MY VERY FIRST MEMORY isn’t all that different from anyone else’s. I was three years old and it was my first day of preschool. For some reason, my mother ignored the fact that I was actually a boy and dressed me in God-awful overalls, a frilly cuffed shirt and patent-leather brogues. I planned to smear finger paint on the outfit the first chance I got.
But that’s not what stands out most in my mind.
By then, spotting a camera lens pointed my way was as common as seeing a bird in the sky. I should’ve been used to it—and I think I was. But that day was different.
Because there were hundreds of cameras.
Lining every inch of the sidewalk and the streets, and clustered together at the entrance of my school like a sea of one-eyed monsters, waiting to pounce. I remember my mother’s voice, soothing and constant as I clung to her hand, but I couldn’t make out her words. They were drowned out by the roar of snapping shutters and the shouts of photographers calling my name.
“Nicholas! Nicholas, this way, smile now! Look up, lad! Nicholas, over here!”
It was the first inkling I’d had that I was—that we were—different. In the years after, I’d learn just how different my family is. Internationally renowned, instantly recognizable, our everyday activities headlines in the making.
Fame is a strange thing. A powerful thing. Usually it ebbs and flows like a tide. People get swept up in it, swamped by it, but eventually the notoriety recedes, and the former object of its affection is reduced to someone who used to be someone, but isn’t anymore.
That will never happen to me. I was known before I was born and my name will be blazoned in history long after I’m dust in the ground. Infamy is temporary, celebrity is fleeting, but royalty…royalty is forever.
ONE WOULD THINK, as accustomed as I am to being watched, that I wouldn’t be effected by the sensation of someone staring at me while I sleep.
One would be wrong.
My eyes spring open, to see Fergus’s scraggly, crinkled countenance just inches from my face. “Bloody hell!”
It’s not a pleasant view.
His one good eye glares disapprovingly, while the other—the wandering one—that my brother and I always suspected wasn’t lazy at all, but a freakish ability to see everything at once, gazes toward the opposite side of the room.
Every stereotype starts somewhere, with some vague but lingering grain of truth. I’ve long suspected the stereotype of the condescending, cantankerous servant began with Fergus.
God knows the wrinkled bastard is old enough.
He straightens up at my bedside, as much as his hunched, ancient spine will let him. “Took you long enough to wake up. You think I don’t have better things to do? Was just about to kick you.”
He’s exaggerating. About having better things to do—not the plan to kick me.
I love my bed. It was an eighteenth birthday gift from the King of Genovia. It’s a four-column, gleaming piece of art, hand-carved in the sixteenth century from one massive piece of Brazilian mahogany. My mattress is stuffed with the softest Hungarian goose feathers, my Egyptian cotton sheets have a thread count so high it’s illegal in some parts of the world, and all I want to do is to roll over and bury myself under them like a child determined not to get up for school.
But Fergus’s raspy warning grates like sandpaper on my eardrums.
“You’re supposed to be in the green drawing room in twenty-five minutes.”
And ducking under the covers is no longer an option. They won’t save you from machete-wielding psychopaths…or a packed schedule.
Sometimes I think I’m schizophrenic. Dissociative. Possibly a split personality. It wouldn’t be unheard of. All sorts of disorders show up in ancient family trees—hemophiliacs, insomniacs, lunatics…gingers. Guess I should feel lucky not to be any of those.
My problem is voices. Not those kinds of voices—more like reactions in my head. Answers to questions that don’t match what actually ends up coming out of my mouth.
I almost never say what I really think. Sometimes I’m so full of shit my eyes could turn brown. And, it might be for the best.
Because I happen to think most people are fucking idiots.
“And we’re back, chatting with His Royal Highness, Prince Nicholas.”
Speaking of idiots…
The light-haired, thin-boned, bespeckled man sitting across from me conducting this captivating televised interview? His name is Teddy Littlecock. No, really, that’s his actual name—and from what I hear, it’s not an oxymoron. Can you appreciate what it must’ve been like for him in school with a name like that? It’s almost enough to make me feel bad for him. But not quite.
Because Littlecock is a journalist—and I have a special kind of disgust for them. The media’s mission has always been to bend the mighty over a barrel and ram their transgressions up their aristocratic arses. Which, in a way, is fine—most aristocrats are first-class pricks; everybody knows that. What bothers me is when it’s not deserved. When it’s not even true. If there’s no dirty laundry around, the media will drag a freshly starched shirt through the shit and create their own. Here’s an oxymoron for you: journalistic integrity.
Old Teddy isn’t just any reporter—he’s Palace Approved. Which means unlike his bribing, blackmailing, lying brethren, Littlecock gets direct access—like this interview—in exchange for asking the stupidest bloody questions ever. It’s mind-numbing.
Choosing between dull and dishonest is like being asked whether you want to be shot or stabbed.
“What do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?”