The Wild Queen

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Authors: Carolyn Meyer
life, and I wept now.
    Many of those who witnessed the spectacle did not realize it was a terrible accident, and they cheered and applauded wildly and cried out for more. The organizers arranged another sea battle for the next day, and the same awful accident occurred—another keg of gunpowder, another explosion, another ship down, more lives lost. King Henri ordered a stop to the sea battles, and Maman hurried me away from a scene that upset me dreadfully. I could not rid myself of the feeling that I was in some way responsible for the terrible things that happened, though Maman tried to assure me I was not.
    Once the fêtes were over, my mother, my brother, and I traveled to Joinville to visit my grandmother. It was the first time Grand-Mère had seen her daughter since Maman left France, eleven years earlier, to marry my father. It would have been a brilliant homecoming and reunion if Grand-Père had been alive, but as he was not, there was far more sorrow than joy.
    Grand-Mère appeared thin and pale, almost ghostly, in her mourning clothes. She received us solemnly, embracing my mother and greeting my brother and me with dry kisses. She seemed an entirely different person from the lively woman who had so loved to entertain friends and family at the Château du Grand Jardin. During our visit we never went to the banqueting house my grandfather had built, or even strolled in the once beautiful gardens that now lay neglected. Instead, we sat quietly in Grand-Mère’s gloomy apartments, where black cloth on the windows blotted out every glimmer of sunlight. The little dogs that had once greeted me with joyful barks had been banished. The cages of exotic birds were gone.
    â€œI have considered withdrawing to pass my last days in a convent, away from this cruel world and its wicked ways,” Grand-Mère told us.
    â€œWhat have you decided, dearest Maman?” my mother asked. She was distressed to find her mother in such dark despair.
    â€œThat I am needed here, to oversee the welfare of my family,” my grandmother said. I wondered whose welfare she meant.
    We accompanied Grand-Mère through a dimly lit gallery to offer prayers in her private chapel. The only sound was the whisper of skirts and our hushed footsteps on the stone floor. We passed an empty coffin with an ornately carved lid and a lighted candle at each end. The sight startled me. “Whose coffin is that, Grand-Mère?” my brother asked, his voice echoing in the gallery.
    â€œMine,” she said. “I pass it every morning on my way to hear Mass, and several times each day when I come to pray, and I am reminded of the transitory nature of our lives here on earth.”
    I loved my grandmother, but I was relieved when this doleful visit ended. Promising one another to meet again soon, my brother left for Amiens and my mother and I rejoined the French court at Blois, the château with the wonderful staircase. We would spend the winter in the Loire Valley My mother’s brothers, my Guise uncles—François, who had inherited the title duke of Guise when my grandfather died, and Charles, the cardinal of Lorraine—soon joined us.
    My mother and my uncles often retired to the privacy of a small library in the suite of rooms my mother had been given for her stay Surrounded by leather-bound books, they discussed certain matters that were not of interest to me. But once, as I came to beg my mother to settle an argument with one of my friends, I heard her declare firmly, “I will not rest until Arran is out of the picture and I am the sole regent for our little queen!”
    She was talking about me,
la petite reine.
Naturally, I stopped to listen. A Scottish nobleman, the earl of Arran, had been named regent by the Scottish Parliament to rule Scotland until I came of age, with my mother serving as co-regent. My mother did not wish to share this duty with him or anyone else, that much I understood.

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