Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 25 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

Danielle sat up when Nicole came into her room. "Good morning, Danielle. How can you possibly be sleeping? You are marrying your Prince today!" she said excitedly.

Danielle stretched; her book Utopia at her side. She was excited to finally be marrying Henry, and not as nervous as she had expected. "I am awake, vividly awake! I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck today, marrying the heir to the throne; but, really, it will be my Henry at the end of the aisle. I know that marrying Henry is the right thing. I feel as if my life is about to begin; as if everything that came before I met Henry doesn't matter, anymore. Doesn't exist. Does that make sense? My life with my step-mother seems almost as if it happened to another."

Soon her room was a beehive of activity; dressmakers, hairdressers and servants coming and going, as well as the Queen, the Duchess, Nicole and her new ladies-in-waiting.

Danielle was arrayed in her mother's silver lace wedding gown and a magnificent new pair of slippers. Her elegant silver mantle, lined and trimmed in ermine, flowing behind her. Her hair was curled and left loose down her back, befitting a bride. She wore a chaplet of orange blossoms on her hair: the traditional headpiece of French noble brides, symbolizing happiness and fertility. Around her neck she wore a diamond necklace her grandmother had given her, part of the large collection of jewels she had inherited with her estate.

She looked radiant, every inch the bride of a Prince. Antoine came in to escort her down for the wedding procession to Notre Dame Cathedral. "You look radiant this morning, Danielle," he smiled at her, taking her hand. Danielle was trembling with nerves and excitement. He looked at her in concern, "Danielle, are you having second thoughts about this? If you have changed your mind, it isn't too late."

Danielle looked at him in astonishment. "Why would you think I have changed my mind?"

"You are trembling. I just want to be assured you know what you are about to do."

Danielle smiled at him, "I appreciate your concern, Antoine, I really do, but you are mistaken. I have no doubts about marrying Henry."

"You are certain? You are trembling like an aspen leaf, Danielle. If you are not certain- now is the time to call it off." She must be terrified to be trembling so, he thought. He had never seen her in such a state.

"I am excited! It is a little overwhelming to imagine six thousand people sitting in Notre Dame to watch me get married, in addition to the crowds outside. Even if I had doubts- which I do not- I could never humiliate Henry in such a way! Leave him at the altar? Do you have any idea what that would do to him? What people would think?" she couldn't believe he had even suggested such a thing.

"Simply that you had changed your mind?"

"Princess Gabriella left him at the altar. People would blame him. They would think there was something wrong with him, for two brides to flee. To even suggest such a course is unthinkable," she scolded him. "I have no misgivings. I know I am leaving behind the world I used to live in. I accept that. Henry and I have discussed this at length. He was concerned that I understand what marrying the heir to the throne entailed, and I do. I am choosing Henry and all that comes with him. I know it won't always be easy, but that doesn't make me tremble in fear. You must trust me, Antoine."

"I dare not doubt my future princess. I yield to your decision, cousin," he said.

"Thank you, Antoine. Pray, do not be ill at ease. This is meant to be," she smiled at him and he could tell, she was merely excited and not fearful.

He regretted doubting her and questioning her at this last moment. She was undoubtedly right. If she had cried off at this last moment everyone would assume the Prince had some fatal flaw that had driven two brides away.

"You are right. Please forgive my questioning your conviction at this last moment. I mistook your excitement for fear and it will always be my first instinct to protect you from any unpleasantness. I know that you and the Prince will do very well together. I have never seen another couple as well suited. He is a most fortunate man- to be taking you to wife. Most assume that you gain the most by this marriage, but they are mistaken. You are sacrificing as much as you are gaining. The Prince is gaining a treasure beyond price. Indeed, the whole of France will be incalculably blessed by your union."

Danielle was moved to tears by Antoine's declaration. "Antoine, that is so sweet of you to say- but you must not make me cry!" she said with a smile, fanning her eyes and blinking back the tears. "If we do not leave for the church I will be late and Henry is likely to send a search party to find me, you know," she laughed.

"We will not be late. It is merely a fifteen minute carriage ride. Notre Dame is only a mile away, after all."

"Yes, but everyone else has already left. We must hurry!" she said as they left her apartment. Danielle hurried down the hall, with Antoine, Nicole and her ladies close behind. Her shoe caught on the top step of the staircase and she fell forward. Fortunately Antoine was close enough to catch her arm and prevent her from falling the entire flight of stairs. She landed hard -two steps down from the top. Antoine barely managed not to land on top of her.

"Danielle! Are you alright?" he asked. She was sitting, looking a bit stunned. "Are you hurt?"

"No, I do not think so. Thank you, Antoine. I certainly would have been if you had not caught me." She looked down at her feet, "I lost my shoe."

Relieved she was not hurt, they looked around for her shoe, finding it at the bottom of the staircase. "Here it is. It is broken," Nicole said, examining the broken heel of the offending shoe.

"Broken? We do not have time to find another pair of shoes. I will go barefoot," Danielle decided.

"You cannot marry the Crown Prince of France, barefoot, Danielle!" Nicole declared, aghast.

"It will not take too long to find another pair of shoes and it is far too cold to go barefoot, Danielle," Antoine insisted. "You have to walk from the palace to the carriage and the carriage to the cathedral and then down the stone aisle of Notre Dame. You will be in there for over an hour, with the ceremony and mass. You cannot do that barefoot- or in your stockings, as it may be."

"Your gown will drag in front if you do not wear shoes," Nicole pointed out.

"Fine, would someone please go fetch another pair of shoes, quickly? Any pair will do." Danielle was getting a bit panicked. Now they were going to be late. Two of her ladies hurried back to her apartment to find another pair of shoes while Nicole and Antoine assured themselves that Danielle was not hurt.

As Antoine helped Danielle to her feet, he noticed her wince in pain, "You are hurt! Shall I carry you down?"

"No! It is only my ankle. It is fine. I merely twisted it," she insisted.

"It could be broken, Danielle. You should not walk on it," Antoine warned.

"It is not broken. I know the difference between twisted and broken. Please, just lend me your arm."

He assisted her to the bottom of the staircase, watching her closely. "We must have the doctor look at your ankle, Danielle."

"Not now. I have twisted my ankle before and never needed a doctor. I will not be late for my wedding over this. I merely need to walk carefully." She let go of his arm and took a few steps. It hurt to walk, but it was not a shooting pain and the foot was stable. Antoine followed closely as she walked a bit more. Danielle schooled her features, ignoring the pain. "I am fine."

Nicole examined the gown carefully, assuring Danielle that it was undamaged. Her ladies returned with her slippers and she slipped them on. "I am ready," she smiled at Antoine. "Are you coming?" she asked as she headed outside.

Antoine was preparing to hand Danielle into the carriage when they saw Capt. Laurent and Henry's other guards canter up to the carriage.

Marc smiled at his sister-in-law, relieved to see she was ready to depart. "When you didn't arrive promptly after the King and Queen, His Highness sent us to make certain your carriage had not met with an accident, my lady."

Danielle smiled and laughed. Henry had sent a search party. Where did he think she was? "You may assure him that the carriage is sound and we will be there presently." She knew the men on horseback could reach the church in five minutes at a canter on the roads which had been blocked off for the wedding procession. It would take her carriage fifteen to twenty minutes to travel that same mile at the walk expected of the procession. She was tempted to ask to borrow one of their horses, but that would be monstrously indelicate. She knew if Henry didn't receive confirmation she was enroute soon he would come fetch her himself.

"I am to escort your carriage, personally. I will send a messenger to relay your whereabouts to the Prince." To one of the guards he said, "As soon as the Comtesse is aboard, return to Notre Dame and inform His Highness we are enroute."

Crowds had lined the path from the palace to the cathedral, hoping for a glimpse of the Prince's bride and the royals. Some had been waiting all night in the cold. Danielle was amazed at the crowds and the cheers that accompanied them the entire route to the cathedral.

When the bridal carriage finally arrived, the Duc took his place at the front of the church while Danielle and her ladies waited at the back of the cathedral. The Prince, wearing his crown and a blue doublet embroidered in silver with a long, silver mantle covered in blue fleurs-de-lis, waited at the altar for his bride.

Danielle had attended mass at the cathedral a few days previously, but was still overcome by it's size and magnificence as she stood waiting for her cue. The aisle was so long, the height so soaring and the thousands of guests so inconceivable. It was unbelievable- dreamlike- that she was here. She was marrying the Crown Prince of France! Breathe. Just breathe, she reminded herself. Henry was at the end of this aisle. Her Henry. She smiled, a feeling of serenity replacing her nervousness. This was right. This was meant to be.

When the trumpet fanfare announced the bride, Henry turned eagerly to watch her walk down the aisle towards him. She was finally here! He was captivated by her beauty and her radiant smile. She was escorted gracefully by Nicole and her five other ladies-in-waiting, all in blue gowns.

Henry took Danielle's hand and smiled lovingly into her eyes when she at last reached him. She returned his smile, radiating her joy. As the Archbishop began the ceremony the guests could not but compare this glowing couple to the stoic prince and wailing princess of a few months ago.

After the challenge had gone unanswered, the Archbishop said to Henry, "Henry, Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?"

"I will," Henry answered, smiling down at Danielle.

The Archbishop turned to Danielle, "Danielle, Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

"I will," Danielle smiled up at Henry.

The Archbishop turned to the guests, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?"

The Duc stepped forward saying, "I do."

Henry, taking Danielle's hands and looking into her eyes, repeated his vow after the Archbishop:

"I, Henry, take thee, Danielle, to my wedded wife,

To have and to hold,

From this day forward,

For better or worse,

For richer or poorer,

In sickness and in health,

To love and to cherish,

Till death us depart,

According to God's holy ordinance;

And thereunto I grant thee my troth."


Danielle, looking up to Henry repeated:

"I, Danielle, take thee, Henry, to be my wedded husband,

To have and to hold,

From this day forward,

For better or worse,

For richer or poorer,

In sickness and in health,

To love and to cherish,

According to God's holy ordinance;

And thereunto I plight thee my troth."

The Archbishop blessed the ring and handed it to the Prince.

Henry vowed to Danielle, holding her hand, "With this ring, I thee wed. This gold and silver I thee give. With my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen." He slid the ring onto her finger. Danielle looked from the ring- now on her finger- up into Henry's smiling eyes, her own twinkling in return.

The Archbishop declared, "Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. For as much as Prince Henry and Comtesse Danielle have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce therefore that they be Man and Wife, Prince and Princess together, in the name of God and our King, who is the protector of the Holy Spirit and our people. Amen." He turned around and accepted the Dauphine's crown.

The Prince carefully removed the chaplet of orange blossoms from Danielle's hair and handed it to Nicole.

The Archbishop said a prayer over Danielle and placed the Dauphine's crown upon her head.

Henry then pulled Danielle into his arms and gave her an enthusiastic kiss.

When the Prince and Princess emerged from the cathedral, Danielle was astonished when the crowd, which had swelled to thousands, let out a tremendous roar. Cheers. Applause. She smiled and waved at the crowd in response, drawing an even greater reaction in return. Henry smiled at her and then also waved at the crowd as they climbed into the carriage and started the trip back to the palace.

"We did it, Henry. We are really married, aren't we? Nothing happened to stop it, this time," she whispered to him in the carriage.

"Yes, we did," he laughed in delight. "And, why are you whispering? We are quite alone," he whispered back, smiling.

"Well, except for a few thousand onlookers," she waved towards the crowd, drawing another cheer.

Henry also waved towards the crowds, "They cannot hear what we are saying, you know."

She laughed, "No, I suppose not. It is amazing. Look at all of these people standing out here in the cold to celebrate with us." They continued to wave at the crowds on the short trip back to the palace.

The courtyard of the palace was crammed full of well-wishers, as well. They emerged from their carriage to another loud cheer.

They entered the palace where a huge feast was being prepared in their honour. Soon they were joined by the King and Queen, Danielle's family and the rest of the court. The feasting and dancing would go on all day and into the night.

Danielle ignored the pain in her ankle, which wasn't hard. She had been injured many times in the past and had a high tolerance for pain. After she danced with Henry, Antoine asked her to dance. As he led her towards the dance floor he watched her closely, noticing she was not walking with her usual grace or energy. He stopped walking, "Your ankle still pains you? You should have declined my offer to dance. I insist you let the doctor examine your ankle now."

Henry came over to them, overhearing Antoine's last comment, "What is wrong with your ankle?"

"She fell down the stairs this morning, Your Highness."

Henry was immediately concerned and sat Danielle in the nearest chair. "You fell down the stairs! Why didn't you say something? Why wouldn't you let the doctor look at your ankle?"

Danielle smiled at the two men hovering solicitously over her. "It is only my ankle. It isn't broken. It doesn't even hurt as much as it did this morning."

"You said it didn't hurt this morning," Antoine pointed out.

"She fell down the stairs and you didn't insist on a doctor?" Henry said to Antoine.

"Henry," Danielle touched his arm to get his attention. "I tripped- Antoine caught my arm and I landed on the stairs. I did not fall down an entire flight. He tried to insist on having it examined, but I refused."


"We were already late. The heel broke off of my slipper and we needed to get another pair. If we had summoned the doctor there is no telling how long that would have taken. I knew you would be upset that we were late. I knew everyone would wonder why I wasn't there."

Henry listened to her in surprise. He knelt in front of her. "You came to our wedding and walked down that long aisle on an injured ankle? Just so I wouldn't worry? So that people wouldn't think you had changed your mind?" he smiled at her.

"Yes, and I was right. You were worried and you did send your guard to find me. It isn't that bad. I can walk."

"I want to have the doctor look at it. Are you certain you can walk on it without making it worse?"

"Yes, I have been walking on it all morning," she reminded him.

Henry walked her to a nearby room and called the doctor in to examine her ankle. The doctor assured him it wasn't broken and that their was no reason she shouldn't return to the party. The swelling was minimal, but he did recommend no more dancing for today.

They returned to the wedding feast, where Henry found a chair for Danielle to sit in for much of the day. He found that most of the guests had already heard of Danielle's broken slipper, her fall and injured ankle. He was, apparently, the last to know. This was the second time she had fallen as the result of a slipper, he realized, remembering she had fallen and lost a slipper on the night of the masque.

At one point Henry said, "I have a present for you, Princess." He handed her a small box.

Smiling up at him, she opened it. Inside was an exquisite butterfly broach. The wings were intricately worked in silver filigree and edged in diamonds. The body was made up of several diamonds, an emerald for the head, and for the tips of the antennae. "Oh, Henry, it is exquisite. Thank You. I told you about the butterfly only last night," she said in amazement.

"Being the Crown Prince has its advantages. I had the Crown Jeweler come to see me last night, after I took you to your room. He had this ready for you this morning. Are you a butterfly or a caterpillar today, Princess?"

"I am a... butterfly," she smiled delightedly up at him.

"I thought you were an angel at the masque, were you really a butterfly all along?" he said teasingly.

"I was a bird, actually," she said remembering her talk with Leonardo and how he had painted a glittery silver mask on her face.

"A bird?" he said in surprise. "What sort of bird?" he asked with a playful grin.

"When Leonardo told me you deserved to hear the truth, from the one you loved, I queried him that a bird may love a fish, but where would they live? He said he would make me wings. So, perhaps, I was a fish with wings?" she said laughingly.

He laughed in delight at the story, so happy that they could laugh together over the memories of that most painful night.

She continued, "This time, I have a gift for you, too, Your Highness."

He lit up like an excited schoolboy, "You do? What is it?"

"I had Antoine buy it for me, since he is in charge of my money. I think he thought it an odd gift," she said shyly. "What does a Prince need after all?" she smiled up at him as she signaled to a servant to bring something over. Three men carried over something large, draped with fabric and placed it carefully before the Prince.

Henry looked at the large present curiously, wondering what she could have possibly gotten for him that was so large. They had the attention of everyone in the hall.

"You can pull off the cover," she said when he hesitated.

He smiled back at her and pulled off the cover. Underneath was a large gilded birdcage with two green birds inside. He threw back his head and laughed.

"Parrots," she said shyly to him. "They are actually called lovebirds, because they love being together," she added with a blush.

He took her hands in his and leaned his head close to hers, "You are amazing, Danielle. This is the most thoughtful gift I have ever been given. Thank You."

The courtiers saw the large birdcage and paired birds and had to wonder what was so special about it that the Prince had laughed in such obvious delight. Upon noticing how interested the guests were in the birds, Henry predicted, "I think I shall be getting many more birds for my birthday, Danielle. Everyone is astonished that they didn't realize how much I love birds," he teased.

Later in the evening, the Duchess and Danielle's ladies-in-waiting took Danielle away to prepare her for the wedding bed. Danielle knew that the bedding ritual had to be observed for a royal marriage of the heir to the throne. She was mortified to know that men, including the King and all the King's ministers, would see her in only her chemise. She was apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. 'How long would they stay? Would they be there when she and Henry got into bed?' All of these thoughts were racing through her mind when her aunt dismissed all the unmarried girls, leaving them alone. She explained the many rules governing marital intimacies. She warned of pain. Of blood. She emphasized that under no circumstances was Danielle to cry, scream, fight or take flight. She also informed Danielle that the witnesses would be staying until the marriage was consummated (not merely until they were in bed together, as was the case with non-royal weddings). This talk- did not prepare Danielle for the night ahead as her aunt had intended- it sent her into a panic!

The Duchess escorted Danielle into the bedchamber. Danielle was unsurprised but dismayed to see dozens of courtiers, as well as the King and Archbishop, in the bedchamber. Henry wore nothing but a nightshirt, she nothing but her chemise. She felt as if she would simply die of mortification. She kept her eyes downcast and focused on keeping her breathing even. Breathe. Just breathe. She was trembling. The Archbishop anointed the bed and intoned a ritualistic prayer. The Duchess then put Danielle into the bed.

Danielle pulled the covers up to her chin, resisting the urge to cover her whole head.

Her maidenly fears were met with satisfied approval by the courtiers who had wondered about their openly affectionate relationship.

Henry spoke up then, "Very well, thank you, I can handle it from here."

"It is customary for the witnesses to stay until the marriage has been consummated, Your Highness," the Archbishop started.

Henry took one look at Danielle, pale and trembling in the bed. Her breath coming in quick, shallow gasps. He turned back to the Archbishop, "Not anymore. Everyone is leaving- now."

Danielle looked at him in surprise. Could he do that?

Everyone was silent, waiting to see what the Archbishop would say. Henry looked at his father.

The King spoke, "We will leave once you are in bed, Henry. I know we can trust you to handle matters from there." There really was no need to stay to ensure this marriage was consummated. Henry had chosen his own bride, after all. This was not a political alliance to an unknown Princess. This was a marriage of two young people very much in love.

Henry nodded, turned and climbed into bed next to Danielle.

The King turned and exited, the Archbishop following closely behind. The rest of the courtiers filed out after them, closing the door behind the last.

Henry turned to Danielle and gently lifted up her chin, "Don't be afraid, sweetheart; they will not be coming back." He gathered her in his arms, stroking her back, trying to calm her. "Now then, what is the matter? You didn't seem nervous when your ladies took you away to prepare you for bed," he whispered gently.

"Nothing…I-I am sorry," she sniffled, making a visible effort to pull herself together. But she remained stiff in his arms.

Tilting her face upwards again, his eyes searched hers. Hers were misty with unshed tears. "Did your aunt say anything to upset you?"

Danielle lowered her eyes demurely, and did not speak.

"Well then, tell me what she said. I must know why you are crying," he said gently, kissing her eyelids. "Tell me, Danielle," he insisted when she didn't answer.

The tears spilled down her cheeks, "I-I'm sorry. She told me not to cry, or scream, or fight you," she whispered, highly embarrassed.

"Oh Danielle, she should not have said that," horrified that her aunt had scared her- and needlessly. Wiping away her tears, he continued gently, "The only situation when a woman would feel like fighting her husband in her wedding bed would be if she felt fear or disgust for him. If he were a stranger, she might feel like crying, even if he were gentle, just because 'tis so intimate. It is sharing one another's bodies. Your aunt had an arranged marriage to a man much older than she. She doesn't understand what we have. We are so fortunate, sweetheart. We love one another. That makes all the difference. You do find pleasure when I kiss you?" she nodded against his chest. "You find comfort in my embrace?" again she nodded. Her breathing evened out, he was pleased to notice. "Marital intimacy is but an extension of those feelings and desires. Pleasure and comfort. Supreme trust. Do you remember the part of my vow today, when I said 'With my body I thee worship,'? Does that sound like something you need to fear?" She stayed quietly in his arms, but he finally felt her relax. "Do you trust me, Danielle?" he asked, suddenly sounding vulnerable.

She looked up at him with wide, trusting eyes. "Yes, I trust you, Henry," she smiled, realizing that she did trust him, implicitly. She couldn't imagine that he would ever do anything that would make her feel like screaming or fighting. "I trust you, supremely, in every respect," she said with relieved conviction and a tremulous smile.

He smiled tenderly and lowered his head, taking her lips in a gentle kiss. She returned his kiss and melted into his arms. Henry sighed, pleased. Yes, extraordinarily pleased.

"I'm going to snuff the candles, now," he got up and walked around the room, putting out the candles. He hadn't expected Danielle to be so nervous, and- for the first time in his life- he wished that he had more experience with women. How best to approach tonight without alarming her again, he wondered?

Danielle watched Henry walking slowly around the room as he put out the candles. She knew he had been eagerly anticipating tonight- as, indeed she had been. She knew her panicked reaction had affected him. It had stolen some of his joy, she realized, feeling guilty. She must remedy it. "Henry," she called.

He turned around as he put out the last candle, leaving only the glow from the fireplace.

"Come to bed," she smiled invitingly, patting the space next to her.

He came back to bed, climbing in next to her, a curious look and a smile on his face.

"I am sorry," she looked embarrassed, nervously fiddling with the coverlet. "I was quite looking forward to tonight," she said with a blush, not meeting his eyes. "I was nervous only about the witnesses, until my aunt started telling me what to expect and what not to do. I didn't know the witnesses were planning to stay until she told me, either," Henry noticed with alarm that she started to tremble again. He leaned forward, giving her a soft, gentle kiss. She sighed, relaxing once again. "I think if you were to kiss me, like you did in the snow, at Château de Lancret…I- I will forget everything my aunt has said," she looked up at him, shyly.

Henry smiled, reaching out and stroking her hair, "You didn't need her to explain anything. It will all happen quite naturally. Instinctively. Just relax and allow me to please you, truly," he said as he gathered her in his arms and lowered his head to hers, leaning her back onto the pillows.

He seduced her with his lips and his hands. He explored her body and encouraged her to explore his. Kissing… caressing… tasting… sharing their bodies. Learning what brought pleasure to each other. Their love, already a strong bond, deepened and grew as they came to know each other on this new level of intimacy.

When Henry turned Danielle onto her stomach, so he could explore her back, his breath caught in horror at the sight of crisscrossing scars on her back. He had been responsible for this. The whipping she had been given because he had kept her out all night. His hand trembled as he reached out to touch her. The wounds had healed, but the scars would never completely disappear. He could see evidence of older marks, barely visible, as well. He stroked her back tenderly, kissing each scar, not making any comment. He didn't want her thinking about such painful memories on this night. This special night. How could he have let this happen to her? He had already decided to marry her. He should have been able to protect her. What good was being the Crown Prince if he couldn't manage to protect the woman he loved?

He rolled her onto her back, continuing his instinctive seduction, kissing her deeply. Danielle was beyond conscious thought, so carried away on the tides of pleasure he was washing over her. Responding on instinct to his caresses and kisses. Completely surrendering herself to Henry and Henry's love, learning that she had nothing to fear, after all. No, nothing at all.

Henry knew she was ready, the moment came for the two to become one and he claimed her for his own. For all eternity. The perfect union of two perfectly matched bodies, hearts and souls. Married. Made for each other. Yes, only for each other. Made one- eternally.

Later, as Danielle lay contentedly in her mate's arms, she knew she was exactly where she belonged. Completely secure in Henry's arms, as in his love. Their shared love. Their destiny.

Henry had nearly fallen asleep, completely content, holding his wife, when he felt Danielle's shoulders begin to shake. At first, he thought her cold and he gathered her closer, pulling up the coverlet to cover her more fully. He suddenly realized she wasn't cold. Was she… crying? "Danielle? Are you crying, sweetheart?" he asked in concern, tilting her chin up. In the glow from the fire he could see her face clearly. She wasn't crying, he saw with relief, she was laughing! "What are you laughing about?" he smiled down at her, rolling her onto her back, leaning over to kiss her ever so softly.

"I was just trying to imagine how my aunt could possibly have been describing what we shared tonight. It cannot be the same thing. It isn't possible!" she smiled up at him, laughing.

"That, Princess," he kissed her, "is because we are so very fortunate as to be completely in love with one another. As we wish to be together and miss each other when we are apart, our bodies, too, yearn for each other." He kissed her again, "Because we are in love. Because we were made to be one." And they were.

The next morning, Danielle awoke, wrapped snugly in her husband's arms. She felt such a sense of complete belonging; safe and loved, more so than at any time in her life. She wanted to stay in bed the whole day and not face everyone at the celebrations which would continue today, starting with the wedding breakfast. She snuggled closer to Henry.

"Good morning, Princess," said Henry, when he realized she was awake. He loved calling her his Princess.

"Good morning, husband," she said, turning to look at him. Feeling completely woman. Completely feminine.

"And, how are you this morning?" he smiled. "How is your ankle?"

"I am a little tired," she blushed, realizing she was naked under the sheets. "My ankle is fine. It doesn't hurt at all."

"Good. Well, we will have to be up soon. We are expected for breakfast."

She buried her head in his chest, "Do we have to? How can I face them?" she pleaded, pitifully embarrassed.

Henry laughed, "You are brave enough to take on a whole band of armed gypsies, a burly wagon-master, and an arrogant Prince, and you will overcome this as well. You are the Dauphine, Princess of France, just hold your head up and smile. There is nothing to be ashamed of."

"But, everyone knows! 'Tis so embarrassing," she was blushing crimson.

"I love you," he chuckled, hugging her, simply adoring her innocence. "Yesterday, when you gave me that gilded cage, I was so very moved. The symbol of what you were giving up to be with me was, I am sure, lost upon everyone except me. Last night, you set aside your fears, putting your trust in me, and that was the most precious gift of all. We are in that gilded cage together now. People are going to look at us, gossip about us, and want to know everything about us. It's not something from which we can hide," he explained patiently, stroking her cheek softly.

Danielle sighed, sitting up, realizing he was right. Smiling at him she said, "I know, you are right. You are going to make a wonderful King someday, Henry. You could convince me of anything."

He got up, put on his nightshirt and went over to the table nearest the fireplace to get something. "This is for you," he said, almost shyly, handing her a large box.

"Thank you, Henry. Are you going to give me a gift every day?" she laughed. "No wonder your father needed to build a larger palace." She took the gift from him.

"Well, maybe not every day," he smiled. He adored showering her with presents. Making her smile.

"Hmm, maybe I should send Antoine on another shopping trip. I don't have anything else for you. Surely, the Paris shopkeepers wouldn't mind a little extra business."

"I don't need gifts." He sat down on the bed, gazing into her eyes, his hand on her cheek, "You asked me yesterday, 'what does a Prince need?' All this Prince needs is his Princess. All I need is you. Only you." He kissed her, slowly, reverently. He pulled back, smiling. "Aren't you going to open it?" he asked eagerly as a child, reminding her of the box.

She smiled at him as she untied the bow, wondering if this was going to be more jewels or something more personal. He seemed especially eager for her to open it. She opened the box to reveal two delicate tiaras. One in gold and one in platinum, each set with hundreds of tiny diamonds, making them sparkle in the early morning sunlight. "Oh, they are beautiful, Henry."

"The Dauphine crown is for more formal occasions. These are for everyday wear. I don't want people getting you and Nicole confused anymore." He stroked her hair as he said this, picturing her wearing the tiaras. Marking her as his to the world. He wanted the world to know she was his. Completely his. She completed him.

She laughed brightly. A piece of paper in the bottom of the box caught her eye. She took it out and unfolded it. It was a poem. She looked at him curiously. He looked a little embarrassed, she thought, intrigued.

Henry was nervous- sharing his poem with her. His hope that she liked it made him feel vulnerable.

"Well?" he asked.

Danielle read it aloud:

Summer Rain

And Spring turns to Dance

With her newfound Romance

'Til Spring gives life to Summer.


Finally a breath of Summer rain

Splashes her leaves, soothes her pain

'Til Summer fell to Fall.


Then Fall turns colors bright

Altogether, but unseen in the Night

'Til Fall yields to Winter.


So, Winter strips bare and wraps her tight

Under a blanket of white

'Til Light finds Night.


And Knight fights on alone toward Dawn

With love his only song

'Til Twilight embraces Light.


"This poem is beautiful, Henry. Wherever did you find it? I have never seen it before," she said, smiling up at him. "Who is the poet?"

"I am the poet. Your poet. No one has ever seen it. I wrote it on the ship when I was in pursuit of you," he said quietly, getting up and walking a few steps away, awkwardly.

"You wrote this? For me?" she said, stunned and touched. "It is amazing, Henry. No one has ever written me a poem before," she said in awe. "I think few ladies have ever had such a beautiful poem written for them."

"Thank you, my inspiration," he smiled back at her, pleased.

She got out of bed, wrapping the sheet around her carefully, "This is the most wonderful gift ever, Henry," she said as she embraced him. She was moved to tears, overwhelmed with the emotions he stirred within her. What had she ever done to deserve him, she wondered? She didn't deserve him, but for some reason God had blessed her with him, anyway, she thought, humbly, gratefully.

He hugged her back, laughing, "Most ladies would think the tiaras were more wonderful."

She leaned back in his arms, looking up at him, "Then they would be wrong. The tiaras are lovely and I will be proud to wear them. They mark me as yours to the world, which I cannot quite believe is true. It is too amazing," she laughed, shaking her head. "But, the poem is just for me, and a window to your soul. I will treasure it, always," she said, hugging him close.

He kissed her, thinking again how amazing she was. Any other woman, he was sure, would prefer the tiaras and jewels. His Danielle preferred a poem. "I love you. Now, you need to put on something more substantial than that sheet you are wearing or we are going to be very late for breakfast."

He went over to pick up her chemise; slipping it over her head. He caught the sheet as Danielle slipped her arms into her chemise. He tossed the sheet back onto the bed, covering the blood. Danielle was self-conscious enough about what everyone would be thinking. He didn't want her noticing the sheets. Thankfully the old custom of displaying the bloody sheets to the entire court was no longer practiced, but since he had kicked the witnesses out before they consummated their vows, he was sure someone would be by to collect the sheets, as proof they had consummated their marriage.

He picked up the box with the tiaras, handing it to her, "Here, take these with you to your dressing room. Come back when you are ready and we will go down together."

Her ladies were waiting for her, with buckets of steaming water being kept warm by the fire, for her bath. She felt like a totally different person this morning. Surely, she must look different, she thought. She certainly felt different. She was unusually quiet, embarrassed, even in front of Nicole.

After she finished her bath and was dressed, she felt more like herself. Her hair was braided and pinned up, as she was now a married woman. As Nicole finished arranging the new tiara in her hair, their eyes met in the mirror and Danielle smiled, blushing; radiating happiness, and something else Nicole couldn't identify.

Nicole's answering smile was filled with relief. They didn't have time to talk privately, now, but she knew that Danielle was happy. And Content. The Duchess had been upset last night after she returned from the bedding ceremony, but wouldn't talk about it, leaving Nicole alone with her concerns for Danielle.

Danielle stood up and embraced Nicole, impulsively. Nicole whispered urgently, "You are all right this morning? You were very quiet."

"I am beyond all right. Last night was beyond words. Wondrous, amazing; those don't even come close," she whispered back, hugging her, laughing in delight.

They pulled back and smiled at each other. Nicole said, "Well, you do look amazing this morning. I hope Prince Henry isn't disappointed you aren't wearing green, today, Your Highness" she laughed, straightening Danielle's gown. She looked positively regal this morning, wearing her tiara and dressed in the exquisite purple gown. Purple, the color reserved for royalty. The bodice, detachable sleeves, and overskirt were made from a delicately patterned, purple, silk damask. The bodice had a low square neckline edged in cloth of gold and trimmed in jewels. The overskirt was split in front to reveal the cloth of gold underskirt, which was richly embroidered. It was pleated in the back to allow for a graceful flowing train as she walked. The two-piece purple sleeve gauntlets attached with gold lacing, allowing generous poufs of the semi-sheer gold, silk organza chemise sleeves to show at the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

She wore a gold and amethyst pendant on a gold chain and the gold and diamond tiara Henry had given her this morning. She positively glowed with contentment and love.

Danielle went back into the bedchamber to meet Henry when she was ready. He was shaved and dressed, waiting for her. The bed was made.

His breath was taken away at the sight of her. Stunningly beautiful, but more than that; she exuded sensuality. Was she walking with a new sway to her hips, or was that his imagination? Her smile was entrancing… seductive …knowing. His mouth went dry. He wanted to drag her back into bed and make love to her all day. He certainly didn't want to have any other man feast his eyes upon her. Ogling her. Not today. Not while she looked like that.

Her smile faltered, "I-is something wrong?" She looked down at her new dress in dismay. It looked all right to her. "Don't you like my dress?" she looked at him for an answer. The sensual aura evaporated in her distress.

He took a deep breath, walking towards her. It wasn't the dress. "The dress is fine; better than fine. It is exquisite. You look lovely," he said, feeling awkwardly for the right words, taking her hands and kissing her on the cheek. She wasn't entirely convinced, he could see, but that was probably a good thing. He no longer felt the urge to wrap her in a cloak before taking her down to breakfast. She had been worried enough about what people would be thinking and didn't need the added interest that her radiating such a sensual aura would arouse. Yes, arouse. That- she could save entirely for him.

She smiled at him uncertainly.

"You look glorious, Danielle. You simply took my breath away for a moment. Purple and gold. Very appropriate. Purple for the Princess and gold for the comtesse." The dress reminded him a bit of the gold dress she had worn in the courtyard the day they first met. He had been enchanted then, as he was now. He smiled at her and she smiled in return, her confidence returning. Pleased that he was pleased.

"Do you know, purple suits you. I thought that the first time I saw you in purple," he said with a smile.

"Henry!" she poked him playfully in the ribs. She couldn't believe he would give her such a patently false compliment. "I have never worn purple before today! It isn't allowed for anyone but royalty," she reminded him, laughing.

He pulled her into his arms with a slightly crooked smile, "The first time I saw you in purple," he repeated, "I thought how well it suited you. You were enchanting. You completely fascinated me that day- by the river- wearing my purple cloak."

She gasped in surprise, she hadn't thought of his cloak, only that she had never worn a purple gown before. She smiled, remembering that day. Remembering how easy it had been to talk to him. How much she had enjoyed being with him. How he had teased her, deliberately tried to irritate her, just to see how she would react. How she had melted at his smile. How she had fallen for him, even as she was woefully aware he was from a different world than she. She still couldn't quite believe she was married to him.

They walked into the breakfast, welcomed by everyone. Danielle smiled and held her head up high, wearing her new tiara, and feeling at home, next to Henry; feeling like his Princess, like she belonged there.

Danielle spied Gustave in the hall. "Oh, look! There is Gustave!" she said to Henry, in surprise.

"Yes, my father invited him. The King ennobled him at my request. I thought it fitting, after his matchmaking helped to bring us together and he abandoned his apprenticeship to help in the search for you," Henry said.

"He abandoned his apprenticeship? You never told me that. That is terrible! What will he do, now?" she said, distressed.

"Nobles don't 'do' anything, as you know," Henry chuckled. "At least they don't work in trades, generally. For now, he is a guest of the court, and studying under Leonardo. My father has decided to arrange a marriage for Marguerite. He wants to have some portraits made of her to send to prospective grooms. I suggested Gustave do the portraits. What do you think?"

"Well, I think 'tis a wonderful opportunity for Gustave, especially being able to study under Leonardo, but he and Marguerite have always fought terribly. I'm not sure how well it will work out. What does Marguerite think about the marriage?"

"I think she is relieved, actually. Undowered, and as the daughter of her disgraced mother, 'tis unlikely she would have found a suitable husband on her own. As a ward of the King, she will fare much better, you must agree. She thanked my parents when they broached the subject with her."

"That was kind of your parents to think of helping her. I'm sure they have so many important things to deal with every day."

They went over to see Gustave, who was dressed as befitting a noble. Danielle had never seen him looking so fine. "Gustave! Look at you, you look positively debonair."

"Your Highness," he answered with a bow and a cocky grin. "You look positively resplendent!" He couldn't quite get over how dazzlingly regal his childhood friend looked. "How have you been since you went away? I have missed you."

"Thank you, Gustave. I am wonderfully happy," she smiled up at Henry. "I am so glad you have come to court. I have missed you, too."

"He is treating you well, then?" he looked at the Prince.

Danielle sensed a little tension between Gustave and Henry and wondered about it. "Of course, he is always wonderful to me," she said, looking luminously happy. Realizing the tension likely stemmed from the masque, she said, "Gustave, you must not blame him for what happened. It was entirely my fault. Now- tell me about why you are here. I heard the King wants you to paint Marguerite's portrait."

"Yes, to send to potential husbands. Some poor dupe is going to fall for her exquisite beauty, not realizing it conceals a churlish personality."

"I think Marguerite has really changed. She helped Henry find me after my step-mother lied about where I was, don't forget."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Gustave scoffed.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 25 of 35

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