Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 22 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

When the castle came into view, Henry was nearly ready to jump into the water and swim to shore, he was so excited. The ship dropped anchor, as Henry looked at the castle and beach through the spyglass. He spotted a girl sitting alone on the beach, her head on her knees. Danielle. He could see her auburn hair blowing in the wind. She looked so sad and forlorn.

It preyed on his heart to see her looking so sad. So lonely. He must get to her now. He went over to where the sailors had lowered the first boat and climbed in. Two of his personal guards joined him in the boat as they headed for shore.

Henry kept his eyes focused on her, willing her to look up to see him coming for her, but she never lifted her head. He jumped out of the boat a few feet from the shore and ran up the beach towards her, anticipating her reaction. Remarkably, she didn't seem aware he was there. He stopped a few feet from her, noticing with concern her shaking shoulders, her tangled, windblown hair and her torn dress. She appeared- undone.

"Danielle?" he said softly, smiling tenderly at her.

She stiffened and looked up. She had obviously been crying; her eyes were red, her face, streaked with tears. "Henry?" she breathed, as if he were a ghost. His face haunted her dreams, was he now haunting her waking hours, as well? She stood up, watching him warily, "What are you doing here?" She was trembling with the force of her emotions.

Her reaction threw him quite off-balance. She didn't look the least bit happy to see him. He hadn't expected to find her in tears after three weeks. Didn't she know why he was here? "I came for you," he said simply, coming closer, intending to take her in his arms.

She stumbled backwards, out of his reach. "Me?" her eyes were huge in her pale, tear streaked face. How were her wounds supposed to heal if he wouldn't leave her be? Why wasn't he with his wife? His wife!

This was not the reaction he had been imagining, either. He looked at her in dismay and disappointment. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to help me find the owner of this rather remarkable shoe," he said, as he pulled her glass slipper from his waistband, smiling at her, hoping to penetrate her shock at seeing him.

"Where did you find that?"

He walked closer again, "You are my match in every way, Danielle. I need you, as I need the air that I breathe," he said tenderly, leaning close, love shining in his eyes.

She looked into those eyes, hypnotized. What was he doing? What was she doing? She stepped back, shaking her head, "I can't do this… Your Highness," she cried tearfully, backing away.

He couldn't have been more shocked if she had slapped him. "Can't do this?" he repeated, stricken. "What do you mean you can't do this?" he roared in pain. He had just travelled halfway across the country, expecting her to throw herself into his arms, and now she was backing away from him in tears. Something was very wrong here. How many times in the past had she run away, crying? This time he followed her, "Danielle! I love you. Please, tell me what is wrong!" She looked afraid of him, he thought, shaken. "Tell me!" he implored, reaching for her.

She was shaking her head, backing away from him again. "Go back to your wife! I can't…I won't… be your mistress," she screamed at him, rejecting him as she turned and ran away. She had to get away, before she shattered into a million pieces before him. Before he took her in his arms and convinced her to abandon her every conviction. She had very nearly thrown herself into his arms, even knowing he was married.

From the cliffs Danielle's cousins watched in concern, as a man approached her on the beach. They raced down the stairs, desperate to protect her, as she screamed something at him and ran- and he gave chase.

'She thinks I'm married!' Henry nearly laughed in relief, finally knowing why she was so upset with him. He pursued her down the beach; catching her from behind, drawing her to him. "Danielle, wait! Please listen to me!"

She doubled over in anguish as he pulled her to him. She was sobbing inconsolably, trying to pull free. "No… please," she whimpered, as he gathered her in his arms, turning her to face him.

"I'm not married, Danielle!" he enlightened her, wanting desperately to soothe her pain.

At the same instant, Henry heard a wrathful voice from behind him yell, "Unhand my cousin, sir!" Henry immediately released Danielle and spun around to find himself facing Danielle's three cousins, each with their swords drawn, each with murder in their eyes.

Henry drew his sword instinctively at the clear threat; his guards were rushing up from where he had left them at the boat.

"Stand-down LeVey!" the Prince ordered. "I'm not going to hurt her!"

The Duc stopped abruptly when Henry turned around and he recognized the Prince, in astonishment. Antoine put his hand up to stop his brothers' advance. "Your Highness!" he bowed to Henry, unable to fathom why Danielle had reacted to the Prince so violently. "Forgive me, I did not see you," he said distractedly, watching Danielle as she stumbled away, crying and looking utterly destroyed. He tried to recall what she had been screaming at the Prince.

"That seems to run in your family. Attack first, see it is I second," Henry said ironically.

"You are hurting her! Can't you see the anguish she is in?" Antoine demanded angrily. Antoine now realized what she had said. She had refused to be his mistress, and Antoine wasn't prepared to let the Prince pressure her into agreeing, if he could prevent it. "She doesn't want to be your mistress, Your Highness. She deserves better. If you love her, let her be."

"I do love her, and I will not let her be," the Prince stated most emphatically. Not accustomed to being challenged or having to defend his intentions, he was becoming exasperated with the Duc. "She and I need to speak privately, LeVey."

"You are married, and she is my responsibility. What happened to not dishonouring her? Her being innocence itself? Goodness itself," the Duc persisted.

Henry rolled his eyes, frustrated with this interruption. Would anyone just listen? To their Prince? All he wanted to do was to take her in his arms and ease her pain. Ask her to marry him. "Enough! I did not ask her to be my mistress! And, I am not married! The Archbishop is on my ship and will attest to the fact, if necessary," he intoned furiously. He looked behind him, seeing that Danielle had wandered a distance down the beach and was sitting on a low, stone wall, staring out towards his ship. He sheathed his sword, turned and headed down the beach towards her, effectively dismissing her cousins.

When Henry had released her she had stumbled away, trying to recover her scattered wits. Had he really said he wasn't married? Surely she had just imagined what she wanted him to say. Why was he here? Antoine and Henry were yelling at each other furiously. She couldn't hear what they were saying over the sounds of the ocean. She sat, trembling, on the wall.

As Henry approached, she said quietly, "Say it again."

Henry stood in front of her, still holding the slipper, smiling at her. "I am not married," he said gently, realizing that she was still in shock.

She heaved a deep sigh, looking up at him bewildered, trembling.

He knelt down on bended knee before her. "I kneel before you, not as a Prince, but as a man in love," he said, staring intently into her eyes. He picked up one of her feet, removing her shoe, "but I would feel like a King, if you, Danielle de Barbarac, would be my wife," he slipped the glass slipper onto her foot, as if sealing a vow.

She went from dazed to overwhelmed; she buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with emotion.

Henry couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying. He waited tensely for her answer.

When she raised her face to his, her eyes were sparkling, her face luminously happy. She threw herself into his arms, laughing, kissing him eagerly.

He picked her up, spinning her in circles, laughing in shared delight. This was the reaction he had been anticipating!

Up the beach, the Duc and his brothers sheathed their swords, as did Henry's nervous guards. "I think it is safe to let them have that privacy, now," said the Duc. They headed back to the castle.

Nicole had seen the Prince's standard flying from his ship and watched the whole scene unfold below. The Duchess had joined her to see how Danielle was doing and saw Danielle throw herself into Henry's arms. Nicole and her mother hugged, cried and laughed together.

"We should probably see about getting an extra room ready, don't you think, Mother?" Nicole laughed, enormously pleased.

"Unless you think he intends to drag her off with him on his ship."

They went to join the men and await Danielle and Henry. The Duc told them the full story that they hadn't been able to hear. The Duchess was aghast to hear that her three sons had held the Prince at swords point and made him defend his good intentions, but, overjoyed to hear the Prince was not, in fact, married.

On the beach, Henry and Danielle were still wrapped in each other's arms, kissing and laughing.

"That was a 'yes,' right, Danielle? I don't want anymore miscommunication between us, ever," he smiled down at her.

"YES! YES! YES!" she kissed him again.

"Good, you alarmed me when I first arrived," he laughed, still recovering from the shock of this latest misunderstanding. "Trying to make me pay for three weeks of tears?" he asked gently.

She smiled up at him, "I wasn't 'trying' to do anything, Your Highness. I had heard that you were actually married just before you arrived. It was a horrifying tale, that you had laughed at Gabriella crying and she had to be forced to the altar by her father. What did happen?"

"Henry," he reminded her gently, stroking her face, kissing her; unable to keep his hands off. "Well, apparently, your informant didn't stay until the end. They were in such a rush to spread the news that they must have made up their own ending. Shall we go inside so that I may explain to everyone at once? I thought your cousins were going to run me through. It is nice to know they are so protective of you. I did wonder when I saw you sitting all alone on the beach."

"They have been wonderful to me, Henry," she shivered as a gust of wind blew. He took off his cloak, wrapping her in it. She leaned against him contentedly.

"There now, let's go inside, shall we?"

"No, I want to stay right here, in your arms- forever. I was so lonesome and desperate for you, Henry," she started crying softly, then more forcefully, breaching the dam of her fears and loneliness, allowing them to be swept away...

They stood there for a long time, holding onto each other; content to be together, at last. As the sun started to set, he took her hand and led her up the beach towards the castle.

Once inside, they officially shared their engagement with Danielle's family and Henry explained what really happened at his near-wedding.

"Duchess, do you still hold your Christmas Eve Ball?" Henry inquired.

"Yes, Your Highness. Tomorrow night. I hope you will stay for the ball, and for Christmas," she offered.

"Thank you, I should be delighted. The King shall be announcing my betrothal to Danielle tomorrow night at the ball in Paris," he smiled at Danielle. "LeVey, would you do us the honour of announcing it at your ball tomorrow, as well? I brought the Archbishop along to perform the betrothal ceremony. He witnessed the dissolution of my betrothal to Princess Gabriella, and everything will be quite official."

The Duc was much honoured to be given such an important announcement to make, especially after his behavior to the Prince on the beach. "The honour will be mine, Your Highness. I hope you will forgive and understand my behavior on the beach this afternoon."

"I am very grateful, actually, that you have been taking such special care of my Danielle. Friends?" Henry offered Antoine his hand to shake. Antoine smiled, taking the offered hand.

"Well, it is nearly dinnertime. Danielle, dear, you must go upstairs and change for dinner. The Prince must think we have had you scrubbing floors with the way you look this afternoon," the Duchess said kindly.

Danielle looked down at her dress in surprise, seeing the tea stain and a tear from when she had tripped on the stairs, along with sand all over the front of the dress. "Oh!" she blushed, "Yes, I will go change, Matante." She fled the room, embarrassed at having been such a mess and not having realized it.

After she had left, Henry addressed the Duchess, "I did wonder about the state of her dress, but I didn't think you had her scrubbing floors, Duchess." Those days are gone, he smiled.

Nicole shared the story of their morning tea, explaining how Danielle had ended up crying on the beach when he arrived.

"Thank you, Nicole. I'm sorry I didn't make it here before the rumors. I'd like to know how these rumors travel. I had a ship waiting and was riding for Bordeaux within an hour and still could not overtake the racing rumors," Henry said, perplexed.

The Duchess added, "Well, if we are to announce your betrothal to my niece tomorrow, we will first need to address the stories of your non-wedding to Princess Gabriella."

"There is little doubt that your ship, flying your standard, has been noted by now. It is common knowledge that you are in love with the Comtesse and that she is here. We will likely be facing rumors of you fleeing your unhappy marriage to rekindle your romance with my cousin if we do not put a stop to it tonight," the Duc said.

Henry could well believe that, since even Danielle had believed that when he arrived. "What are you suggesting, then?" Henry asked.

"I propose that we, the men that is, go into town this evening and let it be known that Princess Gabriella ran off with the other man and that you are unmarried. There will certainly be speculation about why you are here, but with the marriage rumor dispelled the speculation will be more along the lines of whether you intend to marry the Comtesse rather than assuming you came to seduce a mistress," the Duc proposed.

"Yes, I think that is a good plan, except that I loathe the idea of Danielle being out of my sight for an entire evening. She has a habit of running off, you see," Henry explained with a smile.

"I am not going anywhere, Henry," Danielle said softly from behind him. She had quickly changed from her ruined gown into a pretty, pink, velvet gown with full sleeves and a gold cord about her waist. Her hair was freshly brushed and simply braided. Her face was clean and she looked radiantly happy.

Henry turned towards her, "You look lovely, even if you are not wearing green," he teased.

They all went into dinner. It was a meal full of high spirits as they discussed the events of the past few weeks and the plans for the Christmas Eve Ball to be held the following night.

After dinner, as planned, the Duc and his brothers took the Prince into town in order to be clear there was nothing to hide and to let it be known that, contrary to the rumors, the Prince was not married. They met a number of nobles known to the Duc and introduced them to the Prince. Most of them assured the Duc that they would be at his Christmas Eve Ball on the morrow; their wives wouldn't let them miss it, especially with the Prince in attendance.

When they returned to the château, it was late and the ladies had all gone to bed. It was cold and windy and the men were all looking forward to a fire and a warm bed.

Henry decided to look in on Danielle before he retired. He had gotten into the habit, when she was at Hautefort, of peeking in on her after she was asleep, just to make sure she was safe. She had shown him the location of her room and Nicole's earlier in the day.

He opened her door and slipped quietly inside. He looked towards her bed and saw the moonlight spilling over the empty, rumpled sheets. 'Where is she?' he wondered, looking around the room. "Danielle?" She wasn't in the room. He went over to the bed and put his hand on the sheet. It was warm to the touch, so she had been in bed recently. 'Maybe she went to the library or Nicole's room?'

He decided to check the library first. It was empty. Henry went back upstairs, checking her room again, then his room. He listened at Nicole's door and didn't hear any voices and there was no light coming from under the door. 'Where is she? It is the middle of the night!' He was getting worried and decided to ask the Duc to check his sister's room.

Walking down the hall, he found the room the Duc was using during Henry's visit. He had given Henry the master bedroom, as was proper protocol for visiting royalty. He found the door and knocked. He could see a glow coming from under the door, so knew the Duc was still awake.

"Enter," called the Duc.

Henry opened the door and spotted the Duc standing by the window, looking out into the night.

"Antoine, Danielle is not in her room nor the library. Would you mind checking Nicole's room? I am worried she isn't in bed."

"You went to Danielle's room in the middle of the night?" the Duc asked with a raised eyebrow as he turned towards the Prince.

"Obviously. I have spent so much time chasing after her in the last two months that I felt I needed to make sure she was where she should be. And she is not! I had no ulterior motive. I was not planning to anticipate my vows, Antoine. She is missing, will you help me?" Henry asked, getting frustrated with the Duc's seeming unconcern.

The Duc looked at him calmly, and then he turned back towards the window deliberately. "When Danielle is upset or cannot sleep she likes to go for a walk."

Henry went over to the Duc and looked out the window. In the moonlight, he could clearly make out a solitary figure walking near the cliffs, a cloak billowing in the wind. "She goes out at night, alone?" Henry was visibly upset. "That is dangerous!" He watched her cloak whipping about her in alarm, trying to gauge her distance from the edge of the cliffs.

"We have talked about it. She is accustomed to a large measure of independence. The step-mother never worried about where she was, unless the chores didn't get done. She never leaves the grounds and she stays away from the edge of the cliffs. You once told me she was to have as much freedom as possible, and I have been doing my best to give it to her. Do you not remember, Your Highness?"

Henry ran his hands through his hair. He remembered. "She is not going to be able to have that kind of freedom once we are married."

"I expect she knows that."

"You are not pleased with her marrying me, are you?"

"It isn't you, so much as your position, which concerns me."

"She loves me and I love her," Henry argued.

"Yes, I know that. I hope your love is enough to sustain her in that elegant glass bubble she will have to live in."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Henry asked, becoming alarmed.

"She is a beautiful, spirited, adventurous, passionate woman. She is used to independence and self-reliance. When you figure in her wealth and her title, she could marry any man in the kingdom."

"Even you?" Henry asked a bit jealously.

"No," the Duc laughed. "I do love her, but as one loves a cousin, or a sister, not a lover." Henry relaxed. "She is marrying you because she loves you, in spite of your position, unlike some others who would have married you because of it. I just realize that she will be forced to make many sacrifices to conform to rigid royal protocols. Much will be expected of her as the Dauphine, and even more as Queen of France. You know how hard it is to live your life in a fishbowl and you have never known anything else. She has no idea. She will be giving up any freedom she has to be with you. She will have no privacy. She has grown up completely anonymous, so that will be a shock. She may have difficulty adjusting to her new life."

"She will make an excellent Queen. She is intelligent, well-read, compassionate, and gracious. She makes me a better man. I will be a better King with her at my side."

"Just be sure to cherish and protect her, but allow her some space to breathe. You fell in love with her spiritedness and charm. Don't allow the position to crush her spirit."

"I won't. I love her the way she is: muddy, torn dresses and all. I'll simply have to find a way to balance her need for privacy and freedom with the need to keep her safe. Goodnight, Antoine, and thank you for speaking your mind. A family trait, I see." Henry smiled, remembering the day he and Danielle met. "Danielle spoke her mind freely the day we first met, too. It was one of the things that intrigued me most about her," and with that he turned to leave, thinking Antoine was a lot like his female cousin. He certainly wasn't afraid to speak his mind to the Crown Prince. Nor was she.

"The staircase in the northwest tower is the fastest way to the cliffs," the Duc offered, easily reading his mind. Yes, just as she can.

Henry took that route and soon came upon Danielle. Her hair and cloak were billowing in the wind. There was fog swirling around her, making her look ethereal, as if she might just dissolve into the air. A most lovely ghost.

"Danielle, why are you out here alone in the middle of the night? Are you well?" he asked gently.

"Hello, Henry," she turned and smiled at him. "I couldn't sleep. I love the clean, brisk air up here."

"It is refreshing, but you shouldn't come up here alone at night. Next time you feel the need for a nocturnal outing, include me, all right?" he laughed.

"Very well," she gave him that shy smile that always made him want to kiss her.

He came closer, slipping his hands around her waist, under her cloak and pulled her to him. She melted right into his arms as his lips came down to take hers. She felt so perfect in his arms. Too perfect. He pulled away, reluctantly, and gathered her cloak snugly around her. "Are you wearing only your chemise under your cloak?" he asked huskily.

"Yes, why?" she wondered innocently why he cared about what she was wearing right this minute. "I am not cold," fully missing his meaning and his desire for her.

"Yes, well, I am not cold, either. Just don't let me see you in nothing but your chemise again until we are wed," he said, looking intently into her eyes. He definitely didn't have enough self control to kiss her while she was dressed like that- and not get carried away.

She blushed at his implication and nodded her head demurely.

He took her hand and smiled. "Let's go inside. We both need to sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day for us: we will be officially betrothed." He searched her face for any signs of worry or distress, finding none. "Have you thought about what that will mean?"

"I can hardly believe it is truly going to happen. I feel as if I am going to wake up from this dream to find myself in my step-mother's attic. That none of you truly exist, except in my mind. I made you all up and this is just a wonderful dream."

"It is not a dream. I know what you mean, though. I went to check on you tonight, to make sure you hadn't disappeared again."

"You did? Is that how you found me here?"

"Antoine told me," he said, watching for her reaction. Was he ready to be jealous, he wondered?

"Yes, Antoine has told me I really shouldn't be out walking alone. So many changes have happened in so short a time; so much to reflect upon and contemplate. I do that best by myself, I guess."

Henry stopped walking. He took a deep breath and took both of her hands in his. "Do you worry about marrying the Dauphin, Danielle? What it will mean in terms of your freedoms, your ability to wander off, alone at night, or to go swimming by yourself in a river on a whim? Your life is about to become subject to royal protocols." He stroked her cheek, "I love you and I desperately want you to marry me, but I need to make sure you are aware of what you will be sacrificing. I, myself, have been trying to escape the suffocating restrictions for years, as you know. The Duc tells me that you are so wealthy you could live like a princess and marry any man in the kingdom, if you chose." Pointing out the negatives of marriage to him was unnerving. What if she had doubts? He had to make sure she understood.

"Henry," she said, her eyes glowing with love. "You are the only man in the kingdom that I want. I am marrying Henry. Do I sometimes wish that you were a farmer or a minor noble, instead of the Crown Prince of France? Yes, I admit, I do. But then again, you wouldn't be who you are. The man I love; the Sun. The only princess I want to be is yours. I could be happy in a cottage; I will learn to be happy in a castle, as long as I am with you," she smiled.

Henry gathered her into his arms, burying his face in her hair. He hadn't realized just how tense he was, waiting for her response.

She continued, "I do worry that I will disappoint you and your parents. I wasn't raised to be a Queen, as Princess Gabriella was."

"You couldn't possibly disappoint us, Danielle. You were born to be a Queen. God created you to be my Queen. Just as he created Eve for Adam."

Looking up into his eyes she said seriously, "Well then, I suppose I will just have to climb into that gilded cage of yours and learn to enjoy being locked inside, with you."

He smiled at the image she had painted, then picked her up, spinning her around. "You have eternally sealed your fate, milady," he said as he quickly kissed her again. And again. He held her hand as he led her into the castle, kissing her once again at her door. "Goodnight, My Lady."

"Goodnight, My Lord."

After she had closed her door he went off to find his own bed, hoping they would both get some sleep before their big day. Three more weeks until she would be completely his.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 22 of 35

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