AN: No one noticed Vanessa's request from Chuck from the last part. Given that, I continued the vein from which she spoke. Hope it doesn't shatter you guys.
The Tudor soldiers, exhausted from the battle, drained at the horror surrounding them, still stepped out of the way as Blair rode past them. Blair knew it was because the king himself followed closely after her in his own stallion, flanked by his two most trusted guards.
They rode past the Tudor line and approached Norfolk's. At the sight of pure Yorkist white, the men beside the king grasped the hilts of the swords. Blair shot a look of displeasure towards Henry, who opened his hand in a gesture to stay.
As they drew near, she saw the stealthy way that the soldiers passed the information from one to the other. They gathered their dead, yet even through the somber action they relayed the message. By the time they were close to the line, Blair saw Chuck running towards them, favorite his injured leg, but hurrying just the same.
She slid from her horse, unmindful of her brother who sat astride his horse behind her. Blair picked up what was left of her gown and ran towards him.
"Chuck!" she cried, dust flying up from where her feet hit the ground. When she reached him she threw her arms around him. He caught her up under her arms and picked it up, whirled around once before bringing her back down to earth. Blair laughed happily, weak at the knees at the sheer joy of accomplishment. "You made it," she gushed. "What of Nathaniel?" she asked about the companion that Chuck had upon her flight from them.
"Nathaniel is well," he answered gruffly. "We are gathering our dead."
His eyes strayed to the body placed gingerly in the wagon, covered by a familiar mantle. Blair rushed over to the corpse, then hesitantly pulled the cover off his face. When she saw who it was, she placed a kiss on his cheek, and closed the sightless eyes.
"Vanessa pleaded to take him home first," Chuck told her. "And since she had saved our lives, I would grant her this wish."
"He was a loyal knight to you," she admitted. "He will be missed."
"Blair, you must not ever risk yourself again," he cautioned her. Chuck drew her into his arms and kissed her forehead. His eyes fluttered to the knight, who had done first and foremost his duty to Norfolk. "I would die to see you hurt."
"Is it more of a risk, Bass, to have the princess run into Tudor than to have her stay here?"
The lovers pulled apart and regarded the king, who looked down at them from his perch. "I know her happiness lies here with us," Chuck answered.
"From what I've learned, it is with you," Henry replied pointedly. Chuck turned to Blair in surprise. "She is ever the diplomat, just as I heard you were in the years of Richard."
"I was, and served my kingdom faithfully only to come home with the stench of death dealt by your forces."
"It is a matter of war. War does not choose the fallen. Yet it makes heroes of us all."
Chuck gestured to take the wagon into the walls of Norfolk. Vanessa wished to see her fallen hero, he would rather Daniel be washed and bathed, prepared for his funeral by his Gypsy love than baking under the sun in front of the king he fought against.
"You have overwhelmed us," Chuck said, nodding towards the neverending sea of Tudor troops surrounding Norfolk. "Have you come for my head?"
Blair's arm tightened around Chuck's. "No," she said softly. "Henry and I have come to an agreement."
She turned to Henry, who nodded. The king allowed, "Tell him, Blair."
Blair turned to look up at Chuck. "Norfolk is now defeated. Even if we fight there is no way to win this war. I will not have you dead."
Chuck's eyes narrowed. "I will not be a prisoner of Henry Tudor," he stated firmly. "I would rather die."
"I will not have you dead!" Blair argued sharply. "Listen. To save your people, you will be stripped of your lands and titles. In the absence of a son from your loins, Henry is free to give Norfolk to any of his subjects."
Chuck's hands fisted in rebellion at his judgment. "You agreed to this?" he said in disbelief.
"Chuck, listen," she pleaded, her eyes shining. "I would have rather spent my lifetime in these lands with you, but there is no other way."
"My people for my freedom," Chuck said to Henry.
"It is not freedom," the king stated gravely.
"England cannot see a man who has done such harm to the throne be allowed free, without repercussions," Blair said softly. She forced him to look at her. "Chuck Bass, you are going to be exiled in Florence. You will be required to serve as envoy there, in much the same manner as you did for Richard. Since you are known to Lorenzo di Medici in such capacity, I expect there is nothing that will keep you from your duties. You will be in service until you prove yourself worthy of my pardon," Henry added. "You will receive nothing but the annual pension of an envoy."
He was intelligent enough to recognize the political manipulation that was needed to draft a punishment that was not truly punishment. Even if Henry never pardoned him, he would live the fine life of a diplomat to one of England's ally states. This was what she had brought to Henry's negotiation table.
"And what of you?" he asked her softly. His greatest fear had been realized. He stood to face a lifetime apart from her. If he were never to return to England, he may never touch her again.
He would rather a quick execution now.
She shook her head. "My fate is in his hands. What we have for you is more than enough favor to ask my king."
The king got off his horse and approached his sister.
"The princess has committed a crime against me," Henry said.
At the words, Chuck ached to push her back behind him to cushion the blow of whatever the king would mete out.
"She will be stripped of her title, stricken from the records, her existence will never be spoken in my court," was the king's edict. "For her crimes, she will be exiled from this land. Her English holdings will be placed in my coffers to do with as I will. The only properties she will keep are those that I deem to give her of my own will."
"She does not need any of your charity, king," Chuck told him, the title a scathing name.
"Never tell me how to deal with my sister," Henry snapped. To Blair, he said, his voice softening, "You will have your mother's villa in Tuscany, and a meager allowance reserved for an illegitimate child."
Of royalty, it would be more than enough to survive.
"This is more than generous, Blair, when an execution could have been as likely," the king told her.
Tears filled her eyes when her brother mentioned the Tuscan home. She had never seen it, and more than likely it was nothing grand or majestic like Richmond, or Harcourt, or even Norfolk. Yet Henry had chosen it for her, to be kind to her, to show her that even in this, he could love her just a little, a small portion of the love he had for England.
Chuck Bass was exiled to Florence, and she had traded the kingdom's courts for a little house atop a Tuscan hill.
Blair fell to her knees, took his hand in both of hers and showered his glove with kisses and tears. "Harry, I love you!"
The king pulled his hand away and helped her rise. He glanced at Chuck Bass, who watched Blair with his jaw set tight. He had no doubt the man abhorred the sight of the princess in such a humble pose. Henry pulled his sister for an embrace that would last them years, perhaps even a lifetime. She had made her choice well and clear. "I wish you a happy life, sister," he said quietly into her ear. "Italy is far enough away that you can live yourself outside of me."
Blair accepted the kisses that Henry placed on both of her cheeks.
The king then turned to Chuck. "Italy is close enough that I can take her at any moment you see fit to raise your hand on her like that foul Yorkist did," Henry spat, his threat clear as he recalled the bruises that Carter Baizen left behind. "I will know, Bass."
"You will never need to come for her," Chuck swore.
"Serve me well, and you may be pardoned soon enough," The king replied, obviously satisfied with his response. "Then you can return to England."
"Apart from knowing how Norfolk will fare, there is little reason for me to come back." Blair would be with him in a new country, with sprawling hills and miles of vineyards, right at the height of what would be, he suspected, the most spectacular rise of culture and arts. He could live in Italy forever for the simple thought of spending nights under the Tuscan stars, wrapped around her as they lay naked on the grassy lands. One thing he needed to settle, and happily he could live out his life in paradise. "Tell me, what will happen to my people?"
"There is a lord I must reward," Henry told him. "He had found my sister when I asked, and I owe him land and a good noble title."
"Nathaniel," Blair realized.
Nathaniel and Serena would be the duke and duchess of Norfolk. His people, his castle, his lands would remain in the hands of his bloodline, even if somewhere down the line, the Bass name was forgotten, it would still be Bartholomew Bass' sons and grandsons who would care for the land.
Blair looked up at Chuck, saw him nod his head in satisfaction. He pulled her to him and placed a kiss on her temple. "This will do," he told her.
Two full moons had passed before the king of England, with the new duke and duchess of Norfolk, made their way to the Continent. Sir Eric had arrived much earlier, having found Jenny Humphrey and taking her to serve her mistress in Italy, much to her delight. The delight had been so much that the maid burst into a grateful cry and gave the knight a kiss.
The wedding in the Basilica di Santa Croce was a large affair, attended even by many of the Medici patrons and artists. Carlos—Chuck—was special to the city's political life, and thus hoards of guests saw fit to wish him a happy life when he married. In this city, she was near nameless, and the women looked at her in envy and surprise as she walked down the aisle with the English envoy they had all come to know over the years.
It was then with great surprise when the king of England arrived to grace his envoy's wedding, and then held the bride's arm as he led her down the aisle.
Serena gasped at the white confection of pure lace, floor-length, that covered her as she was brought to her brother.
"My mistress looks beautiful," Jenny said, proud of the work she had down to tailor the astounding veil. "White becomes her."
Eric thought back to the day they captured Blair in her black veil and laid her before their brother for his delectation. And now here she was, frothed in while, presented again to Chuck.
"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" the priest intoned from
Henry took her hand in his, kissed her knuckles, then gave that hand to the priest. "I will." The king retired to the pews and took his place beside Lorenzo.
They had said the vows before, once upon a time, when death was imminent and life was too precious to lose.
Chuck's voice was low when he said the words, and he could not keep the smile from his face at now saying them out loud, to her, in front of the ancient cross. "I, Charles Bartholomew Bass, take thee Blair to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse—"
Her hand on his tightened, "—for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board." There was short pause, and he could see her red lips curve at the words. "To love and to cherish, til death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance. I pledge thee my troth."
Chuck and Blair placed the rings they had been holding on top of the Book that the clerk held.
"Bless these Rings, or Lord, that those who wear them, that give and receive them, may ever be faithful to one another, remain in your peace, and live and grow old together in your love—"
He heard her sniffle, and he itched to part the thick veil that hid her from him.
"And seeing their children's children. Amen," the priest finished. He picked the smaller ring and handed it to Chuck.
Chuck held Blair's left hand in his. "With this ring I thee wed." He touched the ring to her thumb. "With my body I thee honor." The ring touched her index finger. "With all my worldly goods I thee endow." He slid the ring onto her ring finger. His voice dropped. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
The priest handed the other ring to Blair, who did the same for her groom. Once the ring was in place on his hand, she kissed the gold against his skin. Chuck slid his arm around her waist as they knelt together.
"Let us pray."
She kept her head down as the priest prayed, and even did the same as everyone intoned "Our Father." Chuck heard the tears more than he saw them. It was in the way her breathing hitched, the sound of her sigh.
"We will never sin again," she breathed in relief.
"Each time I lay with you, I never sinned. Each time you broke in my arms, lay entwined with me," he whispered, "you never sinned."
The priest joined their right hands together and asked them to rise. Chuck supported his bride with a hand on her waist.
"Those whom God has put together let no man put asunder."
No man, no king, no war. Nothing.
"For as much as Charles and Blair have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company," the priest declared, "I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
Chuck held his breath when he finally gathered the veil in his hands, then parted them to look into her eyes. Blair smiled up at him tearfully. He cupped her face, and she did the same with his. Laughing softly at the image they presented thus, they kissed each other in front of their guests. To the Florentines it was the English envoy and her nameless English bride they watched. To the English it was the princess and the traitor.
"Chuck and Blair," Chuck whispered when their lips parted.
She shook her head. "Blair and Chuck."
They raced from the altar to the waiting horse outside, leaving their guests to follow them to the small hilltop villa for celebration. Chuck jumped astride the horse and pulled his bride up onto the horse to sit between his thighs. She rode like this with him whenever he took her back to Norfolk, and now they rode together in one steed as they returned to their humbler home.
They passed the lane of cypress trees on the path. A week later they would find themselves lying naked under those trees, with him deep inside her as she looked up at the blanket of stars above them.
Chuck rode the horse towards the white gates that led to the vegetable gardens. A month later she would stand there with a small basket of ripe tomatoes on her arm, and take his hand to press against her slightly rounding belly. Their lovely tomatoes would spill to the grass and roll into every possible hiding place in the garden, but they would crush the ones they found when he lays her on the dewy soil and caresses her into hoarse and utter submission.
Blair held his hand as they made their way up the wooden steps leading to the corridor towards the bedroom. Years later the old steps would need to be replaced due to the abuse of three pairs of pattering little feet chasing one another every day.
They stood before the large windows that presented the hills and plains of Tuscany in such a marvelous frame. Blair opened her hand, palm up, and he entwined his fingers with hers. The cold metal of their rings clicked together.
"It is worth the trade, my lord?"
"I should ask you that. You are neither a princess nor a duchess now. Here no one knows you are a Tudor rose."
She turned her head and accepted the kiss her husband gave, her lips parting with no hesitation. "I am not a rose anymore. From the very first moment we fought, you turned me into a wildflower. And I can blossom where you are. Even if it is in a little house in Tuscany."
"And I would trade a hundred more of Norfolk even for just another tomorrow with you." He closed his eyes and rested his chin on her shoulder.
Ahhhhh… I feel like I'm waking up from a dream now. Thank you for being with me through this journey. And I hope you learned a thing or two hehe. I did.