< SWITCH ME >

This story takes our readers back to the year 971 AD, to follow the true (and truly gothic) story of Princess Theophano of Constantinople, who married the Saxon prince Otto. We left them on the day the princess arrived at the court of her future husband.

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“You have to find a way for me to see her,” said Otto, fixing his eyes on Heinrich, who tried to wriggle out from under his gaze. “You’ll see her at the feast this evening!” protested his manservant.“See her! Yes, from the other side of the room, whilst surrounded by pompous nobles, with a heavy crown weighing down my head! I probably won’t even get to say hello to her!” Heinrich suddenly stood still and began looking intently at Otto. “You’ve already fallen for her!” he said, a smile beginning at the corners of his mouth. “Love at first sight! It really exists!” He looked as if he was on the brink of launching into one of the love songs he composed secretly at night.

Otto was starting to regret teaching his manservant to read: Heinrich was becoming convinced that he was really a poet, not a servant. “Nonsense!” Otto said sharply. “I just want to have an actual conversation with her before we get bundled off to Rome for the marriage ceremony! Imagine how terrified and confused she must be, and how homesick…” Heinrich stepped impudently up to his master and began examining him whilst pretending to straighten his cloak. “You have all the symptoms!” he crowed delightedly. “Your heart’s beating fast, you’re suddenly boiling hot and then freezing cold, you deny your love vehemently, you’re craving to see the beloved…”

Otto rounded on Heinrich. “That’s enough, d’you hear?” He was surprised at his own anger and confusion. Drawing himself up to his full, though inconsiderable, height, he said more calmly, “Wouldn’t it just fit perfectly into your poetic version of the world if the prince’s cunning manservant, who is of course far more intelligent than his master, were to engineer a meeting between the two would-be lovers? Or are your wits not sharp enough for the task?” He couldn’t have chosen a better ploy. Heinrich dashed from the room, and Otto heard his footsteps echoing in the stone passageway.

*

The girl lay on the bed, her arms tightly around her knees. It was almost midday. Through the high windows in the opposite wall she could see heavy clouds hastening over the treetops. She burrowed deeper under the fur blanket, she closed her eyes... Warm darkness surrounded her, between dreams and reality she lay there, oblivious to everything that had already occurred and to what was yet to come upon her.

Quick steps on the stone floor. "Get up, child!” The sharp voice of Fokaina, her chaperone, cut the air. The tall dark-haired woman, a distant relative of her father, never cared whether she might be being too harsh on her protégée. Theophano opened her eyes reluctantly. "I hope you don't imagine you can stay in this bed forever?“ Fokaina continued. "The feast starts in four hours, please keep that in mind. Also, remember what you represent, as opposed to this – let's say empire." She examined the princess's pale face. "Well, my dear, maybe this ridiculous man who just tried to convince me in his silly broken Latin that you ought to get some fresh air was right? Please, put something warm on, it's so cold here!" And she turned around, leaving the girl no time to answer. Following her to the door, Theophano realised that whatever this empire was, it was to be her empire. She decided to keep her eyes wide open from now on.

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