*Notes: This chapter was originally going to be part of a longer chapter focusing on the aftermath of the attack, but I eventually decided to split the events of the aftermath into three (slightly) shorter chapters, so that I could post an update sooner and show that I'm still updating and working towards finishing the story. Hopefully I can be a bit more consistent with updates now.
Mary was fairly certain that she was dreaming.
She was walking through beautiful gardens, towards a cluster of trees, while the sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky.
As she started to walk among the trees, she could hear the soft, soothing sound of birds singing, somewhere in the distance.
What felt like only moments later, a bird came in to land, right on her arm. It regarded Mary for a few moments, its expression almost curious, while Mary looked back at it with equal curiosity.
It wasn't long before Mary made a decision. She stretched her arm out a little further before she muttered, "You can go," to the bird, her tone of voice gentle but also firm, determined.
The bird seemed to understand. It looked at Mary one last time, before it spread its wings wide and took off; before it turned into a bird in flight.
Mary watched the bird as it soared into the sky. There was a sadness, in watching it go, but at the same time, it felt like the right thing to do. Mary felt like a weight had been lifted from her whole body, in letting the bird fly away. It was a relief, to not have those claws digging into her skin anymore.
As soon as the bird was out of sight, she carried on walking.
Finally, the trees opened out into a clearing. Mary had a strange feeling that this place had been her destination all along.
In the middle of the clearing was a tree. There were hundreds of white petals on the tree. Even as Mary moved to stand under the tree, several of the white petals began to fall onto her head. It was beautiful.
Mary knew somehow that she had been here many times before; she knew that she would be happy here, if she stayed for a little while longer; a part of her really wanted to stay. She felt so peaceful, so free of worries...the heavy weight of her old and her more recent memories did not press down so heavily on her here, in this dream world.
Already, she sensed that if she opened her eyes, if she allowed herself to wake up from this peaceful dream, then she would be pulled back into a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a lot of heartache. Here she felt so light, but when she woke up, she suspected that everything would feel so heavy. It was tempting, to just stay here, in this beautiful place where her memories could not trouble her; a place where the birds had already taken off and left her alone.
But…Mary paused and took a good look around, spinning slowly in a circle as the petals continued to fall down gently on her head…Something was not right…
He was not here. It was not the same without him here. She did not feel complete.
This place, however beautiful, felt empty without him. She had to find him. She could not stay here in peace, without knowing where he was.
She had to see him. She had to talk to him. She had to know what had happened to him.
Here, she only knew part of the story; she sensed that her story was not yet complete.
She had to go back to the castle.
Almost instantly, this decision caused a sense of foreboding to wash over her, even in this happy place. But she had to get answers, to learn exactly what had happened; to put all the pieces back together, to heal. She had to learn the truth.
She heard a familiar voice, trying to wake her up, trying to call her back.
She was sure that the voice belonged to her brother.
She had to go back…
The tree and the clearing and the sunlight started to fade. For a little while, there was only darkness.
Mary blinked rapidly several times before she managed to open her eyes. Already, her body was starting to feel heavier.
She could just make out the faint outlines of her mother and her brother, standing over her, saying her name. They sounded like they were making a great effort to keep their voices calm.
Mary felt groggy, disorientated. All of her thoughts seemed to be so muddled. Where was she? What was happening?
She became vaguely aware of the fact that she was lying down in a bed that was not her own. As she tried to move a little, a jolt of pain rushed through her body, in particular through her head and her neck and her chest. It also felt like several shards of glass had pierced the skin on her arms and legs.
As she tried to sit up a little, her lungs felt tight, like she had to gasp for air.
A quick glance around the still blurry looking room showed her that she was in a bed in the castle's hospital wing. It looked like she had been given a private room. A digital clock on a bedside table showed that it was a little after three o'clock in the afternoon. Through her muddled thoughts, she worked out that she must have slept through most of the day.
Her mother and her brother came into slightly clearer view, their faces looking worried, pained. There were scratches and bruises on their faces, their shoulders. James's arm was in a sling. Mary's mother looked like she had been crying. They were still wearing their wedding outfits. The wedding…
Suddenly, the memories of the night before came flooding back to Mary…
The corridors filled with smoke…
The rebel attack…
The bird-in-flight tattoos…
The broken glass and the fallen objects…
"Francis!" Mary called out desperately, her voice almost a scream as she fought her injuries and struggled to sit up.
"Francis!" she called out again, ignoring her mother's pleas for her to be careful and lie back down and not cause herself any further injuries.
Never before had Mary felt so frantic, so desperate. Her urgency to find out what had happened to him, whether he was alive, safe, had overtaken every other thought, every other emotion. She could not calm down until she found out.
She repeated his name again, over and over, still fighting to get out of the hospital bed, in spite of the murmurings of disapproval coming from several of the hospital staff on the other side of the room.
"He's alive, Mary, he's alive!" James told her in an urgent-sounding whisper as he placed a hand on her arm as though to steady her, to calm her down before she reached the point of hysteria, to prevent her from losing it completely. He must have known that Mary would not rest until she'd heard of Francis's fate. "He's still unconscious, and injured," James continued, a very serious expression on his face, as though being careful not to give her false hope. "And the French royal family are being very guarded with the information they're communicating to us, but he's here, just in the room next door, and he's alive."
Mary allowed herself to fall back down towards her pillows. An overwhelming sense of relief flooded her whole body on hearing this news. It was a relief so strong, so profound, and this sensation, combined with her sense of agony, almost made her feel dizzy.
"Thank God," she whispered into the thin air, her lungs still tight. "Thank God."
Her whole world had been broken, but she had to be grateful that at least Francis was still a part of that world.
Francis was alive, and her mother and her brother were here, standing over her hospital bed, clearly hurt but still here. Perhaps they would forgive her, for all her arguments with them in the recent past, for the plans she had made to leave.
"I have to see Francis," she told James and her mother after a few seconds of silence as she tried to sit up again. She had to see for herself that he was here, to know for sure. She could not stand to be apart from him for a moment longer.
"Mary," said her mother, in the same tone of voice that she used to use when Mary was being disobedient as a child, although there was also a hint of concern and protectiveness in her voice now, too. "You are injured, and in pain, and you and Francis have both been through a terrible ordeal. It would be better for the two of you to rest for a little while longer…"
"No, you can't change my mind," Mary argued with her mother, already pushing herself up and out of the hospital bed. "I have to see Francis. Now." She knew that she probably sounded like a petulant child, but right now, she could barely even think rationally. She had been so close to losing him, and she felt so much guilt and responsibility as she thought about the reason why he was injured in the first place. She had to see him.
As Mary went to stand up, she could feel that there were a couple of bandages on her arms and legs, and her body still felt a little numb, to go with the fogginess in her mind. She wondered just how many painkillers she had been given over the past few hours, as the medics attempted to numb the pain, if only temporarily.
The look on her mother's face suggested that all of this went against her better judgement. There was another look on her face, too; one of despair, of heartbreak, even. "You are only to stay in there for a few minutes," her mother said, finally giving in, although her tone of voice suggested that she was not to be argued with this time. "Just so you can see for yourself that Francis is there. If the French royals do not wish for you to be in there, then you must respect their wishes. After that, you are to return to your bed, so the medical staff can continue to treat you. Your body has not yet recovered, and there is still a risk that you will go into shock. You are to come back here, and not go wandering off around the castle. Do you understand me, Mary?"
Still feeling a little dazed, Mary nodded. She barely had the strength to protest. It occurred to her that she did not want to go wandering around the castle; she wasn't yet ready to see the damage that had been done to the building.
She could hardly believe that less than twenty-four hours ago, she had been making plans to leave this castle for good, to start a new life somewhere else. Now, she could barely even picture herself stepping outside the castle's main doors.
She started to take a few steps towards the door, before she froze. A new, terrible thought had suddenly just occurred to her-a thought that she felt awful for not having earlier, when she had not seen her entire family standing around her hospital bed…
"J-James," she asked her brother, her voice trembling, already dreading what the answer would be, "our father?"
Surely he was somewhere close by, her mind tried to rationalise with her; recovering from his injuries in another hospital bed?
The look of pain that crossed her brother's face as he looked back at his sister told her what she needed to know before he had given his answer. "Mary, I'm sorry," he muttered, his eyes filling with tears, even though Mary had never seen him cry before.
Even her mother could not prevent her tears from running slowly down her cheeks. Perhaps her parents' marriage had been arranged at first, but they had grown to love each other very deeply over the years, there was no denying that. Her mother's grief and heartbreak were so painfully real.
Mary nodded, her own eyes filling with tears as she bowed her head, the despair and a new sense of guilt threatening to overcome her.
The news about her father almost didn't seem real yet. She was afraid of how she would feel when the reality of it truly hit her.
Mary took slow, tentative steps as she walked through the corridor outside the hospital wing, covering the short distance that it took to walk from one private room to the other. It was cold out here, and she found herself wrapping the large robe that the hospital staff had provided for her even tighter around her body.
With every step she took, the memories seemed to come back to her in more detail. Already, her mind was re-living those last moments with her father outside the castle, before her memories jumped to those moments with Francis in the gardens. The words that Francis had said to her before he fell into unconsciousness played over and over in her thoughts. The memories almost made her head hurt, and she was sure that she not imagining the pain in her chest. Had he meant what he had said?
Her mind might have felt a little less foggy out in the corridor, but Mary was still so confused about everything. What had happened to those who had been arrested? What had happened in the hours since the attack, when Mary had been lying unconscious in a hospital bed? What had happened to her friends, the other wedding guests? How much did the general public know about what had occurred? Had the media got hold of the story yet? How had they spun the story of the event in all of the newspaper articles? Were James and Kenna still planning on getting married?
So many questions, and still Mary was not sure if she was ready to receive all the answers yet.
Two French guards stood by the door that led into Francis's private room within the hospital wing. Mary froze when she saw them, feeling a prickle of fear run through her body. She half expected them to run at her and begin to attack her, so strong was her association now becoming between 'guard' and 'enemy'. She knew that it would take a long time to overcome this new fear; this new, traumatic association.
The guards did not move, but they started to mumble to each other in rapid French before they nodded in Mary's direction and stepped to one side, like they had already been instructed that they were to allow her entry into the room.
Mary's hands were shaking as one of the guards opened the door for her and indicated that she should go inside. She was so determined to see Francis, but that didn't mean that she wasn't feeling terrified about what she would find on the other side of the door. How badly injured was he? Would he remember any of it? What would he think of her? Would he hold her responsible for what had happened? Would he even want to see her?
Mary struggled to take in all of her surroundings as she stepped fully into the room.
First, her eyes fell on Francis, who was lying in a hospital bed in the centre of the room. There were bandages on the side of his body where the knife had hit him, and his face looked very pale.
He still looked beautiful, with his blond curls spread out delicately over his pillow.
His eyes were closed, but Mary felt like her heart caught as she took in the steady rise and fall of his chest. He was breathing. He was alive.
The relief on seeing him was almost overwhelming, and Mary struggled to catch her breath as she felt the tears prickle in her eyes.
The relief was mixed in with so much fear, so much anxiety; she was so afraid that this relief would only be short-lived; that some cruel twist of fate would still snatch Francis away from her, just when she started to get complacent.
Her mind kept frantically running through all the terrible what-ifs. What if Francis's health worsened? What if he did not recover? What if he hadn't truly meant the words he had told her in the gardens? What if they had just been a product of his desperate fear that those words would be his last, and he'd simply wanted to offer Mary some sort of reassurance? What if he changed his mind about what he'd said, when he woke up to the harsh reality of the aftermath of the attack? What if he decided that he could no longer live by those words of love, that he really did have to put his duties first, now that he was the king of France, and Scotland was in such a weakened state and could no longer serve as an ally?
Mary shook her head slowly as all these thoughts threatened to overwhelm her. She could barely even begin to process the fact that Francis was now the king of France. How would he feel about this news? She could only hope that he would have the opportunity to wake up and find out. And soon.
As much as Mary's fears were threatening to overwhelm her, and as much as she now knew that her heart belonged to Francis, she also knew deep in her heart that Francis's survival was more important than her own selfish wishes. Francis just had to get through this; to recover; this was what she was certain of. He had to have his opportunity to be king, to fulfil his destiny. She silently made a vow to accept his possible rejection, as painful as it would be, as long as he could survive. He just had to survive.
Looking back on her teenage years, Mary could see now that she had always been a little selfish; she had often acted in her own self-interest, and put her own needs first. But now, finally, she knew that were so many other things that she was prepared to put in front of her own wishes. She wanted her family to be okay, to survive through their grief; she wanted James to be happy and healthy, to be able to choose for himself the life that he wanted; she wanted to resolve her issues with her mother; she wanted her mother's remaining time to be filled with love and peace; she wanted for all of her friends to be okay; she wanted Francis to survive, and for his family to recover from everything that had happened last night.
If all of that happened, then she could not ask for anything more for herself. It would have to be enough.
Right here, in this moment, she could only be thankful that Francis's heart was still beating; she could not selfishly wish that his heart was beating for her.
There were several other people in the room, all of them pacing up and down and talking rapidly in a mix of English and French, creating a general sense of hustle and bustle, but Mary was so focused on Francis that she was barely even aware of the other people, at first.
Several French security guards lined the walls of the room, looking like they were ready to spring into action at the slightest hint of a threat.
A few medical staff were also huddled in a corner of the room, talking to one another in low voices. Mary heard them talk about fairly standard things, like painkillers and medication and blood loss, but she also heard them talk about other things, like chance, and luck, and twists of fate. They said something about how the metal had hit at just the right angle to minimise the potential damage, and the angle that the knife had hit, along with a royal medallion that Francis had conveniently been carrying in his pocket at the time, had served to minimise the knife's impact. They also sounded impressed by the quality of the medical treatment that Francis had received from the paramedics in the immediate aftermath of the attack. It seemed that all of these factors combined had worked to save Francis's life.
Mary allowed herself another small sigh of relief. In spite of the tragedies that had occurred last night, she had to be grateful for small miracles.
She looked in Francis's direction again. Sitting right next to his bed, somehow making an old, wooden, spare chair look like a throne due to her regal posture, was Francis's mother.
Catherine was looking at her son as though no one else mattered; as though her entire future rested in his hands.
Mary took a tentative step closer, not really sure how her visit to this room would be received by Catherine.
It was one thing to run through a castle together hand-in-hand when they'd both been in a desperate state, focused entirely on finding Francis, but it was another to face up to all the issues that still remained between them in the cold light of day.
Mary was also fairly certain that Catherine had reached her own conclusions as to who was to blame for Francis's current state.
After a few long seconds, Catherine finally seemed to register Mary's presence. She stared at her for a long while, her expression unreadable.
In spite of everything, Mary couldn't help feeling sorry for Catherine. In the space of one evening, she had lost her husband, and almost lost her son. There would be so much uncertainty in France right now; a burden that currently seemed to be on Catherine's shoulders. Regardless of Catherine's own personal feelings towards her husband, her place in the French castle was no longer as secure as it had been at the start of the matchmaking process, when her husband had been alive and ruling France with Catherine officially at his side.
Finally, Catherine let out a sigh and she looked right at Mary before she gave a quick nod of her head, gesturing that Mary should sit down beside the hospital bed.
As Mary slowly and hesitantly took a seat in another spare chair beside the bed, she knew somehow that this gesture of Catherine's was meant as some kind of acceptance of Mary's place in Francis's life; or an act of respect, perhaps, after Mary had put herself at great risk by running back into the castle to find Francis.
Mary nodded back at Catherine before she focused her attention on Francis again. It seemed that she and Catherine had entered into some sort of tentative alliance, after the events of last night.
Mary remained seated by Francis's hospital bed for what could have been minutes or hours-she had long since lost track of time-until several more members of Francis's team of staff arrived, no doubt wanting to discuss Francis's health, and the matter of France's new king, with Catherine, and Mary decided, however reluctantly, that she should probably honour her promise to her mother and start to think about returning to her hospital bed, so that the medical staff could check on her again.
She leaned forward and promised Francis in a whisper that she would return soon; she told him that she didn't want to go, that she would rather stay with him. But Francis was still in a deep sleep, and Mary wasn't sure that he could hear her.
Mary might have promised her mother to head straight back to her hospital room, but as soon as Mary walked out of Francis's room, she turned left instead of turning right, deciding that she wasn't quite ready to go back to her own hospital room just yet. The thought of all the medical staff fussing over her and talking about her injuries while she looked at the grief-stricken expressions on her mother and her brother's faces was almost too much to bear, and she really wanted a few minutes on her own to compose herself before she had to face it all again.
She walked a little further down the corridor, eventually sitting down in a chair that happened to be leaning against the wall. Her legs seemed to groan in protest as she sank down into the chair, and she felt a sharp twist of pain in her chest, before the pain moved to her neck. It seemed that the painkillers were starting to wear off.
A glance to her left gave her a glimpse of some of the damage that had been done last night; there were black marks on the walls, and fallen objects on the floors, along with shards of broken glass. A few members of staff were gathered in a small group at the end of the corridor, holding phones and clipboards and talking in hushed voices about the cost of repairs, and the possibility of providing extra security outside the castle for the next couple of weeks. Their words almost seemed muffled to Mary, as though they were all talking from a great distance; as though there were some physical barrier between them and where Mary was sitting in the corridor. Mary wondered if this was a side effect of the painkillers wearing off, or whether she really was going into shock, as her mother had predicted.
As she felt another sharp pang in her chest, the full impact of what had happened finally started to hit Mary. It felt a little like coming out of a trance.
The tears fell freely down her cheeks as the memories of the night before came crashing into her mind, playing at rapid speed in her thoughts while also appearing to her in sharp, vivid detail.
She also couldn't stop thinking about Francis, lying injured in his hospital bed. She had been so close to losing him. Last night, out in the gardens, she really had thought that their story had reached a tragic ending.
She thought of her father…gone, and his awful last moments. Had he even been proud of her, or had he left feeling nothing but disapproval for her decision to run back into the castle to find Francis?
Her father was so loved, here in the castle, and everybody would miss him. Mary would miss him. The castle would never quite be the same, without him.
She thought about Sebastian, and Narcisse, and Aloysius. Had the three men all betrayed her and her family, in the way that the authorities seemed to believe that they had? What did Greer think about all this? She had looked so upset, so guilty last night.
As Mary continued to cry, she thought about all the casualties, all the damage that had been done to the castle, to Scotland's reputation. How could they ever recover from any of this?
Then, she heard the faint sound of footsteps as somebody approached her.
She felt her whole body tense up as some sort of reflex reaction; the events of last night had taught her to anticipate and fear an attack at any moment. She knew that it would take a long time before she would be able to walk through the castle's corridors again without expecting an enemy to be hiding around every dark corner.
She relaxed a little when she saw Catherine approaching her.
She had no idea why Catherine had left her son's room to try to find her, but her expression was not angry, or fearful. It seemed she hadn't come to bear any bad news.
The two of them looked at each other for a little while, as though sizing each other up, working each other out.
"W-what do I do, Catherine?" Mary asked her around yet another sob. She felt so weak, so helpless. She knew that her tone of voice was desperate, pleading; she knew how pathetic she would have looked, in other circumstances, but right now, she just needed someone to be here, to tell her how she could even begin to get past this, when everything seemed so hopeless. She felt like she was falling apart, and she needed someone to help put her back together.
Catherine's facial expression remained serious, unshakeable. "You hold your head high and you go out there and face your subjects and you look right into the media's cameras and you tell them that this disaster has not beaten you," said Catherine, her voice unwavering, even as Mary watched her with an expression of shock. Did Catherine really expect her to face her subjects and the media, so soon after the attack? "You take the narrative into your own hands, before the media or your enemies can get a hold of your story and put their own spin on it. You appear strong, Mary, even if you might not feel that way. You have to be strong, so that you can reassure those who do not feel that way. This is a battle, and you must demonstrate to your country that it is a battle you intend to win. If you don't, then the crown can be snatched from your head at any moment; your enemies will have defeated you!"
Mary continued to stare at her, trying to process all of Catherine's words. In a way, she felt better on hearing these words of cold comfort. There was something invigorating about the idea of facing this head on, rather than sitting still for hours on end and listening to platitudes and rehearsed words of sympathy and false reassurances. It was almost like Catherine had just slapped her across the face, but the slap, however painful, had served to snap her back to her senses.
But still, the thought of going outside this evening and facing the press and the photographers who had no doubt gathered outside the castle gates, desperately clamouring for a headline-grabbing story, was petrifying.
Perhaps Catherine had sensed her doubt, her hesitation, because she added: "We are royals, Mary; what other choice do we have?"
Less than an hour after her conversation with Catherine, Mary found herself walking through the castle's entrance hall, taking slow, determined steps.
It would have been so easy to crumble and fall on surveying all the damage that had been done to the entrance hall; glass had been shattered and antique paintings had been ripped from the walls, while what looked like a few broken weapons were still scattered all over the floor-but Mary knew that she could not do that right now. She had a duty, to her country and her family. She had to appear calm and strong and brave, so as to help reassure others. If she gave up, surrendered to the despair, then the rebels would have won. And she would not let them win. She had to fight back, in her own way.
This speech had been hastily arranged. A small team of stylists and hair and makeup artists who had stayed in the castle had scrambled to get Mary ready to face the press. Mary had instructed them that she was to look smart, serious, and that any injuries were not to look too obvious.
As the stylists helped her get ready, Mary had had only minutes to plan out exactly what she was going to say to Scotland's media. There was no Narcisse around to help her now; no Publicity Team to tell her what to say and how to act. Mary knew that most of this speech was going to have to come from the heart.
Of course, the plan to give a speech this evening went completely against her mother's wishes. Her mother had got a little angry, telling Mary that she should not be focusing on all this just yet, that she should be resting, trying to recover, and that if any speeches were to be given, then they should be given by James, the heir to the throne.
Mary and Catherine had just about managed to convince her to give her permission for this, which was helped along by the fact that James, who was still in a lot of pain from his injury, was perfectly happy for Mary to give a speech instead of him. It almost seemed like he no longer cared, about his royal duties.
"I will rest easier tonight, Mother," Mary had told Queen Marie, "if I can get this done first."
Mary had been trying to reassure herself at the time. It felt a little wrong, almost, to be getting dressed up to perform and put on a show for the cameras yet again, especially when all that Mary wanted to do was curl up in the chair next to Francis's bed and stay there with him all night, forgetting about the rest of the world, but deep down, Mary knew that this had to be done. Catherine's advice had sparked something inside her.
With Catherine's words fresh in her mind, Mary continued to walk towards the main doors. Two guards stood on either side of the doors, dutifully opening them for Mary when she got closer.
Again, Mary felt that heightened sense of anxiety on seeing the guards, but her mother had reassured her that all of the guards who had been working with the rebels had already been arrested. Only the loyal ones remained.
The guards both greeted her with a typical curt nod, but Mary heard them both whisper, "Good luck, Your Highness," just before she stepped outside.
Finally, Mary was standing outside on the stone steps that led up to the castle, facing a few trusted photographers and media outlets who had been specially invited into the castle grounds to witness this moment.
Several guards also lined the castle driveway. It seemed that Mary's mother was not taking anymore chances.
Mary held her head high as she took in the assembled audience. She kept her gaze steady as she looked into the cameras, knowing that the citizens of Scotland would be watching her through those lens. She imagined that all of her subjects were really here with her, right now, assembled in the gardens, waiting for her to address them directly. If she fell apart on camera, then the rest of the country would also continue to panic, and they would feel defeated. The royal family's response to this crisis would decide Scotland's future, Mary just knew it. Mary's subjects were depending on her.
"People of Scotland," Mary began, struggling not to let her voice waver. "Last night, this castle was attacked…" Mary paused. Saying it out loud made it all the more real; it made all of the flashbacks even sharper, more vivid. But she couldn't crumble now; she had to keep going. "We were attacked by rebels who chose to wear masks to hide their identity while they carried concealed weapons." It was painful, saying it all out loud, but there was almost something healing in acknowledging it, in sharing her grief with the rest of the nation. Perhaps she would be criticised, in being so honest, so direct with the rest of the country about what had happened, but, if the matchmaking show had taught her one lesson, it was that it was often easier in the long run to just tell the truth, however painful that truth could be.
"The rebels planned to burn the castle to the ground so that all evidence of their guilt would be erased. This was an act of cowardice!"
Mary's sense of anger at the injustice of it all was starting to replace her sense of fear.
"The attack came from within; the rebels sought to earn our trust while they plotted behind our backs. They deceived us at the worst possible moment; it was the ultimate act of betrayal. It is often worse to be deceived by those we believe to be our friends, our allies, than it is to be deceived by our enemies."
Mary paused to survey the crowd, to try to gauge their reactions. Even a few members of the press were looking surprised that Mary was being so frank with them. Or perhaps they were simply surprised that she was out here giving a speech in the first place, so soon after the attack.
"Not only did this group of rebels seek to threaten and terrorise my family," Mary continued, finding her voice a little more now as she got into the flow of her speech, "but innocent people were also killed and injured during the attack. Wedding guests and people who worked in the castle-all of them had friends, families; all of that was taken away from them last night, and for what purpose?" Mary demanded, unable to keep any of the anger out of her voice now. "They did not deserve any of it."
"Today, I'm standing before you not only as a member of your royal family, but also as a young woman whose father was killed in the attack on the castle…"
Mary heard a few gasps from the crowd. She knew that her mother had already released an official statement to the press about the fate of her husband, but still, it must have come as such a shock to hear Mary confirm the bad news out loud.
"Other family members, and several of my friends, were also injured during the attack," Mary added, really struggling not to break down now. It was all so real. "I am still fearful for the safety of those who are dear to me…The rebels ensured that we were all victims of the attack, and, had they succeeded in what they set out to do, I doubt that they would have stopped there. They would likely have continued to bully and to threaten and to resort to violence and aggression and under-handed tactics to ensure that their demands were met. Their violence would have continued to spread to the streets of Scotland, and heaven help anyone who got in their way."
Mary did not want to scare the people of Scotland, but she also wanted them to understand, that a Scotland ruled by those sort of rebels would have meant a rule by fear.
Mary's voice was much stronger now. It was not so terrifying anymore, in the way that it had been before the matchmaking show got started, to address a crowd and give speeches, especially when Mary was focusing on matters that were far more important than her own nerves.
"I have no doubt," she went on, "that had the rebels succeeded last night, Scotland would have been destroyed. But they did not win," she declared to the crowd, as she let a look of fierce determination cross her face. "The air to the Scottish throne is still alive. The castle will be repaired and rebuilt, so that we can receive more visitors who wish to meet peacefully with us to discuss plans for reform and improvement. We will recover from this. For months, we have been working with our Prime Minister and the Scottish Parliament to improve education and the quality of life in Scotland; that work will continue. France has very generously offered assistance with our security budget, and your safety will continue to be our priority. My family and I will continue to fight for all of you."
Mary continued to keep her voice level as she spoke. She had to appear confident that all of these improvements would take place, so that the people of Scotland could also put their trust in the royals to carry out this good work.
"We only ask of you all," said Mary, "that you work with us, so that we can work together. For those of you who have perhaps been tempted into joining the various rebel groups that are secretly operating in Scotland…" -again these words drew rather shocked reactions from the crowd-"I ask you to instead come to us peacefully, negotiate with us, share your concerns, so that we can seek to ease those worries, to find viable solutions. Violence is not the answer. Remember that there are consequences for every action…"
Here Mary squared her shoulders, looking directly into the cameras. She wanted to encourage peace among her subjects, but this was also her moment to fight back against the rebels, to dissuade others from taking similar action…
"This attack from the rebels cannot and will not be tolerated. Any of those responsible for the attack who have not yet been arrested will be found, and they will face trial according to Scottish law. Their faces and their actions will be exposed to the entire country; they will not be able to hide behind masks anymore. Anyone else who attempts to mimic their behaviour will also face the same legal action. Let this be a message to anyone who thinks to threaten our country."
Mary knew that the royals would have to follow through on this plan; there would have to show that there were consequences for this attack. Deep down, she also knew that she had to find out the full story about this attack, so that she could better understand how and why it had happened. She would have to pay a visit to Bash and Narcisse and Aloysius soon, to hear what they had to say; to try to find out some more of the truth. She wasn't sure if she was yet ready to face Bash's mother, but she would have to try to find out her story, too.
Mary paused briefly before she launched into the final words of her speech, surveying the crowd and trying to keep the expression on her face strong, determined; like a queen about to ride into battle.
And it was true, in a way-there would still be a battle to fight, before they could even begin to take the next steps and repair the damage that had been done. Within the castle, everything was still so uncertain; Francis's fate still hung in the balance; Scotland's future was still undecided; Mary was still not entirely sure what had become of her friends, or what would become of James and Kenna's arranged marriage; she had not even begun to process her grief over the loss of her father, or process her sense of guilt for all the other losses that had occurred last night.
And yet, this was a battle that she was determined to win, one way or another.
"I thank you for your support," Mary told the crowd, the cameras, already feeling the sense of exhaustion begin to creep up on her, now that she had put her words out there. "Together, we will rebuild a stronger Scotland."
With that, Mary turned on her heel and headed back inside the castle, ignoring the loud and demanding questions from the journalists, especially the questions about whether the matchmaking show would continue-it was not the time or the place to talk about a television show.
She planned on paying another visit to Francis, to check that he was okay, before her mother would no doubt order her to return to her own hospital bed for the night.
She would have to wait and see what tomorrow would bring.