Author's Note: Thank you to my lovely beta reader, TrudiRose! Also, please enjoy my revamp! Sorry for the delay.
Chapter Two: A Heart is Broken and a Search Begins
Eight Months Earlier….
The night was quiet and still around the castle as the front door creaked open. The soft hoot-hoot of the owls nesting in the eaves above the cherub statues that adorned the outside was the only sound as the young woman slipped out and quietly nudged the door closed behind her. I did it, she thought, as she ran towards the gate, I have what I've come for. Finally, the plan can be put into motion! Her feet practically sang as they scrambled over the grounds, careful not to trip. Mustn't do that, now. She could not risk losing the precious burden she now carried. She had been through too much to obtain it and would need to give up still more. There was no turning back.
Not even for one man who she knew would be ruined forever to find her gone.
He would be horrified when he woke up to find her missing. She knew she had to get out of there before he did, but something held her back. In all her many years on this Earth- and this young woman was, in reality, old enough to be at least this man's great-great-grandmother- only rarely had she ever felt the horrible pang known as guilt. They had had so much more to share. So many more things he wanted to do with her. He had been working on a beautiful song for her, she knew. The way those rough hands of his played the organ, they suddenly turned into the gentlest hands in the world when keys were put before them. He stroked the keys like a beloved dog or cat, smiling encouragement as they sang notes so mellifluous, she had felt that she had to dance. His songs had brought happiness to their hearts, and she knew that her song would have been the most beautiful of all, for he had told her many times that it was being written from his very soul. Now I'll never hear that song, at least not in its entirety. This was only one of the many sacrifices she would have to make. I'm just going to have to get used to it, I'm afraid. I owe it to my forefathers- mine, and Prince Adam's.
Taking one last look into the castle, she could see the green light from his room and knew that he had woken up. The beautiful green glass lantern he kept over the candle which he used to light his room as he composed, a color chosen for the green gowns she had worn in her most recent disguise as the beautiful lady of court she knew he had truly loved. Her sixth sense told her that soon, that color would come to stand for envy and madness, an emblem of his descent. Soon, now, he would come across the note she had left beside their bed when she had slipped out fifteen minutes before:
My Dear Claude,
These blissful days and nights among the court have been more brilliant than I can possibly say. I have never known such love as you have had for me, and I will always hold you in my heart until the end of my days, but it was not to last. When you awaken, I will be gone, and you must never try to find me. We have been discovered, you see, and my father forces me to return home and marry the man he has chosen, or I will be disinherited. He has told me that he forbids me to be with you, and that he will kill you if he sees that you have so much as tried to contact me. I love you too much for that, mon cher, and so I've no choice but to let you go. I hope that this letter will serve as a sufficient goodbye, and that you will soon find another love to take my place.
Of course, at the heart of the matter, I never truly was the one he loved. However many times she tried to tell herself this, though, it would never truly take root in her mind. It was Fantine Claude loved, and Fantine alone. The composer had loved the Lady Fantine de Villeneuve, distant cousin (as she had brought him to believe) of the young prince who now refused to behave at his organ lessons and constantly derided his music for being gloomy. He had loved the proper lady, the shadow of a dream who had kissed and embraced him and made him feel important as no one ever had before in his life. Fantine had been the one to show him affection, not her. Fantine had been the one to appreciate his music, not her. Fantine may have been only a disguise, but it was better to think of this fictional lady as his love than herself, who had merely used him for the child now growing inside her.
I never intended it to be this way, she thought. Her intent had been to infiltrate the court, casting a spell on the palace to modify its inhabitants' memories into thinking that Fantine de Villeneuve existed. She would have a quick fling with someone in the castle, any man really would do, for as long as it took for her to become pregnant. Then, once she was sure that she was with child, and that the child would survive, she would vanish without a trace and that would be that. She hadn't expected the man to grow to care about her. She would have been better off seducing that Casanova of a maitre d'hotel, she knew, but with all the girls who surrounded him, he would have been impossible to get alone enough times for her to get what she came for. She could have tried to attract the chubby major domo instead, but something about him had told her that he preferred a different sort of company than she would be offering. Even the silent steward would have been a better idea, she now reflected. At least, being mute, he couldn't confess his love in words! Now, she would have to live with the knowledge that she had most likely damned her lover to insanity after the pain of her abandonment. With no one left to pay him much attention, he would likely go mad from the loneliness. What that might do to him, she mused, I can't bear to think. Even more so, she hated to think how angry he might be the next time she saw him, especially if she had to do what she thought she might have to do to him and everyone else in the castle, provided Adam didn't grow out of his bratty ways soon.
This baby girl- she had made a potion months in advance to ensure that when she conceived, the fetus would be female- was the main component in that last-ditch plan she had made to save the kingdom. The Prince would need someone to save him from himself, if the worst happened, and that would have to be through love. But she knew that the chances of any old girl stumbling on the castle, if she had to cast the spell she feared she might have to, were terribly slim, especially if she wanted one to arrive before the last petal fell from the rose she would use to mark the time limit. If she wanted to help the Prince, she had known from the start that she would have to take matters into her own hands. She would have to manipulate things a bit, and to do that, she had to have a baby girl. But even someone with her powers could not conceive on her own.
Every night as she had lain in bed with Claude, as he slept, she had cast a spell over her body to determine if the deed was done yet. When her spell revealed that a baby had been started, she had at first felt triumph, excitement. To an extent, the tremors of excitement still shook her body, but for the most part they had been replaced by a nausea of guilt. For days, she had put off leaving the castle. She had made a mistake, possibly, she told herself. What if she lost the baby; best to be getting another immediately in that case, she had reasoned. Finally, though, two months after the fact, she knew that despite Claude's feelings, she had to disappear. Enchantresses, after all, especially those who had been around as long as she had, did not usually make mistakes in their spells. She needed to get out of the castle and back home at once before someone noticed. That was, of course, if they hadn't noticed already- "Fantine" had been looking a bit peaked lately, and she thought she had heard a few of the maids whispering that they'd seen her vomit a few mornings in a row. It had been time to go then, and it was time to go now, judging by the shadow appearing in the window- if her lover caught her, that could ruin the plan.
"He can never know who you are, my Angel," she whispered, running her hand over her still-flat belly, where her recently-discovered panacea grew. "You don't understand, now. You can't possibly understand anything, poor thing. But it is for the best that this is so." She reached into a hidden pocket in her skirt and pulled out a wand, all the while staring at the green-lit window. "Au revoir, Claude."
Someday, I'll apologize to him, she promised herself as she waved her wand and vanished into thin air. I know things can never be the same between us. But maybe if I explain, he will understand.
When the Enchantress came back into focus, she was standing in a parlor tiled in gold and hung with tapestries and stained glass windows in a granite tower hidden deep in the darkest forest in France. She sighed. She had thought it would be good to be home, that it would be a relief to lay down on her ivory divan with its silver velvet cushions and congratulate herself on a job well done. Yet she had never expected the guilt that now flooded over her, back when she was assuming it would just be a fling. Guilt for Claude, whose heart she'd broken. Guilt for Adam, whose fall she couldn't have stopped earlier before she even had to consider preparing for such an eventuality. Guilt for her unborn daughter, whose misfortune it was to be thrust into this. She fought back tears as she climbed the stairs, trying not to look at her collection of tapestries, many of which featured family scenes. Alone in her room, she finally wept, knowing that the baby's father wouldn't be the only one she could never know. For her plan to work, she would have to find another family to raise her child for her. For her plan to work, her daughter could never know who she was.
She knew she would have to begin scrying soon. Her crystal ball waited in the highest room in her tower, ready for her to gaze into it, ready to show her any family she commanded to see. She would need to look at many families, she knew, before she decided which one was fit to raise her child on trial. For she would not give her child away to just anyone, God no! Whoever is chosen will have to pass a test, a test that will prove whether or not they can truly love this child for who and what she is, no matter the circumstances. Before she could do that, she would have to find a family capable of raising a child properly, with the right values and morals and strength and ability to love with a fierce passion that the girl would need if the Enchantress needed to put her grand plan into motion. It would not be easy to find a family that would fit her standards, she knew, but if she couldn't raise her child herself, if she had conceived her as a piece of insurance in case Prince Adam didn't change his ways soon, then the least she could do was to give her what she thought would be the perfect parents. Her daughter deserved the best, and although nothing else regarding the girl was fair, the Enchantress would give her the best.
For the next five months, though, the Enchantress found that she could not bring herself to go anywhere near her crystal ball. Every time she mounted the stairs to the top of the tower, something would force her to stop and turn around, to return to whichever room she was in before. Sometimes it would be a bout of morning sickness, and by the time she had emptied her stomach, she would be too tired to do anything except lie on her bed or on the divan in her parlor, rubbing her belly and grieving over the task at hand. Sometimes she would look at one of the tapestries on the wall as she climbed the stairs and she would see a little cherub, or the Virgin and Child, or a group of children playing in a garden amongst the stitches, and tears would fill her eyes. Later on, she would feel a kick or a punch from her belly and it would almost seem as if the child was judging her for abandoning her father, for planning to use her, for giving her up.
"I am sorry, My Angel," she would say, pressing her hand against the outline of the baby's foot. "I never wanted to hurt anyone, please believe me. I wouldn't if the fate of a kingdom didn't hang in the balance. I have to think of the greater good. Please, please understand."
She was halfway into her seventh month of pregnancy when she finally got the nerve to go to her crystal ball. She had hesitated for far too long, she had let guilt cripple her for far too long, and now she would have to rush.
"Show me a family that wants a child and that would have the means to care for one," she commanded the ball. She would need to keep her criteria vague at first; she had every family in France, almost, to consider before she made her final choice. They could be narrowed down as she went along. Immediately, the ball filled with blue clouds, building up over themselves and fading to reveal the first family.
The first few families she looked at were a bad lot. There were a few couples who, while they seemed perfectly nice, were just too old for children. They would die long before my child could care for herself. There were a few who fought all the time, and a few who drank too much. The example they would set for the baby ruled them out of consideration completely. There were families that already had houses filled with children, and the Enchantress worried that her baby would not have either enough food or clothing, or enough attention. One or two siblings for my child might be nice, but eleven seems rather excessive. Maybe it was better to let those groups focus on the brood they already had and find another couple that didn't have quite as much living proof of their parental capabilities.
Worst of all was the family that beat their children. The Enchantress would rather risk raising the child herself and having the plan go to wrack and ruin from love that wouldn't be genuine, than let that brutal couple get their hands on her baby girl. They didn't even deserve to take the test. I may just smite them right now for what they put their children though and have done with it, she thought, gritting her teeth.
There were many families she looked at who were, in a basic sense, perfectly all right with all things considered. They kept neat houses. They raised well-behaved children. They were kind to each other. There was attention to go round, and parents who knew how to love their children properly and were young enough that she thought they could keep up with another one for their brood. Some did not have any children, but were able to provide a proper home from what she could see. Many went to church, and took the time to teach proper morals to their children. And yet, something wasn't quite right about them. It was odd to say, but… they didn't seem as if her baby would complete them the way she wanted her to. If Adam's curse proves to be necessary, her family must be the most important thing in the world to her, and her new parents must teach her that by holding her above all else. If not, the effects could be disastrous for a whole kingdom. The girl might not be willing to imprison herself for life and risk everything she ever held dear if she still felt in the slightest that she could survive the loss of her family after a while. The baby would need to grow to think that she would die without her family. For that, the baby would need to be the one missing thing in her new parents' lives; the parents she chose would need to prove that they could love her with all their hearts and that, without her, they had no life at all. Only a family like that would be worthy of calling her child theirs.
Yet a family like that seemed as if it would never appear to her. Town after town she searched through the aid of her crystal ball as her belly grew bigger and bigger. Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Montmarte- as she scanned each of these towns, she saw many families who could technically take the part in her plan, but none she thought were loving enough, dedicated enough, perfect enough. Finally, a month before she was due to give birth, she had searched through half of the town of Montreuil- Sur- Mer and had begun to give up hope of finding the perfect family to place this child with for a test, let alone to raise her!
"Is there a family out there that really wants a baby, that feels that they would be incomplete without one," she asked the crystal ball ruefully.
The clouds moved around in her crystal ball again, subsiding to reveal yet another cottage in Montreuil-Sur-Mer, this one smaller than most, with a barn off to one side and an odd, seemingly randomly-placed shed off to the other. A glimpse in the window of the shed told the Enchantress that this was no ordinary place for storage: the small room was filled almost to bursting with large, strange objects that appeared to be made of a variety of discarded household objects attached to each other with screws, hinges, and wires. What sort of person lived here? Scrying further, she saw that some of the objects moved- a stake poked at the ground on a pulley system here, windows opened and shut on creaky hinges there. An inventor, she thought, intrigued.
As soon as that thought entered the Enchantress's mind, she shook herself. Now is no time for intrigue. The practice of making new machines was risky to say the least; not only could an inventor go his entire life without getting a patent, ending up barely getting by as far as money was concerned, but if he wasn't careful, he could end up seriously injured or even killed if a machine malfunctioned. If she wanted her daughter to potentially be able to break the spell, she would need her to be properly supported, so that she could grow up well. The family I choose does not necessarily need to be wealthy, per se -these people are quite obviously poor farming types- but they will need to be able to consistently support a child as she should be supported. She couldn't be certain just yet. Best to keep watching. She turned her gaze towards the inside of the cottage.
A woman was sitting at a small, round table in a rustic but clean kitchen, reading a letter with an expression of mingled happiness and disappointment. She wasn't as pretty as the Enchantress; that was easy to tell. The woman was at least a few inches taller in height, and far thinner than many others she'd seen. Her long, straight black hair was tied back in what had probably started out as a neat bun, but had now halfway fallen out. Her cheeks were practically colorless, her nose long, her lips thin and her fingers bony. The Enchantress could concede, however, that she had lovely eyes, green as summer grass. Right now, they were narrowed, in what emotion the Enchantress could not tell, and light crow's feet, barely perceptible, revealed themselves at their corners. Probably in her early forties then, she thought, possibly thirty-nine.
A large, grey and white cat leapt onto the table; the woman scratched its ears absentmindedly while she went on reading. The letter seemed to contain some very serious information, for she did not smile, just kept her eyes running back and forth across the lines of spidery cursive, heedless of the fact that the cat was making a beeline for the vase of slightly-wilted roses on the table. She was interrupted only by the call of a male voice.
The booming voice came from the next room. The woman, Vianne, gently placed the letter on the table.
"I'm in here."
A thump was heard on the ground as the Enchantress saw a short, plump man enter the room on a crutch, a bandage bound tightly around one leg. He had obviously been very active in spite of his injury, much to his wife's chagrin, for his face was flushed to the color of a ripe tomato and his thick hair and moustache- still fully black at an age that must have been past forty judging by the slight wrinkles on his cheeks, but for the hint of a few grey hairs beginning to bud- was mussed and dripping with sweat. Vianne flashed him a look that brought the Enchantress to mind of a mother disciplining her child.
"You've been in the shed, haven't you?"
A slight laugh from the husband. "Guilty as charged."
"Maurice, your leg won't be better for at least another week. I thought you said after you broke it that you would leave that invention."
"I know I did," Maurice said, "but just last night, I was thinking about it, and I figured out where I went wrong. It was the hinges, Beanpole! I must have screwed them too hard and they became warped under the pressure until they finally snapped! So I've been out in the shed trying to repair them, and I think-"
"I'm sure you've come up with the perfect solution, but you must be careful! What if you fell? Your leg is broken in three places and is only just healing- what if it broke again? We could barely afford that last doctor's bill- I doubt we have enough crops to sell to pay off another so soon!" At this, her husband raised his eyebrow at her sardonically. "Of course it's more than the doctor's bill- I would like, for example, to have my husband in one piece for more than a handful of months at a time."
In response, her husband sighed jokingly. "I suppose that's fair enough." His black eyes wandered to the envelope on the table. "I see we have a letter."
A nod from his wife. "It's from Jehan and Molly." Vianne sighed. "Mercy is pregnant. In a few months, I'm going to be a great-aunt."
"Well…" Maurice faltered, "Will and Mercy certainly didn't waste much time, did they? We'll have to send them a letter to say 'congratulations.'"
"Yes. We should write it today, so they can receive it as soon as possible. It could take some time for it to reach London, and I'm sure they'd love to have it before the baby comes." She paused, nodding, as if to confirm it in her memory. "Wonderful news."
"I know, Beanpole. I know. You wish we were having a baby too."
Vianne shrugged. "It is what it is. Mercy and Will are going to be parents, that's the main thing. I just-"
"You wish we could have what they're going to have," Maurice finished, planting a whiskery kiss on his wife's cheek.
"Well, I'll admit, I do still wonder what life would be like if Lucie and Petit Maurice had survived or if I had managed to avoid a miscarriage even once." Another sigh. "You know, it's funny. It seems like yesterday when we were that age, so sure of ourselves, our lives an open book just waiting for us to write in. And now, Mercy is the same age I was when we first met!"
Maurice couldn't help a slight laugh, realizing this. "You're right! I still remember when we got that letter saying we had a niece, and now this!"
She nodded. "Indeed. Well, our letter will have to wait until later- I've got Francoise calling in half an hour. She'll probably want to tell me all about how her sixteen-year-old son won the snaring contest at the tavern, again. I will admit it was an amazing accomplishment- the first three times I heard about it."
Her husband winced. "Well, I'll leave you two alone then. Those hinges aren't going to repair themselves, after all! I'll just be out in the shed if you need anything-"
"Maurice Sendaque, no, you are not going back to work on that automatic window-opening machine! Your leg still hasn't completely healed yet!" Vianne cried, grabbing Maurice by the arm. "Now sit down, you need your rest. Those hinges can wait a while longer."
Maurice shook his head and took a seat next to his wife, who flashed a saucy grin at him in return.
"That's better. I'm sure I won't need a machine to open my windows for me for quite some time anyway, thank you."
"You will when you're the wife of a world-famous inventor, living in a manor house with at least twenty windows on every floor!"
"Until then, though, I think I can wait until your leg heals." She laughed, then, noticing her cat nibbling at the flowers on the table, started blowing hard at its head.
"Ange, get off the table, those flowers are not for you!" No use. The cat ignored her and continued to nibble. Rolling her eyes, Vianne lifted her pet off the table and dropped her on the floor. "Naughty cat. Go feed your kittens, they should be waking up soon."
"Why on Earth did we name our cat that," said Maurice. Aside from the plant-nibbling, if the scratch marks on the furniture were anything to go by, the cat was anything but angelic.
Vianne shrugged. "The kittens opened their eyes this morning. I suppose we'd better make ready for more of this." Even the cat has children, she seemed to be thinking.
"While we're on the subject, is there any good news for, well, us" Maurice asked, raising an eyebrow meaningfully.
"Not so far as I can tell. I mean, for all I know, we very well could be next but… well, what if I'm mistaken again? I've been wrong six times so far, Maurice. Oddly enough, it's almost worse when I'm wrong to begin with than when we lose… well, it is what it is. No good crying over spilled milk, as my mother used to say."
"It's all right, Beanpole. I know how much it hurts. Believe me, it hurts me too. But it will happen someday, I promise. We just can't give up on it yet."
The woman shook her head and steeled herself. "I'm acting like such a spoilt child, aren't I? I have a perfectly fine life, a lovely farm, plenty of books to read, the world's most wonderful husband," she gushed, leaning in her chair to kiss him. "I ought to be the happiest woman in the world."
Maurice nodded. "But there's just something missing. Then again, for all we know, it won't be missing much longer, now will it?"
She smiled halfheartedly. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if I was right, and all went well for once? Just to have a baby, any baby-" Her lip quivered and she quickly steeled herself again lest she show too much emotion. "Ah, well. As I said, it is what it is."
All the Enchantress could see in Vianne's eyes was resignation. No doubt about it, although this woman may try to hide the extent of her feelings from her husband, the Enchantress could tell by the look on her face that she felt herself dying more inside with every failure to have a baby. Here was a woman who felt as if she didn't have much of a life at all without one. Could they be the people I am looking for? Or perhaps…
Maybe it was better to continue her search. Aside from the unpredictable life an inventor's daughter could face, there was also the problem of their ages. The woman was roughly forty and her husband possibly a bit older. They are rather old for children, aren't they, by mortal standards? What if one of them should die before their presence in the child's life was no longer needed? Of course, the plan stipulates that only one of the parents will live to see her grow up, but they both need to have the appropriate influence on her before they do eventually die. Or what if they did not have the energy to keep up with the girl for very long? I could very well live to be nine hundred, but mortals rarely see ninety, they age so quickly. And then there was their health. The woman likely did have quite a few good years left in her, she seemed quite healthy, the more she thought about it. The man, on the other hand, is quite prone to mishap apparently. That along with his weight... he could very well be a different story.
Also, there were many childless people who might say that they would love any child, but prove hypocritical when they actually got one. The Enchantress had seen this many times before in her extensive lifetime. There were the families who got a daughter but wanted a son, the families who got a son but wanted a daughter. There were those who found themselves with a child who was disabled and could not rise to the occasion, and those whose personalities clashed with their child's irreconcilably, and even those who discovered, once they actually had children, that parenthood really wasn't for them after all. Tragically, most of the families the Enchantress had seen who fit those descriptions were those who had said that they would love any child and had let unrealistic expectations of perfection cloud their subconscious.
Little Prince Adam's parents were like that, she remembered. Or rather, Prince Adam's mother. The King of France was not always faithful to his wife, and at one point had had an affair with a distant cousin, a princess desperate for a son to fulfill her obligations as a woman, but one who would not be the product of her strained marriage to an abusive, much-older man. When she gave birth to a secret prince, she was delighted, but always a flighty little thing, the lady had not taken to the practical aspects of motherhood, and as a result had given her son everything he wanted, except his mother's love. He was more of her toy than her child; she never kissed him or hugged him and rarely spoke to him, leaving his care to servants ordered to keep him silent. As for the stepfather, Adam picked up many undesirable traits from his example. When he wasn't screaming at, insulting, or sometimes even beating the poor prince, he was ordering the servants about to excess and completely ignoring the feelings of everyone else in his life. During the old man's life, Adam tried to act the way he did in order to impress him. Now that his stepfather was dead- good riddance, the Enchantress thought, I did try to convince them that Heloise should not have been pledged to him, but they paid me no heed- the boy had gotten even worse as the new vassal of the land, and with a mother constantly traveling and servants raising him who never tried to discipline him, he was shaping up to be a tyrant.
By the end of the century, she was sure, France would fall into chaos. The opulence of the rich was too great compared to the harsh conditions the poor lived under. Should revolution rear its ugly head, she would need to have a good leader waiting in the wings to take over. As the bastard son of the current king, Adam was the obvious choice to wrest the throne from the Dauphin and restore order should he need to. But if things continue the way they are...
If she needed to cast the spell she thought she would, her child would need to be raised right, so that she would know how to love and could teach him. She would need unconditional love for that. And while this family seemed all right, it was far too soon to be sure. Better to keep looking. Tragic, though, that I cannot make them happy. They do seem so kind, and they love each other so dearly. It's obvious that they want a child badly. But as things stand, it just cannot be.
Little did the Enchantress know how often her mind would wander back to the Sendaques, nor how much she would begin to question every family she found.