I have to tell him thought Danielle. I can't deceive him any longer. He deserves the truth.
"Your Highness," she began.
"Henry," he gently corrected her.
"Your Highness," she continued. "I am not who you think I am. My name is Danielle de Barbarac and I am but a servant."
"WHAT?" Henry was furious. "Why did you lie to me? What are you after? Is it my money, my title? What?"
In fear, Danielle dropped to her knees at his feet, sobbing.
"Forgive me, Your Highness, for everything. The day I threw the apple at you, I did not recognize you. I never dreamed that we would meet again. When you saw me in court, I was there to rescue a fellow servant, Maurice. He had been a second father to me. My own father died when I was eight, leaving me in the care of the Baroness."
At this point, Henry's curiosity got the better of him. "The Baroness is your mother?"
"My stepmother, Your Highness. She cared nothing for me and turned me into a servant in my own home. For the next ten years following my father's death, I worked the land the Baroness neglected. I was given the work of a servant and treated as one."
"Why would she do that?" asked Henry, his curiosity, once again, getting the better of him.
"I suppose it's because when he died, I was the one he said "I love you" to, rather than the Baroness, who had been his wife for all of two weeks. The Baroness resented me because of this. When it was clear my father was dead, the Baroness stood and was held by Maurice, who she recently sold to pay her taxes."
"The selling of servants will be outlawed when I am king," declared Henry.
Danielle smiled at the ground, pleased to hear Henry taking an interest in the running of his country. She continued her tale, "With the money you gave me for my silence, I dressed as a courtier and went to save Maurice. When you followed me, I didn't know what to do. If I told the truth, I would be put in the stocks. So, I gave you my mother's name—Nicole de Lancret. Again, I never thought we would meet after that. Then at the lake, I almost forgot myself. I went to kneel, before remembering that I was a Comtesse."
"I thought that was what you were trying to do. I recall thinking it strange that a comtesse should feel the need to kneel to me. Why did you run away?"
"Your Highness, I ran away because my step-sister, Jacqueline, was calling for me."
"I see," murmured Henry. "Next was the market, am I correct?"
"Yes, Your Highness. You almost discovered me at the market. I threw a chicken in your face out of shock. You were the last person I expected to meet there."
"And then came the monastery," said Henry, filling in the blanks.
"Yes. Earlier, you'd been talking to my friend, Gustave. I was hiding behind a haystack and threw away Leonardo da Vinci's flying contraption when you mentioned it. I ran to my house because, by this time, I'd fallen in love with you and I wanted to spend more time with you. That you'd be willing to share something as extraordinary as the monastery with someone you'd only known a few days intrigued me."
"You intrigued me," countered Henry.
Again, Danielle smiled at the ground before continuing, "The gypsies were threatening you and I had to save you. You were, and are, more important to me than my own life. I know that I must die for having deceived you, but I want you to know that last night was the best night of my entire life."
Danielle continued to kneel at Henry's feet, waiting for his verdict.
When Danielle had first started speaking, Henry shook with anger at her deception and betrayal. Now, he shook with anger at how she had been treated. He was also ashamed at how he had acted, causing her to feel the need to grovel before him. He loved her. Danielle, Nicole, it made no difference. All Henry knew was that he loved the woman at his feet.
He looked down, prepared to see her cowering in fear of his wrath. What he saw instead made his blood boil. Danielle was indeed cowering, but Henry's attention was drawn to her back which was oozing blood. He saw how someone had tried to stop the flow of blood, but it had continued to seep through the fabric binding it and was now staining Danielle's dress.
"Danielle," he asked in concern. "What happened to your back?"
He heard her breath hitch, as though embarrassed at him seeing her like this, before she said, "Nothing of importance, Your Highness."
"Not important?" Henry was incredulous. "Your back is covered in blood and you say it's not important?"
"It isn't important. It's the least of what I deserve for having deceived you."
Henry closed his eyes in shame, that she should think herself deserving of such a brutal punishment.
"Danielle, look at me," Henry whispered, for Danielle had been speaking to the ground the entire time.
When Danielle refused to do so, Henry knelt down and tilted her chin up, cupping her face in his hand.
"Danielle," he said again, doing his best to convey the sincerity of his feelings for her. "It makes no difference to me what your name is. Nicole and Danielle are one and the same. I love you."
"You love me, Sire?" Danielle could hardly believe her ears. "After what I've done?"
"Yes," Henry said simply. "And the name's Henry, if you don't mind. Now, sit up and tell me what happened to your back."
Slowly, body aching from bending over for so long, Danielle sat up. She continued to look at the ground, refusing to meet Henry's caring gaze.
Sighing, she began. "I slept late this morning. After last night, I was exhausted. When the Baroness woke me up, I refused to make breakfast, instead going back to sleep. When I finally got up, I was outside filling the water bucket when Maurice's wife told me to get inside quick. I arrived to find Marguerite trying on my mother's dress, the one I had intended to wear to the ball. Several days before, the Baroness had told me that I could accompany her and her daughters to the ball if I behaved and did all my chores. The Baroness now informed me that after my refusal to make breakfast, I wasn't going anywhere. I asked if they thought their games and intrigues were going to win them a crown. Marguerite accused me of being jealous. She also insulted my mother, who had died giving birth to me. I punched Marguerite and proceeded to chase her around the house. We arrived in front of a fireplace where I had left the copy of Utopia that my father had brought me on his last trip. Marguerite held it over the fire in order to coerce me to hand over my mother's shoes, which I had held on to while punching her. The Baroness arrived and told me to consider carefully—my father's book or my mother's shoes, though neither would save me from sound lashing. I handed over the shoes, only to have Marguerite throw my father's book into the fire. The Baroness then had me whipped which is why I am now before you with my back covered in blood."
Henry could only stare at Danielle. She's been through so much he thought.
He slowly held out his hand for her to take. She looked between his hand and his face, silently asking if he was offering what she thought he was offering. He smiled encouragingly at her.
"I offer you my hand, and with it, the world," he declared.
"Oh, Henry," Danielle said, taking his hand with tears in her eyes.
Henry stood, pulling Danielle with him, before carefully putting his arms around her, mindful of her injuries.
"I'm so sorry you were put through that, Danielle," he said. "I promise, the Baroness and her daughters will suffer." There was a note of finality in his voice.
"Not Jacqueline, Henry. Please, she was the one that tended to my back this morning."
"You are too kind, Danielle," Henry smiled down at her, before guiding her head to rest on his shoulder.
He closed his eyes, relishing the feeling of having her in his arms, while trying to calm his rage at the fact that the Baroness had whipped the love of his life.
After a moment of silence, Henry stepped back, only to get down on one knee before Danielle and take her hand in his.
"Danielle de Barbarac, I love you more than life itself. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
He waited with bated breath for her answer that would determine his happiness.
"Yes, Henry. Oh, yes. A thousand times yes."
Henry stood and picked Danielle up, twirling her in a circle before setting her on her feet once more.
"Come," he said, taking her hand. "We must tell my parents."
Henry noticed her fearful expression. "They'll love you," he reassured her. "Just as much as I do."
"But, Henry. I've deceived you. And by deceiving you, I've deceived them as well. They have every reason to despise me."
"Nonsense," scoffed Henry. "I love you. That's all that matters."
When Danielle remained frozen where she was, Henry came back to her. "They aren't going to hurt you," he said softly. "And even if they do, I'll be there to protect you. I promise."
A single tear streaked down Danielle's sooty face. Henry wiped it away, covering his own hand in soot. He gave her a devastating smile, at which point she laughed through her tears.
"How can I resist that look?" she asked.
"You can't," replied Henry.
Serious again, Danielle asked, "What have I done to deserve you?"
"The question is not what you have done to deserve me. Rather, what have I done to deserve you? I've always shirked my duty, having no desire to be king. You've lived with the burden of running an entire household, yet you've never backed down. Because of you, I've been changed for the better and can now see ways in which I can improve the lives of my people—starting with you."
Henry now cupped Danielle's face in his hands and bent down to capture her lips in a passionate kiss.
Danielle threw her arms around Henry, pouring her very soul into the kiss.
"I love you," she whispered, when the two came up for air.
"I love you too," he replied. "Now, are you ready to meet my parents?"
"As ready as I'll ever be, Sire," she replied playfully.
"I'll be right by your side," he promised her.
They shared a smoldering look before setting off for the palace.
So, what do you think? Should I continue with this? Let me know.