The sudden and violent death of Sisi’s only son, Crown Prince Rudolph at his hunting lodge Mayerling, shakes the Monarchy to its core. And the fact that the dead body of his teenaged mistress is found right next to his completes the scandal. How will the imperial couple cope with this devastating loss? Does this tragedy mark the end of the Danube monarchy, since Rudolph only has a daughter? And will their love and faith in each other allow Sisi and Franz Joseph to master these difficult trials?
And the search for the Heir Presumptive is on. For the moment, the Emperor’s younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, fills that role, but one must plan for the future. So, who would fill the role better: Archduke Otto, nicknamed “the Clown”, or Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is always plagued by one ailment or another?
Churned up and filled with doubts concerning the official version of the Mayerling incident, Empress Sisi attempts to uncover the truth about her son’s untimely death. But no matter where she searches, she faces a wall of silence. To escape the vicious rumors and regain her inner peace, the Country Girl Empress turned Perpetual Traveler journeys to Greece. On the 16th of October 1889, Crown Prince Rudolph’s best friend and uncle, Archduke Johann Salvator resigns his army commission and renounces his title and the privileges he enjoys as a member of the Austrian imperial family. Afterward, he assumes the name Johann Orth and marries Ludmilla "Milli" Stubel, an opera dancer, in London. Shortly after their wedding, he purchases the ship “St. Margaritha”, and he and his wife set sail for South America.
In February of the following year, the former Archduke’s ship sets off from Montevideo, Uruguay, heading for Valparaíso in Chile. They were last seen on the 12th of July in Cape Tres Puntas, Argentina. Everyone believes that the St. Margaritha was lost during a storm off the coast of Cape Horn. Have Johann Orth and his wife become the newest victims of the forces that already eliminated the Crown Prince? Was their demise just an unhappy coincidence, or did they indeed escape their pursuers by changing their names, fleeing deeper into the jungles of South America?
After her son's violent death, Sisi commissions the construction of a palace on the island of Corfu called the “Achilleion”, after Homer's hero Achilles in “The Iliad”. Located about ten kilometers south of the city of Corfu, it provides a panoramic view of the town to the north, and across the whole southern part of the island to the Ionian Sea, and becomes Sisi’s favorite holiday destination. She wants to create a place that gratifies her admiration for Greece, its language, and culture. But she realizes all too soon that her “Castle of Dreams” is nothing but a shackle and even considers selling it. How much more loss and misery can the unsteady spirit of the Empress endure?
-Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite
"If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine myself in the 1880s, surrounded by ladies-in-waiting, countesses, and duchesses. Reading this tale has immersed me in a Victorian-like era and I was transfixed by the secrets and the image the monarchy consistently builds in front of its people."
-Jessica Barbosa for Readers’ Favorite