"From the Ashes"|
Disclaimer: I do not own Danielle or Henry or any of the other characters from the film "Ever After." This work of fiction was written with admiration for Andy Tennant and the rest of the people involved in "Ever After, A Cinderella Story."
Danielle sat on the front step of the manor de Barbarac, shivering and sobbing uncontrollably. It was well past midnight when Paulette and Louise had finally found her and brought her inside. They had brought her into the warm kitchen and tried their best to comfort the heartsick young woman.
After a cup of tea the older women had pulled her mother's ruined gown off her body and had dressed Danielle in her nightgown--all the while sharing worried looks over Danielle's by now numb continence. She had stopped crying and stood as quiet and still as a statue as they attended to her.
Finally, they half drug her up to the attic and tenderly tucked her in before leaving her side. Both women had fresh tears on their worn faces as they made their way down to the kitchen.
Somehow, Danielle had slept the whole night through. Whether due to the emotional toil of the masque or the physical strain of the run home afterward--she counted herself lucky to get a full night's sleep at all. Because she knew the day ahead would be one of the hardest in her short life. The lashings he had received at Rodmilla's hands were likely to be insignificant compared to the punishment the cruel woman had in store for her now.
Danielle groaned and pushed the duvet down to the foot of her bed, then swung her legs over the side. The chilly pre-fall morning hit her suddenly as she scrambled to pull off her nightgown and then hurriedly dressed in her usual work dress.
Danielle's fingers flew through her hair haphazardly braiding it along her hairline as she left the attic. Her soft boots made no noise as she raced down to the kitchen and for the first time in her life she was grateful that Louise and Paulette were not there. She knew they must have been terribly disappointed in her and she could not face their distress on top of her own confusion.
For it was that state of mind that Danielle found herself to be most feeling that morning. So may questions. She was hurting, certainly--in fact, had she been a woman with any experience in the matters of love, she would have realized that her heart was breaking. But instead of dwelling on the pain of loosing Henry, she found herself pondering an infinite list of "whys."
Why had Leonardo agreed to help a peasant girl?
Why had her friends urged her to go to the masque?
Why had she agreed?
Why hadn't she told Henry the truth!? So many opportunities: the gypsy camp, the horse ride back to the manor, or even at the ruins? Why...
Why did she ever dare to dream that he loved her?
That was certainly the most painful "why." Henry's face suddenly flashed before her eyes as she reached for the latch of the kitchen door.
"And you are just like them...."
Her chest tightened and she hissed at the pain of the memory--his face contorted with anger and betrayal. She could see, even through her own pain, that he was suffering. Their eyes had met one last time before she turned away and fled the masque.
As Danielle lifted the wrought iron latch she felt certain that that look on Henry's face would haunt her all her life.
And so she began the work of becoming Danielle again. Nicole de Lancret was indeed dead. Dead and buried in the rose garden behind the manor. Danielle de Barbarac was a servant--a peasant--a nobody. She would make what she could out of this life.
As Danielle left the manor plan began to take shape. A plan to preserve her father's memory--to rescue *his* manor that he loved so much from the wretched condition the Baroness had led it to. She would do it or die trying.
Danielle walked to the old timbered barn and gathered several garden tools, and then walked with renewed energy toward the vegetable garden.
Walking toward the lower gardens she glanced up at her father's window and saw a curtain suddenly fall back into place.
"So, she watches me..." Danielle thought wearily.
She trudged around the end of a low rock wall and picked a particularly nasty part of the garden in which to work. Even Maurice had given up on removing all the rocks from this section of the plot.
Danielle swung the hoe toward the ground and felt the tool bite the soil. Her back twitched with pain from the unhealed lashes, but she felt some satisfaction at the way the land yielded to her.
The sun slowly rose and crept overhead while Danielle pulled one rock after another from the loamy soil. She had found a kind of rhythm--it blocked out her pain. All she knew; all she cared about was the tool digging into the soil and the rocks she was able to add to the pile.
So, it had been a shock when her stepmother's voice broke the meditation of her work.
"I have it on good authority that before your rather embarrassing debut, the prince was about to choose Marguerite for his bride," she announced, folding her arms.
Sweat dripped down Danielle's face as she ignored the barb and straightened from her work. She let the tool drop and roughly grabbed a basket of vegetables, then headed up the walk.
"Men are so fickle," Rodmilla said, trying to bait her. "One minute they're spouting sonnets, and the next you're back to being the hired help."
Danielle felt her blood burn, but refused to give Rodmilla the satisfaction of a heated reaction. *It's just what she wants. She would relish my pain as a dog savors the marrow.*
"But I must say, I've never seen you quite this dedicated to your chores." The older woman said.
"What makes you think I do any of this for you?" Danielle nearly shouted--her temper becoming more and more difficult to subdue.
"Well, aren't we feisty this morning..." And so it went. The confrontation Danielle knew was coming, but had desperately wanted to avoid. She saw the look of victory on her stepmother's face and of course she had expected it--but, the self-satisfied swagger to the older woman's stride put her on alert.
Besides the obvious, what did the Baroness have to be so happy about? Danielle could not see that Marguerite was any closer to a crown. And while Danielle had certainly been humiliated, she was still in her home, close to those that she loved--and with them beside her she would survive.
And yet, the way Rodmilla played with her necklace, and the tone of her voice...What was she up to?
"Was there ever a time, even in it's smallest measurement, that you loved me at all?" Danielle had finally asked her.
Rodmilla's voice was incredulous as she replied, "How can anyone love a pebble in their shoe?"
So that was that. The years of humiliation, hard work and deprivation added up to this. Danielle nodded her head in final, tragic acceptance of her stepmother's cruelty, and turned to see what Paulette was so excited about.
And there before her was her father's treasures. All of the things he most cherished sitting in heaps upon two carts--and swaggering toward her was Monsieur le Pieu. His black leather boots creaked as the weapons merchant neared the pair and the sneer on his sweaty face made her wary.
"Ah, Monsieur le Pieu. Right on time...."
As if in a dream, the last piece of the puzzle dropped into place, and Danielle felt her world contract down to the horror of what Rodmilla had been doing. And yet, it was back--all of it! She should rejoice.
"Monsieur, thank you!" Danielle said with genuine feeling, "This means the world to us."
Le Pieu shrugged. "I am a businessman, Danielle, not a philanthropist."
She looked between the Baroness and the stunted bald man. "I don't understand." Again, she felt the flutter in her stomach that made her wary. She saw the knowing looks between the two and then...
"The baroness and I have an agreement," le Pieu proclaimed.
"You, for all of this," Rodmilla finished, as if she had dreamed of this moment. "Although I do think I'm getting the better end of the deal."
Shock did not even begin to describe it!
"NO!" Danielle frantically twisted but le Pieu's henchmen were overpowering her in a second.
As if in a dream, she saw the cart with her father's books whirl past as she struggled to get free. She could hear the sharp cries of distress from Paulette and Louise.
And then she saw Maurice leave Louise's side and make his way toward her. The old man's face was grim and she reached a hand toward him--half in supplication half in warning.
A third bully grabbed Maurice by the arm and raised a bludgeon, about to strike the old man.
"NO!" Danielle shouted again. But this time it was not for herself--but for the man she had risked everything to save. She stopped thrashing in the grasp of the two men that held her and allowed them to drag her to the empty cart.
"Let him be!" She cried as Maurice made for her again, and she saw the henchman raise his weapon. "I am cooperating. Please don't hurt him."
The man with the weapon looked at his master and le Pieu nodded with a sneer on his face.
"That's a good girl." Le Pieu oozed.
Danielle bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying, but she faced her friends, her stepmother and le Pieu bravely.
"Monsieur, I assure you that I am neither. However, I do not wish to see my friends harmed. If you will leave them be, I will go quietly." As she finished her declaration, she heard sharp gasps from Paulette and Louise, but she dared not look at them, or she would begin to cry.
Le Pieu sneered again and quickly licked his lips. With a jerk of his head he indicated that the men holding Danielle should move on. She felt the hands tighten on her arms and then she was being hauled up to a waiting cart.
As the cart lurched forward she lost her balance and fell forward onto the rough boards of the cart. She pulled herself to her knees and watched the home she loved so much slip away from her. In the distance she could hear Paulette and Louise crying.
She glanced behind her to wave to her friends--to reassure them that she would be all right. As her eyes rose from their agonized faces, she thought she saw a dark haired girl in a second story window--Jacqueline was crying too.
Upon her arrival at Monsieur le Pieu's castle Danielle had been roughly hauled through the main entrance, past the great hall and down toward the kitchen. Once there she had been told to start dinner--for thirty men!
She would have laughed if le Pieu had not been standing in the door, looking like he was waiting for any excuse to punish her. Danielle knew he was a cruel man, and it made her pause to think what he would do if angered.
She nodded slightly and turned to inspect the room. What she saw nearly made her vomit.
Never had she seen such an unhealthy mess. The stench of it suddenly hit her, and her face screwed up against the assault. Unwashed pots were piled against the door. A rotting carcass lay on the main work table and mounds of spoiled vegetables lay in a corner. Her shoulders sagged as she surveyed the room--knowing she was going to have to clean it, or invite le Pieu's punishment.
"If there is anything you need Danielle, you have but to ask." Le Pieu's voice surprised her with its nearness. She had not heard the man approach her, and a shiver flew up her spine at the thought.
She clenched her jaw as she turned to face the loathsome man. "Thank you, monsieur. I will let you know." She told him quietly, hoping he understood that she would sooner die than ask him for anything.
"I look forward to seeing what you come up with." He said. Danielle heard le Pieu's men snicker, and knew there was more to his words than she realized. The double entendre however, was beyond her scope of experience, and her brow creased with confusion. She nodded briefly to le Pieu and turned back toward the waiting mess. Le Pieu raised his eyebrows and with an almost bow, left the room.
And so began Danielle's service in le Pieu's castle.
Soon after her arrival she realized that she was the only woman in the fortress--a fact that she was surprised to learn disturbed her. At first she had thought that the women must be confined to the laundry or other such domestic chores, but it was made clear to her that indeed, she was the only woman in the weapon dealer's castle.
Danielle had always had the company of women. Not her mother unfortunately, but always Louise and Paulette and she missed them terribly.
Even her step-sister's company would have been some relief in this place--and this thought was not comforting in the least.
She slept on a lice infested cot near the fire in the kitchen. Every morning she rose before dawn and began cooking three meals for 30 men, and in the minutes when she was not cooking she was ordered to clean and care for the castle.
But, worse than her living and working conditions was the hole in her heart. She knew now that she had been a foolish, silly girl--to love a man such as Henry. Every day in this awful place made that more and more clear. She ached to be held by him, to feel his lips on hers...to see the fire in his eyes. Her dreams were filled with images she did not completely understand, images which excited her and frightened her. Henry's body became real in her dreams; which made her circumstances all the more cruel.
Little did she know that she was the subject of the dreams of many of the men in the castle.
She was at first too exhausted to notice, but it soon become apparent that every eye in the castle watched her wherever she went. What she did not see were the constant winks and nods that passed between the men. Or the fire in le Pieu's eyes whenever she was in the same room with him.
On her fifth awful day in the castle, she found herself confronted by a group of young men--not any older than herself. It was late evening and she was bone tired after the day's work. She was bringing up firewood to the great hall from the wood pile outside the kitchen. The stairs were steep and dark. She rounded the first landing and they were waiting for her on the steps above. Each had a mug of ale in their hands, and two were visibly drunk.
"Ah, there she is now Jacques. Just like you said she would be." Said one of the redder faced youths.
"I can see, can't I? Anyway, who could miss her?" The one called Jacques slurred as he pulled himself away from the wall.
"Let me pass." Danielle said. The weight of the logs shifted in her arms as she steadied herself on the landing.
"Heh! 'Let me pass.'" One of the other men sneered. "Come on boys--I think she likes her job."
Jacques began staggering down the steps toward her. She knew she needed to show no fear, and she stood her ground bravely.
"We just want to help you, cheri." She could smell the ale on his breath as he spoke to her.
"You want to help *me*?" She asked doubtfully.
"Certainly. Do you think we like to see a beauty like you treated like this?" One of the men in the back called out. She glanced his way briefly before returning her attention to the advancing Jacques. He was only a few steps from her now.
"I know!" Shouted Jacques, as if he'd just invented the wheel. "You help us to something we want and we'll take that load off your hands." He closed the distance even more. Danielle felt the step below her with the tip of her boot, preparing to flee.
"One log for one kiss. Seems fair, don't you think?" The men all yelled their approval of this idea.
Danielle realized they were all starting to move down the stairs and her heart leapt to her throat. Jacques was a much larger man than she had realized, and the very real possibility that she would not be able to fight him off made her decision easy.
"Leave me alone!" She shouted as she turned. Jacque's hands grasped at her and she sent the logs flying toward him. One hit him squarely in the eye, and then she turned away and flew down the stairs. She heard the men swearing behind her and throwing the logs out of the way. Bootsteps then punctuated the stairwell as she finally reached the bottom.
Mainly due to the fact that the men were inebriated, she was able to get to the kitchen and across the room before the men had reached the bottom of the stairwell. She dashed across the kitchen and slammed against the door leading to the courtyard. The heavy wood groaned as she pushed it open frantically and then she was outside.
The night was cold--she could see her breath in tiny clouds before her face. Danielle glanced behind her then took off for the castle gate. So far, no alarm had been raised, and if she were lucky the youths would be too drunk to realize she was escaping. She ran hugging the walls of the outbuildings, staying in the shadows until she reached the gate. Two men stood guard on either side of the entrance. Danielle bit her lip and tried to think of a plan. She could *not* go back....
Suddenly, a rider approached the gate and one of the guards moved to intercept him. She heard the sounds of angry voices and then the other guard moved from his post to join in the dispute. This was her chance. She slipped around the stone foundations of the gate and silently slid behind the men. It was a moonless night and she was completely hidden in the shadows.
Le Pieu's castle's defenses depended on its position high on a hill, and so there was no moat. Once out of the gate, all Danielle had to do was to dive into the brush near the roadway and run as quickly as she could into the woods. In moments she was flying into the bushes at the edge of the forest and only then did she stop.
Adrenaline surged through her body, and she sank to the ground as her knees gave out. Her breathing was labored and she felt as if her lungs were going to explode.
As soon as she felt able, she crouched and hurried through the bushes and into the woods. The steepness of the hill made it difficult, and more than once she slipped and had to catch herself on a trunk of a tree or a limb of a bush. Her face was soon scraped and the sole of her left boot came loose.
But, freedom called out to her and she would not slow down.
She heard the dogs about the time the ground leveled out. At first she had thought it was the wind, but the baying got louder and louder until she could not deny the fact that le Pieu had loosed his dogs after her.
She knew a little about hunting, and frantically tried to remember the geography of the nearby countryside. She needed to find water--and soon. The dogs were already closer.
She knew the river was nearby. She needed water to mask her trail. If she could find the river she would have a good chance of escaping.
She climbed a tree quickly and tried to orient herself. Finally, she saw the lights of a farmhouse. She knew the tiny farm lay close to the river and she hopped out of the tree to make her way for it.
She had been running for a half hour--all the while hearing the dogs baying behind her. She was within minutes of the river, and she could almost feel the relief course through her.
One last road to cross, then through the farmer's yard and into the river. So close...
She stepped out into the road and looked cautiously both directions. Seeing no one, she ran quickly across and then climbed over the farmer's wall.
"There she is!" A voice shouted. Her dress snagged on a sharp stone in the wall, and she tugged with all her dwindling strength. She heard a rip and then she was free.
But, it was not soon enough. As she scrambled away, a horse jumped over the same wall and then was blocking her way. She shied back from the flying hooves, and then landed hard on her back in the farmer's freshly turned soil.
"Oof!" She exclaimed--the wind knocked out of her for a moment.
"Danielle..." She heard le Pieu's voice hiss her name. She finally looked up and saw him astride the black horse that had blocked her way. Her shoulders sagged in defeat, but she refused to let the man see how upset she really was.
"Get up." He ordered her. She heard the dogs on the other side of the wall, and the sounds of more horses arriving. She glanced quickly up and down the field, wondering if there was any way she could still get away.
"I swear Danielle, if you run again, you will wish you were never born." Le Pieu told her. She looked up to find him fondling a bull whip hanging from the side of his saddle. Her back still burned from the whipping Rodmilla had given her and the thought of this man giving her another was too much. She sighed and stood up to face her tormentor.
"Bind her." He ordered one of his men. The man scrambled over the wall with a length of rope. He wrenched her arms behind her back and tied her wrists together before tying another piece of rope tightly around her ankles.
"Here." Le Pieu indicated something to the man, but Danielle had missed it. Next thing she knew, she was being hauled up like a sack of grain and slung over the back of the horse--in front of le Pieu!
"Let me down!" She shouted.
Suddenly, there was warmth on her back, and she gasped when she realized that le Pieu was touching her. She froze, shocked by his touch.
"You will be quiet, and you will be still. Is that understood?" Le Pieu's hand moved in a lazy circle towards her waist, and she nearly gagged from the way it make her flesh crawl. She was suddenly as still as a statue.
"Good." Le Pieu responded to her cooperation, and removed his hand. But, Danielle thought he sounded disappointed....
She saw his black boots thump the sides of the horse and then they were moving. The ground passed under her in a dizzying blur. At first le Pieu walked his steed, but when they reached the road he began to have the horse trot. The jolting felt like it was going to break her ribs, but she grit her teeth and remained silent. She did not want to feel his hands on her again, no matter what.
Sooner than she had thought possible, she saw cobble stones under the horse, then they passed through the castle gate. Once in the courtyard, there was much shouting and men were scrambling toward them.
Le Pieu slid from his saddle and then she felt several pairs of hands yank her off of the horse. She was placed on her feet--which immediately began to sting because they had fallen asleep.
"You have disappointed me, Danielle." Le Pieu told her. He stepped closer, and she could smell brandy on his breath. She wrinkled her nose and remained silent. "You are mine now. When will you accept that?"
She raised her eyes to his and still refused to answer. His upper lip twitched for a moment, and she could tell he was very angry. Suddenly, he knelt down and pulled a knife. Danielle gasped and made to back away, but her ankles were bound. Le Pieu's knife flashed in the torch light and then cut the rope at her ankles.
"Bring her." Le Pieu ordered and then began walking into the castle.
Danielle's heart felt like it was going to explode. She had never seen le Pieu so angry. What would he do in this state of mind?
Her arms were grabbed and then she was being pushed along, into the castle. Le Pieu never glanced back, but continued to walk past the great hall and to the main staircase.
The men on either side of Danielle exchanged glances when they realized they were not taking Danielle to the kitchen, but rather to the chambers above. Danielle swore she could feel her heart in her throat.
The arms merchant walked with purpose to a door and opened it then pulled off his black gloves and threw them on a table just inside the door. The men seemed to hesitate for a moment at the threshold, but at a quick look from le Pieu they pushed Danielle into the chamber.
She looked around quickly and realized she was in le Pieu's bedchamber. The word *no* began to reverberate over and over in her head.
"Sit down, Danielle." Le Pieu ordered her.
Danielle looked around the room and then moved quickly to a nearby stool. She sat down and tried to ignore all the awful implications of being in le Pieu's bedchamber.
"Well, Danielle," Le Pieu filled a goblet with wine and walked over to where she sat. "What shall I do with you? If you were any ordinary servant I think I would have you whipped within an inch of your life." Le Pieu took a large gulp of his wine and began to circle her. Three times he walked around her, and she could feel his eyes on her body. She shivered, this time noticeably, and then he was kneeling in front of her.
"But, I do not want to damage that beautiful body any more than I would let a Spanish sword rust. And do you know why, Danielle?"
Danielle refused to look the man in the eyes, but she did shake her head minutely.
"Because you are mine, Danielle." He paused to take a sip of wine and perhaps give her a chance to agree. When she did not, he gulped some more wine and said, "And yet you still don't accept that."
His hand reached out and touched her chin, raising her eyes to his. She struggled against the feeling of revulsion. She had never been this close to him--not even in the kitchen that first day; and she could see the rot on his teeth.
Then his hand was at the side of her neck and she tried to pull away. Both of his hands reached out and grasped her, one around the neck and the other around her waist. He was trying to pull her closer.
"NO!" She hissed.
"You are mine!" Le Pieu hissed back and then the hand at her neck slid down and brushed against her breast. Danielle yelped and kicked out. Le Pieu, with reflexes Danielle did not expect, jumped clear of her kick and looked at her with undisguised lust.
"Such fire...so magnificent." Le Pieu said, almost to himself. "I will make you an offer, Danielle." Le Pieu said as he stood up refilled his goblet. Danielle was panting and a panicked look had seized her face.
"One night, Danielle. That's all I want." He leaned over her and stroked the side of her face. "One night for your freedom. No more cooking, no more cleaning. Let me have you for one night and you can go free."
Danielle did not know whether to be outraged or terrified. The mere thought of this man touching her was enough to make her physically ill. Anything more was beyond repulsive.
"Never." She breathed.
"Are you quite certain, child? You should consider carefully." Le Pieu's voice had become angry again, but he maintained his control.
"I am quite certain, monsieur, that I would rather clean chamber pots every day of my life than have you ever touch me again!" Danielle choked out.
"As you wish." Le Pieu growled. He signaled to someone behind her and suddenly her arms were being held fast to her sides. She tried to struggle and kick out, but to no avail. Then another man came around her front and began to place shackles around her ankles.
"No, please. I can't work if..." Danielle begged frantically. The shackles snapped closed with a resounding clang.
Le Pieu stood apart for a moment, looking at her. The man holding her had not yet released her, and she began to fear that perhaps there was more to come.
All at once, le Pieu stepped up to her and grabbed her face with his hands. And then he was forcing a kiss on her lips. She screamed, but he would not let her go. His breath tasted of rot and wine, and she felt bile rising in her throat.
He kissed her hard and then pushed her away. Licking his lips as if to savor the taste of her, he nodded to the guard to take her away.
Her stomach churning, Danielle left le Pieu's bedchamber. She felt so distressed by his kiss, she hardly noticed the heavy iron bands around her ankles.
From the Ashes, Part 3 Disclaimers and such in Part 1
What is intelligence, without freedom? What is strength, without need? Why should one continue to fight if there is no victory to be won?
The night after Danielle had been shackled had been long and terrible. She felt uncertainty dragging at her. Never before, not even in the darkest times with Rodmilla, had she ever felt so depressed. She was more alone, more scarred than she had ever been before.
And to have been touched by le Pieu! She found it difficult to breathe when she thought about what he wanted; what he had offered her if she gave it to him. One night for her freedom....
The thought was as sickening as it was ridiculous. She would have laughed if she had still had the strength. But, he was in control now. The irons around her legs made that abundantly obvious, and she knew the only reason he had not taken her in his bedchamber, was because he wanted more than her body. He wanted her spirit. Broken into a thousand shards, he wanted to see her become his slave in every way imaginable. She knew that surrendering her body would mean surrendering everything she had ever been.
And then what? Freedom? Highly unlikely. He would never let her go. She knew that. He would continue to use her for as long as she amused him. And then...
Was this it? Was this all there was to her life. Is this why she had read philosophy and tales of romance? To become a slave? Oh Papa...
The tears finally erupted just before dawn. Her vigil of angst finally broke the wall she had erected upon entering le Pieu's castle, and she wept for the girl she had been, the woman she would never be, and the life she believed was inevitable.
She heard the rooster's crow and brusquely whipped the tears from her face. Blinking, she looked out the one small window in the kitchen and realized the morning was dawning as cold and gray as all of her world had become.
Henry, crown prince of France, woke up on his wedding day to the sound of his squire drawing his bath. The prince groaned and drew the covers over his head in an attempt to muffle the noise. His night had been restless and full of dread.
"Your Highness, you must rise. You need to be at the cathedral in an hour." He heard his servant tell him.
The dread increased a thousand-fold at the mention of the place of his marriage to Princess Gabriella. Why had he ever said he would do this? It was insane! To marry a woman he had never met before? Was this *really* the best way to serve his crown?
"Mon dieu, Charles. What an ass I am." Henry rasped out, as flung back the covers and dramatically covered his face with his arm.
"Yes, sire." His squire answered him. Henry's mouth twisted in annoyance and he peeked out from under his arm at the older man.
"You don't have to agree with *everything* I say, you know." Henry told Charles. Charles looked back at him patiently, and Henry sighed. "All right, I'm getting up."
"Yes, sire." Charles tone made said that he knew the prince better than he knew himself.
Their relationship was an old one. Charles had been assigned to Henry when Henry had turned thirteen. The older man had weathered Henry's adolescent moods, his quick and wicked wit, and his royal temper. Through it all he had been the one unflappable influence in Henry's life. Always attentive, always discreet, and always there for Henry.
Henry, for his part, thought of Charles as something of an Uncle or a mentor. Someone he was close to and confided in. Certainly, he could not do that with his father, and Laurent was more a friend. Charles filled many roles for Henry, and this morning Henry needed him as never before.
"What was I thinking, Charles?" Henry asked as he stumbled out of bed and made his way toward his dressing room. The large copper tub sat steaming in the corner of the room and eyed it warily.
"About what, sire?" Charles asked the prince as he began setting out the princes raiment for the ceremony.
"You bloody well know, about what!" Henry burst out with semi-exasperation. Charles was baiting him, and he was in no mood.
The squire turned from a vault, holding Henry's court crown, and their eyes met. "It would not be my place to say, your Highness. But, if I may be sold bold, I believe you were trying to do the right thing." He walked to the table where the rest of Henry's richly embellished ensemble lay waiting for him, and set the crown down on a purple velvet pillow.
"The right thing..." Henry grumbled, and then sighed as he walked toward the waiting bath. He pulled his nightshirt over his head and then slipped into the steaming water. The prince hissed at the heat, and then sighed with satisfaction as he sank into the tub up to his chest.
"And what if I do not think it is the right thing anymore?" Henry asked his servant. Not really expecting a reply, he became quiet as he settled back in the tub. His thoughts drifted toward the beautiful, auburn haired woman he loved. Oh Danielle....
"Then you must make the best of it. It's too late to go back now, Henry." Charles told him kindly as he poured water over the prince's dark hair. If Henry had been able to see Charles, he would have seen how worried the older man really was.
Danielle struggled to climb the steep stone staircase. The metal bands around her ankles rubbing her raw and the chain between the iron bands made it almost impossible to take a step without tripping. The tray in her arms became less and less important as she worried about making it to the top of the staircase without breaking her neck.
She reached the next landing and leaned heavily against the castle wall, trying to catch her breath. She had only one more flight to go, but right now it could have been a mountain for the way her legs felt. Lugging an extra 15 pounds of iron around was the most exhausting form of punishment she had ever received.
But, she was a strong woman--physically as well as mentally. It took her only a few minutes to regain her breath, and then she was on her way again. She reached the top stair and balanced the serving tray on her hip so that she could open the door with a free hand. The door opened, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she realized it was vacant. She moved into the great hall and began clearing the table of the remains of the most recent meal.
Bones and half eaten pieces of bread littered the thick trestle table from the breakfast meal. It didn't take long to fill her tray, and she turned to leave the room. Before she had completed her turn, however, a pair of hands were suddenly around her waist and pulling her backwards. The tray dropped to the flagstone floor and she gave a sharp yell.
"Be quiet, you." She heard a voice tell her. The accent and the slur of alcohol was unmistakable. It was Jacques--the man who had pursued her on the steps the night before. She struggled to free herself from his grasp, but when she slipped away slightly, he trapped her against the edge of the table.
"What's the matter? Surprised to see me?" He breathed on her neck. He was leaning his body into her now, and her thighs were pressing painfully against the edge of the table. She tried to bite her tongue to keep from shouting out, but when his hand was suddenly fumbling its way around her side and toward her breast, she shouted "no!" and tried to push him away.
She gathered her skirts in her hands and started to run away when she felt him back off a bit. But, with her first extended step, she was tripped in her chain, and then fell to the ground. Her hands and knees took the brunt of the fall and she cried out in fear and pain.
"Seems you're easier to catch this mornin', than last night, little one." She heard Jacques' foot steps circle around her and saw his boots before her. Danielle got her arms under her and raised up to her knees, wincing at the pain, then she looked at the bully.
"You know what I think?" He asked her. She did not respond, but he continued anyway. "I think need a lesson on what it means to be a servant." He told her, and she braced herself for a blow. She could see that one side of his face was purple and red with a bruise, and she remembered the log she had thrown in his face. Danielle winced when she realized how angry this huge man probably was.
But, she would not grovel. She would not apologize. The way she saw it, he was lucky all he got was a bruise. Now, however, with the irons around her ankles, she wondered if she could fend him off.
Jacques walked around her again and stopped at her feet. He slowly leaned over her and grabbed the heavy chain between her ankles. Yanking it cruelly, he began to laugh. Danielle's heart froze at the lustful look in his eyes.
"I would have made it sweet last night, little one. But, this morning I'm feeling like I want it rough!" He yanked the chain again, pulling her across the floor and making the metal bite into her skin. A shout of fear and anguish ripped from her throat and then she began kicking at him.
"Get away from me!" She screamed at the man. "Leave me alone!"
"Not a chance of that." He hissed. He had now dragged her closer to the far end of the room. She saw him look around quickly and then smirk when he saw that they were alone.
Jacques was everything she least liked about the "stronger" sex. His burly arms were covered in a matting of dark hair, his teeth were yellow from lack of proper care, and his clothes were stained with more grease than the wash rag down in the kitchen. She had heard him boast to the other men that he was a champion wrestler, and she could believe it, looking at his body.
She could also see, even through the padding of his cod-piece, that he had become very aroused--and the knowledge struck panic in her heart.
Danielle kicked out again, but he ignored her and reached for her legs. His ham sized hands were grasping at her flesh and he was hurting her. Still, she continued to kick at him, and even landed a few blows about his chest and belly. Unfortunately, they seemed to have little effect. If anything, her combativeness seemed to enflame him.
"Leave me alone, you bastard!" She shouted, kicking higher this time and actually landing her heel on the bruised side of his face. He groaned and with lightening speed reached for her neck. Danielle tried to gulp a lung full of air, but Jacques' weight was suffocating her. Once he had placed his hands on her neck, he had flung his body on top of hers. She could feel him grinding his erection into her hip and thigh, and it hurt.
"Stop..." She gasped. "Stop, please." She was begging now, and it no longer mattered. Her only defense in this position would be to land a knee to his groin, but he had carefully pinned her down with his weight, like a the champion wrestler he was.
She felt Jacques shift and then one of his hands left her neck. She gasped for air and tried to roll out from under him, but the remaining hand only gripped her neck harder. She felt his free hand fumble at his crotch, and she realized he was loosening his cod-piece.
"You're going to love this. I'm gonna do you good." He hissed. Danielle gulped a lung full of air and turned her head. She was looking around the floor, trying to find something she could hit or stab him with. Just then she saw a shiny pair of black boots. Jacques had gone still as a stone on top of her.
"Get up." She heard le Pieu's voice hiss. She looked above her and saw the tip of his sword pressing against Jacques' neck.
Unbelievably, she was being rescued by her hated enemy. She bit her lip and tried to sort out how she felt about this. Her body was suddenly relieved of Jacques weight and she gasped again to fill her lungs. Quickly, she rolled to her knees and pulled her skirt down to cover her legs. She remained curled around herself for a moment, trying to clear her head and still the shaking in her body.
"I...I..." Jacques began to stutter.
"You will be silent." le Pieu ground out. She heard Jacques' quick gasp and looked up to find le Pieu's sword still placed against the large man's jugular. She had thought that she had seen le Pieu angry last night, but the look in his eyes now was like nothing she had ever imagined. He was enraged and the sword in his hand trembled with the shaking of his body.
"No one touches her. I thought I made that very clear. No. One." le Pieu pushed the point against Jacque's throat slightly harder, and the burly man rose to his tiptoes trying to escape the deadly weapon.
"Sorry, my Lord. I'm sorry." Jacque's hissed out. There were beads of sweat popping out on his forehead now.
"Did he hurt you, Danielle?" le Pieu asked, never taking his eyes away from the wrestler.
"I'm..." She hesitated, and Jacque's eyes pleaded with her to save him. Her jaw clenched and she suddenly felt furious at what had almost happened. Save *him*?! How dare he hope that she would lie for him. She would tell the truth.
"I'm bruised...but otherwise uninjured, Monsieur." She braced herself on her scrapped hands and lurched to her feet. Finally on her feet, she faced the two men and wondered about this sick twist of fate...that she had le Pieu to thank for her maidenhood--when he was the man who was dying to take it from her.
"Thank you." She whispered, her eyes going dead as she said it.
"You are welcome, Danielle. Just another example of how much I value you." Le Pieu's words brought back his words from the night before. He valued her because he believed she was *his.*
"As for you," Le Pieu turned back toward Jacques, who was now soaked in his own perspiration. "I should flay the skin from your back."
"No...no, my Lord. I didn't mean to hurt her. She wanted..." Jacques hissed as the point of le Pieu's sword bit at his skin and a trickle of blood oozed down the side of his neck.
"Enough! To the stocks with you." Le Pieu reluctantly removed his sword from Jacques' neck and jerked his head toward the Great Hall's exit. Jacques' hand flew to his neck, covering the wound, and then he was nearly running from the Hall.
"You may resume your duties, Danielle." Le Pieu said distractedly, as he began to follow his wayward henchman out of the room.
Danielle watched them leave the room finally, and when they had left she leaned heavily against the nearest wall. The trembling started in her knees and traveled up her body until she was engulfed in almost uncontrollable tremors.
She had almost been raped...and she had le Pieu to thank for her safety. Was there no end to the irony in her life? Her hands shook violently as she covered her face and began to quietly cry.
Henry yanked the hem of his doublet one more time, trying to relieve the choking tightness around his neck. It never ceased to amaze him how his clothes never fit as he thought they should. Especially after all of the long, dull fitting sessions.
The deep burgundy of the doublet was set off by the gold of the chain Charles draped over his shoulders. Henry looked down at the cabochon ruby set in the center of the front and touched it briefly. It was a gift from his mother "for him to wear on the happiest day of his life."
Henry's limp fingers let the heavy chain fall back into place, and he sighed.
"Sire, it is time to go." Charles told him. Henry closed his eyes briefly and then nodded. He heard Charles leave his chambers and then Henry looked up. On the mantel above his fireplace lay the copy of "Utopia" he had retrieved from his father's library. He had read it all the way through four times since the night of the ball, trying to remain close to Danielle in the only way he thought was possible.
Utopia...paradise.... A life with *her* would have been. And now? Now he would walk into the cathedral, bend his knee to the Archbishop and swear before God and all of his father's court that he would love and honor Princess Gabriella for all time.
And this is what it meant to be a prince. To serve his country by sacrificing his happiness; his utopia.
So be it. He had grown up a lot over the past week and he finally understood his father a little better. The power of leadership was not just a gift from God, it was a covenant from his people--all of his people, and he felt the weight of that contract as certainly as he felt the crown resting on his brow.
Henry squared his shoulders and turned for his door. He was met by Laurent, who nodded gravely to him, and then they set off together; shoulder to shoulder down the long passageway and out to the waiting carriages.
Henry arrived at the cathedral before his bride. The facade of the huge stone building had been draped with laurel swags and garlands of white roses. It looked almost festive, he thought bitterly.
At least something was. His ride to the cathedral had been in silence. He had seen Laurent shift on his seat in the carriage a couple of times--as if he wanted to say something, but evidently one look at Henry's face had made that impossible.
As the carriage had neared the cathedral, a twisting sensation in Henry's belly had began to coil tighter and tighter. By the time the horses came to a stop at the foot of the stairs he was nearly gray with dread.
How could he do this? After everything he had learned from Leonardo about true love? How could he stand at the end of that interminable isle and swear he loved a woman he had never met?
"Sire?" He heard Laurent call to him as if from the other side of a wide river. In a semi-daze Henry turned toward Laurent and then everything began moving much faster. Too fast for him.
He stepped from the carriage and heard the distant accolades of the gathered crowd. His breading came to the fore as he nodded regally to them before climbing the steps to the massive wooden doors of the cathedral.
The ceremonial doors were thrown wide, their hinges newly greased to allow them to do so. Henry had only seen them open four other times in his life. And now they were open for him--to receive him and his bride....
At the threshold he was met by the archbishop. He stared blankly at the older man for a moment before he realized he was waiting for him to bow his head and receive the cleric's blessing. He did so with a grimace of annoyance and watched the gilded robes of the archbishop sway and dance as he made the sign of the cross over Henry's head.
*This is unreal... like a dream....* he suddenly thought to himself. His feet seemed to move on their own as the religious leader moved backwards and then lead the men into the nave.
Henry looked up and saw either side of the wide isle crowded with the great and near great. Some seemed interested, some seemed bored, and more than a few (mostly women) looked devastated. He knew how they felt.
He saw the Baroness Rodmilla and her outrageous daughter then. Their faces covered by black veils as if in mourning. Somehow, that sight lightened his mood for a moment and the corners of his mouth turned up in the closest thing to a smile he'd had all day.
On and on he walked until he was finally at the stairs below the high alter. Charles walked toward him from the left side of the nave assisted by two young boys. In his arms he carried the train of gold that would complete Henry's wedding regalia. His squire swiftly, but carefully tied the weighty cape around his neck while the boys straightened it out behind him. When he had the knot just right, Charles met Henry's eyes for a moment and seemed to be trying to tell him that everything would be all right. Henry smiled for a moment and then Charles retreated to the side.
That's when he saw his parents. They were also wearing cloth of gold--the fleurs de lis glistening in the candlelight. His father looked grave, but proud. Their eyes exchanged a thousand little feelings, and Henry was genuinely touched to see his fathers eyes moisten a bit.
If this was how his father was handling this, he was almost afraid to look at his mother. When he did he was surprised to see that she was almost serene. She had never looked lovelier than she did that day, and he smiled at her. She smiled back and closed her eyes. He heard her words come to him.
*Sweetheart, you have been born to privilege, and with that come specific obligations.*
Well, mother, he thought, I understand now.
The choir began to sing the Kyrie and Henry straightened his shoulders. This was it.
At first he thought one of the choristers was singing horribly out of tune. And then he thought one of the congregation was having an attack of some kind. The sound was high, and discordant, and unpleasant.
He looked back in confusion and saw his bride for the first time. Her face was heavily shrouded with a thick veil, but he could see her head was bent and her halting footsteps. She was crying, he finally realized.
Henry's eyes widened in shock and he quickly looked at his parents. As she got nearer and nearer to him her sobs took on an even more desperate sound. When the last notes of the choir's Kyrie finally faded everyone could hear her crying. Henry rolled his eyes and kneeled when the archbishop signaled them to do so.
His knees touched the kneeler, and he watched from the corner of his eye as his future wife nearly sobbed out her lungs while she tried to comply with the ceremony.
Henry was stunned. Here he had been thinking about himself all morning. How devastated he felt, how trapped, how completely powerless to change the situation. He hadn't given a thought to this poor woman. She (being who and what she was) was perhaps even more powerless than he. He looked toward her for a moment more and the sobbing was finally too much. He began to laugh. He couldn't help it! It was all too absurd.
He turned to Gabriella and raised her to her feet and then pulled her veil over her head. She was jabbering at him and he heard a man's name mentioned more than once. She looked behind her and he saw a balding man crying uncontrollably.
"Madame, I know just how you feel." He said with conviction. He kissed her on her cheek and motioned for her to go to her beloved. She ran screaming from the alter and into the bewildered man's arms. Henry grinned like a child on Christmas morning and slipped the knot of the train, letting the cloth of gold fall to the alter's stairs.
Without a backward glance he bounded out of the cathedral. There was only one thing on his mind now: he had to find Danielle. Find her, and somehow convince her that they could create Utopia on Earth.
Henry's arms circled her protectively as she leaned back against him. His mouth was whispering sweet words against the side of her neck between delicious kisses and she felt the need to turn and touch him. Instead, she placed her hands over his arms and held on for dear life.
His mouth finally reached the base of her neck and she felt his tongue circle around until it touched a particularly sensitive spot. She whimpered--a sound she had never imagined she could make--and felt his hands twitch for a moment on her waist.
"Henry, what are you doing to me?" She breathed.
"Only the beginning of what I've wanted to do since the first day we met." He mumbled as he moved his mouth to the other side of her neck. Danielle shivered and felt her body responding to his innuendo. The beginning...?
She felt him loosen his hold on her waist and she swayed for a moment when his hands began roaming over her hips and her sides. Then they were curled over her shoulders and sliding down her arms. He was making love to her with his hands and his mouth, and she was dizzy with the feel of it.
"Danielle?" He groaned. She could hear a change in his voice. Up to now he had been in control; passionate, yes, but very much in charge. Now, he seemed to be asking her to guide him, and she was at a loss.
But, he felt so good, and she was blissfully happy to be with him. She felt parts of her body aching and could only guess what would satisfy that ache. Danielle turned in his arms and smoothed back some hair from the side of his face. They looked at each other for a moment and then her hands reached for the ties of her bodice. She slipped the knot loose and began sliding the material off her shoulders. She saw Henry's eyes grow wider and wider, and was fascinated by the way his Adam's apple was moving as he gulped repeatedly.
*He's as dizzy as I am.* She suddenly thought to herself, and the idea gave her courage. She loosened the tie of her overskirt, and let the heavy blue material fall in a puddle at her feet. Henry was now pulling off his doublet and then working at the closure of his shirt. His eyes never left her body as she continued to undress for him.
Danielle pulled all of her outer clothes off until she was left in the simple, thin cotton underdress she wore. Her hands reached for the bow that held it gathered around her bosom, when his hands pulled them away. And then he was pulling the knot undone. The shear look of hunger in his eyes should have scared her, but at the moment, with him nearly naked as well, all she felt was a desire beyond any she had ever imagined.
The knot finally came undone and the garment slipped off her body, leaving her completely naked. He sucked in a lung full of air, like a man who has been held underwater too long and then his eyes fluttered closed. She smiled a small smile and then reached out to touch his bare chest. He moaned in response and she felt the vibrations of that sound reach up her arm and touch her heart.
His eyes opened slowly, as if he were afraid it was all a dream, and then he moved quickly to embrace her. They kissed fiercely as the building emotions took over and his hands played over the curves and valleys of her body. She trembled whenever he neared a previously untouched part and he kissed her more passionately, as if to distract her.
Finally, his hands touched her breasts and she bit her lip to keep from crying out. His eyes were riveted to the fullness there and the pebbled nipple between his thumb and finger. When he rolled it slightly she felt a burst of wetness between her legs and gasped.
"Henry!" She shouted. His answering smile lit his face with delight, and he leaned over to wrap his mouth around the bright pink nipple.
And that's when she woke up.
The tray of breakfast dishes lay on the table before her, and the fire had died behind her. Her heart was racing and she felt hot. She shifted on the wooden bench and felt the bruises on her legs complain. The iron chain rattled and brought her completely into the real world.
She had never had such a dream! It seemed so real, so wonderful. What was her brain trying to do to her? Wasn't it enough to be humiliated day after day by le Pieu and his men? Why did she keep having *these* kinds of dreams about Henry?
She buried her face in her hands for a moment and tried to calm down. She heard the kitchen door open and looked up slowly. Le Pieu stood there, leaning against the door jam.
"Poor Danielle." He said without sounding sympathetic. "You could be free. It wouldn't be so bad, now would it child?" He walked into the room, and she resisted the urge to back up. "I am not some ugly hulking brute like Jacques. I *know* how to treat a woman." He licked his lips and looked at her with blatant lust.
Her lip curled in disgust, and she could not help but compare Henry to this runt of a man. There wasn't anything about him she found remotely attractive. Again, the idea of him touching her seemed repulsive.
"No, monsieur. I've already given you my answer." She stood up to start taking care of the breakfast dishes, and he sighed.
"We'll see." He said angrily. She saw his fists clench quickly and then he was in control again. "In the meantime, I have an important person coming this afternoon who wants to buy a new sword. I want you to go out to the armory, gather all of the new Spanish swords and then bring them to the great hall." Le Pieu turned to leave.
"Yes, monsieur." She replied.
Le Pieu closed the door behind him, and Danielle slumped against the table. She had to get out of here. If that look in le Pieu's eyes meant anything, she had to leave. She had to find a way. He was running out of patience, and she could tell.
"She has been sold, Sire."
Henry blinked and replayed the words over in his head. He couldn't have heard that right, could he?
"Sold?! To whom?" He asked, his baritone voice shaking.
"Pierre le Pieu, Your Highness." He heard a young woman say. His gaze traveled down to the Baroness's youngest daughter Jacqueline. Beside her stood Laurent. Henry's face twisted with dismay.
God, what have I done? He asked himself desperately. Only moments before, he had been spared, as if by God, from making a terrible mistake. He had vowed to himself that he would find Danielle and make an apology--and try to win her back. Now, it seemed, he might be too late....
His blood boiled in his veins, and he found it difficult to focus. What had become of her? He knew le Pieu to be a man of very little honor. Was she safe? Was she.... oh, God!
"Speak of this to no one. For all shall reveal itself in due course. Come Laurent, there is much to be done."
Henry turned on his heal, never doubting that the Captain of the Guard was following. Henry walked toward the castle as a man possessed. Peasants and nobles alike stepped out of his way when they saw the look on his face. It was one of furious loathing.
No one could have guessed the loathing he felt was for himself.
Danielle grunted as she struggled to lift her foot to the next step. Finally, she was back inside the castle and she would soon be able to put down her unwieldy burden.
She pushed open the door of the Great Hall with the tip of her shoe, and then she walked around the tapestries.
He was there, as she had suspected he would be. Whether to examine the swords--or harass her some more she didn't know. All she wanted was to be out of that filthy man's presence and back to the kitchen.
"I do so hate to see you in irons, Danielle..." Danielle's face wore the same mask it had worn since the night before. She would not let him see how much she loathed her circumstances; how much she wanted to strike out at him; how much she wished she were anywhere else.
She felt him approach from behind, and every muscle in her body tensed. Her vision blurred as the hatred she felt for le Pieu began to blind her. She felt him touch the ends of her dirty hair. She knew this was it.
"You will maintain your distance, sir." She ground out.
"You didn't say please." Le Pieu oozed. And then it happened. Something inside snapped and in a blinding rage, Danielle found her hands around a dagger and spun. Instantly, she brought the blade to le Pieu's neck and glared at him.
"I could have you hanged for this." He said, obviously outraged by her gall, and her cunning.
"Not if you are dead." She pushed the tip toward him a moment, and instead of backing away she saw that he would fight her. His mouth opened in a grotesquely lustful leer and he leaned toward her and tried to pull her against him. Danielle grasped a sword from the pile on the table, and slashed at her tormentor with it.
She heard him gasp as the blade sliced the skin of his cheek, and he looked up at her with shock. It was then that she knew she could be free. This man--if that's what he could truly be called--had never been stood up to in his pathetic life. He led by intimidation, cruelty and fear. He would not, could not understand the power Danielle possessed.
She had to be free, and she would rather die than let him touch her. The power this unshakable fact gave her was tremendous, and despite her crushing fatigue, and the chains on her ankles, she stared this man down with her gaze and the tip of a sword, until he stumbled back into a chair and meekly handed her the keys to her leg irons.
Instead of releasing herself at once, she found a silken cord hanging from the corner of one of the tapestries, and used it to tie le Pieu's hands behind the chair. And then, she quickly removed the hated metal from her ankles. She almost sobbed with relief.
"I would have made you a very happy woman, Danielle. Now, I will hunt you down and kill you like the mangy bitch you are." Le Pieu spewed when he saw the smile on her face when she got back to her feet.
Danielle had the sudden urge to run him through. Her hand reached for the sword again, and she saw the instant fear in the disgusting man's eyes. No...he was too pathetic.
"Have no fear, monsieur. I have every intention of becoming a 'very happy woman.' Danielle said as she picked up the leg irons and walked toward le Pieu. His eyes narrowed and then he began straining against the rope on his wrists.
Never wavering in her icy glare, Danielle knelt at le Pieu's feet and quickly snapped the irons around his ankles. She yanked on them twice for good measure and then stood up.
"Adieu, sir." She said and then left the room. She had never felt so alive--so free as she did that moment of victory. She ran down the steps and flung herself at the door, and almost stumbled out into the courtyard.
She took a deep breath of fresh air and looked up. That's when she saw Henry. Suddenly all of her glee drained from her as the shock of seeing him sank in. She reached for her hair nervously, more than aware of what she must look like.
"Hello." He said softly. Danielle felt something inside shiver at the sound of his voice.
"Hello." She replied and then her face knit with confusion.
"What are you doing here?" She blurted out before she had a chance to censor herself. But, before she could stammer her embarrassment, he was making his reply.
"I, uh...came to rescue you." He said with obvious embarrassment.
"Rescue me? A commoner?" Again, she said before she had a chance to think about what he had really said. *He came to rescue ME!* She repeated to herself and while she was very glad to have rescued herself, she was secretly thrilled that he was here...for her.
Suddenly, she felt giddy, and very tired. The events of the past week were catching up to her in a rush, and the shock of seeing Henry there (looking unbelievably regal in his wedding attire--not to mention drop dead gorgeous) was starting to make her dizzy. She started walking toward the edge of the courtyard, hoping to sit upon one of the large blocks of stone on the parameter.
"Actually, I came to beg your forgiveness," He went on in a rush, as if he were afraid she was walking away from him and out of his life again. "I offered you the world, and at the first test of honor I betrayed your trust. Please Danielle...."
She turned and seemed to shiver. Then her eyes opened with difficulty and she looked at him.
"Say it again." She pleaded. She felt blood rushing to parts of her body that had been too cold for too long. Her fingers tingled and her cheeks burned. She looked up at Henry as if in a dream.
"I'm sorry." He said, completely setting aside his nobility. She swallowed hard and shook her head.
"No, I meant the part where you said my name."
She saw the relief wash over him, and smiled encouragement at him.
"Danielle...." he breathed, and she shivered and closed her eyes. Henry watched her with fascination. He approached her, pulling something out from behind him. "perhaps you would be so kind as to help me find the owner of this rather remarkable shoe." He said, tilting his head in a way that completely distracted her. She saw his eyes gleaming at her, and she watched him lick his lips quickly.
Then her gaze traveled down toward his outstretched hands and she saw her mother's slipper in his hands. "Where did you get that?" She gasped.
Henry's face became very serious, very intense as if he was replaying the awful events of the Masque. And then he swallowed and looked up into Danielle's eyes. "She is my match in every way. Please tell me I haven't lost her."
Danielle found it more and more difficult to breathe. He was so...beautiful. It was the only way to describe him--there before her, baring his sole, and wanting her. She had never imagined seeing anything so beautiful. She sank down to the stone ledge as her knees liquefied underneath her.
"It belongs to a peasant, Your Highness, who only pretended to be a courtier to save a man's life."
"Yes, I know. And the name's Henry...if you don't mind." He said with unbelievable gentleness.
Then she stopped breathing all-together as she watched him drop to one knee before her. She felt him reaching for her left foot and then he was holding it. She started to think it was a dream when she felt him slipping off her dirty leather shoe, and then began slipping the precious slipper on. His touch on her stocking covered foot was the most sensuous thing she had ever felt.
"I kneel before you not as a prince but as a man in love. But, I would feel like a king if you, Danielle de Barbarac, would be my wife."
Danielle felt like crying and laughing at the same time. Her body trembled from tip of her head to the soles of her feet. When she opened her eyes she saw Henry looking at her, almost as if dreading what she would say.
And then she threw herself into his arms and whispering over and over "Yes, yes, yes." She felt him rise, taking her with him in his arms as they began to spin around and around. She buried her face in neck and cried with joy.
"Danielle, my darling." Henry said against her hair as he slowed the spin and finally set her down. "Are you certain?"
He stepped back and looked intently into her eyes. She had tears streaming down her face and was trying not to sniffle.
"I've never wanted anything so much in my life, Henry." She answered him, and her words lit up his face. He looked to the sky and mouthed the words "Thank you," and Danielle found herself greatly moved.
His eyes returned to hers and they stared at each other for a moment. Danielle felt his eyes travel over her dirty clothes and back up to her face. She suddenly felt very self-conscious and more than a little embarrassed. But, before she had a chance to speak they both started at the sound of a man clearing his throat.
Henry then grinned with embarrassment and said, "Captain Laurent, was there something you wanted to say?" His eyes sparkled as he slipped his arm around Danielle's waist and then turned to his friend.
The stocky Captain stood smiled and said, "Sire, milady," Laurent bowed to them briefly before looking nervously at le Pieu's castle. "Might I suggest that we move this to someplace less...conspicuous?" Laurent's eyebrows rose quickly and a look passed between the men.
"Ah, yes...well, I imagine you're right, Captain." Henry said and then began walking toward the waiting horses. Danielle paused a moment to change back into her leather shoe. She hissed when she accidentally touched her tender ankles, and Henry looked sharply at her.
"Are you in pain?" He asked, instantly kneeling at her side and holding out his hand to steady her as she stood back up.
"It is nothing...it will pass." She said softly.
"Danielle, no more secrets. Tell me where you are hurt." He said. Danielle almost laughed at the question. *What didn't hurt?* She asked herself. But seeing him there at her side, looking so worried, she swallowed hard and then raised the hem of her skirt a few inches.
"It's my ankles. They're sore, that's all." She said quickly, watching him suddenly reach out to touch her foot again as he had done minutes before. She winced when his thumb pressed on her ankle bone where the irons had rubbed her raw and he looked up at her in horror. When he pulled his hand away there was blood on his fingertips.
"Danielle, you are bleeding!" He exclaimed. She bit her lip and closed her eyes. She hadn't realized that the irons had done so much damage and she was now unbelievably embarrassed.
"It's all right, Henry. Let's just leave this place." She pleaded.
"It's NOT all right!" Henry stood and braced her shoulders, pinning her with his intense hazel eyes. "Who did this to you?" He said, but the way he looked up at the castle behind her told her that he already suspected who.
"Henry, I'll tell you everything--*someplace else.*" She reached up and placed a hand on his face and he looked back at her. She could tell that he was torn. She saw a fire in his eyes she had never seen before, and she was suddenly certain that he wanted to do something about Monsieur le Pieu, perhaps something rash.
"Please, Henry. I just want to put this place behind me." She whispered. The tone of her voice must have said more than she realized, because Henry suddenly looked as if he might cry, and then he gently placed his arm around her waist. They walked together to his horse.
Henry was reaching for the bridle of his beautiful stallion when a clanging noise began inside the castle. And then they heard shouting.
Danielle gasped and looked back at the castle. "Henry, I think we should leave as quickly as possible." She said, her voice low and urgent. The prince looked at her and then at Laurent.
They could hear the voices coming closer and now could tell that there was an angry mob nearing the front door. "Danielle...." Henry whispered her name and then he seemed to make a decision. He grasped her about the waist and helped her onto his horse.
"Henry, hurry." Danielle said as she slid back off behind the saddle to allow him room to ride.
He turned away from her for a moment and she saw his fists bunch at his sides. Suddenly the front door slammed open and a group of men, lead by le Pieu, streamed out of the castle. Henry's hand went to the hilt of his sword.
"Henry, no." Danielle hissed, but she feared he was beyond her ability to sway now. She had never seen anyone so angry. And while she had been ready, only moments before, to slit le Pieu from navel to nose, she wanted nothing more to do with the stunted excuse for a man now. She just wanted to leave.
"My prince..." Laurent seemed to be both warning and asking Henry about his intentions.
"He hurt her, Laurent." Henry's voice was very low and very dangerous. Danielle tried to reach out to touch his shoulder, but he was already moving toward the group of men.
Le Pieu's face was red--and not just from the blood of his wound. He was incensed and Danielle gasped when she met his eye for the first time.
"You should have left when you had the chance, Danielle. I said I would kill you and here you are, waiting for me!" Le Pieu shouted as he walked toward her.
"I think not." Henry said very clearly. Every one of le Pieu's men suddenly realized who the man with the crimson doublet was, and stopped in their tracks. Le Pieu however seemed beyond comprehension. It was as if he'd gone berserk.
"Out of my way." Le Pieu hissed at Henry and then started to draw his sword. "She is mine, and I will have her."
"Have a care, monsieur." Laurent said as he stepped to Henry's side, placing his own hand on his sword-hilt.
"I think the man is quite mad, Henry." Laurent whispered to his friend.
"Undoubtedly." Henry agreed in a much too calm a tone. Laurent shot him a quick glance and realized Henry had already gone to that place he went when he was preparing to fight.
"Terrific." Laurent said under his breath as he began to wonder how he was going to protect both the prince and his lady love. Laurent loosed his blade and made ready.
Le Pieu drew his sword and swiped the air with it twice, still walking toward them. Henry finally drew his sword and turned his body into the classic fencing stance.
"So, you are to be a prince's whore? Is that it, Danielle?" Le Pieu said as he came to a stop just out of the reach of Henry's sword. "I would have made an honest woman of you. You would have been my equal here, but now you'll be nothing more than his peasant slut."
Henry shouted a furious "en guarde" before he lunged at Le Pieu. The weapon's merchant was surprised by the fierceness of the prince's attack and staggered back for a moment before getting his feet under him.
"How dare you." Henry hissed at le Pieu as he slashed at him time and again. "She is so far above you...above us all. You are not fit for her to wipe her boots on!" Again Henry slashed about, but le Pieu's sword parried him at every thrust.
Danielle looked on in horror. She knew Henry was furious, but why did he have to do this? She just wanted to leave. She just wanted to be with him. And the way he was fighting...she knew that he was blind with anger. He could easily make a mistake. She wanted to call out to him...beg him to stop, but she was afraid that she would distract him and le Pieu would take advantage of any distraction.
Still, she couldn't sit still and let it go on. She slid off Henry's horse and landed hard on the ground. She winced at the pain shooting up her legs but shook it off and looked around her. Finally, she saw something that gave her hope and she reached for it.
"Your Highness, I have never seen you fight this poorly." Le Pieu taunted. He knew at any other time he would be greatly outmatched by the prince, but Henry's anger had left him reckless. Le Pieu resorted to taunts to keep Henry offbalance, and hopefully keep himself alive long enough to get to the girl. Because, inside a fire still burned. He had to get to Danielle. If he couldn't have her, no one would.
Henry gritted his teeth and completed a rather difficult attack. Le Pieu defended himself only just in time. "I admit that she is rather good, but all this for a whore? I mean, I've had many just as sweet as she, and I wouldn't fight for them...." Le Pieu left the innuendo hanging in the air. He saw Henry mull his words over quickly and then his lip curled in disgust as he slashed wildly at the man again.
"Of course, she is young. So soft, so sweet, so tight..." Le Pieu whispered when they came close; their swords locked together between them. He watched as something seemed to snap inside Henry and the prince brought his free hand up and hit le Pieu squarely in the face with his fist.
"Bastard!" Henry shouted. "You filthy bastard!" Henry renewed his attack and drove le Pieu toward the castle wall. "I will kill you!"
Le Pieu now saw that he had made a grave error. He had not realized that Henry was truly in love with Danielle. The prince's anger was now not a handicap--it fueled an almost supernatural strength, and le Pieu retreated again and again before Henry's blinding attack.
"Please Your Highness...I was just joking. I never...."
"Shut up!" Henry shouted, pointing his sword at le Pieu's face. "Shut your mouth before I cut out your tongue."
Le Pieu was trapped against the low castle wall, and he looked frantically from side to side. There was no escape. His men had retreated to the entrance of the castle and he knew they would never put their lives on the line for him. There was only one chance...he would have to surrender. Perhaps the prince's honor would prevent him from killing him on the spot.
"Sire, I beg you..."
"Do not beg sir. I will not hear you." Henry said, his voice very low.
Le Pieu's frustration reached momentous proportions as he saw no way to come out of this situation with his skin in tact. And all because of *her!* It was too absurd. Him! Monsieur Pierre le Pieu destroyed because of a peasant girl.
Suddenly he decided he would rather go down fighting than cowering against the wall like a trapped rat. His face contorted in anger and he slashed out at Henry. Henry gasped as le Pieu's sword got inside his defenses and cut his face along his jaw.
"Nooooooooo!" Danielle screamed. And then a smallish object was flying though the air.
Henry heard a sickening cracking sound and turned just as le Pieu crumpled to the ground. Henry's mouth dropped open at the sight of a rock the size of his fist laying beside le Pieu.
"Henry!" Danielle screamed and then she was at his side. Her hand went to the wound on his face and she breathed a quick "thank god!" when she saw it was not much more than a scratch.
"Danielle, did you..." Henry seemed to be coming out of a daze. He kept looking between the rock, le Pieu and Danielle as if trying to put everything together.
"I couldn't take it any more. I had to do something." Danielle said. "Henry, please, can we just leave this place?"
"Danielle, I think he's dead!" Henry said, still shocked by what she had done.
Danielle sighed and looked at her former tormentor. His eyes were closed and she watched him carefully. She almost felt disappointed when she saw his chest rising with a breath. Le Pieu was still alive.
"No, he's alive, Henry. And I hope he enjoys the headache." Danielle said, her voice very cold.
Henry turned toward her, and kissed her forehead. He shook his head slightly thinking about Danielle's tremendous strength.
"Shall we go?" He whispered, and she nodded.
They returned to their horses, where Laurent waited with his sword still drawn. "Henry, are you all right?" Laurent asked him.
"Yes, Captain. My lady here once again saved my life." The Captain watched as a secret smile passed between the couple. Henry helped Danielle back up onto his horse and then he mounted in front of her.
They turned and rode away from le Pieu's castle at a canter, Henry wanting to put as much distance between them and the hated place as quickly as possible.
She was safe, with him and no one would ever pull them apart again, he told himself. And yet, as happy as those thoughts made him, he couldn't help worrying about le Pieu's taunts. Had the weapon's merchant's innuendoes been lies or the truth...?
They had been riding for only twenty minutes when Henry heard Danielle's tiny gasp of pain. Immediately, he reined in his horse and signaled Laurent to do the same.
"Henry, what is it?" She said, her voice struggling to sound normal.
"You are in pain." Henry said as he slid off his horse and reached up for her. She closed her eyes a moment, but was too weak to argue with him. She leaned over and allowed him to help her down and then leaned against him as they walked to a nearby log. He lowered her slowly and then knelt before her.
Her eyes were still closed and she was struggling with the pain. Her ankles were on fire and the bruises on her legs from Jacques' brutality that morning had been pounding against the horses flanks until she was sure her legs were now one big bruise.
"I'm sorry Henry. Just give me a moment and then we can be on our way again." She felt his hand reach up and cup the side of her face and she leaned into his touch gratefully.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Danielle. We can stay here for as long as we need to." She opened her eyes and smiled when she saw the worried look on his face. "In fact, why don't you find us some firewood, Laurent. I don't want my lady to become chilled." Henry said.
"As you wish, Your Highness." Laurent said with some hesitation. It was plain that he did not wish to leave the couple. Laurent dismounted and walked off into the brush to find fodder for a fire.
"Henry, really, I am fine. And, I don't want to be a bother to Captain Laurent." Danielle said, trying to get to her feet. She struggled for a moment, but Henry's hands held her shoulders and he wasn't letting her get up.
"Danielle, you need to rest a moment. Even I, a self-centered, arrogant prince can see that you are in pain." He smiled at her as her face went from irritation to shy pleasure at the reminder of their old debates. "Now, please do as I say, and stay put. I need to check the horses."
"Yes, sire." She replied. There was a teasing quality to her voice, and Henry was glad to hear it. The fact that she still had her sense of humor, despite what had happened to her seemed like a good sign.
And just that brief thought--what she had been through this past week--set off the tumultuous thoughts again. He was desperate to know how badly she had been treated, and yet found he was terribly afraid of the truth. If she had been violated, he was certain that he would not be satisfied until he spilled le Pieu's blood.
He could tell she was hiding something from him. He wanted to ask her, but their reunion was too new, too fragile, and all he wanted now was to show her that he was there for her. He would not push her where she didn't want to go.
Henry leaned toward Danielle and kissed her brow, then he stood up and stretched. He walked toward the two horses who were nibbling at the bushes. Henry and Laurent had been pushing the steeds rather hard during the ride away from le Pieu's castle, and he needed to make sure that they were cooling off all right. He had gone to the far side of his stallion when Danielle called out to him.
"Yes, love?" He responded, still concentrating on his horse.
"Henry, I think we have company."
Henry's head popped up from behind his horse and he looked around the area quickly. All was quiet.
"Did you see something?" He whispered to Danielle. Henry gave his horse a pat and then walked around him to join Danielle.
"I thought I so." She said uncertainly. Then she sighed. "Maybe I'm just seeing things."
"It's all right. Understandable really." Henry told her trying to sound reassuring. In fact, he was nervous about the possibility that le Pieu's men would be hunting them; but he had seen no sign of them on the ride into the forest.
Just then, five bushes in front of them seemed to sprout dark haired men. Danielle shouted her surprise.
Instantly, Henry stood in front of her and drew his sword. Then they heard more noise from behind and when he glanced behind them, he saw that they were completely surrounded--at least eight more men had left the bushes and were walking toward them.
How had they gotten so close without them hearing? Henry didn't think that le Pieu's men would have those kind of skills.
Then one of the men's faces registered with Henry--at precisely the same time Danielle realized who they were.
"Henry!" Danielle gasped with relief.
"Marcelle?" Henry called out to the older man before him.
"Your Highness! We meet again." The gypsy laughed. His men relaxed and stopped advancing as their leader strode forward and grasped Henry's outstretched hand. They welcomed each other like old comrades.
"How are you, sir? And your lovely wife?" Henry asked him.
"We are all well, I thank you. And you, my Prince. I had heard that you were to be married this day? Is this not a strange place for your wedding night?" Marcelle laughed in his robust way.
Henry seemed to have choked on something, however, as his face went from glad greeting to sudden embarrassment and then nervousness. He slowly turned to look at Danielle.
Danielle had watched the reunion with relief and happiness. She knew Marcelle and his men would not harm them, and in fact she liked their company very much. But, had she heard that right? Henry's wedding night?
She began to push herself off the log before Henry had a chance to give her a hand. When she was standing, Henry slipped his arm around her waist, and she saw the embarrassed look on his face.
He looked between Danielle and the gypsy and then said, "It's a long story. I am not married, but I have found love." Henry told him, and now it was Danielle's turn to look embarrassed. The gypsy watched the young couple and nodded his head.
"And about time, I should think." The gypsy said. Then Marcelle looked up and grinned. "Ah, here is one more."
Suddenly, they heard Laurent's voice bellowing across the still woods. "If you know what's good for you, you will release me this instant!"
"Guy! Release him!" Marcelle shouted. "We know these people."
Laurent strode into the center of the circle of men, with his hand on his sword and looking very flushed. "Your Highness, are you well?" Laurent said as his trained eyes were scanning the situation.
"Very well, Laurent. These are the people I told you about...." Henry said. The two friends exchanged looks and Laurent smiled.
"From that night you..." Laurent began, but Henry interrupted before the Captain had a chance to finish his thought.
"Yes, Laurent. That night." Henry said, now blushing again. Danielle watched the play between the two friends closely and wondered what Henry had told Laurent about their night in the gypsy camp to make him so embarrassed.
Marcelle was watching them as well, and he now wore an enormous grin on his face. "It honors me that the Prince of France should remember us so fondly." And then he laughed. "Come, it is time for supper. The women will be angry if we are late and it is spoiled. Your Highness, we would be honored if you would join us."
Henry looked quickly at Danielle and she smiled and nodded her head. He felt a shiver fly up his spine at the warmth in her eyes and he had difficulty finding his voice. "We accept your invitation."
"Good!" Marcelle laughed again. "Follow us." He told them and then the rest of the troop moved off. Henry helped Danielle back onto his horse, but then decided to lead his horse so that he could talk with the gypsy leader.
Danielle heard them talking about game hunting and fishing and other masculine pursuits until she realized she was looking at the inside of her eyelids. The sway of the horse and the knowledge that she was safe had lulled her almost to sleep. She opened her eyes with a start and tried to shake herself awake.
When she looked around she recognized the camp where she and Henry had spent that magical night some weeks ago. She smiled broadly at the sight of the gypsy children playing in the clearing, and the hearty scent of the women's cooking made her mouth water.
Soon, Henry was stopping the horse and the men continued on. They were alone for the moment and he reached up to help her down. She slid into his waiting arms and their eyes met as she was lowered to the ground. Once on her own feet Henry still held her close and she did not move away.
"Here we are again." Henry whispered to her.
"Yes." Danielle found she was unable to form a sentence. The intensity of his gaze had made her quite mute and she was lost. *How did I ever get so lucky?* She thought to herself.
Henry smiled at her unusual silence and then closed his eyes and kissed her. It was the first real kiss they had shared since he had 'rescued' her from le Pieu. Danielle closed her eyes and fell into the kiss with abandon. She felt his mouth, moist and warm against her own and she marveled at how good it felt. He was at first gentle and sweet, but as she responded to his touch, by pressing her body against his, and wrapping her hands around his shoulders, he became aroused and he deepened the kiss.
If Danielle had thought he had kissed her passionately before, it was nothing to the kiss he now gave her. He was a man suffering from guilt, worry and above all a deep love for the woman in his arms. All of these emotions fueled this most wondrous of kisses.
"Your Highness!" A woman's voice called out, startling them back to reality. Danielle opened her eyes when Henry put some space between them and saw him looking toward the gypsy camp.
"Esme..." He greeted Marcelle's wife. "You look well!" Henry took Danielle's hand and they began walking toward the cave.
The gypsy leader's wife was a woman of fifty or more years, with silver highlights in her black hair, and a broad smile. She stood near the fire watching the couple approach. When she saw Danielle the smile faltered, but at a look from Henry, she plastered the smile there again and greeted them both warmly.
"It is wonderful to see you again Your Highness. And you, my lady. We are very fortunate to have you here. The children remember you well." She said as a cluster of children suddenly appeared next to Danielle. They all looked up at her with bright smiles, never noticing how different she looked from the last time they had seen her.
"I hope that we will not be an inconvenience, Esme." Henry told her. He knew that they lived off the land, and three unexpected guests could make short rations for everyone.
"Absolutely not! My husband has provided well for us today." She stepped aside and with a wave of her hand showed them the enormous boar roasting over the fire. "We eat well tonight!" She declared.
Henry and Danielle looked at each other and smiled. Danielle felt her stomach growl and realized she hadn't eaten anything since the slice of bread that was her breakfast. She licked her lips and looked back at the boar with undisguised hunger.
"But, he's not quite done yet." The gypsy leader's wife told them. "I see that my husband has 'found' another barrel of wine, Your Highness. Why don't you go help him drink it, while I have a talk with your lady?" Esme approached them and took Danielle's arm. It was clear that she was used to getting her own way, and Henry raised his eyebrows.
"I just found her!" He said in mock outrage. "And now you want me to leave her?"
"I will return her to you, my lord." Esme laughed. "If you behave."
"On my honor, my lady. I would do nothing to warrant your displeasure." Henry bowed to them and after giving Danielle a quick kiss on the cheek he walked toward the gathering of men inside the cave. Laurent was already there with a cup in his hand.
Henry had just finished his cup of wine (quite exceptional wine in fact, and he wondered if it were from his own father's cellars) and was feeling rather warm. He had abandoned his crimson doublet earlier, and now he opened the neckline of his shirt and rolled up the sleeves to his elbows. Feeling more comfortable, he stood and stretched then looked around the camp for Danielle. He found several young women tending the fire and preparing the last dishes for the super, but of Danielle and Esme he found no trace.
Marcelle saw him standing at the edge of camp looking worried, and he walked over to the younger man.
"Is something wrong, Your Highness?" Marcelle asked him.
"I can't find your wife or Danielle." He confessed.
"They're down at the river." One of the women hovering over the fire told him. She looked up and received a reproachful look from the older man. She shrugged and went back to work.
"The women know where everyone is at any time--and they love to let me know that I do not." Then Marcelle nodded toward a trail. "Down that way thirty meters." He told Henry.
"Thank you." Henry replied, and then began walking toward the trail. He hadn't walked very far when he heard the faint sound of the river. He began walking down an embankment when a flash of light off the water caught his attention. He looked toward the light and his next breath froze in his lungs.
Danielle stood at the water's edge, peeling the last of her clothing from her body. She was facing him, the underdress slipping off her shoulders and forming a puddle of off-white on the surface of the water. She shivered a moment and then smiled as she stepped out of the garment and turned to dive into the river. The late evening light teased him with the incomplete picture he had of her young body. But, what he had seen had been more than enough to make every nerve in his body feel like it was on fire.
She was more beautiful than he had ever imagined--and he had spent quite a bit of time these past weeks imagining. Danielle's pale skin and soft curves seemed like a paradise he could loose himself in. Henry heard a sound and watched, fascinated, as she broke the surface of the water and smiled. She shook her hair out of her eyes and then ducked under the water again.
"I'll put the soap on this rock, my lady. You take your time, I'm going to get you something to wear." Henry heard Esme tell Danielle. The older woman came out of the shadows next to the river and placed a wooden bowl of soap on a rock. She watched Danielle for a moment, and then seemed to shake her head in a kind of sad way. Henry saw her walking toward the path, and he walked back a few meters to wait for her.
When she reached the top of the embankment she saw Henry waiting, and walked to him.
"I thought she might like to clean-up a little." She said without preamble.
"I imagine you're right." Henry said shyly. He had to concentrate on not thinking about what he had just seen. As if that was possible! "How does she seem?" Henry asked.
"Seem?" Esme asked. "Well enough after what she's been through I suppose."
Her words weren't what Henry had wanted to hear. Did she know something...?
"Esme, I.... I mean, she... damn!" Henry stuttered and then swore. The gypsy woman looked at him kindly.
"Just say it, Your Highness." She said.
He swallowed and took a deep breath. "I'm afraid she has been abused." Henry confessed.
"That is quite obvious, Henry. I treated some nasty wounds on her ankles, and..." She began.
"No, not that. I know about those. I mean, abused, as in...raped." Henry's voice barely rose above a whisper and he could no longer meet Esme's eyes.
"I see." She said, with a world weary tone of voice.
Henry stood looking at the older woman, his eye's pleading with her to help. Esme sighed and nodded. "I'll find out. If she has been, there are things that need to be done." The woman said as if she were sadly familiar with helping rape victims.
"Thank you." Henry whispered. He turned and followed Esme back to the gypsy camp.
Before they reached the camp Esme turned to him, "What will you do if she has been raped? Will you cast her aside again?" Esme's eyes were cold, and he felt as if he'd just been kicked in the gut. He turned to the older woman with his mouth hanging open, sputtering his denial.
"You hurt her before, Your Highness. I'm just pointing out that if she were raped, she had no control over it, and you cannot blame her--or think less of her."
"I know that! I swear to God that I will never hurt her again. I just want to make sure she's all right." Henry's eyes were frantic, and Esme could see that he was sincere.
"Very well, I will find out." She nodded to Henry and then went into the cave. Henry stood, rooted to the spot, mulling over what she had said.
Did Esme think so little of him? What did others think? Was he really seen as such a callous cad? He loved Danielle more than anything he could think of.
Marcelle approached him with a cup in each hand. "Here; I saw my wife talking to you, and thought you might need this." The gypsy said dryly, handing Henry a cup of the red wine.
"Thank you." Henry said, looking into the ruby liquid and then taking a large gulp.
"My wife has a sharp tongue, Henry. Don't let her bother you."
"She didn't. I suppose she said what I needed to hear." Marcelle clapped his hand against Henry's shoulder and the men walked back to the cave entrance where the rest of the men were sitting and drinking.
"And then she picked him up! I had told her she could take whatever she could carry, and that girl walked right up to him, put him over her shoulders and picked him up--and walked off with him! I had never seen anything like it."
Around him the group of men burst into hilarious laughter at the memory of Danielle's cunning rescue. Laurent had persuaded Marcelle to share more details about the last time Henry and Danielle had been the gypsy's guest, and he was now laughing so hard he had tears running down the sides of his pink face.
"Lord, Henry! I wish I could have seen the look on your face." Laurent laughed. Henry looked at him and rolled his eyes. His friend was enjoying the story too much, Henry thought.
"It was priceless, Captain. I can tell you that!" The gypsy who had fought Henry exclaimed. The men all laughed again and Henry smiled. They had all drunk a bit too much of the wine, and Henry felt quite relaxed. It had been a very long and stressful day.
He looked up to pass his cup to the man at the barrel again, when he saw two gypsy women walking into camp from the riverside. They were walking with their heads close together talking, and through his wine induced haze he realized one of the women was Esme...which should mean that....
Henry's mouth dropped open and he forgot the cup in his hand. He froze as he watched Danielle walk into camp with Esme. She was dressed in a bright blue skirt that floated above the ground with a seductive sway. It was cinched tightly around her waist with a bright green gypsy scarf, and her blouse was white with bright embroidery around the cuffs and neckline--the very low neckline! Henry saw the enticing dip between her breasts and was instantly reminded of his stolen peek at the riverside. His mouth snapped shut as he struggled to swallow.
Her hair was loose and still slightly damp from her swim, and she looked positively beautiful. Henry knew he would want to remember her like this for all of his days. He slowly got to his feet, completely oblivious to the snickers of the men around him, and walked toward the fire where Danielle stood with the other women.
He had difficulty tearing his eyes away from her, but he had to know if Esme had found out anything. He looked at the older woman, asking with his eyes. Esme looked at him gravely and then she smiled and shook her head. Danielle had not been violated.
Henry felt the relief surge through his body. He hadn't realized how worried he had been about it until now. He almost trembled with happiness.
He set his cup down on a table and silently walked up behind Danielle. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the side of her neck.
"Henry!" Danielle yelped.
"You look so beautiful." He told her. She leaned against him slightly and placed her hands on top of his arms. He felt her shiver a moment and wondered if the gypsy clothes were warm enough.
"Are you cold?" He breathed into her ear. Then, he nuzzled her hair and breathed deeply of her clean scent. He sighed and kissed the top of her head. Again she shivered and he could see goosebumps covering her skin.
"Not cold, Henry. Quite the opposite, actually." Henry heard her voice deepen with desire, and his knees nearly went out from under him. His hands itched to touch her, to see what else he might do to make her shiver. He knew his body was responding to these thoughts, and he wondered if he should step back. What would she think of him, with his erection pressing into her hip?
He tried to step back, but Danielle's hands held him tight. He groaned a little when he realized she wasn't going to let him go. He was going to embarrass himself if he didn't put a little distance between them.
"Danielle..." He said, his voice shaking a little.
"Henry, please hold me. I've dreamt of this." She whispered turning her face toward him and looking at him. Then she turned in his arms and Henry kissed her fiercely. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him as close as possible.
She was more responsive than she had ever been before. She molded her body to his and encouraged him. She could feel his strong hands pressing at her sides and easing lower. She kissed the corners of his mouth and then the fullness of his lips. Danielle felt the tip of his tongue sweep across her lips and was startled enough to gasp. He used the parting of her lips to sweep his tongue past her teeth and curl around her own. Her hands held onto the material of his shirt in a death grip as she felt her body erupt with desire.
She sensed something building between them, and found herself wanting more and more. His body felt so good, so exciting and above all, so safe. She knew he would never hurt her.
"Henry..." Danielle breathed when he pulled back to catch his breath.
"Danielle, I want..." Henry began, but they were interrupted by Esme's voice calling everyone to dinner. Danielle felt as if her heart was going to explode, it was beating so fast.
"What do you want?" She whispered. She saw Henry take a deep breath and then step back. She had never seen his face so red.
"I'll tell you later." He whispered back and then brought her hand to his lips for a courtly kiss. She shivered again when she noticed the mischievous twinkle in his eye.
The gypsies were now all around them, and Henry smiled and nodded at several of the men he had spent the early evening with. His arms were still protectively circling Danielle's waist, and he didn't seem in a hurry to get his supper.
"Henry, I don't know about you, but it's been a very long time since I've eaten." Danielle told him. Henry's eyebrows shot up and he suddenly looked guilty.
"Oh! Of course. I'm sorry." He took her hand and they walked toward the fire where they received plates full of steaming pork. Laurent was smiling over a huge mound of meat when they found him sitting at one of the tables. The captain got to his feet when the couple approached.
"Sit down, Laurent. There's no formality here!" Henry laughed as he cuffed his friend on the back of the head. He helped Danielle to a place at the table and then he sat across from her and next to Laurent.
"I wasn't standing for you, Henry." Laurent muttered around a huge bite. Henry turned toward him with his face a mask of confusion. "I was standing for the beautiful lady, you dolt." Laurent explained.
Henry laughed and then looked back at Danielle. She was blushing, but looking as if she had enjoyed the compliment. Henry tilted his head and continued staring at her. She was trying to pull the steaming meat off the bones without making mess, and the look of concentration on her face made Henry smile. She felt his stare and looked up.
"What?!" She asked.
"He's right. You are beautiful." Henry said. She blushed deeply and her eyes darted toward Laurent.
"Henry!" She scolded.
"What?!" He answered in the same tone she had just used.
She looked between both men and their smiling faces. She wasn't mad--just unused to such attention.
"Never mind." She said with a smiling shrug, and Henry laughed. They all dug into their dinners with relish; Danielle in particular finding the salty meat to her liking.
Soon after dinner, the gypsies started clearing the tables away and breaking into groups. The women worked around the fire, cleaning up and putting things away; while the men gathered and found a reason to fill their cups again. This time it was a clear white wine that Henry had never tasted before.
"Marc." The gypsy leader told him the name of the wine. Henry sipped it and at first did not like it, it had a dry almost herbal taste. But he soon found that the more he drank, the better it tasted.
Danielle was across the campsite, helping the other women, and Henry watched her--fascinated to see her more like her true self than the pretend courtier he had known before. She looked at ease, and natural, and he wondered how a life of privilege and pampering was going to suit her.
Behind him, he heard the sounds of instruments being tuned. A fiddle was soon striking up a melody, and then a guitar and finally a drum added a beat. Several of the men laughed and jumped to their feet. Henry watched as a group of five men formed a circle and began dancing with quick feet. The beat was hard to ignore, and Henry soon found himself clapping to the rhythm.
"Your Highness, join us!" One of the men called out. Henry held up his hands and shook his head.
"Oh, no. I don't know these steps." Henry told them.
"It is easy. And you have a gypsy soul. You were meant to dance." Marcelle told him.
Henry felt his arm being tugged toward the circle and then he was in the midst of the dance. He watched the men around him moving their feet to the music and soon found himself dancing along. There was something very primal--very satisfying about joining in. They completed one circle and then they all switched directions and began dancing new steps in the opposite direction.
Not far away, Danielle was finished helping with the dinner chores, and now she was watching the men. She laughed when she saw Henry being pulled into the dance, but then watched with growing interest as he picked up the steps. He looked marvelous, moving to the beat with quick feet, his hair flashing in the firelight, his eyes sparkling with enjoyment. Her heart began beating faster than the drums, and she couldn't tear her eyes away from his strong graceful body. When he raised his arms his sleeves slipped up and bared more of his golden skin. Danielle was finding it harder and hard to breath as she watched him.
"They think they know how to dance, hah!" One of the women behind her exclaimed. Danielle smiled to herself and thought that at least one man seemed to be doing a rather good job, but then she felt movement behind her and turned.
Around the fire they had used for cooking, the women were forming a circle of their own. She watched several younger women tuck the hems of their skirts into their waistbands, and then kick off their soft shoes. She was fascinated with their slow graceful movements--much different from the men's and she felt the pull of the beat.
"Come on!" Two women her age called to her, grabbing her arms and pulling her into the center of the circle. Danielle blushed and shook her head, but they persuaded her with good natured teasing. Esme came to her and in a no-nonsense manner, showed Danielle how to tuck up her skirt so that her feet were free to move and then she began dancing.
Danielle watched as the older woman's arms arched through the air and she twirled several times around the fire. The other women joined in and soon skirts ruffled and swirled all around her. Danielle found it was impossible to resist, and stepped into the group and began moving with the rest.
Step, turn, dip to the side. Step, turn and bring your hands above to spin. She was soon in step with the rest, laughing and feeling more alive than she had for many, many days.
Not far away, the men had finally realized that the women were ignoring them and had began dancing by themselves. The fiddle player had changed the tune to something a little slower--more seductive, and several of the women thanked him by raising their skirts as they twirled by. Henry's eyes were nearly falling out of his head. He had never seen women behave in such a blatantly suggestive way...
And then he saw Danielle. If he thought he had been surprised when he had first seen her wearing the gypsy costume, it was nothing to how he felt now. She was moving with unbelievable grace, and her blue skirt was tucked in such a way as to show her legs when she moved. She was swirling and laughing with the other women and showed no pretense--no knowledge that what she was doing was tantamount to seduction.
He had been seduced many times in his adult life. Courtiers, women of ill-repute, even daughters of the nobility had all tried (more than a few succeeding) to seduce him--to make him feel the way he felt now.
His body was hungry for her. His heartbeat had quickened and his breathing raced to keep up with it. His focus had narrowed to her alone. There was a throbbing urgency in his groin that he hadn't really felt in a long time.
"May I make a suggestion, Your Highness?" Henry started at the sound if Marcelle's voice close beside him. He tore his eyes away from Danielle and looked at the older man.
"Uh, of course." Henry stammered.
"Wed her soon."
"Excuse me?" Henry now focused more clearly on Marcelle and tried to understand what the gypsy leader was going on about.
"When a young man in my tribe looks at a woman that way, I always tell him to wed her quickly--before he has a chance to do something he shouldn't."
"Something he shouldn't...?" Henry wasn't sure he was following the gypsy's line of thinking.
"She is beautiful, no?" Henry nodded his agreement.
"You want her, no?" Henry swallowed hard and nodded again, this time a bit nervously.
"Marry her." The man laughed and patted Henry on the shoulder. Realization dawned on Henry's face finally and then he smiled.
"She has agreed." Henry told Marcelle. "But, I thought we should wait until I told my father and mother..."
"You should not wait." The older man said with certainty. "Wed her before you compromise her."
"I would never...!" Henry objected.
"Hmmm. Well, I'm just an old man. Perhaps I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing." Marcelle laughed and walked toward the women.
Henry watched as the gypsy leader walked up to his wife and swung her into his arms. They laughed together and then he kissed her. Henry heard the music stop and all the gypsies laughed and clapped. They all seemed to know that it was time for rest, and family groups moved off in search of tents or wagons or warms spots inside the cave. Henry walked toward Danielle.
She was laughing with two of the women her age and they were giving her a quick hug. When she looked up he was only a meter away. The look on his face startled her and the smile left her face. Her hands went to her flushed face and she felt the wind tug at her skirt--which was exposing quite a bit of leg at the moment. Was he angry? Had she embarrassed him somehow? He looked so...intense. For the first time since she had been reunited with him she was nervous.
"Your Highness, did I displease you?" She asked, using his title because of her nervousness. His eyes seemed to be burning as he shook his head.
"No, Danielle. Quite the opposite, actually." His answer sounded nice, but still he almost frightened her by the way he was looking at her. She slowly moved her hand to her waist and pulled the hem of her skirt loose, then let it flutter down. Henry suddenly caught her hand and pulled her closer. Her breath caught and her heart began to race.
He pulled her to him and then raised her hand to his lips. Instead of placing a courtly kiss on the back of her hand as he had done earlier in the evening, he turned her hand and kissed her palm. The feel of his warm lips on the inside of her hand sent ripples of pleasure up her arm and throughout her body. She looked at him in wide-eyed amazement as his lips continued to caress her hand and then the inside of her wrist. When he reached around her with his free arm and pulled her close, she almost whimpered from the sensations flooding her body.
"Henry..." She breathed.
Instead of answering her, he led her away from the campfire. Soon, they were alone, on the edge of the camp and he turned to her.
"You wanted to know what I wanted earlier?" He asked her.
"Yes." She replied.
"I want to spend the night with you...to spend all my nights with you, and all my days. I want to touch you, Danielle. I want to make love to you." Henry whispered as he bent toward her and then kissed her. Danielle began to wonder if her knees would support her as his mouth passionately took her own. His hands pressed her body to him, molding her against the plains of his body. She felt the unmistakable sign of his arousal despite the padding of his codpiece, and somehow knowing that he was aroused because of her caused every nerve in her body to fire at once.
He was seducing her. She had never been seduced before, so she didn't know that he was, but at that moment, with his hands tracing the curve of her waist and his lips drawing her toward bliss, she would have done anything to please him.
"Your Highness." A voice hissed from behind them. Henry seemed oblivious and continued to kiss her, but Danielle had stiffened at the sound of Laurent's voice and Henry soon sensed her distraction.
"Your Highness." Laurent repeated, a little more insistently. Henry shuddered and stopped kissing Danielle. He took a deep breath and looked up.
"What is it Laurent?" He asked with a definite note of irritation.
"Your Highness, we either need to continue on to the castle, or find somewhere to spend the night." Laurent's head jerked back toward camp, indicating that the rest of the gypsies had turned in for the night.
"We have been invited to stay," Henry explained to Danielle and Laurent. He took Danielle's hand and led her back to the camp. "Marcelle has lent us the use of one of their wagons. You can sleep here, Danielle." Henry stopped next to a brilliantly painted gypsy wagon.
"Oh... but what about you and the Captain?" She asked.
"We'll find a comfortable place out here." Henry told her, then he placed a hand on her cheek and rubbed his thumb over her cheekbone. "Sleep well, my love." Henry said.
Danielle smiled and looked down for a moment before looking back up at Henry. "Sweet dreams, Henry." And then she surprised him by leaning forward and kissing him on the lips before turning and climbing into the wagon.
Henry stood and stared at the wagon for a moment and then said, "Come Laurent. Let us get to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a very important day."
Laurent shook his head and raised an eyebrow at his wayward prince. He knew Henry was cooking up a plan and he wondered how much he was going to hate it.
The next morning, Henry rose with the first rays of light. He and Laurent had decided to sleep under the wagon where Danielle was sleeping--mainly for protection, but also because Henry couldn't stand to be any farther away from her than that. Laurent had rolled his eyes at the notion of sleeping under a gypsy wagon, but one look from Henry and he had kept his comments to himself.
Henry rolled out from under the wagon and stood up. His back was not used to sleeping on the ground, and despite the thick woolen blanket Esme had loaned him, he was cold. He stretched and rubbed his hands over his arms to warm himself up.
"Henry! For God's sake! It's not even dawn yet." Came Laurent's groggy complaint.
"It is too, you lazy sot." Henry whispered back at Laurent. He thumped the captain with the tip of his boot and said, "I'm off to check on the horses. I want to be on our way within the hour."
"What?!" Laurent rubbed his eyes and turned toward Henry. "Why such a hurry? You want to go back and have that tongue lashing your father is preparing for you?"
Henry snorted. "Hardly! No, I have something much more...pleasant in mind." Henry's eyes wandered to the wagon entrance.
"Henry, when are you going to tell me what you're planning." Laurent said as he got to his feet, shaking out his cloak and wrapping it around his shoulders.
"Not until I tell Danielle, Laurent. She deserves to be the first one to know." Henry smiled broadly, and walked toward their horses.
Not long after Henry had taken the horses to the river for water, the rest of the camp began to rouse. Laurent remained beside the wagon and watched the men and women start a new day. Fires were started, kettles were hung and food was prepared. His head was a little sore because of the wine consumed the night before, and he gratefully accepted a cup of strong coffee from one of the men.
He had just finished drinking the coffee when Marcelle's wife approached the wagon. Laurent nodded to her and she smiled in response. She was carrying something silky and blue in her arms.
"Good morning, Madame." Laurent said.
"Good morning, Captain. Did you sleep well?" She asked.
"Well enough." He answered and leaned toward her to look at the material in her hands. He had seen it somewhere before. "Uh, Henry has taken the horses to the river. Is there something I can do for you."
"No." She laughed, and then she climbed into the wagon. Laurent could hear her speaking softly to Danielle, and Danielle's muffled reply. Try as he might, he could not make out what they were saying.
"Captain Laurent, are you eavesdropping on my fiancee?" Henry said, suddenly beside Laurent.
The captain jumped and then swore. "Don't do that!" Henry laughed and clapped his old friend on the back.
"The gypsy woman just went in there." Laurent explained.
"Esme?" Henry asked.
"Yes. And she had something with her."
"Something? Like what?" Henry surreptitiously tried to look inside the wagon. He couldn't see a thing.
"Some fabric. It was blue. I don't know, maybe a dress?" Laurent shrugged.
"Hmm." Henry seemed intrigued. Then he saw the cup in Laurent's hand. "That isn't coffee by any chance, is it?"
Laurent looked up at Henry and wondered how his prince was even opening his eyes this morning considering the amount of alcohol he had drunk the night before.
"I think they have a pot of it over at the fire." Laurent nodded and told Henry.
"Excellent." Henry rubbed his hands together. "As soon as we've all eaten breakfast, we'll be on our way, Laurent." Henry informed him.
"On our way to where, Your Highness?" The captain asked him.
"Ah, ah." Henry said wagging his finger at Laurent. "I told you you had to wait until I told Danielle." Then he laughed at the sour expression on Laurent's face.
"At least let me go back to the castle and put together a proper guard." Laurent suggested.
"No, I think not. It will be just we three today." Henry walked toward the fire and charmed the young lady tending it into giving him a cup of coffee. He sipped the exceptionally strong brew and felt it warm his belly. He smiled and took another sip.
The camp was fully awake now. The cook fires were being tended by several women, and the men were tending animals and chopping wood. Children ran from one group of adults to another, looking for food or mischief. Henry became nostalgic for a moment and enjoyed watching the scene around him. It was so different from the life he had lived--so much more free in many ways, and yet, so much harder. He sipped his coffee again wondered what it would be like to live a gypsy life.
"Good morning, sire." Came Danielle's soft voice behind him. His body was infused with a new delicious warmth at the sound of her voice. He grinned and turned--his grin turning into a huge smile when he saw her.
She was dressed in the blue gown she had worn to the Abby weeks ago. Esme had never worn it, and had brought it from her trunk to give back to Danielle. Her hair had been braided and wound around her head so that the braid resembled a crown. She wore no jewelry, but her eyes sparkled like fine jewels. Henry reached out and took Danielle's hand and kissed her fingers.
"Good morning, my love." Henry greeted her. "You look so beautiful."
Danielle blushed but kept her gaze fixed on Henry's eyes. "Thank you."
"For saying you look beautiful?" He stepped closer to her and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. He felt almost lightheaded at the sight of her. She was perfect--exactly as he had envisioned she would be on this day....
"No." She laughed, suddenly shy again. "For coming to rescue me."
"Ah, but my darling Danielle didn't need my rescuing, did she?" Henry teased, but there was much love behind his words. He was so proud of her.
"Yes, Henry, I did. Getting free of le Pieu was only the beginning of the rescue. You have saved me in more ways than one."
In answer, Henry wrapped his arm around her and bent to kiss her. They shared a sweet, tender kiss and then Henry released her.
"Danielle, I have something I want to ask you." He whispered.
"What is it?"
"Will you marry me?" He leaned in and whispered in her ear.
She smiled and looked at his earnest hazel eyes. "Henry, I have already said yes." She reminded him.
"Will you marry me *today*?" Henry asked, his eyes unblinking and the grip on her fingers tightened just slightly. Danielle's eyebrows shot up and she tilted her head to the side.
"Today!?" She exclaimed.
"Yes, today, Danielle. I want to return to the palace with you as my princess. I want the country and my parents to know that you are my one and only choice." He took a breath and watched her absorb his declarations. Then he took another deep breath. "I want to show you how much I love you, Danielle--as only a husband can show a wife." He had leaned in and breathed the last words in her ear and she shivered. When he moved back a little he saw that her eyes had closed and she had her bottom lip between her teeth.
Henry placed his free hand under her chin and raised her face. She opened her eyes and they looked at each other for a long time. Henry had almost started to think she was going to say no, when her mouth turned up in a delightful smile, and she mouthed "yes" for him alone.
Henry grabbed her up in his arms and swung around once before setting her down and kissing her. "I was half afraid you were going to say no!" He told her.
"I'm beginning to think there isn't anything I can deny you, my Henry." Danielle said. She reached up and placed her hand over his heart, and he covered it with his own.
"I shall remember that, my love." He said with a twinkle in his eye. Danielle seemed to read his mind and flushed with equal parts embarrassment and desire.
"Now, then. We need to be on our way. It is a good half day's ride to our destination." Henry beckoned to Laurent with his hand and the Captain (who had been watching them from the moment Danielle left the wagon) walked over to join them.
"And now I can tell our friend Laurent. He suspects that I have something terrible planned. Don't you Captain?"
"I didn't say that, Your Highness." Laurent replied.
"Ah, but I know better. Those puppy eyes, and those sour looks. You think I'm planning to run away again, or perhaps something worse--whatever that might be." Henry teased his friend.
"I shudder to think, Sire." Said Laurent dryly. "You both look very happy, I must say."
"And why shouldn't we be? We are to be married." Henry said.
"Uh, yes. I think I knew that." Laurent said nervously.
"Today!" Henry said smiling.
Laurent's mouth dropped open and he looked between Henry and Danielle and then back to Henry.
"Henry...." Laurent said clearly not happy with this idea.
"Yes, Captain?" Henry asked, the picture of nonchalance--as if he'd suggested taking a walk with Danielle instead of making her his wife, and thus future queen of France.
"Henry, your parents!" Laurent hissed.
"Will love her." Henry was suddenly very serious. He hadn't expected Laurent's reaction to be so negative. He would not allow his friend to take away any of Danielle's happiness--or his own.
"Look, I know I have a duty to the crown, and the country. But, I have a duty to myself as a man, Laurent. Danielle makes me complete. With her I can face the future, whatever that might be. We are to be wed; the sooner the better, as far as I am concerned!" Henry had now raised his voice as his irritation with his old friend outweighed his previous good mood.
Laurent was dumbstruck for a moment, wondering if he dared try to dissuade Henry further. But when he saw Henry's arm circle Danielle's waist protectively and the defiant thrust of the prince's chin he knew it was a lost cause. All he could do was to go with them, keep them safe, and pray that all would turn out for the best.
"Of course, sire. I should never have questioned you." Laurent bowed to Henry and then to Danielle in apology.
"Thank you, Laurent. Now prepare the horses." Henry still seemed a little irked by Laurent's behavior, and it showed in his voice. "We need to be on the road as soon as Danielle has had something to eat."
"Yes, Your Highness." Laurent bowed to Henry and then went to the horses. Danielle watched him begin saddling Henry's horse before she turned to Henry.
"He is worried." She said.
"He worries all the time. It's his job." Henry replied. Then he looked down at Danielle and realized her mood had shifted. It was precisely what he didn't what to have happen.
"Don't worry about Laurent." Henry leaned in and kissed the top of Danielle's head. "Now, let's get you some breakfast." Danielle nodded and they walked to the main campfire.
They were given thick slices of bread and left over pieces of pork from the night before. While it was not as refined a meal as Henry was used to, it suit his appetite well, and he had it all eaten in no time.
Danielle, however, did not eat quickly. She nibbled at her bread and didn't touch the meat at all. She was slowly chewing a piece of bread when Henry caught the far away look on her face. He placed his fingers under her chin and gently turned her face toward him.
"What is it?" He asked so quietly that only she could hear.
She smiled and swallowed her bite. "Nothing. It's...it's nothing." She said in a similarly quiet voice.
"No secrets, remember?" He asked her.
She looked up into his eyes and her face turned melancholy for a moment. "I was just thinking about my father. I miss him so. He would have loved you, Henry." She reached up and wove her fingers into his dark brown hair. Henry's lips parted into an expression of surprise, both from her thoughts and her touch.
"Oh, Danielle." He reached up and wrapped his fingers around her hand and kissed her on the inside of her wrist as he had done the night before. She smiled at his tenderness, and he smiled with relief.
"Forgive me. Perhaps being a bride makes me sentimental..." She said.
"Sentimental and beautiful beyond my wildest dreams." Henry leaned in and kissed her softly before gathering her in his arms. "You are my life." He breathed against her braids.
"The horses are ready, Your Highness." They heard Laurent say. Henry looked up and found Laurent holding the horse's reigns.
"We must thank our hosts." Henry told the captain.
Henry and Danielle walked into camp and found Marcelle and Esme sitting at a table. The gypsy leader stood up when he saw them approach.
"You have to go?" Marcelle asked them.
"We have something very important to do today, Marcelle." Henry said with a wink. Marcelle's face broke out into a wide grin and he clapped his hands together.
"Indeed! Well, then, I wish you God's speed, Your Highness. And you, my lady. May you both have everything your heart desires." Esme now stood at her husband's side.
"Easily done, now that we are together." Henry said.
"Remember what I said, child." Esme said to Danielle, and Danielle nodded.
"I will Esme. Thank you for everything." Danielle left Henry's side and gave the older woman a quick hug. The men exchanged mystified looks but Henry changed back to a smile before Danielle had a chance to see that he was curious about what she and Esme had been talking about.
"Farewell." They all said to each other and then Henry and Danielle walked to the waiting horses. Soon, Henry and Danielle were seated on his stallion, and Laurent was on his own gelding. They left the gypsy camp with lighter hearts than when they had arrived.
Danielle couldn't help wondering what Henry had in mind for their wedding. She knew they were a day's ride from the palace, and so it must be someplace in the country....
"Oh, Henry!" She exclaimed when she finally realized where they were headed. "The monastery?" She asked breathlessly.
"Can you think of any place better?" Henry smiled and turned toward her in the saddle. She was smiling back.
"No, I cannot. It's perfect." She answered. They looked at each other, full of anticipation and Henry urged his horse into a faster trot.
They arrived at the Franciscan monastery shortly after terce. They could hear the last notes of the choir's devotions as they rode onto the grounds. Henry slid off the back of his horse, and then helped Danielle down.
Captain Laurent dismounted and lead the horses to a nearby rail. There he tied them up and then returned to Henry and Danielle.
"Ready?" Henry asked Danielle.
"Yes." She replied simply.
"Good answer. Just keep saying that every time the priest asks you a question and we'll be man and wife in no time!" Henry teased her. He watched her chin come up, ready to give him a taste of his own medicine and he smiled broadly at her. But, just then, the doors of the monastery opened and a very young monk poked his head out.
"I thought I heard voices. Is there something I can do for you, my children?" The friar said as he stepped out into the courtyard. Danielle stifled a giggle--the man wasn't any older that Gustave, and he had called her his child!?
"As a matter of fact, there is." Henry walked up to the brown clad monk and gave him a shallow bow. "I'm here to see Father Joseph. Is he available?"
"I believe so. May I tell him who's asking for him?" The monk indicated that they should follow him into the main building.
"Tell him Henry Bourbon has come to ask him a favor." Henry told the young man. They all watched as the monk nodded, and then did a double-take. His eyes grew round as the young man realized who Henry was and then he turned quickly on his heel and ran to find the abbot.
The monastery's foyer was cool and dim. Danielle remembered the building fondly from the last time she and Henry had visited it. She took a deep breath and smelled the scent of beeswax from the hundreds of candles and the unmistakable musty scent of paper from the thousands of books that lined the walls.
"Your Highness, I want to find some feed for the horses. If you will excuse me?" Laurent said.
"Of course Captain. And see if the monks have a spare horse for Danielle. She hasn't complained, but it must not be comfortable riding with me." Henry replied.
"Of course. I'm certain Friar Luc will be able to lend us one. I need to find him anyway, he and I have some unfinished business." Laurent laughed as he left them alone inside the foyer.
"I do love this place, Henry." She sighed and told him.
"I suspected as much." Henry replied. "Something about men in brown, perhaps?" He grinned wickedly at her outraged expression.
"Henry..." Danielle walked up to him and wagged a finger in his face. He just laughed and kissed the tip of it.
"Your Highness!" Came the call of a deep baritone voice. Henry smiled and turned toward a tall middle aged man.
"Father Joseph. Thank you for seeing us." Henry's arm circled Danielle's waist.
"I'd like you to introduce you to Danielle de Barbarac. Danielle, this is Father Joseph. He is the Abbot here." Henry paused as Danielle smiled at the distinguished man. Father Joseph returned the smile warmly.
Father Joseph wore the traditional long brown robes of the Franciscan order, with a length of rope for a belt. There was a heavy cross on a chain around his neck and a large golden ring on his left hand. His eyes were piercing blue with dark, dark eyelashes, and when he looked toward her, Danielle could have sworn that he could see right through her.
"Father, I have a favor to ask you." Henry said.
"Anything for my favorite student." Father Joseph said. Henry suddenly blushed as Danielle's eyes grew a bit wider.
"Student?" Danielle whispered.
"Yes. I taught His Highness all of his letters and most of his numbers when he was a small boy. I may have even taught him to read, though there's been some debate about that." The older man said and then laughed at Henry's clear discomfort.
"He was your teacher?" Danielle asked, surprised that she had not heard about this the last time they visited.
"One of many, my child, I assure you. The prince had many, many tutors. I was just..."
"My favorite." Henry interrupted. "I never did forgive you for leaving me for the monastery, Father."
"Poor Henry. Still feeling abandoned?" Father Joseph asked in mock concern. It was clear to Danielle this was an old debate; one which the men had gone over enough times to make it a point of honor to debate at every meeting. It was their way of saying they still cared about each other. This time, however, Henry had an answer for his former mentor.
"Abandoned? Not in the least. I have found my match, and I will never feel lonely again." Henry said with utter confidence.
The abbot's eyebrows crept up and he slowly turned toward Danielle. She suddenly felt quite small as the older man seemed to appraise every hair on her head.
"And so, you are in love Henry?" Father Joseph asked softly.
"Deeply, madly and in every other way--I am in love." Henry declared.
"I see. And have you come here to ask for guidance?" Father Joseph turned back to Henry.
"Uh...not exactly." Henry seemed hesitant.
"Not exactly?" The monk repeated. "Come now Henry, have you come to borrow some more books?" Father Joseph laughed. Henry shook his head. "I didn't think so."
"No, Father. We would like you to marry us." Henry's arm tightened on Danielle's waist and she reached over and placed one of her hands on his chest. She could feel his heart beating wildly under the crimson doublet.
"You wish to marry..." The Father looked between them and then realized what was afoot. "TODAY?! You want to be married today?!" He shouted.
Several of the monks in the next room leaned away from their desks and peered toward them. While the Franciscan's did not take a vow of silence, the monastery was supposed to be a quiet, peaceful place. Father Joseph's outburst was quite out of the ordinary.
The abbot closed his eyes and seemed to be saying a quick prayer for forgiveness, and then he opened his eyes again. He looked at his former student with something like a scowl and then he reached out and placed his hands on each of their shoulders.
"Let's find someplace more...private." The monk said.
Danielle shot Henry a quick worried look but fell in step beside the holy man as they left the reception area. Father Joseph lead them through several more rooms before they entered a dark, wood paneled room. He released them and walked to a trestle table where at least a dozen books lay in stacks. Danielle tried to see the names on their spines, but Father Joseph stood in her way.
"Your Highness, I don't know what to say." Father Joseph sighed as he walked around the table. The men finally looked at each other. Henry's jaw had taken on that defiant angle again.
"Father, please. We will be married; if not by you then by some priest in a country chapel. I would much rather have you perform the ceremony. It would mean a great deal to me."
"And to me." Danielle chimed in. Both men turned toward her and she struggled to keep her composure under their powerful gazes. "I cannot think of anyone more suited to the task. You taught Henry to read, and it was books that eventually brought us together." She said softly.
Henry's mouth turned up in a small smile, and he reached out and took her hand in his. They looked at each other until Father Joseph cleared his throat and brought their attention back to him.
"Henry, we could all get in a lot of trouble." The abbot said. "The King and Queen will not be pleased, and neither will my superiors."
"Carpe Deum, Father." Henry spoke earnestly, in a hushed emotional voice. Danielle felt his hand squeeze hers and she wanted kiss him, to comfort him. Seize the day! She wanted to seize this day with all her heart.
"Carpe Deum.... Well, Your Highness, you may seize this day and live to regret it." Henry opened his mouth, ready to hotly deny the priest's statement. "But, I never could deny you when you looked at me like that."
Henry's eyebrows shot up, and Danielle's face lit with a smile. The monk walked toward them. He reached out his hands and Henry extended his. Father Joseph then reached for Danielle's and placed her hand on Henry's, then he covered both of their hands with his own.
"I will perform the ceremony. Meet me in the chapel in one half hour." Then he released their hands and made the sign of the cross over their heads. Danielle and Henry only had eyes for each other.
"Thank you, Father." Danielle was first to say, followed closely by Henry.
"I suggest you spend the time in prayer!" The abbot remarked as he left the room. Danielle smiled and looked toward Henry. He was grinning back at her like a child on Christmas morning.
"One half hour! And in less than an hour we will be married!" Henry exclaimed as he swept Danielle up in his arms and held her tight. "Oh, Danielle. Am I dreaming? Yesterday I woke to a nightmare, and today everything seems right. I feel as if I am floating!"
"Henry, I do hope it's not a dream. But if it is, at least we're dreaming it together." His face neared hers and they kissed. His mouth was sweet and tender.
"Danielle..." He breathed against her ear. "Oh, my Danielle."
"Henry, I do love you so." She whispered back. Henry stepped back and held her hands.
"I suppose I should tidy up a bit. I want to look my best for my bride." He winked at her. She grinned and shook her head.
"You look perfect to me." Danielle told him as he backed away from her. He blushed and quirked a funny little grin. She laughed and told him to hurry as he left the small room.
Danielle was alone. She closed her eyes for a moment and realized her heart was beating wildly. She took a deep breath, opened her eyes and walked toward the large wooden table. Her mind was in a whirl, and she felt almost giddy.
She was about to be married! To a man she deeply loved, but who was also the Crown Prince of France. Could it be true? That a peasant woman would be the chosen wife of a man such as Henry? She wished more than ever that her father were alive. She had so many questions. So many things she wanted to tell him.
Thinking of her father brought her focus back to the table and the dozen or so fine books that lay there. She walked around the table and was finally able to read the names on their spines.
Some of the books she was familiar with--Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. She had read "The Republic" when she was twelve.
But, there were others...books she had heard of but never read. Dante's "Inferno" was supposed to be brilliant, but she had never seen a French translation. And there was "Beowulf," and a folio of "Canterbury Tales," which she had read as bedtime stories since before her father had died. Even a copy of Erasmus's "Praise of Folly" which she had heard had been written in the home of Sir Thomas More, who had written her beloved "Utopia."
She continued to let her eyes absorb the treasure of literature before her, but froze when her eyes came upon the most beautiful book she had ever seen. It was crimson leather, with gold leaf embossing--deeply tooled with scrolling vines and flowers. The cover alone took her breath away. She moved to it and carefully lifted it. She opened the cover and read the name.
"Morte d'Arthur." Her breath caught and she was suddenly transported back to her childhood. Her father had returned from a trip to England when she was six with a beautiful doll. The small delicate figurine had had red hair, and a fair complexion.
"She reminded me of you, Danielle!" He had said.
"But, she is much, much prettier!" Danielle had said, awestruck by the precious gift.
"Someday, you will put her to shame." He had said tenderly.
"What is her name, papa?" Danielle had asked.
"Gweniver. And she is a queen." Her father had told her.
"A queen..." Danielle had said wistfully.
Her father had heard the tales of Arthur and Camelot, and Gweniver and the Round Table; and had told Danielle as much as he could remember. But, he had never been able to find a copy of the book.
Now, she held it in her arms. She turned the pages slowly and found an illustration of an auburn haired beauty staring back at her--a sword in her hands and a man kneeling before her.
"Gweniver..." Danielle breathed.
"And I was right. You do put her to shame, my darling Danielle." She heard her father's voice telling her. She smiled and held the book to her breast. A single tear fell from the corner of her eye.
"I love you, papa." She breathed.
"And I love you."
Danielle sniffled and then set the book carefully on the table. She knew the time had come for her to meet Henry in the chapel, and she did not want to make him wait. She dried her eyes with the hem of her sleeve and then walked in the same direction the abbot had gone. She found the monk they had met when they had arrived waiting for her.
"May I take you to the chapel, child?" The monk asked.
"Yes, please." Danielle softly replied.
Note: I was curious about the actual ritual of the Catholic wedding ceremony in the 1530s. So, I spent some time researching and found this excellent paper on the subject. Most of my ceremony is derived from this source: http://www.drizzle.com/~celyn/mrwp/mrwed.html.
Danielle was lead from the rectory, out into the crisp September sunshine. She felt the cool breeze of the afternoon, but felt no chill. Instead, she felt warm--wonderfully warm and happy. She was about to wed Henry!
The young monk who was showing her to the chapel looked at his feet the whole way. Danielle wondered if he were especially shy--or was it because of whom she was marrying that he seemed so timid.
"What is your name?" She asked him as they walked through a boxwood knotgarden toward the large wooden doors of the chapel.
"Mi...Michael, my lady." He stammered.
"*Father* Michael?" She asked kindly.
"Oh, no. Not yet. I am a novice. Just Michael for now." He smiled and actually looked up at her.
"Well, Michael, I thank you for guiding me."
His face went pink and Danielle saw his Adam's apple bob when he tried to swallow. Michael bowed to her.
Danielle looked up at the doors of the chapel. They were plain wooden doors, polished to gleam like glass. She stepped forward and was about to walk across the threshold.
"My lady!" Michael softly called out. She stopped and turned toward him. "Father Joseph said you should wait outside."
Danielle's eyebrows went up at this, but she stopped and turned toward the courtyard. There was now a flutter in her stomach, as her nerves began to work on her peace of mind.
"Lady Danielle." Danielle turned toward the voice calling her name, and saw Father Joseph walking toward her. Behind him was Henry and Laurent. Henry had laced up his doublet, and his hair was freshly combed. Over his shoulders and across his chest was a heavy golden chain she had seen on him the afternoon before when he had come to le Pieu's to rescue her. As he walked toward her their eyes met, and she had to remind herself to breathe. She thought he was astonishingly handsome, and she longed to be in his arms.
Father Joseph came to a stop before Danielle and he motioned for Henry to step beside her. They moved toward each other and Henry took Danielle's hand in his own again, as if it had been weeks since the last time they touched instead of only minutes.
"I need to ask you both again: are you certain you wish to be wed today?" Father Joseph asked them formally.
"We are, Father." They both responded.
"Danielle, have you come before me today of your own free will; ready to pledge your body and soul to Henry in the Holy sacrament of marriage?"
"Yes, Father. I have."
Henry, have you come before me today of your own free will; ready to pledge your body and soul to Danielle in the Holy sacrament of marriage?"
Father Joseph smiled and then said, "Then let us go inside and tell God about your decision!" They all smiled and the abbot led the small group inside the chapel.
The chapel was silent. So very quiet Danielle could hear the distinct sounds of their steps echoing through the rather large space. The afternoon sun streamed through the jewel-like stained glass windows, throwing beautiful rainbow showers of light across the otherwise dim room. At the end of the isle she could see the alter was much brighter owing to the hundreds of beeswax candles that were burning there. Incense from the monks' earlier prayers still lingered in the space and Danielle felt a shiver fly up her spine at the spiritually charged atmosphere.
Father Joseph reached the alter a few steps ahead of them and then he turned. He looked at them and smiled again. He made the sign of the cross over their heads and Danielle and Henry crossed themselves, Danielle curtseying as she did so.
"We come together today to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony." Father Joseph said without preamble. Danielle could see Henry from the corner of her eye. He looked confident and at peace. She swallowed hard, knowing the moment was upon them.
"Do you, Danielle de Barbarac, take Henry as your lawfully wedded husband; to love him and honor him from this day forth for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do." Came Danielle's soft reply.
"Do you, Henry Francis Louis Arthur Bourbon, take Danielle as your lawfully wedded wife; to love her and honor her from this day forth for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do." Henry said eagerly.
"And do you, Henry, have a token of your love for Danielle?" Father Joseph asked.
Danielle nearly gasped. They didn't have a ring! They should have told Father Joseph. She looked up with worried eyes, and was shocked to find Henry smiling triumphantly at her.
Danielle gaped at Henry as he pulled from his own pinky a golden ring set with a square cut ruby and seed pearls.
"Where...?" She breathed.
Henry looked up and smiled at Father Joseph as if to ask if it would be all right for them to stop the ceremony so he could explain. The abbot smiled and nodded his head.
"The Bourbon family jewels are scattered all around this country, Danielle. One of the reasons I wanted to come here--to this monastery, was because I remembered that one of my favorite rings was in the vault here." He held it out toward her, and she watched the light dance and flash deep beneath its wine colored surface.
"Henry, it is exquisite." She breathed.
"I am glad you like it." He said, and she could tell he was relieved.
"Now then: Henry, do you have a token of your love for Danielle?" Father Joseph asked again.
"I have." Henry replied.
Henry had prepared for this part of the ceremony with Princess Gabriella. With her in mind it had seemed a mockery. Now, he rejoiced at the giving of this precious token.
He brought the circle of gold to his lips and kissed it before reaching for Danielle's hand. Her eyes had gone as round as he had ever seen them, and her hand trembled slightly in his.
"With this ring I thee wed, This gold and jewels I thee give, With my body I thee worship And with all my worldly goods I thee endow;"
He slipped the ring over the tip of her left thumb and said, "In the name of the Father,"
And then he moved it to her left index finger "and of the Son,"
And then slipped it all the way onto her middle finger and said, "And of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
They looked up from the ring at the same time. Henry's eyes were full of unshed tears and Danielle was already weeping. They looked at each other for a long moment--silently communicating their love. One tear finally fell from Henry's hazel eyes before Father Joseph softly spoke.
"Please join hands." Father Joseph stepped forward and looped a piece of golden cord around their joined hands and said, "Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
"You may kiss your bride, Henry."
They both sniffled a moment and then smiled. The priest's reminder had lightened their mood and their mouths met with smiles upon their lips. Henry kissed her chastely, but Danielle, her every sense aroused by the ceremony and the excitement of the moment, clasped her hands around the back of his head and drew her to him fiercely. Henry instantly responded by putting his arms around her and drawing her close. They kissed for a bit longer than was strictly necessary, but no one around them seemed to mind.
Henry was the first to draw back, perhaps because he was aware that his best friend was standing beside him, and his favorite mentor was standing before him. Whatever the reason, he drew away from Danielle and took a shuddering breath. His eyes however, told her that he longed for more.
Father Joseph cleared his throat and asked them to kneel.
Henry, Danielle and Laurent all kneeled and Father Joseph began the wedding mass. Danielle heard the words, and responded with the correct phrases at the correct times, and she did feel moved by the intimate nature of the religious sacrament, but her mind was in a whirl. More than once, while her head was bowed for prayer, she snuck a look at the ring on her hand.
They were receiving communion--their wedding ceremony almost at an end, when the Abby bells began to chime. It was noon, and the monks were being called to prayer. Danielle, however, imagined the joyful noise was just for them.
They rose when Father Joseph told them they should and he blessed them again.
"Go into the world as husband and wife, and my blessing upon you both." The abbot said to complete the ceremony. Danielle and Henry looked at one another and their faces were filled with joy.
"Your Highness, I hope you will stay and share our afternoon meal." Father Joseph said to them as they walked back down the isle to the doors.
Henry looked at Danielle quickly and she smiled back. "We would like that, Father." Henry's voice sounded happy and relieved and something else.... Danielle couldn't quite put her finger on it.
"Good. Follow Michael to the rectory and he will show you to my table. I will return after noon prayers."
"Yes, Father." They both said. Father Joseph chuckled at their sudden obedience and left them to return to the chapel.
Michael lead them into the sun filled rectory. It was empty, but they could smell all kinds of delightful dishes in the kitchen beyond the far wall.
"Would you like some wine?" Michael asked them when they had sat at the high table.
"I think I'm already drunk with love." Henry said dramatically. Laurent groaned and motioned for Michael to poor him a cup.
"Well, I'm not. Poor me a large glass, please, Michael. It has been quite a day!" Laurent walked toward the young man.
"And you, Madame?" Michael asked, turning toward them again. Danielle smiled sweetly and then started.
"Oh! You're talking to me?!" She gasped.
"Yes, you *Madame.*" Henry laughed and wrapped his arms around her. "And soon, Princess." He breathed against her hair.
Danielle slowly shook her head from side to side. But, then she looked up at Michael and said, "Michael, I think I will have some wine, thank you." The young monk bowed and poured Danielle's wine into a beautiful silver goblet.
She sipped it and licked her lips. "Henry, this is excellent. Don't you want any?"
"Maybe later, my love." He said.
They both turned at the sound of footsteps. The monks were returning from their prayers and filling the long benches at the tables. Father Joseph was last to enter the rectory, and he made his way straight to Danielle and Henry.
"Please sit. I see Michael has poured the wine--Henry, aren't you having any?" The abbot said as he took his seat at the center of the high table. He indicated that Henry should sit to his right and Danielle to his left.
"Why is everyone so interested in what I'm drinking?" Henry laughed.
"Oh, well, I was only asking for selfish reasons. We vinted the wine here at the Abby and I wanted to know what you thought of it." Father Joseph replied.
"Ah, in that case I will have a glass. Thank you Father." Henry laughed and motioned for Michael to pour him a glass. "Far be it from me to deny you the pleasure of showing off your winemaking skills." Henry took a sip of the wine and held it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing it.
"Excellent, Father. Really excellent." Henry seemed genuinely impressed.
Father Joseph seemed to swell with pride for a moment, and then he sighed. He was a man of the cloth afterall. He wasn't supposed to feel prideful. Danielle smiled behind her goblet, and then she caught Henry's eye. He had seen her smile and he grinned. They had both been thinking the same thing!
The food was then brought to the tables. They were served by laymen who worked at the Abby, and Danielle thought the food was wonderful. Meats and vegetables prepared without fuss or pretense. She particularly enjoyed the chicken, which she had never been allowed to eat at home since it was reserved for Rodmilla and her daughters.
"So, I need to hear more about this mutual love of books you two share." Father Joseph said between courses. "The last time I saw Henry reading, he was devouring a book on the Roman conquests of Gaul. Somehow, I don't think that that is your kind of thing, Danielle."
Danielle laughed. "No, Father. Though I have read some of Pliny's accounts of those battles." Father Joseph's eyebrows raised. "It was "Utopia" that brought us together." Danielle said.
Henry leaned forward suddenly and shook his head slightly from side to side. Danielle did not understand his discomfort.
"Utopia. Huh! Not exactly a popular book with the church *or* the nobility." Father Joseph said, his voice suddenly cold.
Danielle tilted her head for a moment. Henry was still shaking his head very slightly back and forth and then he took a large sip of his wine.
"We were debating it, Father. Nothing more." Henry said after he swallowed the wine.
Danielle suddenly felt unsure. She could tell that Henry did not want her to express her views on Thomas More's egalitarian views; but, she was who she was--his wife or no.
"I think it is one of the most remarkable books ever written." She said.
Henry's face looked slightly pained and then he shrugged and took another gulp of wine.
"Really?" Father Joseph's voice sounded most disapproving. "And what other kinds of books do you think remarkable?" He asked.
Henry leaned out a bit more and his eyes begged her to be good. She smiled at his worried expression. She was not an idiot. She did not want to put a strain on his relationship with Father Joseph.
"*Le Mort d'Arthur* was in your study, Father. I think it is the most beautiful book I have ever seen." She replied softly. She watched Henry breathe a sigh of relief and she closed her eyes briefly to savor the small victory. She had pleased her husband--and it had not been a lie!
"Ah, yes. Now there is a book worth studying." Father Joseph replied. "I...I mean *we*--the ABBY, is most fortunate to have that particular copy. It was created by a group of very talented monks in Wales twenty years ago. Did you look inside?"
"I did take a quick peek, Father." Danielle admitted.
"Breathtaking. That's the best word for the quality of the illumination. Breathtaking! I try to look at that book at least once a day." Father Joseph's eyes had a far away look.
Danielle smiled and now had a better idea of why Henry had so liked this man. Father Joseph was a romantic--just as he was!
At last the meal was finished, and the rest of the monks were returning to their work. Father Joseph stood up and bade them follow him. Henry looked as if he had other plans, but he fell into step beside his former teacher obediently.
"I'm not sure where you plan to...um, spend the night." The abbot actually sounded embarrassed. Laurent hid a grin behind his hand, and Henry looked on innocently. Danielle, however, felt her heart skip a beat and then start to beat faster just at the thought.
"But, I thought a carriage might be a more comfortable way to get there than horseback." The abbot lead them out of a side door and they walked across to the mews. Danielle saw a beautiful black carriage waiting for them, hitched to a matching pair of bays. She smiled at the abbot and placed her hand on his arm.
"Thank you, Father. You are most kind." Then she leaned in and gave the older man a peck on the cheek.
The abbot looked almost flustered by Danielle's affectionate behavior. "It is nothing! My goodness!" He exclaimed.
Henry helped Danielle into the carriage and then turned to the abbot. "Thank you Father." Henry said sincerely. And then he climbed into the carriage and sat beside Danielle.
Danielle saw Laurent speaking to a monk and then they shook hands. She wondered if this was the "Friar Luc" she had heard Laurent speak of earlier. Laurent walked up to the carriage and looked at Henry. He nodded and smiled at the prince, who's face then lit up with a huge smile. Laurent walked to the driver of the carriage and whispered something to him and the driver nodded once then slapped the reins to start the horses moving.
"Henry? What's going on?" Danielle asked as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close.
"What's going on?" He repeated with mock innocence. "Why, we are leaving the monastery, Danielle. What else could be going on?" Then he laughed at her scowl.
Henry laughed and stroked the side of her face. "All will be revealed in due course, my love. No worries." Then he leaned toward her and kissed her passionately.
"Henry Francis Louis Arthur Bourbon!" Danielle carefully pronounced Henry's name and smiled at him. "Do all princes have five names?" She snuggled back into his arms even closer and turned toward the window of the carriage. The afternoon sunshine tinted the forest in shades of gold as it streaked by outside.
They had been traveling for close to an hour. Danielle was tired, but excited too. She knew Henry had something special planned for their first night together. Some of which she suspected--as every maid who was now a wife must suspect on her wedding night. But where, when and how.... These were the questions she really wanted to ask, but found she was too nervous to. And so she tucked up her legs on the bench beside her, leaned back against Henry and tried to find subjects that seemed safe.
"I don't know about all princes." Henry replied softly. His mouth was a mere centimeter away, and she felt his breath caress the shell of her ear. Danielle closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on what he was telling her.
"My father has five names, and I believe his father did. Perhaps it is a French custom. I've never really thought about it." Henry sounded surprised by her interest in his name.
"I think Henry is the most wonderful name." She sighed. She felt him silently chuckle and looked back at him. "What?"
"It is nothing, my love. You just make me happy, that's all." Henry told her and then he kissed her neck. She felt tiny goosebumps erupt all over her body and she sighed again. Henry's mouth worked its way toward the exposed skin of her shoulder and she instinctively tilted her head to give him better access to her neck. She felt his arms tighten around her waist as he reacted to her sensuality.
Danielle's heart started beating faster and faster, and there was an unfamiliar sensation deep inside her. His mouth moved slowly over her pale skin, seeking, questing. His tongue slipped out between his lips and swirled over the throbbing artery on the side of her neck and she couldn't help but moan.
"Henry..." She sighed his name. His mouth was now moving up, toward her jaw and then to the side of her face. She closed her eyes and his lips brushed over her eyelids--it was possibly the most remarkable feeling she had ever experienced. His face was lightly stubbled and it rasped against the smooth skin of her cheek. His bangs had fallen into his eyes and they tickled her brow. His breath was sweet from the fruit they had eaten at the monastery and made her want to taste him.
"Henry, I...." Danielle began but his lips claimed hers before she could say another word. She turned slightly in his arms and returned the kiss. Her hands wove into his hair and she pressed herself even closer against the hard plains of his body.
She loved the feel of his lips; their fullness, the way the lower lip pouted. She remembered their kiss from the night before in the gypsy camp and she tried something that he had done to her. Her tongue slid out between her lips and she licked his bottom lip that she loved so much. His hands suddenly clenched on the fabric of her dress and she heard him gasp.
"Danielle?" He breathed. She watched as he struggled to open his eyes, as if he'd been drugged. Danielle tried to swallow and wondered if she had offended him. But, when his eyes finally did open, she knew he was not displeased. There was a fire burning there that was like the one the night before in the gypsy camp. Her mouth dropped open a little in shock and they continued to stare at each other until Henry slowly reached up and placed one index finger against her lips. Danielle froze--not knowing what to do. His eyes were drawn to her mouth, and he traced her lips with his finger as if memorizing them.
Danielle felt his finger moving over her lips and it left a tingling path behind it. She felt as if he had mesmerized her with his touch, and her body ached to feel more.
But, she would have to wait. Danielle felt the carriage slowing and the sounds of the horses slowing to a trot. Henry withdrew his hand and held her elbow to steady her as the carriage came to a stop.
"Danielle, you make me feel..." Henry began, but Laurent interrupted when he opened the door of the carriage. Henry's eyes closed for a moment and then he kissed Danielle's hand.
"We have arrived, Your Highness." Laurent told Henry. "All is as you ordered." Laurent stepped to the side to let Henry exit the carriage.
"Good, thank you Captain. Come, Danielle, I have something to show you." Henry told her and then he climbed from the carriage. Danielle grasped his hand and stepped out into the mid-afternoon sunshine. She looked up and saw a beautiful stone cottage.
"Do you like it?" Henry asked her as he stepped beside her and looked up at the cottage with her. His face was beaming.
"It's charming, Henry." She did like it very much, but what business did they have stopping at some poor farmer's house?
"Good! I think you'll like the inside even more." He laughed when she did not move toward the house with him. "Come on! It's all right!"
Danielle walked toward the house and Henry opened the door for her. They stepped inside and were followed by Laurent.
The cottage was as delightful inside as out. The front hall had two rooms on either side. One was a dining room and the other a sitting room. A bright fire already burned in the fireplace of the sitting room, and Danielle moved toward it. She noticed the furnishings were surprisingly rich--several were even upholstered, and there was gilding on the mirror above the mantle. Danielle turned to look at the rest of the room.
On the longest wall was a beautiful oil painting of a mother and child in contemporary dress. The woman was wearing a simple cotton gown, her hair was loose and glowed with the same red hue as the fire. The little boy in her arms was dark haired and had the most remarkable green eyes Danielle had ever seen in a child. She smiled at the tenderness captured in the painting and then moved toward the other room.
The dining room was much like the dining room at her home. A table on the far wall displayed a dozen or more pieces of pewter and silver, but these were much finer than the Barbarac Manor had. There was also a tapestry hanging over one wall. Danielle was struck by the fine workmanship.
This was no farmer's house.
"What do you think of my mother's house?" Henry slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him.
"Your mother's?!" Danielle exclaimed and tried to turn in Henry's arms. He held her fast and chuckled.
"She's not here right now, if that's what you're concerned about."
"No, well..." Danielle hesitated as she contemplated the startling idea of meeting the Queen. "No! That's not it. This little cottage is your mother's?" Danielle finally squirmed around and faced Henry.
"She comes here when she wants to escape the pressures of court. Father had it built for her early in their marriage. She calls it her "La Maison Simple." I used to come here with her when I was little. I've always loved it." He said, his voice becoming more wistful toward the end of his explanation.
"Oh, Henry. Thank you." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. He smiled and looked down at her.
"For sharing all these special places with me. The Abby, Amboise, and now your mother's house. It's wonderful."
Henry blushed and looked as if he were embarrassed by her gratitude. "Are you hungry?" He whispered.
Danielle thought about it for a moment. If she were honest she would have to say that she was too nervous to eat. There was also the fact that it had only been two hours since they had eaten at the Abby.
"No, Henry. I'm not hungry."
They stared at each other, neither of them knowing what to do next and the moment stretched out until it became awkward.
"Well..." Henry said.
"Uh...well?" Danielle responded. She almost felt like laughing. Was he waiting for her to make the first move? In the carriage they had almost gotten carried away. Now it was as if they had never touched each other before.
"Your Highness, will there be anything else you require before dinner?" Laurent spoke softly from the entrance.
Henry grinned at his friend's discretion. He would have to thank Laurent when they got back to Hautefort. "No, Captain. I have all I need."
Danielle smiled and lowered her eyes.
"In that case, I'll return to the palace as we discussed and bring Charles back. Is there anything in particular you want me to tell him?"
"Ah, no. Not really. Just tell him what has happened, and for God's sake, Laurent; DON'T let anyone else know about this. I do not want my father storming in here tonight!"
"Of course Henry. I understand." Laurent said as he bowed and then closed the door behind him.
Henry looked back at Danielle. Her eyes were still avoiding his, and she seemed uneasy.
"Yes, Henry?" She replied, still not looking up at him.
"We are alone at last." He told her.
"I had figured that out, Your Highness." She said with something like her usual feisty self.
He laughed and pulled her head to his shoulder. He stroked her and pressed his cheek against the top of her head.
"Are you nervous?" He asked. Instead of answering, she nodded her head. He smiled to himself and kissed her hair.
"I'm sorry, Danielle. I've been in such a rush to get us married, and I want so much to...um...," Henry paused. Danielle thought she knew what he had wanted to say. "Anyway, I'm afraid I haven't given you time to adjust to all of this."
"It's not that Henry." Danielle spoke softly. She felt his arms tighten around her comfortingly and she sighed.
"Then what, love? Are you afraid of what will happen?" Henry knew her better than she had thought. She closed her eyes and nodded again. She felt him move back a little and then his hands were cupping her face. She opened her eyes to find him leaning over a little so they could be eye to eye.
"I love you Danielle. Nothing we do...or *don't* do will change that." Henry told her, and then he smiled. "No worries, remember?"
"I love you too, Henry. And I want to please you." Henry opened his mouth to say something, and she shook her head and gently placed her fingers over his lips. He looked surprised, but did not interrupt.
"You're right. I am a little frightened about...tonight. You are the only man I have ever kissed, let alone...well...I feel that I will not know what to do, or how to please you. And I want to Henry, I really want to." Danielle's voice had deepened when she felt his lips kiss her fingers and she could not help thinking how his mouth might feel other places. A surprising warmth spread up her body and she felt her face flush.
Henry reached up and carefully pulled her hand away from his mouth so that he could speak. "We have the rest of our lives to please each other, Danielle. Let us enjoy this day without fears or worries." He then kissed the back of her hand and straightened.
"Come. Let me show you the gardens. I think you might enjoy them." Henry backed away and lead her toward the front door. She took a deep breath to steady herself and then nodded to him.
They walked back out of the cottage into the sunshine. She saw that the carriage was still out front, but someone had unhitched the horses and they were in the meadow on the other side of the road. The driver was gone, as was Captain Laurent. They were truly alone.
"My mother is quite the gardener, Danielle." Henry began. He wrapped an arm around her waist and they walked to the side of the cottage. The path was nearly overgrown with the number of flowers and plants fighting for space.
"She calls this garden her 'country garden,' and I think you can see why. Most people don't believe that she actually gets down on her hands and knees and tends the flower beds, but she does!" Henry laughed as they had to step over some sunflowers that had fallen across the path.
"It reminds me of home." Danielle said almost so quietly he did not hear her. Then she smiled and looked up at Henry. "But, we don't have it looking this way by design. We just can't keep up with it."
"Mother has all kinds of plants in here." Henry went on. He was trying to distract her from thoughts of home.
"I believe she brought that rosemary bush back from Rome, when she visited the Pope two years ago. And there is the lavender from her childhood home in Brittany." Danielle stopped and looked at Henry.
"What is it?" He asked.
"You know about herbs?" She asked him.
Henry laughed. "I know what they look like, and I know where Mother got them. But I am no gardener, Danielle--never had the patience for it." She nodded and they continued walking.
Around the back of the cottage, Danielle heard the sound of running water, and when she peered around a tall lilac bush she saw a fountain.
"I like to sit out here at night and watch the fountain." Henry told her when he saw her looking at it. Danielle stepped away from him and walked toward it.
It was not a large fountain, and in fact there were much larger ones than this in town, but it was beautiful none-the-less. The central figure was of a wood nymph holding an overflowing bowl. Below her, fish seemed to be jumping and playing in the splashes. Danielle smiled and then laughed. Somehow the fountain just made her happy.
Henry stepped close behind her and his arm reached around her. She was startled because the sound of the splashing water had masked his approach, but then she smiled when she saw the red rose in his hand. His other hand circled around her waist and pulled her towards him.
"One of the last roses of the season, I'm afraid." Henry whispered in her ear. She reached out and touched the ruffled petals. "I wish that there had been flowers at our wedding." Henry told her.
"I wouldn't have changed a thing, Henry. Our wedding was perfect." Danielle turned in his arms and her smile faded when she saw how earnest he was.
"You deserve to be treated like a queen, Danielle. You are so brilliant, so beautiful."
"Henry, you're going to swell my head!" Danielle tried to tease him, but he was having none of it.
"You don't even realize how special you are." Henry breathed. Danielle closed her eyes and smiled. She was feeling quite flushed and his words were making her dizzy.
"Kiss me, Henry." She said. She felt him draw nearer and then his arms were wrapped around her tightly and his mouth was caressing hers. Danielle pressed herself against Henry and her hands gripped his shoulders. The dizziness redoubled when his tongue swept across her lips and then entered her mouth. When Henry groaned Danielle nearly fell to her knees.
Even though she had never kissed a man before that night in the gypsy camp, she was not an ignorant girl. She had grown up on a farm, tending animals and knew the mechanics of reproduction. Danielle had been a precocious girl, and she knew that she had given Paulette and Louise more than one fright by her forthright questions. Paulette in particular had been flustered by Danielle's adolescence, and it was only because of Louise that Danielle had any real idea of what went on between a man and a wife.
Now, *she* was a wife. She was in her husband's arms, and he was loving her with his body in a way she had never thought would happen to her. She was afraid, but more and more that fear was being replaced by a hunger she could not deny.
Danielle felt Henry's hands wander up and down her back as he kissed her again and again. His skin was starting to burn hers where they touched, and every time his hands caressed her sides she felt her body try to turn into his touch. She did not completely understand what was happening to her, but it was exciting and she wanted more.
Henry touched her chastely on her back and neck and shoulders. Danielle had no idea the amount of self-control her prince was exercising by not going any further, but she knew her own need was becoming unbearable. His hand was stroking her collarbones with surpassing gentleness, when she felt her nipples hardening under her dress. Suddenly, she knew what he wanted to touch, and she wanted him to.
Danielle reached up and covered his hand with her own. He froze and opened his eyes. She felt herself tremble at the almost pained look on his face. Her eyes caught his and she stared at him with wide eyes while she pulled his hand down to her breast. She watched in rapt awe as his mouth dropped open and his eyelids fluttered closed. She pushed herself toward his hand and he groaned.
"Danielle...nnnnggggghhhh." His thumb rubbed over the fullness of her breast, and she felt it slide over her nipple. A small whimper escaped her throat before her lips were consumed by Henry's. She had never experienced anything like it! She had a power she did not know existed.
She slid one hand down his back until it passed his doublet. His perfectly formed backside was tightly encased in his hose and when she touched him there, she could feel the muscles flex under her touch. She eased her other hand down to match the first and felt her knees tremble when he groaned again.
He tore away from the kiss and gasped for air. "I thought you said you hadn't..." Henry made a strangling sound as her hands lightly caressed him. His eyes were wild, and she almost felt like giggling. Almost....
"Beginner's luck, my lord." She whispered close to his ear. Henry shivered and then swept her up into his arms. She yelped with surprise as he carried her toward the cottage.
Danielle thought about protesting; it was unnerving to be carried as if she were a child. But, then again, it was incredibly exciting too. She was not a featherweight, and he was carrying her as if she weighed nothing at all. She felt the muscles of his arms surround her, powerfully enveloping her in his embrace. Danielle shivered and then leaned in to nuzzle against the side of his neck.
Henry paused only a moment at the back door of the cottage. He unlatched the door with the toe of his boot and then pushed it open with the same foot. He carried her inside the cottage and then began to climb the stairs. Danielle's heart was now beating painfully fast.
She saw more paintings and several doors before Henry walked to the room farthest from the stairs. He pushed this door open with his shoulder and then stopped. Danielle looked up and saw him looking around the room.
"It's just as I remember it." His voice was low and soft.
Danielle looked away from his face and around the room. They were in a cozy, timberframed room. The walls of glazed plaster glowed from the golden sunshine streaming through the leaded windows. A fireplace filled most of one wall and a bed sat across from it. Danielle felt her heart skip a beat when she looked at the massive four-poster draped with crimson brocade.
Her gazed traveled around the room again and she noticed several dozen unlit candles perched on every surface. In the corner, near the windows sat two wooden chairs, a small table, and a bookshelf. Finally, she looked back at Henry who was staring at her most intently.
"Will this do?" He murmured.
"It is lovely, Henry." She whispered back. Then he kissed her, and she felt the excitement begin to build again. His hands kneaded her arm and her thigh where he still held her and she moved her hands against his chest. Her fingers came in contact with the laces of his doublet and she began to unlace it--her fingers unconsciously doing what her mind only barely understood needed to be done.
She wanted to feel him--to run her hands over his body and discover everything about him. And she wanted him to touch her too.
Her hands finally loosened his doublet and his shirt enough to snake underneath. She placed her hand against his chest and slowly rubbed her fingers back and forth against his skin. He felt terribly warm, almost as if he had a fever. They both moaned and she felt Henry moving again.
He stopped and Danielle opened her eyes as he slowly lay her down on the bed. Henry's right knee was braced on the edge of the bed while he straightened and then quickly unlaced the rest of his doublet. The gold chain went over his head and to the floor with a noisy clatter, and then he stripped off the rich crimson doublet. His hands went back to the laces of his shirt, but Danielle sat up and placed her own hands on his.
He looked at her with something like panic in his eyes. "Danielle? Do you not wish...?" Then he made a strangled noise as her hands seductively slipped the laces free of the fine linen shirt. His eyes closed and she saw his hands drop to his sides where they clenched into fists. She rose to her knees and faced him, concentrating on freeing him from the shirt.
Finally, Danielle pulled the last lace free and his shirt hung open to the middle of his chest. She bit her lip and wondered what to do next. Henry opened his eyes again, and they burned with green fire. His strong hands began pulling the shirt over his head. She noticed everything as if in a dream. The pull and stretch of his muscles as he brought the shirt over his head. The tightening of his abdomen as he worked it down his arms--his skin was smooth and golden. His hair had became tousled when he pulled the shirt over his head and he looked rather rakish with his hair hanging in his eyes.
Danielle watched the shirt flutter to the floor to join the doublet and then her eyes traveled back up his body. He was more beautiful (for that was the only word she could think to describe him) than she had imagined. His body reminded her of a classical sculpture--all firm plains and hard muscle. Her mouth went dry as her breathing quickened. Finally, her eyes met his again. There was a mixture of tenderness and raw desire on his face. Danielle's eyes opened wide and her mouth dropped open.
Henry's face softened a bit when he saw how nervous she was, and he reached for her left hand. He brought it to his lips and then kissed her middle finger close to her wedding ring. Danielle smiled at the sweetness of the gesture, and he returned the smile. Then he lead her hand toward his body, and lay it upon his chest over his heart. She trembled, but pressed her hand against him.
"Henry..." She breathed.
"Can you feel how fast my heart is beating Danielle?" He asked her. She nodded and stared at her hand resting on his chest.
"You cannot imagine how much I've wanted you to touch me." Henry leaned toward her and whispered in her ear. She shivered as his breath stirred the tiny hairs on the side of her neck and she felt a rush of excitement flood her body.
"You have filled my dreams." He told her. His hand left hers and moved to her neck. His fingers ran along her skin down to her chest where he finally pressed his hand over her heart.
Danielle felt his touch like a firebrand. It was making every nerve pulse with need, and suddenly she felt drunk. She did not want to feel afraid anymore; she wanted only to feel.
Danielle removed her hand from Henry's chest and brought both hands to the ties of her dress. Henry's hand fell away from her skin but she did not look up at him for fear she would loose her nerve again. Instead, she concentrated on unlacing the dress. The bodice was quickly undone, and she was slipping the light blue brocade off her shoulders. Her hands reached for the ties of her undergown and she had just slipped the tie loose when Henry's hands engulfed her shoulders and pulled her toward him. His mouth found hers in a passionate kiss. She whimpered and struggled to meet his need.
His hands moved to the material at the top of her shoulders and began pushing it down her arms. Suddenly, her hands instinctively moved to cover her breasts and held the undergown to her until Henry backed away from the kiss to look at her.
He seemed to be struggling to catch his breath when he stopped kissing her, and he licked his lips. His eyes flashed between her eyes and her hands holding up her gown over and over again. Danielle looked at him--stripped to his waist and wanted to meet him in kind, but she was suddenly afraid of what he would see. In the heat of passion she had almost forgotten about the scars on her back and the bruises she had received over the past weeks.
"Henry, I...I need to tell you something." Her voice barely a whisper.
"What is it, my love?" He cupped the side of her face and waited with more patience than she thought possible from a man who always got what he wanted.
"There are scars...on my back, and bruises." Her eyes fell to the bed as she struggled with her self-consciousness.
"Scars?" Henry hissed.
"I was whipped.... The wounds have healed, but Esme said they are rather frightening looking."
Henry's grip on her shoulders almost became painful as his emotions took over. "Whipped! Oh my God! By whom?"
"It isn't important Henry." Danielle was frightened by the rage in Henry's voice. "I...I just wanted you to know before you saw them."
She finally met his eyes and watched at least a dozen different emotions cloud his face. She could tell he was angry, and confused and very worried. Danielle reached out with one hand and placed it against the side of his face.
"I'm all right Henry; and we are together now. What happened in the past does not matter." She watched his lips twitch and his brow crease. He wanted to say something, she could tell; but she did not want to make her injuries a barrier to their happiness. Danielle leaned toward him and kissed the slight cleft in his chin. Then she placed tiny kisses all over his jaw and up the side of his face. She watched his eyes close again, and she knew she had replaced his anxiety with desire once again.
His hands stroked her arms as she continued to kiss him with teasing nips. Finally, his hands began to pull at her gown, and she let her hand fall away. She felt the soft cotton slip over her chest, down her breast and then finally fall in a puddle around her knees. Henry's mouth moved to hers and he delved inside her mouth with his tongue. She wrapped her own around his and shuddered in his arms.
His hands pressed into her back, moving her toward him, until at last her bare skin met his. Danielle gasped when her breasts touched his chest and Henry sighed.
She rubbed against him, feeling his body with her own. Danielle could barely believe the sensations that were inundating her body. She threw her head back and moaned when her nipples hardened. There was a sudden rush of heat and moisture between her legs and she was almost startled enough to pull away. Instead, the feeling excited her even more, and she moaned again.
"Oh, Danielle!" Henry's voice was strangled with passion. He leaned over her and pressed his mouth against the side of her neck. He found the sensitive spot on her neck instantly and she cried out. His hands tightened on her arms in response, but he made no sound as he slowly moved his mouth down her neck and to her chest.
Danielle wanted to collapse. She had no idea how her body was still upright anyway, but when she felt his mouth traveling toward her breast she was sure she was about to faint. And then she felt warm wet heat envelope her nipple and she was lost. She cried out his name and arched toward him even more. His hands slipped to her back and supported her while his mouth laved at her pebbled flesh. Her hands wrapped around his biceps and hung on.
When Henry moved to the other breast she could take it no more. She began to sink down to the bed. Henry moved with her and soon she was sprawled out across the bed and he was pressing his body against hers, one of his thighs moved between her own and she felt him moving his groin against her hip.
But, most of her concentration, in fact most of her world had become the sensations he was creating with his mouth. She had had no idea a man's mouth could even do the things he was doing to her, and she briefly wondered if he enjoyed what he was doing. Her breaths came in short pants between her cries of pleasure. Her hands grasped at his back and slipped into his hair.
Henry had brought her to an almost wanton state, as he continued to tease and arouse her. And when her back arched off the bed, and she cried out he pulled back and froze. She settled back to the covers with a sigh and when his mouth did not return to her she slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him.
His eyes were tightly shut and he had his bottom lip between his teeth. It was as if he were concentrating very hard. Danielle tried to catch her breath and figure out what was wrong.
"Henry?" She whispered. The corner of his mouth twitched when he heard her calling to him, but he still did not open his eyes. Every fiber of her body wanted to move--to mold itself to him and become part of him, but perhaps he did not feel the same? Her ignorance made her unsure, and she needed to know what he was thinking.
"Henry, are you all right?" She asked. Danielle thought her voice sounded too loud in the small room, and she wished she hadn't spoken as soon as she had said it.
But, to her relief, Henry slowly opened his eyes and the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly in a smile.
"Sweet Danielle," he almost laughed. "I'm just trying to do this right." Henry told her finally. She tilted her head slightly and her brow creased.
"It felt right to me." Danielle whispered. This made Henry smile, and she sighed with relief.
"Oh, God, Danielle. It feels beyond right!" Henry groaned, his eyes closing again briefly. Danielle was reassured by his words and reached up to pull his lips down to hers. She kissed him sweetly and then rubbed her nose against his.
"I love you, Henry." She whispered.
"And I love you, Danielle. That's why I need to get control of myself." He placed his forehead against hers and spoke softly. "I don't want this to be over before we've begun."
Danielle blinked and opened her eyes wide. She had no idea what he was talking about.
Then he kissed her again. Her eyes slid shut and she wrapped her arms around him. Even the few moments he had pulled away had been too long and she sighed when his skin came in contact with hers again.
His hand slipped between them and his fingers touched her breast. Her breath caught when his finger and thumb began to tease at the aroused nipple, and she was instantly thrown back into the delirium of moments before.
Danielle's hands moved to Henry's back and slid down to his bottom again. She kneaded the firm muscle and Henry responded by groaning and rubbing himself against her hip.
"I...I need you Danielle." Henry's voice sounded desperate.
"Yes, Henry. Yes."
He pushed away from her for a moment and rolled onto his back. His hands quickly peeled his boots off and then he was unbuttoning his codpiece. Danielle gulped and closed her eyes. When she opened them again she saw him sitting up and pulling his hose off his legs. He threw them over the side of the bed, and then he turned to look at her.
She still had on her loose cotton breaches. He reached for the drawstring that held them around her waist, but his hand trembled and he hesitated.
Danielle licked her lips and then reached for the tie herself. She quickly slipped the bow loose and pushed the gathers over her hips and finally down to her thighs. As her sex was revealed, Henry groaned again and his hand went between his legs. Danielle closed her eyes--overwhelmed by what she was doing and what was about to happen.
"Beautiful..." Henry sighed.
Danielle felt as if her face were on fire, she was so flushed. She kept her eyes tightly closed and tried to concentrate on breathing. Then she felt Henry's fingers curl around the fabric of and slide her breaches down the rest of the way. She whimpered and covered her mouth with her hand.
She felt the garment slip off her legs, and knew she was naked. Henry's hands felt slightly rough on her shins and her knees as he slid his hand back up her leg. Danielle shivered as he got closer and closer to her mound.
What Danielle did not know, because her eyes were closed, was that Henry had now seen the bruises on her legs. The unmistakable mark of grasping fingers left on her pale flesh made his gut twist. Esme had told him that she had not been violated--but it was clear that someone had tried. He thought he knew who that person was, and he vowed that le Pieu would pay. Perhaps even with his life.
This distraction had eased his need a little and he reaffirmed his desire to pleasure her. She had been so badly treated all her life. He wanted to show her tenderness, and gentleness. Above all he needed to show her how much he loved her.
He looked up at her face. Her eyes were closed and her fingertips still covered her mouth. Her chest rose and fell quickly and he knew she was waiting for him to make the next move. He wondered if she really knew what was about to happen. The thought that she might not frightened him a little.
Henry leaned over her and placed a kiss on her stomach. She sighed again and he rubbed his nose against the fullness of one of her breasts. One of her hands was stretched out to the side and the other was still covering her mouth.
"You can touch me, you know." He murmured against the hollow of her neck. His hand reached for her breast again and he actually felt her shiver when he pulled at the nipple.
Danielle's hand left her mouth and he felt her stroke the nape of his neck. And then her hand began roaming all over his back and even lower. He knew what she wanted to touch--she seemed to enjoy his ass quite a bit, and that made him smile. But all thought was quickly obliterated when she arched her back and moaned his name.
His mouth returned to her breast, but his hands cupped her mound. She cried out when he touched her and he nearly lost it right then. He kept telling himself *go slow, go slow* but her every movement, her every sound was like a drug. He could not slow down now. He had to be inside of her. He had to become part of her.
"You're setting my blood on fire, Danielle." He said as he slipped his longest finger into her wet folds. Danielle gasped and her hands grasped at his arms again. Henry swallowed hard and tried to fight the throbbing in his groin.
She was wetter than any virgin had a right to be. He had dreamt of how she would be; her feisty manner and her strength suggested a great deal of passion. But her body's response to his touch was beyond imagination. He eased his finger toward her opening and felt the wet heat surround him.
Finally, he eased his finger inside her and groaned when she raised her knees and parted her thighs. He pressed slowly farther and felt the slick walls of her opening caress his finger. Henry gritted his teeth and wondered how he was possibly going to last long enough to bring her to climax.
"Oh!" Danielle breathed. She sounded surprised...and excited. It was all the encouragement Henry needed. He pumped the finger slowly, imitating what he wanted to do with his shaft. Her body began to move in synch with his rhythm and soon she was panting.
"Yes! Oh, Danielle, you are so beautiful." He breathed. He wanted to encourage her, he wanted her to come. But he didn't know if she would understand if he told her that. So he continued to pump her and when he thought she was ready he added another finger.
This was all she needed. When his two fingers plunged inside of her up to the third knuckle, she cried out and her body stiffened and then began to tremble. Henry bit down hard on his lower lip to keep from coming himself, and watched his wife in the throws of ecstasy.
He slowly stroked her until her body stopped shaking and then he covered her lips with is own. His need had not slacked in the least, and in fact, he felt like he was about to be consumed with his own fire.
Danielle reached for him and he fell into her arms gratefully. She kissed him hard and one of her knees dipped down and she wrapped her leg around him. He started to find it difficult to breath when he found himself at last between her legs.
Henry kissed her face everywhere he could think of, and paid special attention to her neck. Her body arched under him again, and he knew she was ready. He braced himself on his elbows and lowered himself to her waiting sex. Carefully, he placed the head of his shaft at her opening and then slowly entered her.
He had never felt anything as good as she felt to him. She was slick from her climax and he slid into her easily despite her virgin body's resistance. When he reached her barrier he eased back up and when he heard her little moan of need he let himself sink in a little deeper and faster. Still, he was not able to sink to the hilt and he steeled himself for what he had to do.
"Danielle?" he breathed against her ear.
"Mmmmm, Henry?" She replied. Her eyes finally opened and she looked up at him through eyes that were black with dilation.
"Danielle, I don't want to hurt you, but..."
Danielle's eyes focused on his a bit more clearly, and she saw how worried he was. Then she remembered something that Louise had told her not long ago. She knew what he was worried about.
"It's all right Henry. Just do it." She whispered, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
Henry lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her. His tongue swept over her teeth and curled against the roof of her mouth. She felt something deep inside her coil with excitement and then he thrust deeply into her.
They both cried out the moment his hips finally met hers. She was reeling from the brief, but sharp pain, and he from the nearly overwhelming relief of having finally buried himself in her. Thankfully, he stayed still a moment while Danielle coped with the sensation of invasion and residual pain.
"Are you all right?" He whispered.
Danielle nodded her head, and kissed him.
Henry sighed and hoped she was telling him the truth, and not just what she thought he wanted her to say. Because his need had now passed the point of his ability to control himself, and he had to move. He brought his hips back up and then eased back into her. Her hands clenched on his shoulders, and he felt her nails digging into his skin. That was the final straw.
He raised himself up till his arms were straight. He looked down on her and then he began to circle his hips faster and faster. Her hands reached out to her sides and clenched the coverlet as her body writhed underneath him.
"Yes, yes, yes!" He cried as he plunged into her over and over again. And then he felt the rush. His eyes rolled back in his head as he lowered himself down onto her body again, and buried his face in the crook of her neck.
Without trying to, he had caused his shaft to slide over her clitoris, and each stroke had her crying out as another climax started to build. Her cries of pleasure pleased him beyond anything he had ever imagined.
"Danielle, oh God!" He shouted, as he finally poured himself into her. It was the most intense climax of his life and he wanted it to last forever. He heard her scream his name and then her opening was squeezing him tightly. Her hands were holding his head to her in a death grip and he had likewise grasped her braids, holding her as if she were a raft to keep him afloat in a sea of overwhelming sensation.
Time seemed to stop. Henry heard the blood rushing in his ears and in the distance he it seemed that there were two people trying to catch their breath. His body was tense and then he collapsed onto Danielle, feeling her softness mold around him in every way. She even wrapped her legs around his hips and hugged him to her with her strong thighs.
It wasn't long before he became more aware of his surroundings and he realized he must be crushing her. He got his arms under him and tried to push up, but Danielle was holding him tightly to her.
"I don't want to crush you." He whispered in her ear.
"You're not." She squeaked. He was instantly alert. Her voice sounded strange--was she in pain?
He struggled out of her grasp and finally got up on his elbows. Her face made his heart skip a beat. She was crying.
"Oh, Danielle! I'm sorry." He tried to move off of her, but her legs were still wrapped tightly around him, as were her arms.
"For what?!" She sniffled and then laughed.
Henry swallowed hard and his face was still full of concern. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, my love." She smiled and one of her hands slipped around to cup his face. "You made me feel wonderful. I don't actually know why I'm crying." Then she smiled a lopsided little smile and sniffled again.
Henry lowered himself and kissed her eyelids and then her lips. She sighed deeply, and then took several deep breaths. She had stopped crying and they had both caught their breath. She opened her eyes and looked into his, and then said, "That was amazing!"
Henry laughed silently, and shook his head. "You have a gift for understatement, my love."
Henry pushed up, and this time she released him (but not before kissing him again) and he rolled to her side then pulled her into his arms. Danielle snuggled against him, placing her head on his shoulder and then sighed again.
"Henry?" She asked after they had been quiet for a little while.
"Yes, Danielle?" He murmured back.
"Now I'm hungry."
Henry laughed aloud and hugged her.
Danielle was asleep. She felt warm and safe, and something else.... Blissfully happy. Yes, she thought, she had to admit that she was happy.
But, how could that be? She was le Pieu's slave and sooner or later that awful man was going to rape her.
How could she possibly be happy?!
Then she remembered a wonderful dream. Henry had come to le Pieu's castle to find her. He had fought le Pieu and they had escaped to the forest, where they had met up with the gypsies. Oh, and then...
They had to gone to the Franciscan Abby and been married.
A beautiful dream. Especially the part where Henry had made love to her. Yes, she thought to herself, she would just stay asleep and see if she could go back into the dream.
"Danielle..." A soft voice was calling.
She sighed and closed her eyes tighter. She didn't want to leave her happy place.
"Wake up, my love." That sounded like Henry. How nice; she had slipped back into the dream.
Then she thought she felt his hands on her arms...and then her neck...and then her face. He was tracing her face with his fingers. Vivid Dream! She could feel the callous on his index finger, and the warmth of his skin. She smiled and sighed again.
Then his hands left, and she pouted a little. That's not what she wanted. Ah, but then he was kissing her. She cold feel the pressure of his lips, and could even smell him.
His tongue swept over her lips and finally, she opened her eyes. Danielle gasped when she saw her prince hovering over her.
"Danielle!" Henry imitated her gasp and grinned.
"What? I mean.... OH!" Danielle blinked as she became fully awake and then a huge smile spread over her face.
"I wasn't dreaming!" She said joyfully.
"Dreaming?" Henry asked, as he snuggled in next to her side. They were both still naked and at some point Henry had found a soft blanket and pulled it over them.
"Mmmm," Danielle sighed as she rolled onto her side to face him. She opened her eyes and looked into his face. His hair was in his eyes and there was a definite twinkle in his eyes. "I thought I had dreamed the past two days. I didn't want to wake up."
"It's no dream Danielle. I am here with you, and we are very much married." To make his point, Henry's hands caressed her side and then cupped the fullness of her breast. He raised an eyebrow at her when she gasped. "You see?"
"Uh, huh." Danielle muttered, unable to form words. His fingers stroked the hardening bud of her nipple and she closed her eyes and shivered. She felt a rush of excitement deep inside.
"You fell asleep." Henry said, his voice gently teasing. "And here I thought you were hungry." Then his fingers teased her nipple, and she moaned deep in her throat. Now that he'd given her a taste of how her body could feel under his hands and body it didn't take much for her to become aroused.
"I don't want to be accused of mistreating my wife." Henry continued. He was evidently enjoying himself--touching her, teasing her. Her reactions were fascinating, and now that his crushing need had been slacked somewhat, he wanted to notice the little things he was sure he missed the first time. The way her mouth opened to breath when she felt the arousal take hold of her body. They way her back instinctively arched toward his hand so that he might touch her. The way her faced flushed with excitement.
"I can't believe I fell asleep." Danielle said just before Henry leaned toward her and began kissing her neck. His hand slipped to her back and ran up and down her soft skin. She made a sound like a kitten purring when he found a sensitive spot at the base of her spine. Henry took special note of that particular reaction.
"Yes, well, I thought perhaps you were bored." He breathed into her ear. He felt her whole body shiver and then he lowered his hand to cup her bottom.
"Hardly, sire. I think I was just exhausted." Danielle said, her voice going higher and higher as his hand traveled lower and lower.
"Really? Exhausted? Well, we can't have that!" Henry declared as he took his hand away and rolled away from her. Then he kissed her chastely on the forehead. "Is it not part of a husband's duty to care for his wife?" He asked mock-seriously.
"Now, you just go back to sleep, Danielle." Henry said as he stared to slip out of bed.
Danielle instantly reached for him and managed to grab his arm as his feet hit the floor.
"Henry!" Danielle called. "Don't go." Danielle slid in behind him and ran her hands over his back. When she saw goosebumps cover his skin she bit her lip and wondered if she could play at his game.
Danielle rose to her knees behind Henry and pressed her body against his back, and then whispered into his ear. "I've been told there are many things a husband is supposed to do for a wife, my lord." She smiled wickedly when she felt his muscles tense under her fingers. Her mouth caressed the skin of his neck around to the nape of his neck. His hair was silky and tickled the brow of her nose. She found herself becoming even more aroused by teasing him this way.
"Indeed?" Henry's voice rasped out. In the few moments he had slipped out of the covers she had managed to turn the tables on him. He was especially surprised by what a good a job Danielle was doing of it. His body was flooded with desire once again.
"Yes, I believe you are supposed to cover puddles with your cloak...and buy me little trinkets on my birthday, and..." She whispered while she ran her hands over the front of his shoulders and down to his pectorals.
"And?" Henry breathed, almost speechless now by what she was doing to him.
Danielle prepared an appropriately teasing answer, but the feel of his warm skin under her hands, and the sound of his needfilled voice changed her mind. She didn't feel like teasing, she felt like she wanted him inside her.
"And make love to me, Henry. Make love to me." Danielle had found his other ear and she whispered the words against the curve and then placed tiny kisses on the skin below. Henry's hands reached up and covered hers, holding her fast.
"Far be it from me to ignore my duties, Danielle." Henry said, and then he spun around fast. Danielle yelped and backed up, surprised by his speed and the predatory look in his eyes. His hands wrapped around her waist as he eased her back to the middle of the bed.
Danielle laughed with unrestrained joy. His reaction was so marvelous, and she had caused it! Her eyes took in Henry's intense green flecked gaze then traveled over the rest of his body.
His muscles bunched under the skin of his chest, his arms were powerful, but not overmuscled. Then her gaze traced to his waist and hips--and finally his erection.
She had been so overwhelmed--so enraptured earlier in the afternoon, that she had not really looked at his manhood. Now, he was leaning toward her, his feet widely spaced on the floor and his sex becoming harder and harder by the moment.
He was large--at least she thought so, as she really didn't have anything to compare him to; but it seemed to her that he should never be able to fit within her body. And yet he had. The memory made Danielle shiver and then she scooted back on the bed a little more.
Henry had seen her eyes travel over his body; had in fact felt her gaze like a heated caress as she seemed intent on discovering everything about his body. He felt himself grow longer and the need to be inside her slammed into him with the force of a catapulted boulder.
Then he saw her eyes rest on his penis, and his heart seemed to stop. Her eyes grew round, and she licked her lips nervously--which had the unfortunate effect of making him harder. He knew that earlier in the afternoon, she had not seen all of him. He had also had surmised that she was incredibly innocent when it came to men. Henry's desire warred with his concern for her feelings. He wanted to make her feel safe and yet his body was reacting in a blatantly masculine (and potentially threatening) way.
Her eyes eventually traveled back up to his and they stared at each other for a moment.
Instead of answering him, Danielle placed one hand on his chest. Her fingers skimmed down the center of his torso until they reached his waist. Henry felt as if he'd been set afire.
Her hands crept lower and he trembled as she neared his dark curls. "Danielle..." He moaned. He wanted her to touch him--he burned for her touch. But never, not even in his most erotic dreams had he thought she would be so bold. Especially not so soon after loosing her virginity.
And then her hand grasped him gently. Henry gave a hearty moan and leaned toward her until his forehead touched hers. She ran her hand up and down his shaft twice before he climbed up on the bed to be nearer to her.
"God, Danielle. Oh..." Henry said, barely able to form words. He felt her hand, small and cool against his blood engorged organ, stroking him, touching him. Her fingers lingered on his swollen head and he groaned again.
"It's so soft." She sighed. She sounded surprised and pleased. Every instinct in him at that moment told him to take her. He had to feel her around him. But, instead he clenched his teeth and let his wife discover his body as no woman had ever taken the time to before.
Henry pried his eyes open and tried to focus on her face. She had her bottom lip caught between her teeth and her eyes were half closed with her own arousal. Henry made a noise half between a whimper and a moan when he saw her bright pink nipples standing erect, and the slight sheen of perspiration on her brow.
She was magnificent. Not only was she his match in intelligence and personality, but she matched his fire. "You are the most beautiful woman in the world, Danielle." Henry told her. Her hair was coming loose of its braid and there were wisps of red/brown locks framing her face now. She looked wild, and wanton and he wanted her now more than ever.
She stroked him again, still too slowly for his comfort, and he arched toward her hand, trying to encourage her ministrations. He wanted to thrust--he needed to, and his shaft reacted by twitching in her grasp.
He watched her eyes open wider with surprise and her gaze flew to her hand and his straining member. Her tongue slipped out to moisten her dry lips and Henry nearly came from the associated sensations of her hand on him and the sight of her tongue.
"Danielle..." Henry gasped. He thrust against her hand once, and then crawled closer to her. Her hand released him and he groaned but then she was leaning back and parting her thighs for him. He shuddered and began climbing up her body.
Every sense was heightened, every nerve inflamed with need. Henry could hear her body sliding across the smooth covers of the bed; could hear her tiny short breaths and the occasional half-wimper; could smell the unmistakable sharp scent of sex; could taste her lips on his mouth when his tongue swept over his own lips; could see her sex before him like a glistening flower; could feel the smooth skin of her legs as his hands brushed up her thighs...
"You have me hypnotized, Danielle." Henry told her as his eyes wandered over every part of her body. He saw her shiver and then her eyes slid shut.
"No, my love. I think it is you who have hypnotized me this time. I never knew it could be like this...I never knew...." Danielle breathed.
Henry smiled and decided he really liked surprising her--especially when she reacted as she was now.
Very carefully he lowered his head and kissed her navel. He felt the softness of her belly under his lips and he couldn't restrain the moan that escaped his lungs. She jerked underneath him, obviously shocked by his embrace, and then her hands dug into his hair. Henry chuckled, and then swirled his tongue around the puckered divot.
"Henry!" She gasped, obviously shocked by what he was doing. He looked up and saw her chin thrust toward the canopy of the bed and her back half arched off the bed.
"Don't you like that, love?" He asked as he nuzzled around the base of her ribcage and down over her hips.
"I...I don't know." She admitted, but he could tell she was feeling something pleasurable by the way her body had begun to move under him. He decided he wanted to see what else she might like.
His mouth teased the sensitive skin on the crease at the top of her legs and she squirmed a little. Then he moved to his left and placed a kiss at the top of her mound. The tight curls there tickled his nose, but her scent was like a drug. They both groaned and Henry knew he had to taste her.
He continued to place kisses over and around her mound while his hands flowed around her hips until they grasped her gently. Henry used his shoulders to push her thighs apart slowly and then lowered his mouth.
Danielle actually shouted his name as his tongue slid over her wet folds, and when he circled her clitoris with the tip of his tongue he felt her hands pull almost painfully on his hair. Henry's eyes rolled back in his head as he felt a burst of liquid within her nether lips and he began to lap at it with rhythmic abandon.
Henry concentrated on the hardening bump at the top of her sex, and felt her body jerk whenever his lips and tongue caressed it. Soon, she was trembling again, and by the angle of her back he surmised she was close to the edge.
He shifted his body slightly and found her opening with his fingers. Without giving her a moment to think about what he was doing, he slipped two fingers into her opening and sucked on the nodule between his lips.
Danielle screamed. Not a moan, not a shout--she screamed his name and her body went ridged. Henry continued to pump her and then he felt her opening clamp down unbelievably tight around his fingers.
"Yes! Oh my God, Danielle!" Henry hissed when her hips arched off the matress. Her head was thrashing, and her body was trembling.
She was whimpering then and he wondered if he had overdone it. Her body crashed back to the matters and she began to gasp for air.
"Are you all right?" He asked as he crawled up her body to kiss her. Her eyes flew open when she felt his lips brush against hers in a tender caress.
"I need you, Henry." She told him. There was no teasing in her voice now. The urgency of her voice almost scared him.
"I am yours Danielle." He replied as he stroked the side of her face with the back of one hand. "Yours for all time."
"As I am yours." Danielle said and she closed her eyes. Her hips tilted and he could feel her moist center under the tip of his shaft. Henry bit his lip and began to slip inside her. It was hard to go slowly, but she was still incredibly tight, and he knew he had reached almost his full length. He would hurt her for sure if he entered her too quickly.
And so he sank into her body slowly, carefully until his hips met hers. They both sighed then and he stayed still for a moment before rising on his hands to hover above her.
Henry moved in and out of her with quicker and quicker movements. He could feel her insides grabbing him and his whole world contracted to that feeling. He wanted to be inside her forever. They were connected...joined...one.
Danielle was touching him, moving her hands up his arms and over his chest--touching everywhere she could reach. Her hands had warmed considerably, and felt warm even against his flushed skin. When she touched his face he leaned his head toward her hand and licked her palm. She moaned so deep in her throat he could feel it reverberate throughout her body, and then her hips rose up to meet his next thrust.
"Oh, God, Danielle. I..." Henry stammered as her body enticed his. "I can't hold back."
"Henry..." She muttered his name as if in a dream and her body met his again. Henry gave in. His hips circled faster and fast until he could hear the wet slap of their skin against each other and fire erupted in his loins.
He thrust hard; he couldn't help it--and he felt himself swallowed up by her tight caress. His lungs were straining for air, and his body felt as if he were about to pass out, but he did not care. It felt that good.
Finally, almost tragically, his climax was over and he shuddered. Then all of his senses returned and he heard her whispering his name, over and over like a chant.
He felt Danielle's hands tugging on his shoulders and he sank into her embrace. She felt so soft, so warm under him--so completely right.
They lay together, not speaking while they caught their breath. Henry opened his eyes finally and realized it was growing dark. Danielle's face was in shadow and he leaned down to kiss her.
She wrapped her arms around him tightly and returned the kiss with luscious warmth. Henry wrapped his arms around her back and rolled onto his back, bringing her on top him.
"So..." Henry said as he placed little kisses on her cheeks and nose.
"So..?" Danielle responded. She still sounded a little out of breath.
"Did I fulfill my husbandly duties?" Henry teased, but deep inside he really needed to know.
"My Lord, you not only ful"filled" your duties, you exceeded them." Danielle responded and then kissed him hard. Henry's eyes flew open in surprise, but then they fluttered shut again as her tongue swept over his lips.
"What a wanton you are!" He finally exclaimed when she let him come up for air.
"And does that displease you?" She asked coyly.
"Not in the least, my love. Not in the least."
"What a wanton you are!" He finally exclaimed when she let him come up for air.
"And does that displease you?" She asked coyly.
"Not in the least, my love. Not in the least."
Danielle smiled and kissed the center of his chin. His face had two days worth of beard growing and the texture reminded her of a cat's tongue. She brushed her lips across his jawline until she reached his ear--hearing the slight rasp of her lips on his whiskers as she went.
"Now, I am definitely hungry." Danielle whispered to him in sultry tones. She felt his hands clench briefly on her arms and then he relaxed.
"Well, it is supper time, and if we want to do any more ... of this ... we should have something to eat--regain our strength." Henry mumbled between kisses he placed on her forehead and over her hairline.
"Very well. What shall I make us?" Danielle rose and began pulling away. She looked down at Henry and saw him moving his mouth like a guppy.
"You? Make us something?" Henry sounded profoundly surprised.
"Yes!" Danielle laughed. "Dinner, supper...a snack. Whatever! I'm really hungry. What shall I make?"
"But you don't need to make anything, Danielle!" Henry told her as she slipped out of the bed and began rummaging the pile of clothes on the floor for her underclothes. For the first time, her back was revealed to him. While the lashes had healed, he could clearly see the criss-crossing lines of scars, and his mouth dropped open in shock.
Danielle found her underdress and slipped it over her head as she stood back up. When she turned to face him she laughed again.
"You'll catch flies." She teased, not realizing why his mouth was hanging open. Henry's eyes blinked and he shook his head. Then he looked up at her. "Henry, why don't I need to make anything?" Danielle asked.
With one motion, Henry threw off the blanket and crawled out of the huge bed. "Because *we* don't do that, Danielle." Henry said with a softly concerned voice, then stooped to pick up his leggings. He perched against the side of the bed and began pulling them on. Danielle bit her lip and stood back a bit to watch.
Henry realized she wasn't getting into her gown and he looked up slowly from his struggle with his boots. They looked at each other and he grinned sheepishly. Her face lit up with a naughty smile. She had never watched a man get dressed before and she found the site completely provocative. But, his words had mystified her.
"We don't do what? Eat?" She laughed.
He pulled his shirt over his head and then walked to her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and then placed his forehead against hers. He took a deep breath and said, "We don't do the cooking Danielle. Ever."
"We? Oh!" Danielle exclaimed. Now she understood what he was getting at. "Henry, it's just the two of us. If I don't fix us something, we'll go hungry."
"Not so, Danielle." Henry said as he stooped and picked up Danielle's blue dress. "While you were asleep, I heard Captain Laurent return. He was supposed to bring my squire back with him. While Charles doesn't usually prepare my meals, he is more than up to the task."
"Captain Laurent returned?" Danielle asked, her voice a little strained.
"Yes, about an hour ago, I believe." Henry said. He handed Danielle her dress and sat back on the bed.
Danielle bit her lip, and looked nervous. Henry tilted his head at her sudden discomfort. She slipped the dress over her body and began lacing the bodice. Her face remained a picture of concerned introspection.
"Danielle, what's wrong?" Henry asked her quietly, reaching for her when she had tied the laces at the top of her gown.
"There were others in the house...when we...just now...and I...." She looked up slowly. Her cheeks were bright pink with embarrassment. "Henry! I was screaming." She whispered guiltily.
"Hmmm." Henry smiled and shifted on the edge of the bed. "I do seem to remember something like that." He teased.
"They might have heard me!" She gasped. Danielle's sense of propriety had never prepared her for this circumstance. She looked at Henry's indulgent smile and suddenly felt like clobbering him. Didn't he understand?! Laurent and this Charles person would almost certainly know what they had been doing. God! It was too embarrassing.
"Oh, my love, I'm certain that if they were in the house, they heard us both." He replied. And then he walked toward her and tried to put his hands on her waist, but Danielle backed up and gave him a warning look.
"This is not funny, Henry. Why didn't you tell me?" Danielle asked.
Henry's eyebrows furrowed and he half-smiled. "It never occurred to me, my love." And then he paused. His expression changed and his eyes expressed genuine concern. Danielle lost the urge to hit him, but still, she was not happy.
Henry licked his lips nervously and walked toward her again. He reached out to her and she took two slow steps into his arms. "I'm sorry Danielle. I'm sorry." He whispered against her hair. "I have lived in a fishbowl all my life. It never occurred to me that you would find it unsettling."
"It's just that...I don't know." She rubbed her face into his shirt and sighed. She had felt the tension, the guilt drain out of her body as soon as he had touched her. But still, there were some things she felt should be between only them. Making love was at the top of that list.
"I'm embarrassed, Henry. I don't know how I'll face Captain Laurent again." Danielle raised her face to tell him.
"He understands, Danielle. And he is a Royal Guard--discretion is part of his job." Henry told her.
"And your squire?" Danielle asked. She knew what it was like to be a servant--the gossip, the idle conversation about the masters. She and Louise and Paulette had spent most of their days talking about the goings-on upstairs.
She saw Henry pause as if carefully considering her question. Danielle felt her stomach flutter with nerves. Then he looked back at her and smiled.
"Charles is the soul of kindness and consideration, Danielle. You have nothing to fear where he is concerned." He kissed her quickly and then released her. "Come now, let's go down and have something to eat. You will see there is nothing to be nervous or embarrassed about."
Danielle shook her head as if she did not believe him, but allowed him to pull her toward the door anyway. Henry opened the bedroom door and she noticed there were lit candles in the sconces on the wall. Someone had definitely been upstairs in the last hour.
Her face burned with renewed embarrassment, but she continued down the hall and to the staircase. Henry indicated that she should proceed him, so she did. When she reached the first floor she saw more candles, illuminating the hall. Then she took a deep breath and smelled something wonderful. She felt her stomach growl at the delicious scent.
Henry pointed toward a door to their right, and Danielle opened it. Inside was a kitchen very much like the one at Manor de Barbarac, and Danielle instantly felt more at ease.
An older man was opening the brick oven and checking on something inside it. A fire was burning cheerfully in the huge fireplace and there were raw vegetables covering one end of the large table in the center of the room.
Henry placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her into the room. "Good evening, Charles." Henry said.
The squire turned with a smile on his face and nodded to Henry. "Good evening, Your Highness. Dinner is almost ready."
"Very good. We are starved." Henry told him. "I'd like you to meet...my wife." Henry said.
Charles wiped his hands on his apron and came forward. "Charles, this is Danielle de Barbarac. Danielle, this is Charles La Tour, my squire."
"It is an honor to meet you, my lady." Charles said with a bow. Danielle bit her lip and then smiled. She had expected a young boy as Henry's squire, not this middle aged man. His face was kindly, and there was nothing but respect in his eyes for her. More of her nervousness fled.
"The pleasure is mine, monsieur." Danielle replied softly. Henry smiled beside her and she saw Charles and Henry exchanged a meaningful glance.
"Ah, here you are Henry!" Came Laurent's voice from the door. They turned to see Captain Laurent entering the kitchen, in his hands was a cask of wine.
"Do you think that's enough wine, Laurent?" Henry asked sarcastically.
"If I don't have to share, it is!" Laurent laughed and then set the cask on the table.
"I asked the Captain to go down to the cellar and bring some wine up. I thought you might like a glass, Your Highness." Charles said as he returned to the oven and closed the door.
"Oh, I don't know...would I want to that?" Henry laughed when Charles and Laurent both glanced at him with dubious looks on their faces.
"Yes, by all means! Let's pour everyone a glass. It is my wedding night, and I feel like celebrating!" Henry laughed and then walked toward a cupboard. He pulled four pewter goblets from the shelf and returned to the table. Captain Laurent had already drove the tap into the end of the cask and Henry quickly filled a cup.
He handed the first one to Danielle, who took it and held it in her hands. She sniffed it and was impressed. This was much finer wine than they ever had at home.
Henry had poured everyone a glass, and then lifted his own. He looked between his friends and then at Danielle. He held his glass out and said, "To my wife, the most extraordinary woman in the world."
"To Danielle!" They all said and then took large sips of their wine. Danielle met Henry's eyes when he lowered his goblet and she smiled shyly.
"To my husband, who has made me the happiest woman in the world." Danielle said softly. Henry flushed with pleased embarrassment, but the men nodded and raised their glasses.
"To Henry!" They said and took another big sip. Danielle felt the wine warm her body as it went down, and she half closed her eyes with pleasure.
"So!" Henry exclaimed and turned toward his squire. "What have you prepared for our wedding feast?" He walked toward Charles.
"Your favorite, sire, roast pheasant. Now, if you don't mind, I need to finish up with the vegetables before the bird is over cooked." Charles made shooing motions with his hands indicating that he wanted them all out of the kitchen. Danielle smiled and recognized a cook's temperament in Henry's squire.
"Of course, Charles. We'll retire to the dining room to await your masterpiece." Henry said while he filled his glass again. Danielle noticed how comfortable her husband seemed around his squire. It was a different kind of familiarity than he had with Laurent. He seemed more respectful, and yet irreverent. It was an interesting combination.
"Shall we, Madame?" Henry held out his arm for her and she looped her hand around it. They left the kitchen and walked toward the dining room, Captain Laurent in tow.
"Was there something you wanted to say, Laurent?" Henry asked as he helped Danielle with her chair. Then he sat and hooked a leg over the arm, making himself comfortable in the oversized wooden chair.
Captain Laurent stood against the wall opposite them, and looked between them hesitantly. Danielle's senses went on alert. Something was not right.
"Henry," The captain began. Not 'Your Highness,' or 'Sire'... "The palace is in an uproar. Everyone is looking for you, especially your father." Henry opened his mouth to respond, but Laurent held up his hand.
"No, I did not tell them anything; in fact I'm fairly certain no one saw me at the palace. However," He paused and Danielle's hands clenched into fists. "Charles took a number of things from the kitchen, and I believe he packed some clothes for you and Danielle. I told him not to, but he insisted (it being your wedding night and all) that you should be comfortable. I fear he might have attracted some attention. If the right people put things together, I cannot help but believe that your parents will know something is afoot."
Henry groaned a little and looked at Danielle. "How long do you think, Laurent?" Henry asked as if he were calculating a battle strategy.
"I can't say for certain. You should remain undisturbed tonight, but tomorrow...?" Laurent left the insinuation hanging in the air and shrugged.
"I see. Well, thank you for telling me, Laurent." Henry sighed and took another sip of his wine. "I'm guessing that no one at the palace will suspect that I would choose my mother's house for a hideaway, so perhaps that will give us a little more time."
"Perhaps." Replied Laurent, but he sounded unconvinced.
"Henry, shouldn't we return to Hautefort tomorrow anyway? Le Pieu might be looking for me. He might have gone to the palace already to lodge a complaint..." Danielle began. At the mention of her tormentor's name, Henry's jaw clenched.
"A complaint!" He exclaimed, and then took another large sip of wine. "Danielle, I honestly hope you never have to see that man again; but I swear to God, if *I* ever do, he will regret it!"
Danielle felt a chill at the sound of Henry's voice. She knew he was angry with le Pieu, but she hadn't realized how much he wanted to hurt him. She reached toward him with her hand and placed it on his arm. He looked down as if he'd been startled and then he swallowed hard.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't even talk about him." Henry mumbled.
"It's okay, Henry. It's okay." Danielle whispered.
Laurent remained silent, letting them get through this difficult moment, and then he cleared his throat. "Well, I'll just leave you two alone."
Henry and Danielle both turned toward Laurent. "Thank you, Laurent." Henry said sincerely.
Laurent bowed and left them alone in the candlelit dining room. Danielle continued to stare at Henry's face. She was worried about him.
"Henry, tell me what's troubling you."
"It is nothing, Danielle. I'm sorry for my outburst." He looked up and met her eyes. She could see pain in his eyes.
"Henry...no secrets, remember?" She said.
He grimaced and looked away from her for a moment. When he looked back at her there were tears in his eyes.
"It's my fault." He breathed, then he looked away again.
"What's your fault?!" Danielle asked. She felt her own eyes beginning to tear up at the sight of his distress. "Henry, what are you talking about?"
"If I hadn't been so stupid at the masque, you would never have been...sold." Henry's face scrunched up with self-loathing. "It's because of me that that man whipped you and tried to..." He faltered as his anger and distress overcame him.
"No, Henry...no." Danielle soothed. She left her chair and knelt at his side, reaching up to touch his face with gentle fingers. He turned away from her a little and she cupped his chin in her hand and turned his face back to her.
"Listen to me. I don't blame you for anything that happened. I should have told you that day at the river who I was. I let you believe I was a comtesse. I let myself be swept away."
"By me. By my empty promises." Henry hissed.
"We're married, aren't we Henry?" Danielle shook his arm. "Your promises weren't so empty. Please, my love. Don't do this. Don't blame yourself for my mistakes."
"Oh, Danielle." He sighed. "What about your...injuries? I saw your back." He gasped, barely able to say it. "Why...why did le Pieu whip you?" Henry's words tumbled out now that he had opened up about her mistreatment.
"He didn't." Danielle replied in a monotone voice. Henry looked at her sharply and grasped her shoulders to pull her to her feet. He looked up at her and swallowed hard.
"The Baroness gave me those lashes, Henry." Danielle replied softly. Suddenly she felt weary and she sank into her chair again. She ran a hand over her face and shook her head. "She whipped me the morning after we went to the Abby."
"Oh my God." Henry groaned. "Is that why you were so different at Amboise?"
Danielle could only nod. Henry's lip curled in anger. She saw his hands clench the arms of his chair and she sighed.
"Don't you see, Henry? It doesn't matter. We're together. They couldn't keep us apart." She reached out and ran her fingers over the side of his face. He closed his eyes and nodded slowly.
Henry picked up his goblet and took a long slow sip. She could tell he was still brooding though.
"Why would the Baroness whip you?" He asked when he set down his cup. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
Danielle took a deep breath and moistened her lips. "I hit Marguerite--in the face." She admitted.
"Really?" Henry sounded shocked. "Why?"
"She was going to wear my mother's wedding gown to the masque--and she said some rather unpleasant things about her, so I hit her." Danielle replied.
Henry's eyebrows knit together. She could see him trying to put all the pieces together.
"Henry...Rodmilla de Ghent is my step-mother. Jacqueline and Marguerite are my step-sisters."
"Your...your....Good Lord!" Henry exclaimed. "I don't understand! Do they not live in the Manor de Barbarac?" He sat forward now, eager to get to the bottom of all her mysteries.
"When I was eight, my father married the Baroness. Soon afterward, he...died." Danielle took a deep breath and continued. "Not long after that, the Baroness told me I would either work for her as a servant, or I would be sold. I loved my home and the people who had raised me; so I stayed."
She looked back at Henry. His mouth hung open in shock. Then he closed his mouth and swallowed hard.
"Wait. Let me get this straight." He said. "Your father was Auguste de Barbarac....That house was his?" Henry paused to let Danielle confirm his statement. She nodded her head.
"And he married the Baroness de Ghent?" Again, Danielle nodded. "And she forced you to become a servant...in your own home!?" He exclaimed.
"That's right." Danielle replied.
"But, Danielle, she usurped your legal right to your own lands and estate! As sole heir the manor belonged to you." As heir to the crown, he was quite familiar with inheritance laws.
"I suppose. But I was eight, what could I do?" She asked.
"You..." Henry paused, looking confused. "Well, you...I don't know. My God, do you suppose there are other children forced into slavery this way?"
"I don't know, Henry. All I know is that I was too small to fight her at the beginning, and by the time I was old enough to do something about it, she had all the power. I could not fight her without help...and I had none."
"Well, you do now!" He replied swiftly. She smiled at him. She had lived with the injustice for so long it was the least of her worries. She was surprised, but delighted by Henry's reaction.
"Oh, Henry. I love you." She laughed. He looked up at her and finally smiled. She smiled wider when she saw his eyes clear of misgivings.
There was a light tap at the door. "Enter." Henry said instantly.
Charles entered the room with a platter in his arms. Danielle's mouth watered at the succulent aroma of the roast fowl and the vegetables surrounding it. He set the platter down before them and began to carve the meat immediately.
"Bravo, Charles. This smells wonderful." Henry told him.
"Thank you, Your Highness. I hope it's enough." Charles replied as he placed a plate before Danielle. She felt uncomfortable being served instead of serving, but the scent of the food, and her appetite soon had her ignoring her discomfort.
Charles placed a plate before Henry and then took their goblets. He returned in only a moment with them filled again.
"Is there anything else you require?" Charles asked. Henry looked at Danielle as if asking her if she wanted anything and she just blushed and shook her head.
"No, that will be all, Charles." Henry replied.
"Very good, Sire." Charles bowed and left them alone again.
Danielle enjoyed every bite of the pheasant. It had been perfectly prepared, and it was a rare treat--at least for her. The roast vegetables were also superb.
"Charles is a marvelous cook." Danielle commented. She looked up and saw Henry nodding his head. He washed down a bite with a sip of wine.
"I agree. Whenever I am on a military campaign, he cooks all my meals for me. I'm always amazed by what he can pull together out in the middle of a battlefield." Henry took another sip of wine.
Danielle felt her heart skip a beat at the notion of Henry going into battle, but she pushed the unpleasant concept away. There would be time to worry about that later.
"Has he always been your squire?" She asked.
"No, I didn't have a need for a squire before I turned 13. He joined my service then, and has been with me ever since." Henry explained.
"How did he become such a good cook?" Danielle asked as she took her last bite of meat.
"I honestly don't know. I never asked him." Henry's voice had that "huh! I wonder why I never thought of that" kind of tone.
Just then there was another tap at the door.
"Enter." Henry said.
"Ready for dessert, Your Highness?" Charles asked as he walked into the room. He was carrying a wooden tray.
"I believe we are. And I'm curious about what you were able to come up with, Charles." Henry replied.
"Nothing fancy I'm afraid." The older man said as he gathered up their plates and the platter with the mostly eaten pheasant. Then he left through the same door. He returned with another platter and when he set it down Danielle nearly shouted for joy.
"Marzipan Tarts! My favorite!" She exclaimed. Both men turned to her and Henry's face had an indulgent smile.
"I'm so pleased, my lady." Charles said with a slight bow. He served them the sweet treats and then left them again.
Danielle took a bite and couldn't help making a sound of pleasure. "Excellent." She declared.
"I don't think Charles made these." Henry cautioned her. "I recognize our pastry chef's handiwork here. He must have brought these from Hautefort." Henry sighed.
Danielle looked up. She knew he wasn't pleased that his squire had pilfered provisions for them from the palace kitchen. Perhaps no one would notice two missing tarts?
Then she too sighed. If she knew anything about kitchens, she knew that the cook always knew when food went missing. Still, the tart was wonderful, and she would not let Henry's misgivings spoil her enjoyment of it.
When she had finished, Henry stood up and walked to her chair. He helped slide it back and took her hand.
"Shall we go to bed, wife?" He asked bringing her hand to his lips. She shivered when his warm mouth caressed the back of her hand and nodded at him.
"As you wish, husband." Danielle replied with what she hoped was a sultry voice.
"Oooh. I like that. As I wish...." Henry leaned down and nuzzled her ear. "What if I wish to make love to you all night?" He whispered.
"Nnnnggggghhhh." Danielle moaned and her body responded to his words with a head to toe shiver. She closed her eyes and felt over dressed--she wanted to feel his hands on her body again, the sooner the better.
She opened her eyes slowly and saw an extremely smug look on his face. Danielle's mouth quirked up in a lopsided grin and she raised her eyebrows. She saw Henry's eyes becoming suspicious just before she kissed him hard and fled from the room--laughing madly the whole way.
She skidded in the hall and ran for the stairs. She heard Henry crashing into something behind her and she began to laugh hysterically. Still, she had been playing tag with Gustave most of her life. She knew how to get away. She grabbed her skirts and took the stairs two at a time.
She heard Henry's feet on the steps and yelped as she reached the top. She looked behind her quickly and saw him grinning wildly at her--and sprinting up the steps. Danielle shouted and ran for their room.
She flung herself through the door and into their bedchamber. She halted quickly and hid herself behind the open door. She stifled a giggle when she heard his bootsteps cross the hall and then enter their room.
Henry's steps slowed and then she saw him walking slowly into their room. It was then that she noticed the candles had been lit, and there was a fire burning in the fireplace.
Henry walked slowly into the room, scanning everything in front of him. She smiled as her eyes traveled over his back and down to his ass. She bit her lip and tried to keep silent. Henry walked to the bed and lifted the cover with his toe, trying to peer underneath. When he saw she wasn't there he shook his head and walked around the end of the bed.
If he looked back toward the door, he would see her now, but he was looking around the furniture and trying to figure out where she might be hiding. Danielle reached out and pulled the door toward her very slowly to shield herself from his view.
"Huh!" Henry exclaimed when he still didn't find her on the far side of the bed. She heard him walking back around to the end of the bed and she peeked around the edge of the door. He was on his knees at the end of the bed, looking under it.
"Danielle?" He called softly. The sound of his voice almost made her squeal. She covered her mouth with her hand and bounced on the balls of her feet to expend some of the giddiness she was feeling. She peeked back out and saw that he was no longer at the end of the bed. In fact, she couldn't see him at all.
Suddenly, the door slammed shut and Henry was picking her up. He flung her over his shoulder and Danielle screamed with delight, kicking and thrashing playfully. She figured she should at least put up a token fight! Henry laughed and threw her onto the bed. She landed with a bounce and then she was scrambling away from him.
"Oh, no you don't!" Henry laughed as she reached the other side of the bed. He grabbed one of her ankles and pulled. Danielle suddenly gasped in pain. Henry released her instantly, and looked horrified.
"Oh, Danielle, I'm sorry!" He whispered. Danielle's eyes were shut and her lips were pursed tightly. She took a quick, deep breath and opened her eyes. Danielle raised the hem of her skirt and looked at her bandaged ankle.
"It's all right Henry." She told him. Henry was breathing quickly and so was she. Their eyes met and suddenly she didn't feel like running away any more.
He reached down with his right hand and gently cradled her heel in his hand. Then he raised it off the bed a little as he bent over. He closed his eyes and kissed her ankle softly, all around the bandage and down to her slippered foot. Danielle shivered and made a tiny whimpering sound.
Henry did not look up as he slipped her foot out of the slipper and continued to kiss her. When he reached her toes she tried not to giggle, but it tickled too much and she finally let a laugh escape her lungs.
Henry looked up with a grin on his face, pleased by her reaction.
Danielle bit her lip and sat up slowly. She reached for him and he eased her foot back to the bed. Henry stood upright and with two practiced movements his boots were off, then he began pulling his shirt over his head. While the fabric was covering his face, Danielle crept toward him quickly and placed her hand on his upraised arms. She heard him gasp in surprise, and she smiled to herself.
She held his arms above his head and began kissing his chest. She concentrated on the firm muscles and then caressed his flat nipple with her lips. Danielle heard his breathing quicken and he tried to move his arms toward her. Danielle shook her head and moved to the other side.
"You weren't supposed to catch me, Henry." She said playfully. "I always win the games."
"I don't doubt it." He breathed. She licked the other nipple and then began pulling his shirt free of his arms.
The linen shirt fell to the floor to join his earlier discarded doublet. Danielle slid her hands up Henry's arms and then curled them around his shoulders--all the while kissing his bare skin wherever she could reach. Over his collar bones, down the middle of his chest she places light teasing kisses. Henry's hands presses against her back and then moved up to hold her head. She returned to one of his nipples and felt his moan vibrate against her lips.
"A wanton and an enchantress!" Henry breathed. Danielle secretly smiled. She was gaining confidence by the second.
She felt his nipple harden under her tongue and it reminded her of what her body felt like when he did the same thing to her. She knew other parts of him must be reacting in kind. Danielle slipped one hand down his torso and traced meaningless patterns on his side. She could feel his codpiece pushing into her belly.
Danielle slipped her hand lower and finally cupped him. The padding of the codpiece did little to hide the fact of his erection. She felt him jerk toward her, as if he could not restrain himself and she laughed softly.
"You think this is funny?" Henry breathed against the top of her head. His hands were pulling out the pins in her hair and soon he had the braids loose. She shook her head and loosened the braids until her hair was free. His hands combed through it, gently tugging on it. She sighed and nuzzled her face against his abdomen.
"You're wearing too much." Henry said when his hands stared fumbling with the laces of her bodice. Danielle laughed and pulled away from him. He lurched forward slightly and then opened his eyes.
"Where are you going?" He asked suspiciously.
"I'm not running away, Your Highness." Danielle replied softly. Then she reached for the laces and began undoing them herself. Soon she had the bodice loose and she pulled the blue gown over her head. Then her hands returned to her underdress. She turned her body slightly and began untying the gather at the neckline slowly, seductively. Henry stood as still as a statue, but his breathing had quickened even more.
She smiled innocently at him and pulled the fabric over her shoulders. The candle light flickered around them and his hazel eyes were flecked with golden sparks. She stared into those eyes as she continued to tease him--undressing slowly.
The gathers of her underdress were just covering her breasts now and she watched his lips part in a little "oh" as she pushed it down her body. She tilted her hips back and forth and pulled it all the way off. Now she had only her breaches left.
"Danielle..." Henry stuttered her name. She felt a rush at the sound of his voice saying her name that way. She knew he wanted her, and that gave her a feeling of power she had never dreamed of.
Her hands stroked her own skin as she reached for the ties of her breaches. Henry's eyes fluttered closed and he moaned, but then he opened them again, not wanting to miss anything she was doing.
"Do you remember that day at the river, when you said I was full of passion." She said as she slipped the knot free. Her voice was very low with her own arousal. "And you didn't know how I lived with it everyday." She began to push the fabric over her hips. Henry nodded his head slowly as if in a daze.
"I never thought of myself as passionate, Henry. I didn't even know what you meant." She said as the garment fell past her sex. Henry groaned when he saw her mound revealed again. His hands clenched at his sides and she could tell he was straining to touch her.
Danielle lowered herself to her side and slipped the garment off her legs, then tossed it behind her. Then she returned to her knees and reached for him. He smiled shakily and watched with eyes half closed as her hands found the buttons of his codpiece.
"But now I understand passion Henry. Because of you." Danielle unbuttoned one side and then the other and then slipped her hands inside his legging and curled them around his hips. Henry's groan almost sounded like he was in pain.
"There's a fire in my body I've never known before, Henry." She whispered as she eased the leggings over his hips and even further.
"And you set it there. You make me burn for your touch." Danielle eased the leggings down past his knees. He kicked them off the rest of the way. She reached for him and took his straining organ in her hand. Henry's breath exploded from his lungs violently.
He felt incredibly hot in her hand--she wondered how he could stand it. Danielle stroked him from tip to hilt in one smooth motion and then ran her hand back up.
"I love to touch you." She sighed as she continued to stroke his manhood. "Do you want to touch me Henry?" She asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Oh, God. Yes!" He groaned. She shivered and searched out his eyes with her own. He looked so good to her. She stroked him faster for a moment and his eyes slid shut.
Danielle felt him thrust against her hand and sensed he was close to loosing control. She released him and lay down on the bed. She spread her legs for him and watched his face as his eyes slowly opened and he saw her.
"Danielle!" He cried as he climbed up on the bed and then lowered his body over hers and slid into her waiting passage. She needed no foreplay this time, seducing him had done all of the preparation needed. Henry sank to the hilt and she arched her back sharply, her internal walls clenching him tight inside her.
"Henry!" Danielle cried out. She felt her back relax and settled back to the covers. He hovered above her moving in and out in small movements. His eyes were closed and his hair had flown into his face. She saw him bite his lip and then felt him pull all the way out. She opened her mouth to complain, but he was pushing back in before she could.
There was a delicious sense of pressure building between her legs. Danielle arched her back again and moaned. The pressure turned to fluttering pleasure and she felt herself going higher and higher.
"Henry...Henry please!" She begged. "I need you to..." Danielle gasped as his body instantly began thrusting into her harder--just what she was going to ask for.
There was a tremendous tingling feelings in her toes and her fingers and then her whole body was trembling.
"Yes!" Henry shouted. "God, Danielle! Unbelievable!" He shouted as he continued to plunge his shaft into her body. Danielle could only grab the covers on either side of her body and ride the wave of her climax. When it began to subside, she finally gave voice to her feelings.
"Oh, dear Lord." She sighed. She looked up at Henry just in time to see him thrust once more and then shudder with his own release. The look on his face was indescribable. Ecstasy was the closest description Danielle could think of. His cum shot into her forcibly, setting off an aftershock in her own body, and she moaned with pleasure.
They both remained still as they strove to catch their breath, and then Henry bonelessly sank down on her body. Danielle wrapped her arms and legs around him and hugged him to her sweat-slicked body.
"That was..." Danielle began, and then realized she had no words to describe what had just happened.
"Hmmm?" Henry mumbled. He made her laugh when he tried to lift his head and then flopped back to her shoulder.
"Wonderful..." She sighed.
She felt Henry's arms and legs tense as he prepared to pull himself off, and she whimpered. She didn't want to let go.
"Come on, let's get under the covers." He whispered with a hoarse throat. She unwrapped her arms and legs and he slipped out of her. Again, she whimpered.
"If you keep making noises like that, I'm never going to be able to get to sleep." He sighed as he reached the head of the bed. Danielle grinned, bit the end of her finger playfully and watched him struggle with the simple act of pulling back the covers. She had finally exhausted him!
He finally pulled back the sheets and slid his body between them. He splayed his arms out to his side dramatically and sighed with contentment when his head hit the pillow. Danielle began crawling toward him.
"Come up here." He called to her.
"Yes, Your Highness." She replied wickedly.
Henry's eyes cracked open and she could see him frowning a little. "Aren't we full of ourselves?" He asked when he saw her self-satisfied grin.
"No, actually. I'm full of you." She said as she slipped between the sheets and cuddled close to his side.
"Huh!" Henry exclaimed, sounding a little shocked. Danielle couldn't help but giggle.
But then she sighed a heartfelt sigh of contentment, and closed her eyes. His arms folded around her and she snuggled even closer, wrapping one of her legs over his.
"Utopia." She breathed, then kissed his neck.
"Exactly. Utopia." Henry agreed just before he drifted off to sleep.
For eighteen years Danielle had risen with the dawn. The morning after her wedding was no exception. Only this time there was no rooster's crow to wake her. Instead it was the thundering sound of horse hooves on the road outside.
Danielle's eyes opened a crack. The candles had been extinguished and the fire was banked--someone had been in their room while they slept! The idea shot a surge of adrenaline through her body and she stirred to look around the room. And then she heard voices.
"He bloody well knows we were looking for him!" Came the bellow from downstairs. Danielle gasped and turned back to Henry. His eyes were open and he had a sour look on his face. She leaned toward him and their eyes met. He looked worried and angry.
"Henry!!!!!" Came the same man's voice from the foot of the stairs.
"Ah, Fuck!" Exclaimed Henry. Danielle's eyebrows shot up at his choice of oaths, but she knew better than reproach him--he looked furious.
"Henry, what's going on?" She whispered. Henry sat up and pulled himself out of bed. He found a neatly folded fresh pair of leggings on a nearby chair and began thrusting his legs into them forcefully.
"Stay here." He told her. Danielle rose to her knees and reached for him.
"Henry, tell me!" She insisted.
Henry picked up a clean shirt (which had also been set out for him). There was a dark blue doublet and his boots to complete the outfit laying close by. He slid the shirt over his head and turned back to Danielle.
"It's my father. He's found us." Henry said softly. He reached for her and stroked the back of his hand along the side of her face. Danielle's eyes had gone quite wide and she clutched the covers around her naked body anxiously.
"Oh, dear." Danielle said breathlessly.
"I'm going to have to go down there before he comes up here." Henry said as if he were apologizing to her. Danielle nodded mutely.
"Try and get dressed as quickly as you can. I see that Charles has brought you a new dress." Henry nodded toward the second chair where a dark green velvet gown was draped. "Come down as soon as you can." Danielle nodded again, and she started to crawl out of bed.
Henry walked toward the door, but turned before he opened it. "No matter what happens, Danielle, remember that I love you. I won't let them tear us apart." He lowered his eyes then and left the room.
Danielle remained rooted to her spot on the bed, sheets and blanket tightly gripped in her hands and her mouth open with shock. His ominous words echoed and reechoed in her head.
"No matter what...!" She squeaked. And then she flung the covers from her. She had to get to him! His hot head might make things even worse!
She flew to the chair and found clean undergarments. She pulled on the breaches and undergown and then pulled the velvet dress over her head. The bodice's laces were inconveniently out of reach and she pursed her lips in frustration.
How could she face the king with her dress undone! She tried to reach behind her again, contorting until she thought she was going to get a cramp in her arm. She swore angrily and slapped her hands against her legs.
Just then there was a soft knock. Danielle looked toward the door and raised her eyebrows.
"Enter?" She said uncertainly.
An elderly woman opened the door and walked into the room. She met Danielle's eyes immediately and Danielle gasped. She could have been Louise's sister. She had the same careworn face, and kindly eyes. She was dressed in a burgundy dress--simple yet clean and neat.
"I wanted to see if you needed any assistance, milady." The woman said. When she saw Danielle's hesitation she stepped closer and smiled. "I am Genivieve, one of Her Majesty's maids. Prince Henry asked me to look in on you." She spoke in soft calming tones and Danielle promptly felt more at ease.
"As a matter of fact...Genivieve?" The old woman nodded. "I can't reach the stays. Would you..?" Danielle turned and pointed toward the inconvenient laces.
"Of course, milady." The woman's fingers took hold of the cords and began tightening, and then fastening the gown's bodice. She adjusted the poufs peaking out between the slashes over the shoulders and at the elbows and then turned Danielle around with her hands on the younger woman's arms.
"Green suits you." She declared softly. Danielle blushed and looked down. "But, I daresay we need to do something with your hair before you are presented to Their Majesties."
"Their Majesties...then the queen is here too?" Danielle asked breathlessly.
"Oh, she would never let His Majesty confront His Highness alone. She keeps them from killing each other." She replied.
"Killing each other!" Danielle exclaimed. "Oh dear."
Genivieve patted her arm and then looked around the room. "Now, would Charles have thought to bring you .... ah! There we are." The maid walked to the table and picked up a brush.
She approached Danielle but then seemed perplexed. "Milady?" She asked softly. Danielle (unused to being cared for) contritely moved to a chair and sat down.
"Now, then. Would you like it up, milady?" Genevieve asked as she began brushing out Danielle's prodigiously tangled hair. The brush tugged at her skull over and over again, but it still felt surprisingly good to have someone else working on her hair. That hadn't happened since she was little...
"What do you think, Genevieve?" Danielle asked. The realization that she was about to meet not only her in-laws but the rulers of France was quickly becoming a horror to her. What had she done? Henry was the love of her life and she would tear apart anyone that came between them...but the king and queen?
Just then there was a loud outburst from the floor below. "You did WHAT?! Henry...I...I...!"
Danielle's hands gripped each other tightly in her lap and she began bite at her lips nervously. Genevieve's hands continued to work on her hair, rhythmically, soothingly but the King's outburst had shred any serenity which she might have found from them.
"Up is always more formal than down, milady. Though your hair is quite beautiful, if I may say so. And I think with this gown it would look particularly nice with just a simple braid."
"All right." Danielle replied woodenly.
Soon, the maid's quick fingers had Danielle's red-brown hair swept off her face in two braids along her hair line that joined in the back and the rest of her hair was woven together into one fat braid down her spine. The effect was regal, but youthful.
"There now." Genevieve said, tying the braid off with a bit of golden cord. Danielle rose to her feet and went to a small mirror on the wall. The braids were perfect, and the dress was lovely--but her face was pale. Too pale.
She turned and felt her knees shaking. "I suppose I had better go down now." She whispered. She looked toward the maid and saw compassion in the older woman's eyes.
"Stay close to the Queen, milady. She wants Henry to be happy, and if you are the one to make him so, then she will love you as her own. The King will come around in time." Genevieve walked to the bedroom door and opened it.
Danielle took a deep, calming breath and walked out of the bedroom. She could hear at least three voices talking at once downstairs. Their voices were low, but sounded angry.
"Henry...!" A warning bellow from the King.
"No, Father! You told me I could choose my bride, and I have. There isn't anything you can do about it now!" Henry's voice was angrier than she had ever heard it. She descended the stairs, leaving behind her nerves for her own sake and anxious to get to Henry's side.
Charles was standing in the door of the kitchen, ostensibly drying a dish, but she suspected he was eavesdropping. When he saw her he straightened suddenly and looked guilty. They exchanged worried looks as she walked past him and to the dining room. There were two royal guards standing inside the front door of the cottage. They did not move as she walked past them into the room where only the night before she had eaten her wedding feast.
She entered the room to find the king pacing back and forth at the far end. Henry stood in the corner farthest from her, looking at his father through lowered eyelashes, his arms crossed over his chest. The queen sat at the polished dining table with a cup of some sort of beverage in her hand. Captain Laurent stood next to the door looking like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world.
The captain was the first one to notice her arrival. He bowed to her and cleared his throat loudly.
Henry's head turned her direction and their eyes met. He was clearly upset but there was also a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"Mother, Father, I'd like you to meet my wife, Danielle. Danielle, these are my parents, Francis and Marie." Henry said casually (as if dropping their titles and using their Christian names would make them disregard all the difficulties he'd thrown in their faces). He walked toward her and extended his hand. She reached out and he pulled her into the room a bit more then wrapped his arm around her waist.
Danielle gaped at the king and queen. She knew she should curtsey, but Henry was holding her fast, and she couldn't so much as dip her hemline. The queen turned toward them and she smiled. There was a genuine warmth in the queen's eyes, and it was hard to say for sure but she felt that the queen was at least on their side.
The king, however, had stopped pacing and now he stood glowering at them from opposite corner. He had unconsciously taken up nearly the same pose that Henry had affected only moments before.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Danielle." The queen said. She rose from her chair and walked toward the couple. She took one of Danielle's hands in her own and held it. Danielle felt her squeeze it reassuringly and she returned the queen's smile shakily.
"Isn't it, Francis!?" The queen called over her shoulder.
"Come greet your daughter-in-law!"
The king made a sound like a horse's snort, and stayed where he was. The queen rounded on him. She stared at him and then began walking quickly toward her husband.
"Francis, I will not have you treating our daughter-in-law in such a way." The queen told the king.
"Henry, I can still change the succession." The king announced.
"You won't do that, Father." Henry said wearily.
"Oh, yes, by God, I would. Your cousin, the Duc of Orleans would be more than happy to take your place."
"And that would throw the country into civil war, Father. You and I both know that. You also know that I've never craved the crown." The king actually looked toward Henry at this declaration. But, Henry continued before the older man had a chance to interrupt.
"But, I understand my duty now Father. Danielle finally got that through this thick scull of mine. I am willing to take up all of my responsibilities now--but, only with her by my side." Henry's arm tightened slightly.
The king's eyes finally rested on Danielle. She felt as if he were judging her, or studying her--as if she were some kind of uncharted territory he had to traverse. Danielle tightened her grip on Henry's arms and tried to keep breathing normally.
"Do you love my son, mademoiselle?" The king asked. Danielle took note of the use of the unmarried title.
"I do, Your Majesty." She replied, speaking for the first time since she'd entered the room.
"Why?" The king asked. His eyes now bored into hers and she could not seem to think straight.
"Because he makes me happy." She replied simply.
"Happy like a new dress makes you happy, or happy like a fancy desert makes you happy?" Henry's arm tightened again and she felt him take a breath to respond. The queen gasped.
But Danielle placed her hand on his arm and stopped Henry from speaking. "Happy as I have not been since I was a child, Sire. He makes me feel like I am loved, and needed." Danielle swallowed hard.
"Needed?" The king asked. "What does the Prince of France need with a commoner?"
"Francis Bourbon!!" The queen shouted. Henry's arm dropped from Danielle's waist and he strode toward his father in two long steps.
"By God, Father...!" Henry began, his voice shaking with anger. But the king stood up to Henry's wrath and never flinched. For a moment Danielle thought Henry might hit his father--she had to admit she would have been tempted in his place. But Henry's hands clenched at his side and he stood before his father mutely fuming.
"I'm sorry if you don't like my questions, Henry, but, her motive must be examined. You and she have created a monumental mess." The king said rather condescendingly.
"There is no mess." Henry ground out between clenched teeth.
"On the contrary. A prince of France is supposed to marry a noblewoman. The more noble the better. When I said you could choose your bride I know you understood that condition. Now, you have gone and married a girl with no aristocratic blood in her whatsoever. The nobility will be insulted--they may even demand that I choose another for my heir." The king stopped speaking and Henry hung his head. Danielle's mouth went very dry.
In the excitement, the bliss of being with him again, she had never truly considered the ramifications of their marriage. She wanted him, he wanted her--that was all that mattered.
But, hearing the king put their marriage in context of the nobility and how it would affect the country...it made her suddenly very frightened, and she felt quite alone.
Henry's head rose once more and he looked at his father. Then he stepped back and looked at his mother. He took a deep breath and raised his chin.
"I love her Father. We are one in body as well as spirit. Nothing you can do will change that now." Henry said softly. Danielle almost ran to him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him.
"The church will annul your marriage if I ask them too." The king said ominously.
Danielle saw Henry flinch. She then realized he had already thought of this possibility. Her stomach felt as if it were filled with hot lead.
"Isn't there anyway we can make this work, Francis?" the queen asked. "The boy loves her." She pleaded.
The king looked at his wife. There was a moment that passed between them and everyone seemed to be holding their breath.
"Please, Father. For my sake...for the sake of the country."
"All right. Let's see what we can come up with." The king said and everyone started breathing again. He moved to the table and sat down. "Where can a man get a cup of wine around here!!!" He shouted.
Henry pulled out a chair for his mother and then turned to Danielle. He held out his hand and gave her a hopeful look.
"May I be of service, Your Majesty?" Charles asked from the kitchen door.
"A flagon of wine!" The king bellowed.
"At once. May I get anything for anyone else?" Charles asked before leaving the room.
The queen waved her hand in dismissal, but Henry spoke. "My wife has not eaten yet, Charles. Perhaps you could bring her something?"
Danielle shook her head. It was bad enough she had caused all this commotion; she certainly didn't want to bring attention to herself. But Henry took her hand and smiled. Charles bowed and left them alone again.
"I'll be outside if anyone needs me." Laurent spoke up from his place at the door. The king nodded his dismissal and then it was just the four of them.
Henry and Danielle sat on one side of the table, and the king and queen sat on the other. Danielle found herself unable to raise her eyes from the surface of the table. She felt Henry reach for her hand under the table and she gripped it tightly.
"Honestly Henry, you've done it this time." The king said in more compassionate tones.
"I *am* sorry to have upset you Father. When the wedding to Gabriella fell apart I thought I had been given a sign from God. I had to find Danielle and ask her to marry me." Henry said.
Danielle turned toward her husband. *Wedding to Gabriella?* What did he mean?
"Asking her is quite different from actually marrying her, dear." The queen responded.
"I know Mother." Henry responded. Then Charles entered the room. He carried a large pewter flagon and a platter of bread, cheese and fruit. He set the wine down before the king and the platter in the center of the table.
"That will be all Charles." The queen said.
"Yes, Your Majesty." Charles answered and left the room.
"When I found her," Henry continued. "I was so frightened, so upset, that I could think of nothing else but making her my wife. I never want to be apart from her again." Henry said passionately.
"Why were you frightened, Henry?" The queen asked. She leaned forward and picked up a piece of sliced apple.
Danielle looked quickly at Henry, wondering what he would say. But Henry did not see her worried look.
"She was being held against her will by Pierre le Pieu, Mother. She had been badly treated, and I...I couldn't stand it! I helped her escape and we fled into the woods." Henry's voice shook at the memory.
"Hang on! Are you telling me that Monsieur le Pieu is mixed-up in this somehow?" The king asked. He was looking straight at Danielle and she felt her face turned five different shades of red. Her mouth had gone completely dry and her heart was beating wildly.
"He...he..." Danielle began, about to tell them how she had been sold to the wretched weapon's merchant.
"He took advantage of her family and imprisoned her." Henry said quickly.
The king's eyes never left Danielle's. She sighed. "No, Henry." She said softly, before turning toward her husband. "Let me tell them. Let me tell them everything." Danielle implored.
Henry raised her hand to his lips and kissed her. She closed her eyes and fought the rising tears. Why did everything have to be so difficult?
"Your Majesty," Danielle began when she found her voice again. "When I was eight my father married a Baroness...." Danielle began the story of her life. Her voice gained strength as her life's story unwound itself into the ribbon of injustice and abuse that had tied her up for the past ten years.
By the time she finished--relating the events of the masque and her subsequent indenture to le Pieu--not an eye was dry. Henry had tears streaming down his face (for though they had discussed some of these details the night before, she had now put it all in chronological order and it was a pitiful existence she had described).
She turned toward the queen and saw that she was sniffling into a small kerchief. Even the king was sniffling. Danielle knew she had made an impression, but would it be enough?
"What did you say your father's name was, child?" The king asked when he trusted his voice again.
"Auguste de Barbarac, Your Majesty." She replied.
"Was he not the man responsible for reopening trade with England after their war, Francis?" The queen asked. Her eyes were flashing.
"Auguste.... Why I believe you may be right. I remember him now. He came to court to ask for my sanction." The king's had a far away look on his face as if he were trying to remember something.
"Father?" Henry asked, almost excitedly.
"Hold on...now I seem to remember something." The king stroked his beard as he ruminated.
"Ah!" he shouted suddenly. Everyone at the table jumped at he king's outburst. "He was on the embassy with the Duc of Marseilles, when the Duc was almost assassinated. It was your father's excellent swordsmanship that saved the Duc's life!" The king spoke rapidly.
"He did?!" Danielle gasped. Her father had never told her anything about this.
"He was to receive a title that winter for his bravery!" The king continued excitedly.
"A title?!" Henry and Danielle shouted at the same moment. They turned to each other and almost laughed.
Then Danielle turned back to the king. "You must be mistaken, Your Majesty. He never told me anything about this."
"As I recall, he said he wanted to keep it a surprise for his daughter and his fiancee."
Danielle sat back in her chair. She was speechless.
"Father, what kind of title?" Henry asked breathlessly.
"For saving one of our most important allies? Why, he was to be made a Marquis, of course!" The king replied.
"Then that would have made Danielle, upon her father's death a..." Henry began.
"Marquess!" The queen shouted.
Three royal heads turned toward Danielle. Her eyes were as large as saucers and she looked from the king to the queen and then finally to Henry.
"Oh my!" She said breathlessly.
Henry looked at her for a long time before finally speaking again. "Father, is there any law that prohibits you from bestowing a title posthumously?"
"What?" The king seemed as shocked as everyone else. Perhaps more so. "Ah, no. No there's not! In fact, I do it every year at Michealmas. Families of the recently departed that have served the crown are rewarded with lands and titles... But I don't have to do it at Michealmas!" The king seemed excited now.
"Would say, now be a good time?" Henry asked impatiently.
"Yes! Yes, by God, it would!" The king laughed. Henry gripped her arm and her fingers tightly.
The king stood up and everyone else scrambled to get to their feet. Danielle felt as if she were floating. Her brain had not quite caught up to the events, and she found herself wondering if she were dreaming again. But no, Henry's fingers were laced in hers and his arm had gone around her waist to steady her. She felt her heart in her throat, beating wildly.
The queen approached her from the other side and together, Henry and the queen moved Danielle toward the king. She felt them pushing on her shoulders and she realized she needed to kneel.
She lowered herself to her knees and swallowed hard. Then she looked up. Henry's hand stayed on her shoulder comfortingly.
The king held out his hands and Danielle looked at him uncertainly. "Place your hands between my father's Danielle." Henry spoke softly. Danielle raised her hands and put them between the kings. "Now say: I swear, on my life and before God to be your vassal ...." Henry's quiet voice spoke the ancient words of a noble's dedication to his liege lord. Danielle spoke the words softly but carefully. The king spoke the response and then raised her with his own hands. He gripped her shoulders and kissed her on each cheek and then smiled.
"Welcome to the family, Danielle." The king said.
"Thank you, Your Majesty." Danielle whispered.
"That's Marquess Danielle, Father." Henry said teasingly.
"Actually..." The queen said. "It will be Princess as soon as we can crown her."
Danielle felt like she was going to faint.
"One thing at a time, Mother." Henry said when he saw Danielle's already pale face go even whiter.
"Of course." She said serenely.
"Now," The king said as he clapped his hands together and then rubbed them conspiritably. "When shall we have a proper wedding?"
Henry choked and a pained look passed over his face. "Good Lord." Henry breathed only loud enough for Danielle to hear. He lead her back to the table and she gratefully sank into one of the chairs.
"What do you think, Henry? The decorations are still up at the cathedral!" The king went on.
"Father..." Henry complained.
"Excuse me?" Danielle spoke up at last.
"Yes, dear. What is it?" The queen replied.
"Who is Gabriella?" She asked.
Henry's mouth dropped open, but he made no sound as his parents looked at each other and then began to laugh.
"Just a very silly woman, Danielle. You needn't worry about her." The queen assured her.
Danielle raised an eyebrow, but kept silent. Perhaps she could get the truth out of Henry when they were alone!