Henry saw them in the waxing morning light beneath her lit tresses that cascaded over her shoulders. Her back was crisscrossed with thin bright pink stripes, the skin shiny and slightly puckered. A chill crept into his chest, gripping him beneath his lungs. His finger traced beneath her hair. He could feel her body move with each breath.
It was a coarse, ugly reminder of her fragility. She murmured quietly, a smile across her lips. They were full and pink and Henry kissed her soundly before she was awake. When her large blue eyes blinked up at him, lucid and warm, his fingers moved to the stripes once more.
"Good morning," she smiled, her voice thick with sleep. Her face was flushed with color.
Henry felt the pull in his chest he'd come to associate with Danielle de Barbarac. It was love, he knew, that overwhelming ache and desire to hold her to him and never let her go. A crooked smile worked its way onto his face.
"Good morning to you," he mumbled, fingers still stroking the lines. "Danielle..." He murmured, leaning in once more for a smaller kiss. "Danielle."
She smiled into his lips. "Henry."
He sighed and pulled away. "Danielle," he sighed, tone now more serious. There was a spark of fear in his Danielle's eyes, and he felt the guilt of being the one to put it there. "Danielle, did your family do this to you?"
Her eyes grow dark and for a moment Henry fears her answer.
He slid his hand down her back, then back up to her shoulder and down her arm, in what he hopes is a comforting gesture. There's an anger there he hadn't seen before, and he knows that it must have happened before the day in the castle ruins - he can still remember the shock that ran through him at the sound of her cry of pain.
He tries to be gentle, but he must sate his curiosity before he brain can come up with far more gruesome scenarios.
Before he knows what happens, she's clinging to him, hands running down his bare arms. She is so soft. She trembles slightly as he rolls onto his back to provide a better platform as she rests her head on his chest. He tangles his fingers in her hair.
"I made the Baroness angry with me after coming home at dawn, with you," she mumbles, voice thick with the beginning of tears. Henry feels his chest contract.
"She and Marguerite tried to take my mother's dress and shoes, so Marguerite could wear them to the Masque." She lets out a choked sigh. Her eyes drift towards his, and he realizes his expression has grown serious, eyebrows pulled together as he watches her like a hawk. He couldn't fathom the thought of Marguerite in the dress Danielle had worn.
"I grew angry at the things Marguerite said and I hit her."
A huge laugh erupts from Henry unwarranted and he can feel Danielle smile against him.
"You struck Marguerite?" he continues to chuckle. "I hope you left a mark."
Danielle nods. "I knocked her over the bed, her feet went flying over her head. I took the shoes and chased her around the manor." Henry could imagine it. "But then she took my...she took my father's book." Her voice grew thick. "She took the copy of Utopia and held it over the fire."
Fear gripped Henry.
"The offer was the shoes for the book. I gave her the shoes."
He felt the dampness on his chest. She was crying and her voice was shaking. His heart ached for Danielle. His Danielle. If only he had known. If only he could have done something. But he couldn't. But that didn't mean he couldn't do anything now.
"I gave her the shoes, and she threw the book in the fire. The Baroness stopped me from retrieving it." This was accompanied by a sob as her arms grew tight around Henry. "They lashed me," she sobbed into his chest. "She took the shoes and the dress and my book, and they lashed me for it."
Henry felt tears sting his eyes. They held on to each other, and the moments seemed to drag on like hours. The sunlight growing as they laid there, languidly, despite the tears that rolled down their faces. Eventually Danielle grew quiet.
"I'm sorry, Henry, I didn't mean..."
"No," he stopped her. "No, I needed to know. Danielle," he sat up, pulling her with him so he could look into her eyes. "I love you, Danielle de Barbarac. And I am so sorry." He pressed his lips to hers and she wound her arms around his neck. "I am sorry for the pain that I have caused you."
She shook her head. "No, Henry..."
He put a finger to her lips. "No, it's alright. I can't change the past, but I can change the future."
And then the plan that had been forming in his head completed itself and he knew exactly what he had to do. He leapt from the bed like he'd been struck by lightning and scrambled for his trousers. Danielle watched him with a curiosity.
"What are you doing?"
His grin was wicked. "I'm going to see my mother."