Mother said they were going to a place of dragons and spies. A dull beating of drums came from there, yet it wasn’t a feast day. Until the carriage slowed, only the pounding hoofbeats of the escorting soldiers’ horses had sounded. The long trip through woods and sandy and marshy grounds from Lüneburg to Kalenberg’s fertile fields was almost over. Spires of the wall-enclosed town of Hanover stood in the distance. The carriage drew closer to high pointed red roofs silhouetted in the dusk light against the Harz Mountains, and the drums grew louder like an erratic heartbeat then stopped again.
“Why the drums?” Sophia Dorothea asked Mother.
“I don’t know. Sounds like they practice … warm up.”
Mother put her nail-file into her carry bag and looked out the window. Her frown deepened. The straight road headed toward many sentinels guarding gates. Mother crossed her arms, but still she sat as she had all day and said nothing. A wagon carrying barrels passed as the carriage Sophia Dorothea was in moved through the gates. Three dogs rushed from a clump of stand-alone dwellings off the roadside to bark at the carriage as it rolled through the street.
The scents of smoked meat and spices swirled from the market hall. Along the roadside, a boisterous crowd gathered as drummers lined the cobblestone street.
Men and women shouted: “Don’t stop… Sixty strokes is not enough … Give the harlot more … Adulteress.”
Sophia Dorothea shivered when she realised what they were saying. The carriage approached a dense crowd blocking the road and was forced to stop at the town hall. An old woman, wearing a white scarf, clutched clothes against her chest and stood next to wooden steps leading to a round stone platform many feet wide and high. She shouted at the hooded man standing on the platform near a furnace, “Have mercy. You don’t know the truth of it.”
The platform held a metal pole and from an iron ring near the top of it, hung three long birchen rods. A naked woman stood bound against the metal pole, her arms stretched and hands tied by rope to the ring. Her back was shredded flesh — streams of blood flowed down her sides to the iron-rings locked around her ankles.
Sophia Dorothea’s breath caught in her throat. Mon Dieu!
The hooded man pulled an iron-bar from the furnace, the rounded end glowing red, and moved behind the naked woman and pressed and held it against her shoulder. She screamed, and the old woman near the steps bowed her head and wiped away a tear.
“Dear Lord, dear Lord." Sophia Dorothea flinched and looked away. The naked woman's scream died to a moan. "Mother, stop it, please.”
“I can’t.” Mother held her hand over her mouth as if she would vomit. “This is your uncle’s territory.”
Sophia Dorothea closed her eyes to block out the sight. “My God, why did the hooded man do that?”
“Branded her with the city-arms.” Mother leaned out the window and said to an escorting soldier sitting on a horse, “Move the people out of the way. I will watch no more. This is a matter for the conscience, not the law of men.”
“They’re moving,” the soldier said.
The hooded man untied the woman’s arms, unshackled her feet, and pushed her toward the steps. The old woman held a hand out to help the naked woman, but a soldier dragged the old woman back a few feet. People clapped as the drums pounded again. The naked woman hobbled barefoot though the crowd as drummers thumped a rustic beat, and the old woman still carting the clothes followed.
“Why are we here?” Sophia Dorothea asked. “It’s horrible. Father would never allow this. Why do we visit after all this time? You told me you would never come here again. Why come now?”
“Father doesn’t want you to know.” Mother hesitated as if she would choke on the words, “Prince George has asked for your hand in marriage.”
Sophia Dorothea felt as if she had dropped from the clouds and crashed into this moment. Her thoughts travelled in maddening directions, and none of them made sense. “You give me one of Duchess Bernadette’s names, now she wants to give me her son?”
“It’s not set in stone, Sophy, and not the first time they have had this ridiculous idea.” Mother patted Sophia Dorothea’s shoulder. “Father will allow you to choose.”
“George hated me.” The carriage started to move, and the clapping crowd drove the punished woman farther down the street as the old woman struggling to keep up with them. “Her husband probably hated her.”
“Calm down. Our visit is a political show. Nothing will come of any marriage.”
Sophia Dorothea fingered her gold bracelet. “What will happen to that woman?”
“They’ll follow her to just outside the gates, then the gates will be closed on her forever.”
“But the old woman said the truth wasn’t known.”
“Remember, jealousy is a husband’s fury, he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” Mother gently squeeze Sophia Dorothea’s hand. “Father must seem to be considering his brother’s offer for you — that is all our visit is about.”
“Why, when they would not call you Duchess until after Uncle John died?” Sophia Dorothea felt the warmth of rising tears. “George used to call me nothing. Why would they want me?”
“Because they want to ensure they control Father’s lands.”
“They’re not controlling me. I wish to be loved as Father loves you.”
Mother sighed. “While we’re here, the past won’t show on our faces.”
“Will George be here?”
“He is in England.”
“What would he care of England?”
“Your aunt dreams of the English throne. I imagine she thought her boorish son might gain an English princess. Today, you behave, show her the lady you are. They’re chasing you. Let them regret not catching you.”
“If she dislikes me, she won’t want me anymore.”
“We will play the game. Our heads will stay high.” Mother flicked her hair off her shoulders. “Let the grand duchess cringe at having to accept me for the first time as her equal. It will kill her, then pfft, this matter of Prince George will disappear. Your father won’t tolerate her being rude to us.” Mother smiled. “But she, the salope, won’t be able to help herself, then we will leave. Your father will want nothing more to do with them again.”
Sophia Dorothea looked back to see the branded and flogged woman, but people and carriages now blocked her view. “I will not think of Prince George anymore.”
Mother pulled a little perfume bottle from her bag. “Smile as you did before I told you.”
“I wonder who the old woman was.” Sophia Dorothea put on her gloves and dabbed rose scent on her bodice and skirts. “Maybe she was the mother.”
“Hopefully, someone who will be able to help her.”
Workmen scuttled over many new houses in the castle square. The royal residences of the Alte Palais and Leine Palace stood on the edge of the crowded streets unfortified and open to view. The river flowed swiftly past large balconies of wealthy homes and the rows of flat windows along the Leine Palace’s front. The carriage stopped under a portico held up by enormous columns near the palace’s broad steps. A page hurried down the steps, across the cobbles, scattering birds and glittering leaves strewn over the courtyard, and opened the carriage door.
A man followed the page, a brown wig framing his face. His eyes, piercing and observant, smiled in unison with his lips and when Mother and Sophia Dorothea climbed from the carriage, he bowed.
Mother held his hand. “Gottfried, you’re still as handsome as the day I met you.”
He put his hand over his heart. “And you, my dear Duchess Eléonore are even, more stunning.” He smiled at Sophia Dorothea. “And you, young lady, will break more hearts than your mother, if that’s possible.”
“Sophy, Monsieur Leibnitz is a philosopher, mathematician, and —”
Gottfried laughed. “I can be whatever you want me to be, Sophia Dorothea.”
“Where’s Father?” Sophia Dorothea asked. “Why is no one here?”
Mother frowned. “Sophy, do not be rude. It’s unbecoming.”
“I meant … maybe they were in the crowds.”
Gottfried laughed. “He and your Uncle Ernest are walking by the river.” He winked at Mother. “They have spent hours with their tête-à-têtes.” Gottfried glanced at the other carriage, carrying ladies-in-waiting, rolling into the courtyard. He waved Mother toward the entrance. “My Duchess has asked me to escort you to your rooms. You all might like to rest before supper.”
Sophia Dorothea walked toward the stairs with mother and looked away from the grey haired woman staring at her from a high window and said softly to Mother, “Why does she hate you?”
“Your father broke his marriage contract to her.”
“No, Sophy. He was in love with a Venetian woman. I met him after, but your aunt has always been jealous of me. I think sometimes she flatters herself that Father thinks he made a mistake in jilting her.”
—Alte Palais, Hanover
Bernadette turned away from the window. Sophia Dorothea, her dark hair tumbled beyond her shoulders, was even at this distance in the dim light, a spitting image of her mother, Eléonore, when younger. A tempest … all in bud and about to burst into bloom. No doubt spoilt and indulged.
She turned to her husband. “I don’t want to be a part of this.”
“Think, Bernadette, think carefully,” Ernest said. “It will unite my brother’s lands with ours.”
“Not if Eléonore has a son.”
“And how likely is that now?”
Bernadette wanted to run from the room but sat on a chair. “She is only forty-two. I won’t have that clot of dirt, her daughter as my kin.”
“You cared little if our son married the daughter of an English commoner when we sent him to woo an English Princess.”
“I haven’t spoken to Eléonore for five years, since she troubled herself to thank me for agreeing to her marriage with George William, despite herself and with a poor enough grace.”
Ernest held her hand. “Our George will never attract any great woman. He’s a soldier suited to camp, not lovemaking. We have five other sons, a daughter, for you to dream beyond Germany.”
There was limited opportunity for her boys. In Europe, hardly any marriageable royal women were unblemished by bastardy in their lines. And what of the French Court? Bastards. Most of the French royal family — all bastards.
“Bernadette, with the domains collected for Sophia Dorothea and Eléonore, we have a chance of gaining that place of power and position in the realm, that we’ve all yearned for, that Electorate. Imagine … Electress Bernadette of Hanover, a seat next to the Emperor, one of the handful of electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. And Sophia Dorothea’s dowry. I’ll push for a hundred thousand thalers annually.”
“Are you queer? George William is the eldest of this family and entitled to any Electorate before us.”
“If the territories belong to a certain branch of the family, it won’t matter who is the eldest, only where the territories ultimately belong.”
Bernadette raised her palm, considered shouting stop it. Then she imagined a dowry gilded with a hundred thousand thalers a year in their full control and dared imagine shutting her eyes to pocket it. “I can see the importance, but …” Bernadette crossed her arms. “I’ve been attached like sap to a tree to thwart all of Eléonore’s plans, her raising of that bastard daughter. When she tried to marry her bastard daughter to your sister’s younger son, did we not all agree the girl wasn’t worthy of the King and Queen of Denmark’s son?” She leaned toward Ernest. “‘Well done!’ is what I wrote to my niece. ‘Fancy a king’s son for that bit of bastard! Upon my word, one has to come from France to be so imprudent!’” She jabbed her finger into Ernest’s chest. “You laughed. Now you make me look like a fool throughout Europe — want to put sewage through my blood line.”
Ernest caught her hand. “Sophia Dorothea is blossoming. She will be a beautiful, elegant woman — as much as you don’t want to admit or hear even more than the girl’s mother. The girl was nothing but a charm in Venice.”
Bernadette snorted. “Not all that shines is gold.”
Ernest stood. “You’ve ranted, raved, and despised the girl’s mother, Eléonore, from the moment you met her all those years ago. Pride can buy many things. Our niece, Sophia Dorothea, isn’t at fault.” He raised his voice. “One of your brothers divorced his princess, married morganatically, and yet you love those children.”
“Our George will care nothing for Sophia Dorothea.”
“You’ve often argued that the end justifies the means when employed to gain it.”
Bernadette looked down at her clasped hands in her lap. “Not now.”
“I have yet to see a man who doesn’t bow to a beautiful woman’s demands.”
She bit her lip, holding back a response, throwing her husband’s words over in her mind. “I imagine some women demand more than others,” she said softly. “I’m surprised to say I’m tired. Weary.”
“Our marriage was a political match also.” He pulled her up in front of him and put his arms around her waist. “It has done well, yes? What’s to say it can’t be the same for them?”
She sighed. “You and I had a little fond feeling between us, to sustain us.” She pushed aside all sediment. What will be, will be.
Bernadette’s stomach churned, seeing merit in this mission, while aware of the foggy dishonesty of it all. She braced herself for Eléonore’s resistance and thought of the German proverb — crooked logs make straight fires … do what you can with what you have.
Bernadette went to her visitors’ chamber door. The fraud from France, Eléonore, sat in a high-back chair, not a stool like other times — the title of Duchess allowed her to sit in one for the first time in Bernadette’s presence. Eléonore moved to rise, surprising Bernadette.
“No need to rise.” Bernadette moved closer. “It’s been too long, this midge between us and breach between brothers larger than it was so it appeared like an elephant … a thread like a rope, a farthing like a rose-noble. It’s time to end it on this joyous day — mend our bridges.”
Eléonore nodded. “I saw no bridge on the way here.”
Eléonore’s expression was friendly, but the woman had the ability to put on forced smiles. Bernadette imagined it was merely the memory of Eléonore’s wit that these days kept George William entertained. Eléonore’s looks were not what they had once been. Only a vague flash of beauty remained after the ravishes brought on by the years and too many dead children. Bernadette found satisfaction in the knowledge that, had she herself married George William, he would likely have had many heirs for his lands instead of only a bastard daughter.
Bernadette’s stomach stirred, both with guilt and not having neither bite nor sup since last night. She pulled up a chair, knowing she had one slim chance of conquering Eléonore’s opposition.
But before Bernadette could get out any words, Eléonore stood, crossed her arms, and raised her voice, “Why?”
Bernadette sat back, taken off guard. “It’s the best outcome for all involved.”
“Pfft! How did you possibly reach that conclusion?”
“A matter of politics. I have a son needing a wife. You have a daughter of marriageable age. Both are heirs to extensive territories. Even you must see the benefits for your daughter not attainable by marriage to anyone else.”
“They’ll care nothing for each other.”
“That’s what I said, but a marriage of state is not made for love.”
“You might not have married for love, but —”
“You assume too much of my marriage.” Bernadette sighed. “There’s no reason why their marriage won’t work.”
“Your son used to call her … nobody … nothing.”
Bernadette shrugged. “He is now at a man’s estate.” She stood and went to the window — the outside torches threw crescents of light over the river. “The brothers are inseparable again. They have spent long hours talking to one another as of old.”
“Perhaps they should have married.”
Bernadette laughed, but Eléonore’s sarcasm didn’t escape her, and she kept staring out the window. “Gottfried dubs their frequent chats the ‘princely debates’.”
“I imagine they debate the size of my daughter’s marriage settlement, which one brother considers too large, the other too small.”
Bernadette swung around. Du lieber Gott, I will tolerate no more. If only you had dropped dead before you reached Osnabrück all those years ago. Bernadette raised her hand and was about to shout I care for none of this, but lowered her hand and held her tongue.
Sophia Dorothea and a young freckled woman rushed into the room, all a burst of colour and laughter. Sophia Dorothea’s hair dripped with jewels — the girl likely as shallow as her red dress was bright. Sophia Dorothea and the woman dropped to a deep curtsy.
“Rise!” Bernadette stared at the young woman beside Sophia Dorothea. “You are?”
“Fräulein Anna Knesebeck, Your Highness.”
Bernadette stepped to Sophia Dorothea. Yes, a temptress. “You’ve grown much since I last saw you.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. I’ve been looking forward to an audience with you.”
Oh, please. Bernadette glanced at Eléonore. “Duchess Eléonore, I have paintings I’d like to show my niece.” She looked at Anna. “I’ll go with my niece, alone.”
Bernadette noted the gloating gleam in Eléonore’s eyes at being accorded the full title of Duchess, but Bernadette seethed inside. How I despise her. Bernadette raised her eyebrows at Sophia Dorothea, who stood staring at her mother. “You look like an orphan, as if you had never left your mother’s side, which we know isn’t true. Now, come.”
Bernadette motioned for Sophia Dorothea to follow into the hallway, knowing full well that Eléonore, woman of the world that she thought she was, could not dismiss off-hand the prize offered to Sophia Dorothea — the Crown Prince of Hanover.
Sophia Dorothea led her aunt along the wide corridors past rushes in pots emitting a sweet and tangy citrus. She shivered, knowing her aunt was watching her like an expensive filly sent to stud and likely thinking she no better than a clot of dirt. I need not care what she thinks.
Sophia Dorothea passed a row of portraits. Prince George’s blue eyes stared down at her from his portrait on the wall a few feet away. She averted her gaze, raised her chin, and stepped quicker.
“Stop there!” the Duchess said.
Sophia Dorothea stopped right under the painting but fiddled with her gold bracelet. I care not to look at him. I care not to ever see him again. She looked up at the portrait and forced herself to appear interested.
“Prince George was only fifteen then. He is twenty-one now and looks a little different,” Duchess Bernadette said. “You must remember him?”
Warmth covered Sophia Dorothea, and she was tempted to say, I wanted to throw horse dung at him once, but she shook her head. “I hadn’t, ma’am, but thank you for reminding me. I will search my memory for more of him.”
“One must be practical when it comes to the past,” Duchess Bernadette said. “It is always best to turn the page and let the old pages lie.” She gazed back at the portrait. “He has no pretty manners, and while I don’t see it, others who know him say he is witty. He is a good soldier, faithful to his friends, and I’ve never known him to lie.” The silence was uncomfortable. Sophia Dorothea stared dumbly at the portrait until the Duchess pointed at the next chamber. “In you go.”
Sophia Dorothea didn’t hesitate, glad to escape the conversation. She walked into the room and gazed at more drawings and paintings hanging on the walls — images of fertile rolling hills, mist hovering, crowded and cobbled streets, and palaces. Her aunt’s lavender scent lingered — and despite their shoulders close, the Duchess seemed so distant.
Duchess Bernadette pointed to the pictures. “They’re palaces owned by my cousins. Windsor, Whitehall, and the Tower of London.” For a moment she appeared lost in the images. “You do understand I’m talking about England?”
Sophia Dorothea nodded, but she hadn’t. “I have not needed to learn English matters.”
“Wise women learn all matters of the world, are filled with knowledge beyond their country’s borders.”
It was clear why Father preferred Mother. This Duchess was condescending and made Sophia Dorothea feel as if she were a lesser mortal, but Father was the reigning Duke of Celle and head of the family. “Mother says the English are ignorant of manners.”
“And the French are ignorant of anything not French.”
Sophia Dorothea shrugged.
Duchess Bernadette exhaled loudly, then cleared her throat. “My mother was Princess Elizabeth Stuart. Her brother, King Charles the First, was murdered at Whitehall.”
“I’ve heard the kings and queens of England’s necks are not safe.”
The Duchess snorted. “I’m glad you’re not completely ignorant of English matters, but languages?”
“French, ma’am, and a little Italian.”
“Mother says French is the most important of all languages, spoken at all courts of the world.”
“But a better education allows one to communicate in the native tongues to their important visitors to court. I can speak — English, French, Italian, Low Dutch, and Latin. I am learned in the literature of them all, allowing me to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere.”
“Do the English follow French fashions?”
“I believe so,” the Duchess said.
“What of food? Do the English eat the same as we do?”
“They dress their chickens, ducks, beef and pigs differently.”
Sophia Dorothea wanted to ask her aunt what she meant, but the scent of burning leaves tickled her nose and made her turn. A pretty blonde woman, large of breast and hip and with her hair falling in waves past her shoulders, came to the doorway, a clay smoking pipe held to her mouth. She quickly removed it from her crimson painted lips and curtsied.
The Duchess’s eyes narrowed. “Rise, Catharina, rise.”
Catharina stood, her eyes lowered. “Your Highness, I was …”
Sophia Dorothea waited to be introduced to the newcomer, but the Duchess turned her back on the woman, motioning for Sophia Dorothea to do the same, and said over her shoulder, “Your sister is in her rooms.”
“Of course, ma’am.” The scrape of Catharina’s heels moved away from the door.
The Duchess rolled her shoulders as if to remove an ache and pointed back at the portaits. “A brother painted them. He is on the King’s, the English King, Privy Council. We are the King’s first cousins, kinsmen of the Stuarts.”
Sophia Dorothea took a quick look through the doorway at Catharina strolling down the corridor. Her hips swayed from side to side, and she blew smoke into the air, leaving smoke clouds lingering as she moved along the hallway as if she owned the palace.
“Tomorrow,” the Duchess said, “we might travel to Herrenhausen. You might appreciate the gardens.”
“Mother’s rose garden is beautiful.”
The Duchess raised her chin. “The scents of a Dutch garden, more than a French one, linger at Herrenhausen.”
Sophia Dorothea held her lips together. She didn’t tell the Duchess they were going home tomorrow. Mother and Father walked past the door. The Duchess stepped to them. “Duchess Eléonore, we’re going to Herrenhausen tomorrow, so pleased you are all coming too.”
Eléonore understood why some were dazzled by Herrenhausen. Not so much the building’s size, though it was large, nor any particular brilliance as Celle castle was more beautiful, but the gardens extended forever from the front doors far off to the gates hidden by trees. Hedges and paths twirled and twisted into alcoves and courtyards, too many to count, some hidden by trees for what looked like miles. But she wished for nothing more than to go home and for this business regarding a potential betrothal between Prince George and Sophia Dorothea to disappear.
George William came to the terrace and put his hand on the railing. “I searched for you in the gardens.”
“I told you I didn’t want to come here.”
“The views are stunning.” He pointed to the grounds. “All those planting beds will bloom into apricots, peaches, figs, roses, and pomegranates. This can be Sophia Dorothea’s one day if she marries George. Joining Celle and Hanover, mine and my brother’s lands, our duchies, if united will make our family more powerful, will probably raise the duchies to an Electorate. I would be Elector, you Electress.”
“I care only for our daughter. They’re not satisfied with being heirs to Celle, but now greedy Bernadette and your brother want Wilhelmsburg — our Sophy’s inheritance.”
“Prince George is connected through Bernadette to the Royal House of England.”
“England! Just a name. Just a place. Who cares of England? You would sacrifice our only daughter, the one pledge of our love, to a loveless marriage?”
“They’re family, first cousins.”
“Hostile for years. Self seeking. Almost nought contact since their ridiculous demands last time.”
“It wasn’t a demand, but a proposal much like now.”
“One you refused. One your then Chancellor said would bankrupt you. We should not have come.”
“It was different then,” George William said. “Brother John was ruler of Hanover, not Ernest.”
“There is no difference. They care only for what they can gain. I knew when John died they wouldn’t hesitate gratifying their ambition, quickly remove John’s wife and daughters from Hanover, but I never imagined their greed would prompt them to use my daughter as a pawn to satisify their ambitions.”
“Ernest has gone out of his way to make his peace since brother John died.” George William’s jaw stiffened. “Time to end —”
Eléonore shuddered. “You’ll give our daughter — to pig snout? All Germany knows he sleeps with Catharina Bussche, his father’s mistress’s sister!”
“Ah! But he hasn’t seen our Sophy for years.”
“He will be like his lecherous father and dip his biscuit.”
“Many men do.”
“I would not tolerate — Sophy’s isn’t yet sixteen.”
“Reconcile yourself, Eléonore.”
“I’ll never send her to wolves — or pigs. You haven’t thought this through. You gave Sophia Dorothea hope that she wouldn’t be forced into marriage.”
“Then we shall ensure she chooses wisely.”
“Let it be her choice, not made because of your brother’s influence and greed.”
“Eléonore, I’m the lord — something I hope my wife does not forget.”
“And my lord promised Sophy would make a good marriage, something I hope he doesn’t forget.” She moved to the doorway. “I will return tomorrow and take Sophia Dorothea with me. The French Ambassador will be at Celle in the next few days. I would not like to slight him, and you promised me you would consider any offer for Sophia Dorothea’s hand from Comte Dominique Dubois.”
—Celle Castle, Celle
Sophia Dorothea picked diamond earrings out of the gilded trinket-box, embossed with silver linden leaves and big enough to hold a pair of shoes. Rose petals had fallen out of the box onto the mantel. The petals were no longer a deep red but a stale and old blood colour, withered by age. She gently brushed the petals into her palm as if they were moth wings and might disintegrate and carefully placed them back into her precious box.
How long had it been? Baron Henrik, poor Henrik, banished into exile a year ago — his punishment for an innocent intrigue with her. The withered rose was a memory left of him. Count Philipp Königsmarck had left Celle five years ago, summoned to return to his family, leaving the box as a gift. “I often wonder where they both are.”
Anna turned away from the mirror, her long fingers rubbing a crimson pigment over hated freckles. “I imagine Philipp charming all the girls, wherever he is.”
“I used to think Philipp might write, but he forgot me the moment he left. I hope Henrik wasn’t punished anymore.”
“I think myself lucky not to have been implicated for my connivance in the matter with Henrik,” Anna said. “It wasn’t commonsense that saved me.”
Sophia Dorothea closed the box and clipped in an earring. “I know the matter with Henrik is best forgotten. I know my place. God, how could I ever forget what is expected of me since that day?”
“It must be hard to forget.”
“I cringe at my stupidity. I should have hidden Henrik’s letter better. I know some of the courtiers think I’m a spoiled brat, care only for myself, didn’t care at all what happened to Henrik.”
“I’ve heard no such thing.” But Anna glanced at the ground when she said it. “Come, you must get ready. Your mother asked me to have you there on time.”
Sophia Dorothea walked into the golden light near the window, reflected from the castle’s yellow courtyard walls. “When I marry, you must be my confidential lady. I can’t imagine not seeing you again.” She twirled, fanning out her blue skirts shimmering in the light. “This dress for supper, or should I change back into the green one?”
“I like them both, but we should already be there. They’ll be waiting.”
Sophia Dorothea adjusted a ruby pinned near her temple. “You must not lie to me. Everyone else tells me what they think I wish to hear.”
“Both dresses are lovely on you. They contrast nicely with the darkness of your hair, but if you want me to choose, wear the blue.”
“If our French visitors don’t pay me court, I’ll blame you.” Sophia Dorothea giggled. “Maybe I’ll fall in love with a French envoy and be whisked off to France. King Louis has made me a French national. Why not a French man as a husband?”
“But what of Prince George?”
“There’s been no more talk of it, and thank the Lord for that. Mother said Father will let me choose. I want lots of children and wish to love someone who doesn’t go to war. I don’t care if he is French or German. I don’t want to live everyday wondering if he will return, have my heart ache of want for him, like Mother has for Father. But what is love, Anna? How does one know they have a love like my mother and father, an eternal love?”
“I imagine you just know, the stomach flutters, adoration fills your heart for the person and the feeling never leaves.” Anna stepped closer. “Tonight, when you’re speaking to courtiers, don’t disappear out of my sight. If anything improper happened, I might not be as fortunate as your governess was.”
“You act like an old maid, but you’re only twenty.”
“There will always be someone at court, here or elsewhere, who will want to pounce on you.”
“We’re not an Italian court. Here, we need not fear poison.” Sophia Dorothea ran a finger along the gilding on the trinket-box. “If my cleaning maid hadn’t dropped my box that day, Henrik’s letter wouldn’t have been found. Mother said the maid was a thief, but nothing was stolen. My aunt said the maid was a spy, but why would anybody spy on me? I was a child.”
Music and laughter drifted from Mother’s apartments, and Anna walked to the door. “I need to go to the toilet. I’ll meet you there.”
Sophia Dorothea moved into the hallway, slowed her pace, knowing Augustus would be there. Her earliest memories of him were when she was ten, the day she was betrothed to his brother five years ago. Back then, Augustus would redden and blush redder than Mother’s roses when Sophia Dorothea looked at him, but not anymore. Now he was tall, strong, and confident like Father, handsome — and married to someone else.
Father emerged from Mother’s parlour, his long wig framing his scowling face. “Where is Anna?”
“Attending her toilet. What’s wrong?”
He smiled then and patted her shoulder. “You’re stunning and will dazzle the French ambassador.”
Mother rushed from her rooms. “My lord, please …”
“Eléonore, we will discuss it when my Chancellor returns from Hanover. I’m the lord. I won’t bow to you on this matter, at this time.”
Mother nodded, but her eyes widened, wounded at Father’s sharpness. “Yes, my lord.” She held Sophia Dorothea’s arm. “Come, Sophy, we have been waiting for you. I asked Anna to have you here on time.”
“It isn’t Anna’s fault that I’m late, but why was Father scowling?”
Mother gave her matchmaking smile. “Someone is here tonight who I’m sure you’ll be happy to meet.”
“Is Augustus inside?”
“He’s been eagerly awaiting your arrival. But come, meet the French Ambassador.”
They entered Mother’s chamber and a little man, his wig too big for his head, smiled and bowed. “Bonsoir, Mademoiselle, la Princesse, how honoured we are. I hope we shall become good friends.”
“Bonsoir, Monsieur, it is I who is honoured.” Sophia Dorothea extended her hand. “I’m always pleased to meet Mother’s countrymen.”