Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 10 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

Henry and his guards swept into Château Beynac's courtyard unchallenged. All was quiet. Henry looked around, wondering where to start searching the enormous castle. As he dismounted, a movement from an entrance caught his eye.

A servant girl was coming out into the courtyard, looking behind her; as if afraid she may be followed. She turned her head forward with a slight smile on her face. Danielle! Henry started running towards her. He couldn't quite believe she really was alive. He wanted to grab her into his arms, but he realized that the last time he had seen her she had been running away from him in tears over his rejection. That had been three weeks ago.

Pierre Le Pieu watched from the window of his bedchamber as the Prince ran across the courtyard towards Danielle, thankful the Prince hadn't arrived five minutes earlier. One of his men-at-arms came in to ask what he wanted them to do about the army entering the courtyard.

"Do nothing," Le Pieu answered.

"Nothing, milord?"

"That is the Crown Prince of France. We shall not raise a sword against him. Let them enter and take anything they wish," Le Pieu answered distractedly, watching the scene unfold below.

Danielle saw Henry running across the courtyard towards her. Was she imagining, she wondered. No, if she had been imagining it, she wouldn't be dressed in this filthy gown she had been wearing for three weeks, her hair a tangled mess while he looked magnificently handsome, dressed as if he were at court. She couldn't fathom why he was here. If he had forgiven her or cared for her, why would he have waited three weeks to come see her?

Henry stopped a few feet away from her. Taking in her appearance, he was relieved she didn't appear to be hurt. He didn't know what to say to her as they stood there looking at each other for a few moments. Finally he said simply, "Hello."

"Hello," she returned. With a confused look she added "What are you doing here?"

Still trying to recover from the shock of seeing her alive he said, "I am…I came to rescue you." He thought that sounded ridiculous considering she had been missing for three weeks, Château Beynac was less than an hour's ride from his castle, and when he found her she was walking free in a courtyard. She didn't look as if she needed rescuing.

She threw him a shattered look. "Rescue me? A commoner?" she said dejectedly. She turned slightly and walked away from him, exhausted.

He finally determined what he wanted to say. "Actually, I came to beg your forgiveness. I offered you the world and at the first test of honour I betrayed your trust." She continued to walk away from him, "Please Danielle," he begged her to listen.

She swiftly turned around, a stunned look on her face. "Say it again," she asked him softly.

He looked tortured, "I'm sorry."

She gave him a small smile. He had misunderstood her. "No, the part where you said my name."

She wanted to hear him say her name again, he thought. She must not completely hate me. He smiled in relief, "Danielle," he said again.

She closed her eyes, sighing. She hadn't believed she would ever hear him call her by her real name.

He walked close to her, "Danielle, we have much to say to one another, but I would prefer not to do it here." Henry motioned to the dusty courtyard and for the first time she noticed that Henry had come with enough mounted soldiers to storm the castle. "Will you please come with me?" He held out his hand to her. She took it and he slowly pulled her to him. He was watching her carefully for any signs of pain or resistance, determined not to repeat past mistakes. She came willingly into his arms and seemingly melted into him with a sigh. He closed his eyes, feeling a sense of peace having her safe in his arms. He couldn't believe he was holding her again. At last. She felt so right in his arms.

As she took his hand, she felt safe for the first time in weeks. In his arms, she felt as if she were home, where she belonged.

He took a deep breath, "I need to know just one thing before we leave, all right?" She nodded against his chest. He gently tilted her chin up with his finger. He looked into her tear filled eyes-fearing he already knew the answer. "Did Le Pieu hurt you?"

Danielle shook her head 'no,' her throat was too clogged with tears to speak.

Henry looked at her tear streaked face and thought she was again afraid to tell him the truth. "Danielle," he began gently, "is this blood on your dress?" he pointed to a stain on her sleeve from her encounter with Le Pieu only moments ago. "I love you and nothing can change that. If he abused you in any way, then I need to know."

Danielle giggled.

Henry looked at her closely, trying to figure out what her teary giggle could mean.

"I can be quite persuasive with a sword, you know. The blood is his. I persuaded him to let me go just before you arrived. He never forced himself upon me. He told me he wanted me to come to him willingly," she shivered. "This morning he was burying his face in my hair, smelling it. I was afraid he was tired of waiting for me, so I grabbed his dagger and held it to his throat. That seemed to… entice him, so he tried to kiss me. I cut him with the dagger, and grabbed a sword. He gave me the key to my irons and let me go."

Henry was amazed that a seasoned swordsman like Le Pieu had allowed himself to be bested by a girl. He was just happy the blood was his and not hers. "He was smelling your hair?" Henry thought it sounded more like something an over-eager suitor bent on seduction would do than a man with Le Pieu's reputation. "Is the kiss he tried to take the worst thing he did to you?"

"Yes, he didn't hurt me or force me, and I never agreed to any of his offers," she gave Henry a tentative smile.

Relief flooded through Henry. He believed her. "Thank God!" He swung her around and gave her a kiss, which she returned eagerly. He put her down and asked, "Are you ready to leave?"

"Yes, definitely," she replied. He put her onto the back of his horse.

"I will be back in a minute. You wait here," he said with a smile.

To Laurent he said, "I am not expecting any trouble, but if anything happens you are to take her out of here immediately and I will meet you at Amboise. If I'm not there in half an hour, take her to Hautefort and see the King."

"Yes, Your Highness."

The Prince took half a dozen men and headed for the entrance.

Le Pieu was tormented watching their reunion. He could no longer picture her as any man's mistress, even the Prince's. That was why he had let her go. To see her in the Prince's arms, when the whole world, apart from Danielle, knew the Prince was betrothed was disturbing.

He saw the Prince heading for the entrance and started downstairs to meet his fate, wondering what that would be. He looked around as he went, wondering if his fascination with Danielle had cost him everything he had achieved in his career. King Francis had awarded him Château Beynac and the barony five years previously. He now stood to lose it all, it seemed.

The Prince saw Le Pieu coming down the stairs calmly, noting he was unarmed. "I am taking her with me," he stated flatly.

Le Pieu was master of all his feelings, looking at the Prince. "Yes, Your Highness, I can see that. She was free to go before you arrived."

"Where can we talk privately?" the Prince asked. He didn't want to be overheard by the soldiers.

Le Pieu motioned to the room just off of the Great Hall where he had had his final confrontation with Danielle. They went into the room. Le Pieu closed the doors behind them.

"You are lucky that Danielle told me you did not hurt her, Le Pieu. Given your reputation with women, I was concerned when I learned she was here. Do you still have the rest of the dress she was wearing when she arrived? The parts you did not plant on the bridge or in the river, that is."

"Yes, I have the rest of the dress." He walked over to a chest and took out a package, handing it to the Prince. "Here it is."

"What about her shoe? She lost one on the way out of Hautefort, but there should be another."

"She was barefoot when she arrived, Your Highness." Le Pieu stated calmly.

"The Baroness sold her to you?"


"She sold you her step-daughter?"

"Her step-daughter, Your Highness?" Le Pieu couldn't credit that. "Danielle is a servant."

"No, Danielle is not a servant. She is the Baroness' step-daughter. Her name is Danielle de Barbarac. Their house is called the Manor de Barbarac, in case you didn't know."

Le Pieu was stunned. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. I had no idea. I always assumed she was a servant. She was always with the servants, never with the daughters. The Baroness referred to her as a servant." The Baroness had lied to him, sold him her step-daughter and got him into serious trouble with the Prince. She would have to be dealt with, if the Prince didn't take care of her first. "I had hoped to convince her to become my mistress, but she declined, and contrary to my reputation, I am not a rapist."

Henry wasn't sure how much to credit Le Pieu's story. "She had to decline your offer with a dagger before you believed she was serious?" he pointed to the fresh cut on Le Pieu's face.

"I was hoping she would change her mind, until I understood just how serious she was about never being any man's mistress, Your Highness."

"Who else knows she has been here?" he demanded.

"No one but my men."

"See it stays that way. I don't want any talk about her being here if we can avoid it. It would be better for you if none of your men talk about this," the Prince warned.

"I will see to it. They will understand the importance of secrecy, Your Highness."

"You will need to come to Château d'Hautefort tomorrow, so we may discuss this matter further with the King," the Prince said, leaving Le Pieu's ultimate fate in the hands of his father.

"I'll be there, Your Highness," he bowed as the Prince left.

Danielle was relieved when Henry came out of the castle with his men. He smiled up at her and mounted the horse. She slid her arms around his waist and relaxed into his back.

Henry dismissed the men, telling them to speak of this to no one. He then followed with his personal guard. They had to take a slower pace with Henry's horse carrying two riders.

Le Pieu watched them ride out of his courtyard, more in sorrow than in anger at losing her. He cast a last longing look upon Danielle as they rounded a corner, disappearing from view. He realized now that she was his unobtainable ideal. He opened a box on his desk and withdrew the missing glass slipper. He had found it in his carriage the day he had gone to Hautefort and heard the search had been called off. All he would have left was this token remembrance of her: one delicate glass slipper.

Henry wanted time to talk to Danielle before they reached Hautefort, so he decided to stop at Amboise.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 10 of 35

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