Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 26 of 35

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
In Pursuit of Ever After

Rodmilla had been left in her cell since Christmas. She was glad she wasn't being forced to act the part of a servant, but wondered what the change meant. She had noticed the laundry servants gossiping more than usual and throwing her strange looks the last time she was there. She spent her days pacing back and forth, formulating and discarding revenge plans. First, she needed to escape. Then, she needed to find where Danielle was hiding. Somewhere near Dieppe, she knew.

The winter passed swiftly for the members of the royal court. Soon it was March and strolling out of doors was a welcome change to being always indoors.

Marguerite had spent many hours posing for her portraits with Gustave. She had come to care for him deeply, but she knew he would never forgive her for her treatment of Danielle while they were growing up. The fact that she had been instrumental in Danielle's rescue was not enough it appeared, to redeem her.

Marguerite had become involved in helping to raise money for the orphanages in Paris. She felt that in helping orphans she could somehow make up for her ill-treatment of her orphaned step-sister. She had become more involved as the winter progressed, visiting the orphanages regularly. She rarely talked about her visits to the orphanages at court. She didn't want it to get back to Danielle, who might then think she was doing it for show. She found she actually liked the orphans. Their good cheer uplifted her spirits more than she did theirs.

In late March, Henry had to leave Danielle for a few days, on the King's business. "I shall be back in a week, at the most," he comforted Danielle after he told her. "If I can get back sooner, I will let you know."

Four days later, a page delivered a note to Danielle. She opened it curiously.


Change of plans. I am coming back tonight. I have a surprise for you. Sneak out of the palace and meet me behind the stables at nine o'clock. Tell no one, or it will ruin my surprise.

Love, Henry

Danielle was, at first, ecstatic to read that Henry would be home early. The more she read and re-read the note the more troubled she became. Henry had made her promise to never leave the palace without a proper escort. Now he was telling her to sneak out to meet him? Why should she have to sneak out to meet him? He was her husband, after all. She agonized over what to do for several hours before coming to a decision. She went in search of the King.

The King was in a meeting with his ministers when she arrived. She asked the Chamberlain to tell the King she needed to speak with him as soon as he could spare her a few minutes. The Chamberlain came immediately back out, "The King will see you now, Your Highness," he led her inside. Her ladies followed her inside, but stayed near the door, as they knew the Princess wanted to speak to the King privately.

She approached the King, not sure how to get him alone to speak of Henry's note. She had never interrupted him before and felt awkward doing so now.

The King smiled at Danielle, sensing her nervousness and wondering at it. "What can I do for you, my dear? I haven't had any news from Henry, if you are wondering."

"Your Majesty," she curtseyed, "I received a note this afternoon that I wanted to ask your advice about, if you have a few minutes to spare," she said, haltingly.

"Certainly, Danielle," he dismissed his ministers with a nod. "Who is the note from?" he asked gently. He was most curious. She had never approached him for advice before. And she seemed- upset.

"Henry," after a slight pause she added, "I think."

The King raised an eyebrow at the qualification. "Do you have the note with you?"

She handed him the note. He read it quickly, and then asked her, "Why do you doubt it is from Henry?"

She swallowed, feeling foolish at his question. "Henry made me promise to never leave the palace without a full escort, especially in Paris. Why would I need to sneak out to meet my husband? Also, why tell no one? Even when we snuck out that one time at Hautefort, before we were married, we told both you and Nicole, even at the risk of being stopped," she finished, wringing her hands.

The King reached out and covered her hands with his. "I am very pleased that you felt you could come to me with this, Danielle. You did right, bringing it to me. I agree with everything you said. It looks consistent with Henry's handwriting, but he would never take such a risk with you. If he had a surprise for you, he could come in and get you, or have someone he trusted escort you out. But even so-you should never leave with just one escort- not even Henry or Capt. Laurent. Your safety is to be closely guarded. You are a member of the Royal Family and neither of you should ever leave the palace without guards. It is simply too dangerous. You are too precious to us all, my dear. You are not to follow the directions in this letter. I want you, and Nicole, to stay in your apartments tonight with your ladies. Do you understand?" she nodded. He continued, "Where did you get the note?"

"A page delivered it to me a couple of hours ago."

"Did you recognize the page?"

"I have seen him before. He is short, with long, curly blond hair. He is older."

The King called his ministers back, showing them the note.

He pulled an aide aside, telling him quietly, "Please see that Princess Danielle gets back to her room. Tell the head of security to put two extra guards at her door. And, station guards below the Dauphin's windows. Our most trusted men. No one is to get near her, other than her ladies, the Queen, the Prince or me. Not servants, nor pages. No one."

The King put his hand on Danielle's shoulder, "I'll handle this, Danielle. I do not want you to worry."

"Thank you. Will you let me know if you discover anything?" she asked.

"Yes, I will see you tonight," he promised with a fatherly smile.

After she left, the King turned back to his ministers, determined to protect her and find the person responsible. He was much more alarmed than he had let Danielle see. "The Princess received this note, ostensibly from the Prince, this afternoon. I do not believe he sent it. We must act on the assumption that someone is trying to lure her out of the palace."

They discussed what they would do. A rider was dispatched to the Prince, inquiries were made into who this page might be and a trap was set to catch whoever was meant to intercept the Princess.

Jacqueline and Marguerite both recognized the description of the page that had passed information to their mother.

At precisely nine o'clock, a young page, dressed in a gown and one of Danielle's hooded cloaks, walked behind the stables whispering "Henry, Where are you?"

A shadow ran towards the cloaked figure, brandishing a knife. "Scream and you die!" it said, swinging the knife at "Danielle's" chest.

A dozen guards materialized suddenly from the shadows, knocking the attacker to the ground and disarming him. He was promptly tied up and taken to the dungeon to be questioned. The King was notified of the capture. He went to see the Queen.

"Someone tried to lure Danielle out of the palace and kill her?" the Queen said in shock. "However did you discover the plot?"

"They sent a note to Danielle, claiming to be Henry. She brought the note to me, quite wisely. If she hadn't, she might be dead. She is safe, under guard in Henry's apartments. I have sent for Henry, as well. I need to tell her that we caught the man, but not that his job was to kill her. We need to find out who he is working for."

Danielle was pacing her room, hoping that Henry would come in, wondering why she hadn't come in response to his note. Praying that the note had been from him. She expected, however, that something more sinister was afoot.

The King and Queen entered, looking grave. Danielle stopped her pacing and looked up expectantly.

"We caught a man behind the stables. He was not sent by Henry," the King said calmly.

"What does that mean? What did he want?" she pleaded. She had tried to convince herself that she was overreacting. That the note was from Henry. It wasn't.

"We are questioning him now, but you are safe," he assured her.

Danielle sat, stunned. It was not from Henry. Someone had been trying to lure her out if the palace. Why? She was truly alarmed for the first time. Where was Henry? She needed him. She wrapped her arms around herself, holding onto her composure.

Henry rode into the palace courtyard in the wee hours of the morning. When he arrived, he was told that the King wanted to see him immediately in the King's apartments. Henry was frustrated. He wanted to see Danielle for himself, to assure himself that she was unhurt. Someone had tried to lure her out of the palace! To what end, he didn't want to contemplate. As instructed, he headed directly for the King.

He arrived to find the King and his ministers in the midst of a tense discussion. "Father, what has happened?"

The King was relieved to see Henry. The attempt upon Danielle was assumed to be an attempt to alter the succession by preventing the Dauphin from siring an heir. That meant Henry was likely in danger, as well. The King filled Henry in on what they knew so far. The man, a page who had been with the court for years, claimed to be working alone. His associations were being investigated.

Henry felt sick that he had put her in such danger. He was profoundly grateful that she had remembered his admonishment about never leaving without an escort and had doubted the letter's authenticity. He was relieved she apparently realized her safety was now a matter of state.

The King interrupted his thoughts, "Go, assure yourself that she is well, and then join us for the interrogation."

"Yes, thank you Father," Henry headed for his apartments at a near run. He entered the outer chamber to find all of Danielle's ladies still up. He didn't see Danielle or Nicole. "Where is my wife?" he demanded, shattering the tense silence within. Several of the ladies jumped to their feet. One let out an undignified shriek.

"She is in the next room with Lady Nicole, Your Highness," Danielle's most composed lady offered.

He turned and entered the bedchamber, sweeping the dark room with fierce eyes. He finally spotted them, sitting close together on the couch in front of the fire. He walked around to see them. Danielle's head was resting on Nicole's shoulder. She was asleep and holding Nicole's hand. "Hello, Your Highness," Nicole whispered. "Would you like to take my place?" she smiled. "She has just now fallen asleep."

"Thank you, Nicole. I appreciate you being here for her when I wasn't."

"You have no need to thank me, Your Highness. I love her as a sister, you know."

Henry smiled at them. They looked so sweet and peaceful. "The King is waiting for me. I just needed to see for myself that she was unhurt. Please stay with her, if you don't mind."

"I will take care of her, don't worry." He knew Nicole would. He was thankful she had been here for Danielle today. When he hadn't been.

"Shall I send the rest of the ladies to bed, or do you want them to stay?" he asked quietly.

"You may send them to bed, thank you."

"Should I move her to the bed, or do you think that will wake her?"

"We can stay here, 'tis comfortable enough to sleep on and moving her might wake her."

Henry nodded. Then he went over to the bed and pulled off the coverlet. He put Danielle's feet up on the couch and covered them both, tucking them in. He kissed Danielle on the forehead. He thanked Nicole and left, dismissing the ladies on his way out. He conferred briefly with the guards before leaving to join his father for the interrogation.

Throughout the entire time since his capture the page had told the same story: He was working alone. No one had told him to attack the Princess. Why had he done it? He didn't like her. Something was missing, they were sure.

Eventually, one of the investigators came to report what they had found out about his activities. He had been seen talking to all of Danielle's ladies as well as her step-sisters. They could find no connections between him and anyone in line for the throne. Marguerite and Jacqueline had both identified him as a conspirator in league with their mother.

When he was confronted with this information, he admitted giving the Baroness information back in the fall, but denied her involvement in the attack. He eventually admitted that he did it because he was in love with the Baroness (as he continued to refer to her), but insisted that she had no knowledge of his plan and had never asked him to harm Danielle.

He claimed to not have spoken to her since she had been arrested, although he would see her being escorted into the laundry before the Prince's betrothal to Danielle. He apparently blamed Danielle's reappearance for his no longer being able to see the Baroness.

"We should have executed that woman when we had the chance!" Henry said to the King when they were back in the King's presence chamber.

"Even that may not have prevented this, Henry; if he blames Danielle for her step-mother's punishment. We can charge her with embezzling from Danielle's inheritance. We have plenty of evidence to support the charge, but exile is the harshest punishment. To execute her, we need to prove a crime against the Crown. If the page will not implicate her in the attack, we will need to get a confession from her or find some other evidence against her. We will continue to investigate his activities and the comings and goings of anyone he has ever spoken to. Henry, it is very possible that she was not directly involved. She has had no visitors since her arrest. Her only contact was with the laundry servants. Since Danielle returned to court, she hasn't even been out of her cell," the King said.

"We have to be able to protect Danielle!" Henry cried in frustration. "I cannot believe how close he came to getting her alone out there…" He had chills running down his spine, just thinking of the possibilities. "Do you believe he acted alone?"

"Rodmilla de Ghent doesn't even know that you married Danielle, as far as I know. I think he acted on his own, hoping to please her."

"Maybe 'tis time we bring her up here to ask her about it. See how she reacts to the charges and to the sight of Danielle as my Princess," Henry suggested.

"Tomorrow, after we have all had some sleep. We'll also see what else the investigators come up with today. How is Danielle? She should make an appearance today. Stories of the attempt are bound to be circulating, and we need it known that she is unharmed."

"She had just fallen asleep when I checked on her a few hours ago. We will make an appearance for dinner," Henry decided.

"Fine then, off to bed with you," the King said.

Henry returned to his apartments. It was still early morning, about seven or eight, he estimated. He found Danielle and Nicole curled up together on the couch where he had left them, except they were now both asleep. He sat in the chair adjacent to the couch they were on and watched them sleep. He marveled at how alike they looked. More so when they were asleep, he noticed. You couldn't see their personalities written on their faces or their eye color when they were sleeping. 'Their father's must have looked very alike, in addition to their mother's being twins,' he mused. 'How am I going to keep her, keep them both, safe? Nicole could easily be mistaken for Danielle, so she, too, is in danger.' He made a mental note to assign Nicole her own guards.

After watching them for awhile, he woke Nicole, thanking her and telling her to go to her bed. Her room was, fortunately, just across the hall, so the guards would be guarding both rooms. Then he scooped Danielle up and carried her to their bed. He climbed in and pulled her close, protectively, falling asleep instantly. Danielle had woken up when he carried her to the bed. Relieved to have him home, she snuggled in and went right back to sleep.

The news that someone had tried to abduct or kill Princess Danielle swept like a raging inferno through the court. The investigators were questioning dozens of people, both about any encounters with the nefarious page and about their whereabouts that entire day.

It was discovered that Marguerite had been out of the palace for several hours yesterday afternoon. She had also been seen talking to the page at some point. Further investigation revealed that Marguerite seemed to be unaccounted for several times every week. This was deemed suspicious and reported to the King.

The King was disturbed upon reading this report. Could Danielle have been wrong about Marguerite? Danielle always believed the best of people. Marguerite would have to be questioned officially. Since she had been spending hours each day with Danielle's painter friend, Gustave Moreau, they would start there.

After they had talked to Gustave, they brought in Marguerite. They questioned her extensively about the page, her mother, her feelings towards Danielle, and where she had been disappearing to in the last few weeks; particularly where she had been yesterday afternoon. Since Gustave was Danielle's oldest friend and he had also known Marguerite for ten years, they had him stay for her interview. They were all shocked at her claim that she had been visiting an orphanage on those occasions, including yesterday. She claimed that Madame du Barry, an elderly matron of the court who was well respected and loved for her charity work with children, would confirm her story.

Marguerite displayed no animosity towards Danielle. She claimed she had not spoken to her mother since her arrest, although she had tried to visit once and been turned away. She said the page had approached her asking if she had been to visit her mother. She also claimed the page had been an informant to her mother before the masque.

After they were done with their questions, they told her she was to stay in her room while they verified her story. She then asked, "Is Danielle all right? There are stories about her being attacked."

Henry looked at her hard. Could she be faking all of this concern, he wondered. "She is unharmed. The plot was discovered before she was in any danger."

"I'm glad she is safe. I didn't have anything to do with it, Your Highness. Please tell her that for me," she had tears in her big, blue eyes, he noticed.

"You may go, now," the King said.

After she had left, they discussed her interview with Gustave. He admitted to believing her story. "She seems to be genuinely changed. Danielle told me that two months ago and I didn't believe her then. As you know, we have spent many hours together these past two months. She is not the same petulant, spoiled child she used to be. Her story must be confirmed, of course, but I think it will turn out to be the truth."

The investigators verified Marguerite's story while the rest of the interviews took place. They found Madame du Barry, and she upheld Marguerite's story and gave the name of the orphanage they had been at yesterday. One of the investigators went to interview the staff there, as well.

Late in the afternoon there was a knock on Marguerite's door. She opened it, surprised to see Gustave standing there. "Hello," she said.

"Hello, Danielle would like to see you. The Prince asked me to come fetch you," he said.

They walked silently to Prince Henry's apartments. The guards opened the doors, since they were expected. They found Henry, Danielle and Nicole waiting inside.

"Your Highness," Marguerite curtseyed.

"Hello Marguerite," Danielle welcomed her. "We are about to go for a walk in the gardens before dinner. Would you care to join us?"

Marguerite knew this meant that she had been cleared of suspicion, and in Danielle's usual gracious manner, she intended to let the whole court know it.

"Thank you, Your Highness; I would be honoured to join you."

A few minutes later, they all made their way to the garden, speaking animatedly. It was particularly important that Danielle and Nicole be noted as being happy and healthy looking. This outing put to rest rumors Danielle had been injured.

They all went to bed early, knowing that tomorrow would be an emotionally taxing day. Danielle was dreading this confrontation with her step-mother, but she understood their reasons. They were hoping to shock her into a confession of her involvement.

April first dawned warm and sunny, Rodmilla could tell from the narrow window in her cell. Her jailor brought some soap, two pitchers of water and her own dress. The one she had been wearing the day she was arrested. He told her that she would be going up to court today and not returning. She was amazed. "Not returning?" she said to him. They had sentenced her to ten years, not exile or execution, so she wondered if she were possibly being released. Had Marguerite found herself a powerful husband at court, at last? She washed as best she could and dressed herself in her best dress. The one she had chosen to wear the day she had expected the Prince to offer for Marguerite and had ended up humiliated by her step-daughter, the Comtesse Danielle, instead.

Danielle dressed with care for her confrontation with her step-mother. The Queen had helped her select a deep burgundy velvet dress, with a slim white V shaped silk insert in the center of the bodice, the sleeves of which were quilted with gold thread in a diamond pattern. They attached to the bodice with burgundy cording and were slit down the back, revealing the white chemise beneath and held closed with a series of gold buttons and burgundy cording. A red and gold silk brocade overdress with a deep V in the front, trimmed in gold, and a gold belt went over all. The Dauphine crown, which was adorned with many jewels, and a ruby and gold pendant completed the picture of a Princess.

It took Rodmilla's eyes a little while to adjust to the sunshine after so long in a cell with only limited sunlight. She enjoyed her glimpse of the full sky and the fresher air of the courtyard as she was led from the dungeon to the Throne Room.

As Rodmilla walked in, she was forcibly reminded of a similar scene several months earlier at Hautefort. The Throne Room at the Louvre was much larger and more impressive than the one at Chateâu d'Hautefort. Hundreds of courtiers flanked the walls and filled the galleries today, dressed in an impressive, colourful display of finery. At least Danielle wouldn't be here to spoil today, she thought. When announced she walked up to the dais and dropped into her most elegant curtsey. She noted with pleasure Marguerite standing near the front of the crowd. 'Where is the Prince's Spanish bride?' she wondered.

The King addressed her, "Madame de Ghent, we have several serious matters to address with you today. The first is to ask you if you admit to embezzling money from your step-daughter's estate."

She was surprised by the question. She looked quickly around and was relieved that she didn't see Danielle anywhere. "I merely used the money from my late husband's estate to raise our three girls, Your Majesty." Her attention was briefly distracted by the elegant woman standing next to Marguerite. Jacqueline? How had she grown up so fast? She had been such an awkward girl just a few months ago. The King continued, regaining her attention, "The second matter before us is much more serious. There was a plot to attack Prince Henry's wife, the Dauphine. Do you know anything of it?"

She was stunned. How could they possibly think she was involved in a plot against the Spanish bride when she had been imprisoned since before she arrived in France? "Of course not, Your Majesty! How could I? I have been in prison with no visitors since before she arrived. I would not lift a hand to the Spanish, I mean, French Princess." There were murmurs from the court at her mention of the Spanish Princess.

"The page, Paul Petit, confessed that he did it for you," the King added.

She nearly sputtered, "No! Your Majesty, I have not seen him since before the masque. I never asked him to hurt anyone," she pleaded.

Danielle was listening to this exchange, out of sight, gathering her courage to face her step-mother. Her step-mother couldn't hurt her, she reminded herself. She was safe…loved. Her step-mother was powerless, here. She heard Henry's voice. That was her cue. Nicole gave her a reassuring smile as they stepped into view, behind Rodmilla.

The Prince was addressing Rodmilla, "Mme. de Ghent, I don't believe you have met my wife," he smiled triumphantly and motioned behind her. As she slowly turned around, an icy dread taking hold of her, she heard someone walking up behind her and titters from the crowd. The courtiers bowed as the Dauphine entered.

She turned and saw Danielle standing there behind her, dressed supremely elegant and wearing the crown of the Dauphine of France. Her eyes widened in shock and she said in an agonized cry, "NO! It cannot be!"

"Hello, Step-Mother," Danielle said with a serene smile, completely poised. Completely the Princess.

Rodmilla got a firm grip on herself and lowered herself into a deep curtsey, "Your… H-Highness" she choked out.

Danielle looked at her step-mother in mild surprise. She had pictured the guards having to force her to curtsey to her hated step-daughter. Looking at her step-mother she said, "I want you to know that I will forget you after this moment and never think of you again. But you, I am certain, will think of me every single day for the rest of your life."

"And, how long might that be?" she asked fearfully, assuming Danielle would have her executed on any pretext the royals could invent, now that she was one of them.

Danielle, with Nicole close behind, walked around her without another word, to stand next to Henry.

"So, you deny embezzling her estate?" the King asked again.

"Yes, Your Majesty." Rodmilla stood and turned back to the King.

"…and the attack on Princess Danielle?" he continued.

"I had nothing to do with that. He acted without my knowledge." She was near hysterics over the shock at the mention of 'Princess Danielle.'

"What about lying to her mother's family and not allowing her to go live with her cousins when the Duc was her rightful guardian?"

Rodmilla started laughing- on the edge of hysterics. "Her COUSIN?" she spat. "Are you all completely blind? Her loving family has been lying to her all along. They," she pointed at Danielle and Nicole, "are not cousins, they are TWINS! Their mother was Nicole, my husband's first wife. When she died giving birth to Nicole he sent her to the family and kept the other one, Danielle, for himself." She continued to laugh until tears were streaming from her eyes. "He even named them after the original set, Danielle and Nicole, at her insistence, before she died. He sent Nicole to her family to replace Nicole."

There were shocked gasps and whispers all about. Could it be true? Danielle and Nicole were staring at her in shocked horror. They were numb, holding hands tightly.

The King continued, "Why would he do such a thing? Do you have any proof, madame? You were not present at the births, I presume?"

"He was deranged with grief. Nicole's dying wish was for him to reconcile with her family and let her sister the Duchess raise the girls. He couldn't bear to reconcile with the family, nor to part with both of the girls, so he sent one and kept one for himself, in a pathetic attempt to honor her last wish. The very proof- stands before you," she said, pointing again to Danielle and Nicole, each mirroring identical shocked expressions. Henry looked at them in concern, instantly regretting having had Rodmilla brought before them. Causing them pain. Once again.

The King continued, "You are to be tried for the embezzlement of the estate of your step-daughter, Princess Danielle, Dauphine of France and Comtesse de Lancret. You are to be held at the Conciergerie, pending the outcome of your trial." To the guards he motioned for her to be taken away.

Danielle and Nicole were stricken immobile by Rodmilla's allegations. They didn't know if she was mad, or simply making it up, or if it might even be true.

The King dismissed the Court, telling Henry to bring the girls to his apartments after they had eaten lunch. Henry escorted them back to his apartments and ordered them lunch. He didn't know what to say to them. They sat on the couch as they had last night. They were not speaking, just holding hands, communing silently as twins can do, he suspected. He had never thought them twins, in truth, but it wasn't hard to believe, looking at them. And…he had thought them the same person, initially.

The Duc and Duchess had left for Dieppe a month ago; therefore they wouldn't be able to get any answers for at least a couple of weeks. Assuming the Duchess would ever admit that such a thing took place, if indeed it had.

After they had eaten a quiet lunch, they joined the King and Queen in the King's apartments. "Well, as usual, Rodmilla de Ghent never fails to make a spectacle. You two girls need to discuss this and decide if you want to know the truth or not. We can dismiss this as mad rantings, or we can question the servants and family members from both households. Whatever the truth of your births, I know the Duchess loves you both. Do you need to know or would you rather go on the way you are? If you decide not to investigate, you must be sure. Eventually, it will be too late to change your minds."

"I never know what to believe when my step-mother is talking. She lies as easily as she breathes," Danielle said. "The decision is up to you, Nicole. I would like to know for certain, but this truly affects you more than it does me. Whatever the truth may be, I know that our family loves us both."

Nicole closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. "If 'tis true, then I am not who I have believed my entire life: my parents not my parents, my name not my name. In fact, my real father would have given me away out of some kind of misplaced guilt, or he blamed me for my mother's death. Has my mother lied to me my entire life?" she cried.

Danielle went to Nicole, enfolding her in an embrace, "We can just forget it, Nicole. Your parents are the ones who loved you and raised you. You are my cousin, and I love you, too."

"I have felt a connection with you from the moment we met, Danielle. It was as if we were the best of friends who hadn't seen each other in ages, but could pick up without the least awkwardness. When she said we were twins, I didn't doubt it, not really. I knew. I think we both know it in our hearts."

"I believe it, too," Danielle said on a choked whisper.

A few moments later the Queen said, "Well then, where do we start? I suppose we send someone to question the Duchess and the servants."

Henry walked over to the girls, "Danielle?"

She turned to him, "Yes?"

"I feel rather foolish that I don't know this about my own wife," he chuckled, embarrassed, "but, when, exactly, is your birthday?"

She smiled up at him, "I will be nineteen on May 9th."

Nicole sobbed, falling back into Danielle's arms. A minute later she pulled back and said, "me too."

The next week, the page went on trial for the attempted abduction and murder of Princess Danielle. The trial lasted two days. He was convicted and sentenced to death. It was swift.

The following week, Rodmilla de Ghent went on trial for embezzlement. The trial lasted two weeks. She was convicted and sentenced to permanent exile from France to the Americas. They sold her as an indentured servant for seven years to serve out the remainder of her original ten year sentence. She was scheduled to be taken from Paris to the coast on May 1st.

After the sentencing, Danielle went to Jacqueline and Marguerite to ask if they wanted to visit with their mother before she sailed. Jacqueline declined, saying simply, "I never had a mother."

Marguerite did want to see her mother. Danielle requested permission from the King, and Marguerite was authorized a visit. She was taken to the Concergerie Prison with an escort.

Marguerite was not surprised to find her mother still enraged over her fate. She had been sold and exiled from France. How dare they? She asked dozens of questions about Danielle, but not once asked about Jacqueline.

"Have you managed to find yourself a useful husband, yet? You must marry a powerful noble who will use his influence to have my sentence overturned," she declared. All about herself, as usual.

"The King had my portrait painted and sent to several potential suitors. He assures me that he will find me a suitable husband soon."

"With your beauty, he should be powerful. Do not settle for less than a title and wealth, Marguerite. We will need both to get us out of this mess Danielle has made."

"Mother, really. You must accept that you will not be coming back to France. Danielle is going to be Queen. The King and Queen adore her. Nothing that anyone could say can alter your fate. They think you were somehow involved in the plot against her. You are considered a threat," Marguerite said, exasperated, trying to convince her mother.

"Well, the Prince will soon get tired of that nobody. Maybe he will look for a mistress. Few women at court hold as much power as the King's mistress. Seduce him."

"Mother! I am not going to be any man's mistress; and Prince Henry is in love with Danielle. You should see them together. They positively glow. I would wish to marry for a love like that," she finished wistfully.

"How vulgar, Marguerite. Women of our class do not marry for love," she shuddered in distaste. "You marry for money and position, for the benefit of your entire family. After you have provided your husband with an heir, you may look for love elsewhere, providing you do it discreetly, of course."

Marguerite knew it was pointless arguing with her mother. It always was. She changed the subject. "Jacqueline has married, Mother."

Rodmilla laughed scornfully, "Jacqueline? Who would want such a gauche creature as she?" She conveniently forgot the glimpse she had had of the transformed Jacqueline.

"She married the Captain of Prince Henry's guard, Marc Laurent. They are quite content."

"Humph, with her bloodlines even she should have done better than a guard. If only that page had succeeded in his plot of ridding the Prince of Danielle, we wouldn't be in this trouble."

"Mother, you need to accept that Danielle is untouchable. Forget her."

"Ha! No one is untouchable Marguerite, surely you must see that."

"Mother, why can you not be happy for Danielle? Surely you would have been happier as the Princess' step-mother than where you are now. She even asked for leniency for you. After all you did to her."

"I will never accept her as Queen. She is not fit to produce the next King of France! It should have been you!"

"My time here is over, Mother. I hope that you can find happiness and build a new life in the Americas. Goodbye Mother." Marguerite watched her mother for any sign that she would welcome an embrace, but Rodmilla just turned away.

"Goodbye then."

The King had thrown a big birthday ball for Danielle and Nicole. The Duc and Duchess had come to Paris for the occasion. Nicole and the Duchess were barely on speaking terms. Nicole was not ready to accept the Duchess' explanations or apology.

Danielle was exhausted by the end of the evening. She nearly fell asleep watching some of the entertainers. Henry noticed her fatigue, and he excused them from the party to get her some rest. They had had an emotionally exhausting month with the trials of Rodmilla and the page, followed by Rodmilla's exile and the page's execution. This was all occurring while they were dealing with the shock and scandal of Nicole's true parentage. Henry was hoping for a quiet, peaceful summer with his bride, at last.

The next morning, Henry woke up when Danielle got out of bed and went running for the chamber pot. He heard her retching and got up to see if she was all right. "Danielle? Are you ill?" he asked with concern.

She was wiping her face with a wet cloth. "I haven't been feeling well for the last few mornings, but I will be fine after breakfast. I think it must be all of the stress of the last few weeks catching up with me. I am so tired all of the time," she smiled at him weakly.

Alarmed, he insisted she get back in bed. "I am going to have the doctor come to see you, just to make sure." He scooped her up, carrying her back to their bed and tucking her in. He poured her a drink of water from the pitcher on the table. "I'll be back in a few minutes," he left to summon her ladies and the doctor.

An hour later, Henry was pacing around their outer chamber waiting for the doctor to come out of the bedchamber. She was fine. She had to be.

Soon the doctor emerged, coming over to the Prince. He smiled. "Your Highness, your wife is in perfect health. And, so is the baby. I expect you will be welcoming a new little Prince or Princess around the New Year.

Henry's face lit up, first with relief, and then with excitement. "A baby? She is not ill? What of this morning?"

"Some women experience a period of illness in the mornings during the first few months of pregnancy, Your Highness. 'Tis perfectly normal and will not harm her nor the baby," the doctor assured him.

Henry thanked the doctor and went to see Danielle. He dismissed her ladies as he went over to sit on the bed next to her. He took her hands, smiling down at her. "The doctor tells me that we are to have a child," he said excitedly.

Danielle blushed, shyly. "Yes, we are. Isn't it an amazing thought? Our child," she put her hands on her flat abdomen, "growing inside of me."

News of the pregnancy spread quickly. The possibility of securing the succession for another generation was cause for celebration throughout France. Within a few weeks the whole country knew.

Rodmilla had boarded the ship bound for the Americas. She knew she needed to escape before it set sail. She had stolen the identity papers of a wealthy widow on the ship. Since she was travelling to the colonies with a family, as their servant, she had access to the whole ship. While the ship was still anchored off of Bordeaux, she stole clothes from one of the sailors and went ashore with members of the crew, undetected. Once she was ashore she changed back into her black dress, bought a black veil and assumed the identity from her stolen papers. She used letters of credit she had also stolen to put her plans into motion. The first thing she needed to do was to find out where Danielle was spending the summer.

She began making inquiries about the court's plans and Danielle. People loved to discuss the royals so it was not difficult to discover that the Prince and Princess were spending the summer at Château de Lancret. This suited Rodmilla perfectly. The security was bound to be significantly less than at a royal palace. She hired a carriage to take her to Paris to make preparations for her ultimate revenge.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 26 of 35

<< Previous     Home     Next >>