If there was one thing that the French were good at, it was throwing a ball. The music performed by local artists was lively, the highborn ladies were wearing the latest fashion from Paris, and the wine and ale had been flowing all night long. The ballroom was filled with chatter and laughter, men with red faces and women clutching each other giggling as they carefully held their goblets. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, knew that this event would be talked about for months to come as the best ball this summer. Yet, she couldn't enjoy it.
"Now this is an odd sight. You haven't gone dancing once and have instead resigned yourself to this little corner. Will you grace us with a dance this evening?" Sebastian de Poitiers asked, as he snuck up behind her.
Mary jumped and almost spilled her wine, "Bash, you nearly gave me a heart attack! No, I don't think I will tonight. I'm not feeling very well."
"Does this have anything to do with the fact that my brother has spent the entire night mooning over Olivia?" he asked.
Instead of responding, Mary took a small sip from her goblet. There wasn't anything that she could say, because it was true. Her chocolate brown eyes swept the room and stopped when she caught sight of her husband-to-be laughing at something Olivia had said. She felt a wave of jealousy. When Mary returned to French court, things had been more difficult than she had expected with Francis. He had closed himself off from the possibility of her and it had taken months before their relationship had grown. They had developed strong feelings for each other, but that was shattered when Olivia D'Amencour returned to court.
Olivia had been Francis' first love and heartbreak. Where Mary had to work tirelessly to gain Francis' trust and affection, Olivia needed only to glance at him and Francis relaxed. He was never this comfortable around Mary and it bothered her. It didn't help that Olivia was beautiful. The gold dress that Olivia was wearing accentuated her tiny waist and shimmered in the candlelight. Her long, glossy blonde hair was secured in a low bun exposing her slender neck. Francis touched Olivia's lower back and Mary thought that she was going to be sick.
"It's common knowledge that Francis has bedded many women. Was this before or after he met Olivia?" Mary asked.
Bash looked torn, but answered her, "He started whoring around after Olivia left."
"Oh," she said feeling the weight of his words.
He put a hand on her shoulder, "I'm sorry you have to keep finding this stuff out this way. I don't know what's going through my brother's mind, but he would be stupid if he chose Olivia over you."
Mary smiled at his response, "Thank you for your honesty. You must know by now how much I have appreciated your friendship at court. However, I'm really not feeling well. I'm going to retire early."
Before Bash could try to stop her, Mary left the ballroom without saying goodbye to King Henry or Francis. It was too much seeing Francis with Olivia; Francis acting like Mary didn't exist at all. She knew that there were rumours starting. How could they not if Francis and Olivia were going to behave in such a fashion in such a public place? As soon as she was out of sight, Mary started to run towards her bedchambers. If she could run fast enough, she hoped that she would forget what she had seen this evening. Forget the way that Olivia looked at Francis; forget the way that Francis touched her. It was clear that Olivia had come back to French court to reclaim her territory and so far she was successful. When Mary finally arrived at her bedchambers, she collapsed on her bed fully clothed.
These days, Mary was starting to feel more homesick than she ever had. It had started when she returned to France, but Francis had been able to keep that feeling at bay. Even when their relationship wasn't close, his presence had been a constant comfort. The more time Olivia spent at court, the less time Francis spent with Mary. She felt like there was a valley between them now and nothing she could do could bridge this gap between them. Anytime she sought out Francis, Olivia was always there within earshot.
Mary groaned when she heard a knock on her door. Bash had probably told one of her ladies-in-waiting that she wasn't feeling well, but she wasn't in the mood to receive anyone. It had been a long day and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in her bed and sleep. The person on the other side of her door had other ideas, however, as they kept knocking.
"I'm fine! I don't need help getting ready for bed this evening," Mary yelled.
"Are you sure you don't need a hand?" Francis asked through the door and Mary's heart stopped.
She quickly ran to the door and opened it, "That's very inappropriate of you, Francis. I thought you were one of my friends."
"I figured. Can I come in?" he asked, smiling the cute smile that she couldn't seem to resist.
Mary stepped aside and granted him entry. As he walked towards one of the armchairs in front of the lit fireplace, she carefully smoothed out her dress cursing herself for laying on it. Shutting the door, Mary went to join him in front of the fireplace. Not knowing what to say to him as they hadn't talked in what felt like a lifetime, Mary waited for him to start the conversation. It wasn't until a couple minutes of tense silence that he started speaking.
"How are you? You left the ball early and I was concerned," Francis said as his hands fidgeted.
Mary smiled at him gently before answering, "I was tired, so I thought I would have an early night. Shouldn't you be entertaining your guests? Your father will be unhappy that you've been away this long."
"I know, but they can wait. I want to apologize, Mary. I haven't been fair to you this past month. It feels like I have barely seen you and it's my fault. I was going to ask you for a dance tonight, but you left before I had the opportunity to. Are you sure that you are well? You don't seem like yourself tonight," he said.
Mary desperately wanted to be honest with him, to tell him that everything was a mess. He had spent the last month ignoring her to spend more time with his first love. Although Olivia originally seemed to have good intentions, Mary's instincts told her that Olivia wanted more than friendship from Francis. Mary wanted to tell him this and more. Francis always knew how to comfort her and knew the right things to say. Yet, this was the one situation that she couldn't confide in him because he wouldn't understand. Technically, he hadn't done anything wrong with Olivia. It wasn't as if Mary could tell him to stop seeing her either. He would resent her for trying to control his life and withdraw even further from her. Keeping this in mind, she decided to tell him a half-truth.
"Lately I've been feeling homesick. I miss Scotland. I haven't been in France for very long and I don't have many friends here," Mary admitted.
Reaching out to grab her hand, Francis gave her a comforting smile, "I don't know what it's like to be so far from home for such a long time, but I can't imagine that it's easy. You have your ladies-in-waiting at least."
"They've been busy with their own lives," she replied letting go of his hand, frustrated that he couldn't understand how much Olivia was taking from her.
"Mary, I am so sorry that I haven't been there for you and I didn't realize how lonely you felt here. I have had a lot on my plate lately, but I know that is no excuse. I will work on keeping some time free to spend with you. Can you forgive me for being such an idiot?" he asked as he kneeled in front of her.
"Of course," Mary replied smiling.
Francis reached up to softly caress her face as she looked down at him in confusion. It had been such a long time since they had been this close. The fire danced in his golden hair and she couldn't help but think about how handsome he looked. She had forgotten how easily he made her heart race.
"Thank you for coming to check on me. It means the world to me," Mary said as she ran her fingers through his soft hair.
"I'm sorry that I didn't check on you sooner," Francis replied as he slowly got up.
"I'll forgive you this time, but don't forget about me so easily next time," she teased as she walked him to her door.
"You're a hard woman to forget. I should retire as well. I have an early morning meeting tomorrow," he said as they reached her door, "Save me a dance next time?"
"You'll have the honour of the first dance," Mary said smiling, "Good night, Francis."
"Good night," Francis said as he turned away.
At the last minute, he turned back to her. His blue eyes searched her brown eyes, for what she did not know. It seemed like time stopped while they were staring at each other. Neither one of them was willing to break the spell they were under. Somehow they had gotten closer to each other as their feet touched. With an uncertain hand, Mary reached up to trace his jawline and cheekbone wondering at how they had reached this moment when there had been a valley between them just moments ago.
His hand rested on her hip bringing her even closer. Mary wasn't sure who had started it, but suddenly his lips were on hers. Her hand brought his face even closer still as she deepened the kiss. Mary was floating and she didn't want to stop. How had it been this long since they had touched, since they had kissed? Too soon they separated, the need for air stronger than their need to connect. Francis kissed her forehead softly and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"I should let you rest. I will see you tomorrow," Francis said and then he was gone.
In a daze, Mary returned back to her chambers and slowly got undressed. As she crawled into bed, Mary touched her lips and smiled. Olivia might have been his first love, but Francis was going to be her husband. It was ridiculous that one encounter with him could make her forget why she had been frustrated in the first place. Mary supposed that was what happened when you loved someone. This time, Francis had been the one to reach out to her and for now that was enough. If only Mary had known the road ahead, maybe she wouldn't have forgiven him so easily.
Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think!