Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 1 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

"Engaged? To a Belgian?" Henry said in disbelief. He felt as though he'd been punched.

"I'm afraid so," the Queen said sympathetically. It was heart-rending to have to break this news to Henry.

"That's impossible! There has to be some kind of mistake!" he said with conviction. She would have told him. He was certain.

"She was travelling by boat this afternoon," the Queen continued. "Baroness Rodmilla was quite reluctant to talk about it."

"Well, it's no wonder- with tidings such as these," Henry turned and walked a few steps away from his mother. He was staggered. "Do you know, if she was betrothed, she damn well should have had the decency to say something!" he said angrily.

"Would you have listened?" she asked tenderly.

"Of course not! I would've—" A vision of Nicole, as she had looked this afternoon at Amboise, came to his mind. 'There is something I must tell you…I cannot stay long…There is much to say…You're not making this easy…Why did you have to be so wonderful?...Last night was the happiest night of my life.' She had been crying before she came, he realized. She had cried out in distress when he had embraced her and run away. This explained her odd behavior, Henry realized, feeling sick and betrayed. "Oh God, how could I have been so blind?" he walked back to his mother. "There I was, pouring my royal heart out and she was simply trying to bid me farewell," he said bitterly.

Marie reached a hand out to touch his cheek, wishing she could comfort him. "It is a strong woman who can keep her wits about her, with you trying to steal her heart."

"Yes, and what a clumsy thief I turned out to be," he said in despair.

"Oh, come now Henry," she said as he turned and walked away. "Any choice is better than Spain," she called after him.

'She is my only choice,' he thought desperately. 'If I cannot have her, what does it matter who I marry?'

Upon leaving his mother, Henry immediately told Capt. Laurent to get the horses saddled and they headed with all haste to the Baroness' home, determined to speak with Nicole before she left.

As they rode towards the Manor de Barbarac, Henry replayed their last encounter over in his mind. 'When she arrived she looked upset and said she had something to tell me. Was I so focused on what I was planning to share that I didn't realize she had something so momentous to tell me? As I told her about my sleepless night and wanting to share my life with her she seemed to get more upset. When I pulled her into my arms she recoiled. What was so different about today? Yesterday at the monastery and later at the gypsy camp everything was so perfect. Did something happen? Did I do something to frighten her off? Are they forcing her to honour the engagement? Surely, she would have told me if that were the case. After all, what guardian wouldn't prefer me as a marriage prospect?' he thought. 'She cannot be gone, yet. I was with her only a few hours ago,' he prayed as they rode up before the Manor de Barbarac.

As Henry pulled his horse to a quick stop and dismounted, the Baroness came out of the door and swept into a deep curtsey. "Why, Your Highness, to what do we owe the honour of your visit?"

Approaching the Baroness Henry said, "I am here to see the Comtesse de Lancret, Baroness."

Eyes widening in surprise the Baroness said, "Oh, Your Highness, she left hours ago, I'm afraid. The luggage cart left this morning. She went for a walk and as soon as she returned she left on horseback."

"Nicole went for a walk?" he asked, upset that he was too late.

"Yes, she said that she needed a solitary walk to say 'goodbye' to France, Your Highness," she said sweetly.

Henry felt his world crumbling around him. He was "France" to Nicole? Could the love he felt really be so one-sided? "Baroness, I would like to see her room before I leave."

"But, of course, Your Highness." The Baroness was a bit panicked now, with the Prince in the house and Danielle locked in the root cellar. Fortunately, she had already banished the other servants to the fields for the afternoon.

She led the Prince upstairs to the guestroom and waited outside while he looked around. She was relieved that she always insisted it be kept clean and ready for possible visitors so it did not look or smell like the unused room that it was. Henry walked around the room, trying to picture Nicole reading by the fireplace or sleeping in the bed. The wardrobe was empty and there was no sign that she might still be here.

'She really was just trying to bid me farewell,' he thought despondently. 'Who is she marrying? Why? Why not me? Could it be a love match? It must be, for why else would she have chosen to honour her engagement to this unknown nobleman over being the future Queen of France? She was so upset at Amboise, even pulling out of my embrace. I should have realized there was more to it than Nicole just being overwhelmed with the honour of marrying the arrogant heir to the French Crown. I should have followed her when she ran off! Stupid, thinking she just needed some time to adjust to the idea.'

Taking one last glance at the room, Henry left the guestroom and headed back downstairs. The Baroness followed him downstairs and outside. Suddenly, Henry turned towards her and demanded, "How is it that she is engaged to a foreigner without being first presented at court and having the marriage approved? A French comtesse cannot marry without the Crown's approval."

The Baroness looked troubled and said, "Your Highness, they have been betrothed since they were children." Thinking quickly she added, "The approval was sought years ago," hoping he wouldn't go looking for record of such an approval. "She is so looking forward to being reunited with her fiancé. They have been the best of friends since they first met as small children."

The Baroness watched the emotions playing across the Prince's face and held her tongue. She watched the hope and determination die in his eyes. He had decided not to chase after the woman who had spurned him for another. Henry composed his features, politely thanking the Baroness and bidding her farewell. He mounted his horse and headed slowly back to the Château d'Hautefort.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 1 of 35

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