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. You’re 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 Xippy’s on "Written in My Days" and "My Cup of Tea". I’m a beginning writer and these awards have encouraged my to write on.

Email: dikern@aol.com



Part 6


Rosa's face showed the anguish of a worried mother as Danielle stepped into the room. Looking at Maria, the princess saw the shivers and heard the delirious ramblings that confirmed that the tall woman was still reacting to the fever. Kneeling down by the bed, she took Maria's hand and leaning in close to her ear, spoke in soft tones.

"I'm right here, Maria, right by your side, just like I promised," she whispered, and began humming softly as she brushed back an errant strand of hair from the wounded woman's cheek. Rosa and Fredrick watched as the voice of the princess soothed the patient, who immediately calmed, her body no longer wracked by chills.

Fredrick placed Cora at the foot of the bed. The dog immediately crawled closer to her master, so that her head rested on Maria’s the lower leg. Cora took a deep breath of the familiar scent and then sighed as she let her body settle into the softness.

Danielle reached down, petting the dog, and then looked over at Rosa.

"She's going to be just fine, Rosa. I can feel it. She's fighting this," Danielle said with confidence.

"I'm sure you're right," Rosa smiled, turning to her son. "Fredrick, why don't you say something to Maria. I think she can hear us even in the state she's in. It might help her to know that you're here to support her."

Fredrick nodded his head and Danielle stepped away to allow him the position next to his sister. Hesitantly, he moved in and sat on the edge of the bed. Almost in unison, Rosa and Danielle backed out of the room to allow him to talk without an audience.

"We'll be downstairs," Rosa said, taking Danielle's hand and smiling at her. "I'm going to see to it that this young woman gets these cuts tended to before we have two people to worry about."

Fredrick nodded his head again but did not turn around. He heard the footsteps of the women on the stairs as he tried to find the words to say. Even though his sister was unconscious, he wanted to make sure that if by chance she could hear his voice she would not be alarmed.

"I love you, my sister," he said softly. "You have always been a source of pride and inspiration to me and I continue to feel that to this very moment, although I seriously doubt you will ever think of me in that way again. I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am for the disgraceful things I accused you of and for losing my self-control. I am so sorry, Maria. If you can hear me now, please know that I am here for you just like you have always been for me. Nothing will ever come between us again, I promise that to you. I hope you will be able to forgive me. I will do everything I can to make it up to you."

Fredrick bent forward and kissed his sister's forehead. "You need to fight, Maria. You have your family who would be lost without you. You have a wonderful woman waiting here for you. God knows you deserve her."

Fredrick walked to a chair in the corner of the room and sat down. He bowed his head and prayed for the woman who was not just his sister, but also his best friend. Lost in his prayers, Fredrick drifted, fighting the urge for sleep as the long day and night finally caught up to him.

Downstairs, the doctor cleaned Danielle's wounds and showed her to a private bedroom where she could tidy herself. Danielle closed the door behind her and turned up the wick on the lamp. Looking up, she found herself staring into a full-length mirror. She jumped slightly, startled at her own appearance.

'Good, God, no wonder my mother was worried,' Danielle thought as she undid her long braid and sat down in a chair next to the bed table. A knock at the door caused her to stop her task.

"Yes," Danielle called out.

"It's me, Danielle," Catherine said from the other side of the door. "May I come in, please?"

"Of course, Mother," Danielle said.

The queen walked in, closing the door behind her, and stood next to her daughter. "Let me help you with that."

"I'd welcome your help," Danielle said softly, dropping her hands and letting her mother continue. She looked at her wrists, still sore from the ropes. Clenching her fists a couple of times, she tried to ease the throbbing.

"You must be in pain," Catherine said, noticing her daughter's actions.

"It's not that bad, really," Danielle said, trying to convince her mother that she was all right.

Catherine took a brush and began to untangle the matted hair. She brought it down on Danielle's scalp just at the place that Ortega's sword hilt had landed earlier, causing the princess to jerk.

"I suppose the bump on your head doesn't hurt at all either," Catherine said gently, continuing to brush the long strands.

"No, not . . . not a bit," Danielle squeaked out, bringing her hand up and rubbing the knot, laughing at her lie.

"I'm very proud of you, Danielle," Catherine said. "You could have been killed trying to save Maria."

"Mother," Danielle said seriously. "Aren't you forgetting that is was Maria who risked her life for me? All I did was help her get away."

"I think you did a little more than that, young lady," Catherine said, continuing her work on her daughter's hair. "Luc told me that those men were coming after you, but you stood your ground, taking action to get Maria out safely. Does . . . does her life mean that much to you?"

"Mother," Danielle said, reaching up and grabbing the brush in mid stroke. "Maria means more to me than you will ever realize. Sit down, Mother. We really need to talk."

"It's all right, Danielle," Catherine said. "I already know – I have ever since I saw you staring at her throughout dinner. I know you love her."

"What?" Danielle said, turning in her chair and looking directly at her mother.

"Oh, come on now, Danielle," Catherine said. "I am your mother, after all. I saw it then, although I didn't know what to say. It did make me wonder what we'd do about Fredrick and the marriage, and how I was going to explain it to your father, but . . ."

"What is going on here?" Danielle said, raising her hands in defeat. "How is it that you knew about my feelings for Maria before I could even understand it for myself?"

"You can't hide love, dear," Catherine said slowly. "Love shines like a light. It radiates from your soul and casts a glow all around you. I see it right now. It is love, isn't it, Danielle?"

"Mother," Danielle said seriously. "I'm sorry if this upsets you, but yes, as much as I tried to deny it, Maria is and always has been the love for me. You'd better sit down now."

Danielle took her mother's hand and together they walked to the sofa and sat down.

"I know this is going to sound strange. God knows it was not what I expected either, but for years I've had the same dream and it was always the same blue eyes that came to me. I knew that if I was ever lucky enough to find them, I'd find my true love. What I hadn't planned on was Maria. It's almost like we were destined for each other. Maria has had the same dream of me. I didn't know what to do when I saw her. I thought it would be a man. I fought with myself, but it's no use, the way she makes me feel is . . . is well, I don't even think I can tell you that," Danielle said, blushing and looking away.

"When I look at her," Danielle continued, taking her mother's hand and placing it over her heart. "I feel her inside - in here. Now that I've found her, I can't imagine my life without her. In some mysterious way, it's like we've known each other for years."

"I've heard of this type of thing," Catherine said slowly. "Although I never believed it could truly happen, but maybe it is the case with the both of you. I read about it in a story. I do believe Plato wrote it. Anyway, the premise is that before we were humans, we were complete beings, totally fulfilled and in no need of a mate. At some point we were split in half creating two souls. Now we roam the world looking for that other half. Maybe, just maybe, Maria is yours."

"That's so beautiful," Danielle said, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. "She feels just like that to me."

Catherine reached over and hugged Danielle. "I love you so much, Danielle. I don't know what we're going to do about all this. If I take you home and you refuse Fredrick, I don't know what your father will do. I fear he'll try to force you to marry him."

"I know, mother," Danielle said, pulling back and looking at the woman she admired in so many ways. "Can we talk about all of this after Maria is okay? I can't think about anything but her right now."

"Of course," Catherine said. "We'll have plenty of time later."

"I need to get back to her," Danielle said hurriedly. "I've been away too long."

"Go to her," Catherine said, standing and kissing her daughter.


Walking into the room, Danielle looked over at Fredrick’s bowed head. His breathing was deep and even and it was evident he'd fallen asleep. Moving quietly to Maria's side, Danielle sat down, yawning. She felt herself giving in to her own exhaustion as she leaned back in her chair, looking out the window at the dawning of a new day. Leaning forward, she rested her head on the bed facing Maria. Putting one hand on Cora's head and one over Maria's hand, she continued to watch the other woman breathe until her eyelids became too heavy to keep open.

As the sun broke the horizon, Dr. Sanar walked into the room to check on his patient. He smiled to himself as he saw the sleeping figures. Quietly, he felt Maria's cheeks and checked her lungs again. 'This is much better,' he thought. 'Now we just need you to wake up and tell us how you're feeling.' He walked silently out of the room, not wanting to disturb its sleeping occupants.


Maria felt a pain in her side. Slowly she opened her eyes and looked around trying to focus on her surroundings. She felt something wet along her cheek and blinked. Through squinted lids, she saw Cora lying next to her head.

‘That explains the wet cheek,’ she thought, trying to make out the figure in the chair at the end of the bed. ‘Fredrick? Wait a minute, I must be dreaming.’ Maria closed her eyes again and then felt a warm hand covering her own. Looking to her right at the face resting on the bed, she focused on the most breathtaking sight in the world. ‘My God, she’s beautiful.’ Maria closed her eyes once more. ‘I’m either dreaming or I’ve actually passed on to the other side and this is my last look at the things I love.’

"Maria," Danielle said faintly.

Maria’s eyelids snapped open, shaking her from her thoughts. She watched the young woman stir for a moment but she was obviously talking in her sleep.

"Maria? No . . . no, you stay with me. Maria . . .

Maria slipped her hand from underneath Danielle’s and ran her fingers through the women’s golden hair. She liked the way it hung loosely around her face; until now she’d only seen it pulled back in a braid. Maria marveled at how young it made Danielle look. There was so much not spoken between them.

In the whirlwind of the events of the last two days, they’d shared so much but said so little. Their bond was stronger than any she had ever known and seemed to be forged by some unseen force greater than the both of them.

‘What are we going to do, Princess? How can we be together?’ Maria thought as she listened to Danielle cry out in her nightmare.

"Danielle," Maria said softly. "Danielle, wake up."

"Hmm," Danielle struggled to wake herself. "What . . . what’s . . ."?

Danielle’s green eyes opened and to her amazement and delight she saw a smile and blue eyes staring back at her. She felt long fingers stroking her hair.

"Am I dreaming?" she asked hesitantly.

"God, I hope not," Maria said, smiling. "I’ve been asking myself that same question."

"Oh, Maria," Danielle said, sitting up and pulling the tall woman’s hand to her lips, kissing it tenderly. "I’ve been so worried. You’ve been unconscious for so long. How do you feel?"

"Well," Maria said slowly. "My hand feels wonderful, it’s the rest of my body I’m concerned about."

Danielle pulled Maria’s hand away from her mouth, smirking. Leaning forward, she kissed Maria’s forehead and without hesitation brought her lips down to rest on the soft mouth that had been smiling at her earlier. She gently kissed her.

"How do you feel now?" Danielle whispered.

"Strangely warm, oddly enough," Maria whispered back.

Pulling back, Danielle smiled. "Be serious for a moment, will you. How do you feel?"

"I think I’ll live," Maria said, grimacing at the pain in her side. "I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember you telling Luc to put me on a horse. I’ll rely on you for the rest."

Before the princess could respond, Maria asked another question as she glanced at the foot of the bed. "Danielle, where am I and what is Fredrick doing here?"

Danielle turned to follow Maria’s gaze. Fredrick sat with his head thrown back, mouth open, sleeping soundly.

"I honestly forgot he was there," Danielle said very softly, turning back to Maria. "You’re at Dr. Sanar’s villa. Luc and I brought you here. We made it away from Ortega’s men. The doctor operated to remove a musket. It punctured your lung, but you should recover from that. You remember getting shot, right?"

Maria nodded her head.

"You’ve been unconscious with a fever from an infection. As for Fredrick, all I can tell you is that he’s had a change of heart. I’m not exactly sure what caused it. He’s very sorry for hurting you and he told me that he hopes you’ll forgive him for the awful things he said and did. He is very sincere, Maria. He told me he loves you very much."

"What made him change his mind? Did you talk to him?" Maria asked, confused.

"He apologized to me before I said a word to him," Danielle said. "I tried to explain to him that what he saw in the garden was all my doing. I told him you didn’t want anything to do with my advances. His reply was . . . well, I think I’ll let him tell you that for himself. He’ll be happy to see you."

Maria looked over at the tall figure in the chair. With his mouth hanging open he looked just like he did when he was a little boy, asleep in his mother’s arms. Tears began to form in the corner of her eyes. She prayed that what Danielle was telling her was true. Her connection to her brother was the one thing she’d always treasured.

"I must be dreaming," Maria whispered.

Danielle took Maria’s hand again. "It’s not a dream, Maria. You and I have a lot to talk about, but not right now. I can’t tell you what it means to me to have you back. I was so worried."

Maria looked into the gentle green eyes of the woman she loved. Holding her gaze she, felt the softness of Danielle’s hand. Overwhelmed with emotion, she tried to speak, but nothing came out. All she wanted to do was tell Danielle that she loved her. Nothing had ever been more clear to her than what she felt right now, but the unanswered questions about what would happen next between them made her choke. Words were never easy for her. She thought of Danielle marrying Fredrick or leaving to go back to France and tears fell from her eyes.

"I . . .." Maria said swallowing hard. "I . . .

Danielle sensed what only she could. "It’s okay, Maria. Don’t try and talk anymore. You need to rest. I’m going to get the doctor and let Rosa know you’re awake."

Danielle stood to leave but before she did, she leaned down and kissed the tears away from Maria’s face. Resting her cheek on Maria’s, Danielle whispered into her ear. "Whatever happens from here, you must know that I love you more than anything. My heart will always belong to you, Maria. Nothing will ever change that."

Maria brought her hand to Danielle’s cheek and brought the young woman’s mouth to her own. Hearing the admission of love from the princess was all she needed. Maria kissed the tender lips in front of her. Danielle’s lips opened a little, letting Maria feel the moistness within. A rush of desire flooded her as she moved her hand through soft curls and rested it on the back of Danielle’s neck. Pulling her closer, Maria let her tongue brush against the bottom lip of the woman in her grasp and finally slipped her tongue into the widening mouth. She tasted the sweetness within and her passion grew hotter as Danielle moaned and responded to the kiss. Danielle’s body moved closer, aching for more contact, and rested a little too hard on Maria’s wounded side, causing the injured woman to flinch in pain. Quickly, Danielle pulled away, looking at the passion-filled eyes below her.

"Oh, God," Danielle said breathless. "Did I hurt you, Maria?"

"No," Maria responded. "I feel wonderful."

"You . . . you need to see the doctor right now," Danielle said, trying to regain her composure. "I’ll be right back."

Danielle walked on shaky legs to the doorway and once outside of Maria’s view, leaned into the wall for support as the emotion from the kiss left her weak with desire.

Struggling to bring her breathing under control, Danielle brought her hands to her bosom and pushed inward to stop her rapidly beating heart from pounding through her chest. ‘She’s going to be the death of me,’ Danielle thought to herself, as she looked at the stairwell, unsure that her legs would carry her down. ‘I can’t believe how I feel when she kisses me like that. I’ll probably faint if we ever get a chance to take this any further.’ Danielle took a deep breath, feeling dizzy just thinking about it.

Slowly inching away from the wall, she descended the stairs, careful to hang onto the railing. When she reached the bottom she bowed her head, the weight of all the worry and love she felt bubbling to the surface and for some unknown reason releasing itself in the form of tears.

Looking up, Danielle saw four sets of eyes staring at her.

"What is it, Danielle?" Rosa asked, reaching out and grabbing Catherine’s arm for support.

Suddenly, Danielle realized what her behavior must look like. "No, no . . . she’s fine. She’s awake. She’s going to be okay, really."

Dr. Sanar walked past everyone and made his way up the stairs with Rosa right behind him.

"Are you okay?" Catherine asked, reaching up to brush away the tears from her daughter’s cheeks.

"Yes," Danielle said. "I’m just . . . I’m just so happy she’s awake. I was so worried, Mother. I just can’t imagine what I’d do if anything ever happened to her. I think it just finally hit me."

"I understand exactly how you feel," Catherine said, hugging her daughter. "I felt the same way when I thought you might never come back to me."

Luc walked up, placing his hands on the shoulders of the women, squeezing. Danielle looked up from her hug and smiled at him. No words were needed between them. Danielle stood in the embrace, feeling the love and support surrounding her. She had everything she needed - everything but the answers to where her life would head next.



Maria scratched behind Cora’s ear, smiling at the dog whose tail threatened to wag right off. "Did you miss me girl?" she whispered. Cora moved closer and laid her paw across the tall woman’s arm.

Hearing steps coming down the hall, she held her index finger to her lips and pointed with her other hand to the chair where Fredrick slept. Dr. Sanar nodded and then walked quietly around the bed, taking his patient’s hand to check her pulse. Rosa looked over at her son and then smiled at Maria, sitting down next to her.

"He’s so precious when he looks like that," Rosa whispered.

"He looks like a two-year-old," Maria whispered back, laughing. "I think it was his snoring that woke me up."

Rosa chuckled, rolling her eyes at her daughter.

"How are you, Maria?" Rosa asked seriously.

"Well, Doc?" Maria asked looking over at the doctor, who was inspecting her wound.

"Everything looks good here, and you’re not burning up anymore," he said. "I’d say you’re doing quite well. You’ll need plenty of rest and no activity for a while."

"Oh, thank God," Rosa said, bending down, kissing her daughter’s cheek. "You gave me a real scare. Don’t you ever do that again."

"Believe me, Mother," Maria said. "I’ll do my best to make sure of that."

"I love you," Rosa said.

"I love you too," Maria said, reaching for her mother’s hand.

Looking up, Maria saw the strained blue eyes of her brother watching her from the foot of the bed. He looked like he was the one who’d been shot. The pain radiating from his face caused Maria to swallow hard. She felt his unease and decided to break the tension.

"Well, good morning, little brother," Maria smiled. "It’s about time you woke up, we’ve all been waiting for you. I was just about to send Cora over there for a special good morning treat."

"I bet you were," Fredrick smiled back, visibly relaxing his stance. "What have I told you about those dog kisses? You never pay attention to anything I say, do you, Maria?"

"Only when I think it makes sense," Maria said.

"I don’t blame you," Fredrick said, lowering his head. "I wouldn’t pay attention to anything that comes out of my mouth."

Maria looked at her brother and knew that they were both talking about something much more. This was just like them – always talking in circles. They were so much alike, neither very good at expressing their true emotions. It had always been easier to joke than expose themselves emotionally.

Rosa sat silent, watching the exchange. She felt her heart breaking for her children. They’d always been close and nothing of this magnitude had ever happened between them. If they could repair this, she knew they’d be fine.

Fredrick raised his head, watching the doctor walk out of the room. Moving to the side of the bed, he took his sister’s hand.

"I’m sorry . . .I’m so," Fredrick stumbled verbally as he began.

"No," Maria said softly. "Don’t. There’s no need. Please Fredrick, I understand everything."

Fredrick looked at his sister trying to hold back the tears that wanted to fall. He’d been forgiven that quickly and even though it would take him much longer to forgive himself, all he needed for now was Maria’s acceptance.

"Are we okay?" Fredrick asked slowly.

" Yes," Maria said. "We’re just as we’ve always been."

Fredrick bent down, kissing his sister’s forehead. "I’ll always be here for you from now on, Maria. Always."

"Thank you, my brother," Maria whispered. "and I for you."

Despite her best efforts, her resolve faltered and a single tear fell, rolling down the side of her cheek. Maria coughed hard so that it appeared her emotion was coming from pain of her injury instead of her heart.

Rosa watched Maria’s attempt to cover her feelings and shook her head. Such strong-willed children she’d raised and yet both were complete mushballs when it came to certain emotions. She felt thankful for their love.

"We should let you rest," Rosa said, standing, looking over at Fredrick. "The doctor said she’d need plenty of rest and you know Maria, she’s not likely to comply with his wishes."

"That’s an understatement," Fredrick said, smiling.

"Excuse me," Maria said shortly. "Talking about me like I’m not here is a little uncalled for, don’t you think?"

"Did she say something?" Fredrick joked, looking at his mother.

"Get out of here, the both of you," Maria smiled. "I need some sleep."

Her mother was right; she was tired and weak despite how long she’d been unconscious, weaker in fact than she’d ever remembered feeling. But she was recovering, albeit slower than she would have liked. Lying still was not something she was particularly good at and she hoped that her strength would return by the next day.

Maria closed her eyes and tried to relax, but found sleep elusive; she was too full of unanswered questions and uncomfortable thoughts. Even though she was physically exhausted, she felt unaccountably restless and uneasy. After rolling her head back and forth and fretting for some moments, she realized she was almost holding her breath, listening for Danielle’s footsteps to return. A warm and disturbing hunger settled into her body. Stifling a moan, she opened her eyes.

‘How can I miss her when she’s just downstairs,’ Maria thought, cursing herself. ‘I feel like a piece of me is lost when she’s not near. I’ve never needed anyone like I feel the need for her. What am I going to do if she leaves me?’

Maria felt the familiar ache in her chest that had nothing to do with her injury. It had started the day the princess first looked into her eyes and had grown in intensity every moment since then.

‘I love you, Danielle,’ Maria thought, clenching the fabric of the bed in both hands and closing her eyes in frustration. ‘You’ve ruined my life and made it whole all in this short time. I can’t imagine my existence without you.’

"Hey, beautiful," Danielle said softly, bringing her hand to Maria’s cheek. "You should be sleeping. Are you in pain?"

Maria opened her eyes and let her breath out slowly. The tightness in her chest eased as she felt the warmth of Danielle’s hand rest on her face.

"Not anymore," Maria responded. "Will you sit with me?"

"Of course," Danielle said, pulling the wooden chair closer to the bed. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes. I just . . . I just want to feel you near me," Maria said. "Is that okay?"

"More than okay," Danielle said. "Next to you is where I always want to be."

"Danielle," Maria said very slowly.

"Yes," Danielle said, taking Maria’s hand.

"I love you," Maria said, tears forming in her eyes, body shaking with emotion.

Danielle squeezed the large hand in her grasp and brought her lips down, gently kissing the trembling woman below her.

"That’s all I’ll ever need," Danielle said, sniffing back her own tears. "I feel like I’ve waited all my life to hear those words coming only from you."

"What are we going to do now, Princess?" Maria whispered, fighting back her exhaustion.

"We’ll think of something," Danielle whispered.

Moving closer and bending to rest her head on the pillow next to Maria, Danielle placed her lips next to the tall woman’s soft ear. "Rest for now, my love. You need to build your strength up. Close your eyes and just relax."

"Hmm?" Maria said, her eyes drooping, giving into her weakness, as she listened to the soothing voice of the princess.

"I said I love you, Maria." Danielle smiled to herself as she felt Maria’s body give up its control and melt into the bed.

Danielle began humming softly and listened to the soft even breathing of the woman lying next to her, who within minutes was fast asleep.


Dr. Sanar brought tea into the sitting room and placed it next to a plate of food that his cook had prepared. "Please help yourself. It’s not much, but you all must be hungry. I’ll be out back checking on your men, Captain. Stay here as long as you want. Maria can’t be moved for at least a day."

"Thank you," Rosa said, reaching to lift the teapot. "May I pour you a cup Catherine?"

"Yes, please," Catherine said, standing to stretch her legs.

Fredrick walked back and forth across the rug, hands dug deep into the pockets of his pants.

"Fredrick," Rosa said. "Why don’t you sit down and have some tea with us?"

Fredrick looked back at his mother and then to the queen, wondering if anyone was going to start the conversation that he knew had to happen. Maria was going to be fine, the princess was still here, and now what about this whole arranged marriage thing? He sighed and sat down.

Rosa looked at her son’s questioning gaze and took a deep breath.

The four occupants of the room sat in silence, drinking tea for what seemed a long time. Finally, Rosa worked up the nerve to speak.

"Catherine," Rosa said slowly. "Have you thought about what you and Danielle will do now?"

Fredrick snapped his head up. ‘Finally,’ he thought. ‘Now we’ll get some answers.’

"Well," Catherine said, hesitantly, standing, facing away from the group. "I’m not sure exactly. I think . . . I think . . ."

Fredrick looked hard at his mother and mouthed ‘Does she know?’

Rosa shook her head yes and then Fredrick mouthed, ‘Is it okay?’

Again, Rosa shook her head yes.

"I guess we’ll probably, that is . . .," Catherine continued to stumble over her response.

"I know what we should do," Fredrick said, standing, immediately becoming the center of attention.

Rosa’s eyes widened and she titled her head toward the captain, trying to get Fredrick to stop talking before it was too late.

Suddenly, Luc realized that all eyes were on him. "What? I already know."

"You know?" Catherine asked flatly. "How do you know?"

"Danielle told me," Luc said, smiling at the queen. "But it’s not like I couldn’t have figured it out by just looking at them. You’d have to be blind!"

"Oh my goodness," Catherine laughed. "Then we’re all on the same page here?"

They all shook their heads and laughed, letting out a collective sigh.

"In that case," Fredrick said. "I think I have an answer for us. It’ll make the king happy and give Maria and Danielle a chance to be together. I’ll marry the princess and she can stay here and be with Maria."

"Fredrick," Rosa said. "Think about what you’re saying. That would mean you would have to give up your life and live a lie. This is not a game, Fredrick."

"No, it’s not, and neither is the love between the two women in the room above us!" Fredrick said sternly. "Does anyone here doubt that their connection is bigger than all of this?"

The room fell silent.

"It won’t work," Catherine said slowly. "The king will want grandchildren. He’ll demand it! How do you think Danielle and Maria will feel about that? And you, Fredrick, how will that make you feel?"

"I’m sure we could just say that Danielle was barren," Fredrick said seriously, blushing at the word.

"I suppose so," Catherine said. "But there’s more to it than that. He’ll want you to stay in France for awhile, maybe years, as he makes your union an example to the people of France. He’ll take every opportunity to proclaim that the joining of your hearts has forged an alliance between France and Spain. You’ll be on display for the whole world. Are you up for that kind of scrutiny?"

"I can handle it!" Fredrick said boldly.

"Yes, but can your sister?" Catherine said, walking to Fredrick, placing her hands on his shoulders and looking him straight in the eye. "I appreciate what you are trying to do for Maria and my daughter, but think about it. Maria will be forced to watch you engaged in intimacies and even though she’ll know they are false, it will still be painful for her to see. Maria is a strong-willed woman. What is she going to do during this time? Hang around like some handmaiden? Pretending to be loyally following her brother around? Is that Maria? Is that the woman you’d have her become? How long do you think it will take before she breaks?"

Fredrick sighed heavily, dropping his head in defeat.

"Danielle and Maria deserve a life better than that and so do you, Fredrick," Catherine said, bringing her hands down to his forearms. "Danielle would never hear of it anyway. She wouldn’t let you do it, Fredrick. She wouldn’t let you give up your life for her. That would cause her guilt that she would never be able to live with. I know my daughter."

She released his hands and moved away. "No," she said. "That will not work."

"What, then?" Rosa asked slowly. "Will you just return to France and tell the King that Danielle has refused Fredrick, or better yet, what if Fredrick refused Danielle? Wouldn’t that work?"

"No, Rosa," Catherine said honestly. "God help Spain if Fredrick were to refuse the princess of France. The king would bring the wrath of God down on you and he would simply not let Danielle have the option to refuse again. He would force her to marry Fredrick."

"What do you suggest?" Luc asked, standing to join the queen.

"I may have an idea," Catherine said very slowly. "First I need to ask you all some questions."

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