Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 18 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

She walked around the castle for awhile, hoping to find Henry. She finally surrendered and went back to her room, disappointed that she hadn't been able to find him. After she closed the door she heard a movement behind her. She turned and saw Henry, standing at the entrance to the hidden passageway.

"I thought you would never return," he said, coming towards her quickly.

She laughed in relief, "I was looking for you."

"Why?" he said, taking her hands in his, with a smile.

"I didn't want our last words to be spoken in anger," she said softly.

He leaned down, kissing her softly on the lips, surprising her. "I'm not angry with you." He turned, pulling her along urgently by the hand. He pushed her behind the changing screen, "Change into your riding dress."

"Henry? Why?" she was confused. He hadn't kissed her since they had returned to Hautefort. Not since he had learned he couldn't break his betrothal. What had changed?

"Just do it, please," he entreated her.

She noticed her riding costume was all laid out behind the screen. She wondered if he had done it himself or if Suzanne had simply laid it out for the morning. She changed into it and emerged from behind the screen; it was the same one she had worn the day he had brought her to Hautefort. Could it be only a fortnight ago? She felt as if she was a totally different person, and that the world itself had changed.

He smiled and reached for her hand. She noticed now that he had changed from his formal clothes he had worn to the wedding into his riding clothes, as well. As he started to pull her through the hidden door she pleaded, "Henry, please stop! What are we doing?" She was confused and concerned. Were they running away?

"I thought we would have one last adventure before we must sacrifice everything for the good of the country. One night just for us," he said passionately, pulling her once more towards the passageway.

"Henry, please! Wait!" she pulled hard on her hand.

He stopped, looking hurt and desperate. Then he had a flashback to the last time they had played out this scene: at the masque. He hadn't listened to her then. He would now. He released her hand and closed the door carefully. He turned to face her, leaning back on the door, his arms crossed over his chest, to keep himself from reaching out to pull her through the door. "Very well, I am waiting."

She took a long breath, relieved that he could listen. "Where are we going? When will we be back? If we just disappear they will send out a search party. The Spanish will be arriving in two days for your wedding. Surely you do not want Gabriella to hear that you had to be hunted down with your mistress and brought back forcibly to marry her."

He pushed away from the door, coming towards her. "You are not my mistress! I am almost beyond caring what they think, anyway. She will have my hand and my crown," he took her hands, looking into her eyes, "but I wish to give this last night to you. Your family is planning to leave at midday tomorrow. We will return by then."

She took a deep breath. "Fine, I will go with you- on two conditions," she offered.

"Conditions? What do you mean conditions? Don't you want to be with me tonight?" he asked, stung.

"Yes, of course I want to spend tonight with you, Henry, but we must tell someone that we will be back," she insisted.

He dropped her hands, walking away frustrated. "If we tell anyone, they will try to stop us."

"I can tell Nicole. She will not betray us," she promised confidently. "If we are discovered missing, she can assure the King and Queen that we will return. It might prevent them hunting us down. If they do discover you missing and hunt us down, everyone will believe I am your mistress, Henry."

"Are you sure she will keep our secret until after we are discovered missing?" he asked doubtfully. She had a good point, he thought unsurprised. He certainly didn't want anyone assuming she was his mistress.

"Yes, I am sure."

"Very well then, I'll trust your judgment. I will wait in the passageway. Can you send for her?"

"I will, but I need you to agree to my second condition before I do," she said a bit nervously.

"What is your second condition?" he turned back to her, now wary.

She hesitated, knowing he was not going to like what she had to say. "Henry, I am not going to bring my future husband to you for approval," she stated flatly.

"Why not? Please Danielle," he took her hands in his again, "I don't want us to argue tonight," he pleaded. "I am insisting on that only to protect you. I am not trying to control you. He will be your choice. Please, just allow me to protect you. Come with me now," he implored, tugging on her hands.

She closed her eyes, she couldn't look into his beautiful eyes right now. "Henry, I know you are trying to protect me, but that isn't your responsibility." She pulled away, "I don't think Antoine is going to try and arrange a marriage for me. I can stand up for myself if he tries. Tomorrow, I must start a whole new life: with a new family, and in a new part of the country… A life without you," she whispered pointedly. She walked a few steps away. "I have been thinking a lot about this for the past week. I realize that I do want to have children someday, so you are right, I will need to find someone to marry, eventually… Hopefully, I can find someone I can care for." She turned back to look at him, saying softly, "I believe a love like ours only comes around once in a lifetime."

"You can bring him to me, Danielle; whoever he is. I just need to know you will be loved," he said gently. He couldn't bring himself to trust her future to anyone else. Yes, only himself.

He just couldn't understand why she couldn't do it, she sighed. How could she explain it to him? "Henry, you are like the Sun. You light my world. You make it bright and warm and alive, vivid in your light. If I am lucky enough to find someone else, he would be the Moon... Both give off light, and you can find your way by moonlight, but you do not see the Moon when the Sun is nearby. There is only one Sun." Her eyes were brimming with tears.

"Danielle, he could be another Sun. There is no reason to think he couldn't be," he answered, walking closer, trying to soothe her pain. And his.

She didn't know how to tell him the rest, without hurting him. She knew she couldn't see him again for a very long time, maybe never, but he clearly didn't understand. Seeing him again would tear her and her newly rebuilt life to pieces. She plunged on, "I can't move on and build this new life, knowing I will have to see you again only in order to marry another. It will be too painful to bring him to you…comparing the make-believe love with the reality of our once-in-a-lifetime love…I…" She hesitated, "After tomorrow, I can't see you again,"… "For a long time," she added, trying to soften the blow. She watched to see if he would argue with her. He was silent, just staring at her. "Please Henry," she whispered, imploring him.

He just continued to stare at her. She didn't want to see him after tomorrow… not for a long time. She hadn't said it, but he knew she thought they might never see one another again. He wanted to hold on, make her come to him. He needed to know he would see her again; that she would be happy, content. But, she needed a clean break. His heart felt as if pierced, mortally. Could he set her free? How could he protect her without requiring her to see him? He could actually see this last cord connecting them fraying, as if it were a tangible thing one could reach out and touch. She was asking him to sever it. She needed him to, he realized. He turned away from her, taking a deep breath, thinking. Severing it would be like cutting off his arm. He needed to find a way to do it, for her.

After a few moments he turned back to her. She knew she had hurt him deeply. She could barely look at him, knowing she had inflicted such pain. He looked physically changed. He had retreated behind the Prince's mask. She knew he had made his decision. She waited for him to share it with her.

"I will compromise with you," he began in his princely tone of voice, preparing to sever the tie. He imagined her as da Vinci's kite, preparing to take flight. He was the one holding onto the string… He let go. "You will write to me and I will have someone I trust come to see you, to make sure you are…happy."

"I will write to your mother, Henry," she countered.

"I am not negotiating, Danielle. You will write to me, or I will show up on your threshold. Is that clear? You, not Antoine nor your aunt nor your intended. You," he directed calmly, as the Crown Prince. Her Prince.

She nodded, relieved he had compromised. He had been pushed as far as he would go. "I will write to you myself," she promised. She smiled at this glimpse of the King he would be, someday: compassionate, but in command. The King she would never know.

If he had insisted on keeping to his original mandate, there wasn't much she could have done about it. He was the Crown Prince and she did need the Crown's approval to marry. Despite what she had said about it being a condition of her going with him, she would have gone anyway. She couldn't say no to him. She wanted this time together as much as he.

Dropping his mask, Henry walked over to her, stroking her cheek. "Thank you." He smiled, "Very well, write that note to Nicole now, please. I'll wait in the passageway."

She covered his hand with her own, "Henry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I would have gone with you tonight, under any conditions," she admitted. "We will only get this night once, and I wouldn't have sacrificed it for anything. Truly."

He smiled at her, the tension leaving his body. "You were right. We needed to settle this," he said softly. "Now, summon Nicole, please. I don't want to further waste any of our time together."

She sat and jotted a note to Nicole, giving it to one of the guards stationed at her door. She noticed for the first time that she had guards at her door like each member of the royal family, as no one else had. Who was responsible for that, she wondered. Surely Henry, she thought.

In a few minutes Nicole rushed into Danielle's room. She stopped short upon seeing Danielle dressed for riding this late in the afternoon. It would be dark soon. "Danielle, why are you dressed for riding? What was so urgent?...You are running away with the Prince, aren't you?" she stammered.

Henry was pacing the passageway considering what Danielle had said about them being discovered missing. He opened the secret door and popped his head in. Nicole gave a little squeak of surprise.

"Honestly, Henry, was that necessary?" Danielle chided him.

"I forgot to do something. I'll be back in a few minutes," he left and closed the door.

Danielle explained the plan to Nicole, asking her to cover for as long as possible. "I promise… we will be back before midday tomorrow."

Nicole agreed, feeling uneasy about deceiving her mother and brothers, but excited to help the Prince and Danielle have their "one last adventure," Danielle had called it. Nicole was a true romantic at heart.

True to his word, Henry returned ten minutes later to collect Danielle. Normally, Henry climbed out a window, but with Danielle along he decided to sneak out the servant's entrance. Danielle's heart nearly stopped each time they heard a noise, but soon they were outside in the cool, evening air. The sun had just set, so no one was out, except for a few servants. They went over behind the stables to get the horses Henry had waiting for them. As they rounded the corner, Danielle crashed into something solid. Arms came up to steady her and she found herself staring at the King.

She nearly fainted. She wished she had fainted, so she wouldn't have to hear what he was going to say. Oh, they were in big trouble now. She was sure. "Your Majesty," she whispered.

Henry said nothing, merely going to get the horses from his waiting guard. He came back and draped a dark, hooded cloak over Danielle's shoulders.

The King and Danielle were still staring at each other. When he spoke, he addressed himself to Henry, "Are you sure this is a good idea, Henry? I do not want either one of you getting hurt and we certainly cannot have this become known." The King pulled up Danielle's hood, concealing her face and hair.

Danielle was speechless. The King was in on the plan! He was letting them go. Henry had told his father. She was proud of him. It had taken courage to go to his father with a madcap adventure such as this.

"I promise we will be back before it is time for Danielle to leave. I would never intentionally do anything to hurt her, Father." Henry practically tossed Danielle up onto her horse and hurriedly mounted his, impatient to be away.

"Pull up your hood, Henry. I don't want anyone to recognize you as you leave. I will have your guard waiting at Amboise to escort you home, at daybreak."

"Thank you, Father."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Danielle said softly.

The King reached up, taking Danielle's hands. "You may as well call me 'Father', Danielle, for I certainly wouldn't allow him to go riding off into the night with anyone else," the King said solemnly, entrusting them with the future of the monarchy, for if they didn't return the consequences would be disastrous.

"Thank You, Father," Danielle said softly with a smile. Pulling her hood lower over her face she followed Henry around the stables, through the courtyard and out the gate.

They rode for awhile in companionable silence. Finally, Danielle asked, "Where are we going, Henry?"

Just then a group of rough looking men on horseback detached themselves from the trees and surrounded them. Danielle looked to Henry for an indication of what they should do. The Queen's admonitions about the need for security flashed through Danielle's mind. There were eight of the riders and only the two of them, making either fighting or escaping impractical. Could they outrun them? Unlikely. Hopefully they just wanted money, or the horses. Why wasn't Henry reacting, she wondered, confused.

Suddenly, one of the men laughed. Henry smiled. Danielle threw him a suspicious look. "I think milady doesn't remember us," laughed one of the men. "Will you carry him off to safety tonight, Comtesse?"

At last, it dawned on Danielle that these were the gypsies. She relaxed immediately, "Henry, why didn't you warn me?" she pouted.

"I was curious to see how you would decide to rescue me this time," he laughed.

Danielle laughed and the gypsies joined in. Suddenly it was as if they were transported back in time to that halcyon day. The day they had fallen in love. The perfect day.

They rode on, talking about that day. How Danielle had jumped out of a tree, knocking down their leader and grabbing his sword. They had adored the Comtesse from the moment she had lifted the Prince onto her back and bowed, walking away with their prize; outwitting the band of worldly gypsies.

Riding into the gypsy camp they received a warm welcome. Henry dismounted and lifted Danielle down. He held her close, saying to her, "Tonight, I am simply Henry."

She laughed delightedly as he led her into the camp. When Henry had contacted the gypsies, asking if they could come for a visit tonight, he had sent along a large offering of food from yesterday's hunt. They had several large fires blazing with meat roasting.

The gypsies were in a jovial mood, their homemade wine flowing freely and soon there was music and dancing. Henry and Danielle sat by a fire watching the gypsies singing and dancing merrily. "This was a wonderful idea, Henry," she said, leaning on his shoulder.

He smiled down into her eyes. It was wonderful to simply relax and enjoy each other's company without worrying about what anyone thought.

Just then the gypsy leader came over and took Danielle by the hand. "Milady, may I have this dance?" he laughed.

Danielle got up and joined the dancing. She didn't know the steps, but just went along instinctively, gracefully.

The leader's wife pulled Henry into the dance and soon they were both dancing along.

Meanwhile, at Hautefort, Nicole had told several people what Danielle had told her to. "Danielle told me to tell you that she has a headache and went to bed early."

Later, Nicole went to Danielle's room and allowed the maid to get 'Danielle' ready for bed. After the maid left her, she struggled back into her clothes and went to her room, there Nicole allowed her maid to get her ready for bed. Again. "So far, so good," she thought, exhausted, just before she drifted off to sleep.

Danielle and Henry were walking hand in hand along the edge of the camp. Most of the gypsies had gone to sleep hours before. They had cuddled by one of the fires talking all night. They didn't want to waste a moment of their time sleeping. It was nearly daybreak; the sky was beginning to lighten. "I'll always love you, Danielle," said Henry, gazing into her eyes.

"…and I you, Henry," she said softly.

Henry took Danielle's hand, leading her over to the gypsy leader. They thanked him for his family's hospitality and bid him farewell. He chose eight of his men to escort them on to Amboise.

Henry and Danielle rode slowly into Amboise just as the sun was clearing the horizon. The gypsies left them once it was in sight. Through the remains of the morning fog Henry saw the guards his father had promised, waiting for them. Their last chance at freedom evaporated with the early morning dew as they rode out of the fog, submitting to their destinies.

Henry greeted his men, telling them they would be leaving in an hour for Château d'Hautefort. Henry's men dismounted and prepared to relax until it was time.

Henry took Danielle into the ruins. They walked around talking, hand in hand. As the time passed it became harder and harder to keep up the composed façade they were both wearing.

Henry turned to Danielle and took her into his arms, desperately. "I can't believe you are leaving today," he choked out. "I have to marry her, but I will never love her," he vowed.

"Henry," Danielle leaned back in his arms, taking his face in her hands. "This is not her fault. I'm sure she is as scared as we are about what the future holds, maybe more so. Not only is she marrying a complete stranger, she is leaving behind her family, her friends, her country, even her language. How frightened she must be right now. She doesn't yet know how truly wonderful you are."

Henry rolled his eyes and chuckled, shaking his head. "Danielle, only you could be as selfless as to worry about how she feels at a time such as this." It was no wonder why he loved this woman, he thought.

"Henry, do you remember what we were talking about that day at the manor, when I got angry with you?"

"Yes…we were talking about you getting married someday and you bringing your choice to me for approval. I thought we settled all of that last night?"

"This isn't about your approval. You were talking about wanting me to fall in love again. That you wanted to meet any man I might agree to marry to make sure I felt affection for him."

"Yes, I remember, and I do want that for you," he now held her face in his hands, looking into her eyes.

"I know you do, Henry. I want you to be happy with her, too. I hope she is beautiful and wonderful and kind and fun." She whispered, "Loving her wouldn't be disloyal to me. Love her, for me."

They stood clinging to each other for a long time, afraid to let go of these last private moments together.

"Danielle, my love, it is time to go," Henry whispered gently, but he didn't move.

"I know, Henry," she could barely speak past the lump in her throat.

"I will always consider Amboise our special place, Danielle... You are unlike any other woman I have ever met."

"…As you are unlike any other man. I will always remember this place as ours, too, Henry," she whispered, tears streaming down her face

It took every ounce of self-control Henry had, to resist the need to kiss her. His stomach was in knots and his pulse beat erratically as he gazed at Danielle in his arms. For what would be the last time, he knew.

Danielle's stomach dropped at the hungry look on Henry's face. Her skin was tingling where his arms wrapped around her, holding her close. Her lips suddenly felt dry. She unconsciously moistened then with the tip of her tongue and heard him gasp. He stiffened and started to pull away. She held on, "No!" she cried. "Please kiss me, Henry," she pleaded.

He crushed her to him and lowered his head, taking her lips in a long, sensual, wistful kiss. She returned his kiss, full of wonder and curiosity. He forced himself to keep his hands still on her back. Keep the kiss gentle. She is innocent, he reminded himself.

Danielle could sense his resistance. She instinctively pressed herself closer, wrapping her hands around his back. She felt as if her insides were melting, her knees too weak to support her.

He broke the kiss off with a groan- cradling her head against his chest, fighting to regain control of his breathing- and his desires. He had no right to awaken her to sensual pleasures, he reminded himself for the hundredth time. No right at all.

He stepped back, "I'm sorry Danielle. I shouldn't have kissed you-"

Danielle covered his lips with her fingers. "Don't you dare apologize, Henry. I asked you to kiss me. I wanted it. Needed it. As much as you did."

Henry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He handed her a handkerchief to clean her face. He tucked in a few strands of her hair that had come loose. "We should return now," he said in a gentle whisper.

"I know. I am ready," she said calmly, with a brave smile. "I want to thank you for last night, I will remember it always."

"Danielle, if you ever need anything, anything at all, you only have to let me know and it is yours. Don't ever forget that. Promise me."

She nodded her understanding, "I won't forget. I promise."

Henry smiled, took her hand and led her out to the horses. When the guards saw them emerge they, too, mounted. Henry and Danielle slowly led the group back towards Château d'Hautefort and their futures.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 18 of 35

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