EDIT: Because I'm a major bonehead, I've once again posted the wrong document file. Serves me right for not just saving it as a .doc file only. This is the edited, EXTENDED version! Enjoy!
HEY EVERYBODY! I am so sorry it's taken me almost the better part of a year to get this story updated; I really hope I haven't lost you all in the process. It's been a very busy year for me but now I have some time to dedicate to my projects, 'The Garden' included.
I hope you all enjoy this chapter and I hope you all stick with me. :)
Disclaimer: I OWN NOTHING!
The new King and Queen were brimming with excitement and delight. The coronation ceremony, which had taken place earlier in the day, was executed to perfection. The crowns had been placed with scepters and orbs, prayers sung and amen's said, then it was all over and they were on their way back to the palace to celebrate. It was only appropriate that this pivotal moment in their young lives should be marked with a masked ball. At least, that's how Danielle saw it.
As she looked out from behind a glimmering golden mask at the courtiers who danced in wide circles around the hall, she could feel only happiness. She squeezed her husband's hand under the table, which he returned with an open smile. Perhaps Henry was unaware, but she was thinking of the last time they had shared such a spectacle. It was a turning point; the night she had run away to the ball to confess to the man she loved that she had deceived him and to beg his forgiveness. Of course, the night had not exactly gone the way she'd hoped, but she had to acknowledge that if she'd stayed in the root cellar and ignored the wise words of Signore da Vinci - who was dancing with the dowager queen among the celebratory crowd - she'd still be sleeping by the kitchen fireplace at de Barbarac Manor. Fate, she believed, had stepped in to grant her a beautiful new destiny.
She took a moment to count her blessings.
"Shall we dance, my lady?" Henry whispered in her ear, removing his mask only enough to speak clearly. His eyes glinted with mischief. Danielle quirked an eyebrow, but allowed him to help her from her seat - her throne! - and onto the floor.
She could feel the people's eyes on her as they swept out onto the floor and fell into a Bourrée formation and for once she didn't care. Casting aside his mask, Henry made an elegant bow which she returned with a sweep of the deep blue skirt of her gown. The dance began, back and forth before switching partners and back again, spinning and gliding with elegance. As they passed each other by, Henry would brush his hand against hers ever so slightly. Danielle had to wonder if she wasn't glowing brighter than the jewels that were now perched on her red-gold hair.
As the dance ended Henry brought his wife in close, the lengths of their bodies touching, and whispered into her ear.
"You are so beautiful," he said simply. Danielle tipped her head back to be kissed in response. All around them was applause. A happy, loving couple was always good news when it came to royals; it meant peaceful times for the country and healthy sons for the nursery.
"Bravo, bravo!" Dowager queen Marie said, clapping and laughing as she approached the happy couple and embraced them. For the first time since the death of her husband, she was smiling. Signore da Vinci fell in behind her and wrapped his arms around Danielle without preamble.
"Leonardo, it is so good to have you here again!" she said, beaming.
"I would not have missed it for the world, Your Majesty." he replied, extending his arm for her to take. Together, the four of them strolled back to the royal dais.
"Oh, my dears! I had almost forgotten." Marie piped suddenly, coming to her feet and calling out to the dancing procession. "In honor of Your Majesties, I have commissioned a special performance for you all!"
Excitement rippled through the crowd as they found their seats. With a nod from the dowager queen, the band piped into a merry fluted tune and four young ladies in lovely white ballet attire sprung from the doorway at the end of the hall, prancing and leaping to the awe of the crowd. With a glance to her husband, Danielle could see that he was delighted as well.
The young ladies made their way to the platform where the royal family was seated and curtsied low, their hair ribbons fluttering, before leaping back to the center of the room. Through the doorway came a princely fellow dressed in gold, a horse figurine strapped around his middle to seem as if he was riding it. The crowd laughed heartily as he leapt neatly over the ballerinas who laid on the ground as rocks and logs for him to jump. Again, the doors opened and in came a pair of painted trees which the prince approached and pranced before, hopping from foot to foot. The music softened, a single harpist plucking a romantic tune, as the trees parted to reveal a beautiful peasant girl.
Henry and his wife exchanged glances with the dowager queen, who only smiled her lovely smile and nodded at the continuing performance. Danielle now knew this was their story.
Amongst thrown apples aimed at the prince, a man in an opulent dress and rouge stepped through the trees. Danielle laughed out loud at this obvious comical representation of her step-mother. The man corralled the prince to one side of the room while the peasant girl swept with an imaginary broom. The ballerinas split off in to pairs, one set to distract the evil step-mother while the other pulled the prince away to the peasant girl.
For a moment the prince and the peasant girl share a dance, but the ballerinas cannot distract the evil step-mother forever. She comes to take away the peasant girl while the prince watches after her. Two figures dressed in black robes with hoods take the peasant girl and hold her between their clasped hands as the evil step-mother wags a finger at the prince. The ballerinas, who Danielle now realized represented fate, broke the cage of the robed figures and set the peasant girl free. The evil step-mother, aghast, falls to the floor in a faint and the robed figures carry her out the door.
The prince and the peasant girl, finally free, come together and perform a beautiful final dance. The ballerinas move in sweeping arches around the couple as they glide across the floor. Finally, the prince sweeps the peasant girl into his arms and bows to the royal table before they all exited through the doors.
The courtiers burst into applause. They all knew the story and were equally delighted by the romance. The doors opened for a final time and the theater troupe came in for their bows, presenting their congratulations to the new King and Queen, who stood to applaud their wonderful performance.
"Congratulations, Your Majesties, long may you reign!" The actor playing the evil step-mother bellowed, bowing extravagantly. With a grand sweep of his arms, he addressed the crowd.
"Long live the King and Queen!" he exclaimed, which the crowd echoed deafeningly.
It was nearly sunrise by the time the king and his wife had a moment alone. Danielle had stolen Henry away in a moment of rushed dancing to her private garden. Inside the celebration went on, but in the waning moonlight the garden was peaceful and quiet. Their personal guards were certainly lingering nearby as always, ever watchful of their new king and queen, but she hardly noticed them now. Danielle sighed happily and looked at her husband, who had clipped a white rose from the vine and was plucking away the thorns.
"What, am I to have a fairy crown too?" she said, touching her fingertips to the golden crown perched on her red-gold hair. Henry chuckled.
"No, I'm not that skillful my love." A hiss escaped his mouth as he pricked his finger on a stubborn thorn.
"You must be careful," Danielle said, taking his jabbed hand gently. A tiny bead of blood bubbled up from the injured finger, which Danielle wiped away with her handkerchief. She pressed her lips gently to the spot, meeting Henry's eyes steadily. Henry reached for her with his free hand, dropping the rose he'd been plucking unceremoniously to the garden flagstones. For the first time all day, he kissed his wife soundly.
"Now you'll have to have your handkerchief laundered," Henry said. "It'd be a shame to ruin such fine lace."
Danielle chuckled. "It's no matter; a tiny bloodspot doesn't ruin it."
As they sat together, another thought crossed her mind. Danielle glanced around at the guards protecting them, each nodding heir heads in acknowledgement as she met their eyes. She shifted a little close to her husband and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Henry, while we have a moment there's something I need to tell you."
"Oh?" Henry wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"It's about Marguerite. She asked me if she could go to work for the baron de Berengar." Henry straightened a little, turning to look at her face in the moonlight.
"Whatever for?" he asked, his eyes suddenly very serious.
"She wants her sentence commuted; she's worked in the palace laundry for nearly three years, I think she's well learned her lesson."
"No," he said sternly. "Absolutely not."
"Henry, it's more than just that. I owe her a favor." she supplicated, taking a hold of the hand on which his wedding ring sat. "Gustav and Jeanne wouldn't be married now if it she hadn't intervened for me. She brought them together; if she hadn't, Gustav would be heartsick. And beyond that, she was the one who told me what it means to be a good queen."
Henry quirked an eyebrow. Danielle sighed and continued.
"A few weeks ago she cared for me when I was feeling uneasy. She explained some harsh realities to me and although it wasn't want I wanted to hear, it was what I needed. She'd been groomed by Rodmilla to take a place among royalty since infancy. Your mother, while she has been a wonderful tutor, has spared me from the difficult things. Marguerite knows me in a strange way, and because of that she explained what I needed to understand in the plainest terms."
Henry frowned, but his firmness had wavered. "Do you trust her?" he asked heavily.
"Yes," she answered, surprising them both. "I think I do."
Henry considered for a moment before taking her hands into his own and kissing them in turn.
"If you think it's wise I will support your decision," he came to stand and helped his wife to her feet. "For now, let's enjoy the rest of our night."
Danielle smiled as Henry led her back into the ballroom where Signore da Vinci was waiting for them. Danielle reached out an embraced the old man fully.
"Leonardo, it is so good to see you. I hear you've been invited to live in residence at the Vatican?" she said, kissing him on each cheek in turn.
"Indeed," he chuckled. "The Pope is adamant that I join Raphael and Michelangelo there; he is a great collector of artists it seems, although they both see me as more of a nuisance."
"Nonsense." Danielle said with a smile. "Your flying machines will change the world."
The old man laughed heartily. "If the Pope were interested in my flying machines, I'd have to question his commitment to God. Michelangelo says my sketches are an affront to Catholicism."
"Your vision of the future has certainly charmed us, Signore." Dowager queen Marie interjected, coming to stand with them from her place on the dais. Danielle passed her a thankful look.
"I am honored by it, my lady." he said with a flourishing bow, which made her laugh.
"So tell me, what has happened to my protégé?" he asked, addressing the new king and queen.
"Gustav is recently married," Danielle said. "He and his bride are returning to court tomorrow. Will you be staying long?"
"For a week, Your Highness. Rome will be asking for me if my return is delayed; the Pope had commissioned me for a special portrait."
"Well, if papal duty ever becomes too tiring for you, you are always welcome to join us at Amboise." Henry suggested, taking his wife's hand. "We'll be leaving Paris on progress within the month - before the autumn chill."
"Amboise?" he asked with eyebrows raised.
"For the children," Danielle said simply, placing her free hand on her abdomen with a bright smile. Both Signore da Vinci and dowager queen Marie exchanged surprised looks with the couple.
"We were going to announce it when we know for sure," Danielle said softly. "I've missed my monthly cycle but have yet to consult the physician. It's early yet."
"Oh, my dears!" Marie exclaimed, her eyes misting at the thought of another grandchild. She clasped hands with her daughter-in-law, barely able to contain her joy. Signore da Vinci clapped Henry on the back robustly.
"We'll summon the physician in the morning." Marie said excitedly. Just as she did, the sun broke through the Eastern windows.
"Perhaps in the evening," Henry chuckled. "For now, I think my wife and I shall retire to our room for the day."
Returning to the dais, the King addressed the last of the coronation guests.
"My friends!" He called loudly, beaming his bright smile across the celebratory crowd as a steward poured one last glass of wine for him to raise. "My wife and I thank you for joining us in celebrating this special day for our kingdom. As this day draws to a close, I know that my family and I are secure in your loyalty and affection. Friends, enjoy the bounty of my kitchens and the depth of my cellars. As for me, I shall retire with my beautiful wife."
Amid the cheers of courtiers and servants alike, the King and Queen retired to their bedroom where Danielle put her crown into its velvet lined box and threw herself on to the big bed they shared, exhausted. Henry sat down beside her, kicking off his boots and tossing them across the room. With a big sigh, she rolled over onto her stomach and propped herself up by her elbows to admire her handsome husband. He caught her staring and smiled.
"Are you happy, my love?" he asked softly, brushing an errant strand of red-gold hair out of her face.
"Yes, incredibly," she said, grasping him by the sleeve and pulling him down to her. He laughed heartily and clutched her to him. For a long moment they simply laid together, breathing deeply.
"Do you think we should have told my mother sooner?" he asked, kissing her on the top of her head.
"No," she replied. "I wouldn't trade the look in her eyes for anything. Besides, nothing is certain yet."
"Soon, my love," he said, placing a hand on the warmth of her belly. "Soon."
Okay everybody, that's it for this chapter! Reviews make me happy!