Chapter 41

"May your love help you endure the other in difficult times. May your love help you – with ties of peace - to preserve your unity in spirit and heart".
The bishop's words echoed from the high walls of the throne room that served as a festively decorated wedding hall on this joyful day.

The smile that graced Catherine's lips since the beginning of the ceremony got even wider when her husband grabbed her hand and raised it to his lips in order to kiss her knuckles. She granted him this liberty, actually enjoyed his display of affection and ignored that little hortative voice warning her that this very public display was entirely inappropriate, especially since this was not their own but her daughter's wedding. But it felt too good, too right, to deny herself this tiny sentiment of joy.

For a brief moment the Queen Mother cut her eyes loose from bride and groom and peered up at Stephane who on his part looked at her in such an intense way that made her knees go week. Before she could lose herself in his soulful eyes, Catherine turned her attention back to the ceremony taking place in front of them, while her husband slowly lowered their intertwined hands but tenaciously declined to release her fingers.

At the end of the wedding, the elderly bishop asked bride and groom to seal their bond of matrimony with a kiss and Catherine sighed heavily, feeling deeply moved by the sight of her new son-in-law who lovingly caressed Claude's cheek before claiming her lips in a tender kiss.

"I suppose I am now deeply indebted to you?", she asked her husband in a whisper. Stephane turned his attention from the happy couple to his wife once again and questioningly looked down at her.
"I don't know what for, but I'm sure I can come up with various ways for you to express your gratitude," Stephane answered with a wicked smile on his face and fondled her hand in an intimate way.
"I just bet you do," she replied in the most neutral tone she could utter, already feeling a joyful excitement crawling up her spine that treacherously reddened her cheeks. Catherine forced herself to turn her attention back to the couple on the gallery, ignoring the tingling sensation between her legs.

"Claude looks happy. They both look happy," she said, watching bride and groom separating and looking deeply into each other's eyes. Eyes that were transfigured with love.
"It requires intestine magnitude to deviate from an already made decision and to support such a rather unpopular and certainly financial unwise connection." Catherine took up Stephane's giving-in concerning the wedding plans he had for Princess Claude.

"It's you, my dear, who taught me that sometimes unpopular decisions are required, ma Belle. Our marriage is also rather unconventional. And look how this sacred bond turned out. I probably thought that maybe Claude and Leith are also one of those couples, that fit together in a perfect imperfect way." To underline his words, Stephane put his arm around Catherine's waist. "Just like you and me," he added quietly and his breath grazed Catherine's neck.

"Oh, you think so?" she tried for a neutral tone but wasn't able to suppress the broad grin that threatened to lie itself upon her lips.
"Indeed, darling," the Lord Chancellor of France replied smugly and drew his wife even closer.

Together the older couple watched Claude and Leith walking arm in arm through the range of the guests, being showered with congratulations. This connection was perceived as scandalous by many nobles and had attracted a large number of curious guests who now paid their questionable respect to bride and groom.

It took them a few minutes before Catherine was finally able to wrap her daughter in a maternal embrace.
Her beautiful girl was liturally beaming brighter than the sun on this special day. The Queen Mother couldn't remember ever seing her feisty rantipole radiate such happiness and joy.
Even Stephane pulled his stepdaughter into a paternal embrace, while Catherine kissed her son-in-law on his cheeks.

"Thank you, Maman." Quite unexpectedly Catherine found herself being hugged a second time.
An expression of surprise flashed over Catherine's delicate features. It's been ages since her daughter had last called her that.
"What for, my child?" she asked and had to fight her uprising emotions.
"For the happiest day in my life." Claude's knowing glance revealed that she knew very well about her mother's role in making this marriage happen.
"As long as you're happy, then so am I." Catherine kissed her daughter's forehead and watched her being swallowed by the crowd a minute later.

Catherine enjoyed the ongoing festivities at the side of her husband who was showering her with mindful attention and behaved remarkably gallant. And contrary to all her expectations, it felt unexpectedly good to be publicly perceived as Stephane Narcisse's wife.

For unlike her late husband Henry Valois, Stephane made her feel like being an equal part in their union. The Lord Chancellor not only appreciated her opinion, he regularly consulted and involved her regarding affairs of state. And as distinguished from Henry, she felt loved as well as desired by Stephane.

They had returned to French court four months ago together with her sons Charles and Henri, who had hurried to the side of his troubled brother. And ever since their return not only her relationship with Stephane but also with her children had improved significantly.

Charles had found his much-needed rest and savingness behind the sacred walls of the monastery. When she had been greeted by this endearing and gentle boy of former times at their reunion, tears of relief and joy had gathered in the corner of her eyes.

And while Catherine was thinking about her son's recovery, the young King of France approached her as if he'd guessed her reflections.
"Mother, Claude and Leith are about to open the dancefloor with their wedding dance."
The queen mother nodded thoughtfully and smilingly looked up at Charles, who rewarded her with an equally affectionate smile. A reaction she wasn't used to and still amazed her.

"I would be delighted if you'd honor me with the second dance of the evening, Maman." With a solemn gesture the King offered her his hand. A hand Catherine gratefully accepted after pausing for a brief moment to collect herself.
"Don't worry, Narcisse, you'll get her back." With these words Charles led his mother to the verge of the dance floor. After a short nod towards his sister, the musicians started to play a likewise slow and romantic song.

At the side of her son Catherine watched the bridal couple. Both Claude and Leith were visibly in love and floated through the room in complete harmony.
The moment the music slowly faded away and merged into a new, faster song, Charles led her to the dance floor.

And while the former Queen of France was dancing with her son, she let her gaze wander from her perfectly happy daughter to Stephane, her husband who for his part looked at her with that warm, loving smile. And all of a sudden Catherine realized that happiness was a thing queens might be able to have after all.


I still can't believe it – the deed is done.
WOW, what a ride.
I need to thank you. For reading, for commenting, for encouraging me, for sharing my love for Catcisse, for taking this long and bumpy ride with me.

But of course that's not the end for me – I still have many stories to finish and ... *drum roll*... a new Cathry story is already waiting in the wings.

So thanks again!