A day with more beauty is simply unimaginable, I realise.
Mary sits next to me. Or, should I say she leans upon me? I realise she's begun dozing off a few hours into our trip, her head has been somewhere between leaning on my shoulder and chest for quite a few minutes. I loathe to move her, disturb her rest that she has so brilliantly deserved, even though my shoulder quickly goes numb, and those ridiculously long chandeliers that drape though her lobes that somehow can be called earrings dig into the flesh of my neck. My beautiful Queen at my side, the brilliantly green and golden forests of the land in which we rule role on at the other, I can quite confidently say that I am at complete peace.
I take a deep inhale of the rich, sweet, mossy country air, thinking to myself that I have seen only but a fraction of my own kingdom. The air smells like my brother always did after a complete day of riding and hunting. It's firmiliar and it clears my lungs from all the months of illness and a sombre so pure that it choked us all. Not anymore, however.
I inhale with surprise as my wife begins to talk, I realise she must have opened her eyes and observed me as I have observed her. My attention turns from the grandeur, lavish, ridiculous beauty at one side to one of equal measure at the other as she murmurs to me so unexpectedly "A trip to Paris," she says. It's often she does this, after my sickness, my wife has taken to simply beginning to talk before I realise I have been noticed. I have added it onto the infinatley long list of reasons why I have fallen in love with her over and over and over again. It blows my mind how much I can love a physical person, yet Mary proves more and more each day. "What a wonderful secret you've kept from me." she says, her eyes catching my own.
Keeping secrets from my wife has never, never been easy. The bad ones are no easier kept from her than the good ones. As it always had been since the moment we met as two confused children at the age of five years, my instinct that was comparable as breathing, has always been to share each and every thing with her.
More than almost anything, I have always wanted to be known.
Not just that, I wished to be understood.
I have wanted to be known, understood for all the things I am and all the things I am not, all the things I have done and all the things I have not done, and to be loved, accepted, anyway.
And I am, because of the marvellous Queen next to me.
"Well, I-" she speaks in the mocking Queen tone she uses when making fun of a dreary old noble in the privacy of our chambers. She always had that tone, many afternoons we spent as children, making fun of boring old cronies who made our luncheons or dinners long by political or religious conversations with my mother or father. "have a secret for you, too." she says, her tone leaving the mocking one for one that is both serious and smug. She raises her chin and adjusts herself so we are face to face. "Do you want to hear it?"
It comes down to this, when it comes to my Mary, the beautiful ravenette who had changed my world upside down with her strength, passion, power and virility, I have always wanted to hear her.
"Mm-hmm." I murmur, almost unable to do so by the smile that threatens to break my face.
"I've always known we would be wed." my wife says. "even when I first returned-" I am struck by a memory of being a small boy, devastated by her loss, being held by the shoulders by my father of all people, as her carriage rolled away, the weeks of tears and devastation, as if she had left her physical body than my physical side. "and you were nothing but worry and reservation." she pronounced those words with the air of superiority when they were in front of a noble that she didn't much like, or one that irritated her to no end. "I knew." she finished with a small, satisfied smirk that her little prophecy came true.
I find myself sheepish for my past self's stupidity. I am unsure of what to say, and I also find myself thinking back to the time when she had separated us to save me from her future decision. I bite my cheek, thinking of those weeks of painful, starving loss when she was at my brother's side instead of mine, when she and my father plotted all of that to save me from her. I feel the bite of regret in my gut when I think of myself and her lady and our child. It's over now. We've played the masochistic game of hurting each other over and over for far too long. It's over now. We were even in that childish, horrid game long ago. It's over now. It's over now. "Did you now?" I decide, fingering a piece of her silky, raven hair around my finger, making black rings that climb up my right pointer finger. I glace at my creation. Gold. Black. Gold. Black. My life. Our life. Always gold and black.
"Ever since I caught your eye, watching me dance with my ladies at your sister's wedding," my wife's tone and expression folds into something dreamy, as I know she thinks of that magical night when our souls interwoven around each other again, this time so tightly that nobody could break us apart. "Feathers falling from nowhere." she says, looking back at me. I feel a sense of pride with the knowledge that she looks at me and no other. My wife makes the moment we truly saw each other at Elisabeth and Philip's wedding so magical. That kind of magic was powerful, the power of love. But with my mother's words and her beloved seer's prophecies, I find myself feeling that magic would turn my stomach.
"I'm sure my mother ordered them," I point out, trying to get us out of the magical spell and back into the reality of our lives, and I also find myself being both practical -as my mother had always famed me for being- and teasing, a tone I picked up from her as a child. "My sister was also quite specific." I say, a memory burning my mind of my eldest younger sister screeching furiously -much like Claude does when she doesn't get her way- and slapping at my face and shoulders after I pointed out with Sebastian that quite possibly, Elisabeth had each and every goose in France de-feathered for the few seconds of feathers falling from the ceiling. Bash got her fury, too, but we made her even more angry after laughing and scattering. I chuckle with the memory, looking back at her. She's so beautiful.
"Don't you remember?" she asks, pushing me with her words. Her eyes search mine to see the memory of our past, younger selves. We had been so young then. And it wasn't all that long ago, I remind myself. "When we were children?" she carries on quickly.
"I did." I nod slightly, reassuring her so completley that she relaxes before me, a lazy smile returning to her lips. "I remember." I tell her. "I'm sure I knew in that moment, too." I add, shaking my head slightly, my tone and my expression turning serious. But not serious at the same time.
I do wish those words were completley true, I feel that same bite at my gut when I didn't tell her the exact truth, even when it was something she didn't want to hear. I had gazed at her from the side of that ballroom, watching her with her ladies as they enticed almost all of the women to dance without their male counterparts. She had twirled so brightly, pushing everything away from her, effortlessly gaining the attention of the whole room, her skirts blooming like the largest, onyx rose. I didn't know that one day, I would wed her. But what I did know was that I wanted to, a thought I hadn't felt for almost five years, when I had begun to believe the serpent-like nobility of court, the ones that had said this alliance was a bad one, never mind the fact my wife held heirship to England, be that for the best or worst. I wanted to take this strange, unique beauty as my wife, and wanted to someday make her my Queen. That realisation scared me -why I pushed her away later in the night- and thrilled my young body. Her star had caught my eye, and had pushed herself in my heart, and in that moment, I had been pulled into her orbit. Her passion, her fire, her resiliency, her power. I would have burned down cities for her, and I still would to this day.
"That we were fated?" she adds, a little bit quietly.
The word draws the air from my lungs, sends a plunge of ice water through my veins. I recall the conversation with my mother just hours ago. She had been so scared, terrified for my safety as she always had been. Her pleads for me to be cautious, to not leave the castle, to surround myself with guards, and my words hadn't comforted her at all, I know. The fear in her eyes, the fear in her voice, yet my refusal to obey scares her still.
While Nostradamus had always been a skilled healer and medical officiant, I had never been convinced by his power of prophecy. The only magic that is real in this world is when Mary and I are bare of our constricting clothing and are alone in our mile long bed. There is no magic unless what we make for ourselves.
"I don't care for that word." I say, looking down at the tunic I wear. I am aware that it is foolish, and so superstitious, there is some weight to the words if both my wife and my mother -so obviously the most important women in my life- tremble with the news that I will die young, the inevitability of destiny, of fate.
My wife can seem to tell my thoughts are not good ones, and her eyes narrow in a way that tells me I have no choice in the matter, that I am going to tell her, even if I don't want to. I hadn't told her of this newest prophecy, but she knows I keep information from her. "What is it?" she asks, her tone kind, but imploring. I run my tongue and my teeth over my bottom lip, looking at her.
Choices are the only destiny in this world, my faith in these words makes me grow stronger. Fate is but a word. We are the makers of our destiny, not some unearthly being that had already written out our lives.
"It's nothing," I say, my voice as assuring as I can possibly make it, snaking my arm around her. I begin to pull her tightly against me, in an attempt to rip my mind from the unease. "Never mind." I say.
I wish for nothing more in this world than to be with her, so, I kiss her. All of those kisses we had shared, those bittersweet, salty kisses that spoke of a numbered exchange, a kiss of a well practised goodbye as my disease rushed through my body. This kiss? This kiss is nothing like those ones we had shared.
We kiss for wanting. We kiss for desire.
We do not say goodbye.
I want for her so hungrily, and I begin to take what we had been cruelly depraved over the past few weeks. My arms tighten around her, ensnaring her in a way I feel almost animalistic, the desperation I feel to feel and be felt after so long of being denied. Throughout our intimate relationship, it's usually been me to be the aggressor -not that we haven't switched roles ina few passionate encounters- and this time is no different. Mary gasps and shudders as my lips burn a fiery trail from her mouth to the sensitive strip of skin just behind her jawline. Her fingers grasp my hair, the other fisting my doublet, to pull me closer.
She's so warm and complacent in my arms, I can smell the lavender and jasmine she puts in her bath as my lips become reacquainted with the skin of her neck. She begins to whimper, her back arching as much as her corset would allow. I can imagine no ending to this encounter than getting to Paris in askew clothing and wild hair, the servants giving each other scandalous and blushing looks as we pass them.
I'm so preoccupied by my actions that I don't realise she's opened her eyes and has turned away from me. I begin to tighten my arms around her still, to hold her steady in the hopes of pushing her down to lay on the seats, when she pushes me away and says, albeit a little breathlessly "Francis, wait."
Each and every bit of my self control is used as I force myself to release her. My confusion is strong, she has had no issue with making love in carriages before. I have many deliciously mischievous memories of taking her multiple times as we made our way from chateaux to chateaux on our wedding tour. Many-a-time have I made her moan and climax in places other than our bedchambers. However, I grow curious as she happily calls out to the driver, "Stop here!"
"What are you doing?" I ask, a grin forcing itself unto my face at her childish joy. It's just as impossible as it was on our wedding day to share in her joy, her face alight with the most infectious, childlike beam I had once feared she would never show to me again.
"I want to show you something." she says as the carriage slows to a stop, pushing herself out of the carriage door.
I never hesitate to follow her.
I will never hesitate to follow her.
"There's a beautiful lake down at the forest," she explains as in one fluid, casual motion, I make my way out of the door and come to a stop behind her. She grasps at my hand and I smile in the direction she gestures to. "What do you say we go for a swim?" she asks.
I look through the trees, unable to catch a glimpse of any sort of water. Mary is so much more than my Queen -she has always be and has always been my Queen- she is my lover, my best friend, my wife, my best friend, my most trusted adviser, my conspirator in life's marvellous adventures.
A scandalous, stolen swim is much more adventurous than what I had anticipated for this day. A fine dinner with the best wine in the vineyard, topped off by a basket of oranges from Nice. And the softest sheets on our bed, for the magic that only existed in this world.
"We could leave our clothes on the shore," she whispers, cozying up to my arm, bats her eyelashes lightly as she bites her lip in a provocative invitation that I have no intention of denying in any way. She ignites the flame that we started in the carriage, and we have no intention of letting it burn out.
That's settled, then, isn't it? I quickly toss a direction for the guards and the driver and the staff that have accompanied us, before Mary and I take off, clutching each other's hands as we rush into the woods together, giggling like the children we once had been.
My wife is right, as so so often is. The lake is so beautiful. We scale the rocky barrier that it borders, I find myself equally transfixed. The beauty is so natural, and the fact that it exists in its beautiful simplicity, so close to the castle without me ever acknowledging it, it touches me in a way that warms my heart.
I smile at the naturalness, the honesty, the truthfulness of it all. The surroundings around me are glorious. The beautiful lake, so clean and glassy. The golden sun illuminating the trees, the reds and golds and greens of the leaves both hanging high above and falling beneath our feet. The world is so beautiful, I find myself envious. I have seen so little of the world, my world has always been inside French Court.
Many nights of our childhood, Mary and I would huddle underneath a blanket and she would tell me stories of the rustically beautiful land of her blood. The trees, the mountaintops, the moors, the dewy fields of peonies and Scottish roses. I find myself envious that she saw all that beauty in the midst of so much darkness. I find myself envious now, but it's different. We have the opportunity to see such beauty between us now.
Another view catches my eye, one equally as beautiful, but considerably more desirable. My wife, unclasping her cape and tossing it onto the floor, before she claws open the bodice of her gown. I turn to face her, so enchanted by this beauty who I could call my own. She catches my eye, and she smirks slightly, the look upon her face that she wasn't going to be sensually removing her garments as she had done hundreds of times before.
This is a race to bare herself for me. It seems I wasn't the only one animalisticaly desperate to touch and to be touched.
I look at her skirts, then her face, and smile, pulling off my fur cloak. I feel lighter, less constricted by the lack of the hideous, cumbersome thing I have always hated wearing. I frantically pull the waistcoat from my body, glancing up to see that my wife is bare of her bodice and desperately yanks at the strings of her corsets.
I pull her towards me, allowing myself to steal a kiss, before we get back to our scandalous game. She reaches up, beginning to undo the collar of my shirt. I wrap my arms around her tighter, tugging clumsily at the woven laces. Attempting to remove it without sight is anything but easy, especially as my fingers begin to tremble with the need to touch her bare skin. I suppose my practice in the past made it easier. I bite my lip in amusement at the awkwardness, trying to rely on my memory to remove it. Enough time has passed since the last time we were together, I do fear I have lost my touch. It's been such a long time since I have undressed my wife in this playful yet frantic frenzy, the last time I can remember was when my wife time me she carried our child within her, and the last thing I can remember being anything close to what it is now is when my mother was causing a stink in England. Not once did my sickness cool my longing for my wife, but as I admitted my sickness, our lovemaking didn't even feel like lovemaking anymore. It had become so bittersweet, a painful, practised goodbye, with the unspoken knowledge that it may be our last time together deafening us both. Tears and sweat matted our necks, the desperation and the sadness so heart wrenching. Once, I had lost my strength so suddenly -even though my wife was perched atop of me- that we ended up not even completing the act at all. I lay upon her bare breast, tears of frustration pooling at the valley of her breasts and sliding down to her stomach, a cruel reminder from the lord above us all.
"It's okay, my love," she has whispered, tenderly stroking my hair, kissing my face. "It's alright," she had said, so gently and so lovingly that it broke my heart. This wasn't fair. None of it was fair.
"I just want to be with you," I had sniffled, my heart so broken by the frustration and the guilt that it resembled those months after the Protestant attack upon the castle, those months where she was so broken, and then the following months when I feared that she no longer held me in her heart. When I feared I would never hold her in my arms ever again.
I kiss her deeply, forcing myself in the moment. And what a marvellous moment it was. Her back arches into me, and she is free of her skirts. She pulls my shirt off and tosses it near our cloaks. I shiver as we finally touch, bare, skin to skin. One hand entangles itself in my hair as we kiss, our tongues massaging each other, slowly, sensually. The other goes to my trousers, beginning to unlace the blasted things. She moans as I still cannot free her from her corset, and genuinely consider ripping the thing into two pieces, so she will be bare to me faster. I've done it to several of her corsets, and have met the fury of the action soon after.
Unfortunately, it seems that my wife doesn't want her corset ruined, for she pulls away from me regretfully, and I spin her around quickly. She kicks off her shoes as I quickly begin to pull at the strings. I grin mischievously, lustfully, wickedly, the anticipation burning me in a way so delicious and I cannot explain.
Each and every time I have pulled her free of her clothing, I have found the moment sensual to the point of pain.
After far too many moments, the damned thing is free and I throw it away. My arms immediately bound around her, my lips seaking her neck, my palms touching each and every inch of her skin. Mary arches her back and lets her head fall to one side, letting out a whimper as my hands cup her substantial breast. The noise is s painfully sensual that I consider pushing away the lake fora few minutes, and just taking her right there.
Each and every version of this woman, I have loved. The playmate of my childhood, who pushed me from my sick bed and pulled me along the castle's coridoors for the most rambunctious adventures. The insecure girl who I kissed so hungrily on the castle's grounds. The Queen who reigns at my side, exerting her power at any time it is necessary. But I love the one who I hold in my arms just that little bit more.
This is not the moment to be sentimental, this is not the moment to be romantic. This is the time to be carefree and wild and so young. I release her and we quickly snap back into reality. Mary pulls down her petticoat and the extra skirts and lets down her hair from the braid it had been pulled into. She is naked before me, she is glorious, wearing nothing but gold and diamonds and sunlight. She is a goddess, so glorious back lit by the sun. I am transfixed by this enchantress who loves me and I inhale as she launches herself at me, pulling me into her arms, our lips connecting once again. She helps me pull my boots and my remaining clothes from my body, all the while keeping our lips together. I pull her close, feeling her silky skin for the first time in far too long.
Before I know it, my Queen wears nothing at all, and I excitedly pull her closer into the lake. We jump in together, gasping at the coolness of the water. I realise true happiness, true contentment in this moment. I tighten my arms around her waist and spin her around as she squeals in joy. Her body is so slippery and lithe in my arms that I can barely get a good grip. She knows it, too. Mary changes between clutching at me, holding me close, to pushing me away flirtatiously. Our sailing trips have been so brilliant, I do love the time with her, blanketed by the open blue sky. However, with the way we've been forced to live our lives, I do forget how young we actually are. Neither of us have reached our second decade of life. I have indeed forgotten what it is like to play in this world.
My wife twists in my arms as I pick her up by her waist, and kisses me deeply, covered and exposed by the water. I hold her tighter, jerking her body so she jumps up and wraps her legs around my waist. I shiver, pulling her closer. Her body is so slippery in my arms, her breasts heaving and dripping wet, pressed tightly against my chest.
Our time of sombre mourning is past.
We will never suffer in such a way again.
Now is our time.
Now is our time to make a new world, a better one.
Before that, however, Paris awaits my Queen and I.