Disclaimer: I neither own Reign, nor profit from this story.
AN: To those who are continuing from Stay With Me welcome back! Many thanks to she who will not be named, but has been an amazing ghost beta/muse. Also mille grazie to my Italian consultant/angel demedicigirl Enjoy!
Catherine and Henry had been at Chenauseu for about a week and were taking a late afternoon walk around the grounds. They were due back at the Castle soon having been gone for almost two months, but were enjoying the time they had left together and alone.
Their time in Spain with Elisabeth had been most enjoyable, despite having to maintain a cursory public presence as visiting Monarchs.
Catherine was glad to see that her eldest daughter had settled in to her new home and her role as Queen. She was also happy to observe that she was being treated well by her husband. Henry too enjoyed the time away and made a point of spending time with Elisabeth as he had begun to do with his other children. She was cautious but receptive and even began to reciprocate his affections in measure by the end of their stay.
Suddenly a very hassled Castle guard came riding up to the Royal couple, shattering their serenity.
"Yes what is it? Henry asked concerned by the frantic look on his face.
Completely out of breath, the rider only managed to get out one word, "Plague."
"How far has it spread," asked a worried Catherine, gripping Henry's arm surreptitiously.
"The Castle gates have already closed. I have been sent to warn you not to return until the disease has run its course. A rider has also been sent to Spain to inform your daughter so that she will neither look for Mary and Francis, nor send anyone to inquire."
"Thank you, if you have no further destination you may go ask the housekeeper to assign you a room and stay for the duration," Henry remarked, dismissing him.
The rider was still mounted on his horse and so he bowed his head before turning the animal in the direction of the house and leaving them to their own thoughts.
Turning into him while trying to pull her arm free of his grasp Catherine began to get more and more frantic, "Henry, Mary and Francis…"
"Will be fine." He finished for her, moving his arm around her waist and using his free hand to cup her cheek, encouraging her to keep her eyes trained on him. "I would not have left them alone for this long if I thought for a moment that they could not handle the the responsibility."
"But the Nobles. Everyone will panic, and panic will breed desperation many will try to take advantage…"
Moving his hand to tip her chin instead he tried once more to quell her fears, "and before we left I sent my less trustworthy advisors on official business that would take at least as long as we were due to be away and brought back a few old friends that I trust implicitly."
Opening her mouth to further protest, he halted her once again with one last
plea, "Catherine there is nothing more we can do. There is plenty of food stored at the Castle and they have both begun growing into themselves as leaders. This will be a trial, but I have faith in them. Then as soon as it is safe we will return and send them to retrieve the children from Elisabeth as planned."
Turning her face away as she was still pulling into herself, continuing to give in to the worry that threatened to overwhelmed her.
"Please my love, there is nothing more we can do from here, and we would not be granted entrance into the Castle anyway. Trust in me, trust in those that we have chosen to keep the Castle and the Kingdom safe, and return to me amore mio."
Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath Catherine closed both hands over the hand currently resting on her hip to try and ground herself. Then turning in further she wrapped both arms around his waist and buried her face into his chest.
The couple held each other there until the sun began to set.
Turning in for dinner and slowly making their way back, they passed very few words between them. This continued as they returned inside and all throughout their meal, both taking the time to process the information they had received as well as the possible ramifications. They then turned in early, their night filled with the words they couldn't speak. Clashing and caressing, fearful and hopeful, loving but tinged with desperation for for the blight that was ravaging the land and for those left in the danger zone. When they finally exhausted themselves, they fell into a fitful sleep so intertwined that none could have discerned where one began and another ended.
Dreams of the last plague and fears of what they might find when they returned permitted little rest that night. Only the comfort of each other in their waking provided relief from the dreams.
By the early light they had both given up trying to sleep, choosing instead to lay in a semi-conscious state, trying not to worry over things they could not change.
Trying but succeeding very little.
Mary was not sure what to do.
She had received Lola's letter, her Lady had finally conceded to tell Francis about the babe, but now she was torn. She wanted to tell him, but the Castle was in the process of being locked down because of the plague and she did not want him leaving the grounds.
She knew he would want to go. To go and be there for his only child and it's mother in their time of need, but she could not handle this alone. The French Court barely acknowledged her, never mind listening to her. She was still the foreigner in their eyes, a foreigner that had commandeered many of their troops, but had brought nothing but the possible promise of a kingdom.
But promises and hopes were as nothing more than words in the wind, easily created and easily scattered. Not something to rely on for building a Kingdom, even for the sake of an alliance.
Burying the letter so that Francis would never find it Mary left to join her husband in Court. The Nobles had called for this session and they would not to be refused.
On her way out she left some instructions with one of her trusted servants to have a midwife, a few servants, and a few guards sent out to retrieve Lola. They were also given instructions that the party should be quarantined and watched so that if they were shown not to be infected they would be admitted back into the Castle. She was not uncaring, merely practical. Neither she nor Francis could not leave at a time like this, even for one of her Ladies.
Later she would decide what to tell Francis, but not now.
She knew what she had told Lola about not wanting to keep secrets, but this would be no more a secret than what had already been kept.
As a widow Lola could continue on as her Lady and return to the Castle with her honor and her reputation fully intact, babe in tow. Perhaps Catherine was right and it was best to keep some things hidden, even from her husband.
She didn't really like it, but it seemed like the best solution to the problem at hand.
This at least was not the most distasteful proposal she had heard since the outbreak of the plague. How could people's hearts be so cold? She prayed that she would never get to that point, although the more time she spent at Court the more she feared that very reality.
The burden of a Queen. Now she was sounding like Catherine.
Later that night, Mary and Francis finally returned from putting out most of the fires that the plague and the Nobles had been setting.
The blinders that they been able to wear up to this point had been unceremoniously ripped off and they now realized the depths of sorrow, the cost that their Reign would bring to them personally.
How could they, how could anyone possibly put a price on a life?
The young Narcisse had been merciless in his pursuit, which absolutely baffled them.
They had both had the displeasure of extinguishing a life and had never been the same since. To do so for anything beyond survival seemed unfathomable, to bargain with the very survival of the country was bordering on evil. How could he be so driven? So cold?
Resting his hand on her shoulder tiredly, Francis nudged Mary in the direction of her wardrobe. They both needed to get to bed so that they would be somewhat rested to face the new crisis tomorrow. The staff was overextended so they had sent those who normally attended them in the evenings to assist in other parts of the Castle.
They had also acquired a new respect for the current King and Queen, for having dealt with this for so long. It was a terrible burden, and one which reminded them again that the gift of their position was just as much of a curse. Today it felt so heavy that they wished they even had the option of putting it down for a few moments to find their bearings before picking it up again…though they knew they wouldn't. They had too much respect for the position, and too much love for their countries, yet…
Huddled together in bed, the royal couple had run out of words, only finding the strength to cling to each other for what little comfort they could muster.
The plague had already gotten into the Castle, so movement was even restricted within the walls. But the vermin always knew where the cracks were, and they usually got there first.