Revelations & Differences.
The Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent felt sick to the core. Seeing Danielle standing there, in her dead mother's wedding dress of all things! It should've been Marguerite standing there. Rodmilla glanced over at her daughter, who looked crestfallen. Rodmilla knew how she felt. The wealth that she deserved was slipping out of her fingers quicker than she thought possible. Anger rose up inside of her, as did a plan. Quickly, she grasped Marguerite's hand and pulled her through the crowd.
"What are you doing?" Marguerite asked, bewildered.
"Making you a princess!" Rodmilla snapped. Her eyes searched the crowd, finally fixing on Danielle and the Prince running down the aisle. She knew she didn't have much time left before they reached the King. On impulse, she dived through the crowd and reached out.
Her fingers and palms scratched wire and stretched gossamer. Gripping hard, she pulled. She heard Danielle scream with shock and the crowd gasped as Rodmilla threw the tattered wing to the ground. The Prince glared furiously at Rodmilla.
"Baroness, what are you doing?"
"This woman is a fraud!" Rodmilla shouted, her cheeks flushed. She turned on her heel, towards Danielle. "Of all the things, making your mother a Comtesse!"
Danielle was near to tears. Desperate, she looked towards Henry who appeared aghast.
"Her real name is Danielle de Barbarac, and she has been a servant in my household for the past ten years!"
Rodmilla had not even got halfway through her sentence before Henry was laughing. Far from being angry, he appeared to be delighted.
"Thank you Baroness."
"Wh... What?" Rodmilla's mouth hung open then closed again. Marguerite quickly stepped back into the crowd, not wishing to be a part of this. Danielle stared wide-eyed at Henry, her expression a mixture of relief, confusion and fear.
"I had suspected for some months the true identity of this woman. Thank you for confirming it."
Henry galloped quickly through the fields. The horse he was riding was old and already tired, but it was better than nothing. He looked back and could see the Royal Guards, just a good few feet away from him. They'd got faster since last time, clearly.
"Damn," he muttered and he squeezed the sides of the horse, clinging tightly onto the reins as it leapt over a small hedge into a large hay field. His eyes registered the figure of a woman, but his brain did not and he continued to gallop faster and faster. The horse knew this ground, knew which potholes to avoid. Suddenly, above the shouts of the Royal Guards he heard a female voice shouting at him.
Something small and green spun towards him, and hit him squarely in the head. Henry jumped off the horse, attempting to hide behind it.
"I am sorry, my horse lost a shoe, and I had to make do!"
"That is my father's horse!" the girl yelled as she threw another apple, this time at Henry's foot. Henry dodged it, and he felt the hood of his cloak slip off. He looked at the girl. With piercing blue eyes and long brown hair, she was breathtaking. The girl gasped and promptly fell to the ground.
"Forgive me Your Highness, for I did not see you!"
Henry glanced around the fields quickly. The sounds of the Royal Guards were more distant than before. Still, he did not have enough time. Quickly, he jumped back onto the horse.
"I am willing to forgive, if you keep your silence," Henry said quickly, dropping gold coins onto the girl's back. The horn of the Royal Guards sounded. Henry galloped away again, the piercing blue eyes of the girl already embedded into his brain.
The crowd was still. Everyone was looking towards the aisle. Henry smiled lovingly at Danielle, who still appeared shocked at the revelation.
"A servant, Henry? Is this some kind of a joke?" King Francis asked crossly. Henry glanced at his parents and shook his head. The Queen sighed, just happy that her son was happy. Francis was practically puce in the face. Henry looked back towards Danielle. There was a long pause. Slowly, she stepped back and pulled her hand from his. Henry narrowed his eyes.
Danielle shook her head.
"All this time... you knew?"
"Yes," said Henry simply.
"You watched me lie?"
"No... Not technically," Henry murmured, puzzled. So he hadn't told her that he knew who she was, but what did it matter? The truth was known now. Danielle shook her head. Sobbing, she ran back down the aisle. Henry gave chase, just as thunder rolled in the sky.
Just outside the castle gates, he caught up with her. It was starting to rain heavily, and neither Henry nor Danielle could see anything apart from each other.
She continued to run down the path, shaking her head. Henry could see her shoulders heaving as she cried. Feeling desperate, he clutched at her arm, causing her to spin round.
"Leave me alone!" Danielle pleaded as she tried to weave her arm out of Henry's grip.
"Danielle, tell me what's wrong! Everything is fine! If you're scared about what my father will say then… well, okay, you have every right to be worried, but he disagrees with everything I do anyway!"
"It isn't your father, Henry! It's you!"
Henry blinked, taken aback. His skin crawled, feeling cold. Was she rejecting him? Him, the Crown Prince of France? Danielle wiped her eyes quickly before speaking, though it hardly helped her with the storm raging around them.
"Do you not realise how much of a risk I took, impersonating a courtier? I could've been shipped to the Americas, or even killed for my deceit! And you, you stand there, laughing, as if it is all a jest!"
Henry shook his head in confusion, still not quite understanding.
"Danielle, my love, I… I only…"
"Only what? Did you sit back and let me risk my life just so you would have something – or someone – to entertain you? Because I did not impersonate a courtier to become your personal jester Henry, I did what I had to do to save an innocent man's life!"
Henry scowled, his anger replacing his confusion. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he was not – if ever – ready to admit he was in the wrong.
"Is that all you think of me, Comtesse? Someone who is selfish, vain and arrogant?"
Danielle did not speak for a long time. However, when she did finally speak, her words stung Henry's skin like an open wound.
"When I first met you, yes. Then, with all our adventures and as I got to know you as a man, and not a prince… I began to think better of you. Yet, knowing what I know now, I fear that you are not the man I thought, or hoped, you were."
Thunder rolled in the sky again. Danielle's chest started to heave again as her eyes spurted fresh tears. Quickly, she turned and ran down the pathway, with her one tattered wing hanging limply by her side.
Henry scowled and walked back down the pathway. He was the Crown Prince of France! How dare she speak to him in that way! And she, a mere servant girl, spouting dreams of a utopia where equality reigned supreme? Who was she to judge? She only went by Thomas Moore, and whatever else her father used to read to her. Apparently this qualified her to talk of politics and God knows what else. Pride bled into Henry like dangerous venom.
"A servant girl," he thought bitterly, "I would not care for a servant girl if she was the last woman on this earth."
Leonardo walked slowly back to the castle, smiling happily. It had been a good evening, all things considered. And now, he would be welcomed back and he would find everything – and everyone – content and happy. At least, that was what he thought. His hopes were quickly dashed by the sight of a rain-soaked Danielle running down the path and she was sobbing heavily. One of her wings was missing, and the other was destroyed beyond repair.
"Danielle? Danielle!" Leonardo called, bewildered. Danielle stopped, tripping over the hem of her gown. Leonardo ran to her, and helped her up.
"It's ruined Leonardo…" she said between tears.
"What? What's ruined?"
Danielle sobbed again.
"He knew Leonardo! He knew of my deceit!" she cried. Leonardo scowled, angry at receiving this news. But before he could learn more, Danielle was running down the path again, leaving behind just one solitary glass slipper.
The crowd was quiet when Henry returned. Every courtier, every servant was looking at him with the distinct guilty expression that told Henry just exactly what they had been talking about: him. His fists clenched tightly, he stalked up the aisle, his mind filled with Danielle's voice, tearfully accusing him of arrogance and selfishness. Before he knew where he was going, he found himself stopping in front of his parents. The Queen looked sympathetic, whereas the King appeared as he always did when Henry was around: angry.
"Well? Care to explain?"
"There will be no announcement tonight. I am unwell, and will retire early. Goodnight." Quickly, he bowed to his parents and moved past them towards the castle. The King sighed, and turned to the Queen.
"I suppose it is to be Spain."
"Indeed," the Queen murmured, frowning in concern. Whoever the mysterious girl was, the Queen somehow knew that she was Henry's match.
Maybe it was the way the girl had held herself in those few seconds before Baroness Rodmilla had charged in, proclaiming her to be a fraud. Or perhaps it was the way in which Henry had stared at her. His eyes had been sparkled with life and his smile… it had been a long time since Henry had smiled at anything. He had always been so busy fighting with Francis – that or running away. The Queen sighed. Something had to be done. Noticing that Francis was now more preoccupied with talking to Captain Laurent, she quietly slipped away, leaving the courtiers and servants to discuss the night's events in vivid detail.