Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 24 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

A few days later the Prince, the Duc, the Comtesse Danielle and Lady Nicole set off for Paris. They were planning to arrive in time for Epiphany, as promised. The Duchess, Philippe and André were travelling first to Château de Lancret and escorting Grand'Mere to Paris for the wedding.

The Prince's elaborate procession to the capital was a source of delight to the people. Danielle's grandmother had insisted on providing the Comtesse with a retinue of servants in her own livery and carrying her standard, in addition to outfitting her horse in the colors of the House of Lancret. This, in addition to the Royal guards and servants of the Prince and the Duc, made for quite an impressive, colorful display.

Danielle had never been to Paris before and was excited as they entered the city. Crowds lined the streets to welcome the Prince and his betrothed. The Dauphin's wedding was a week away and there was already a celebratory air in the city. Stories about his betrothed had been widely circulated. The fact that she was French simply delighted the people. They had no wish for a Spanish Queen.

When the Louvre Palace came into view, Danielle was astonished at the size and elegance of this, the royal seat of power. "Oh, my goodness! This makes Château de Lancret look like a simple country cottage, Henry. You live here?"

"We live here, Danielle. 'Tis your home too, as of this day."

"I am sure to get lost in such an edifice. It is a good thing you are used to searching for me, Henry," she laughed, overwhelmed.

Henry had sent a herald ahead to notify the court of their arrival. Therefore, when they arrived, at sunset, there was a large group of courtiers, as well as the King and Queen in the courtyard to greet them. Many of the same courtiers who had witnessed their touching and painful farewell at Hautefort the previous month were again present to see their touching and joyful return.

As they pulled up in front of the entrance Henry jumped down excitedly and helped Danielle to dismount. They were immediately embraced by the King and Queen. None could doubt the genuine joy displayed on both sides. The Comtesse was clearly on the most intimate terms with Their Majesties.

They were quickly ushered inside and shown to their rooms. As at Hautefort, Danielle was given the room next to the Queen's. The next room was given to Nicole. Antoine was across the hall from the girls. Henry's apartments were on an upper floor.

Danielle soon found herself swept up in the daily activities of court life. She was busy nearly every minute of every day. She had been introduced to hundreds of people and despaired of ever remembering any names. Henry, she discovered, had many official duties that kept him occupied the entire day. He did make an effort to find her several times each day and steal her away for a respite.

One afternoon, two days before their wedding, Henry stole her away, again, taking her for a tour of some of his father's art collection. They walked for hours, never passing the same place twice. "Oh, Henry, I am never going to learn my way around. I think we have walked miles this afternoon. However do you remember it all?"

"I was born at the Louvre, remember. It was much smaller, then. My father had most of the old castle demolished when I was a boy, replacing it with what we see today. I loved seeing the different sections that would appear each time we returned from visiting one of the other châteaux. It was a marvelous adventure for a boy to explore, especially when escaping from tutors. I spent hundreds of hours investigating each new section." Henry smiled, remembering the fun he had had as a boy in the growing palace.

"Mother will help you to select your ladies-in-waiting. Part of their function is to simply be your companions; another is to help you find your way about. I imagine you will want Nicole to be one? The others you may select from the high-born ladies of the court. Girls your age who also grew up here will be your best choices."

"I have met so many people; 'tis hard to remember all of the names. How do you do it? It seems very strange to think of asking these high born ladies to be my servants, Henry. Why would they want to do such a thing?"

"A lady-in-waiting is not, technically, a servant. They assist you, but there are also servants assisting them with the duties. It is a great honour to be selected as a lady-in-waiting. Mother said she has had some small luncheons with you and some ladies for you to consider. Has that been at all helpful?" Henry asked.

"Yes, it has. Will you give me your opinions, too? I wouldn't want to select someone who has been after you, like Marguerite. That would be- awkward," she smiled.

"Yes, if you like," Henry smiled, liking the idea of her being jealous of someone from his past, even though she had no reason to be.

"Your mother said that tomorrow I will be busy nearly the whole day with fittings for the wedding. She has ordered me more gowns, too. I already have a dozen gowns, but she is most insistent. Apparently those gowns were fit for a comtesse, but not a Princess. I love the gowns I have now," she laughed softly. "Listen to me, complaining about having too many gowns, when just weeks ago I had nothing. I am being silly."

Henry turned down a hallway and pulled Danielle into a small, deserted room. Pulling her into his arms he kissed her softly. "You just need to let Mother have her way with the gowns, for now. She is caught up in the excitement of the wedding and she wants you to look every inch a Princess. You can keep the other dresses, or give them to Nicole. She may just feel they are not formal enough for Paris."

"Your mother dresses so elegantly. Should I emulate her? She is the Queen, but she is also twice my age."

"Feel free to express your opinions to her and the dressmaker. You will develop your own style."

She leaned into him, "Oh, 'tis just wonderful to be here, alone with you, in this quiet place. You calm me down and remind me to breathe. Sometimes, I feel as if I am being pulled in several directions at once."

"I'm sorry, darling. Do you want me to talk to her?"

"No, I'm hoping that after the wedding it will be easier. I can put up with it for a few days. At least I will be assured of a little more time with you after the wedding. That is what I am looking forward to the most."

Henry gazed down into her eyes, wondering what he had ever done in his life to deserve such a wife. She wanted time with him: not the crown or jewels that would be hers by right, nor the power and popularity, not even the coveted title of Princess. She just wanted time with him. He felt the most fortunate man on earth. "I love you, Danielle. I, too, am anxious to be able to spend more time with you; only one more day and two more nights. Have you been tempted to sneak out for walks at night?"

She laughed delightedly, "I would need to be able to find my way to a door to do that. I do not even know where your room is, Henry. I'm supposed to let you know if I go out, remember?"

"I will make sure you know where it is." He tilted her face up, "You will be moving into my apartments after the wedding, after all. If you need to go for a walk before then, take your attendants and walk inside the palace. It is too cold to go into the gardens at night. Never, under any circumstances, do you leave the palace without a full escort, understand? This is Paris, not a little village."

"Yes, I understand, Henry."


"Does the palace have a library, Henry?"

"Yes, it has two, as a matter of fact."

"Two? Will you show me, and draw me a map?"

"Certainly, right after this," he kissed her again, and lingered. He kept it gentle. He couldn't have her looking heated and flustered when they emerged from this room. Taking her hand, he led her through two more doors and down a small passageway. They passed by some guards, who admitted them into a restricted room. From there they went through a short series of rooms and up a spiral staircase. "Well, here we are. This is the King's private library," he smiled down at her.

Danielle felt as if they were trespassing on the King's private domain. She looked around, fascinated. She whispered to Henry, "If this is the King's private library, then should we be in here?" she worried.

"Father knows you share his love of reading. He will not mind sharing it with you."

Danielle walked around the library, wondering how she had come so far from her life as a servant in so short a time. "Thank you, Henry."

"Don't you want to borrow a book?" he asked.

"Not today. I will be too busy to read in the next few days. I never realized how busy you royals are. Before I met you, I always imagined you lived a life of leisure."

"Yes, you will be busy. So will I. I must take you back to Mother, now. I am supposed to be at a council meeting. I am neglecting my duties," taking her hands he kissed her briefly on the lips. They left the King's library and headed back towards the Queen's chambers.

The morning before her wedding, Danielle met with the Queen to discuss her wedding gown. "Danielle, after Henry went to fetch you, I was wondering what you wanted to wear for your wedding, so I asked Jacqueline and Marguerite if they had any ideas." Danielle wondered what they had said. It wasn't as if they had ever talked of sisterly things like wedding dreams.

"Oh, what did you decide on? I'm sure anything you have chosen will be exquisite. Honestly, I could quite happily marry Henry in any of the lovely gowns you have already given me, Mother," she smiled sincerely at the Queen. She enjoyed calling her 'Mother.'

The Queen enjoyed suddenly having this new daughter in Danielle. Her daughter Charlotte had moved away when she married and they rarely saw each other. Danielle was the daughter she was gaining by marriage and she couldn't have been happier with Henry's choice of a bride.

"Well, here is the dressmaker now. I have two for you to choose from, but if you aren't happy with them, we will find something else. You just have to let us know." Danielle went obediently behind the changing screen and stripped down to her chemise. The dressmaker took out a beautiful silver lace gown and showed it to Danielle. Upon seeing it, Danielle burst into tears.

"Oh, Danielle, I am so sorry!" the Queen apologized, waving the dressmaker to put away the gown. "I thought you wanted to wear your mother's wedding gown, so I had the dressmaker restore it. Henry had it retrieved for you. We have another dress. Louise go; the other gown, quickly now." The dressmaker hurried off to fetch the other gown.

Danielle finally found her voice, "No, I'm sorry I distressed you, Your Majesty. I-I thought my mother's dress was gone. I cannot believe you found it. Are you sure it is grand enough for a royal wedding?" She sniffled.

The Queen was both relieved and delighted. "It will be perfect. We will just need to add a long mantle and headdress. I'm so glad you are pleased. I was uncertain if it had painful memories associated with it, now."

"No, it does not. Everything that we have been through over the past few months just makes me ever more grateful to be marrying Henry."

The dressmaker hurried in with a second gown, "Oh, my lady, this one will be beautiful on you."

The Queen interrupted the dressmaker, "She is going to wear the silver for the wedding, Louise. We will save the second dress for another occasion. She was just overcome by your magnificent restoration work."

They checked the fit of the dress and tried several different hairstyles, headdresses and sets of jewelry. When they were satisfied, the dressmaker left to make the final adjustments.

They spent the rest of the morning and afternoon in the Queen's chambers, visiting with the final group of young ladies being considered for Danielle's ladies-in-waiting. After they left, Danielle, Nicole and the Queen discussed the different ladies and narrowed down the list.

Henry joined them for dinner and listened as they discussed the candidates. When asked, Henry suggested removing the names of two young ladies, saying it might be awkward to have them around all the time.

Danielle was intrigued and struck their names from the list. They narrowed the list to the five needed. The Queen thought Danielle should have six in total, so they needed five in addition to Nicole.

When they were finished, Henry announced his intention of taking Danielle for a walk and he escorted her out of the Queen's apartments. "Shall we stop in your room and get your cloak, Comtesse?" Henry offered.

"Oh, are we going outside? I thought we were just taking a stroll inside the palace," said Danielle.

"I thought we could take a brief walk in the gardens. Our last evening stroll as a betrothed couple," he smiled.

Danielle smiled in return as she opened her door and ran in to get her cloak. "I am ready," she said, as she came out wearing a cloak.

Henry led her through the palace and out into the gardens. It was a mild night for January and they enjoyed a quiet, companionable walk.

Danielle was marveling over the many changes in her life, thankful Henry was content to walk quietly, for the moment. Being always on display had become very tiring in the past week and she craved some quiet time. Then, she saw people watching them from the windows, she let out a small sigh.

She noticed a present on a bench in the garden. Henry had directed their path to this spot, so she guessed the present was for her. "Is that for me?" she asked.

"Oh, yes."

"Thank you, Henry."

"You should open it before you thank me," he laughed. "What if you hate it?" He picked up the box and held it while she opened it.

She laughed and opened the box. Inside was a jeweled belt with a fabulously enameled book attached to it on a chain. She looked at him curiously. "I have never seen such a book before, Henry." She opened the book cover and saw that it was Utopia. She laughed again, thinking what a thoughtful gift this was. "Now I can take Utopia with me wherever I go and I don't have to worry about losing it?" She smiled up at him, "Thank you, Henry."

"You're welcome. Now you have two copies, one to keep with all of the books in our apartments, or beside the bed, and one to take with you any where you like." He stroked her cheek, suddenly impatient for tomorrow. "Tomorrow is the day. It is finally here. Are you pleased with the plans for everything? I want it to be perfect."

"As long as we get married, tomorrow will be perfect. If it rains, or snows, if the cooks burn the whole feast, I won't care. I could wear anything and feel like the Prince's." She took the box from him and placed it back on the bench. She put her arms around his neck, pulling his head down so she could kiss him, not caring that they had a most attentive audience at the windows. She was becoming accustomed to being always watched and had decided she wasn't going to let it affect the way she acted. She would be herself.

Henry gave her a quick kiss and spun her around, laughing. He gave her another quick kiss and put her down. He enjoyed the fact that she wanted to kiss him, but he wasn't about to share her with the whole court while they did. "Are you ready to go in? You'll need to get a good night's sleep tonight. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day, indeed."

"How will I ever be able to sleep? Do you remember telling me that first day at Amboise how you felt that your skin was the only thing holding you together?"

"Yes, I remember." He remembered everything about that day. His amazing excitement and proposing to her, her recoiling in pain and running away…learning that 'Nicole' was gone.

"Well, that is how I feel tonight. I feel as if I am in a cocoon and tomorrow I will be a butterfly."

Henry thought it a wonderful analogy: Danielle the lovely butterfly. He laughed, "Well, Comtesse Butterfly, I, for one, intend to go immediately to sleep tonight. The morning will come that much faster if I do." He took her hand, picked up her package and led her inside. At her door he bid her goodnight. "Goodnight, Comtesse. Will you meet me at Notre Dame tomorrow?" he teased, reminding her of his invitation to meet him at Amboise three months ago.

"I shall try," she offered, repeating her lines as before.

"Then I shall wait all day," repeating his lines as well, "goodnight."

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 24 of 35

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