Danielle opened her eyes, stretching as she woke fully. It was still early she knew. A habit still very much normal for her after years of waking before anyone else to prepare fires and gather morning eggs. Chores she wasn't worried about now. Instead Danielle lingered in bed, enjoying a leisurely morning. The warmth of the blankets lulled her and she sank against the softness of the pillows. Her body finally relaxed. Drifting on the edge of sleep, Danielle almost missed the sound of the door opening. She sighed softly, sure that one of the chamber maids had come to help her begin her day.
“That doesn't sound like the joy of a princess, or bride to be.”
Danielle smiled at the voice, but didn't open her eyes. “And you Sir, are supposed to let your bride ready herself before seeing her.” Finally opening her eyes she looked up at him, all further protests dying on her lips.
Henry smiled down at Danielle and offered her his hand. She shook off the covers and stood, allowing him to help her out of bed. Danielle knew she should feel overjoyed, but she still couldn't believe that she would be married. And yet he stood before her, holding her hand securely in his, as he called for chamber maids to attend to her needs. She wanted to be happy. Wanted to believe that it really was her wedding day, as the king had said. But deep inside she was sure it would be destroyed just as the ball had been. As much as she wished to enjoy this moment she just couldn't.
The chamber maids came rushing in and Henry backed away. Danielle wanted to call him back but she knew that she had to get ready for the wedding. Allowing herself to be led across the room to have her hair washed and brushed she peeked back over her shoulder to see Henry stride from the room with a look of purpose.
The morning had been frantic. Jacqueline rushed from the house after breakfast. She had to leave with the others before she could be missed. She couldn't let Rodmilla or Marguerite know she was meeting Prince Henry. Just the thought of her plans being discovered made her stomach churn. Jacqueline clenched her teeth and held her package closer to herself as she waited anxiously for Maurice to ready the carriage as Paulette and Louise prepared the vegetables.
After what seemed to Jacqueline like an eternity, Maurice gave a quick nod indicating that they were ready. Releasing the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, Jacqueline rushed for the carriage. She could wait inside, out of sight of anyone who may see the carriage. Once inside she waited as patiently as possible, knowing they had to appear as normal as any other day. Finally they were on their way, and Jacqueline began to relax as the manor house moved out of sight.
Gustave would be there, at the market stall, waiting to meet her. She only hoped that this plan could work. The trip seemed longer than normal. And each passing minute seemed to bring a new possibility of failure. She watched anxiously as they moved farther into the market, winding down the streets to their usual place. Finally Jacqueline could see the stall. Gustave stood next to it, looking around nervously. The crumpled package she had sent before held tight in his arms.
Jacqueline practically jumped from the carriage as it stopped. She ran to Gustave, grabbing his hand. Paulette and Louise were left to set up the market stall. While Maurice took care of the carriage Jacqueline led Gustave off to a quite area of the market. She felt bad for rushing off. She knew that the others would want to be there. But they had to be at the market should Rodmilla or Marguerite visit the market. Jacqueline ducked into a side door of a building. Henry was already inside. Seeing him Jacqueline breathed a sigh of relief and handed him her package.
Henry nodded, then motioned for them to follow him. They had to move quickly. The wedding was already set, not that there had been much to it. They hadn't taken anything out of the church from before. Henry led them through a door and out behind the buildings. Keeping low he moved along the walls to the side door of the church.
Henry clutched the package from Jacqueline and took the one from Gustave, directing them to a place out of the way. Then he rushed from the room, intent on finding the ladies that would be helping Danielle. She should be almost ready. He only hoped that everything would go as planned. A young girl waited outside the room that had been arranged for Danielle's use. Henry handed the girl the packages and instructed her to deliver them to Danielle then turned and left them to finish their tasks.
Henry took the cape from his shoulders as he walked. He strode into the chapel and handed Laurent the cape. Everything was ready when Henry looked up to see Danielle, walking through the door. She was wearing the same gown she had worn to the ball. But instead of wings she wore a sheer veil, the package from Jacqueline, and a delicate crown.
She looked every inch the princess. And she moved down the aisle alone, each movement slow and deliberate. Henry could see the worry in her face. He reached out his hand and took hers, turning forward. He knew that everything thus far had been far from orthodox, but he didn't care. Henry nodded to the priest, indicating that they were ready to begin. Jacqueline stood off to the side, Gustave beside her. Laurent stood across from them, near Henry.
The priest began to speak. Henry only half listened as the priest rushed through the words that he had deemed 'necessary' for the wedding. He kept watching Danielle. She seemed to relax as the priest spoke. The priest cleared his throat and Henry looked forward. The priest looked between the two of them. Quickly, Henry spoke his vows, followed by Danielle. Henry smiled, nodding to the priest to continue. Danielle looked at him, her eyes shining with curiosity. He was sure she realized it wasn't a typical wedding. Henry squeezed her hand and listened to the priest speak his final blessing.
Jacqueline smiled and looked between Laurent and Henry. Their plan had worked. Henry and Danielle were now husband and wife. But it wasn't over yet. There was still a lot to be done. She stepped forward to the couple, Gustave right behind her.
“Are you ready?”
Jacqueline raised her chin and smiled at Henry's question. “Of course Your Majesty.”
Laurent handed Henry his cape. They didn't have much time to lose. “I will take the Princess back to the castle.”
“I will return soon. First we must make sure the next part of the plan is put in motion.”
Henry motioned Jacqueline ahead of him. As Jacqueline left Henry turned to Danielle. “There will be a surprise for you when you return. I want you to have it for tonight.”
Danielle nodded silently. She wasn't sure what tonight would be. But she was sure it would involve her. “I will be ready.”
Henry kissed her softly on the cheek, then turned to slip out the side door, clasping his cape around his shoulders. Danielle turned to Laurent. She felt dazed. It hadn't been the wedding she had expected. Far from it. But she was married to Henry. And there had been no interruptions. Now she had to prepare for tonight.
That evening the meal seemed lighter to Jacqueline. She ate quietly, listening to the chatter with less attention than normal. Marguerite was still going on about events of the wedding, again. Jacqueline looked up to see both of them staring at her.
“How was I to know he'd come flying out the side door? He was supposed to be getting married.” Jacqueline looked back at her food trying to hide her smile.
“I heard the prince talked to you. What did he say?” Marguerite glared at Jacqueline from across the table.
“Well I can't be sure, it all happened so quickly.” Jacqueline feigned confusion, looking as though she was trying to remember. “But I think what he said was, serves me right for choosing a foreigner over your, sister.”
Jacqueline listened to their happy laughter. It had come so easily to her. She could almost imagine their shock when they found out which sister she meant.
“Well very good. Well perhaps we should just let him fret about it for a few days.” Rodmilla smiled at her own idea of clever.
A bell sounded and Marguerite jumped from her chair followed closely by Rodmilla, both running for the door. Jacqueline followed slowly, sure of what was going to happen. The doors were open when Jacqueline stepped up, catching sight of the king's messenger.
“His supreme majesty, King Francis, requests an audience with the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent and her daughters immediately.”
“Well, is anything wrong?” Rodmilla questioned.
“No m'lady, but the King demanded that you arrive, in style.”
“Then in style we shall be.”
Jacqueline closed the door as Marguerite and Rodmilla rushed off to find their best dresses. They were chattering the whole time. Jacqueline went to her room and dressed, a small smile on her face. She knew what to expect. She also knew she needn't dress to impress. She was only to be there as a ruse.
The ride to the castle was the longest Jacqueline had ever endured. She didn't listen to the endless chatter about the wedding. She passed the time wondering what the future held for them all. She was sure she would go back to the manor. She could only guess what the royal family had in mind for the others. Lost in her thoughts she didn't realize they had arrived at the castle until Marguerite nearly jumped out of the carriage. Following the others silently, she went back to her thoughts.
People lined the aisle as the trio made their way before the King and Queen. Jacqueline held back, watching Henry standing beside the throne. She walked up behind Rodmilla and Marguerite, bowing as they did. She waited patiently for the announcement that would change their lives forever.
“Baroness, did you or did you not lie to her Majesty the Queen of France.” King Francis stared hard at Rodmilla.
“Choose your words wisely Madame, for they could be your last.” Queen Marie leveled a cool gaze on the Baroness and Marguerite.
Rodmilla looked startled, her mind racing for an answer that would be proper. Trying to sound calm she answered “A woman would do practically anything for the love of a daughter, your Majesties.” The Baroness fidgeted as she looked from one monarch to the other. ”Perhaps I did get a little carried away.”
Marguerite gasped loudly, “Mother, what have you done? Your Majesty, like you I am just a victim here. She has lied to us both and I am ashamed to call her family.”
“How dare you turn on me, you little ingrate.”
“You see, you see what I have to put up with?”
Francis had heard enough. “Silence both of you! Good Lord, are they always like this?”
“Worse, your Majesty.”
“Jacqueline darling, I'd hate to think you had anything to do with this.”
Jacqueline looked at her mother with disdain. “Of course not Mother. I'm only here for the food.”
“Baroness de Ghent you are forth with stripped of your title. And you and your horrible daughter are to be shipped to the Americas on the first available boat. Unless, by some miracle, someone here will speak for you.”
The Baroness backed down the aisle, searching the faces of the gathered nobility. She saw no pity in their eyes. Desperation filled her. “There seem to be quite a few people out of town.”
A voice from the back of the room stopped everyone. “I will speak for her.” Everone in the room bowed to the lady. “She is after all my step-mother.”
The people stood, facing the princess. Danielle stood in her finest gown. A crown sat on her head. And she stepped forward, looking the Baroness in the eye as Rodmilla bowed before her.
Henry smirked. “Marguerite, I don't believe you've met, my wife.”
Danielle looked down at the Baroness. “I want you to know, I will forget you after this moment and never think of you again. But you, I'm quite certain, will think of me every single day for the rest of your life.”
“And how long might that be?”
Danielle looked up and spoke to the King and Queen. “All I ask, your Majesties, is that you show her the same courtesy she has bestowed upon me.”
Francis cleared his throat. “They will know the same courtesy you did. Both of you are to work in the laundry.” Francis motioned for one of the court to lead Rodmilla and Marguerite away. “Jacqueline, you are hereby known as Baroness Jacqueline de Ghent.”
Danielle stepped beside Jacqueline, who had joined Laurent. “And you are welcome here always.” Both smiled as they hugged. For the first time in 18 years Danielle felt a true sense of freedom and happiness as she looked over Jacqueline's shoulder toward Henry.
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