Continuing Tales

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 5 of 35

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In Pursuit of Ever After

While Henry had been wrestling with his anger and talking with da Vinci and Jacqueline, the Baroness had been busy. Almost as soon as Henry and Danielle had run off in their opposite directions, she sought out Pierre Le Pieu. Walking off to a quiet corner with him she said quietly, "M. Le Pieu, I think you should have your men go collect your payment right now, before she reaches home, instead of tomorrow as we had planned. You can bring by all of my possessions in a few days. I think having her disappear altogether is the best solution, wouldn't you agree?"

"Why Baroness, what a devious mind you have. I'll have my men pick her up," with that he left to send his men in pursuit of his long desired prize. Seeing her tonight, as she had looked in the ball gown, had increased his desire for her. He was willing to pay well to make her his.

Danielle was making slow progress home through the mud and rain. Her bare feet were sinking into the muddy road, in places. She was holding her remaining slipper in her hand. She was sobbing still, the images of Henry's face tormenting her. The pain and betrayal in his eyes. He hated her now. It was almost more than she could bear. She was on the bridge when she heard a rider coming up behind her. She slowed and turned, hoping, but not really expecting, it was Henry.

As the cloaked figure dismounted in front of her she realized it wasn't Henry and started to run towards the end of the bridge. He overtook her in two steps, knocking her to the ground. Dazed, she was wrapped tightly in a blanket and tossed over his horse. The captor led the horse a short distance, heading away from the castle. Danielle tried to wiggle free, but the blanket was wrapped too tightly. Soon she was tossed into a coach and her captor climbed into the coach, keeping his foot on her so she couldn't get free. Danielle began to weep; the King must have sent his guards to arrest her for her impersonation.

Danielle had no idea how long they travelled. Her captor didn't speak and she could barely breathe under the blanket, making it hard to stay alert. The carriage rolled to a stop. She was picked up and carried into a building and down some stairs.

She heard the squeaking of hinges and was tossed onto the hard floor. Immediately struggling free from the blanket, she got to her feet and looked around the dungeon cell. Her jailor had left without ever saying a single word. She was alone, shaking with cold and fear. Looking at the torch burning outside her cell, she prayed it would stay lit. She wrapped herself back in her blanket and cried herself to sleep.

When Henry met the men he had sent after Danielle they told him what they had learned so far. She had run off on foot, with neither a cloak nor attendants. The storm was still raging, the rain coming down in sheets. Henry was concerned that she might get sick from being out in the cold, wet night. He could see his breath. Tucking the extra cloak into a pack, they headed off towards the Manor. They travelled at a moderate pace, looking for any sign of Danielle along the way. By the time they had reached the manor without finding her Henry was really concerned. She could not possibly have travelled all that way on foot in the storm. Hopefully, someone had given her a ride and he would find her safe and dry inside.

Henry jumped off of his horse into the mud as his horse came to a stop in front of the door. He banged on the door and it was quickly opened by Paulette, who had heard the horses approach.

"Where is she? Is she here?" he demanded. Paulette, stunned to have the soaked Prince on her doorstep stumbled backwards into the house.

"Your Highness!" she stammered. "No one is here except for Louise and me," she said as she motioned to Louise who was standing nearby. "Everyone else is still at the masque."

"Are you positive that Danielle isn't home? She ran out of the masque and I need to find her."

Louise and Paulette paled at the news. "No, Your Highness, the doors were all locked, so we would know if she was in the house. Maybe she could be in one of the outbuildings?"

With that idea giving him hope, he and the men searched the barn and other outbuildings. They then searched the house, just in case. Finding no sign of Danielle, Henry was getting truly alarmed.

"Laurent, you return to the castle and assemble a search party at once. I want every inch of the countryside and every house and barn between here and Hautefort searched immediately. Hopefully, she stopped for shelter somewhere."

"At once, Your Highness," Laurent said as he rode for the castle.

Turning to the rest of the guards, he assigned two to stay at the house in case they had missed her and she returned after they left.

As he prepared to go back out to resume the search, he asked Paulette "Is there anyplace else she might go? Does she have friends or family in the area?"

"Only Gustave Moreau, Your Highness."

"Who is Gustave Moreau? Where does he live?" She ran to another man, he thought miserably.

"Gustave is her best friend, Your Highness. He is an apprentice to Bernard, the painter," Paulette informed him.

"I know where he lives, Your Highness," said one of his men.

The rain came to a stop as they rode into town in search of the painter's house. When they found it the guard banged on the door until an alarmed middle aged man opened it.

"Gustave Moreau?" the Prince said as he pushed his way inside.

Bernard recognized the Prince, "No, Your Highness. I am Bernard. Gustave is my apprentice."

"Where is he?" the Prince demanded.

"In my studio, Your Highness. Upstairs," he indicated a staircase.

The Prince instructed his men to search the house as he took the stairs, two at a time. He found Gustave, who had obviously just awakened. A quick look around showed no sign of her. "Where is Danielle?" the Prince asked the shocked Gustave.

"Y-Your Highness," Gustave bowed. "She went to the masque."

"I know that. She ran off, but didn't go home. Did she come to you?"

Gustave lit a candle. "No, she didn't come here. Are you sure she didn't go home? What happened, Your Highness?"

Ignoring the last question, Henry answered. "We searched from the attic to the cellar. She isn't there," Henry noticed the dress she had worn to court the day they met, hanging in the corner. Walking over to it he touched it gently. "You gave her the dress?" He remembered her feisty spirit. The way she had called him arrogant and refused to tell him her name.

"Yes, Your Highness," Gustave admitted nervously. "I loaned her the dress so she could go to the castle to free Maurice with the money you gave her for her father's horse. I couldn't talk her out of it."

Henry thought over the events of that day. She really had been there to rescue the old servant. She had not come to ensnare a Prince. He had even given her the money, how ironic was that? She was merely trying to avoid giving her real name. "Where else would she have gone? I must find her." He remembered Gustave now, the painter from the field with da Vinci's flying contraption.

"I can think of nowhere but her father's house."

"She must have stopped somewhere for shelter. If she should show up, send word to the castle."

"I would like to help you look for her, Your Highness. I know her better than anyone else in the world."

"Do you ride?" At Gustave's nod he said, "Good, let's go."

They went downstairs. Gustave informed his master that he was going to help in the search. Bernard was furious. Gustave had been gone all afternoon and evening when he was supposed to have been working. Now he was leaving again. "You will stay here. She is not your responsibility. You already neglected your duties all day yesterday."

"I'm sorry Sir, but I must," Gustave informed him. "Hopefully, we will find her very quickly."

Henry was concerned that Gustave would be in trouble. "You do not have to help, Gustave. We will find her. I have a search party being assembled at Hautefort as we speak."

"If you leave this house, you will not be coming back," Bernard threatened. After all, the Prince had just said that he didn't need Gustave to help.

Gustave swallowed nervously. He had served six years as Bernard's apprentice and only had one remaining until he would be independent. "I'm sorry, but I don't have a choice. This is my responsibility. She is like my sister," he said to an astounded Bernard. To the Prince he said, "Thank you, You Highness. This is my fault. I need to help find her."

The Prince was amazed that Gustave would throw away his apprenticeship, probably leaving himself with no means of support, in order to help search for Danielle.

They left the painter's house. Henry sent a guard to borrow a horse for Gustave. "How is this your fault; because you provided the dress?"

"No, she would have gone to rescue Maurice even without my help. She would simply have borrowed one of Marguerite's gowns. I told you where to find her the day you took her to the monastery. I got da Vinci to help free her from the root cellar after the Baroness whipped her and locked her up. We convinced her to go to the masque to face you and confess the truth. We assured her that you would understand. This is my fault. I wish I had never told you where to find her that day, Your Highness" he finished angrily. He had put his best friend in danger.

"Why did you tell me?" Henry wondered.

"I knew she was falling in love with you. You seemed so desperate to find her that I allowed myself to believe that you wouldn't hurt her, as every other person in her life has. I should have known better."

Henry was speechless, feeling like an unworthy suitor with an angry brother. He developed an instant respect for Gustave and his frank speech.

They rode off to continue the search, soon meeting up with the party from Hautefort.

In Pursuit of Ever After

A Ever After Story
by Funkypurplerhino

Part 5 of 35

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