1

The castle was a mess: a large group of Italian mercenaries had attacked it and was now fighting inconstantly against Henry's small army.

- Damn! - exclaimed the king, repelling two enemies who had thrown themselves at him. He, Francis, Bash and a dozen guards had been in the throne room for hours now. The Queen of Scots and her friends stood behind them. Mary looked terrified as her ladies let out sharp shrieks. Henry felt Kenna's worried gaze on him and felt very manly. With an arrogant smile he pierced his opponent. It didn't last long: looking around and hearing the battle cries, he understood that the situation was not favorable. Why on earth had he sent a large part of the army to Calais!

Suddenly they heard trumpets blaring from the garden. Even the mercenaries turned and paled.

- I MEDICI!" shouted one of them. Even though it was in Italian it was all too understandable. Soon they began to run away. Francis and Bash exchanged a confused look and then ran to their ladies. Enrico ordered his guards to follow the Italian dogs.

Medici meant only one thing.

"Alexander" thought the king.

A large group of Florentine soldiers filled the corridors, dueling against the mercenaries who seemed to disappear. Henry slashed his way through the crowd.

As if by magic, the situation was controlled by the Italian soldiers and the fighting ceased.

- King Henry- said a warm voice behind him. The king turned around: a tall man with a thick mass of dark curls, two beautiful hazel eyes and olive skin looked at him, cleverly concealing his contempt.

- Alexander- answered Enrico without hiding his coldness.

- Uncle? - exclaimed Francis as he ran towards them.

- Francis- said Alexander - I remember you as being much smaller.

The dolphin smiled and hugged his uncle. Henry was slightly irritated by that sight.

- Your brothers and sisters? - he asked brusquely.

- They're with the nannies- Francis answered, pulling away from his uncle.

Alexander looked around.

- Where is Catherine? - he asked.

Enrico gasped. Catherine! That's who was missing!

Alexander's eyes widened, as did Francis'. The Florentine cursed in Italian and motioned two of his men to follow him.

The Florentine cursed in Italian and told two of his men to follow him. After a moment of hesitation, the king followed them too.

Catherine was desperately fighting against Maximilian, Duke of Arezzo, who unfortunately was much stronger.

- Don't do that - the duke whispered to her.

He held her tightly against the desk looking at her with desire while trying to kiss her. The queen of France was tempted to spit in his face. She remembered well that bastard: he was just an arrogant young man when, a few months before leaving for France for his wedding, he had terrorized her by reminding her of her experience in Florence.

- Let go of me!" she shouted, wrenching herself even harder. This only seemed to amuse the man more.

They had heard trumpets a few minutes earlier and Catherine had felt the faint hope that it was her family. But that was impossible.

- Why doesn't your husband come and save you?" the duke taunted her, grinning evilly. The queen felt a squeeze in her heart.

"Because he's saving his whore!" she wanted to scream.

She felt something cold on her neck. Her pin had slipped out of her hair. She smiled.

- I don't need my husband- she said firmly. With a tug he freed his arm and grabbed the pin. Before Maximilian could do anything Catherine shoved the tool into his neck. The duke let her go with a cry of pain, putting his hands on his neck to dab the wound.

- Bitch Medici!" he growled, throwing himself on the woman.

Something was faster than him. Maximilian of Arezzo fell to the ground with his throat slit. Even before seeing his face, Catherine smelled his scent: musk and honey.

- Alessandro!- she exclaimed, throwing herself into the arms of her brother who dropped his sword and held her close. He lifted her up to let her forehead touch his.

- My beloved Caterina- he said in Italian. Catherine smiled at him.

- Did he do something to you? - the man asked.

- No- the other answered, overcome with emotion.

Alexander put it on the ground and looked at the duke's body.

- A pin, eh? You never change- he said smiling.

Catherine hugged him again to inhale the scent she had missed so much.

- Where have you been, my brother? - she asked him.

- At our house, my dear, which as always is full of intrigue and blood - replied the other with bitterness.

- Your letters were so rare- said the queen again looking at those deep eyes of hers.

Alexander looked at her with a veil of sadness.

- We both had a people to govern- he said.

- Catherine- said a peremptory voice behind them. The two brothers turned around: Enrico was looking down at them.

He was annoyed by that conversation, so sweet and full of affection, and moreover in Italian.

- Henry- said coldly the queen. She was still leaning against Alexander's chest, which made the king furious. He cast a glance at the corpse on the ground and once again was amazed at his wife's abilities. He motioned two guards to take him outside. Alexander and Catherine had started whispering again in an incomprehensible Tuscan.

- I would like to speak to my wife, if you don't mind- growled the king to the Florentine. He bowed his head, kissed his sister on the forehead and went out.

"Damned ruffian" thought Enrico furiously. He approached the queen, who was rearranging her hair. She tried to give him a kiss on the cheek but Catherine avoided it.

- Don't you want a gesture of affection from me? - he asked angrily.

- Affection? - said Catherine angrily - You let them take me away without moving a finger and now you want to talk to me about affection?

Enrico approached her even closer.

- We were in trouble - he said.

- Sure - said his wife ironically - Well, at least I hope Kenna is okay.

Having said that, she went away proudly, leaving the king to play the capricious child.

Catherine had found her children in the company of their uncle who was entertaining them with some stories. Margaret had even climbed into his arms. When the children saw her they ran to her. The queen embraced and kissed them all.

- Mother - said little Henry - Do you know that we have an uncle?

Catherine smiled and looked at Francis, who smiled back.

- Yes, mom- said Charles- A fantastic uncle!

- Thank you, said Alexander, who had come closer. He made a little bow that made the children giggle.

- You're funny!" said Margaret.

Catherine put her arm around her brother's side.

- Your children are beautiful - said the man.

- Francis! Catherine! - exclaimed a voice. Maria was coming towards them followed by her ladies.

- This is Mary- whispered the queen, detaching herself from Alexander.

The young queen approached the three. Francis put his hand on her back.

- Maria, this is my brother Alexander, Duke of Florence- introduced Catherine. The Florentine bowed his head.

- It is a pleasure - said Maria.

- The pleasure is all mine- replied the man.

Catherine heard Maria's ladies whispering and caught a few fragments:

"I did not know... a brother" "She is so close to him... very close?" "He sounds beautiful to me."

At this last whisper the girls giggled. Catherine felt proud of her beloved brother.

- How about I show you to your rooms?" she asked.

- If the situation has been resolved- said Alexander.

- By tonight everything will be normal- said Francis - But you deserve to rest-.

The other nodded and the two brothers took their leave.

Alone in the corridors they told each other about their divergent lives. Alexander had come to court once, when Francis was five, Elisabeth three and Claudia two.

- So if I understand correctly, the king's new mistress is the tall, dark-haired, big-eyed one? - asked Alexander.

- Exactly - his sister answered sourly, making him smile - a little girl.

- And Diana?

- Diana gives us her illustrious presence whenever she wishes.

Alexander laughed. Catherine looked at him questioningly.

- What amuses you?

- You speak of Henry's friends with such superiority. It almost seems as if you don't care- replied the other. The queen snorted.

- Of course I don't care, I'm the queen!" she said with a smile. Her brother laughed even more. They stopped in front of a door.

- These are for the important guests- said Catherine - Don't worry if Henry complains-.

Alexander opened the door.

Catherine tried to call some waiters not far away but the other one stopped her.

- I have my servants, dear - he said - Thank you anyway.

Catherine smiled.

- Anytime. If you need my rooms, they are in the second corridor after this one.

- What an honor- said the Florentine.

- Have a good rest, dear brother- said the queen. The other bowed his head and went in.

- Alexander! - Catherine called him.

The brother turned around.

- Why have you come?

Alexander smiled.

- To surprise you, my beloved - he answered. He winked at her - Happy Birthday.

Catherine smiled confused and then left.

She thought she saw Henry with Kenna, but she didn't notice. Now that Alexander was with her, she would have the happiness she longed for.