Hey guys! I'm so sorry it's taken so long to put out another chapter. My mother just got out of the hospital after having a rather intensive set of surgeries so I've been taking care of her and limited on writing time, but now that's she is doing better I can get back to work. :) I hope you all enjoy this latest chapter.
Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Danielle could not focus on the dinner plate before her. The deadly messenger dispatched by King Carlos of Spain to murder her and her family had left her terrified. Despite Henry's efforts to shield her from the grisly sight, she'd seen the dagger and the dead man's bloody neck and knew her husband had been the one to do it. The thought soured her stomach so well she hadn't eaten in days - the most she could force down was broth and even that didn't stay for long. She'd chosen to dine in her room with her mother-in-law for a week but the last day of feasting required her presence as a figurehead, so she merely rearranged the piles of food on her plate until it was cleared.
Henry's fingers brushed against the back of her wrist under the table. She glanced at him and smiled weakly, but didn't take his hand.
"Are you unwell, my love?" he whispered, his voice full of concern. Before she could reply, a wave of nausea hit. She stood abruptly and bolted from the dining hall, barely making it to the outer hall before vomiting onto the stone floor.
Danielle took several slow breaths to resist another episode as well as the tears threatening to spill out over her eyelashes. She leaned heavily against the wall, pressing her forehead against the cool stone. Despite her best efforts, tears began to slide down her cheeks. Why did her husband, the man she loved, turn her stomach to water? He had killed to protect her life, she knew that, so why did his every touch make her…
She vomited again, this time into an urn near the door. She sank to the floor beside it, trying to shrink her body and hide, but the full skirt of her evening gown wouldn't allow it. The guards who had followed her as she ran from the dining hall appeared before her, asking if they could assist her to her room or bring the king to her, but she only buried her head in her hands and wept. It wasn't until she heard her voice that she even looked up.
"Danielle, are you all right?"
She was the last person she would have sought for comfort, but Danielle found herself launching into her step-sister's arms. She clutched her tightly, burying her face in the familiar fabric of her past. Marguerite's arms hesitantly came around to cradle the weeping woman as she spoke to the attending guards. She could feel herself being lifted and ushered through the hallways and up the stairs to her bedroom, but all she could focus on was her hand clutching Marguerite's rough sleeve. It wasn't until Danielle had been stripped naked and her large copper bathtub was lined and filled that her tears subsided. When she could see clearly, she saw Marguerite had taken up a chair by the fireplace and was examining a book she'd left there the night before.
"Such a waste. You have all the wealth in the world but you still cling to your silly books." she said a bit sourly.
"They remind me of my papa." Her throat felt hoarse as she spoke and she wondered if she'd been wailing as she cried.
"I remember," Marguerite said, shutting the book and replacing it on the arm of the chair.
"I'll take it from here," she said to the girl who had arranged the Queen's bath oils and soaps. She curtseyed and left without a word. Marguerite took up a comb and worked at tangles from the opulent hairstyle Danielle had worn at dinner. "Now tell me why you ran out of the dining hall like a madwoman."
Tear prickled at the corners of her eyes, so she wiped at them with wet hands and answered: "I don't know."
"I don't believe you."
Danielle took a heaving breath. The bath water was warm and inviting, but she felt cold. "I'm afraid. I'm so afraid, Marguerite."
"I never imagined that this would be my life. I wasn't like you and Jacqueline, dreaming of fine gowns or sparkling jewels, I just wanted things to be easy. I wanted my papa and I to be together always and to live a simple life at the manor. When Henry and I married, I knew my life could never be simple like that again and at first it was like a dream." Danielle face clouded. "But the dream has become a nightmare."
"I'm sure you've heard, just like everyone else, that an assassin attacked our carriage on the night of Gustav and Jeanne's wedding.; since then none of us have been without guards but my fear won't leave me. I cannot take a walk in my private garden without them by my side. I'm not allowed to even use the privy without an escort. Worse than that…"
She stopped and took a breath. Marguerite took advantage of the pause to soap and oil her hair before braiding it back with a ribbon. Danielle sunk down to her neck in the now murky water and hugged her legs against her chest.
"Henry killed the assassin. I saw it." Behind her, Marguerite rolled her eyes.
"You saw him kill an assassin who, if he had not acted, would have killed both of you and your son if he had the chance. He was a criminal and Henry saved your lives."
"But how many more men will die by my husband's hand if this event leads to war with Spain?" Her eyes began to water again as she thought of Henry at the head of a great army on some dusty Spanish plain, bodies broken and bloodied under his horse's hooves.
"Perhaps many," Marguerite said bluntly. "But it is to protect his family and his country. He is no regular man, Danielle. He can't just build universities and speak gently behind closed doors; he is the King of France and you are the Queen and there may be many wars to fight during your rule. Your role is as important as his. The people have to see you as the epitome of confidence and control in such hard times, but you can't do that if you fall apart every time he does his duty. If you cannot handle it then you should have left it to me."
Marguerite crossed to the window where the towels had been left. She could see across the lawn in the light of burning torches the courtiers who had just left the dining hall. Surely they were gossiping about the Queen's behavior, but the thought set a twinge through her stomach. Why she would suddenly feel protective of Danielle she couldn't say, but the idea did not settle well with her.
"Forgive me, your Majesty," she said after a moment, her tone greatly subdued. "That was out of line."
"It was true," Danielle said softly.
"That doesn't matter. Even if it was, you can't let the things that I or anyone else says bother you. You are the Queen of France; you chose this, not the other way around. Your coronation is in three days, so I suggest you pull yourself together before then and take your place in this new world of yours. Swallow your fears and rise to greatness."
Marguerite lingered by the window for a moment before taking up the towels and bringing them back to the tub. After she was dry, dressed and tucked in bed, Danielle grasped her hand.
"Why do this now?" she asked, searching Marguerite's eyes for an answer.
"I don't know," she said honestly. "But you should listen to me; I was trained for what you're only pretending at. If I were in your position, I'd be doing everything in my power to present myself as a strong, confident leader. Even if you are only a figurehead, you're the wife of the King and the mother of his heirs. I would be desperate for another pregnancy; healthy sons are the backbone of a kingdom."
"Doesn't your mother-in-law speak any of this to you?" Marguerite asked after a moment.
"Lately…" Danielle trailed off.
"Since the King's death, she's not quite been herself. She's become withdrawn and I hardly know how to speak to her about my problems when she has lost the man she loves. I had hoped to find a mother in her," she paused to assess Marguerite's reaction, but she gave none. "But it's not to be. It seems I'll never have a mother."
Again, Marguerite rolled her icy eyes. "Some mothers are overvalued."
"Mine was, at least. Look at how she left me here to service while she fled alone into the night. I'm not meant to be a laundress, she knew that, but she abandoned me here to this fate. Your mother did not leave you by choice. You're lucky not to have that upon your shoulders." Marguerite took away her hand and crossed her arms. "In any case, think on all I've said."
"I will," Danielle promised. "You've opened my eyes again, Marguerite. I don't know how I can thank you for what you have done for me tonight."
She knew this was her chance; it was now or never. "I do. I'd like to have my service sentence commuted."
Danielle blinked perplexedly. "Commuted?"
"Rather, I'd like to join the household of a member at court. His name is Emeric de Berengar, from the barony in Artois. His steward, Monsieur Estebe, has invited me to work as a maid for his household and I would have your blessing to accept it."