Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 16 of 35

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
In Pursuit of Ever After

The girls spent some time practicing walking, curtsying, turning around and backing up in their court dresses. "However will I remember to move the train out of the way as I back away from the throne after the presentation?" Danielle wondered, nearly tripping on her train.

"You will become accustomed to it quickly enough, Danielle. That is a difficult maneuver for the most experienced courtier, just keep practicing," assured her aunt with a fond smile. It was fortunate indeed that Danielle had inherited her mother's natural grace, her aunt thought, remembering her sister, wishing she could have been here this day to see their daughters being presented to court together.

"Nicole, I am so sorry you have been drawn into this intrigue. Henry insists that the only way to deal with it is for us to be introduced together," Danielle apologized.

"I think it is famous fun, Danielle. Please do not apologize. I am quite looking forward to the whole event. It was actually quite brilliant of your Prince to use our striking resemblance to confound the curious courtiers," she smiled conspiratorially at her cousin.

Coming up to the girls, the Duchess embraced them warmly. "Danielle, your mother would be so proud of the lady you have grown to be."

"Thank you, Matante," said Danielle, blinking back tears.

"Come! It is time, ladies." As they proceeded from the secluded royal apartments into the more public areas of the palace the three ladies drew every eye.

Speculation built as word travelled more quickly through the palace than they could walk. Word spread that "SHE" had emerged from wherever the royal family had hidden her away. Rumors were that there were, in fact, two masque girls.

When they reached the antechamber to the throne room, it was near overflowing with courtiers hoping to gain admittance. There were gasps, whispers, and exclamations from the courtiers when they spied two beautiful girls. Danielle and Nicole whispered to each other in amusement. Sailing forward, the Duchess found her sons waiting for them. The Chamberlain greeted her immediately and prepared to usher the group inside the throne room.

The doors opened and they stepped through the doorway into yet another crowded room. In this room the crowd was separated in two, flanking the walls, and leaving an aisle in the middle leading to the dais. The King and Queen sat on their thrones, dressed in their most formal attire and wearing their crowns. Danielle saw that Henry stood to the King's right and he also wore his crown. She had never seen Henry in his crown before, she realized, mesmerized, and it helped her to stay focused upon him, instead of the whispers flowing through the crowd as she and Nicole were noticed. 'How could the Prince of France possibly love one such as I?' she wondered, gazing at him.

At a nod from the King, the Chamberlain announced the Duc de LeVey and the Dowager Duchess de LeVey. The King and Queen greeted them as the crowd watched raptly. The courtiers thought they were finally going to have the mystery of the girl from the masque solved.

Some turned to look at the Baroness de Ghent. She looked ashen. No one had seen her at court since the masque. Until today. She had been summoned to appear. Since Marguerite had been at the castle as the Queen's guest for several days, the Baroness had been hoping this would be an announcement of her engagement to the Prince. Seeing Danielle at court was a complete shock. She had believed Danielle was still at Le Pieu's until that very moment.

The Duchess then asked permission of the royals to present her daughter and niece. "Your Majesties, may I present my niece, Danielle, Comtesse de Lancret and my daughter, Lady Nicole de LeVey?"

There were murmurs of "Comtesse", "Danielle" and "Nicole" from the crowd.

The Baroness was staring at Danielle in shock and horror. 'How can this be happening? Why isn't she in Le Pieu's dungeon?'

The Queen beamed fondly at the girls, who curtseyed in unison. "It is so lovely to see you two young ladies again. As alike as ever, I see." Danielle and Nicole made their curtsies and backed gracefully away from the thrones.

With that acknowledgement from the Queen, the Duc and the Duchess, there was no way the Baroness could place any creditable doubt on Danielle's identity or pedigree. What would they do to her, she wondered? As the Duc's party moved into the crowd across from her, to allow the audiences to continue, the Baroness tried to slip out unnoticed.

The King had been waiting for her to make that very move. He addressed her in a voice of iron, "Baroness de Ghent."

Rodmilla had no choice but to approach the dais after being addressed by the King. Jacqueline and Marguerite stepped out from the crowd to line up behind her, as they had been instructed. "Yes, Your Majesty," she said in her sweetest voice, raising her most innocent smile up to him as she sank into a deep curtsey.

The King was completely annoyed.

Henry wondered what he was planning since they hadn't completed their investigation of the Baroness. He had been unpleasantly surprised she was here. She had not been welcome at court after the scene at the masque.

"Baroness did you, or did you not, lie to Her Majesty, the Queen of France?" the King charged.

The normally benevolent Queen glared frostily at the Baroness. This woman's spite and treachery had cost her son the love of his life. She had sentenced both Henry and Danielle to years of grief and loneliness. She must be inflicted with extreme penalty. "Choose your words wisely, madame, for they may be your last," she warned icily.

The Baroness looked nervously from Queen to King, feeling as if she were prey. She proffered unsteadily, "A woman would do practically anything for the love of a daughter, Your Majesty." Marguerite looked uncertainly at her mother. Jacqueline looked disgusted. "Perhaps I did get a little carried away."

At that, Marguerite simply panicked and ran in front of her mother. "Mother! What have you done?" She turned to the King and Queen, "Your Majesty, like you, I am just a victim here. She has lied to us both and I am ashamed to call her family," she said with feeling.

The outburst from Marguerite drove the Baroness into such a wrathful indignation that she lashed out, viciously shoving Marguerite aside. "How dare you turn on me, you little ingrate?"

"You see?" Marguerite addressed the King defensively. "You see what I have to put up with?"

Henry was sickened watching this. If the Baroness could be provoked to such a temper, directed at her favourite daughter, and in the King's throne room, what did that say about how she treated Danielle in private? He didn't move, his eyes searching out Danielle. There she was, looking back at him, a question in her eyes. He turned his head slightly and smiled at her before turning his attention back to the show.

The King was shocked at this ill-bred, vulgar outburst in his court. "Silence, both of you!" He looked at Jacqueline, "Good Lord, are they always like this?"

Jacqueline nodded, looking amused and embarrassed simultaneously. "Worse, Your Majesty."

"Jacqueline, darling, I'd hate to think you had anything to do with this," the Baroness said, her voice veiled with threat.

Jacqueline smiled, "Of course not, Mother. I'm only here for the food," she said wryly. Someone in the crowd laughed. Capt. Laurent smiled at Jacqueline's show of spirit.

The Baroness glared menacingly at Danielle. She had to be to blame for this. Danielle could feel the loathing, as if it were coming off of her step-mother in physical waves; each more intense than the last. She stepped back involuntarily, bumping her cousin, the Duc. He put his hand on her shoulder, reassuringly. Danielle looked over at Henry, who looked as if he would like to leap from the dais and physically strangle the Baroness. Nicole took her hand and gave it a squeeze. The Duchess put a motherly arm around her waist. She felt and received so much tenderness and love from these people she cared about and who cared for her that she was able to look back at the Baroness with a steely composure.

Queen Marie sentenced her, "Baroness de Ghent, you are forthwith stripped of your title; and you are to be shipped to the Americas on the next available boat, unless, by some miracle, someone here will speak for you."

Rodmilla's eyes widened in fear. She backed away from the dais looking into the crowd, frantically searching for sympathy; a single friend or ally. Most of the courtiers refused to meet her eyes or returned cold, unmerciful stares. "There seem to be quite a few people out of town," she replied unsteadily.

"I will speak for her," said Danielle calmly, stepping into the aisle. She approached Rodmilla unflinchingly. The courtiers leaned forward, breathless with anticipation. This one must be the girl from the masque. The one in the green gown, the comtesse. Henry was proud of Danielle, beaming his pride. "She is, after all, my step-mother," Danielle continued. Gasps from the crowd were quickly stifled. She stopped directly in front of her now untitled step-mother, who was required by protocol to curtsey to the Comtesse.

Rodmilla gave her a malicious smile, followed by an insincere, but deep, curtsey, "My lady."

Danielle gave her back to Rodmilla and addressed the King and Queen. "All I ask, Your Majesties, is that you show her the same courtesy that she has bestowed upon me."

The King nodded and then he looked at Marguerite. "Marguerite de Ghent, you supported your mother's lie to Her Majesty, the Queen of France," he said, convicting her in a single sentence.

Marguerite's eyes were huge in her face. She swallowed anxiously. "Yes, Your Majesty. I did. I am sorry, and there is no excuse for what I did," Marguerite admitted tearfully, wondering if she was destined to share her mother's fate. The Americas, what a frightful place!

Danielle walked up to stand next to Marguerite, who looked at her in surprise.

The King regarded Danielle fondly. "Well, Comtesse, What do you think we should do about Marguerite?"

Danielle looked at the King, the Queen and Henry, all of whom were looking at her warmly. They were deferring to her, she realized with amazement. "Your Majesty, I have forgiven Marguerite for any hurts she has caused me. I do not wish for her to be punished for anything she may have done with respect to me." Danielle looked at the Queen, since it was the Queen to whom Marguerite had lied. "I ask that you have mercy on her for her offence to you, Your Majesty. Anyone who has not lived with Rodmilla de Ghent cannot imagine the fear in which those under her authority live."

"Thank you, Danielle," the Queen said, smiling at Danielle, approving of her grace. "Marguerite, you are indeed fortunate to have a champion in the Comtesse. You are forgiven." Marguerite nearly collapsed with relief. She threw herself into Danielle's arms, weeping.

Marguerite couldn't believe that Danielle had truly forgiven her for all of the selfish, unkind things she had done in the last ten years. Her mother's love and approval had always been very conditional. Being 'forgiven' never truly meant forgiveness in her young experience. "Thank you, Danielle. I'm so sorry."

Danielle held the weeping Marguerite saying, "You're welcome, Marguerite, but you know I have already forgiven you."

Rodmilla had watched this exchange in shocked silence. Suddenly she screeched behind them, causing them jump and turn in surprise. "How dare you, Marguerite! You little turncoat! I did it all for you! I will get you for this, Danielle!" At her threat, three things happened simultaneously: Henry jumped off the dais, putting himself between the Baroness and Danielle; two guards grabbed Rodmilla; and the King shouted to the guards, "Take her out of here!"

After she had been removed, the courtiers all turned their attention back to the Prince, the Comtesse and Marguerite standing in the center of the room. The Comtesse and Marguerite were step-sisters? Everyone knew that Marguerite had been pursuing the Prince before the masque and wondered what she had apologized to the Comtesse about. What had the lie to the Queen been about? Was the Comtesse the girl from the masque or was it her cousin, Nicole?

The King announced, "Well, I think we have had enough excitement for one day. Everyone withdraw."

When everyone but the royals and Danielle's family had left the room the King signaled the Chamberlain to shut the door. "Well, that was quite a spectacle." Everyone turned towards the King as he was speaking. "The gossip mongers will feed upon it for months, no, years!"

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty," Danielle whispered. "I should have kept my silence." Henry slid an arm around her waist, giving her a comforting squeeze, forgetting, for the moment, his resolve not to treat her as the woman he planned to marry.

The King smiled at Danielle, "Nonsense, Danielle. You were magnificent. It was a spectacle and will be much talked of, but everything that needs to be addressed publicly has been addressed publicly. Very well. Now we just need to brazen out the first crush of curiosity."

"Henry," the Queen said, "Why don't you young people take a stroll in the gardens while we elders rest and recuperate from the excitement?"

"Certainly, Mother. Feeding your young to the wolves?" he joked, bowing. To the group he simply said, "Shall we?" He offered an arm to Nicole and one to Danielle. "I will be the envy of every gentleman in the court," he declared playfully. The Duc offered his arm to Jacqueline and his brothers, André and Philippe, escorted Marguerite.

They walked casually through the anteroom and the corridors, stopping often to greet people and introduce Nicole, Danielle, Antoine, Philippe and André to everyone in their path. Eventually, the group reached the gardens, which were uncrowded. Most courtiers were still crammed inside the palace, breathlessly reviewing the day's events. Many came to the conclusion that Nicole and Danielle had most likely been playing some kind of game, pretending to be each other with the Prince and that perhaps he had found out at the masque. The Prince was clearly protective of Danielle, so most assumed a secret, romantic attraction there. Some of Henry's closest friends knew he had been in love with 'Nicole,' so thought she was the one he preferred. Step-mothers were generally regarded as mean or uncaring of their step-children, so the Baroness' rant at the masque was summarily dismissed. Everyone knew the Baroness had counted on Marguerite marrying the Prince and assumed she was just trying to give the Prince a disgust of her step-daughter, the Comtesse, at the masque.

By early evening, Danielle was practically asleep on her feet as Henry took her back to her door. "You were magnificent today," he said softly. "I am so proud of how you handled everything thrown at you."

"Thank you. I was quite apprehensive about it all, but we seem to have survived it. Everyone was very friendly this evening."

"I will see you tomorrow, Danielle. Goodnight." He smiled, remembering how she had glowed today, charming everyone. Him most of all.

"Goodnight, Henry," she said softly as he turned and left.

Danielle called for her maid and got ready for bed. She was asleep the minute her head hit the pillow.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 16 of 35

<< Previous     Home     Next >>