A Night in the Castle
Mary, Queen of Scotland and France, was lying on her bed in the darkness of her chambers, alone. She was wrapped in blankets, because despite the warm night air, she felt a chill. She told herself it was the loss of her lover, Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, that troubled her. Staring at the castle ceiling she wondered if perhaps there was a way that she could still go to him and tell him that she understood and forgave him for the wedding with Elizabeth's proxy. After all she had asked him to settle for being nothing more than her illicit paramour in a hostile French castle when she had promised him much more in Scotland. There must be a way that she could go to him…
Mary sighed. She pushed the blankets aside and dressed in the darkness. She knew that was foolishness. She could not go to Conde. He was already in too much danger, and aside from that, she knew that what they had shared was over. She had known it in her head if not her heart from the moment she had learned of the illness that had befallen Francis. She had clung to Conde still, defiantly, because he had given her back her piece of mind – and because she had not wanted to be alone.
Mary slipped on a pair of soft, flat shoes and tied her hair back in a simple ponytail before wrapping herself in a dark cloak and heading to the door. She would get some air and try to settle her thoughts. If nothing else, that would pass the time better than lying awake in this room.
Or she could go to Francis.
Her own thought of Francis surprised her. Mary opened the door and shut it quietly behind her, then nodded to the guards in the hall and walked past them. She knew Francis would not receive her well. After all, she had betrayed him personally and betrayed his country in way that could not be mended.
And yet, her husband's love had been strong once, so strong that she had felt it coursing through him each time he touched her. It had been so strong that she had been able to use it against him like a weapon, driving the sharpened edge of her own self-righteous anger into his heart until it bled out all of the feelings he had ever had for her.
Lost in thought, Mary found that her path had led her straight to the door to Francis's chambers. Though they tried to hide it, the King's guards seemed surprised to see her there. Mary told herself to keep walking, out to the night air, out where she could loosen the tightness that had formed in her chest as she had neared that door. But as she stood there before it, she could not help remembering how many times she had opened that door and seen Francis turn and smile, take her in his arms, kiss her, and whisper his love in her ear.
No matter what she had thought of Conde's touch and his kiss – and there was no doubt that she had enjoyed them and appreciated them – it was still true that no kisses had ever been as sweet as the ones she had shared with Francis, and no touch had ever been as tender as his fingertips on her skin. She took a step toward the door and told herself no, what is shattered cannot be fixed, not ever, it is gone and over and…still she reached for the door and pushed it open, not entirely sure why or what possible positive outcome she could hope to find in doing so. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. There was no sound in the room but Francis's steady breathing, a sound that no longer tormented her as it had soon after she had been assaulted. She took off her cloak and laid it on a chair and slid off her shoes. She moved closer quietly and saw his form on the bed, his golden hair on the pillow muted by the darkness. She walked to the bed.
Francis stirred. "Who is there?" he asked.
"Your wife," Mary said.
"I have no wife, only a queen," he said. He spoke flatly and evenly, but the very lack of emotion in his words struck her like a dagger. Mary stepped away from the bed, and she might have left entirely if he had not spoken again. "Why are you here?" he asked.
Mary was not entirely sure of the answer. "I wanted…to see you," she said.
Francis sat up. "In my chambers in the middle of the night," he said. There was a moment of silence between them and then he added, "Do you think that because his bed is no longer available to you that you can come to mine?"
"I did not…"
"I am not your lover, Mary," Francis said darkly. "You threw him away for the crown."
"I came back because you were ill…"
"And that illness allowed you the opportunity to usurp my throne and use it as a way to protect your own," Francis said. "You have had no use for me personally for quite some time, and now you sneak into my room and think to take pleasure of me to replace…"
"Pleasure," Mary returned tartly. "You have been no pleasure."
"And you?" Francis said. "What have you been? Mistress of the Prince of Conde, a treacherous, treasonous slut…"
"You cannot speak to me that way," Mary said.
"I am the King," Francis said. "I will speak as I wish."
"You are my husband," Mary said.
"Only because I could not end that without ending you," Francis said.
Mary's anger surged. "Then why not do just that?" she returned with her own fire. She took a step toward the bed. "Why not expose my treachery to all of France? Why not have me jailed and beheaded. Why not free yourself, Francis? You are King. It is within your power to do so. Why continue this farce of a marriage at all?"
Francis looked away. "Get out of here," he snarled.
"Answer me, and I will go," Mary said.
Francis looked back at her. "You know that I made a promise to your country…"
"And I made a promise to you and yours," Mary said, "one that I broke. You know that is not an answer. You could be rid of me for good and all…"
Francis threw the blankets aside and walked around the bed to her. "Am I not broken enough for you?" he asked with quiet but brutal fierceness. "You have torn out my heart and thrown it in my face. You have shamed me in front of the entire court. You have stood beside me every day pining for your lover. And now you come to my bed and taunt me because I cannot have you killed?"
They stood together there for a moment, so close that Mary could reach out to him and touch him without taking another step. She did not, but he did not move away from her either. She sensed an opening and a possibility, and she knew she did not have the time to decide whether it would be a good idea to seize them. "I did not come here because I did not have him," she said. "I came here because I did not have you." She closed the space between them, put her hands on his face, and brought her lips to his for a moment of soft, warm tenderness…before he stepped back.
"You are more cruel than I ever imagined," Francis said softly. "Can you hate me so much that you would do this?"
"I do not hate you…"
"Blame me then for…"
"I do not blame you," Mary said, "not anymore. I have not come here to punish you…"
"You pushed me away, you told me to take lovers, you took one yourself…"
"Francis," Mary said, but she let the silence descend between them.
Finally, he said, "Leave."
"No," Mary said. She had made her decision. "I am your wife and your queen," she said, "and I wish to stay. Do not send me away unless you are certain that is what you truly wish."
"I cannot be your second choice," Francis said. "I cannot be the one you take because you cannot have him."
"I took him because I could not be with you," Mary said. "And I planned to run away with him because I thought there would never be another moment when I longed for your touch and your kiss they way I had…the way I do now."
"If this is because of him…"
"Let me show you that it is not," Mary said. She walked to him and took his hand in hers. She drew him over to the bed, and lying down she drew him to her. Looking into her eyes he hesitated a moment longer and then kissed her, firmly and deeply and well, and all of the pain between them fell away as they came back together.