Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 15 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

It was late morning when Danielle heard her maid moving around, laying out a dress for her to wear. She brought Danielle's breakfast and continued arranging things around the room. When Danielle had finished eating and getting dressed she sent a message to Henry and the Queen, as she had been instructed.

Shortly, Henry appeared at her door, smiling. "Good morning, Comtesse."

"Good morning, Your Highness," she replied.

"Are you ready? They are waiting for us."

Danielle gave Henry a radiant smile, "Yes, I am ready."

Henry was enchanted. He hadn't seen that smile in weeks, the one that lit up her whole face and made her eyes sparkle; not since he had taken her home after their day at the monastery. He had missed it.

He offered her his arm and they travelled down the corridor to the Queen's apartment. As they walked through the door Danielle was so nervous she thought she may faint for the second time in her life. She was glad to have Henry's arm to hold onto.

She looked across the room to see the King and Queen talking to a group of people. They all turned when they heard Henry and Danielle walk into the room. Even being forewarned at how similar she looked to her cousin, she found it strange to look at her. It was as if she were looking into a mirror. The one she was most curious to meet, however, was her aunt: her mother's twin sister. This was as close to seeing her actual mother as she would ever come.

The Duchess was crying, crushing Danielle in an emotional embrace. Danielle had been told she looked like her mother, but until seeing her aunt and cousin had not truly believed it. She was crying too, being embraced by her aunt was like embracing her mother. It was something she had never dreamed possible.

The introductions were made, everyone exclaiming over the likeness between the cousins. Hugs were exchanged and tears were shed. They talked of Danielle's life, of her mother's estrangement from the family and of wanting Danielle to make her home with them. Danielle felt loved and accepted immediately. She was truly part of a family again, for the first time in over ten years.

Henry watched Danielle interacting with her newfound family with a mixture of pleasure and sorrow. He was happy for her, finding her mother's family after all of these years of being alone, but acutely aware that this was the first step in preparing her to leave him, leaving an aching void in his life.

Now that Henry had seen Danielle and Nicole together he was certain he would never confuse them again. Although they had the same auburn hair, the same fair coloring, the same heart shaped face, the same slim nose; there were differences. There was a slight difference in their eye color; Danielle's being more green and Nicole's slightly more blue than green. Their expressions also differed. Especially their smiles. There was definitely a difference around the mouth, he thought. The resemblance was really quite striking, he marveled. He knew the courtiers were never going to be able to tell the girls apart.

Within a couple of hours, Danielle felt as if she had known them her entire life: especially her cousin Nicole. They struck up an immediate friendship, and they knew they would be closer than any other friends, forever.

Eventually, the Queen and the Duchess announced they were taking the girls to get ready for their presentations. They went next door to Danielle's room, where she was surprised to see the dressmaker, her assistants and all of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting.

"The Duchess and I decided you girls needed new dresses for your presentation," the Queen announced.

"Another new dress?" Danielle was surprised. She had received two new dresses only the day before.

The Queen's dressmaker had her assistants bring out two elegant gowns. Done in embroidered silk, with velvet trims they were breathtaking: one in Emerald green, one in Sapphire blue. They had sleeves that were full at the top, fitted at the wrists and tapered onto the hands. The dresses each had a train longer and more formal than any Danielle had seen. "They are beautiful, Your Majesty. Thank you so much," Danielle hugged her impulsively.

"Oh, my! How beautiful! Thank you, Your Majesty," Nicole agreed.

"You girls are most welcome. Now you must have a fitting, then they can make any necessary adjustments while you have your hair done properly. I will see you all later. I must be off," and with that she swept out of the room with several of her ladies.

The cousins chatted like the best of friends while they had their fittings and hair done. The Duchess sat nearby, remembering times past when she and her twin had sat together getting ready for special occasions. To have the daughters together, finally, was an answer to years of heartfelt prayers.

When the cousins were dressed in their coordinating gowns, and their hair elegantly braided, the Duchess was moved to tears. She gave the girls a hug and told them to wait. She left the room and came back shortly with the Prince and the Duc. The servants were all dismissed, leaving the family alone with the Prince.

Henry looked at Danielle, in her emerald gown -love shining in his eyes. He went to her, picked up her hand and kissed it. "You look lovely, Comtesse," he said. He then pulled out a jewel box and opened it. Inside was a large pendant on a gold chain. It was a tear shaped emerald, surrounded by diamonds.

"Henry, it is the most beautiful pendant I have ever seen, but I cannot accept such an expensive gift," she told him, looking from the pendant to his eyes.

"I will never be able to look at an emerald without remembering your eyes." He loved how the green colour of the gown brought out the green in her eyes. "Consider it a reward for saving my life, if you like. You cannot refuse a gift from your Prince, you know," he teased. He went behind her and fastened it around her neck. "I need you to be my comtesse today: the one who outsmarted the gypsies and called her Prince arrogant in the courtyard."

Danielle smiled, "I understand perfectly," and she did.

He then went over to the Duc and Nicole, taking out a similar pendant for Nicole. This one was a square Sapphire surrounded by diamonds. He handed it to the Duc, saying, "This is for Nicole. Consider it a thank you for taking care of Danielle for me." The Duc fastened the pendant around his sister's neck.

Looking at the girls in amazement, Henry said, "I will see you all soon in the throne room. It is almost time for the audiences to begin." With a smile he left to join the King and Queen.

After the Prince left, there was a knock at the door. One of the Queen's ladies answered it. It was Leonardo and Gustave. "Leonardo! Gustave!" Danielle was excited to see her friends.

They came forward, hugging her enthusiastically. "Danielle! The Prince told us you returned!" Gustave said. "I am so happy to see you!" he was hugging her tightly, so relieved she was alive and well.

Danielle introduced them to her family. Her friends were delighted to learn that she had a family; after all she had been through. They apologized for not helping more the night of the ill fated masque.

"You are not to blame. I should have been more insistent that he listen to me before he whisked me away into the crowd."

Leonardo asked if he could make a sketch of the girls together. They agreed and he made a quick sketch.

After Leonardo left, he went to the throne room to watch the audiences. He didn't want to miss the reaction when Danielle and Nicole entered. He had already heard much speculation about Danielle's identity after she had ridden in on the Prince's horse and was greeted by the Queen. Some had claimed he called her 'Nicole' in the garden yesterday. Others claimed the Queen had called her 'Danielle' on the stairs. Since everyone knew he was betrothed to the Spanish Princess now, the theories of who she was to the Prince were wildly varied. Some believed she was his mistress, others, she was his truelove. Certainly, the Queen would never acknowledge his mistress, therefore most dismissed that idea out of hand. Some even claimed she was the Spanish Princess!

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 15 of 35

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