WARNING: Character Death

Chapter 41

"I'm fine," Rupert growled as the attending nurse, a woman in her forties placed the blood pressure cuff on him, and set the monitor to check his pressure every ten minutes.

"Yes, most everyone here is fine. Even that man two rooms down who is getting stitches," she answered back, her accent giving her words a slow measured cadence.

Shades chuckled, covering it with well-timed cough. Rupert glared at him.

"You are not from here, are you?" asked Rupert.

"No, I am from the United States, Alabama to be exact. My husband is in the military and attached to the Consulate here. We moved the whole bunch of us here to Genovia for the next five years," she said. "My eldest wasn't happy until she discovered she would be able to attend the University here. Her grades have allowed her to start her first year at the university. "

"How many children do you have…Toni?" asked Rupert, reading her name off her tag. He flinched a bit when she stuck the IV into his hand.

"Five, one girl and four boys. The exact opposite of my sister who has four girls and one boy," the nurse answered. "You?" she asked.

"Two boys, or men, as they are both grown," answered Rupert.

"No matter how old they get, they will always be those little boys who came crying when they skinned their knees," said Toni. She finished with the insertion of the IV and the placement of the cardio tags.

"There all done," she announced. "Now we just wait to see what the readings are. And if you are good, I may be able to find a lollipop for you later," she teased.

"As long as it is cherry," replied Rupert.

"It may well be pear," said Toni.

"I like pear too," added Rupert, as Toni left the room.

Rupert waited for the door to close before he asked Shades. "Did you contact Joseph?"

"Yes. Joseph is bringing Her Majesty here immediately," said Shades.

"Parliament?" asked Rupert.

"Joe's exact words were 'Parliament can go hang'," chuckled Shades.

Rupert joined him in laughter. But soon his eyes closed thanks to the medication. Shades waited until he was sure His Majesty was asleep before he sat down slowly in the chair next to the bed, his head in his hands. He allowed a few tears to escape before he took a shuddering breath. Tears would have to wait, he had a job to do.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Joseph walked through the quiet garden. He knew he should be in bed but found it difficult to sleep. Rupert's scare this week highlighted the need to begin the preparations for the Royal Funeral. He didn't want to think about the funeral, but knew he couldn't ignore it any longer. He made a mental note to speak to Claude concerning the funeral and the traditions surrounding the funeral for a ruling King. He needed to make sure everything would be in place when necessary.

Sometime within the next twelve months he would be burying his friend. Joseph clamped down on the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

He also needed to arrange for the participants for the Vigil of the Guard. Pierre and Philippe would naturally stand Vigil, as would he and Shades. Joseph just needed to arrange for at least twelve to sixteen more guards to stand Vigil. Each set of four would stand for six to eight hours. Again he would need to speak to Claude about the proper length of time the guards should stand.

He knew he would need to place Pierre and Philippe on separate rotations, along with Shades and himself. He also needed to decide how to handle security at both the Cathedral and the Royal Tomb.

He sighed deeply, rubbing a hand across his face and eyes, studiously ignoring the wetness that coated his hand.

He stopped near one of the myriad of rose bushes planted in the garden. He gently plucked one of the closed blooms, caressing it, lost in thought.

Joseph stood there for at least an half hour before he turned on his heel, heading back to the Palace and his suite.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Clarisse walked quickly down the hall. She was late and she hated to be late. She nodded at Michael as he held open the door to the Green Salon for her.

"I am sorry, darling," she said as she walked into the salon. She stopped immediately when she noticed no one but she was in the room.

Clarisse was puzzled. She was sure Rupert had said to meet him in the Green Salon for lunch, but he was nowhere to be found. Walking over to the small table near the French doors she noticed the crème envelope propped up against the flower arrangement. Clarisse picked it up, opened it and began reading.

My darling Clarisse,

As you can see I am not here. I decided today was too nice to remain inside so I arranged a surprise picnic for us. Please be so kind as to allow Shades to escort you to where I am. Also you might want to change into something less majestic and more sensual.

Don't keep me waiting too long darling. As I might fall asleep, and that would leave us both dissatisfied.

Love, your impatient husband,

Rupert

Clarisse smiled as she tapped the missive against her lip mentally reviewing her wardrobe. She knew just the outfit to wear for her surprise picnic. She wasn't surprised to find Shades waiting for her outside the salon door.

"I'll be ready in ten minutes," she informed Shades, as she walked past him, confident he would follow.

Clarisse was ready in seven minutes. Opening the door to the Royal Suite she was met with a long, low whistle.

"Wow!"

Clarisse smiled and did a complete turn to show off her outfit. "Do you like?" she asked.

"Very beautiful, Maman," said Pierre. "But what's the occasion?" he asked, waving his hand to indicate her outfit.

"I have a date," she said.

"With who?" inquired Philippe.

"A very handsome man," replied Clarisse.

She refused to elaborate. After his refusal to contact Helen and Amelia, Clarisse preferred to keep her interactions with Philippe to a minimum, as it was for the best. This way neither would say anything they would later regret. Although, in her case, as she informed both Rupert and Joseph, she would regret nothing she said to her selfish youngest son.

Philippe began to say something but was interrupted by Shades. "Ma'am, we really must leave if we want to arrive on time," said Shades.

"Of course Shades," answered Clarisse, sending him a grateful look. Placing a kiss to the cheeks of both her sons, Clarisse allowed Shades to assist her with her light sweater before taking his proffered arm. She knew he did it only to irritate Philippe, as Philippe made his feelings well-known on what he called Security's overt-familiarity with the Royal Couple. Clarisse tossed a smile over her shoulder at her sons then allowed Shades to escort her to the waiting vehicle.

"Is he following?" whispered Her Majesty.

"Yes," answered Shades, knowing instinctively who Her Majesty was referring to.

"Then perhaps the front seat would be best," suggested Clarisse.

Shades raised an eyebrow at her request, grinning when he saw the gleam in her eye.

"Front it is," said Shades. "But you are explaining it to Joe," added Shades.

Clarisse simply smiled in return. Exiting the Palace, Clarisse noticed the Alfa Romeo waited for them. The waiting footman had the backdoor opened but at the negative shake of Shades head he closed it. Shades walked Clarisse around to the passenger side, opened her door and handed her in, allowing her time to adjust her skirt before closing the door. Shades walked around and took his seat behind the wheel, started the car and drove from the Palace. Neither remarked on the disapproving expression on Philippe's face as they drove away.

Once free of the Palace area Shades turned onto the ocean road, heading south.

"Where are we going?" asked Her Majesty.

"I am under strict orders not to reveal our destination," replied Shades.

"Even if I order you to?" teased Her Majesty.

"Even then," said Shades. "His Majesty threatened to hang me by my toes in the courtyard if I revealed our destination."

"Oh, well we can't have that," teased Clarisse, who then began trying to guess where they were heading. Shades, to his credit, acknowledged none of the guesses, much to the exasperation of Her Majesty.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Rupert watched the car drive up the road. Everything was in readiness, and he couldn't wait to see Clarisse's reaction. They hadn't been here in years, in fact since they were engaged, and had been caught in an unexpected storm forcing them to seek shelter. It had taken all of Rupert's considerable talents, which were many, to arrange this picnic.

It was here Clarisse had seduced him, which had surprised him. After resisting his considerable charm and appeal for two years, she had for some odd reason, a reason he thanked the heavens for, decided to no longer fight her attraction to him. She had kissed him, not the friendly almost innocent kisses she normally bestowed on him, but a sexually charged kiss that had left him shaken and aroused. She had then pushed him to the ground, removed only the clothes necessary and had made love to him for the first time.

She had been a virgin, something that inordinately pleased him and terrified him. He had actually been dreading their wedding night; he didn't want her first experience with lovemaking to be uncomfortable. He knew it would be, his grandmère had told him exactly what a woman felt as a virgin; he had wanted to spare Clarisse that experience. His grandmère had actually encouraged him to allow Clarisse in the dominant position, so she could control the tempo of their lovemaking. But she had taken all those concerns and fears from him when she seduced him. The feel of her around him had been exquisite. For days afterwards he had been able to feel her skin, her heat and even the taste of her kisses. He wanted to relive those memories and create new ones. Ones that Clarisse could look back on with love after he was gone.

He knew both Joseph and Constantine would take care of Clarisse and love her, but he needed to show her how much he loved and adored her, and how much he hated the thought of leaving her. He knew they would be reunited after her death. In fact, he wasn't sure how he knew. but he was positive he, Clarisse, and Joseph would be spending eternity together. The love they felt for each other would continue to the end of time.

Rupert watched as Shades assisted Clarisse from the front seat of the car. 'Joseph is not going to happy about that,' thought Rupert before disregarding any security issues, in favour of savouring the outfit Clarisse wore.

She wore a simple ivory silk dress, with a soft sweater over it. The dress was form fitting at the top and flared at the bottom. It stopped mid-calf and accentuated her beautiful legs. On her feet she wore low, strappy sandals. The overall effect was one of beauty, sensuality, and Rupert could feel his body respond to the vision she presented.

Walking down the flagstone path to greet her, Rupert relished the moment when Clarisse realized exactly where she was and the meaning behind this particular venue.

"Oh Rupert…how…when?" she asked.

"Being King does have some perks," answered Rupert, before kissing her. Clarisse relaxed, enjoying the feel of Rupert's strong arms around her. She moaned when she felt his tongue slip into her mouth, sparring with her tongue before retreating only to return again. Clarisse's knees went weak and her hands clenched tightly at Rupert's shoulders when he began to nibble and pull on her lower lip before moving to her ear and kissing that spot behind her ear.

"Oh…Rupert..," Clarisse moaned, angling her head to allow him greater access, awash in the sensations that her husband produced.

Ending his kisses, Rupert looked down at the flushed, heated face of his beautiful wife. He loved it when he could make her forget everything but him, as he did now. With his arm around her waist, so she was tucked against his side he led her across the front flagstones to the side of the house, and to the waiting picnic that was laid out in the back garden. He helped her sit on the soft blanket, handing her a glass of wine before stretching out next to her.

He watched as she investigated the large picnic hamper, pulling the various items out and laying them down on the blanket. Once unpacked, they began enjoying the sumptuous picnic afforded them, feeding each other small titbits of food between kisses and caresses. Once satiated with food, Rupert helped Clarisse repack the hamper before moving it off to the side.

Once done, Rupert lay back down on the blanket and pillows pulling Clarisse into his arms. Clarisse lay her head on Rupert's chest, her fingers playing with the buttons of his soft linen shirt. They lay there enjoying the feel of each other.

"This is nice," said Clarisse, placing a kiss to Rupert's chest.

"Hmm…very," answered Rupert, his hand caressing the soft skin of Clarisse's arm. The afternoon was warm and her sweater lay on top of the hamper. The trees offered dappled shade to the two as they lay in the garden, surrounded by the fragrances of roses, lavender, honeysuckle and annuals. The dappled shade, the sweet scent of the flowers coupled with the warm afternoon created a private utopia for the Royal couple.

"Although I can think of something even nicer," Rupert said, shifting so Clarisse lay beneath him.

"And what would that be?" asked Clarisse, looking up into the dark, passion-filled eyes of her husband and King.

"This," said Rupert, kissing Clarisse. Clarisse sighed into Rupert's slow, sensual, drugging kiss. The coil of desire that always accompanied Rupert's kisses soon overwhelmed Clarisse. She became lost in his kisses, returning his passion with her own.

"Je t'adore, je t'aime, mon chéri," said Rupert, placing kisses and nips to Clarisse's neck.

"Je t'aime. Mon roi, mon amour," Clarisse replied, her hands caressing Rupert's strong back. She sighed when Rupert pulled the straps of her dress down to expose her breasts to the warm summer air. And when his mouth captured a nipple between his lips, and began to suckle, she arched against him, holding his head tightly to her breast.

She moaned in disappointment when she felt him release her, and move away. She opened her eyes to find him standing above her, his hand outstretched. Placing her hand in his she allowed him to pull her to her feet. She offered no resistance when he slowly lowered the zipper of her dress, and pushed it off her body to pool at her feet. She stood waiting, dressed in nothing but a pair of silk panties and her heels. Her tongue licked her suddenly dry lips as she watched her handsome, sexy husband quickly divest himself of his shoes, shirt, and linen pants highlighting the fact that he wore nothing underneath.

The hot desire that flashed through Clarisse at the sight of her magnificently aroused husband was nothing in comparison to the need that filled her when he dropped to his knees in front of her, slowly removing her sandals. Clarisse barely remained standing when he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of her panties and pulled them slowly down her legs. And when his tongue darted out to taste her, Clarisse finally gave up her fight with gravity, collapsing onto the soft blanket.

Rupert pulled his beautiful wife into his arms, kissing her with passion, while his hands trailed across her soft skin. His lips finally came to rest near her ear.

"I am going to make love to you, mon chéri femme, until you scream in ecstasy. And when you can't scream anymore, I am going to start all over," he whispered. Rupert gave Clarisse no chance to respond. He captured her lips in another devastating kiss, teasing and tasting her mouth before moving down to tease first one nipple then the other.

His hands moved across her skin, massaging and caressing every inch. His fingers trailed across her stomach down to her centre, combing through the soft hair that covered her before dipping into her warm wet channel then slipping out to tease her clitoris.

Clarisse arched into Rupert's caress as he teased and fondled her, increasing her desire until she was gasping and shuddering in his arms in what she was sure was just the first of the many orgasms she would be experiencing this afternoon.

Rupert gave Clarisse no time to recover. He moved between her opened legs, pulling one high onto his hip before he slid into her quivering channel. His thrusts were measured and controlled. He knew thanks to his medication, he would only be able to come once, with no chance of achieving another erection for at least a few hours. He was intent on making love to his wife for as long as he could before he achieved release.

He kept his thrusts controlled, driving Clarisse's excitement higher and higher until she came again. And still he allowed her no chance to recover. Instead, he continued his controlled thrusts until she was begging.

"Oh…Rupert…please…I can't…I can't..," Clarisse pleaded, her arousal straddling that fine line between pain and pleasure. She had come already twice, and she could feel her body tightening in anticipation of a third orgasm but she wasn't sure she could survive a third. Her breathing was laboured, her heart raced and her muscles felt as if they wanted to rip out from under her skin. She couldn't grasp a thought, her head swam and she knew she would pass out if she came again. She was at once scared and exhilarated.

"Regarde-moi, Clarisse. Regarde-moi. Ouvrez vos yeux et regarde-moi," growled Rupert. He was so close. So very close. He wanted to see Clarisse's eyes when she came. He wanted her to see the love, devotion and desire he felt for her. He wanted her to see how important she was to him. He wanted her to remember this moment, this one small moment when nothing else mattered but her!

Clarisse struggled to open her eyes.

They were so heavy.

It was so hard!

Finally, she managed to open them, looking directly into the gaze of her husband. What she saw triggered her orgasm, her shout of release filling the warm quiet of the afternoon. Rupert's orgasm followed hers, his shout of release mingling with Clarisse's as his gaze remained locked with the passion and love-filled, dark cerulean gaze of his wife before her eyes slid closed and she slipped into unconsciousness.

Rupert wasn't alarmed that Clarisse hadn't stirred yet. He had pushed her body and mind to the brink and beyond. He knew it would be some time before she recovered. Draping a second soft blanket over the them he allowed himself to relax. Soon his even breathing joined that of his wife and they slept.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Joseph looked at the two as they slept entwined in each other's arms. He carefully set Clarisse's dress and Rupert's clothes on the hamper before placing their shoes in front of it. Taking one last look at the sleeping couple, and ensuring himself that Rupert was breathing easily, he walked back to the house, entering the kitchen to join Shades at the well-worn table.

"How are they?" asked Shades.

"Asleep," answered Joseph.

"Hmm...," said Shades, continuing to read the security plan for the state funeral. It was strange to be preparing for a funeral when the person who was to buried was still alive, but Shades knew it was at the behest of His Majesty that this be done now. His Majesty didn't want Her Majesty to have to deal with any of this when the time came.

"Anton would work better with Carlos," suggested Shades.

"Note it," said Joseph. "Any others?"

"No, everyone should be fine with their assignments," replied Shades, as he noted the change before handing the planning book back to Joe. Joe accepted the book back, noted the changes before closing it.

"At least that is done," Joseph said. "Have you had any problems?" Joseph asked, knowing Shades would know what he was asking about.

"Not many. The usual, for the most part," said Shades. "Although I am fast losing patience with his whinging," added Shades. "Are you sure there isn't a way to have Prince Pierre crowned king rather than the Brat?" Shades asked.

Joseph glared at Shades. He knew Security had given the nickname to Philippe in retaliation for his treatment of him but he didn't like it. To refer to the heir to the Crown as a brat was unprofessional, not to mention dangerous. "Don't call him that," growled Joseph.

"Sorry, won't do it again," Shades said quickly. His Majesty had coined the term and it had stuck with Security, something he was sure the boss was unaware of.

"He met with Devereaux again," Shades said.

"When?" asked Joseph. He didn't like Philippe's relationship with Devereaux. The man was too closely related to Mabrey.

"Yesterday," said Shades. "They discussed a number of things including the Princess and Lord Nicholas."

"Particulars?"

"Limited. You don't think the Prince is intending to arrange his daughter's marriage, do you?" asked Shades.

Shades was one of the few who knew the complete story about Amelia, Philippe's daughter. As Joseph's second-in-command he was privy to many state secrets. He had only seen Amelia once, two years ago. He had volunteered to take some photos of her while she and her mother were on vacation. Shades remembered thinking she had the promise of beauty if she could just figure out how to move without injuring herself- she was a klutz but so were his sisters at her age.

"He could be, but why? Devereaux isn't in a strong political position. And his connection to the Renaldi's is four generations removed. Granted, it could cause a problem if there were no successor but Amelia negates that concern," said Joseph.

"Is there a law or edict that might cause a problem?" asked Shades. His time spent with Micah and Claude had given Shades an avid interest in Genovian history.

"I don't think so, but it might not be a bad idea to start researching the old laws and edicts, just in case," said Joseph.

"I'll start then, if I find anything I'll let you know," said Shades. The two men went on to discuss other concerns while they waited for Their Majesties to wake.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Late Summer passed into fall then winter before finally giving way to spring once more. The Palace gardens were in bloom and it wasn't unusual to find Their Majesties enjoying the warm spring days by lounging in the garden. They were often joined by Signor Notte, who along with Joseph were rarely seen out of the company of Their Majesties.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Rupert picked up his book before heading to Clarisse's office. He smiled at Charlotte, Clarisse's new assistant when she greeted him. He liked Charlotte. She was efficient, quiet and never fussed when he interrupted Clarisse at all hours of the day. He hoped she accepted the position permanently with Clarisse, when her six months was up. She would be good for his wife.

"Anyone with her?" His Majesty asked, his hand on the door handle.

"Only His Highness and Joseph," answered Charlotte.

Charlotte fought the smile that threatened when His Majesty rolled his eyes at the news his son was in with his wife. Charlotte discovered, in the short time she had worked at the Palace, that while everyone loved Philippe few wanted to interact with him. A situation she found confusing at first until she realized Philippe was jealous of Joseph, and his relationship with Their Majesties. And while he was jealous of Joseph, His Highness enjoyed the company of Signor Notte, a close family friend. Why His Highness would be jealous of the older man was unknown to Charlotte. After all, Joseph was Their Majesty's ages. It was only be natural they have quite a lot in common. She again thought it rather childish of His Highness to complain of their close relationship.

"I suppose I should rescue her," His Majesty said, making no move to open the door.

Charlotte refrained from saying anything, instead she just smiled. Rupert let go of the door, walked over to Charlotte's desk and perched on the side of it.

"I think I'll just wait here," he said, earning a soft chuckle from Charlotte, laying his book on the desk next to him. Charlotte commented on the book and soon the two were deeply involved in a discussion about the author, his previous books and their favourite characters.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Clarisse walked out to the patio. Joseph would be arriving as soon as he took care of a slight security matter. Constantine would be joining them for dinner this evening and later, the four of them would be enjoying a few hands of poker. She knew the men were hoping to recoup their losses from her.

Rupert had informed her earlier he would be reading on the west patio, and to come find him when she was ready for tea. Dear Charlotte had arranged for tea to be delivered to the patio. Today was too lovely to take tea inside. Clarisse knew Rupert would probably be napping, or at least she hoped he was. He hadn't slept well last night, and she was concerned.

Reaching his side, she gazed down at the handsome face of her sleeping husband. Leaning down, she placed a soft kiss to his hair before perching gracefully on the side of the chaise and kissing his lips.

When Joseph arrived he found Clarisse still perched on the side of Rupert's chaise. He was ready to tease Clarisse about her choice of seats when she turned to face him. The tears streaming down her cheeks, and the absolute devastation on her face said more than words. He dropped to his knees next to the chaise, and with a shaking hand reached out to verify what, at the moment, was still unreal. Cool, silent skin met warm fingers verifying what Joseph had prayed was a dream but was now fast becoming reality.

He keyed his lapel mic and simply said, "My king is deceased." His voice broke on the last word of the traditional announcement. He barely heard the numerous orders relayed through the Palace at the news of the King's death. Instead, his attention was on the woman before him, who sat next to the former King, caressing his cool hand. Minutes passed as Joseph watched Clarisse simply caress Rupert's hand. The conversations coming across his earpiece finally coalesced into meaningful words snapping Joseph out of his state of shock.

"Clarisse…Clarisse? The honour guard will be here in a few minutes along with the Royal Physician to attend to Rupert," said Joseph. "Clarisse?" Joseph said again, placing his hand on her arm.

He didn't think she heard him but he needed to get her attention before they were inundated with guards. His soft touch must have registered for she stood gracefully, her eyes never leaving Rupert's form and moved back from the chaise. Joseph stood next to her as they waited for the guards and the Royal Physician.

The arrival of the guards and the physician was sombre. After performing the necessary examination on His Majesty, the Royal Physician stepped back allowing the honour guard to drape His Majesty in royal purple before transferring him to a gurney. Her Majesty and Joseph, with the guard and Royal Physician escorted His Majesty's body into the Palace and down the main hallway to the front entrance.

As His Majesty's body passed, every member of the Royal Household bowed and curtsied. When they reached the front entrance, they stopped. The guard lifted His Majesty, and in silence carried him from the Palace for the final time. The entire Royal Household followed His Majesty outside. When the guard reached the bottom of the outside stairs, they stopped and placed His Majesty on the ground. They turned as one to face the entrance of the Palace. Above them, Her Majesty stood alone. With grace, that would be talked about for years to come, Her Majesty, Queen Clarisse Mignonette Gerard Renaldi, performed a deep curtsy to her beloved husband and sovereign, remaining in position until His Majesty's body was secured in the ambulance, and escorted to its final destination to be prepared for burial.

The entire Royal Household watched as Her Majesty gracefully rose from her deep curtsy, accepted Joseph's arm and allowed him to escort her back into the Palace.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Pierre stood in the doorway watching his mother stare out the window. Both he and Philippe were away this afternoon when his mother found his father. He had been visiting a small parish two hours away and received a phone call from Joseph telling him of his father's death. The pain he had felt at the news was overwhelming but he hadn't cried.

He found he couldn't cry.

He wasn't sure why, perhaps it was because he wanted to appear strong for those around him or maybe because it didn't feel real, but he found himself unable to cry. Even when he comforted Philippe, who had been informed while meeting with Parliament, had cried in his arms, Pierre found his eyes strangely dry.

Now as he looked at his mother he found his eyes still dry. Perhaps there was something wrong with him, maybe he was as Philippe once accused him of being years ago- maybe he was cold and unfeeling. Pierre walked over to his mother and slipped his arms around her.

"Maman," he whispered, settling his chin on the top of her head and simply enjoying the scent of her.

"Pierre, mon renard," his mother said, turning in his arms and resting her head on his chest. "Are you alright?" she asked, looking up into his eyes. He saw the evidence of his mother's earlier tears.

"Oui," he answered. "It hurts but...," he tried to explain but found the words stuck in his throat.

Clarisse cupped her eldest son's cheek softly and said, "I understand."

Her eyes conveyed her understanding and love. She knew each of her son's would handle their grief in different ways. Philippe would wrap his around him like a cloak, almost revelling in it. While Pierre's would take time.

He was most like her in that respect. He kept tight rein on his feelings, until something or someone forced them to the surface.

She had been able to cry for her loss at first. She knew the full brunt of her grief would not hit her for some time. But she also knew that when it did Joseph would be there for her, offering comfort and helping her cope. Perhaps Pierre needed Joseph just as much as she did. She would insist Pierre remain at home for a few months, so he would be here when his grief overwhelmed him. Resting her head on her eldest son's chest she closed her eyes and prayed for the strength to survive the next few days.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Pierre stood at attention at his post near the casket. He, along with the other three guards at Vigil were dressed in full military uniform, their swords unsheathed, pointing at the floor in deference and their heads bowed. Most forgot that the eldest Renaldi had served four years in the military, prior to his abdication. He knew from Joseph and Claude he, and his three would be stand Vigil for six hours, before being relieved by the next four.

The crowds paying their respects to his father had not lessened even at this late hour. He knew it was highly unlikely the crowds would diminish even when Vigil ended and His Majesty was moved to the Cathedral for Mass, then to the Royal Tomb for interment. The turnout was a testament to how much his father was loved. Doing the isometric stretches as instructed by Joseph to keep his muscles loose, Pierre began to softly recite one of his father's favourite poems to pass the time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Clarisse looked at her reflection in the mirror. It was amazing what skilfully applied makeup could do for one's look. The dark circles under her eyes, the redness from crying and the paleness of her skin were all skilfully hidden, lending her an aura of strength that many would remark on.

She knew most of the gossip rags would be present at the funeral, intent of capturing the devastated Queen as she prostrated herself in front of her beloved husband. She refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing her grief. She knew the moment they glimpsed even the slightest pain they would twist and turn it into something hateful and insensitive. She refused to allow that to happen. She would cry in the privacy of her own home and present a stoic façade to the gossips. Only those closest to her would be able to see her pain.

Clarisse picked up her black gloves before walking out of her suite. Young Anton waited for her in the corridor. Clarisse noticed the pain and exhaustion on his face. She accepted his arm, squeezing it lightly in comfort. He acknowledged her comfort with a short nod before he escorted her to her the waiting cars.

Joseph, Their Royal Highnesses, Shades and the members of the Vigil were escorting His Majesty to the Cathedral. The procession would arrive at 11:45, thirty minutes from now. Enough time for Anton and his group to escort Her Majesty to the Cathedral to await their arrival. Sliding into the front passenger seat of the limousine Anton signalled for the cars to proceed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Elizabeth proceeded Philip into the pew sliding to sit next to Beatrix.

"Have you spoken to Clarisse today?" asked Elizabeth.

"No, not yet. The last I spoke with her was yesterday evening. You?" replied Beatrix.

"Not since yesterday afternoon," replied Elizabeth.

Philip leaned forward and added, "I spoke to Shades, Joseph's second this morning. He said, Charlotte, her assistant told him she slept some last night."

"Good," replied Beatrix. She watched as various heads of state and others arrived. "That Penworthy woman just arrived," said Beatrix.

"Where?" asked Elizabeth, glancing around discreetly.

"Right side," said Philip, catching sight of the gossip reporter.

"Salope," hissed Elizabeth.

"Liz!" admonished Beatrix.

Elizabeth glared at Beatrix and replied, "As if you weren't going to call her a teef."

Beatrix replied, "Actually I was going to call her…well, never mind what I was going to call her. I just hope she has enough sense to report only the facts this time. Because if she doesn't…Joseph will be..," Beatrix stopped speaking.

Clarisse had just arrived. She entered from the side and was escorted to her seat by a young guard.

"She looks exhausted," whispered Beatrix.

"And heartbroken," added Elizabeth, grabbing Philip's hand. Philip squeezed her hand in response and she sent him a grateful smile.

The three Royals watched their friend as she waited for the arrival of her husband, and the beginning of the end of her life with him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Constantine's gaze never wavered from the front of the Cathedral. His eyes remained on Clarisse throughout the Mass. He watched as she remained stoic throughout the service, occasionally but briefly taking Pierre or Philippe's hand in hers. Other than those signs of distress her face betrayed little to the majority of the attendants.

But he could see her heartbreak and pain.

It took all his resolve not to go to her, take her in his arms and let her cry her pain away.

But Joseph had made it clear they were not to approach her. One comforting gesture from either of them would shatter her carefully crafted façade leaving her exposed to the world. Something neither of them would allow to happen.

As she followed Rupert's casket as it was carried out of the Cathedral, her sons flanking her sides, Constantine clenched his hands into fists to prevent himself from reaching out to her. There would be time for comfort later.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Joseph kept his gaze on Clarisse. She stood tall, flanked by Pierre on the left and Philippe on the right. Her gaze was fixed on the casket in front of her as it was placed inside the Royal Tomb. He watched as she walked forward, and placed a single mauve rose atop the casket before kissing the dark walnut wood. He watched as she moved to the side allowing Pierre and Philippe to pay their final respects to their father before all three exited out into the bright afternoon sunshine. He noted she made no attempt to wipe the few tears from her cheeks as Pierre escorted her to the waiting limousine, Philippe following. He watched as all three entered the limo and drove off.

Turning back, he re-entered the Royal Tomb coming to a stop in front of the casket. He knelt on the hard stone, bowing his head as he recited a short prayer for his King.

Rising to his feet, he placed a hand on the dark walnut before stepping back.

"Descansa en paz, mi amigo, mi hermano, mi rey."

Turning, Joseph exited the tomb into the bright afternoon sunshine and an unknown future.

The End

Coming soon to a computer near you.

The sequel to Bien-aimé y Amado…

Amado e Adorato

Two powerful men.

Which man will she choose?

One is sworn to her service, while the other is sworn to her heart.

Both must compete against the sworn duty to her country.

Will her duty to her country force both men from her side?

Or will love finally conquer all?