The stallion's hoof makes such a marvelous symphony, does it not? The constant, dull drum almost sounding like a heartbeat with its continuous noise. Combine it by four, then combine it by nine, the continuous drone so loud it was quiet, so quiet that it was loud. The sight of them, nine raven haired stallions, four pairs of twins, one up front, looking almost like a nordic dog sledding team with the amount of horses in the arrangement. All bridled with the finest leather it could even call to a Duke, their Duchesses' becoming besotted by the gold keeping the mechanisms together.

Leather and cloth grumble together, chains and belts clinging together with high pitched twangs as they make their way through the Kings' road. Gold buckles whistle in the wind as she continues to shine in the light and keep the bridles together. The grumble of the ground and the warble of the wind create an intricate combination of sounds as the oversized carriages begin to pick up speed on a downward slope. The groaning, moaning of the wooden beams of the undersides of the carriages continue on with the slight mutterings of the steel nibs that keep the wheels turning.

The sun is high up in the sky, in a small ball that is easy to look upon her great Majesty as if she held all the answers in the world. The sky is bright, the brightest teal, not a blemish of white anywhere to be seen. Even with the bright conditions of the sky, in all her might and mercy, the air holds a nip that numbs the top of one's nose and tingles the apple of the cheek. The air is fresh, crisp, like the little winter berries after a snowfall, or the leaves after a chilly night.

The steep incline implores all the residents of the grandeur carriage, all pale wood with crimson velvet curtains. Intricacies were carves into the wooden carriage, filled in by blackened glass, the wheels oversized and high from the dusty dirt ground. Grandeur designs were carved from wood and placed strategically on four points on top of the carriage, an iron crown poking up so obviously that it would tell a blind man who the occupant of the horse and cart actually was, if the nine stallions and two dozen guardsmen in silver and navy didn't give it completley away already.

Inside the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, an excited murmur overtakes the occupants as the carriages near the main entrance of the grandeur châteaux that the King of France had chosen to take his autumnal season within. Like the little sheep that courtiers were, they obediently follow the shepherd to the chateaux. It was no secret that the Queen of France scowled and schemed throughout the whole process. Nonetheless, the herald begins to blow into the oversized trumpets as the four carriages slow to a stop in front of the great walled entrance of the chateaux.

The occupants begin to spill out of the palace, in their reds and golds and silvers and purples. They begin to whisper and mutter to each other about the woman who, if things had gone differently in the years preceding this, would have been their Queen, who would have lead France to such greatness. Greatness the once Scottish Queen now knew an indulged herself within. They whisper about this mysterious meeting between the girl who spend a section of her childhood on French soil, and the aging French King who refused to take to his bed and hand over the crown to the long anticipating heir apparent, who himself held no heir and no wife.

The colourful courtiers of the French Court obediently bow to their masters and mistress as the aging King and the aged Queen take to the front of the courtyard to greet their guests. The fair haired heir, a widowed childless father twice over, stands behind them a few feet, his arms bound behind his back as the foreign footmen begin to clamber off the back of the carriages, placing boxes onto the floor and opening four doors in quick succession.

"Introducing Her Highness, Lady Greer of Kinross, Duchess of Aberdeen in her own right, Princess Consort of Portugal." the herald introduces as the second carriage opens, and a hand grasos for the footman's. The Scottish Duchess wears a green satin gown, covered in gold embellishments, emeralds and diamonds falling from her neck and ears, an impressive crown of sapphires, emeralds and rubies on top of ridiculously long blonde curls. The wife to the fourth in line to Portugal, she holds herself with impressive stature and grace.

The Duchess walks a few paces, before reaching inside the carriage she had just came out of, taking a fair haired little boy by one hand, bundling a dark haired toddler in a pink silk gown in the other arm. She raises her chin at the French Court, slowly falling into a slight curtsey at the sight of the King and Queen Consort of France.

"Introducing Her Ladyship, Lady Lola of Fleming, Duchess of Cornwall in her own right, Countess Consort of Coventry." the herald announces, as the footman helps out a dark haired woman in a long red lace dress. Instead of marrying for political interest like Greer had done (although she and alfonso were very happy together, and had been for three years, two years after her beloved Leith's untimely death), Lola had married the Earl of Coventry several years ago. Although he wasn't high up on the political chain to England, Timothy was a good man and treated her well.

"Introducing her Ladyship, Lady Aylee of Livingstone, Duchess of Hamilton in her own right, Duchess Consort of Manchester." the herald announces, as Lady Livingstone walks from the carriage, one hand on her impressive stomach, the other clutching a little girl with red hair and green eyes' hnd. She holds herself as she always did, with youth and class and a little bit of childishness that never should be lost.

"Introducing her highness, Lady Kenna of Beaton, Duchess of Argyll in her own right, Princess Consort of Sicily." the herald finishes. The Princess Consort of Sicily, wife to the fifth in line, she walks confidently out of the carriage, clutching a babe to her chest, her cream lacy gown exposing a bit of bust, she holds herself with the mystique and the smugness that the pleasures of the flesh brought her, but with sophistication and slynesss that never failed to entertain the four ladies in waiting.

The four ladies in waiting join in a curtsey, Greer and Kenna sending each other a look as Henry and Catherine, who had always dominated them in their times in the land of the French, actually bowed to them.

"Introducing his Majesty, James of the houses Pamela and Stuart, King of Portugal in his own right, first of his name, Crown Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles, Duke of Rothsay, London and Braganza in his own right, Count of Liverpool in his own right." The third carriage opens and out walks a tall young man with bright blue eyes and long, dark curls. The eldest son of King Thomas of Portugal and Queen Mary of Scotland in their brief marriage after the severance of the alliance between France and Scotland, so, so many years ago.

He holds himself every inch a King, looking mighty like both of his biological parents, not plagued at all with the duties of Kingship at such a young age of twelve. Thomas had died not long after Stephane's birth, so it was hardly likely that one of the heirs to an empire remembered his father, or the monstrosity that was he and the then young Queen's marriage. Gold and black covers his body, a crown on his head, height and a well sculpted face giving way to the handsome heartthrob he would one day become. Engaged to Princess Anne of Denmark since a child, he was set to be a strong man with a strong woman at his side.

The heir to France straightens up as he sets sight of his once betrothed first child. He remembers him well, although James had been little more than a baby the only time he had been introduced to the French court. A horrible night to experience, when the facade of Thomas of Portugal was finally dropped, and the French Royal family could finally see the wolve that the once indulged Reignette of the French Court had been trapped with.

"Introducing His Royal highness, Stephane of the houses Pamela and Stuart, first of his name, heir apparent to Portugal in his own right. Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles, Duke of Cambridge and Pamela, Count of Roath and Heath in his own right." a slightly smaller hand grasps at the footman. He walks out, his head held high.

A handsome young man indeed, with eyes a shade darker than his brothers' and hair a shade lighter. He wears silver and grey and rubies, his livery collar shining brightly in the sunlight. He wears no crown, and his shoulders seem higher, less troubled because of it. So, this was the child Mary had announced she was expecting after the former Queen and King had left France for the final time. After the bruises he had seen on Mary's face those years ago, it didn't take a genius to figure out that the eleven year old Prince wasn't conceived in a consensual way.

"Introducing his Imperial Majesty, Edward of the houses Hapsburg and Stuart, first of his name, Emperor of the Spanish Empire in his own right. Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duke of Cardona, Ciudad Rodrigo, Swansea and Monmouth, Earl of Sussex in his own right."

A nine year old boy walks out of the carriage. The embodiment of hatred between England and France walks proudly, donned in gold and red exquisiteness as he joins his elder brothers. After Mary Tudor's death and the war with Elizabeth Tudor for custodianship of England after the dust had settled with Tomas' death and the regency for Portugal, which ended in a victory for the Stuart Queen and a pretty new piece for her mantle, Mary had overruled the marriage proposed by King Henry about his daughter Elisabeth to potentially marry Emperor Philip of Spain. France was furious when Philip picked his fiery Scottish bride, who had already born two healthy sons, over the meek, docile little Valois Princess.

The marriage caused quite a stir in England, so it was wise to wait to conceive a child, to settle the dust in England. Wise political moves (that did come with their fare share of consequences, let it be known) for several months to soothe the religious unrest between the two faiths and the pagans who were in the middle of it all, had finally come to an end when Mary caught pregnant with another imperial heir. An easy pregnancy spent in Scotland had resulted in her beautiful Edward, the replica of her precious Philip with her eyes. France had fumed in hatred when Mary had born a healthy heir for Philip and had been crowned Holy Roman Empress for her troubles. Edward was quickly followed by;

"Introducing His Royal Highness, Prince Matthias of the houses Hapsburg and Stuart, Imperial Prince of the Spanish Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duke of Kent, Ciudad Real, Earl of Huntingdon and Devon in his own right." the eight year old boy gets out of his carriage, his dark clothes bringing out the greenness of his eyes, framed by the darkness of his curls. He joins his brothers happily, staring at the French Court with rapt attention.

"Introducing His Highness, Prince Sebastien of the houses Hapsburg and Stuart, Imperial Prince of the Spanish Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duke of La Tore, Terranova, Suffolk and Montgomery, Count of Scarlbourgh, Earl of Nottingham." another young boy was introduced. He wears white and gold, black curls and large green eyes taking in the bright autumnal day. He takes the hand of his brother Matthias, the two sharing a look, before turning back to the people who stand before them. Henry smiles at this child, born in a similar time to the excurgence of Navarre, forever taking away the NAvvarian threat to his reign, the bourbons having no power other than what the Valois having brought them.

"Introducing his highness, Prince Caspian of the houses Hapsburg and Stuart, Imperial Prince of the Spanish Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duke of Galloway and Lindsey, Sessa and San Miguel. Count of Meath and Granard in his own right." another child was introduced. He wears blue and silver, his bright blue eyes shining brightly as he makes his way from the carriage and towards his brothers.

Francis' breath is taken away as he looks at the blonde, blue eyed child. He mocks him, with the way his hair catches in the light, the brightness of his blue eyes. This child, this little six year old boy who has no idea the significance he brings for the heir to France. This child, born on the same day that his second child left this world, the same day that his English Princess bride, a cousin of Mary's, left this world. The word leaves French Court about the death of another stillborn Princess and this time, the Dauphine, and they receive word of Mary's sixth healthy son born. No losses for her, no daughters. Just sons, healthy sons who brought her more power than anybody could have ever imagined. Regency of Portugal, Empresship in her own right, Empresship of the entire Spanish Empire, and now Navarre willingly falling to her knees in survetude. Francis wants to hate this child, although logically, he knows little Prince Caspian has done nothing wrong.

Of course, he remembers with a grin he really shouldn't be wearing, this is the last child Mary will bare for Philip of Spain.

A king lost, but the war won.

"Introducing his royal highness, Prince Leon of the houses Hannover and Stuart, Imperial Crown Prince to the German Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duke of Kingstone and Limerick, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Count of Dundee and Westmorland in his own right." The fourth carriage opens and out come three nannies dressed in fine clothing. In one reaches, and she pulled out a blonde child with green-blue eyes, dressed in a blue suit, a tiny cape around his shoulders. He is lifted up and walked over to the rest of his siblings.

"Introducing her highness, Princess Seraphina of the houses Hannover and Stuart, Princess of the German Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duchess of Westminster and Gloucester, Aranburg and Annhalt in her own right." in reaches another nanny, pulling out a little toddler in a purple gown. She holds dark hair, and is wrapped up in a blanket, leaning on her nannies' shoulder as she's carried.

Just like the second carriage after all the occupants left, the door closes. The third nanny reaches into the largest carriage, gently cradling a child that cannot be over a year old.

"Introducing her highness, Princess Odette of the houses Hannover and Stuart, Princess of the German Empire, Prince of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. Duchess of Fithe and Dublin, Limburg and Verden in her own right." the baby girl is clutched close, wrapped up in another blanket, the nanny walking towards the other children.

"Introducing his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Tobias of the house of Hannover, first of his name, Emperor of the German Empire in his own right, Duke of Hannover and Varnand in his own right. Emperor Consort of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles. King Consort of Navarre. Duke Consort of Edinburgh. Duke Consort of Lorraine. Archduke of Austria and Prussia."

The Emperor of Germany, a tall, blonde haired, green eyed man who still held the beauty of a young man and the maturity of an elder. He wears silver and grey, his crown large and impressive, catching the light, a fur trimmed cloak trailing behind him. His height is impressive, a substantial row of jewel across his shoulders and upon his fingers.

He reaches into the carriage collecting his most prized possession.

"Introducing her Imperial Majesty, Empress Mary of the houses Stuart and De Guise. First of her name, Queen Mother, Dowager and Regent of Portugal. Empress Mother, Dowager and Regent of the Spanish Empire. Dowager Holy Roman Empress. Empress of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and it's isles in her own right. Queen of Navarre in her own right. Empress Consort of Germany. Duchess of Edinburgh and Lorraine in her own right. Duchess Consort of Hannover and Varnand. Archduchess of Austria and Prussia."

The prize of Europe slowly exits the carriage. She wears a green-blue tulle gown that hugs a substantial bust and blooms in thick skirts. Gold and silver embellishments are scattered all around the dress, her chest covered in diamonds, a long string of them skating across her shoulders from her ears. Her crown is full of diamonds, tall and substantial. A face of cosmetics with an obviously fruitful womb extending outwards, a cape of white fur across her shoulders and back, it is obvious that this is no little powerless Queen anymore.

Mary watches as the children bow to the King and Queen of France, and watches with glee as the King and Queen of France bow to the children. She smiles, taking Tobias' arm as they walk towards the aged King and Queen.

"I never thought I'd see the day when you would return to France, Imperial Majesty." Henry states with a kind smile. Mary can see right through the facade, she's been able to do so since the moment she was thrown to the wolf twelve years ago.

"I was quite content to spend the rest of my days away from French soil, King Henry, and would be perfectly content to gift the Duchy of Lorraine to the de Guise's. However, you call my husband for a trade deal?"

"Indeed, child. There are many things we must conduct before-" Catherine cuts herself off.

"I am not a child, Queen Catherine. I have born nine children, and will soon do a tenth. I am an Empress, and if there is business to discuss, it would be with both King and Queen, not just the King of Germany." she answers smoothly.

"Let's not dwell, Queen Mary, King Tobias. Shall we?" King Henry extends an arm out to his court.

"We shall."

/

"So, tell me, why are we really back in France?" the Princess Consort of Sicily asks as she watches the Empress work at her new desk. The children are finishing their dinners, before the nannies will put them to bed, Aylee has already taken to her bed with Lola. So, it is just her, Greer and Kenna awake in the impressive chambers that will belong to the Empress for the next few days. "A trade deal, I get that, but why? You said before Stephane was born that you would never step foot in France again."

Mary looks up from a letter she's writing to her co-regents of Portugal who act in her stead whenever she travels. Which, in all honesty, seeing as though she rules over so much and so many, is quite frequent. Something about sufficient and fair punishment after a slight disturbance in the eastern border.

"I had every intention of sticking to that promise, but Henry wrote to my husband, wanting to talk about a trade deal. Something about wheat and barley for elm. And, of course, trying to swipe a few gold coins from us whenever he imports his beloved leather and lace." she sighs. "That's what he said, anyway. But, I'm without doubt he's trying to pin one of his girls to marry one of my boys. Probably Leon, he never would have asked Tobias if it was about Philip's boys."

"Aren't you in talks about marrying him to the Mediterranean Princess?"

"We are, but you know how sheming the French are."

"Damn bastards, the lot of them." Greer hisses. Mary blinks, buts nods in agreement.

"She has a point."

"Didn't you both nearly marry Frenchmen?" Kenna asks, leaning backwards in her chair.

"We did, and look how that turned out." Greer answered. "Leith was murdered, and Mary and Francis-" Greer glances over at the Empress as she finishes her letter and begins to met the wax onto the paper, pressing her seal into it.

She smirked, raising a brow. "You can say it, it won't upset me." she says. "Francis chose Catherine over me, in the hopes she could deliver them England when Mary Tudor died. I was sold like a brood mare to Tomas-"

"No, I don't want to hear the details again." Greer sighs. "It was bad enough being there when it happened, having to see the bruises, clean the blood and dry your tears before the two of you danced like he didn't just-" she sighs, shaking her head. "I'll never let anybody do that to you again."

Mary smiles softly. "I appreciate it, but Tobias wouldn't do that. He's a good man, and I do love him." she takes a sip of juiced cranberries. "Tomas doesn't matter anymore, he's dead."

"You're welcome." Kenna whispers. The Princesses share a smile. "Right, why don't you send for some cheese and bread and tea so we can have a talk while Mary works?"

"We'll be here for the rest of our lives if you think I'm gonna be finishing this while you talk." Mary chuckles. "But, after a long few days of travelling, tea does sound nice."

/

The Empress takes a break from foreign politics, giving her sore hand a rest from the quill, to explore the vast quantities of literature in the library so graciously provided to her by the hand of King Henry II of Valois. A lifelong interest in the arts, holding the ability to read night and day, to leave this world so fully and enter a world of dragons and mythological creatures, of Gods and Goddesses in all their beauty and extravagance. If only just a few countries were occasionally taken from her shoulders, so the Empress herself could immerse herself in the beauty of worlds gone by and worlds never to be. What a vain thought, she thinks with a smile, lightly turning her body to better see the pretty words on the aged parchment of the dark candlelight.

"I thought I might find you here." the not so young Dauphin of France states. Mary looks up from the world of pagan goddesses and dragons and serpent thrones to look upon the figure of the man she had once thought she would bare his children and sit next to him on multiple thrones. What a world that would have been, she thinks, if he had just held on a year longer. Everything changed the moment she left the French borders.

"Prince Francis." she says, knowing full well the damage his rank caused onto him. It was rare that she pulled rank on him, only really doing so when they were children and he had been irritating her. He could always pull gender in her face, so she would throw dirt and grass until Catherine's screams could be heard from a thousand miles away.

He winces, closing his eyes, winding his arms behind his back. She blinks expectantly at him, feeling a savage pleasure as he bows low to her. A crown Prince, he was, yes, but she was a birth written Empress who had built empires and just as easily caused others to fall. Also, it was a sort of bitter irony that she had so much power by marriage, the very same thing that would have bound them together for eternity. She's almost grateful to he and Henry for burning the Franco-Scot alliance thirteen years ago, for she never would have held all she did without it. But, the grizzly details that no man would know until their world faded and the next generation foretold their own stories, it made her hate him just a little bit more.

"Why are you here, and not with the children?" he asks, his voice changing as Mary places the book she had been reading onto the table nearest her, and placed a hand on her growing womb, the babe within her deciding to squirm around in his mother's' womb.

"They're enjoying the snow." she says. "I cannot, in my position." she gestures to the bump, and then towards the crown on her head. She's dressed somewhat for comfort, this day, with a dark blue satin gown wrapped around her swollen breast, clinging to her impressive abdomen, an overcoat of black fur around her shoulders and arms. No fine jewelry or cosmetics, this day -while Tobias had been working with Henry on negotiations- the Empress had sat her rear end on a comfy chair and worked her quill to the nib, Spanish negotiations with the English having taken most of her mind. Of course, her co-regents of Portugal and Spain, handed the boatload of political intrigue, but there were some things that passed their control. And, of course, it was better to continue to oversee these things, so there was no uprising in an attempt to damage her sons' thrones before they came of age. Her half brothers were marvelous at handling her blood thrones until her return, and there hadn't been much strife or work to be done.

"I see." he says, his voice quiet. "It's been a long time since we spoke." he begins.

"Indeed." she says. "James was only a colt the last time I stepped inside the French Court." she says. And my second son was about to be forcibly implanted within my womb, she thinks, turning away as the memories of that doomed dinner with Henry and Catherine and Francis and Catherine and Tomas and she played within her mind.

"-but that pretty stallion loved her stolen freedom more than you could know," she had whispered to her incensed husband, his nostrils flaring like a bull as she continued to taunt him. "in fact, she loved that gallop so much that the memory of it would sustain her heart and her mind until she died." she whispers, finishing then. Mary couldn't remember what they were talking about, but it was unquestionably to do with she and Tomas. He may have been mocking her, making fun of her in front of the woman who hated her more than anything in the world and the young girl who she would later slaughter for her own satisfaction. Somehow, a simile between she and a pretty stallion, perhaps making note of how he had mounted her and thrusted until she cried and gave birth to a beautiful boy with beautiful eyes months later, had overtaken the dinner conversation.

Tomas had stood, then, his eyes wide with rage as his hand swept up and caught her right across her face. The force was so great that her crown had ripped from her hair and skated a great length across the marble flooring. Her hair had whipped across her face, covering it completley. But she was more than used to it. Tomas was a cruel man and a painful lover, regular strikes and bruises were the least of her concern, the new Queen of Portugal remembered.

But Mary, Queen of Scots, was no frail little Princess like her predecessor had been. She was no feeble little Princess like her cousin, Catherine Tudor, who held a child within her womb at that point. The months of abuse and torment, even throughout her childbearing months, they had taken any innocence the sixteen year old may have managed to salvage even after the disaster with France and the hatred she had of the bastard King of Portugal, who had forced her into marriage by means of sexual assault and physical assault, emotional manipulation and mental torment, using her country to hang around her neck. These months had indeed turned her from a wild rose to an untamable stallion, with resilience beyond compare and a sharp mind that would someday make the world quiver and bow. She would not stay quiet, she would not accept this abuse. She would strike back.

So, she slowly gathers her hair from her face and pushed it behind her shoulder. Light cream silk with a gold quilt detail had been stained with blood as she threw an elbow right towards Tomas' nose. He stumbled backwards a few feet as the immediate French royal family began gasping and protesting as the King and Queen Consort of Portugal stare at each other, bloody and full of hatred.

Thomas had screamed at her in a tounge that none of the French royal family could understand, and she would yell back until she was dragged from the dinner party not quite on his arm, but on his heel. Their chamber doors would close, but they would keep the entire court awake with the sounds of their screams and their attacks on one another, a doomed union forever interwoven by the blood that ran within Prince James' veins. The next morning, court would whisper at the bruises that maar the former fiancee of the Dauphin's face, the blood on her lip and the limp in her gait. An uneasy silence would overtake the Dauphin as, two months later, the King of Portugal announced that his wife held a child of his within her belly.

Mary exhales slowly, shaking her head from the memory. She looks at the man who was supposed to be her husband and her King, the father of her children, and says nothing for a few moments.

"I don't believe my condolences were ever brought forward, the death of your daughter." she says to him. The first loss suffered by Francis and Catherine, Mary remembered, was just over a month after she had gotten pregnant with her second son. A little baby born so late that the physicians whispered between themselves that the Dauphiness would deliver a toddler, not a baby. A stillborn daughter, she remembers the announcement brought to her by the French ambassador to Portugal. Of course, a month later, Queen Mary of England died, leaving no heir after Princess Elizabeth died from smallpox. And then the combined forces of Portugal, Spain and Scotland ravaged England until the pretty Dauphiness had no country and no more dowry. A satisfying conclusion, Mary thinks, remembering the power and the glory she felt as her empire was set in stone. She remembers the months of careful political juggling, trying to soothe the relations between four countries.

"I appreciate it." his words are as false as hers were. "Catherine hated you, after the conquest of England." he reveals.

Mary smiles. "And I hated her when she stole the French alliance from me." And forced me into the jaws of the wolf goes unsaid.

"Were-were you safe? With the Portuguese King?" he asks. "I remember, the last time I saw you, all the bruises and the-"

"I don't see how that's any of your business." Mary answers. "He's dead, dead and buried, I've wed twice more." she says. "However, to answer your question, you saw what he was like in front of royalty. What do you think Thomas was like after the private doors closed? My two sons are proof of it."

He shudders. "I didn't get to speak to you a lot, before you two left for Portugal-"

"-What do you want me to say when you -of all people- just proposed marriage between my son and that whelp my bitch of a cousin carries within her?!" the young Portuguese Queen shrieks. "I owe you nothing, why would I benefit the country that chewed me up and used me for all the flavor I had, before spitting me out into the jaws of the lion?!"

"Mary, please! It's not like that! Think logically, like a Queen, this marriage, if we're having a girl child, could benefit Portugal and Scotland. Imagine, if James and a daughter of mine and Catherine have a child together, imagine the power that child could have! The unquestioned heir to England!"

"You taught me that promises mean nothing, Dauphin. But here is a promise to you. I will never, ever poison my bloodline with that of the Valois. The French, you all are the same. Vain, backstabbing bastards, who use people for their own benefit and veil them with words and oaths that mean nothing. It's bad enough that I hold the blood of a French Dynasty in my veins, but I will never subject my child to the abuse and torment that I suffered because of you Valois'. Of that, you have my oath."

"But I wanted you to know that I didn't do what I did with Catherine to hurt you. I did what I did because it was a better alliance for France, I did and still do care for you. It hurt me to see what Thomas did all those years ago."

"And how did that work out for you?" Mary chuckles. "How did marrying Catherine work out for you? What did she give you? Two stillborn daughters before her own death. I'm told it was heartache that she would never sit on England's' throne, two useless daughters who didn't even breathe once." she chuckled. "Look at me now, Francis. I bore six healthy, strong sons in the time that it took you and Catherine to have two dead daughters. Look how many countries I rule, look how many healthy children I have. I have more power than the Pope himself, if I choose, I can send in my armies and pliage France until you beg on your knees for mercy, for death. If I choose, you won't have a throne to sit upon when Henry finally crawls into the grave. Was the match really that beneficial?"

"Mary, I-"

"No." she says. "Some of us have three empires and two regencies to tend to. If you'll excuse me, Dauphin."

Mary walks away from the future King of France. And this time, thirteen years after leaving France in a carriage, a madman at her side, Mary doesn't make the mistake of turning around.

/

"Aye!"

For a woman who looks about ready to pop, it is usual that they wish to take to their beds and gorge on cheese and grapes and sweets until their waters' spill and the babe slips from their wombs. They usually wish for foot massages with lavender and jasmine oils until the aching goes away, to be cared for and pampered upon until the time comes. Well, not Mary Stuart.

Mary Stuart takes to her last childbearing days with renewed vigor. She balks at the political needs that the empires require her final approval or opinion on, instead, she takes the fine blade that was in her father's' hand when he took his last breath upon this world, all silver and sapphires with fine inscriptions and embellishments and begins to spar with her brother, the Duke of Longueville.

"I'm surprised with you, Imperial Majesty." François d'Orléans, third of his name, half brother to the Imperial jewel of Europe. "When my wife was ripe to pop, she took to her bed for three weeks, but I see you, as substantial as you are, holding a blade as well as you ever did." the eldest son of Marie de Guise grins. He looks rather like their mother, while their brother Louis, he takes more after his father, although the poor chap is long since dead.

"You should know me by now, brother. I'll never back down from a challenge." Mary grins, her skin sweating lightly as the exertion of the exercise continues on.

Francois grins. "Grandmother always says-"

"Oh, no! No talks of familial affairs! All I want to do is-"

"Force your father's' word at me?"

"Precisely." she smiles. It's really an unorthodox thing, to be speaking so plainly while wielding and thrusting items that may will kill each other. "I've had more than enough talks of politics regarding the de Guise's, over the past month and a half."

"How are you staying here for so long? Isn't Portugal awaiting a visit from her regent?"

"She is." Mary agrees. "But Tobias doesn't-"

"Mary? What is it?" Francois asks, seeing his maternal half sister suddenly stop talking.

"Mary? What's wrong?" Greer and Kenna rush over towards their Queen and Empress, putting a hand on her back.

"Don't fret, ladies. But I feel my waters spill. My time has come."

/

The Empress quickly loses all sense of propriety as the labor continues on into its seventh hour. She breathes heavily and loudly, screaming out as the contractions worsen, wrapping the ropes around her hands tighter, leaning back as the pain continues on.

"Breathe, Mary. Breathe. You've done this before." Lola soothes, moping the Empress' head with a cold cloth.

"It still hurts!" she growls. She doesn't want it to happen this way. She wanted to be in Germany so the country may welcome her newest heir, not in France a country that she could barely stand on the best of days. She doesn't want to give birth in a chateaux she's only been in once before, she wanted to have dignitaries from all over Europe here so they could announce the birth to their masters. But, no. She's stuck in the French mountaintops with members of the cloth staring at her and handmaidens running around like chickens trying to escape the pot, not helping in the slightest.

The door suddenly opens and Mary looks at the new occupant. Ah. Sophia de Martiers, one of her looking girls. Also known as her own version of Catherine de Medici's flying squad.

"Well? What did the Archduke say?" she asks, remembering that Sophia had been sent to guarda to seduce the Archduke, who was well on his way to being a right pain in Mary's backside, with his constant demands for independence. Much like the long dead reverend Knox, who had been executed right next to Ruthven and Darnley just after Mary had married Philip.

"He offers peace, m'lady." Sophia curtseys.

"Ah, wonderful. You'll have peace and a new baby. Now breathe!" one of the French midwives that the royals had sent for instructed, casting a rotten look at Mary's working girl. It makes sense, this woman is from the other generation who didn't believe in the methods necessary to attain the knowledge that she needed.

"In return for what?" Mary pants, looking at the girl again.

"Slashed taxes and a removal of half of the guardsmen in the harbor."

"Ha!" Mary laughs. "Not in a million years!" she lets go of the rope. "I'm not giving that bastard a damn thing like that."

"My lady, this is no time to talk of politics or assignments like that. You're having a baby." One of the midwives pleads.

"Yes, I'm having a baby, I'm not becoming an invalid. My duty to Spain is still there!" Mary gasps out, yelling as another pain hit her.

"My lady, the Duchess of Barrymore tells me that her husband has fallen for the fallacy that the bastard preacher Kingstone says."

"For the love of all things good and pure in this world." Mary grunts. "Have him pacified by gold, and if he continues his tirade, make up a letter and have him killed."

"Mary, you really must stop talking of politics. There are more pressing matters at hand!" Greer begs, helping her laboring Queen over towards the birthing chair.

"A royals' work is never done, Greer. You of all people should know that." Mary gasps, accepting the water that Aylee pours in her mouth.

The labor goes on into the night, and by that time, Mary has signed off on eight executions, three treaties and fourteen orders of business. The child begins to descend two hours before dawn, and before the dawn, seventeen hours of laboring later, a boy child finally slips from his mothers' womb, letting out a healthy cry of fury at the notion of being birthed.

/

"There you go, my love." Mary cooes down at the child who sucks at her breast. There's no defining characteristics just yet, the babe is only around an hour old, but she can see hair that's dried a blonde, and eyes that could possibly turn blue as he grew elder. An exact replica of his father. "There you are, eat." she says, stroking his hair.

"It's beautiful, my love." Tobias says, leaning closer to see his newborn son, the second in line to Germany, take nourishment after a long afternoon and night of labor. "I'm proud of you."

"Thank you." Mary says, leaning her head onto the German King's shoulder. "What should we name him?"

"Lukas." he says. "Prince Lukas Jacob Alexander." he says.

"Do you like that, my sweet boy?" Mary asks. The child makes a small sound, making his mother swoon. "What has Henry been planning?"

"The baby's not even an hour old, and you talk of politics?" Tobias grins.

"I talked of politics my entire labor." Mary reminds him. "Tell me."

"Our suspicions were right. He tried to tell his nine year old son to Seraphina, make her his wife."

"She's just a baby."

"I know, I didn't give him an answer, I know how you feel about them." he says. "I'm sure we can give him his answer through the ambassador after we leave for Portugal."

"We'll have to stay in Spain for a piece of time, after showing your people to our son."

"Why? It is that fat, bald fellow who spews the most ridiculous nonsense?"

"Indeed." Mary giggles. "He's a pain to deal with, but it must be done." she says. He nods.

"I'll gather the children, so they may see the new baby." he says, getting up from the bed. "I love you."

"I love you, too. So much." Tobias had been her first, real husband. Thomas was a monster, Philip nothing more than a dear friend who she gave multiple sons to. But Tobias showed her such love that it made her almost tearful at times.

The door closes, and it quickly opens again.

"Francis?" Mary asks, watching the French Dauphin walk into the room. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard about the birth. Congratulations." he says, gesturing to the child.

"Thank you." she says. "I'm not making you Godfather, if that's what you wanted to know."

He chuckles. "No, that's not why I'm here." he says. He takes a seat on a chair, and Mary covers up, watching the thoughts run through his head. "Do you ever-ever think of what it would have been like, if you had married me? If the alliance wasn't broken when we were children, or if you accepted my hand instead of the German King's, after Philip's death?"

"From time to time." she answers, after a while. "More when I was first married than now." she clarifies. "But, there's no point in thinking of such things. Perhaps, in another world, we were married. Maybe in another life, Catherine didn't exist and you and I were married. Perhaps, in another world, I could have borne your children, and we could have been happy. But that's not this one. I have my duties, I have my husband and my children. And you have your task of finding a suitable bride and getting a boy child to stick. That's what you should focus upon, not me."

"I did love you, Mary. I hope you know that."

"I would have loved you until I died, if you gave me the chance, Francis. But that time has passed. I am not yours anymore."

"I'm sorry, Mary. For everything. For Catherine, Thomas, my mother. I am sorry for the hurt I caused you."

"Thank you." she says. "Perhaps one day, we may be friends."

"I would like that."