The service ended.
She remained seated, as was her usual custom, until most of the other worshippers filed out of the cathedral. The two security guards who had accompanied her inside stood and moved to opposite ends of the long wooden pew, waiting patiently.
Archbishop Montague removed his vestments in the sacristy. He started to make his way back to his office to tidy up a bit before heading home for his mid-day meal. For reasons unknown, he changed his mind and made his way back towards the nave.
When he saw her he knew there had been a reason he returned. The queen sat alone in the Renaldi chapel. She did not kneel, but her head was slightly bowed. She seemed to be studying the cover of the prayer book in her lap.
He came to stand in front of her. "Your Majesty," he said softly, hands crossed in front of him.
She looked up and her eyes twinkled as she parodied his formal tone, "Your Excellency."
He smiled and sat on the pew in front of her, twisting to face her. "Pardon me, my dear. Clarisse." He reached across and patted her hand affectionately. "You are troubled."
It wasn't a question. She sighed. "I have no right to be troubled Michael."
"No right? You don't have a right to feeling?"
"I don't mean it to sound pompous, but it's true. My life is the proverbial fairy tale, Michael, and yet some days I would really like to trade it in for something less…public. Less ponderous."
"Ah, Cinderella has tired of life in the castle?" he asked lightly.
"Something like that. Although I never had a chance to try my hand as a scullery maid." She smiled. "I might have been good at that job."
"You are good at the job you have now, Clarisse. Why is it suddenly so distasteful to you?"
"Sometimes I think any monkey with an ink pen could do this job, Michael. I have plenty of staff and advisors who do all the hard work – researching, writing briefs and what have you. I sign my name and smile for the cameras." She looked him in the eye. "Everything always for the cameras. It feels as if nothing about my life is very real."
"Clarisse, I have known you for how long? I was an officiant at your wedding. I have baptized your children. I count you as a friend. And I am proud to have you as my monarch. I have watched you grow and change for many years now.
"You love these people, Clarisse. They know that. They feel the same for you. I've watched you sit in this same spot for many years. And it has not escaped my notice that you sat here most of the time without your husband. King Rupert was a good man, Clarisse, but he didn't have the same feeling for the people that you do. You are a shepherd, Clarisse. Rupert was a rancher."
She studied him silently, considering his words. "Then why do I feel like so much is missing? Why do I feel like I want to give someone else the keys to the palace and just walk away?"
"When was the last time you took a vacation?"
"I went to Paris just last month."
"For some sort of EU meeting, was it not? Clarisse – you need some time for yourself. No one can survive a job, any job, without ever taking a break. Leave the country for a week or two. Don't take any work with you. Genovia will still be here when you return."
She smiled at him. "Is this your professional advice, Your Excellency?"
"It is a command from your spiritual advisor, Your Majesty."
She laughed and looked at the guards, who maintained a discrete presence a few pews away. "I suppose I've kept these gentlemen waiting long enough." She started to rise, but the Archbishop reached out and took her arm.
"Clarisse. In all seriousness, you are human. You have given your whole life in service much like I have given mine. You've lived like a nun in a cloister," he laughed when she raised her eyebrows at this statement. "Well, not exactly like a nun, I concede. But we are never asked to give more than we can bear. Don't cloister yourself any longer Clarisse. You've been alone in a lot of ways for a long time. And now that your children are gone, you are perhaps even more isolated. It's ok to be a queen and a person at the same time. No one benefits from your unhappiness."
She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Michael. You have always been a wonderful friend." As she stood and prepared to leave, she added, "Although you are certainly a pushy spiritual advisor."
The Archbishop laughed, then asked quietly, "Where is Joseph? You pew seems very empty without him."
She glanced at him, suspicion in her eyes. He met her gaze with an innocent stare. Too innocent, but she didn't push the issue. "He is in Spain. His sister's oldest child is getting married. He is the godfather, and he wanted to be there for the festivities."
"I see." The archbishop turned to leave. "I shall come and see you when you return from you trip," he said mischievously.
She laughed. "Goodbye, Michael."