Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 4 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

He saw that she had lost one of her slippers when she fell. He picked it up, wondering what had happened to make her run into the night in tears. 'The Prince,' da Vinci thought, 'what did he do to her?'

He went into the masque, searching for the Prince. He heard the courtiers all gossiping about the horrible, embarrassing scene they had just witnessed.

Henry was sitting by himself up on the battlements. He was furious. She had lied to him. She was no different than any other scheming woman after his crown. Except that he had fallen for it. For her. How stupid he felt. Was it all a lie?

Da Vinci finally found the Prince, "Wh-what have you done?" he asked accusingly.

The Prince didn't look at him. He was staring off into the distance. "I have been born to privilege, and with that comes specific obligations," he said, repeating the words that had been spoken by both his mother and the woman he had fallen in love with.

"Horse shit!" da Vinci cried angrily. How could the prince sit there emotionlessly, speaking of obligations?

Henry looked at him, "You're out of line, old man."

"No, you are out of line!" da Vinci spat back. "Have you any idea what that girl went through to get here tonight?"

"She lied to me!"

"She came to tell you the truth, and you fed her to the wolves!"

Henry jumped to his feet, "What do you know? You build flying machines and you walk on water and yet you know nothing about life!"

"I know that a life without love is no life at all," he said with passion.

"And love without trust? What of that?"

"She's your match, Henry!"

"I am but a servant to my crown and I have made my decision. I will not yield!" he shouted angrily.

"Then you don't deserve her," da Vinci said sadly as he left Danielle's lost shoe on the ledge. A rumble of thunder punctuated the night.

After da Vinci left it started to rain. The raindrops made clinking sounds as they hit the glass slipper. Henry walked over, curious in spite of himself, why it was making such an odd sound. He picked it up with interest, turning it over in his hand, noticing how small and delicate it was. Where had she gotten such a remarkable shoe, he wondered. Like everything about Nicole it was unexpected and marvelous. Pain sliced through him at the realization that Nicole didn't exist. Her name was Danielle, he thought bitterly.

Visions of her floated before his eyes. Arguing with him in the courtyard below. Her surprise upon seeing him on the riverbank. Her innocent delight at the monastery. The kiss at the gypsy camp.

That kiss. He closed his eyes. It had been beyond his expectations. So sweet and innocent, yet it had set him aflame. Her first kiss, he was certain. How could she have been someone else? He tried to harden his heart against her. ''I can explain,' she had pleaded.

She had deceived him. How could she possibly explain? She had tried to tell him at Amboise, he realized. Was this was the real reason she was so upset, why she ran away crying? She had expected him to be angry. She had tried again on the stairs at the masque.

Had she pursued him on purpose, to ensnare him? His heart cried out against that possibility. It couldn't all be a lie. That kiss was real. He would bet his life that she had cared for him, Henry, when he kissed her. Henry. Not the Prince. Him. What had led up to the kiss? He remembered complaining to her about being seen not as who he was, but what he was. About how she could have no idea what that was like. She had reminded him of his obligations to his title, and he had known at that moment that he would marry her. Even before the kiss. Had he just done the same thing to her? Treated her as what she was, a servant, not as who she was, the woman he had fallen in love with? The woman who had saved his life? Surely he at least owed her a chance to try to explain. Where did she go? To the Baroness' house, he supposed.

The Baroness, he stiffened. Something was not right. She had told him yesterday that Nicole had left France. That was obviously a lie, if Nicole de Lancret didn't exist. What would she do to Danielle as punishment for her masquerade? He knew the Baroness had expected him to choose Marguerite tonight. She would blame Danielle that he hadn't, he realized. Fear for Danielle took root, dissolving the last of his anger. He knew he had to go after her, give her a chance to explain. Tonight—before the Baroness got to her.

Rousing himself from his reflection he realized that he had been standing in a thunderstorm and he was soaked through to the skin. He decided he better go change into dry clothes and get a cloak before going after her.

Finding Capt. Laurent waiting nearby when he went inside, Henry told him to have their horses saddled and to find out from the guards at the gate what the carriage she took looked like. 'God, I hope she isn't walking in this,' he suddenly thought, realizing she certainly hadn't come with the Baroness and her daughters. Quickly changing, he grabbed two cloaks and hurried to meet his men.

As the Prince hurried down the hall, Jacqueline stepped into his path. Henry started to dodge her, but she spoke up quickly. "Your Highness, I need to tell you the truth about Danielle." Passing her he immediately pivoted at the sound of her name. Danielle! He looked at Jacqueline and recognized her as the Baroness' younger daughter. He took her by the arm and led her to an empty room.

Turning towards her after closing the door he said, "I have already heard at least two versions from your mother. Which is the truth? It seems to me that Nic-Danielle already admitted the second story we all heard is the truth."

Nervously Jacqueline began her story. "Your Highness, I do not know what the first story is, but I can tell you that Danielle de Barbarac is my step-sister." Henry's eyes widened at this news, but he kept silent, encouraging her to continue. "My mother married Danielle's father when I was seven. Danielle and Marguerite were eight. He died two weeks later, leaving Danielle and the manor in my mother's care. My mother made Danielle work as a servant. When Danielle objected she was lashed and locked in the cellar for weeks. There is no way Danielle could have defended herself in front of my mother, she is terrified of her. Until yesterday it had been ten years since Danielle had disobeyed her."

With a feeling of dread at what he was about to hear, Henry sat down on a nearby chair, head in his hands. "What happened yesterday? Did she get into trouble because I kept her out all day on Sunday?"

Taking a deep breath, she continued. "Danielle overslept, making my mother furious. She gave Danielle's mother's wedding gown to Marguerite to wear to the masque. Danielle and Marguerite got into a fight which ended with Marguerite throwing Danielle's favourite book into the fire and Danielle losing the dress and slippers to Marguerite and being severely whipped."

Henry whispered raggedly, "She was whipped? Marguerite burned her favorite book? Her father's copy of Utopia?" It was no wonder she had been crying, he thought. Whipped, he felt sick at the thought. He stood up abruptly when he realized the reason she had cried out when he embraced her was from pain. He felt like a fool for not figuring out sooner that something was seriously wrong.

"Yes, Your Highness. There is more. After Mother and Marguerite returned from court they found Danielle, the gown and slippers missing. Mother threatened to kill Danielle if she didn't produce the dress. She also said something about Danielle turning her mother into a comtesse. Then she locked her in the root cellar. Danielle was in there all night and day. I don't know how she escaped to come to the masque. I was so happy to see her looking so lovely in her mother's dress tonight. That is all I wanted to tell you," she ended on a small sob.

Henry took her hand, "Thank you for sharing that with me. You're name is Jacqueline, isn't it? It answers many of my questions. Just so you know, I was already on my way to go talk to her. Capt. Laurent is waiting for me now. Is your mother still at the masque?" She nodded. "Do not tell your mother or sister that we have spoken."

"Yes, Your Highness."

Henry left to go after Danielle.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 4 of 35

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