当前位置: 在线阅读网 > English books > Origin > CHAPTER 22


MADRID’S PALACIO REAL is Europe’s largest royal palace as well as one of its most stunning architectural fusions of Classical and Baroque styles. Built on the site of a ninth-century Moorish castle, the palace’s three-story facade of columns spans the entire five-hundred-foot width of the sprawling Plaza de la Armería on which it sits. The interior is a mind-boggling labyrinth of 3,418 rooms that wind through almost a million and a half square feet of floor space. The salons, bedrooms, and hallways are adorned with a collection of priceless religious art, including masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, and Rubens.

For generations, the palace had been the private residence of Spanish kings and queens. Now, however, it was used primarily for state functions, with the royal family taking residence in the more casual and secluded Palacio de la Zarzuela outside the city.

In recent months, however, Madrid’s formal palace had become the permanent home for Crown Prince Julián—the forty-two-year-old future king of Spain—who had moved into the palace at the behest of his handlers, who wanted Julián to “be more visible to the country” during this somber period prior to his eventual coronation.

Prince Julián’s father, the current king, had been bedridden for months with a terminal illness. As the fading king’s mental faculties eroded, the palace had begun the slow transfer of power, preparing the prince to ascend to the throne once his father passed. With a shift in leadership now imminent, Spaniards had turned their eyes to Crown Prince Julián, with a single question on their minds:

What kind of ruler will he turn out to be?

Prince Julián had always been a discreet and cautious child, having borne the weight of his eventual sovereignty since boyhood. Julián’s mother had died from preterm complications while carrying her second child, and the king, to the surprise of many, had chosen never to remarry, leaving Julián the lone successor to the Spanish throne.

An heir with no spare, the UK tabloids coldly called the prince.

Because Julián had matured under the wing of his deeply conservative father, most traditionalist Spaniards believed he would continue their kings’ austere tradition of preserving the dignity of the Spanish crown through maintaining established conventions, celebrating ritual, and above all, remaining ever reverential to Spain’s rich Catholic history.

For centuries, the legacy of the Catholic kings had served as Spain’s moral center. In recent years, though, the country’s bedrock of faith seemed to be dissolving, and Spain found herself locked in a violent tug-of-war between the very old and the very new.

A growing number of liberals were now flooding blogs and social media with rumors suggesting that once Julián was finally able to emerge from his father’s shadow, he would reveal his true self—a bold, progressive, secular leader finally willing to follow the lead of so many European countries and abolish the monarchy entirely.

Julián’s father had always been very active in his role as king, leaving Julián little room to participate in politics. The king openly stated that he believed Julián should enjoy his youth, and not until the prince was married and settled down did it make sense for him to engage in matters of state. And so Julián’s first forty years—endlessly chronicled in the Spanish press—had been a life of private schools, horseback riding, ribbon cuttings, fund-raisers, and world travel. Despite having accomplished little of note in his life, Prince Julián was, without a doubt, Spain’s most eligible bachelor.

Over the years, the handsome forty-two-year-old prince had publicly dated countless eligible women, and while he had a reputation for being a hopeless romantic, nobody had ever quite stolen his heart. In recent months, however, Julián had been spotted several times with a beautiful woman who, despite looking like a retired fashion model, was in fact the highly respected director of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum.

The media immediately hailed Ambra Vidal as “a perfect match for a modern king.” She was cultured, successful, and most importantly, not a scion of one of Spain’s noble families. Ambra Vidal was of the people.

The prince apparently agreed with their assessment, and after only a very short courtship, Julián proposed to her—in a most unexpected and romantic way—and Ambra Vidal accepted.

In the weeks that followed, the press reported daily on Ambra Vidal, noting that she was turning out to be much more than a pretty face. She quickly revealed herself as a fiercely independent woman who, despite being the future queen consort of Spain, flatly refused to permit the Guardia Real to interfere with her daily schedule or let their agents provide her with protection at anything other than a major public event.

When the commander of the Guardia Real discreetly suggested Ambra start wearing clothing that was more conservative and less formfitting, Ambra made a public joke out of it, saying she had been reprimanded by the commander of the “Guardarropía Real”—the Royal Wardrobe.

The liberal magazines splashed her face all over their covers. “Ambra! Spain’s Beautiful Future!” When she refused an interview, they hailed her as “independent”; when she granted an interview, they hailed her as “accessible.”

Conservative magazines countered by deriding the brash new queen-to-be as a power-hungry opportunist who would be a dangerous influence on the future king. As evidence, they cited her blatant disregard for the prince’s reputation.

Their initial concern centered on Ambra’s habit of addressing Prince Julián by his first name alone, eschewing the traditional custom of referring to him as Don Julián or su alteza.

Their second concern, however, seemed far more serious. For the past several weeks, Ambra’s work schedule had made her almost entirely unavailable to the prince, and yet she had been sighted repeatedly in Bilbao, having lunch near the museum with an outspoken atheist—American technologist Edmond Kirsch.

Despite Ambra’s insistence that the lunches were simply planning meetings with one of the museum’s major donors, sources inside the palace suggested that Julián’s blood was beginning to boil.

Not that anyone could blame him.

The truth of the matter was that Julián’s stunning fiancée—only weeks after their engagement—had been choosing to spend most of her time with another man.