As he entered the suite, Charlotte rose from her seat near the Queen's bedroom door. "I'm glad you're back, Joe. She's still terribly upset. The doctor gave her a sedative, but she's been fighting it for an hour now – she needs to rest."
"How badly –?"
"Superficial, mostly. No broken bones."
Joseph nodded briefly and exhaled a long sigh. "The King is dead Charlotte. It was a stroke, perhaps an aneurysm of some kind. But he is gone."
"Oh, no, Joseph."
"I have to tell her. I don't know how she'll take it. She's been through enough tonight already." His troubled eyes studied the bedroom door with considerable misgiving.
Charlotte laid a hand lightly on his arm. "She'll be okay, Joseph – as long as it is you. She's tossing and turning in there now because she's worried sick about you. Go to her."
Joseph smiled at her and squeezed her hand gratefully. "I'll go down to the press office," Charlotte said. "It will probably take me a couple of hours to get everything sorted out. I won't be back until then," she continued, as she pulled the door of the suite closed behind her.
He took a deep breath and opened the door. He could see Clarisse propped against a mountain of pillows in the middle of her bed. She held something to her jaw – an ice pack he supposed.
"Oh, Joseph! Thank God!"
He came to the bed and sat down beside her, taking her hand in his. Slowly, he met her eyes.
"He's dead, Clarisse."
"No – Oh God, Joseph, no –" she moaned. "You – you – what happed? What did you do?!" Her voice began to break.
He stroked her hand. "No. It wasn't me. The King had some kind of stroke – may be an aneurysm or a tumor, the doctor thinks." He paused and looked her in the eyes. "He came to his senses just before he died. He knew he had hurt you and he wanted you to know how sorry he was."
"This," he touched her face "wasn't him Clarisse."
Clarisse held his gaze for a moment before closing her eyes and leaning back against the pillows once more. The silence stretched out between them. Joseph noted that he satin was had disappeared. Her bed was completely dressed in luxuriant cotton and she herself wore a high-necked cotton gown which covered the bruises on her neck and the scratches on her chest.
A lone tear trailed out from behind her lashes and coursed its way down her cheek before she spoke. "He did love me. More as a friend than a wife, perhaps, and I loved him too." She opened her eyes. "You are right Joseph. Tonight wasn't him. And no one outside these walls need ever know."
Joseph nodded silently. She closed her eyes again and eventually her breathing became more measured and her hand relaxed in his. She slept.
Joseph didn't know how long he sat there, silently watching her sleep. Eventually Charlotte returned and there were calls to be made and people to notify. But for those few hours, there was quiet and peace. And hope.