Revenge & Happily Ever After.
Jacqueline found it very difficult over breakfast the next morning to keep a straight face. For the first time in her life, she had power over her sister and mother. Even if they did not know it, it still pleased her.
"I don't know why you're questioning me so much," she said innocently as she ate her breakfast, "I mean, how I was supposed to know he would go running out of the back door, I don't know! He was supposed to be getting married!"
Marguerite glared at her, knowing that she was hiding something. Everyone was always hiding something, even her own mother.
"I heard the Prince talked to you."
"That's just gossip," Jacqueline said primly.
"What did he say?"
Jacqueline quietly took the bread knife and cut herself a slice of bread, staring from her mother to Marguerite. She calmly buttered the bread, enjoying this new-found power of hers.
"Well, it all happened so quickly! However, I think what he said was… urm… Let me think… Oh, yes! He said, 'serves me right for choosing a foreigner over your," Jacqueline paused, taking a bite from her slice of bread before resuming her speech, "sister."
Marguerite and Rodmilla stared at each other for a moment and Jacqueline's heart beat faster. Had she been too hesitant? But then Marguerite giggled happily, as did Rodmilla. Jacqueline breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
"We'll just let him fret for a few days then, shan't we?" Rodmilla said proudly, looking towards Marguerite. Jacqueline quietly counted under her breath, barely audible to her self-absorbed mother and sister.
"1… 2… 3…"
Right on cue, the bell rang. A cry of "I'll get it!" went up, and Marguerite and Rodmilla ran downstairs to the door. Jacqueline also ran to the door, but she was a little slower. After all, she wanted to savour the moment. It isn't every day that you get to help wreak revenge on your horrible mother and equally horrible sister.
At the door, Rodmilla and Marguerite opened the door to find Captain Laurent standing there, with the Royal carriage behind him. Jacqueline watched her mother and sister with excited curiosity. Marguerite looked triumphant and almost impatient. Rodmilla looked proud as a peacock. Captain Laurent swung into action.
"His Supreme Majesty, King Francis, requests an audience with the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent and her daughters, immediately."
Rodmilla sighed contentedly. She could see the snow-covered landscapes of Paris now. But she kept her composure. This game must be played out until the end.
"Oh? Is anything… wrong?"
Captain Laurent smiled, and shook his head.
"No my lady," he said cheerfully, his formal manner gone. He leaned forward, glancing to Jacqueline then back to Rodmilla and Marguerite.
"The king demanded that you arrive in… style."
Rodmilla smiled again, as did Marguerite. Jacqueline suppressed a giggle.
"Hmm," Rodmilla said arrogantly, "if it is style that the King wants, then style it shall be!"
Marguerite squeaked happily and ran off to get dressed. Rodmilla followed her. Jacqueline slowly closed the doors, smiling wickedly at Laurent. Knowledge, it seemed, certainly was the greatest power.
Trumpets played, and the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent swept into the room, proudly and arrogantly. At last, she was ascending. For all of her hard work since she was a girl, it had paid off because finally, she was getting her reward. Yes, she'd betrayed a few friends along the way but what did it matter? She was now practically royalty. The courtiers all bowed towards her as she made her way down the aisle, flanked by her two daughters. The three of them stopped in front of the King, Queen and the Prince and curtseyed deeply. Rodmilla gazed up at the King warmly (or as warmly as she could manage anyway). His expression was not one that could be considered "warm".
"Baroness. Did you, or did you not, lie to Her Majesty the Queen of France?"
Rodmilla's smile dropped. Marguerite eyed her mother cautiously. The Queen – who had once looked upon them with kind eyes – looked at them now with a cold, critical eye.
"Choose your words wisely Madam, for they may be your last," she said.
Rodmilla could feel the eyes of the court and Marguerite burning into her back. She rose to her feet, chuckling weakly.
"Why, a mother would do… anything for the love of a daughter, Your Majesties."
This did not change either the King or the Queen's moods.
"Perhaps… I did get a little carried away…" Rodmilla admitted.
This was enough for Marguerite, who could sense that her fate would not be a good one if she let herself be dragged into this. It would be better if she separated herself from this situation completely.
"Mother, what have you done?" she cried. In a flash, she was in front of Rodmilla, staring up at the King, Queen and the Prince.
"Your Majesty, like you, I am just a victim here! She has lied to us both and I am ashamed to call her my family!"
As Marguerite desperately tried to cover herself, Jacqueline just simply rolled her eyes and let her family dig themselves into a hole. Rodmilla shoved at Marguerite, enraged by her backstabbing daughter.
"How dare you turn on me, you little ingrate!"
Marguerite looked at the King and Queen, pretending to look shocked and upset.
"You see, Your Majesties, you see what I have to endure!"
The King sighed and slammed his staff on the floor, causing everyone in the room to jump slightly.
"Silence! Both of you!" He looked towards Jacqueline.
"Are they always like this?"
Jacqueline smiled at the King (and her smile only grew wider as Marguerite and Rodmilla stared at her, shocked).
"Worse," she said, curtseying slightly, "Your Majesty."
Rodmilla breathed in slightly, attempting to regain her composure.
"Jacqueline, darling, I hope you have had nothing to do with this."
There wasn't one iota of sympathy in Jacqueline's eyes when she looked towards her mother. She had endured years of neglect, and it had taken Danielle to show her just exactly how horrible her family was.
For years, she had justified their actions to herself – and others, at times – but the way that Marguerite and her mother had acted on that horrible day before the ball had shown her that her efforts were futile. They were always going to be cruel and horrible, no matter what she said or did. So, it was with great pleasure that Jacqueline said her next sentence:
"Of course not Mother. I'm only here for the food."
In that moment, Rodmilla realised that in favouring one of her children, she had opened an opportunity for the other to betray her. As the realization swept over her, the Queen spoke again.
"Baroness de Ghent. From this moment onwards, you are stripped of your title, and you and your horrible daughter are to be shipped to the Americas on the next available boat. Unless by some miracle, there is someone here that will speak for you."
Rodmilla advanced back down the aisle. No-one looked at her with a kind eye. They were unsympathetic and detached. She was not a part of their lives. Why should they trouble themselves to speak up for her? It was then that Rodmilla saw herself reflected in their faces. She finally could see the consequences of her actions.
She looked back at the King and Queen, laughing weakly. Still, no-one came forward. Rodmilla could see her once opulent life falling all around her. She could just imagine herself. Her skin grimy, wearing rags, being forced to work as a slave. That or starve to death. The very thought of the Americas… it frightened her. It actually frightened her.
"I will speak for her." Rodmilla froze. The voice was remote yet it also had the distinct warm resonance of a certain step-daughter of hers, named Danielle de Barbarac.
At the sound of the voice, the entire court – including a deeply shocked Marguerite – bowed deeply. Rodmilla slowly turned, and there stood the one daughter she had despised ever since she met her, dressed as a princess. On her head she wore a golden crown, and around her neck was the very same necklace which Marguerite had given to the Queen after church so many weeks ago.
The Prince looked at Marguerite, who was opening and closing her mouth like a fish.
"Marguerite," he said, smiling proudly, "I don't believe you've met… my wife?" Marguerite bowed her head, finally humbled.
Rodmilla gazed at her stepdaughter, unable to think of anything to say.
"She is, after all, my stepmother," Danielle said simply. The court rose to its feet, all of them looking at the two of them. Danielle slowly moved towards her stepmother, her expression devoid of love or sympathy. Reluctantly, Rodmilla curtseyed before her stepdaughter and future Queen.
"Your Highness," she murmured. Danielle spoke, her voice soft so that only she and Rodmilla could hear her words.
"I want you to know that I will forget you after this moment, and never think of you again. But you, I am quite certain, will think of me for every day of the rest of your life."
Rodmilla swallowed slightly, looking up at her stepdaughter.
"How long… might that be?" she asked softly. It both humbled and sickened her to know that her life was in the hands of her long dead husband's daughter. Danielle closed her eyes for a moment, and then looked towards the King and Queen.
"All I ask, Your Majesties, is that you show the same courtesy to her that she has bestowed upon me for these past ten years."
Danielle looked back down to Rodmilla. She was triumphant, yet also, a tiny part of her was relieved. Finally, after everything she had gone through, she was free.
Back at the de Barbarac manor, Danielle and Prince Henry were gathered with their closest friends to witness the reveal of Leonardo's latest painting. He had insisted on Danielle and Prince Henry being the first to view it, but he had kept tight-lipped on his reasons. But when he revealed it, all became clear. It was a portrait of Danielle, and it was certainly the most beautiful painting anyone in the room had ever seen. Danielle gasped and moved towards Leonardo.
"Leonardo! It's wonderful!" she cried, embracing him in a tight hug. Leonardo laughed cheerfully.
"Think of it as a late wedding present, Your Highness."
Danielle was going to continue her conversation with him, but a giggle to her right distracted her. She turned and could see Gustav standing there, giggling with Paulette beside him.
"What?" she asked curiously. Gustav shrugged, giggling again.
"I don't know! I just can't get over it!" He pretended to bow, saying, "Your Highness!" Paulette was not slow to dispense with a quick clip around his earlobe. Gustav looked at her, as if asking her what that was for. Danielle laughed.
"Yes, well, royalty or not, I can still whip you!" She quickly began to poke and pinch Gustav all over, as he tried to fight her off in vain. Laurent looked at Jacqueline, puzzled but she waved it off.
"It's just a silly little game they played when they were kids," she whispered in his ear. Laurent nodded, letting the matter go.
Whilst his new wife and future Queen was busy beating up her childhood friend, Henry was more preoccupied with the painting. It was a beautiful piece of artwork, he had to admit that.
"I must say Leonardo, for a man of your talents, it… doesn't look anything like her!" he said, smiling wickedly. Leonardo laughed, as did Henry. Danielle took him by the hand and looked at him.
"You sir, are supposed to be charming!" she cried, pulling him towards her. Henry laughed, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"And we, princess, are supposed to live happily ever after."
Danielle smiled, gazing around the room. Everyone she loved, everyone who had supported her in her times of hardship surrounded her, whilst she was married to a man who she truly loved. If there was such a thing as "Happily Ever After", then this must be it.