Henry walked down the corridor that lead to the royal chambers, wondering where his wife had run off to. Knowing her, she probably had her nose buried deep in a book and lost track of time somewhere. Humming under his breath at the idea, the prince entered his room and waved away the servant who was waiting for him, “I can dress myself just fine, thank you.” He said, smiling a bit as he realized Danielle was rubbing off on him after all. A year ago he’d never considered performing the task himself, having a servant come and do all the work for him, but that all changed after he’d met the ‘Comtesse Nicole de Lancret’.
Muttering under his breath about clumsy old ambassadors and their tea cups, Henry had removed his soiled shirt and was holding a new one in his hands when he heard a sigh come from sitting room that was attached to the bedroom. Mouth widening in a smile, Henry quickly dresses and with light feet went to sneak up on his wife. Danielle was sitting with her back to Henry, leaning over onto a small table that was meant to hold items like tea pots, flowers, and cake plates, but the princess couldn’t seem to care less about what the table was meant to be used for. Sighing again, Danielle turned the page of her book and then brought her arm up to pull her hair around her right shoulder.
Henry was leaning against the door frame, admiring his wife in her natural habitat, when his eyes glanced down at the skin on her back. The calm smile that had sat so easily on his lips just seconds ago melted away to a confused frown. Abruptly pushing himself off the door frame, the prince quickly crossed the room and placed his hand against the raised, mangled looking skin that was his wife’s back. Jumping slightly at his touch, Danielle twisted around to look at her husband. Smiling in that crooked way of hers, she admonished, “Why, Prince Henry! How dare you go around surprising your wife in such a way?”
Looking down at Danielle with a crease between his eyes, Henry disregarded her playful words and cut straight to the question. “What’s on your back, Danielle?”
Eyes widening, the princess’s own smile slipped away and she tilted her head down to avoid her husband’s gaze, “Oh,” she stalled, “it’s nothing, just some old scars.”
“Nothing you say?” Henry coughed out, astounded by Danielle’s off handed tone. “It looks to be quite something, indeed!” Bending down to her level, Henry cupped her face in his hands and looked his wife in the eyes. “Danielle tell me, where did you get those?”
“It—it is of little consequence now, Henry.” Danielle said softly, turning her face so she could kiss one of his hands lovingly. “Now they are nothing more than faint reminders of a darker time.”
“Danielle—” The prince tried again, his tone betraying his frustration. Before he could ask her again, however, the princess stood up. Henry’s hand fell away from her face as she did, and Danielle grabbed onto them and pulled lightly, silently telling him to stand as well.
“And what are you doing in here anyway?” She asked with a nervous laugh. “You should be having tea with the Spanish ambassador, not wasting time with me in here. What would your father say if he heard you were not being a proper host?” She teased, a small smile returning to her face. Brows furrowing in confusion, Henry opened his mouth to tell her what had happened, with the intent to ask about the scars once he’d explained, when Danielle forcefully started pushing him out of their sitting room, all the way back through their bedroom. “Go, go!” She told him, “Or else you’ll be late! And we can’t have that now can we?” With one final push, the prince was out the door and standing with his mouth wide open in the hall way.
Closing his mouth with a snap of his jaw, the prince let out a frustrated sigh through his nostrils. He was determined to get to the bottom of this. Danielle could try and evade all she liked, but one way or another, Henry would find out who had given her those scars on her back. Straightening his shirt to make himself feel more dignified, Henry turned heel down the hall back towards the old ambassador that awaited him.
Later that night, after several hours of dealing with courtiers and their fake pleasantries, the prince and princess were able to escape to their bed for some much needed sleep. Unfortunately for Henry, he’d been unable to pester his wife any more on the subject of the marks on her back. In truth, he hadn’t the heart to interrogate her about the scars after looking at her sleep-blurred eyes and small content smile as she undressed and burrowed under their coal warmed covers. As soon as her head hit the pillow, Henry knew it’d be a crime against God himself to wake her up again.
With her back to him, even in the dark room, Henry could make out the many silvery lines that marked her back. The prince had never seen anything like them before. Reaching a hand out to touch the raised skin, he marveled at the texture. Some parts, like the tips that reached up to her neck, were hard and coarse, reminding the prince of a horse’s saddle. Other parts, like the thickest parts in the middle of the lines were softer, almost as soft as her normal skin. Henry’s mind mulled over how she could have received the blemishes. Thinking back to the day he took her to the monastery, he grinned as he pictured Danielle in all her under clothed glory standing at the top of the tree, trying to determine which way lead back home. Perhaps she fell from such a tree when she was younger? The scars could be a result of falling over so many branches from such a great height.
Or perhaps, he mused, these marks were the result of an illness. He’d heard tales of survivors of small pox having scars, so maybe his wife caught the disease at some point in her life. But then, his mind worried, why didn’t Danielle just say so if it were the case? Letting out a deep sigh, Henry scooted closer to his sleeping wife and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her body closer to his. Danielle stirred for only a moment before settling back into her deep sleep. With a kiss to the back of her head, Henry closed his eyes in search of sleep. He’d worry more about the scars on his wife’s back in the proper light of day.
The next morning passed by in a rush, the two young royals barely having time for a good morning kiss before being ushered to dress and eat by their servants and advisors. It was noon by the time Henry felt he could take a second to breathe again. He’d stepped out of his father’s quarters having had enough of the country’s political status with other countries for the day and was making his way towards the royal gardens, intending to take a walk to clear his head of the oncoming migraine. He started down a flight of stairs and looked up to see Jacqueline walking up them with some freshly laundered linens in her arms. The dark haired lady in waiting smiled shyly and nodded to the prince and he returned the gesture. Henry’s steps slowed down as a thought occurred to him: Jacqueline was Danielle’s step sister and close confidant. Following that thought, she must know about his wife’s back!
Charging up the stairs two at a time to catch up to the young woman, the prince called out, “Jacqueline! Jacqueline, might I have a word with you!”
The dark haired girl stood at the top of the stair case and titled her head while resting the linens on her hip. Giving her prince a low curtsy, she asked, “Yes, your highness?”
Catching his breath before replying, he reassured her, “I just had a few questions for you, if you don’t mind. About Danielle?”
“Oh!” Jacqueline laughed away her nerves, “Yes, all right then.”
“Well I was just wondering,” Henry began slowly, not completely sure how he should go about this, “was Danielle ever ill when she was younger? Perhaps with small pox?”
“Hmm, no, not that I can recall,” the dark haired woman said as she pursed her lips to think. “She was always the healthiest of the house from what I can recall, but I suppose she could have caught something before our families joined together, though she’s never mentioned it.”
Frowning, Henry tried again, “Well how about falling out of a tree? Did she ever do anything like that?”
“Danielle? Falling out of a tree?” Jacqueline asked with an endearing laugh. Shaking her head with a small smile, she continued, “No, definitely not. She’s much too graceful to do something as clumsy as fall out of a tree, your highness!”
Sighing and titling his head back a bit, the prince asked under his breath, “Then how—?” Bringing his head back down and giving it a small shake. Jacqueline’s big brown eyes looked up at the prince with concern, not understanding why he was so upset. “Can you recall any time at all in which Danielle was in an accident of some sort? Or—or any time you can remember her injuring her back?”
“Oh, you mean her scars?” The young woman said with a sure nod of her head.
“So you’ve seen them? Do you know how she got them?” Henry asked sharply, his dark eyes bearing into hers with all the intensity a crowned prince could muster. Jacqueline’s face pinched as she realized the seriousness of the situation. Turning her eyes upward, she took in a deep breath of air and tried to think of what to say. It wasn’t her place to tell him part of Danielle’s past that she’s obviously kept to herself, but then again, she thought, it’s not like she could simply ignore a direct question from the prince. “Jacqueline, if you know something please tell me.”
Fiddling with the folded linens in her hands, the lady in waiting looked down to avoid the prince’s stare. After staring at her feet for an insurmountable amount of time, Jacqueline shook her head lightly, “It was nothing, really. Well, I mean, it was, but—oh, bother!” She exhaled sharply and raised her chin to look into the prince’s eyes. “She was whipped. Danielle slept through our breakfast and—”
“What did you say?” Henry cut her off, his face tightening with anger and disbelief.
The young woman puffed her now red cheeks out and calmly blew out a calming breath, trying to gather her wits again to calmly tell the prince what had happened, but Henry had heard enough. Brusquely moving past the dark haired woman and down the hallway towards his rooms, needing to be alone to think over. Henry wished that Danielle was somewhere on the palace grounds so he could ask her the many questions rushing through his mind. Unfortunately for the prince, the princess was currently in town with his mother, the queen, attempting to find a suitable location for the new university the two young royals wished to patron.
The prince’s shoulders were hunched up and the muscles coiled tight, his footsteps were hard and determined, and his fists were balled up so tightly he could feel his nails digging into his skin. He knew he was a frightful sight, but he didn’t care. He felt his brows furrowing and his lips twisting into a snarl as he thought about the person who was to blame for his wife’s mistreated back: Pierre le Pieu. The scoundrel had mistreated Danielle greatly during her time as his slave. Had Henry known he’d gone as far as he had, the man would’ve been hanged long ago. Swearing to God, Henry would not let the man go free a second time.
Thinking back to that fateful day when he’d found Danielle standing outside the horrid man’s estate, he remembered how dirty and tired she looked, but also remembered seeing the iron and determination behind her eyes as well. His wife was the most wonderfully astounding creature he’d ever had the pleasure of meeting, and he thanked God every day for DaVinci and his stubbornly meddling ways. Without him, Henry would never have seen the errors of his ways and gone after Danielle. He remembered how happy Danielle was when he’d said her real name for the first time, how he’d asked for her hand and spun her around in utter happiness.
Suddenly, as if someone blew out the candle that was keeping his anger alight, Henry’s body shut down. His feet stopped moving, his shoulders slumped, and his fingers uncurled. He twirled Danielle at Pierre’s. He wrapped his arms around her, placed his hands on her back, picked her up, twirled her, and she didn’t cry out. She hadn’t flinched. She hadn’t even seemed uncomfortable in the slightest by the action. Pierre hadn’t whipped her, he realized.
Like a strike of lightening, the memory of he and Danielle meeting in the ruins at Amboise forces itself into his mind. He’d been so happy that day, and he’d thought Danielle’s tears were ones of joy. It wasn’t until later that he’d learned she was trying to say goodbye to him, but that wasn’t the part his mind focused on. No, it focused on the moment he pulled her close for a kiss and she had pulled away with a small cry of pain. He hadn’t known what to make of it then, but he did now. She cried out when he touched her back because she’d been whipped. It must have been recently, too, if his gentle touch caused such anguish. Placing his face in his hands, Henry could scarcely believe what his mind was telling him. Telling him that Danielle’s step mother, the woman who was supposed to look after her, protect her, had whipped her. He knew the woman was conniving and ambitious, a horrid person in truth, but he’d never for one second thought she was such a monster as to hurt such a kind and generous human being as Danielle. How could he have not realized it before? How could he have missed it? Was he really so self-involved at the time, so stupidly happy with himself, that he was blind to Danielle’s suffering? Breathing in shakily through his nose, Henry realized he had been.
Without realizing his body was moving again, the prince found himself safely hidden away inside his royal chambers, sitting upon his bed. Henry stared blankly at the wall in front of him. His eyes were glazed over and the young man felt as if his father could walk through the door, yelling and thundering about, and Henry wouldn’t pay him any mind. He was in a stupor, and had no motivation to pull himself out of it. The young royal must have been frozen in that spot for well over an hour before anyone else entered the room. Danielle stopped just past the doorway when she spotted her dear husband’s forlorn face and defeated posture. “Henry? Whatever is the matter?” When he didn’t respond, the princess frowned and moved closer to stand before him. Pushing some of his hair from his face, Danielle cupped his right cheek with one hand, rubbing small circles into it with her thumb, and ran her other hand soothingly through his hair. “Henry?” She asked again. “Are you feeling ill?”
Slowly, his wife’s touch brought the prince out of his stupor and he was able to shake his head. He wasn’t feeling ill, he wanted to say, just numb. “Oh Danielle,” he breathed out her name. “Why did you never tell me?”
“Tell you what?” She asked, tilting her head to the side.
Henry’s arms snaked around her middle and he pulled his wife closer so he could rest his head on her chest. Danielle adjusted so both hands were now combing his hair and her arms created a shield around his head. She waited patiently for her husband to explain what he was referring to and stiffened when she felt his hands reach up her back, under her hair, and touch the scars that rested there. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked again, though this time it sounded more like a moan than a whisper. Danielle needed no more clarification.
Stopping her hands, Danielle pulled back a bit, trying to look into Henry’s eyes. When the prince merely moved his body with hers, the princess sighed and grasped a clump of Henry’s hair and tugged on it a bit, pulling his head back as gently as she could. Once she was staring into her husband’s eyes, Danielle gave him a small, sad smile. “I did not wish to burden you with it. You knowing about my scars would only upset you, as it has obviously done, and the details matter little now.”
“Burden me?” Henry repeated, aghast. “Danielle, I am your husband! We are meant to share our burdens with one another so that we might not suffer alone. I don’t know if I’m more upset about the fact that you were whipped or the fact that you never told me.” Closing his eyes for a second, his brows furrowed as he shook his head. “No, that was a lie. I know which one makes my heart clench more. Please, Danielle,” he beseeched, pulling on her body so she’d sit next to him on their bed. She obliged him easily. Henry gathered Danielle’s hair and brought it around her shoulder, then rested his hand on the back of her neck. Slowly massaging the skin there, he continued, “It was your step mother, wasn’t it?” Danielle merely nodded her head, her smile wavering as tears began to gloss over her eyes. Sucking in a sharp breath, Henry brought their foreheads together and whispered, “Why?”
Laughing humorlessly, Danielle told him, “I had accidently slept through their breakfast one morning and,” she paused to let out another laugh, though this one was much lighter and felt like a balm to Henry’s stinging heart, “I had punched Marguerite. I believe I called her an insufferable cow, as well.” Henry couldn’t help himself from smiling at the idea of his brave and daring wife punching her obnoxious step sister and verbally berating her. The smile died quickly though when he remembered the consequences her actions.
Looking into his wife’s eyes, Henry swallowed thickly as he asked, “Was that the same day we met at the ruins?”
Raising her brows, the princess thought for a second, “Yes,” she said slowly, then, “Yes, it was, actually. What does that matter?” She asked when she noticed her husband’s dark look.
“It was my fault,” he mumbled, looking away again.
“What? Henry how could you even say such a thing. Of course it wasn’t your fault, you weren’t even there!”
“No, but don’t you see?” He asked with a bitter tone, still staring at the bed, “If I hadn’t taken you to the monastery the day before, we wouldn’t have gotten lost. We wouldn’t have been side tracked by the gypsies. You would have returned home at a decent hour and awoken when you were supposed to!”
“Henry,” Danielle said sternly, taking his chin in her hand and forcing him to look at her again. “Now you listen to me. The day we went to the monastery was one of the best days of my entire life,” she told him with a sincere smile. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even one of my father’s books.” Shocked at her words, Henry’s mouth fell open, but the princess wasn’t finished. “It wasn’t your fault that I didn’t make their breakfast. It definitely wasn’t your fault that I punched Marguerite. And the only one to blame for these marks on my back is my step mother. She was a horrid woman and an even worse mother, and she’s already received everything she deserves.” Pulling her face away from her husbands, Danielle kissed Henry’s forehead in such a tender and loving way it pulled a sigh from the young prince’s parted lips. Standing up, Danielle pulled her husband off their bed with a determined yank. “Now no more sullen looks from you, understood?” She asked, poking her husband in the chest and causing him to smile. “How about you and go for a walk in the gardens to help clear your mind of such self-deprecating thoughts and I’ll tell you all about the progress on the university.”
Humming with a gentle smile on his lips, Henry nodded at his wife’s plan, but before they took another step towards the doors leading out to the hallway, the prince leaned down to kiss his wife chastely on the lips. “I love you, Danielle.” He murmured against her lips.
Giggling softly, Danielle’s smiled before reaching up to kiss her husband again. “And I love you,” she said just as gently. Pulling away fully, Danielle grabbed onto Henry’s arm, linking her own through his, and began to regale him about that morning’s events. As they walked out into the hallway and towards the gardens, Henry felt a weight lift off his shoulders with the knowledge that the two young royals would be able to face anything, so long as they faced it together.