One of my more prompt chapter updates. I hope y'all are still interested and still keep reading!
A/N: Edited for additional detail and plot on June 19, 2013.
Disclaimer: I do not own Ever After in any way. I strive for historical accuracy though I realize I have taken certain liberties with European History to fit the plot line.
The Privilege of Love
By: M.L. Zhang
Chapter 8: … And in Health…
For the last three days Prince Henri has been occupied with nothing else except caring for Danielle and brainstorming ideas to break off his royal engagement to the Princess of Spain. Not that he even knew her to dislike her in any way that he would not want to marry her, but he refused to be his father's political pawn. Besides, another had already stolen his heart and he was determined to live his life with the one who held his heart so close to her own. He knew he was dearly running low on time though; as Princess Gabriella was due to arrive any day now. However, every reason he could think of, he also thought of a plausible counterpoint his father would argue. Likewise, all reasons he could suggest for Danielle being an acceptable match he could hear his father's voice telling him his case was not strong enough. King Francis was solely concentrated on the country's well-being by securing a marriage treaty with Spain and thus securing lands, trade, and times of peace and prosperity. It was proving difficult to defend a position combating his father's political foreign policy agenda.
It was early in the afternoon when Henri went back to his rooms after a brisk morning of releasing his frustrations in the form of riding his favorite bay mare across the grounds wooded acres. The crisp morning air was therapeutic and invigorating allowing for a meditation of sorts by forgetting about daily stresses and becoming one with nature for a short time. It had given him a chance to clear his head and refresh his thoughts before another round of searching for answers to his dilemmas. As he entered his rooms he was not prepared for the most pleasant surprise he was to receive in weeks…
Danielle was awake, sitting up in bed, and was smiling at him as he entered the room!
He paused in mid-step, his eyes on her, almost not believing what he was seeing. When Henri saw her laugh a little, the movement jostled him from his reverie to make him believe that her smiling form was not a mirage. What he had been praying for was finally becoming reality.
"Danielle!" He said in a breath of deep relief as he rushed to her. In a frenzy feeling her cool forehead which he had longed to finally feel its normal temperature. Then moving his hands to her cheeks, he brought her face to his and kissed her happily.
He remembered the physician's words that once her fever broke, she would be past the point of danger and on her way to recovery. He held her face in his hands, feeling her dry cool skin and seeing the clear focus in her chocolate eyes. Henri was ecstatic beyond all words that Danielle was still on this Earth with him; living held more purpose and motivation now.
"I have been so worried!" He told her as he finally released her face and stared into her kind gentle eyes. "I'm so relieved you're better."
Danielle had felt that she had been very ill, however during her sickness she had not been aware she was so close to death as Henri implied. "As am I… it was that serious?" She asked.
He took her hands in his, needing her lively touch. He nodded, "Yes, for awhile we were not sure you were going to pull through…"
Danielle thought about that, and then decided she needed to know. "What did I have… and where am I?" She did not remember being brought to such luxurious chambers, since she was already unconscious due to the fever when Henri brought her here. She took a quick glance around the room at the velvet bed curtains and silk curtains hanging from the tall windows to the left, the ornately carved dark wood furniture, and the decorative crown molding on the ceiling.
"Typhus…" Henri answered her. The gravity of her illness hit Danielle full on; she knew many people died from this highly contagious disease. She felt very lucky to have survived. "You're in my suite. My bed… Against my father's commands I brought you up out of the dungeons to my rooms. I had the Court Physician examine you and have been caring for you in here since then. I could not tolerate seeing you ill in the dungeons and I could not rely on my father to do something about it. Though as if you are a dangerous person, he placed a guard outside the door."
She was a little amazed and surprised at the lengths Henri took to care for her. It renewed her faith in his love for her. "Thank you, Henri." She smiled at him. "I owe my life to you."
"I owe mine to you, Danielle… for a life without love, a life without you in it, would not be worth living at all." Da Vinci's advice held so much truth for him now, and to think at the time he had scoffed at the old unmarried man whom Henri believed could not possibly know anything about matters of the heart.
She smiled, "I feel the same."
He then switched topics and said suddenly, "Oh… I cannot forget to mention, your step-sister, Jacqueline, visited you as well and helped tend to you. She was very worried about you and expressed how worried your friends at the manor are too. Her thoughtfulness, I'll admit, surprised me. I did not expect sympathy from any member of your family."
"She's very kind, always has been to me as much as she could be allowed under Rodmilla's eye. I will have to thank her. I'm sorry to have made you all so worried." She said sadly, not liking to upset others.
Henri shook his head, "It's alright, and it was not your fault. Besides, you're all better now."
"Do you know if my step-mother and Marguerite have faced Her Majesty's justice yet?" Danielle could remember the night of the Masquerade Ball as if it were last night and how her step-mother had sent her life into such turmoil since then all to try to advance her daughter into the royal family. She still could not loathe them, it was not in her nature, however, Danielle did wish to see due consequences fulfilled.
"Not as yet, however, I suspect very soon."
"I only hope Her Majesty bestows a fitting punishment for all the "kindness" they have shown me and the Queen."
"I'm sure my mother will be just and fair." Then suddenly thoughts of what his mother told him invaded his mind; remembering that she told him that his father was considering banishment to the Americas for Danielle. He desperately needed to avert that fate.
"What's the matter, Henri?" Danielle saw the dark change in his expression and was concerned.
Henri didn't want to worry Danielle about it right now. He just wanted her to concentrate on getting stronger. He shook the menacing thoughts from his mind and tried to offer her a reassuring smile, "Nothing … nothing at all."
Danielle let it go; however, she knew he was hiding something from her….
Late in the afternoon, as the sun was mid-way through its descent to give rise to the moon, a train of carriages were making their way to the royal court of France. The birds were giving their final serenades to the day before the crickets and nightingales started their evening concerts. The French Château de Chambord stood three stories tall built of bright white masonry façades with great corner bastion towers and turrets' flanking the main gate and it was seemingly massive against the flat terrain as it loomed into view. The blue roofline of the immense structure pierced the horizon with asymmetrical towers in varying styles with cupolas and gables so that the building appeared as it if it were a small city from a distance. In fact, this was the very intention King Francis had in mind when he commissioned his new residence: he wanted a palace with a similar roofline to that of the great city of Constantinople. Something so magnificent it was undoubtedly sure to impress the French people as well as foreign dignitaries.
Though Gabriella was still determined to show nothing but contempt for anything French, she could not help feel in awe of the castle's beauty and its immense presence it held on the landscape.
She called the guard over to the window of her carriage. "Can you tell me the region we are in now and the name of the castle ahead of us?"
"Of course, Your Highness, we are in the Loire Valley and the castle in view is your future home, the Royal Residence of France, the Château de Chambord. King Francis had it commissioned, can you believe it … with the assistance of architectural designs by Leonardo Da Vinci himself!"
She was impressed, though she refused to show it. "Where did the King live before?"
"At the castle d'Amboise. I have heard it was a splendid residence, though sadly it is left in ruins today all but forgotten."
"That is unfortunate." Gabriella responded, though her voice implied a sarcastic tone.
About an hour later the royal Spanish caravan arrived at the northern façade of Chambord. Sprawling well manicured lush green lawns and gardens bountiful with flowers in various shapes and colors led up to the palace. Upon closer inspection a moat ran along the front façade, though it looked like it continued around the building, it was purely for decoration. A remnant of old medieval design tied into the new and upcoming Renaissance styles.
Gabriella noted some animal carved into decorative circles in the masonry. She asked the guard, "What creature is that?"
"It is a salamander, Your Highness." The guard paused, "It is the personal emblem of King Francis."
"I see." Though Gabriella could not see why one would choose a lizard out of all possible animals as a personal emblem.
The carriages rode through the main gate into the courtyard and were greeted by servants waiting in lines to assist in unloading the carriages. At the head of the recession line was the King's Advisor and the Royal Chancellor who was responsible for foreign affairs and whose duty it was to ensure a warm welcome for the Spanish princess.
The guard whom Gabriella had occasionally conversed with along the journey approached her carriage and placed a step stool on the ground and then opened the carriage door. He offered his hand to assist her and she gracefully placed her hand on top of his and lithely descended from the carriage. Though she thoroughly wanted to disobey her mother, she had reluctantly heeded her advice and before arriving at the castle she had changed into a gown of a "more appropriate color". She wore a cream silk gown with long sleeves that had a small puff at the shoulder with a small ribbon bow underneath and then flowed down to long dagged flared sleeves and a neckline that showed off her shoulders. The bodice had floral gold embroidery which was echoed along the hemline of her skirt and in a gold belt at her waist. She looked very expensive and rich in the fine craftsmanship of the gown, which was Gabriella's intention. If she could not wear a dress for mourning, that she was determined to show the wealth of Spain to impress upon the French that she was superior. After all, had not Spain been the first civilized country thus far to discover new lands and riches in gold and spices in the New World? Was not Spain a bountiful kingdom with great power, for if not, why would King Francis be so eager for an alliance and her handsome dowry?
The King's Advisor and the Royal Chancellor approached the Princess and bowed to her. Claude, the Chancellor, smiled to the princess and greeted her warmly in Spanish, "A most gracious welcome to the Kingdom of France, Your Highness! We sincerely hope that you will come to love and accept her as she already does you!"
Gabriella smiled, "Thank you, Sir. I hope so as well, but time shall see."
Claude was a little taken aback, he expected the princess to warmly embrace France just as the country was warmly accepting of her. He tried not to show his faltering as he continued, "The servants here," and he indicated them waiting off to the side, "will assist in unpacking your things. And Antoine and I," he waved his right hand to the man at his side, the King's Advisor, "will show you to your rooms. If you would please follow us, Your Highness." He smiled kindly. He was older with a little gray in his hair already, so that he had a paternal air about him, which was warm and assuring.
The men led the Princess into the palace and what seemed like an endless maze down corridors, through great rooms, and up staircases. Even up the open double helix staircase that is a central masterpiece of architectural design and rumored to have been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The two helices were designed to flow up the three stories without ever touching so that while people could meet on the staircase they could not see each other; a true marvel of design. All the while, Gabriella took in the paintings in their gilded frames, the fine carpets and hardwood floors, and though most rooms appeared stark in furnishings and designs compared to what she was used to, there was a quiet elegance in the atmosphere.
Finally they arrived at her rooms, opening the double doors to find a short young girl standing in the middle of the room. She wore a rough linen dress of pale blue with a black laced bodice and white chemise and apron. She appeared to be about sixteen years of age, lean build, and soft beauty. Her blonde hair was pulled back by a white kerchief and she stared at the floor as if deeply focused on the carpet pattern.
Gabriella noted the red curtains at the windows, the white stone fireplace opposite the four post bed which was neatly made with pink sheets and a red blanket. A nightstand was to the right of the bed upon which stood a candle in its holder. A small bureau was by the window upon which was a ceramic vase of red roses. It was charming, she admitted to herself, but nowhere near the luxury had her rooms at home been. She sadly had to remind herself that this was her home now and her new standard of luxury and comfort.
Antoine stepped into the room after Gabriella and Claude and he indicated the young French girl. "Princess Gabriella, this young girl is Esmée Favre. She will be your maid and will fulfill your every need. Soon you will be assigned Ladies in Waiting who will then assist with your dressing and other personal needs as well as companionship. Until then Esmée will fill in and after then she will still be your personal maid to run your errands, clean your rooms, bring you meals, and anything else you wish her to do."
Antoine did not know Spanish and he was a firm believer in speaking the native tongue of his own country; not catering to foreigners. So Claude had interpreted for Gabriella, knowing that her French skills were limited and feeling more sympathy for the Princess than Antoine in allowing her time to adjust before demanding she assimilate.
Upon the introduction, Esmée curtsied, "Pleasure to meet you Your Highness. Welcome to France."
Of course the girl spoke in French, and Gabriella could not understand all she said since her French was not yet fluent. But she knew enough to say thank you anyway. "Merci." She would be relying a lot on Claude's interpretation skills until she knew the language better. Now that she was here, she wished she had listened to her mother and had paid more attention during her tutor's French language lessons.
Just then the servants from out in the courtyard began arriving with her trunks. They did not open and place her things away, which would be Esmée's job.
"Good your things are arriving promptly." Claude acknowledged the new activity in the room, which included a sitting room just off the bedroom as well. "We will leave you to settle in, Your Highness. The King and Queen request your presence in the Throne Room in an hour to welcome you and introduce you to your betrothed, Prince Henri. I will come back in an hour's time to escort you."
"Thank you, Sirs." Gabriella nodded to Claude and Antoine as they left the room.
Esmée seemed a little intimidated by the Spanish princess and continued to stand in the middle of the room, staring at the floor. Gabriella looked at her, "Esmée…" She said to get her attention and when the girl looked up, she waved at the trunks and raised her eyebrow. "Eh bien, mettre mes affaires!" It seemed in any language Gabriella was good at giving orders.
She went to sit down on her bed. She unpinned her hat and placed it on the table by the bed and then swung her legs over and lay back against the pillows, closing her eyes. She let out a deep sigh, trying to relax. Opening her eyes to see her new rooms and the little French girl scurrying around placing Gabriella's belongings away, it finally sunk in how real this marriage was. How inescapable it really was… that any chance of a life with Alejandro was truly no longer possible.
Another thought terrified her: in an hour she was to meet the man she was to marry! A man she had already decided to despise. But now that she was here, faced with all the unknown and her only close link to it was her betrothed… she now wished that he was a kind man, willing to care for her. She could not hope that he would love her, just as she could not hope to love him. Her heart was taken and always would be. But since there was no way out of this arrangement, she silently hoped that at least there would be mutual friendship.
Thank you all for reading! I will try to update again soon- Please remember to review! Merci