sir John,” I reply.
His expression is reminiscent of someone chewing lemons. “She is only kind when you are doing or saying what she wants you to do and say,” Sir John informs me calculatingly, yanking me towards him. “Make no mistake, Lady Felicity—the princess is a foolish and stupid little girl.”
“Sir?” I ask, shocked at this unexpected turn of events.
“The princess needs her mother for help and guidance,” Sir John explained to me slowly, almost as if I was an imbecile. “She needs the Duchess of Kent acting as regent and me to act as her private secretary. King William is an old man and could die at any time, Lady Felicity, and it is up to us to ensure that young Princess Alexandrina is protected from herself. She cannot understand her queenly duties and she needs someone she thinks is her friend to inform her of that.”
I stand there, mouth agape. Not only had he insulted Princess Alexandrina, but he had also condemned King William to death. However, I remembered the princess’s words and commands and snapped my mouth shut. When I straightened my back and stared back at Conroy, I saw then that he was slightly intimidated by what I was doing. I crushed his hand in my grip ever so slightly, and when he snatched it back, he did not cry out; rather, he looked pleased at my defiance. “What are my orders, Sir John?”
“You are prepared to do something?” he asks.
I give him a loathsome smile. “You managed to get me a place with the princess, and now it is time for me to assist you. You cannot get something from nothing, Sir John, and I am prepared to give you something.”
“Merely inform me of your conversations with the princess,” Sir John replies. “I also want you to plant the idea in her head that she is unready to be queen all on her own, and needs strict guidance.”
I don’t allow my smile to fade. “It shouldn’t be too difficult,” I reply. “After all, you are the one who said she was foolish and stupid.”
Sir John nods at me. “It seems as if we understand each other.”
“It seems as if we do.”
“I shall ensure that you are well-rewarded when the time comes, Lady Felicity—well-rewarded.”
“Thank you, Sir John.”
He offers his arm to me then, and I force myself to take it and cleave on to him, so as he will think I am loyal to him and to his cause. “Shall I escort you to dinner now, Lady Felicity?”
“You shall,” I reply.
As we walk from my rooms and down the corridor, I find myself staring at the rushes again, wondering if something can be done about that. When we meet the duchess and Princess Alexandrina by the staircase, we exchange minor pleasantries between one another very briefly. In the moments that followed, I am shocked when Sir John drops my arm in favor of walking with the duchess, and Princess Alexandrina immediately takes my arm.
We walk into dinner ahead of them, and the young princess grips onto me in a wave of something I cannot immediately place. It is a great shock to me, to have a princess holding onto me so tightly, and it is then that I realize what is truly going on in her mind. She is afraid, I see that now, at what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to beat Conroy at his own game, and it was a dangerous thing to do and would take an expert amount of cunning.
“Did he speak to you?” she asks me in Italian.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Did he ask you?”
“Shall it be done?” she asks.
I give her a patient smile. “The seeds have been sewn,” I reply.