Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 3 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

Jacqueline and Capt. Laurent met again over the buffet table, amused that they were both wearing horse costumes. They both immediately felt a connection and soon realized they shared a common sense of humour. A few minutes later they heard a trumpet fanfare calling the courtiers to attention.

In the inner courtyard, which had been decorated for the ball, the King had everyone's attention. The Baroness grabbed Marguerite's hand. "This is it, darling!" This moment was to be the culmination of her dreams and plans. The King was about to announce that Prince Henry had chosen Marguerite as his bride. She was confident.

The King began his announcement, "Friends, honoured guests, it gives us great pleasure on this festive occasion," he said with a sigh, "to honour Sr. da Vinci, who seems to have disappeared…"

Danielle arrived in da Vinci's carriage, praying she would be able to get past the gate without an invitation. She had to find Henry and explain to him. It wasn't fair to him for her to just disappear. Hopefully, he would forgive her. He wouldn't marry a servant, she knew that, but he had to know she had never intended to make him fall in love with a lie.

The guards didn't question the lady in the elegant gown and wings as she passed. Soon she was walking up the steps marking the entrance to the masque. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She reached the top of the steps and stopped in surprise. She was dismayed to see the crowd was standing silently, listening to the King speaking on the dais. She could see Henry standing next to him. She swallowed nervously.

The King was still speaking, "…but also to tell you of a long awaited decision. So, without further ado…"

"Breathe, just breathe," Danielle reminded herself as the King spoke. Was she too late? Was the King about to announce Henry's betrothal to the fictional comtesse? She was going to end up in jail, she thought. Henry loved her, but the King would not easily forgive being made a fool of.

"...It is my great privilege to announce the engagement of our son, Prince Henry, to-" Henry grabbed the King on the shoulder, stopping him. He looked across the dance floor, staring at the girl with the wings standing on the steps. He wondered, 'Am I imagining this? Is Nicole really here?' Hope blossomed in his heart. His eyes lit up and he smiled, entranced.

For a moment Marguerite thought that his enraptured expression was for her. She, along with the rest of the courtiers soon realized that the Prince's attention was upon someone behind them. They turned to see who it was. The Baroness and Marguerite were struck speechless.

Henry jumped down off the dais, running through the crowd, which parted to let him pass. His expression changed from overjoyed to disbelieving when he stopped before the vision. This angel really was his Nicole. She had come back to him.

The Baroness went from speechless shock to flushed anger, "Well…well…well, what do we have here?" she fumed.

Henry stopped at the bottom of the steps, looking up at Danielle. "My mother said you were getting married," he said in a hurt voice.

Danielle shook her head slightly. "She was misinformed," she began as Henry started up the steps towards her, taking her hands in his. "But there is something I must tell you now, before another word is spoken."

"Then you're not engaged?" he asked desperately, looking into her eyes.

"No, I'm not," she smiled at him.

Henry let out a huge sigh of relief, "I was about to make the worst mistake of my life," Danielle smiled down at him, her eyes full of love.

"Who is she?" King Francis asked the Queen.

"My guess would be the Comtesse de Lancret," she answered, a delighted smile on her face.

"The who?" the King asked.

"Oh," she waved him quiet as they watched the couple on the stairs.

Henry's face lit up again as it sunk in that she was here and she wasn't engaged to someone else. "Come," he said excitedly, "there is someone I want you to meet." He turned and started down the stairs holding her hand. He wanted to introduce his elusive comtesse to his mother.

She didn't move, "Oh, I must speak with you," Danielle insisted quietly.

Henry just smiled that charming smile up at her, "Whatever it is, my answer is 'yes,'" he declared, pulling her down the steps eagerly and starting up the aisle towards the dais.

"No, wait, wait, please," she begged quietly, but Henry didn't hear her. Danielle was in a panic. What would happen when they reached the dais? She had to get him to stop and listen.

"Oh, look, look, I invited the gypsies," he said playfully, pointing them out in the crowd.

The courtiers were fascinated. Who was this mysterious girl? Did anyone know who she was?

The Baroness made a quick decision. Taking Marguerite firmly by the hand she moved to intercept the couple before they reached the dais.

Marguerite worriedly asked, "What are you doing?"

"Making you a Princess," her mother answered. She grabbed one of Danielle's wings as they hurried by, tearing it off with a vicious yank.

Danielle nearly fell from the assault. "Oh, oh!" she gasped in surprise.

"How dare you!" the Baroness demanded as she threw the wing angrily to the floor.

"Madame! Contain yourself!" Henry told the Baroness, shocked and horrified at her behavior.

Danielle stared in horror, first at the wing, then at her step-mother. She prayed silently, 'Oh God, no! Please, not this way!'

The courtiers stared in fascinated horror at such a shocking display, whispering amongst themselves what it could be about.

The Baroness folded her hands calmly. Looking at the Prince she announced in a carrying voice, "She is an impostor, Sire!"

"No!" Danielle cried out, looking at her step-mother in anguish.

The Baroness continued, looking at Danielle with contempt, "Her name is Danielle de Barbarac and she has been a servant in my home for the past ten years."

"A servant, Henry? Is this some kind of joke?" the King asked in disbelief.

Henry looked from the Baroness to 'Nicole' and back again. Angrily he said, "Baroness, you are on dangerous ground!"

"Ask her yourself," she said smugly. "She is a grasping, devious, little, pretender and it is my duty, Your Highness, to expose her as the covetous hoax she is."

Danielle was staring in spellbound horror at her step-mother.

Henry squeezed her hand encouragingly. "Tell these women who you are," he implored. "Tell them!"

Danielle looked at Henry and back at her step-mother. She couldn't think of any way to defend herself. He was going to hate her when he realized that the Baroness spoke the truth, and she hadn't told him herself.

The Baroness waved her mask at Danielle and commanded, "Bow before royalty, you insolent fraud!"

Henry started to doubt, "My God, it can't be true." Danielle took a deep breath and turned towards him. "Nicole?" he asked, begging her to deny it. He felt as if his world were crumbling beneath him again.

Tearfully Danielle admitted, "Nicole de Lancret was my mother. I am what she says."

Henry dropped her hand, stunned. 'Who is this woman? She lied to me. A servant?' he thought. Stepping back, his eyes narrowed in pain. "The apple, that was you?" he asked in disbelief.

"I can explain," she begged him to listen.

Henry leaned a fraction towards her, wanting to believe she could explain.

"Well, someone had better!" the King bellowed from behind Henry.

Henry winced at this father's angry voice. "First you're engaged…and now you're a servant?" he said in disgust. "I've heard enough," he turned his back and began to walk away from her. He needed to be alone. To think.

"Henry, please!" she called desperately after him.

The crowd gasped in shock at her use of his Christian name.

"The effrontery!" the King said in outrage.

Henry stopped, turning towards the woman he thought he had loved, whom he now realized he didn't know at all. With contempt dripping from his voice and the pain of betrayal in his eyes he said, "Do...not…address me so informal madam. I am a Prince of France; and you…are…just…like…them."

Danielle couldn't bear any more. He hated her. That look of pain and betrayal in his eyes would be burned into her memory forever. Crying, she turned and ran, sobbing, through the crowd and left the masque.

The Prince threw a hard look at the Baroness and Marguerite, who seemed to be enjoying the disaster that had just passed. Did they really believe he would marry Marguerite after this? He turned and left the masque without another word.

Leonardo was just approaching the castle when he saw Danielle fall as she was fleeing the masque in tears. "Danielle!" he yelled after her, but she got up and continued to flee. "Danielle!"

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 3 of 35

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