Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 20 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

It was dark when they reached the coast. Danielle could hear the water crashing onto rocks and smell the salty air, but could see only a never-ending blackness on this moonless night. It suited her mood perfectly, she thought, as they climbed aboard the Duc's ship waiting for them.

"We will be sailing when the tide turns, ladies. If the winds are in our favour we may be home in two weeks," Antoine said. He showed them to their cabins. Nicole and Danielle would be sharing one. They got ready for bed and Danielle was asleep instantly.

When she awoke it was late afternoon. She got dressed and went up on deck. The sight of the endless ocean was breathtaking. She stood there for hours, imagining what Henry was doing. Had he met Gabriella, she wondered?

Henry slept late. The Spanish delegation was due to begin arriving that afternoon. Henry got dressed and went to meet his parents.

The first party of the Spanish delegation arrived that afternoon. The King, Queen and Prince were in the courtyard to greet them. They expected Henry's betrothed to be in the first group to arrive. They were informed that the Princess would be arriving later in the week, the night before the wedding. The King of Spain intended that the couple would meet at the altar and not a moment before.

Henry knew it was not uncommon for a royal couple to meet at the altar, but he had been hoping he could meet her before the wedding. Any hope of convincing her to cry-off from the wedding died at the news.

At least they had not insisted on a proxy wedding before she had left Spain. If he had been already married to Gabriella by proxy he wouldn't have had the right, as a married man, to spend his last night with Danielle.

The Prince spent the week leading up to his wedding going through the motions of life at court. Days of heartache and desolation gave way to a welcome sense of numbness. It was not real. It couldn't be.

His seeming coldness worried his mother. She felt as if she was watching a part of her son die. His father was proud of the stoicism he was displaying: no begging, no pleading, and no bad tempers; just a calm acceptance of his responsibilities.

This change in their Prince did not go unnoticed by the courtiers. Their happy, charming, boyish Prince was growing into a mature, aloof Prince, and one prepared to sacrifice himself for his country.

As the days passed, life on board the ship settled into a routine. Keeping Danielle occupied and distracted from the Prince's impending marriage was uppermost on the family's mind. The Duchess had decided that since Danielle would be home for Christmas, she would be introduced into local society at their annual Christmas Eve Ball. Danielle had protested that she didn't know how to dance. The Duchess then declared that, since they had nothing to do but stare at the ocean for two weeks, they would teach her to dance. Her cousin André was a talented lute player, and agreed to play for them. Philippe and Antoine danced with Danielle and Nicole.

They spent hours every day teaching Danielle all of the various court and country dances she would need to know. She turned out to be a natural dancer. It was a wonderful bonding time for the whole family and the days passed swiftly.

A Royal Wedding

The day of the royal wedding dawned cold and wet along the coast where the Duc's ship sailed northward. Danielle refused to get out of bed in the morning, knowing it would be one of the hardest days of her life. She spent the whole of the morning crying and praying. She prayed for herself, for the strength to go on and find a purpose in her life. She prayed for Henry to be strong, making this sacrifice. She prayed that Henry be able to love his wife and find happiness. She also prayed for Gabriella to be comforted and to find happiness and love. The wedding was to be in the morning, so by midday Danielle decided that the wedding was over and she went up on deck. It was cold and wet and few people were on deck. She stood at the railing, watching the coastline of France pass by.

Antoine saw her standing alone at the railing. He went over to her, covering one of her hands with his. She didn't move or even appear to notice him, so lost in her own misery as she was.

"We are halfway home. We should arrive in about a week," he finally offered, breaking the silence.

"I like the ship. It is very soothing."

"I am glad you like it. Winter is not a good time for travelling, but in the spring we could travel, if you like. Where would you like to go?"

"Someplace far away," she said softly. "Away, away," she repeated.

They stood quietly, watching the little fishing villages slip away. Yes, away.

The day of the royal wedding dawned warm, but overcast at Hautefort. Henry woke up in a panic. He was getting married today- to the wrong woman! He ruthlessly squashed the thought. Fighting to regain the detachment he had felt for the last few days, he prayed, "Father God, if there is any way to spare me from this fate, please tell me. It is in Your hands. Help me to be Thy faithful servant in all things. Help me to be a worthy, faithful King and husband. Please be with Danielle and Gabriella today as we will all need you desperately."

He thought about where Danielle was now, sailing up the coast with her family. He hoped she was all right.

He remembered a conversation he had with Leonardo, about destiny and finding love. What happened if the one you love is struck by lightning and you marry another? Was that one then, meant to be? When Danielle had disappeared, the stories had said she was illuminated by the lightning when she jumped. Could that mean that Gabriella was meant to be? Of course, that had all been a lie, invented by Le Pieu. It was hopeless. Henry would never be able to convince himself that this was meant to be. Danielle was his perfect match. He couldn't imagine that Gabriella could be a match, as well.

He got dressed for his wedding in a red doublet and buff hose with black boots. Once at the church, he donned the long, ivory satin cape covered in fleurs-de-lis, and formally represented his country.

Henry stood facing the altar, stoically. This was it. He was getting married: to prevent a war... Forsaking all others… Forsaking Danielle.

The crowds on both sides of the aisle were standing, as was customary in the presence of the King and Queen. As the choir started singing, Henry heard the doors open, signaling the arrival of his bride. He could hear several sets of footsteps walking down the aisle. His parents stood, followed by her parents, the King and Queen of Spain.

As the footsteps neared, Henry heard someone crying. As his bride approached it became louder and he now knew that it was Gabriella crying. She was sobbing, he realized, despondent. Henry looked towards his parents with a pained expression. Gabriella looked towards her parents and said something, pleading, in Spanish. The only part Henry understood was 'por favour,' which he knew meant 'please.' Danielle had been right; this was as hard on Gabriella as it was on them. She was begging her parents. He felt compassion for her.

She was standing beside him, now, but still looking towards her parents, pleading. He held out his hand to her and she took it. They climbed the steps to the altar and the Archbishop began the ceremony. Gabriella's sobbing cries increased in volume until she was wailing. The Archbishop indicated that they should kneel. They knelt, Gabriella collapsing onto the railing, now shrieking and moaning. Henry closed his eyes, praying 'What do I do, God?' Then he looked at his parents. The King nodded at Henry. 'Could he be telling me what I want so badly to believe? I can stop the wedding? Surely, Spain cannot hold it against me if their Princess made such a scene, could they?'

Henry motioned to the Archbishop to stop. He laughed aloud, in relief. He had done it; stopped the wedding. What would King Carlos do?

The crowd, which had been acutely uncomfortable at the bride's sobbing, was now astounded to hear the Prince's inappropriate laughter.

Henry stood up and pulled Gabriella to her feet. He pushed back her veil as she began rambling in Spanish, still crying. She was pretty, he noted in surprise; quite lovely, actually. He didn't understand most of her words, but he heard his name and a string of pleading 'no's' and 'por favors.'

She was gesturing towards a member of the Spanish delegation. The man had obviously been crying, as well. He mirrored her hopeless look of longing as he looked back at them.

"Madame…madame," Henry said, trying to get Gabriella to listen to him. She quieted. "I know exactly how you feel," he said with a sympathetic smile.

Gabriella made a confused sounding sigh, thinking he was just trying to calm her down so they could continue with the wedding. Henry took her hand, gave her a brotherly kiss on the cheek and waved his hand in the direction of the man in the crowd.

Gabriella looked at Henry in momentary surprise, and then she gathered up her skirts and fled from the altar, straight into the arms of her waiting love. She was yelling excitedly in Spanish, kissing him passionately. Henry simply smiled at the happy couple.

The church erupted into chaos. The King and Queen of Spain argued with each other, trying to place blame for their daughter's unacceptable behavior. Gasps of shock and speculation erupted from the guests. Bedlam. Chaos.

The King and Queen of France were astonished at Princess Gabriella's display. Francis said in an undertone to Marie, "and I thought I had problems." He and Marie began laughing, quickly hiding their merriment behind their hands.

Henry had dropped his ceremonial mantle and run from the church after Gabriella fled the altar. His mind, too, was in chaos. 'I need to get out of here before King Carlos drags her back to the altar. Danielle! She must be halfway to Dieppe by now. Am I going to wake up only to find this is merely another dream?'

Pursuit of Love

He had run back to Château d'Hautefort and to his apartment. He looked around frantically, deciding what he needed bring. Most of his things had already been packed in anticipation of the court's removal to Paris. His personal servants were shocked to see him here. He was supposed to be at a wedding. His wedding! He gave them instructions to pack for a few weeks at sea. He wanted to leave within the hour. He wondered what ships would be available when he got to Bordeaux. He would simply commandeer the fastest one in port. Danielle had a se'nnight head start on him. It would take him two to three weeks to reach Dieppe, he calculated.

He was preparing to leave his apartments when Capt. Laurent entered. "Marc, we leave immediately. We ride to Bordeaux and from there find a ship to take us to Dieppe. Will you come?" making a double take, as he wondered if Marc would prefer to travel with Jacqueline to Paris.

"I am coming with you, Henry. I will meet Jacqueline in Paris. The King and Queen wish to see you. They are in your mother's apartments."

"I'll see them directly. Get the men ready, will you?"

"Yes, Your Highness," he said as the Prince rushed out of the door.

Henry was apprehensive on the way to his mother's apartments, 'I am out of this betrothal, aren't I? Please, God, do not let them tell me the Spanish King intends to force Gabriella? Not after that scene.' He and Danielle had been torn apart so many times; it was hard not to expect the worst.

He entered his mother's apartments purposefully. "Mother, Father, I am going after Danielle." There was a note of steel, a challenge, in his voice his parents had never heard before.

"Of course you are, Henry. We knew that," his father said with an approving smile. Henry relaxed.

"I am going to Bordeaux to find a ship to take me to Dieppe," he said.

"Good, I have a ship waiting for you, Henry. The crew is all aboard, along with your luggage. As soon as you and your men are aboard, you sail," the King informed him.

"However did you manage that?" Henry marveled.

"I gave the orders yesterday," the King said, immensely pleased with himself.

"Yesterday? How could you have known?" Henry was thunderstruck.

Marie interjected. "I have been hearing rumors all week Gabriella was in love with a member of the Spanish delegation. I managed to speak to her privately last night and I recognized her feelings. I did tell her that if she managed to make a big enough scene at the church, you would release her and she may force her father to allow her to marry who she favored. I didn't know if she was brave enough to go through with it, but she did marvelously. I think she will be allowed to marry him, after that shocking royal display."

"Please tell Danielle we are anxious to welcome her as your wife, Henry," his father added.

Henry gave his mother a thankful embrace. "Thank you Mother. This means the world to us."

The King spoke, "It should take you two to three weeks to reach Dieppe and another week to reach Paris from there. Shall we plan the wedding for the Feast of St. Hilary?" (Jan 13)

"I would much prefer to take the Archbishop with me and marry her the instant I go ashore, before she has a chance to disappear again," Henry said with pent up frustration.

"The court will be in Paris, Henry. We don't want this marriage to look suspicious or secretive in any way. We will do it up with the pomp and pageantry such a special, joyous, royal wedding deserves," his mother told him firmly. "Please do not cut it as close as you did last week. Come to Paris a week early, if you can manage. We leave for Paris in the morning and we will begin the preparations immediately upon our arrival."

"Agreed. I will have Danielle in Paris by Epiphany," Henry concurred.

"We will announce your betrothal to Danielle in Paris at the Christmas Eve Ball. If you arrive in time for the Duc's Christmas Eve Ball, you may have him announce it, as well. Take the Archbishop with you. He knows you are not married and can perform the betrothal ceremony Christmas Eve. We have already officially ended your betrothal to Princess Gabriella," the King said. "Tearing up a contract doesn't take long, after all."

Henry was immeasurably relieved to hear his betrothal was officially dissolved. "What if it takes me three weeks? She could hear of her engagement from a stranger, Father."

"I think there is little chance of that happening. We need time to make the announcement, three weeks before, as is customary, Henry. Surely you must see that?" his mother added.

"Yes, I should get there first. I have a ship waiting, after all," Henry smiled at his father, hugged his parents and left.

Henry and his men rode hard for Bordeaux, where, as promised, they found a ship waiting. Early the next morning, when the tide turned, they sailed from Bordeaux in pursuit of Danielle. Henry was exhilarated! Finally, he was going to be able to claim Danielle as his own and make it known to the world. "Danielle, I am coming for you. Hold on, sweetheart," he said softly to himself, looking out at the sea.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 20 of 35

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