A/N: This is my first foray into Princess Diaries fanfiction, and as charmed as I am by Mia, my first interest has always been Clarisse. I love her for the strong woman she is, how she survived and ruled Genovia and definitely how devoted she and Joe are to each other. I'm pretty sure I wanted Clarisse and Joe to get married long before I knew what shipping was. This is my first attempt at the two characters, so if they are too out of character, I hope you will forgive me.
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to Disney and Gary Marshall.
Summary: In the dark days after the loss of her son, Clarisse is given hope for Genovia's future. Clarisse/Joe, character death. One/shot. Complete.
A Knight's Gift to His Lady: An Interlude in the Life of Clarisse Rinaldi
The clock tower struck two, and still Clarisse couldn't sleep.
It was finished. Words had been spoken, black cloth had swathed every surface and person, hymns had been sung, and the casket had been lowered into the earth with all the pomp and gravitas befitting a member of the royal house of Genovia.
Queen Clarisse Marie Grimaldi Rinaldi, the reigning matriarch and one of the last remnants of the Genovian house Rinaldi, sat alone in her royal suite, as primly as if she was attending a state meeting, hands clasped on her lap, her posture lending her silk pajamas and robe an aura of dignity they wouldn't possess on anyone else. She stared into the middle distance, blue eyes clouded, sleep continuing to elude her.
A woman outliving her spouse was not unheard of, but how did a mother go about living when one of her children had died?
Tears glittered in Clarisse's eyes, but she would not let them fall. Training and years of governing Genovia without her beloved Rupert at her side had left her with a superb courtly mask and a spine of steel, and even in her private sanctuary, she couldn't let her guard down.
She knew why sleep would not come to her: every time she closed her eyes, she was back in the carriage where she had spent most of her day, watching lines of black-clad guards escort her youngest son's purple-draped casket to its final resting place. The entire ride through the capital, she had made the effort to keep her eyes on the casket, to keep her solemn expression continuous. If she gazed at the crowd once, if she saw the grief that marked every face and echoed what was tearing at her heart, she would be a sobbing, shuddering mess in the face of all the cameras and press, and worse, her people.
Let no one say that Queen Clarisse Rinaldi did not mourn the loss of her son, Prince Edward Christoph Philippe Gerard Rinaldi, her heir to the throne until four thirty-seven in the morning exactly three days ago. She mourned his loss in the solitude of her own body, in the rending of her heart, in the lips she had pressed together to keep from crying out when the doctors pronounced him dead. She mourned her boy, her Phillipe, she did, but right now, she faced a more pressing matter, one that kept her dry-eyed and far from sleep, that, coupled with her grief, was nearly unbearable.
She had no idea what to do next.
That she had no contingency plan was her own fault; after Rupert's death and Pierre's abdication, she should have planned for a day when Phillipe could not rule in her stead. But foolishly, she had hoped—a mother's blind hope—that her bright boy would surpass her, outlast her, and survive to be the a great king after she had moved on. After all, with modern medicine and longer life expectancy rates, it didn't seem right to plan for the future as if this was the 1500s, with cousins lined up to fulfill roles and duties if heirs could not be produced or fell victim to disease or an accident.
As Phillipe had.
Abandoning all composure, Clarisse lifted her hands to her face, her face contorting with pain but still keeping the tears at bay, unable to bear her own thoughts. After Rupert, after Pierre, why hadn't she foreseen this? She had pushed away the bitter thoughts after Pierre's abdication, the ones that taunted her, the ones that told her she was cursed, that she would be the last of the Rinaldis, as if they were living in some twisted fairy tale.
On a night like this, she could almost come to believe it.
How else could her life be explained? Her loving marriage to her cherished Rupert had led to the birth of two gorgeous and intelligent boys, boys who grew up to be great men, beloved by their country and well in the public eye. Then Rupert had succumbed to cancer, and Clarisse had been forced to sit by and watch her healthy and robust husband wither away to a husk. For the first time, she had experienced the pain and heavy atmosphere that came with a state funeral. A million cameras, thousands of questions, hundreds of eyes, surrounded by guards, choking on her grief and tortured by the little voice that demanded to know how a queen would rule a country on her own.
In those numb moments, when Clarisse watched the casket disappear into the earth while the guards gave a twenty-five cannon salute and the world held its breath, watching her for their cue, Clarisse remembered the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Kristina of Sweden—all women, among others, who had so ruled competently and without a husband that history revered them for it!—and lifted her chin proudly, refusing to give way to tears.
In the aftermath, the media was torn by her stone-faced visage that she showed to the world. Some tabloids argued that it meant she did not care for Rupert, that she was glad to be free of the marriage, and others argued that it showed her resolve, her strength, the knowledge that she had to be strong in the face of any tragedy in order to demonstrate to her people that their country could overcome anything.
Such was life in the public eye.
Slowly, life had returned to normal. Clarisse learned to appreciate the dignity her new, entirely black wardrobe gave her, and she began to seriously groom Pierre for his role as her heir. He had not needed much prompting, that dark haired man with his laughing hazel eyes that were Rupert's; the people loved him and he adored his country.
Which is why it was such a shock when he fell in love and abdicated. Clarisse knew only weeks before the press did, which was unusual—Pierre had been hiding his affair from her, as if he knew she wouldn't approve. She didn't, because she had plans for him, plans which did not involve him marrying a Spanish tango instructor from Barcelona. However, in the end, she relented, because she knew what it was to be in love, and also because by the time she had begun to consider allowing him to leave he had already done so, eloping with the woman, making a public statement to the press about his abdication and settling somewhere in Barcelona, content to live the rest of his life in obscurity and anonymity.
Which left her with Philippe. Ah, Edward Christoph Phillipe Gerard, her little boy burdened with too many names because that was the way of European monarchs, a tradition laden with too much history to be discarded. Philippe was always a serious little boy, growing into a serious young man who only took his public and royal duties all the more seriously when Pierre disappeared into the whirling world with his lover. Clarisse suspected that he disproved of Pierre's actions more than she did, which is why she didn't overly concern herself when Philippe found himself succumbing to the same ailment that had found his brother and father: love.
His duty to his family and his royal heritage warmed Clarisse's heart, but it also broke for him when she learned that he had turned his back on the woman he loved and the child she carried to lift the Rinaldi burdens onto himself. He would always be a part of Helen's life, but it would be distantly, as she was too much a free spirit to mold herself into the role of wife and princess. (Clarisse was privately grateful that Helen refused, not wanting to imagine the tabloid nightmare her possible American daughter-in-law would become.)
And so, as Philippe only corresponded occasionally with Helen, Clarisse began to relax. She had an heir, and Genovia's Rinaldi legacy would continue. Then the world turned upside down, and she didn't know what to do. Clarisse had been in a parliament meeting when the news came, and she had immediately flown to Philippe's side. He had been taking a much-needed break in Sicily with some friends, hounded by the press as usual, but still basking in the sun and the glowing Mediterranean waters.
The sailing accident that had taken his life had been the attempt of several young, reckless fools to engage in a boat race. Clarisse had never discovered the details of what had happened, and she wasn't sure she wanted to. All she knew was that Philippe had fallen, somehow had received a blow to the head, and had lain in a coma for twelve days in an Italian hospital while Clarisse hovered at his side. The doctors had confirmed that the accident was not an attempt to cover up a premeditated murder, and her own security had confirmed it. So she waited by Philippe's bed and prayed, but still, he slipped away in the night while she slept at his side, and the moment when she woke to find his cold fingers in hers was a moment when she thought her heart might stop from the sheer unfairness of it all.
Which brought her back to this night, where she found herself in a dark suite, mourning the loss of her husband, thirteen years gone, and her youngest son, just days departed.
A light tap at the door brought her out of the maze her mind was running, and she faced it with weary resignation. If it was Charlotte, she would face the whispered words of sympathy with a polite nod, but truly, she was tired of the same words. She was tired of people paying lip service to her son's memory while their eyes wondered and schemed, and she was sick of servants who muttered humble apologies and could not meet her eyes, all the while repeating words that offered her no hope and no comfort.
One of her ceaseless prayers must have been answered, for it was Joseph who gently opened the door and peered around the end as if loath to disturb her. "Your Majesty?"
The smile she mustered was a fleeting one, barely there, but it was more than she had shown in two weeks, and emboldened, Joseph stepped further into the room, closing the door behind him with a firm but gentle snick.
"Yes, Joseph?" Clarisse watched him cross the plush carpet soundlessly and stand at the back on the couch she was perched on. His adherence to protocol was comforting, as was his devotion. To her knowledge, he had not left her side since he had handed her into the car that would whisk her off to the airport, driving it himself, in those terrible moments after she had learned of Philippe's accident. She was sure he hadn't slept since that moment either, but if he hadn't, he was disguising it far better than she was. There was no sign of fatigue in his face, and she could not find any indication of grief, even though he had loved her husband like a brother and her sons like nephews.
"Your light was on, Your Majesty," Joseph said calmly, his hands locked behind his back. "Your grief is keeping you from sleeping." It was not a question, and when Clarisse looked up, she found that she could not hide from him, to make some excuse about state business. This man had been devoted to her family for too long. He had been friend and confidante to her husband, protector to her sons, and the silence presence she had come to rely on. For a moment, she simply looked at him. In that unguarded moment, she let him see her broken heart. He gazed at her, lowered his chin in an acknowledgement of the trust with which she honored him, and returned the gesture.
The passive expression slid from his face, and lines appeared around his eyes and mouth, creasing them, scars left by the grief he felt. He gazed at her, his eyes full of pain and sympathy and hurt and the same screaming question: why? Clarisse inhaled shakily, seeing her own pain reflected in those dark eyes; less, perhaps, but still a reflection. Lifting a hand involuntarily, she implored quietly, "Joseph, please sit."
Startled by her impulsive command, the veneer of Joseph, head of security was nearly back in place before he caught himself. Stepping around the end of the delicate couch, he lowered himself onto the cushion on the opposite end, away from her, fulfilling her request while sit maintaining the proper distance.
Still not ready to release that aching comradarie that had bound them together for one agonizing moment, Clarisse watched him, searching for the man that had just given her a glimpse of his soul and the depth of his loyalty. It left her shaken, but shaken in a way that warmed her, that let her know that this man would be a willing ally for as long as she lived. Rupert—may he rest in peace—had chosen wisely when he had selected Joseph to be the head of security and maintain the safety of the royal family.
"Joseph," she said quietly, her voice low and heavy, words wrenched from her soul and weighted with the knowledge that they were rarely said to members that were not of her blood, "I don't know what to do."
To her immense relief, he did not immediately leap to reassure her, to give her empty platitudes she did not want to hear and that she had already heard too many times, to tell her that she would continue to be a wonderful queen. Clarisse had already heard that from Sebastian, from the parliament, and she did not need the thinly veiled patronizing words from yet another man. He thought, his dark eyes flicking around her suite as if checking for intruders, systematically evaluating all points of entry as he contemplated her words.
The clock ticked on, and it was not until after the clanging tones struck three that he finally spoke.
"You are the not the last Rinaldi, Your Majesty. There is another option for the throne."
Raising her head from where she had been studying the pink rug fibers, Clarisse blinked at the head of her security, dumbfounded. Who could he be referring to? There had only been the four of them, and she still had to choke back a sob as she remember Pierre's cool reply before he departed for the airport, back to his Mariana. She had asked him to reconsider coming back to the royal palace, now that Philippe was gone and he was her last child. He had kissed her cheek, and for a moment the pain and sympathy in his eyes had made her hope. Then he had softly but firmly told her that while he loved her, he was no longer a prince of Genovia, and would never be again. If her heart had broken when Philippe died, it had shattered at that news, and she had once again gone numb, wondering how many emotional blows the human body could sustain before it simply expired. She shook her head, confused by Joseph's words and the dizzying whirl memory led her on, dashing from past to present and back again. To her knowledge, Pierre had never sired any children…
Leaning forward, Joseph reached out and hesitantly folded her hands within his own, a touch that shocked her mind into working again, some of the shrouds of grief being lifted away. Until this moment, Joseph had only touched her in the politest of ways: an arm to steady her, a hand under her elbow to catch her if she overbalanced, and the briefest touch of fingers against hers as he assisted her in and out of various vehicles. But here, his large, warm hands reaching out to cradle her own, it was a voluntary touch that spoke of the simplest human need: comfort. She was so bereaved that she could barely think, and after days of standing alone, showing the world an iron will, so aloof that she was barely approached in genuine comfort, his touch nearly undid her.
Finally, the tears began to slip down her cheeks. She registered his alarm, but she clung to his hands as he tried to pull them away. "No," she whispered, shaking her head, refusing to apologize for her sudden outburst of emotion or let him escape. Joseph stopped trying to distance himself at her entreaty, and he felt his heart twist at the sight of her tears. She had grieved for so long, alone, and the raw pain in her voice told him that she needed him in the moment, just to remind her that there were others out there who cared about her.
"What do you mean, Joseph?" Clarisse asked, suddenly needing to know who he was referring to. Startled back to his previous statement, Joseph watched her, his dark eyes apprehensive.
The one word would barely have been heard over the ticking of the clock on her mantelpiece, had they not been sitting so close together, heads bowed, eyes locked. At his answer, Clarisse rocked back, gasping, nearly smacking him in the forehead, the last veil of grief ripped from her mind. She stared at him, blue eyes glowing, light pouring in where there had only been darkness before.
"Of course," she breathed, squeezing his hands in triumph. How had she not thought of it before? There had been the birth announcement, and the periodic pictures that Helen sent, but Clarisse had been so blinded by grief that she had forgotten about her granddaughter living on the other side of the world.
Truth be told, Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldi (or "Mia," as Helen had christened her shortly after birth), had never seriously been a candidate for the throne. There had always been Pierre, and then Philippe, and Clarisse had her doubts that a child born on of wedlock could ever be a princess. She would have had to have been brought up in the palace under Clarisse's tutelage to stand any chance, and Clarisse had always assumed Philippe would marry a suitable young woman and provide Genovia with more heirs when the time came, and Amelia would be the American daughter that he showered with presents but rarely visited.
Now, Clarisse knew that she would have very little time to stall the parliament before they would begin clamoring for an heir, but perhaps that time would be just enough, provided she took some drastic measures. Some very drastic measures.
Looking up, Clarisse found Joseph studying her, some of the grief-lines erased by her sudden uplift in spirits. She was not cured, and her grief would perhaps never be completely healed, but he had given her hope and a solution where she had faced nothing but an abyss, and she was extremely grateful for that. Squeezing his hands again, she mustered a smile as her mind raced.
"How old would Amelia be now?" Clarisse cast her mind back, trying to remember what the odd script on the birth announcement had said. It had been an odd thing, all splattered with paint and decorated with the odd imprint of an infant's feet, but Philippe had chuckled and boasted that Helen had made them herself, her artistic talent evident. What date had been listed?
"Thirteen, nearly fourteen, Your Majesty," Joseph said solemnly, still watching her, and Clarisse nodded, embarrassment heating her cheeks. Joseph would know, as a funeral announcement had been mailed to San Francisco in the speediest manner possible, and although Helen had stiffly expressed her grief and condolences, she and Amelia would not be attending. Clarisse knew that Helen would not be comfortable in the state affair that was Philippe's funeral, and she knew that the woman would prefer to stay at home to comfort her daughter in the wake of her father's loss, to mourn her lost lover in her own way, but Clarisse had felt the need to extend the courtesy anyway. Joseph would have assisted in making the flight arrangements with the Rinaldis' private jet, and he would have been in charge of seeing that the crown prince's daughter (no matter how illegitimate) had proper security escorts during her stay.
"A few years then," Clarisse mused. A short stab of guilt pierced her, and she wondered if she should be so detatched towards a young girl that was her only link to her lost son. At this moment, however, she was queen, she had a country to look after, and Amelia was her only viable option. She could stall parliament for a few years surely, to give Amelia time to grow into a stronger woman, a woman capable of making the decision to rule the throne, to allow Clarisse to step down with grace and dignity and to retire. She would learn to be a grandmother as she got to know her granddaughter. She would take each obstacle at a time, and right now, this one had been masterfully solved.
Impulsively—this seemed to be the night for it! Well, one did strange things when ravaged by grief—she extracted one of her hands from Joseph's grip and placed it against his cheek. "Thank you, Joseph," she said quietly, watching the way he startled at the intimate contact but did not move away, his eyes never leaving hers.
"Any way I can serve you, Your Majesty," he said, just as softly, but the intimacy was gone. With that formal note, he reinstated the propriety that governed their relationship, raised the barriers between them, and moved away. She let her hand drop and she watched him rise from the couch. "I will be right outside if you need anything, Your Majesty."
What she needed was someone beside her, someone to remind her that she was not alone on this dark night. Joseph had done that briefly tonight, ever so briefly, and she wanted more. She could ask him to stay, and she was sure that he would do as she asked, but she didn't want him staying because he felt that he must out of a sense of duty. He had allowed her to see his pain, a sacred moment of trust, devotion, and intimacy, and she would not ask anything more of him. The press would be following her for several months after this latest tragedy, and the last thing she needed was a rumor escaping that the head of security had spent the night in the royal suite, locked in with the queen.
No, if she was to bring a hitherto unknown heir to this country in just a few short years, she would have to be extremely careful to keep her own record pristine. She had been doing so for decades, but with fate of her country on the line, it would not do to let anyone suspect anything untoward.
So Queen Clarisse Rinaldi watched Joseph exit the room and kept her yearnings for company to herself. As the door closed behind him, she got up with a sigh and moved from the parlor into her bedroom. The big bed sprawled in the center of the room, and she might have been intimidated if she hadn't become used to sleeping alone in the last thirteen years that Rupert had been gone—may he rest in peace. Sleep would not come easily tonight, burdened by grief as she was, but that grief had been lightened a little, and when she did fall asleep, it was while nursing the small seed of hope that had been planted in her breast by the loyal man who had come to her rescue so many times before. If her life was still a twisted fairy tale, at least she had a knight for support and now, suddenly, a heroine who just needed to told of her quest. Oh, yes, Clarisse was sure Amelia would jump at the chance to save Genovia.
After all, what little girl didn't dream of becoming a princess?
A/N: Reviews are appreciated!