Christopher sits facing a woman with golden hair speckled with silver piled upon her head, falling out in loose strands around her ears. A long dark blue cloak with a silver rose clasp falling over her shoulders, revealing hints of a lighter blue gown underneath.
Christopher: Good to see you again, Your Majesty.
Oriana: Good to see me in a far more agreeable mood, I’m sure. There’s no need to call me Your Majesty, Christopher. I haven’t been a queen in a long time.
Christopher: I’ve often felt you had a story of your own, just waiting to be told.
Oriana: That story may have to wait a while. Look how long it’s taken for your own to unfold.
Christopher: Yes, if I were a real person, I’d be an old man by now, wouldn’t I? I’ve been waiting every since I was born from our scribbler’s imagination for her to find the right words for me.
Oriana: Too often there are no right words. I should be an old woman. I’m not sure how much I’ve been weathered by age or regret.
Christopher: What do you mean?
Oriana: Sometimes Rose sees both Blanche and myself as young. At other times our faces are lined by sorrows as much as the passage of time. I’m uncertain how much of this is due to our unique natures; Blanche’s and my own or part of Rose’s unique way of perceiving us.
Oriana: Don’t be coy. You know whom she is. Rose calls her Briar. Blanche is the Fairest of Them All. My Fairest and Quartz’s.
Christopher: Forgive me, I was thrown by you calling her Blanche. You’re the only one who uses that name.
Oriana: Hardly the only one. It’s the name she was given at birth, the name she grew up with; Princess Blanche of the lands of Dawn and Twilight. She was Princess Blanche when the painting was commissioned of her, the one Rose found in the tower.
Christopher: Who commissioned it?
Oriana: We did right after we became queen.
Christopher: You’re using the royal we.
Oriana: I thought I was at the time. To a certain degree I was right. In many ways I was quite unworthy.
Christopher: I find it fascinating that you commissioned that painting. I thought you dressed Blanche in rags, put her to work as a servant, and hid her from the court.
Oriana: This was only after rumours were whispered through that very court that my interest in my stepdaughter might be unseemly, rumours that circulated after the painting was unveiled. To quell such suspicions, I started playing the role of the wicked stepmother, one I’d had an excellent role model for.
Christopher: Your own stepmother?
Oriana: I suspect she’s the one whom started the rumours about Blanche and myself when the painting was first displayed. It was soon sent to the tower afterward.
Christopher: I thought your stepmother locked you up, put you to work, and forbade you to see the princess to quell such rumours herself.
Oriana: You’re well-informed.
Christopher: Sometimes I see the ideas and plot points which bubble to the surface of the scribbler’s imagination. The Cauldron is filled with them, although many evaporate.
Oriana: I see. The reason my stepmother wished to quell such rumours…at first…is that she herself hoped to marry the widowed king. Having a stepdaughter conducting an affair with the king’s own daughter was too much of a scandal for her to tolerate with such ambitions. Once the king fell in love with me, marrying me, and making me queen, my stepmother was more than willing to rain scandal down upon my head.
Christopher: Why is it so scandalous for you to have an affair with the princess? Because you’re both girls?
Oriana: The very notion seems strange to you, doesn’t it? (She smiles bitterly.) It seemed strange to me, too. Strange and wearisome. I got so tired of the looks of shock, followed by revulsion. When I became queen, I did my best to change that.
Christopher: How did you?
Oriana: I changed the laws of the land, repealing one King Henry put into motion centuries ago about only men and women being able to marry each other. I trotted out every legend before Henry involving the Queens of Dawn and Twilight I could find. I commissioned paintings, frescoed walls and churches, built statues commemorating those two queens who married each other, ruling the land wisely and well. As they were the founders of our realm during a time of prosperity, it was hard for anyone to object to this.
Christopher: It’s strange that you should have such a legendary female couple, yet so much prejudice against two girls being together. Is this because of King Henry?
Oriana: I believe it is. He was the first reigning king and he blamed a pair of witches who were lovers for the death of his niece, the princess and the heir to the throne. I suspect Henry himself was behind the princess’s death and he needed a scapegoat.
Christopher: Talk about selfish behavior.
Oriana: Indeed. Centuries of girls paid for a couple’s crime who may not have done anything wrong other than be convenient to blame for the princess’s death.
Christopher: What happened once upon a time has a way of getting twisted and reshaped, depending upon the storyteller.
Oriana: I couldn’t agree more.
Christopher: Speaking of stories, how is yours coming along? Has anything been added to your part in Fairest?
Oriana: Not so far. It’s been the same journey back through memories shadowed by shame.
Christopher: You do try to make up for your past. I know you do.
Oriana: Not yet. The scribbler has retraced our steps to the point where Rose is starting to learn or guess some of my secrets. I’m still trying to hide.
Christopher: That doesn’t go well.
Oriana: No, it doesn’t. Rose is a remarkable girl. This is something I’m only starting to discover. It’s a discovery that gradually gives me hope.
Christopher: Hope of what?
Oriana: Hope that Rose is strong enough to do things I was never brave enough to do.
Christopher: It’s a terrible, wonderful thing to rediscover your faith in another person, isn’t it? (He smiles a wistful smile.) Especially when you’ve been without faith for a long time.
Oriana: (She smiles the very same smile, reflecting it back at him.) Yes, it is.