Disclaimer - This is a story in progress. Sections will be posted as they are finalized. I have done research on this time frame and the political climate. While I tried to stay true to some of the historical trappings, I took liberties with MANY things. It is fiction first. I apologize to any history buffs and to the people of Spain and France for my lack of knowledge. When I get paid to write these things, I promise to get it exact, but until then, I have a day job and not enough time or money to hire a research assistant.
Copyright - This is an alternative uber tale. No copyright infringement is intended. This is not to be used for profit.
Subtext and Sex - Yes and yes. If the idea of two women loving each other is not your cup of tea; go get a glass of milk and skip this. If you are under the age of 18 years of age or this type of story is illegal in your state or country, please do not read it.
Violence and Language - There are scenes of fighting. The language is pretty mild.
Credits - This story line is completely my own, but the poem that is found as a journal entry in Section Three is by a very talented poet. I inquired if she would lend her beautiful words to this story and she accepted. I cannot tell you how honored and grateful I am. Thank you Renotta. Your poetry is always a source of inspiration.
Dedication - This is for my twin sister. She has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement and like me, is a huge romantic. Youre amazing.
Thank You - Big hugs to Cindy at ForevaXena, Stacia, and Tracey for beta reading and for your words of encouragement. Kisses to the ex-Guards for all the wonderful feedback and for giving me a home in your talented community. A big thank you to Mary D for the Xippys on "Written in My Days" and "My Cup of Tea". Im a beginning writer and these awards have encouraged my to write on.
Rosa moved her chair next to the queen and spoke cautiously. "Catherine, I know this is hard on you. Im so sorry this has happened. I understand what it feels like to worry about your child, but if anyone can protect her and bring her back safely, its my Maria."
"Shes just an innocent young woman," Catherine said as she sniffed back tears and looked over at Rosa. "She doesnt deserve to be caught up in the struggle between our two countries. She never even wanted to come to Spain, but the King insisted. Shes my youngest daughter and I love her so much."
"Have faith, Catherine," Rosa said. "Luc and Maria wont let anything happen to her. They both care deeply for your daughter."
She looked down at her hands and thought about her next words. The events of the morning weighed heavily on her mind. It didnt help matters that her only son had vanished, and now Maria was risking her life for a woman who Rosa was certain had caused the dispute between brother and sister.
"Catherine," she said very slowly. "Has Danielle said anything to you about Fredrick? I mean has she shown any interest in their courtship?"
Catherine sighed. She knew in her heart that Danielle, while keeping her promise to be polite and attentive to Fredrick, was not overly excited by this marriage. In fact, Catherine noticed that her child seemed much more interested in Maria than anyone else. Shed never seen Danielle look at anyone the way she looked at her. It worried her terribly, but she didnt know what to say to Danielle. Shed tried to ignore it, but it was obvious from Danielles display at dinner that her attraction was to Rosas beautiful daughter and not to Fredrick.
"Why do you ask such a question at a time like this?" Catherine asked. She couldnt believe that Rosa thought it was an appropriate time to get into a conversation she really didnt want to have. All she could think about was Danielles safe return.
"Im sorry, Catherine," Rosa said "Im just as worried as you are at this moment, but we need to talk about something. This wont be easy, but I dont think it can wait any longer."
Rosa stood up and walked to the window. Peering out, she took a deep breath. She was sure that Maria cared for Danielle. The look on Marias face as she rode after Ortega was one of concern for someone that she loved, not just worry over a French princess.
"Before you were up this morning, something happened between Maria and Fredrick. Ive never seen my children argue, but this was a bitter fight," Rosa said, turning her attention to Catherine and walking over to her. "I think Danielle is at the heart of it."
Catherine looked up at Rosa. "What are you talking about? What happened?"
"I found the three of them in the garden early this morning. I only caught the last part of it, but it ended in Fredrick accidentally injuring Cora. He pulled his sword on Maria and Cora tried to protect her," Rosa trembled slightly with the memory of the morning. "Fredrick got on his horse and left immediately. I tried to get answers, but no one would talk. Danielle was crying uncontrollably and the tension between her and Maria was not normal."
"What are you trying to tell me, Rosa?" Catherine stood up from her chair so that she was eye to eye with Rosa.
"I think . . ." Rosa whispered. "I think that Danielle and Maria care for one another and Im afraid that Fredrick saw something between them."
Catherines breath caught in her chest and she stumbled back, falling into her chair. Rosa came to her side.
"Catherine? Are you all right, Catherine?"
Catherine put her head in her hands as her tears fell hard. She couldnt explain the emotion she felt. Concern, fear, confusion, and worry all piled up on her, causing her to break down and weep.
"Catherine," Rosa sat next to the queen and placed her hand on her knee. "We dont need to talk about this right now. Please forgive me. Ive just been so concerned about this. It feels like my family is falling apart and I just needed someone to talk to about it. I thought we could work this out together." She looked down and felt her eyes welling with tears. Soon, her sobs were as strong as Catherines.
Slowly, Catherine covered the Spanish womans hand with her own. She knew in her heart that Rosa was probably correct in her assumption about Maria and her daughter. She wasnt sure what to say.
"This is such a mess," Catherine sighed. "I never imagined any of this could happen."
"God help us, none of this was planned," Rosa said, choking back sobs
The women looked up at each other, worry and concern evident in their tear-soaked eyes.
What are we going to do, Rosa?" Catherine asked quietly.
"We re going to pray for the safe return of our children," Rosa said. "And whatever comes of all of this, were going to help each other through it."
Catherine squeezed Rosas hand, taking comfort in her words and strength.
The sun had left the sky and only the moons soft light illuminated the grounds as Lucs horse came to an abrupt stop in front of the doctors villa. Jumping down quickly, he ran to the door and pounded as hard as he could.
"We need some assistance here, please," Luc shouted.
He ran back to Danielle. "Let me take her, Princess," he said, gently cradling Maria in his arms.
"Be careful, Luc," Danielle said. "Shes so weak." She dismounted and ran ahead of Luc.
The door to the villa opened and Dr. Sanar stepped out holding a lamp to light the dark entrance. "Whats happened here?"
"Marias been shot," Danielle said, reaching in and pushing the door wider so that Luc could carry the wounded woman inside. "Ortega and his men kidnapped me and as Luc and Maria were rescuing me, she got injured."
"Take her upstairs and put her in the room on the right," Dr. Sanar instructed.
Luc climbed the steps carrying Maria as Danielle followed closely behind. Placing her gingerly on the bed, Luc stepped back. Danielle went to her side, kneeling on the floor.
"Youre going to be okay, Maria," she said, picking up the tall womans hand and holding it against her own warm cheek. She placed her hand over Marias and, sliding it down gently to her lips, kissed the other womans palm lightly. She held Marias hand a moment longer, afraid to relinquish the touch. "You hang on. You hear me? Ill be right here waiting for you."
"Ill have to ask you to step out," Dr. Sanar said, holding the lamp by Marias side. "I need to see how bad this wound is."
Danielles eyes began to tear up. She kissed Marias palm again and then gently laid her hand back on the bed.
"Come on, Princess," Luc said softly. "Lets let the doctor take care of her."
Luc brought his hand down and helped Danielle up from the floor. The young woman stood on wobbly feet and held on to the strong arm of the captain for support. He led her out of the room and down the stairs.
"Let me take you back to your mother," Luc offered. "Im sure shes worried out of her wits by now."
"No, Luc," Danielle said. "I cant leave Maria. I wont go anywhere until I know shes out of danger."
"Princess," Luc said, placing his hand on her cheek and wiping away dried blood from one of the many scratches caused by the tree branches, "Your wounds need to be tended to and you need to rest from this ordeal."
"Im fine, Luc," Danielle said impatiently. "These are just little cuts and I cant rest until I know shes all right!"
Danielle realized that shed snapped at the captain. She took a deep breath. "Luc, Im sorry. I didnt mean to take that tone with you. Ill never be able to tell you how grateful I am to you for risking your life to save me and for helping Maria, but I cant leave."
Danielle looked at Luc; he was not just the Captain of the Guard, but her friend. She took his hand and led him to the sitting room, then sat in a chair next to the window.
"Sit down, Luc," Danielle said softly. "I need to tell you something."
Luc sat directly across from the young woman and looked at her with compassion.
"Luc," Danielle began. "I dont know how to tell you this. Ive tried to put it in words for myself many times but none of the explanations compare to what it is I feel inside. For years now Ive dreamt of the same blue eyes. I prayed to find this person and it happened, Luc. Its not what I expected but I cant deny what my heart knows is the truth. I . . . Im . . ."
"Youre in love with Maria," Luc said thoughtfully.
Danielle looked over at the man who had been her protector and mentor since her birth and smiled slightly at him.
"How did you know?"
"I see it in your eyes, in your words, and in your actions, Danielle," Luc said quietly. "I watched you risk your life for her today and her for you. I knew this morning that Maria cared for you deeply, but what I didnt know was if you felt the same for her. I do now."
"Does that upset you, Luc?" Danielle asked hesitantly.
"No, cherie," Luc said, taking her small hand in his and smiling gently. "Your life has always been controlled by your title. I prayed that you would find the happiness you deserved. Some people never know what it feels like to find their true love. That you have makes me very happy."
Danielle brought his hand up to her lips and kissed the back of it as tears began to fall from her eyes. "Thank you, Luc. Your friendship has been the greatest of my life. Your understanding and support mean the world to me."
"You will always have that from me, Princess, but most people will not be as accepting of this. Does anyone else know of your feelings?" Luc asked gently, standing up from his chair.
"Oh, Luc," her voice shook slightly. "This morning, in the garden, very early, I went down to talk to Maria. I told her about my feelings and she begged me to drop it. She was worried about her brother, my position in France, and doing the right thing. She told me we had to walk away from it, but I pushed her and pushed her until she broke down and she kissed me."
Danielle took a deep breath and continued. "Fredrick witnessed the kiss and blamed Maria for seducing me. Thats not at all what happened, but he wouldnt listen. He attacked her and thats how Cora got injured. It was horrible. None of this was Marias fault. I should have walked away like she begged me to do."
Danielle looked up at her friend. The worry in his eyes showed through his usual stoic demeanor.
"Where is Fredrick now?" Luc asked, concerned.
"Im not sure, Luc," Danielle said softly, looking down at her lap and letting fall tears born of worry and frustration. "He got on his horse right after the incident and left. I saw his face when he was leaving. I think it scared him that hed lost control. He didnt mean to hurt Cora. It was an accident."
Luc came back to Danielle and knelt in front of her. "Dont worry about any of this right now, Princess. Well figure something out."
"I hope so, Luc. This is such a mess and now Maria . . ." her voice broke off as her tears turned to soft sobs.
"You stay with her," Luc said, standing up. "I need to go back and let the queen know youre okay. Rosa needs to know about Maria, and Ill do my best to find Fredrick and talk with him."
"Thank you, Luc," Danielle said and stood to embrace him.
"Ill return as soon as possible," Luc placed a kiss on the top of her head.
Danielle watched from the door as he mounted his horse and rode away. Turning around, she closed the door and walked back up the steps; sitting on the top rung, she prayed as she waited for the door to open.
Fredrick led his horse up a dirt road. Hed spent the entire day riding through the countryside and thinking about his actions of the morning. He was embarrassed by his sister and ashamed of his own behavior. Hed never meant to let his anger get the best of him and no matter what Maria had done, it could not excuse the outburst that led to Cora being hurt. He couldnt believe hed tried to hurt his sister. The guilt was eating away at him.
Deciding to go back to the doctors villa and check on Cora, he pulled the reins hard to the right and headed south. As he rode, he remembered the green eyes of the princess as they looked at him in contempt. She would never trust him again. Any hope that she would still want his hand in marriage was lost. His thoughts drifted to his mother, who would be devastated by the turn of events. He took a deep breath and dropped his head.
Danielle looked up when the door opened. The doctor walked out, wiping his hands on a cloth stained by Marias blood.
"How is she?" Danielle asked anxiously, standing up to talk to him.
"She lost a lot of blood. I removed the musket ball, but it punctured her left lung. Itll be hard for her to fight off infection in the weakened state shes in," Doctor Sanar said in a low voice. "Only time will tell. Has someone told Rosa?"
"Lucs gone back to tell her," Danielle said, walking over to the room and peering in at Maria. "May I sit with her, please?"
"I think I should look at your cuts first, and get you cleaned up," Doctor Sanar said. "She wont be conscious anytime soon."
"Later, I promise, I . . . I need to be with her now," Danielle insisted.
The doctor nodded his head in reply. Danielle walked quickly to the bed, leaving the door open. Marias face was pale and beads of perspiration rose on her forehead. A clean sheet covered her chest.
Danielle looked down at her own hands. Walking over to a water basin, she washed the dirt and blood from them and then got a clean rag, soaking it in another basin filled with cool clean water. Wringing the rag out, she brought a chair to the edge of the bed and sat down. Gently, she wiped Marias cheeks and laid the cloth over her forehead. She sat quietly, looking at the beautiful face, praying for her recovery.
Fredrick dismounted his horse and knocked on the doctors door.
The door opened and Doctor Sanar stepped out. "Shes upstairs in the room on the right"
"No. Maria!" the doctor said, puzzled that Fredrick would inquire after the dog first. "The princess is with her."
Fredrick blinked his eyes. "What? Why is Maria here?"
"I take it youve not been back to the villa today?" Doctor Sanar said slowly.
Fredrick shook his head.
"After I treated Cora, it seems that Ortega and his bandits kidnapped the princess. The French captain and your sister went after them and in the process of rescuing the princess, Maria was shot."
"And the princess? Is she all right?" Fredrick asked urgently.
"Minor scrapes and bruises from what I can tell, but she wont leave Marias side," the doctor replied.
Confused and alarmed, Fredrick walked past the doctor through the entrance and up the stairs. When he got to the door, he stopped before turning to enter the room, listening as he heard Danielles voice.
"Im so sorry, Maria," Danielle said, picking up Marias hand and holding it tenderly between hers. "Ive done nothing but ruin your life since I arrived. I never intended for any of this to happen. I know youll never be able to forgive me, but Ill live the rest of my life trying to set things right with you and your family."
Danielle brought the tall womans hand to her lips and placed small kisses on it. "You begged me to leave you alone and I just couldnt do it. I tried to fight the feelings I had for you, I really did, but I wasnt as strong as you are. Can you blame me for wanting to make my dream a reality? I finally found what my heart was searching for and I wanted to force you to see that we were destined to be together. I didnt care at what cost and now look whats happened."
Danielle looked at Maria with tears of regret. "Oh God, Maria, please forgive me. If I had let you leave when you wanted to, Fredrick would have never blamed you for our kiss. This is all my fault!" Danielle laid her head on the side of the bed next to Maria. "My heart will always belong to you, my love, and Ill do whatever you think is best from now on. If you want me to marry Fredrick, I will, I promise you, just please come back to me. You have to fight, Maria. I couldnt go on without you. I love you, Maria."
Fredrick felt his legs weaken as he leaned against the wall for support. All along hed blamed his sister for seducing the princess, when it was Danielle who taken the initiative. He closed his eyes tight and shook his head. Maria had always thought of his feelings first and the family. Why hadnt he trusted her to do the same when it came to the princess?
He bit his lip, holding back the anger he felt at himself for thinking that his sister would ever intentionally do anything to hurt him or shame their family. Hed let his jealousy and pride come before the love of his sister and it made him sick as he remembered the horrible things hed yelled at her. Not only had he caused Maria pain with his words, hed left her alone to fight against Ortega. He felt like her blood was on his hands.
I should have been there for you, Maria, just like you have always been for me. He thought as he quietly walked away and headed down the stairs. I dont know if I can ever forgive myself.
"Doctor?" Fredrick asked softly as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "Will she be all right?"
"I wont lie to you," Doctor Sanar said. "Its serious. The bullet punctured her lung and shes lost a lot of blood. Only time will tell."
Fredrick walked out the door to his horse. He knew he needed to be with his mother. She deserved the truth and she needed to know about Maria. He promised himself that his petty pride would never get in the way of the truth again. Somehow, some way, he needed to make this right.
Keeping her promise to Maria, Rosa left Catherine briefly to go check on Cora. As she sat inside the stables petting the healing dog, she heard a lone horse come to a stop outside. Holding her breath, she watched as the captain walked in and guided his horse to the water trough. Her heart fell as she braced herself against the stall.
"Maria?" Rosa asked breathless.
Luc looked up and saw Rosa. Walking quickly to her, he pulled a stool over for the woman, who was obviously having trouble standing.
"There is no easy way to tell you this . . . Marias been shot," Luc held onto Rosas hand as he helped her sit. "Shes with the doctor. Hes doing everything he can for her."
"What happened?" Rosa inquired through her tears and then quickly thought of the princess. "And Danielle?"
"Shes fine, but she insisted on staying with your daughter," Luc said, holding Rosas hand and kneeling down to talk to her. "Maria found Ortegas hiding place and we were able to free Danielle, but as we were escaping, one of Ortegas armed men surprised us. I yelled to Maria and she shielded Danielle from the attack. The bullet would have hit the princess, but Maria saved her life."
"I must go to her," Rosa struggled with the words. "I . . . I need to be with my daughter."
"Of course," Luc said. "I will take you there myself. First I must tell Catherine that Danielle has been found and is unharmed. Will you be all right for a moment?"
Rosa shook her head as her tears fell harder. "Catherine is sitting just inside the villa."
"Ill be right back and well get to Maria as quickly as possible." Luc ran out of the stables.
"My Maria," Rosa cried hard into her hands as she prayed. "Youve always been the brave one in the family. I dont know what I would do without you, my beautiful daughter. Your strength has been the one thing that has held our family together. I would have fallen apart when your father was murdered, but you were there to encourage me to keep living. Hear me now, my child. I love you more than life itself. You fight for me, Maria. Dear God, please be with her now."
Fredrick heard his mothers prayer as he walked quietly into the stables. "Mother?"
Rosa looked up. "Oh, Fredrick," she stood and walked quickly to her son, throwing her arms around his neck. "Where have you been? Ive been so worried. My God, Fredrick, so much has happened."
"Mother," Fredrick hugged her tight. "I know whats happened today and to Maria. Ive just come from Dr. Sanars villa. Shes in good hands. Danielle is with her, but it is serious."
Pulling back from the embrace, he brought his hands up to his mothers cheeks. "I cant explain what happened this morning, except to say, I acted like a complete idiot. Ive been roaming the countryside all day trying to understand how I could have lost control. Im sorry I hurt you."
Stepping back he looked over and saw Cora lying on a blanket. "Hows Marias little pet?"
"Shell be fine, Fredrick," Rosa sniffed back her tears.
"Im so glad. She loves that dog. I didnt mean to harm her." Fredrick said softly.
"Please tell me what made you and your sister fight. I really need to understand this." Rosa said.
"Its complicated, Mother," Fredrick brought his hands to his sides. "Sometimes things are better left unspoken."
Rosa looked down lost in her own thoughts. She knew what Fredrick was referring to. Shed watched her daughters interactions with other women for some years now. It was obvious to her that Maria preferred the company of women. At first it was hard for her to come to terms with. Maria had never had a serious involvement with anyone and the subject was never addressed in the family, until now.
"Fredrick," Rosa said, looking up. "I already have an idea, but Id rather hear it from you. I want no more secrets in this family. We need to come together now."
Fredrick lowered his head. "I accused Maria of seducing the princess. I walked into the garden this morning and saw them in an embrace. I felt ashamed that Maria would embarrass our family in that way and I guess I also felt a little jealous." Fredrick looked up slowly. "I assumed that Maria had forced Danielle into the kiss. I didnt even consider that the princess could have initiated it."
"And now you think differently?" Rosa reached over and placed her hand over her sons.
" I overheard Danielle confess it as she was praying for Maria," Fredrick squeezed his mothers hand. "I dont think Maria wanted to pursue the feelings. In fact, she was planning on leaving just to avoid them. Danielle was pushing Maria to acknowledge their bond."
"Oh, Fredrick," Rosa sighed. "Ive noticed emotions that seemed strained coming from both of them. I wondered if what I was seeing had anything to do with an attraction between them."
"Mother," Fredrick said slowly. "Danielle is in love with Maria. If you could have heard the words she spoke - they left no doubt about her feelings."
Lost in a reflective silence, Fredrick dropped his head, and then after a moment walked over to look at Cora. "I dont think Maria will ever forgive me. Ive hurt her so badly. The things I said, and the worst of it is - I really had intended in my rage to hurt her. Its unthinkable and unforgivable."
"Maria loves you, Fredrick," Rosa said. "If you explain it to her as you have to me, she will forgive you. She would never do anything to intentionally hurt you."
"Ill never forget that again," Fredrick said.
Fredrick walked back to his mother. "I like Danielle, Mother. I felt an attraction to her and I hoped that our marriage would not be just one of convenience. I started to hope for much more. I told Maria that I liked the princess. I can only imagine the pain she felt - I really do think Maria would have walked away from her only chance at a real love just for the sake of my happiness."
"I have no doubt that she would have tried," Rosa said. "She loves you that much."
Fredrick reached for his mothers hand and held it tightly. "We both know Maria, Mother. That she struggled with her feelings and finally gave in to a kiss tells me that the love between them is stronger than Marias willpower. I wont let her walk away from that. Shes been given a gift of love from an amazing young woman. If I can do anything to support that, I will."
Rosa stood on her tiptoes and placed a kiss on her sons cheek. "Im very proud of you, Fredrick. It takes a special quality in a man to admit his mistakes and strength of character to show the depth of understanding you have for your sister. You know, of course, that Danielles life is governed by her title," Rosa squeezed Fredericks hand. "We do not have the only say in this womans future."
"I know, but I have a plan that just might work out for everyone," Fredrick said. "But first we must go to Maria. She needs you."
"She needs both of us," Rosa said.
Luc and Catherine walked into the stables, stopping immediately when they saw Fredrick.
"Luc," Fredrick said, walking to the captain and holding his hand out. "Ill never be able to repay you for helping my sister against Ortega. I am only sorry I was not there to help you. Thank you for getting Maria to the doctor and for being here for my mother."
"No thank you is necessary," the captain said, shaking Fredericks hand. "I wish I could have prevented your sister from being harmed. I pray for her full recovery."
"She saved my daughters life," Catherine said softly. "Shes a very brave woman. You must be very proud of your sister."
"Ive never been more proud in my life," Fredrick said.
Catherine looked over at Rosa. Rosa gave her a small smile as a tear fell from her eye. Catherine returned the smile. It appeared that mother and son had resolved the events of the morning.
"Shall we go?" Luc asked
"Yes, immediately," Fredrick replied.
Luc and Fredrick readied the coach and helped Rosa and Catherine inside, then Luc mounted his horse and Fredrick climbed onto the steps of the coach. Just before he sat down, he thought of something, jumped off of the steps, and ran back inside the stables. Luc watched, curious at Fredericks last-minute action. In a moment, Fredrick reappeared, carrying a bundle wrapped in a blanket. He opened the door to the carriage.
"Maria would want to know that Coras with her," Fredrick said, placing the dog between his mother and the queen. "I think she would take comfort in knowing that her pet was nearby."
"Yes, of course," Rosa said. "Im surprised I didnt think of it. Thank you, Fredrick."
The door closed quietly. Catherine looked over at Rosa as she placed her hand on Coras head and petted the animal. "Hes a thoughtful young man, Rosa. Whatever happened before, it appears hes worked through it. You did a wonderful job raising him. You must be proud of both of your children."
"I am, Catherine," Rosa said as she watched the dogs tail wag in response to the petting. "You have no idea how much."
"Rosa," Catherine asked very slowly. "Did Fredrick tell you what happened?"
"Yes, my friend," Rosa said, placing her hand over the queens. "It is as we suspected. Our daughters are struggling with the feelings they have for each other. Fredrick has come to terms with it, but Im not sure what well do about this situation."
"I guess well deal with it as we need to," Catherine said, looking over at her friend. "The most important thing right now is Maria. Im praying for her."
"Thank you," Rosa said, squeezing the hand of the woman shed had grown to care about.
Danielle removed the cloth from Marias forehead and dipped it back into the cool water. With the back of her hand, she felt the sides of Marias face. Despite her attempts to cool her skin, it seemed that her temperature was increasing. Looking at the tall woman, she saw a rapid fluttering underneath closed eyelids. Marias lips began to twitch and her shoulders and chest began to tremble. A soft moan escaped her mouth. Danielle wasnt sure if it was the fever or the pain that was causing this reaction.
"Maria," Danielle said, kissing the womans cheek, "Its okay, Maria. Im with you. Youre going to be fine. Do you hear me, Maria? Im right here, my love. I wont leave your side. Ill be with you always, Maria."
Marias movements stilled as Danielle continued to speak softly to her. Danielle laid her head next to the dark woman, humming a song into her ear. Each time she began to moan or tremble, the princess talked her through the spell and whispered songs until Maria calmed. Danielle kept track of the occurrences and it worried her that they were coming closer and closer together.
Dr. Sanar came up to check on his patient and found the princess humming a song. "Is she responsive?"
"No," Danielle said worriedly. "Shes having tremors of some sort. They began a while ago and her fever seems worse."
"Let me take a look." The doctor moved next to the injured woman and felt her face, then removed the sheet and listened to her lungs. "Shes not doing as well as Id hoped. I think she might be fighting an infection. Just in case, well have to bleed her to let the infection drain."
"But shes so weak already," Danielle said. "Wont that make it harder for her to recover?"
"If it is an infection we shouldnt wait." The doctor moved to the table and brought over a porcelain bowl, placing a towel underneath it, then reached for a knife. He placed Marias arm over the bowl, resting her elbow in the center. "You might want to leave now."
"No, Im staying," Danielle said softly.
"Very well," Dr. Sanar said before he took the blade and made a cut along the soft fold of Marias arm. Blood trickled out immediately and collected in the basin.
"Is there anything else we can do?" Danielle asked as tears formed in her eyes.
"Im sorry, but Ive done all that I know how to do," the doctor stood and started to walk out of the room. "Ill be back in a couple of minutes."
Danielle watched as Maria lay helpless, taken to a dark world by the infection. Her head moved back and forth and she mumbled words that made no sense. The perspiration on her brow beaded with intensity and as Danielle ran her hand alongside of Marias arm, her fingers burned from the heat coming from her skin. Gently holding Marias hand, she hummed another song and prayed for her to return from her hallucinations.
The doctor returned a few minutes later and removed the bowl. He tied a bandage around the cut and folded Marias arm back to help stop the bleeding. "Well see how she does now, but we may need to repeat this treatment. If you notice any change in her, call for me. Ill be right downstairs."
"Thank you, Doctor," Danielle whispered.
As the doctor stepped off of the stairs, he heard a knock. Taking the lamp from the side table, he opened the door. Rosa quickly stepped in.
"How is she?" Rosa asked.
" I think an infection has settled in, but shes fighting it very hard. Lets keep our hopes up," Dr. Sanar said thoughtfully. "Shes upstairs on the right and Danielle is still with her."
Rosa walked quickly to the staircase as the doctor escorted the rest of the party in. When she entered the room, she saw the princess staring at her daughter and holding her hand.
"How is she?"
"Rosa!" Danielle, startled from her thoughts, looked up at the older woman and then turned quickly back to Maria. "Maria, look, its your mother. Shes here for you, Maria."
Danielle stood and motioned for Rosa to move next to the bed. "Please come and talk to her. She might respond to your voice. Shes fighting an infection of some sort and her fever is getting worse. I know shell do better now that youre here."
Danielle stepped away and allowed Rosa to take her place. Her heart broke as she watched Rosas tears fall while talked to her daughter. Nothing could ever compare to the love of a mother, and Danielle knew her own mother must have been devastated when she was kidnapped. Backing away quietly, Danielle left the room to give them time alone.
"Danielle!" Catherines voice reflected her fear as she saw her daughters torn dress and the dried blood about her arms and legs. "My God, Danielle, are you hurt?"
"No, Mother," Danielle said, descending the steps and giving her mother a hug. "These are just scrapes and cuts. Ill be fine, really."
"What happened to your dress?" Catherine said very softly.
"I tore it so I could ride the horse better," she whispered to her mother, who was obviously afraid that something horrible had happened to her. "I needed to get Maria out of that place as quickly as possible and I wanted to make sure I could hang on tight. Dont worry, nothing happened. Luc and Maria got to me in time."
Stepping back from the embrace, Danielles gaze immediately fell on Fredrick, who was holding Cora in his arms. Fredrick noticed the alarm in the princess eyes and it saddened him, but he completely understood why Danielle stood speechless with her questioning gaze.
Catherine noticed the tension and asked Luc to escort her to the sitting room. She wanted them to have time to talk.
"Im so glad youre unharmed, Princess," Fredrick said slowly, lowering his head. "Im sorry I wasnt there to assist in your release. Maybe I could have done something to protect Maria. I know you dont believe this, but I love her very much."
Sensing a shift in Fredericks personality from what shed seen that morning, Danielle walked to his side and whispered. "I must talk to you, Fredrick. I must explain some things."
"Theres no need for you to say a word," Fredrick replied softly. "Im the one who should explain, but sadly, nothing I say will ever excuse my behavior. I hope that Maria will find it in her heart to forgive me, and I hope that one day you will look at me without disgust."
"Fredrick," Danielle said, placing her hand on his arm. "I do not think of you with disgust. I never did. I hurt you. None of what you saw in the garden was Marias fault. Im the one who pursued your sister and it was my actions that caused your fight. Im sorry I hurt you, and if anyone should ask for forgiveness, its me. Ive dreamt of one person all my life and the moment I saw Maria, I knew it was her that made my heart beat. Im sorry if that angers you, Fredrick, but I understand if it does. Your anger should be directed at me and me alone. Please know that Maria wanted nothing to do with my advances."
"Well then, Princess," Fredrick smiled gently and whispered, "If it is my sister that your heart is calling to, Id say shes a very lucky woman, and I hope when she recovers that she comes to her senses and runs straight into your arms."
Danielle tilted her head in surprise as her eyes widened above raised eyebrows. She couldnt help the smile that came to her lips. That was not at all what she expected to hear from Fredrick, and the playfulness with which he delivered it caused her to step back in delighted shock. "Did you just say what I think you did?"
"Yes," Fredrick said softly. "But dont you dare tell Maria. I dont want her to think I gave you up that easily."
Closing the small gap between them, Danielle stepped to Fredricks side, avoiding the dog he still held in his arms, and placed a kiss on his cheek. "You are an amazing man, Fredrick. No wonder Maria loves you so much."
"I hope she still does," Fredrick said as the smile left his face. "Ill do everything I can to seek her forgiveness."
"Trust me, Fredrick," Danielle said. "Youve already been forgiven in her eyes."
Danielle reached in and petted Coras head. "How are you doing, little one?"
Cora barked and her tail began to wag, causing the blanket to move back and forth.
"I guess that means shes doing just fine," Fredrick laughed.
"Thank you for bringing her," Danielle said, quickly sobering. "Maria will want her near when she wakes up. Come upstairs and see your sister, Fredrick. Shell sense your presence and love in the room. She needs all the support she can get."
"Im right behind you," Fredrick said, and followed Danielle up the stairs.
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