In this second Empress Chronicles book, Liz and Sisi continue their intertwined journey through time. On the heels of discovering a magical locket in the empress diary, Liz comes to understand its very special power: the wearer must speak the truth. Not only that, but it turns out that there are three lockets, each with their own magic and power.
Meanwhile, Sisi realizes that she’s communicating with a girl who lives 150 years in the future. A girl who knows what awaits her if she marries the emperor: lack of personal freedom and a legacy that will refer to her as the "reluctant empress."
With the world's future hanging in the balance, the two heroines must work together to thwart Lola, whose ambition to rule the Habsburg Empire will rewrite history, and lead to a terrifying new version of reality.
There was then
a great to-do in the ballroom, and the solemn occasion turned into a party,
with King Max presenting a bust of me made entirely from butter. We feasted
upon roast boar with spiced turnips and pickled calf’s ear jelly. There were
mounds of potatoes and field peas, and the king’s favorite pheasant soup, with
curled carrots floating on the top. It was good, simple, hearty fare, as
favored by us Wittelsbachs, and lots of ale in honor of the surprise guest—the
man who had established the very first Oktoberfest, the exiled King Ludwig
He had been snuck in for the festivities, and when he made his entrance
the entire hall burst into deafening applause. Nobody was happier to see him
than Mummi, who had always been fond of her elder brother. Oh, how merry were
my relations in that moment, and all the sobriety of the renunciation melted
away with the clinking of steins.
But my fascination and focus began and ended with Little Ludwig and
Amalie, who were seated near the other Royal Wittelsbachs at the head table. I
winked and nodded in their direction, and they back at me throughout the
festivities. As they had a reputation for eccentricities and outbursts, they
were closely monitored by their attendants, but I yearned to speak with
them—for I had some questions.
After the second dessert and before the brandy, I saw my opportunity, as
that is the traditional time for ladies to excuse themselves to the dressing
room to loosen the laces of their corsets. I took my leave, passing the odd
butter sculpture that nobody dared dig into, and slipped off down the hall,
glancing behind me to see if my cousins had taken the cue.
It had been more than a year since my last conversation with my odd
cousins, and I recalled the incident with the vision locket, and how the
photograph inside had shifted from pustule-faced Karl to the handsome Count
Sebastian as soon as I’d acknowledged a change of heart. And then there was
that curious behavior from Amalie in the Schönheitengalerie,
and her caution regarding Lola Montez—back when I thought the witch merely a
beguiling courtesan, a benevolent faerie.
I yearned so to share with someone the odd events of the past
year—Amalie and Little Ludwig would be my only real option for confidante, and
even then, I worried they would think me mad. Madder than my dear spinster
cousin who only wore white and thought that she’d swallowed a glass piano. I was
laughing to myself at the very thought—Amalie and I linked arm in arm, skipping
forever in the Palace Garden. Both of us perpetual children under Lola’s spell,
when I heard Little Ludwig galloping up behind me. “It is just as I wished! You
will be the most exquisite of all princely figures there on that Austrian
Little Ludwig’s face had stretched beyond the chubby cheeks of boyhood,
and he wore proper formal attire, but around his neck was wrapped a garland of
pink ostrich feathers, and on his feet, women’s slippers. We embraced, and I
whispered, “Let us find a quiet place; I must tell you everything, but they
will not give me much time before sending the army round to find me.”
He took me by the hand and led me to a cold room, where we were quite in
the dark but for the waning light through the window. We crouched behind an
ornate settee, then sat cross-legged on the parquet, like small children in
front of their toys. “Oh, but how Vienna will adore you, meine Sisi,” he squealed.
I could not continue the charade one minute more in front of this boy,
who was so eager to place a crown on my head. I reached for his cheek, but
instead found myself snatching up a pretty pink feather. I thought of my
parrot, and wondered if, should I choose Lola’s bargain, I might bring the bird
with me in my exile or if that pet would be shipped off to Vienna with my
“There are some things, Little Ludwig. Some things I must tell you.”
“Are you not a virgin?” he inquired, his eyes round and big. “Did you
lose your heart to a rogue? Will the archduchess turn you out in the street
when she uncovers the truth?”
My cousin was quite theatrical in his assumptions.
“I did lose my heart, my cousin. But not my virtue.”
I began my explanation with the changing face in the Vision locket—which
Little Ludwig himself had fixed just recently. “I know all about that,” he
said. “Your governess was quite in a stew about these trinkets.”
“Yes, well, there is more.” I painted the picture of all that transpired
in the past year: Lola’s magic, Baroness Wilhelmine’s secret that she was once
in love with my father, and then, the larger confidence. Lizbeth of the Future.
The odd Peasant of Port Land. I twisted and squirmed the Virtue keepsake out
from underneath my renunciation gown. “Despite Baroness Wilhelmine’s request
that I trade this keepsake for the one which bears the face of my betrothed, I
find that I cannot separate myself from this odd maiden.”
The young man peered over the likeness of the girl, and his face turned
down in disgust. “She’s quite plain!” he bellowed, as though that were the
“There is more yet,” I said, hastily, worried that at any moment a
search party would commence. “I have been told by this peasant that I must find
the other locket. A keepsake that may very well be in the possession of our
I then told Ludwig of my recent exchange with that witch, Lola. It felt
as though I were weaving a fairy tale. As though I were reciting the Heine
poem: Lorelei, full of sirens and
heartbreak and throes of desire and love. At the end of my tale, I asked my
young confidante his advice, my heart hoping he would counsel happiness.
“Ludwig,” I said, “Should I relent, I might forever be free to love whom I
choose. Is that not what we should all seek? Our heart’s desire?”
Little Ludwig looked stricken. “You mean,” he said, “that you would not
be empress after all? That your boring sister would instead take the crown and
do Lola’s bidding?”
His face slowly broke into smile. “Then, perhaps, you can be my queen
when I become king! For you know that my father is sickly. I expect he will
perish before my eighteenth birthday.”
“No, Ludwig, I cannot be your queen. Remember, I just took a vow of
renunciation. And beside all of that, I would be forever living in secret, with
Count Sebastian, my one true love.”
Just uttering the word love
sent my fingers to my throat to feel for the chain attached to the virtue
keepsake. Little Ludwig peered down my neckline. “So, what does this freckled,
speckled girl from the future advise?”
Just then the door burst open wide and I crouched down, Little Ludwig’s
ostrich feathers tickling my nose, threatening a sneeze. Then, the advancing
light of a candelabra, and soon thereafter, a familiar shard of glass piano
sound poked through the nursery song:
“London Bridge is falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
And so are my dainties!”
Little Ludwig and I let out our common breath and stood to see Amalie
advance toward us, her face eerily cast in the shadow of firelight.
“Take a key and lock her up,
Lock her up,
Lock her up.
Take a key and lock her up,
But bring back my dainties!”
“Oh, dear,” offered Little Ludwig. “She is in a state.”
I reached out to embrace my cousin, but she recoiled and said, “Where
for art thou, my butter-brained cousin, the beauty of the Balkans? The belle of
the ball. What brings you to my quarters?”
“Why, Amalie, do you not recall?” queried Little Ludwig. “She had to
sign the document. But now, I fear, all manner of evil will envelop our
continent, for that changeling Lola has her hooks deep inside of our Sisi.”
“She, took, my dainties,” sang Amalie.
“I beg your pardon, Your Grace,” I ventured. “But I have found myself in
quite a pickle.”
“A pickle? Why, when last I checked, you were in a mound of butter!
“Shhhhh,” warned Little Ludwig.
Amalie grabbed at my locket, which now hung outside of my clothing for
all to see. “Yet another of these enchanted necklaces,” she said. “What does
this one make you do?”
“Enchanted?” I said.
“Handed down from tart to tart, these twisted bits of metal.”
“But it was gifted to me by my governess,” I said. And then, “You have
one as well, yes?”
Amalie thrust the candelabra above her head and sang,
“I once was lovely,
I once was haughty.
Now I’m nothing but a throwaway daughty.”
“Daughty?” said Little Ludwig
“Oh my, that doesn’t work at all, does it?”
“My dear Amalie, you are mad. Madder than ever.” Little Ludwig swiped
his boa round his neck and tossed his head back. “But let us get back to the
matter at hand. It is an abomination, Sisi, that you would festoon yourself
with such tawdry relics. And such a tragedy that you would forsake a pageantry
in favor of peasantry.”
Before I could respond, Amalie burst forth with the next round of song:
“Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Just like my dainties.”
“Stolen away? What will be stolen away, Amalie?” I asked.
cousin moved in close to me, her nose against my nose. “It is the way she got
to me. The way she gets to everyone.”
(click on image for Goodreads link)
About the Author
Suzy Vitello is a proud founding member of a critique group recently dubbed The Hottest Writing Group in Portland, and her short stories have won fellowships and prizes (including the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Award, and an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship).
Suzy's young adult novels, THE MOMENT BEFORE and THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES are available wherever books and ebooks are sold.
An e-chapbook of some of her stories, UNKISS ME, can be found here