Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 31 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

Danielle was having the nightmare again: about waking up in the mercenary's arms. She hadn't told Henry about the incident nor the nightmares. She didn't want him to worry. She had caused him enough worry when she had been rescued.

Henry climbed into bed, glad that the ball was finally over and the mess with the comte had been dealt with. He was exhausted. He snuggled up behind Danielle with a contented sigh, putting his arm around her and pulling her close. He kissed her hair, whispering into her ear. "Goodnight, Princess."

Danielle responded with a piercing scream, struggling frantically to get away. She kicked him.

Henry let her go immediately, concerned he had somehow hurt her. "Danielle? Ow! What is the matter?"

"Let me go! How dare you!" she scrambled out of the bed, nearly falling in her attempt to get away from him, her feet tangled in the covers.

The guards burst into the room in reaction to Danielle's terrified scream, looking around for an intruder.

Henry jumped off the bed, steadying her by the shoulders. "Danielle! What's wrong?" he asked anxiously.

She looked at him in confusion, about to scream again and then collapsed into his arms, crying.

He picked her up very gently, afraid of upsetting her again. He tried putting her back into bed, but she wouldn't let go, so he got into bed holding her, rocking her, trying to soothe her. "'Shhh, what is wrong? I'm sorry. Did I hurt you? Should I send for a doctor?" He was getting more worried as she didn't answer. "Are you in pain? Please Danielle, tell me what is wrong. Is it the baby?"

She was shivering. "I'm sorry, I-I was having a nightmare," she sniffled, getting control of herself.

"A nightmare?" he sighed in relief, waving away the curious guards. They left, sheathing their swords and closing the doors behind them. "You scared me, sweetheart. Tell me about it." He had suspected she had been having nightmares. Since she had been rescued, she had not slept peacefully. She had never said anything about them, though.

"I don't want to think about it."

"Something I did made you scream? You said to let you go and 'how dare you.' Who were you yelling at?" he knew she was holding something back from him. Whatever it was, it was haunting her dreams. "You are shivering." He pulled the blankets over them, holding her close.

She was crying again. He felt powerless; unable to comfort her. Unable to protect her-even from her nightmares.

"If you tell me, you will feel better, Danielle. Was it the mercenary? Did he hurt you?" he whispered, stroking her hair.

She shook her head.

"He did not hurt you?" he tilted her chin up, so he could see her face. His hand was trembling, slightly.

"No, he did not hurt me," she said very quietly, but distinctly.

"What did he do? Did he scare you? Threaten you? There is obviously something you aren't telling me. Please don't tell me there is nothing, sweetheart. You wouldn't be having nightmares over nothing."

"I can't," she cried.

"I love you, Danielle. Nothing that happened will change that. Nothing."

"I know, but I just don't want to talk about it. Not yet. Someday."

He didn't argue with her anymore. He had more information than he had gotten from her thus far. He wouldn't push her. Not tonight. He held her, comforting her. The mercenary hadn't hurt her. Yes, that would have to be enough, for now.

Nicole woke up from her nightmare, trembling. She got out of bed, searching frantically for her sketchpad. She couldn't find it. She needed to find it before she forgot! The gardens, she had been sketching in the gardens this afternoon. She must have left her pad outside. She put on her wrapper and left her room, running past the guards outside Henry and Danielle's room, through the hallway and down the stairs. One of the guards ran into her room, and, finding nothing amiss, followed her to the stairs.

Noël was in his study, unwinding from the party. Everyone else was asleep, he thought. All was quiet. The door to his study was open and he heard someone running down the stairs. He looked up, surprised to see it was Nicole. He went out to see what she was doing. He stepped in front of her, expecting her to stop, but she ran right into him. Putting his hands on her shoulders to catch her, he noticed she was shivering, "Nicole! Is something wrong? Where are you going?" He looked up the stairs in alarm, to see who she was running from, seeing no one.

"Oh! I-I'm sorry, Noël. I didn't see you. I was just looking for my sketchbook," she said as if was a totally normal thing to be doing in the middle of the night.

He looked at her in surprise, and then turned to look at the clock. "Nicole, 'tis four o'clock in the morning. Why would you need your sketchbook? You are trembling," he said in concern. Looking up the stairs again, he saw the guard who had followed her. The guard shrugged his shoulders, indicating there was no threat above-stairs.

"I think I left it out in the gardens!" she said, in obvious distress.

"Nicole, you are not making any sense. Why do you need it when you should be sleeping?" he said calmly, deliberately. Why was she so upset? He needed to understand.

"I…I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and sketch. If I don't do it right away, I forget," she explained frantically. "It will get ruined outside!"

He laughed softly, relieved it wasn't something serious. "You forget what you wanted to sketch? Like something from a dream?" he asked

"Yes, that's right."

"Very well, we will go look for it. Let me get you a cloak, at least," he smiled, beguiled. He told the guard she was all right and to go back to his post. Nicole hadn't even been aware the guard had followed her, Noël realized.

He returned a minute later with two cloaks. They went outside via the doors in his study, which opened onto the terrace that wrapped around the back of the château. They walked quietly for about five minutes before she spotted it. "There it is!" she ran over and picked it up, hugging it.

He was entertained, seeing this side of her. He knew she liked to sketch, he had seen her with her book many times, but never suspected she was so attached to it. "Well, I'm glad you found it. Shall we go back to my study now? Then you can do your sketch."

"I can't. I have to be by myself or I will forget," she said seriously.

"What if I promise not to talk until you are done?" he offered, smiling.

She thought about it for a moment, realizing that he might argue if she said no, and reluctantly nodded her head. She had to do it right away, before the image faded.

He offered his arm and they walked silently back to his study. She sat down with her sketchpad in a corner and worked diligently on her sketch for an hour. He was amazed at her concentration, almost wishing he had let her take it to her room. He wondered what kind of dream had elicited such a determined look on her face and such a detailed drawing. Normally, when she was drawing, she looked peaceful and happy. She certainly didn't look peaceful now. He tried to walk behind her to see what she was drawing, but she turned to block his view, making him more curious.

He sat down and picked up a book, pretending to read as he watched her. The sky was beginning to lighten. He wondered how long before the servants were about. It was a good thing they were already engaged, he laughed to himself. If they were discovered in his study with her in her nightclothes and no one else in the château awake, it would be scandalously compromising.

She finally closed her sketchbook, looking more relaxed now that she had finished. She smiled at him shyly.

"Finished?" he said, trying not to yawn.

"Yes, you should have let me go back upstairs. Then you could have gotten some sleep."

"What, and missed this very intriguing peek into your nightly routine?" he smiled indulgently at her.

She rolled her eyes, "I wouldn't call it a routine. I have never left my sketchbook out of doors before."

He looked at her quizzically, remembering she had been trembling; shivering, actually. He had felt her fear and he had a realization. It hadn't been from concern over the book. "Do you wake up and draw every night? Or only when you have nightmares?"

Her eyes widened, "How did you know I had a nightmare?"

"I was guessing, from the way you were acting. Will you show me your sketch?" he asked gently. What kind of nightmare had frightened her so?

She looked panicked and quickly shook her head; her breathing suddenly uneven.

"Why not?" he wasn't amused anymore, seeing the fear on her face.

"I don't usually let anyone see my sketches," she said with forced lightness, quickly regaining her composure. She wouldn't look at him.

"Am I just anyone? You won't trust me with your sketches?" he asked smoothly, an uneasy feeling hardening his resolve to convince her to show him her sketch.

"They aren't very good," she stalled, wishing he would just forget about it.

He got up from his chair and walked over to her, "Please? I promise not to laugh."

"Why do you want to see them?" she looked up at him, her eyes huge and haunted.

She had said 'them'; there was more than one nightmare sketch, he realized. "I want to know what sent you fleeing your room in the middle of the night, Nicole. You were about to run out of the château in nothing but your nightclothes. You were shivering and you didn't even see me standing right in front of you, you were so upset. I think this is certainly something a fiancé should be concerned about, don't you?" He held his hand out for the book.

She handed him the book, reluctantly, looking away. He noticed her hands were shaking.

He opened the book to the first page, seeing flowers. He turned several more pages, seeing nothing but scenery and animals, all extremely well executed. "Where is the one I want to see?"

"Start at the back page," she got up and walked to the window.

He turned the book to the last page and saw a picture of a battle. He looked at her back curiously and turned to the second to the last page. This one had a very detailed picture of a man's face and the name 'Rolfe,' written below it. He felt a chill go down his spine. He turned to the next page: another face and name, 'Kurt', and another 'Franz', and another 'Konrad', He walked over to her before he had finished looking at the book. "Nicole," he took her into his arms. "These are the mercenaries?"

She nodded her head, solemnly.

"Why didn't you show these to us before?" he asked gently.

"Why would I? I wish I could forget them," she looked at him in surprise.

"If you want to forget them, then why do you draw them?" he stroked her cheek.

"To get them out of my head," she whispered.

"Oh, I see," but he didn't really understand that logic at all. No, not at all. "How many pictures are there? I looked only at the first few."

"I have never counted, maybe twenty."

"May I keep your book for awhile? I promise to take care of it."

"What are you going to do with it?" she asked suspiciously.

"First, I am going to look at all of the pictures, and then I am going to show it to Henry."

"No!" she tried to grab the book back, but he wouldn't relinquish it.

"What is the problem? You don't want me to show it to him?" He was startled at her vehement objection.

"He does not need to know what they looked like," she said, almost in tears, suddenly.

"Why not?"

"One of them hurt Danielle," she whispered, tears spilling onto her cheeks.

"Oh," he suddenly understood her hesitation.

"He doesn't need that face haunting him, like it does her."

"Maybe he needs to know, sweetheart. We may be able to catch them with your pictures. They are amazingly detailed... Did they hurt you, Nicole?"

"No, they didn't hurt me, Noël," she answered calmly.

He was relieved to hear that. He remembered seeing her carried into the château by Le Pieu after she had been found in the river, and wondered what, precisely, her definition of 'hurt' was.

"Which one hurt Danielle?"

"Georg," she whispered.

"Thank you. You should go get some sleep now. We will talk tomorrow."

After Nicole went up to bed he sat at his desk and lit several candles. He opened the book to look at the rest of her sketches. That first battle scene, he now realized, was of the mercenaries attacking the guards. Fifteen men on horses against the six guards; next were the four pictures he had seen of the men. The next picture he recognized. Noël had seen him before, he realized, appalled. It was a single picture of a man's face, 'Georg', the same name he had given them. He was the 'Baron' who had come to see them at Roche-Guyon. It was going to practically kill Henry to realize they had had the man and let him walk away. After that was a picture of Danielle being held close to the man, Georg. He was holding her by the forearms and she looked terrified. The picture after that was Danielle mounted in front of Georg on a large horse. He had his arms around Danielle. There were several more pictures of Danielle and the man, more close up. This had obviously been something that Nicole worried about, judging by the number of pictures. Danielle looked either frightened or angry in each picture, the man –well, it was impossible to read his emotions. In one, he was holding Danielle's chin and looking into her eyes. After these came pictures of the dungeon and the step-mother, and Danielle holding the doublet, crying. The last picture, the one she had drawn tonight, showed the man, Georg, carrying a crying Danielle. He assumed these were all of Danielle, but it was possible some were of Nicole, herself. It didn't seem likely, though.

He knew he had to show these to Henry. He would convince Nicole tomorrow. He took the book up to his room.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 31 of 35

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