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I was born twenty-eight years ago of illustrious origin. Royal blood flows in my veins: retrace five generations and you come upon a king. Some of you might not have believed this, seeing the girl I was -- once upon a time, as Monsieur Perrault might have said in one of his tales for a winter's night. And yet I tell you it is true: as real as if you were to take your fingernail and draw it, hard, across the cheek of a painted wanton, and see the blood seep out from beneath the veneer of white lead and rouge that she wears.
The truth of my name is that blood. It courses through me, hot and never still; in my darkest hours it casts a glow upon my thoughts. It is, simply, what keeps me alive.
Sadly for me, in the year that my tale starts, the Valois name had fallen upon difficult times. Through no fault of our own, unless one can say that the innocent who walks down a street only to be beset by brigands is to be blamed for the theft of his gold. But I will tell you, the loss of one's purse is as nothing as to the loss of one's home; and even that pales before the loss of one's name.
Until I was eight years old, I lived in a kingdom of gold. These riches came not from our holdings, which were extensive but not excessive -- a three-storied ch�teau surrounded by miles of oak forest and swelling hills and fields where rye grew, and summer wheat, and apples so sweet that each autumn you would cry out with joy when first you bit into one. No, the riches which nourished me were those that came from seeing, each day, the faces of my parents drawn close together over the table at breakfast: their laughter and delight in each other, and in me,their only child. My mother, Irene, was twenty-seven years old, a gentle but intelligent woman. She painted, for her pleasure and that of my father, Darnell, who proudly hung her work alongside portraits of our ancestors in the grand but chilly formal rooms of our home. She read to me as well. Not just Perrault's stories and les contes de ma M�re l'Oie, the tales of Mother Goose which every child hears, but also the fairy tales of Voltaire, as well as his Candide, and the amusing plays of Moli�re, of which my father was especially fond. But my favorite of all these was �Le Chat bott�,� Puss in Boots, the tale of the brave and clever cat who comes to the aid of his owner, a young boy who has been disinherited by evil men. My mother used to laugh as I dressed myself in the gardener's cast-off shoes to stomp around the bedroom, acting out for her brave Puss's adventures, and ending of course with honor and the family fortunes restored. As she entered the last days of her confinement with her second child, my darling baby sister, I would turn from my blood-thirsty dramas to the calmer stage of our garden. There I would swing while my mother painted, and my father saw to all theresponsibilities of running an estate.
Perhaps because my mother was painting me that day -- I remember vividly peering over her shoulder at the little canvas -- I can still recall exactly how it happened. My father had come up to see us, his boots still dusted with black earth and gold straw from where he had been overseeing the harvest. He too stopped to observe the progress of my mother's painting, and to check as well the progress of their joint creative effort, the child swelling in her womb. His hand caressed her belly straining against her silk skirt: I can see the two of them now, as clearly as though they were on a painted canvas in front of me. Nothing and no one has ever seemed as lovely to me as they were then.
I knew that I belonged with them, and to them, Irene and Darnell Valois. That knowledge was what made me rich, that knowledge was my birthright; and so I launched myself from the swing to tumble laughing at their feet, my skirts flung up over my head and my parents laughing as I shook the folds of fabric from my face and gazed up at them, as happy as I had ever been. As happy as I would ever be.
�Grace in all its form and glory,� my mother laughed.
�Jeanne!� my father called, his tone mock accusing. �Have you forgotten? You promised to take me for a ride today.�
�I have not forgotten!� I cried, running into his arms. He kissed my mother good-bye, tenderly; then, sweeping me up alongside him, headed for the stables.
We galloped across the fields that lay to the west of our home. Ring-necked doves flew up from the long grass, crying plaintively, and little yellow butterflies like a swarm of golden coins falling upward instead of down. I sat on the saddle in front of my father, his right hand holding tight to the reins, his left arm locked around me. It was the safest place in all the world; and from that vantage point I saw all the rest of the world as part of that domain, a kingdom in which I had nothing to fear...The Affair of the Necklace. Copyright � by Elizabeth Hand. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.