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Bend the Bars

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Bend the bars

For a Queen, Danielle had perhaps the best weeded kitchen garden in all of Europe. The reason being, this is where she retreated to when she was too angry to be near people. The palace staff knew well enough that if she stomped out into the rain wearing torn and tattered clothes, they were to leave her alone. One enterprising footman had once gone to inform Henry, however he was already aware of the situation having been the cause of it. He was almost always the cause of it.

Danielle had ruined his life, he wasn’t allowed to be the coddled, cosseted spoiled prince. Instead he had to go and talk to peasants, to people and care about their lives! The fact that they had such interesting stories to tell, and such ideas was neither here nor there. And of course that the implementation of some of those ideas had improved France’s position was inconsequential.

He should go and apologise really. Again.

Danielle loved Henry with all of her being, but just because you loved someone, didn’t mean that there weren’t occasions where you wanted to beat them to death with a trowel, King or not. If Henry claimed to be trapped in a gilded cage one more time then she would not be held responsible for her actions.

Danielle had, quite reasonably, pointed out that everyone was caged. From the farmer in his trap of seasons and weather and back-breaking work, to the laundry maid caught in the web of lye burned hands and no chance of advancement, to the destitute peasant behind bars of desperate poverty and no education. And Henry’s cage was hardly gilded, it was solid gold, and diamond and pearl encrusted at that. Would he really prefer to move into a less luxurious abode?

Henry, for all the joy he took in his university and his books and learning, took an equal amount of displeasure at his more formal duties. He had to be forced into the world of the courtier, for someone had to rule, and heaven forbid that Danielle should take on any diplomatic duties. Her strengths were many and multitude, but from a political point of view, speaking your mind could only be viewed as a catastrophic weakness. Danielle’s upbringing prepared her for many things in life, but despite the cruelty of her stepmother and sister, court intrigues were on another level altogether.

By the end of her first week as princess, she had outraged the sensibilities of five senior ladies-in-waiting and suggested to a duke exactly what he could do with his wandering hands. Her stepmother was by no means alone in wishing a daughter married to Henry, and there were several within the court who wished her ill for upsetting what they saw as the true order of things. Queen Marie had asked one of the kinder ladies, one whose children were all happily married, to act as a chaperone and guide through the twisted web of court. By the end of their second year of marriage, Danielle very much had the hang of things and could speak with as much hidden meaning as the most seasoned of the duchesses. By year five when Henry had been King for four months, Danielle was every inch the Queen and no-one could ever question her origins.

Despite having been trained from infancy for the crown he was to wear, Henry still railed and rallied against his role. To Danielle, it appeared as nothing more than him aspiring to a life of idleness. She had made it abundantly clear this was not an option and if ruling was not for him and he was too trapped then fine, he would abdicate with her complete support and he could go and start a new life as a carpenter or farmer.

Henry was equally convinced that manual labour had nothing on the tedium and horror that was dealing with matters of state and suggested that perhaps he might disguise himself and give it a shot. How hard could farming be, really?

One Thursday in late August Henry, Danielle and a few of the more long suffering valets headed out into the countryside. One of the footmen had an uncle with a farm a few days ride away who was always looking for help with the harvest. Danielle was dressed in her old clothes and had acquired an appropriate outfit for Henry who was going to do his best to hide his identity. In rough country clothes, messed hair and the start of a beard he looked nothing like his official portraits and it was unlikely that anyone from the village had made it beyond their local town, let alone to the vicinity of the palace which would have been a good week’s walking. What Danielle couldn’t fix with judicious application of dirt was the manner and way of presentation. Henry reeked privilege and disdain and Danielle had been drumming into him for weeks on what he should say and do. They had decided that he was the youngest son of a palace courtier, brought up amongst the nobility but disgraced in an unspecified incident and the footman had taken pity on him and found him the only work he could get. It might explain away some of the behaviours that Danielle hadn’t managed to train him out of.

They were sleeping in the hay loft with all of the others brought in from outside the village to help with the harvest. Not the usual accommodations for royalty and Danielle watched Henry closely to see if he'd object. He settled down after dinner of bread and soup and was asleep almost instantly.

It wasn't the first day, where Henry was up with the dawn and happy as a pig in mud to be working with his hands, nor even the end of that day where every muscle he possessed ached with lack of use and his only meal some thick porridge and a hunk of bread. At that point it was still a novelty.

By the night of the third day, Henry was starting to imagine what it would be like to do this, day in, day out, with no respite. He had watched the farmer's children, barely out of infancy helping in any way they could. He watched the others, vagrants like he was pretending to be and saw the coarseness and patches on their clothes, the callused hands and prematurely aged skin, hard from use and sun.

Danielle could tell at that moment that something had changed and as Henry came to her and told her they should leave now. He'd make sure that people were sent to take their places so that no-one was left short-handed, but what he was doing was playing and insulting to those who had no choice but to work from cradle to grave for a meager chance at survival.

The ride back to the palace was in silence, for Henry could brood and stew with the best of them and Danielle was content to let him be. She knew that it would take a while, but if she was to properly train her King to think of the others - and it always came down to that, to looking beyond the one and seeing the whole, the mass, the terrifying multitudes, this was a lesson he needed to learn.

It was barely a full week after returning to the palace, that Henry announced a fund, available to all in hardship, to provide with food and clothing and aid to any unable to support themselves.

Danielle smiled, her husband was a good man, and caged or not, if he could help gild the bars for anyone else, he would most certainly do that.