A.N. In this chapter I take you straight to the second end of this fanfic ;) Enjoy!
Catherine's heart broke. One more time. Trying not to make any noise, she turned and ran away. She rushed to the gardens, the only place completely empty. She sat down on a bench far from the entrance and burst into tears.
She shouldn't have, Henry had always been like that, it was normal. Yet Catherine felt her happiness slipping through her fingers. He had ruined everything as always! Her perfect evening had become horrible! But she would never forgive him. She would never give him another smile, another helping hand, nothing! The queen continued to cry until a voice behind her said:
- Caterina, why are you crying?
The woman turned around, wiping her tears. Philip looked at her sweetly, though a little astonished. He helped her to get up.
- I must seem so childish - said Catherine, between a giggle and a tear.
- Crying is not childish - Philip said wisely - it is often the most mature thing we can do.
The queen looked at him, smiling. The moon illuminated her face in a picturesque way, making it almost angelic. The perfection of his features never ceased to amaze her. Even as a child he looked like a vision.
Catherine wondered how it was possible that such a beautiful and good man could exist in the same place as her overbearing and insensitive husband. Suddenly, Henry's words to Diane seemed to the woman a distant memory. They began to stroll, chatting and joking amicably. Philip was tactful enough not to ask her why she was crying.
At a certain point he stopped and stretched an arm towards a hedge. He pulled out a white rose. Their walk had taken them through the greenhouses. He handed it to Catherine.
- For you, Your Majesty- he said. The queen took it gently.
- It's been years since someone gave me a flower - she admitted, admiring the rose.
- I imagine that here in France there are no men capable of understanding a beauty such as yours - said the other.
Catherine looked at him from behind. He was looking at her with affection.
- You know, when I was little, I was in love with you - she confessed without knowing why.
- Well, I thought you were a very smart and cute girl - said Philip.
Catherine blushed and looked away.
- You can imagine my joy when I found you so beautiful and clever - continued the Italian.
The queen looked at him again, her heart racing.
- Do you know that having these feelings for a queen is very dangerous?-
- You are certainly worth more than my head- whispered Philip, bringing his face closer to the woman's one. Catherine let him kiss her and didn't regret it for a moment. The man's touch was full of something she hadn't felt for too long. Passion, of course, but also respect and sweetness. The queen was happy to reciprocate that very special kiss, letting herself be drawn into an emotion that was all too dangerous. Had she fallen in love with Philip?
- You are far too close to my bed, my beloved- whispered the queen as soon as Philip approached the door of his rooms.
- I will not do anything dishonorable, Catherine- joked the man. The other smiled and kissed him for the thousandth time.
She knew she was doing something wrong, but Philip's eyes enraptured her and flooded her with joy. When had Henry ever looked at her like that?
- You look very tired, dear- her lover said caressing her cheek. Catherine sighed.
- Yes, I'm very sleepy- she answered.
Philip kissed her forehead, chastely.
- Then I'll let you sleep - he murmured, moving away from her.
- Good night- the queen said to him.
Philip smiled at her and disappeared around the corner.
Catherine entered her rooms with the feeling of having touched paradise.
Two weeks went by. As Catherine and Philip's relationship slowly grew, Henry stabilized Diane at court and had her move into his chambers. He didn't bother to show his face with her in public, not even in front of his children.
But Catherine had kept her promise: her conversations with her husband were reduced to cold formal sentences and the moments alone were almost non-existent. What worried the queen, however, was the reaction of her children to their father's behavior. Charles, Margaret and little Henry hardly saw him and Francis always seemed to be in conflict with him. The presence of an uncle like Alexander seemed providential. He, too, noticed the change of air and was ten times more committed to entertaining and helping his nephews.
This willingness also helped Catherine who concentrated a little more on her new clandestine relationship.
Being Italian made Philip an excellent actor in public, while in their intimacy he proved to be a caring and very romantic lover. Their nights together, although rare, were full of feelings and passion and never, never Catherine woke up with an empty bed.
- Catherine- called Enrico. A council meeting had just ended and the queen was in the middle of getting ready. She was going to ride with her brother.
- Yes? - she asked coldly. Her husband motioned her to come closer, which made Catherine suspicious. Once in front of each other, always with a certain distance, the two kings looked at each other.
- Are you hiding something from me, wife?- asked Henry.
- As far as I know, no- replied the other one sharply.
The king gave a sarcastic smile. Then he began to play with one of the queen's blond locks.
- It suits you to say so- he said. Catherine moved her hand away.
- If that's all you wanted- she said and turned around but Henry grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to him.
- Henry! - exclaimed his wife surprised. The man slipped two fingers under the sleeve of Catherine's dress. Then he smiled slyly at her.
The queen tried to free herself but her husband's grip was strong.
- Do you have to go somewhere in particular? - he asked maliciously.
- Yes, I have to go for a ride with my brother- replied Catherine.
- So your brother is more important than your husband- Henry said, irritated. Then he smiled again. He put his hand on the back of her neck and kissed her roughly. When the queen moved her head to the side he left eager kisses on her neck and further down.
- I don't think your mistress will be happy about this- said the woman pushing him away.
- And yours? - asked the king. Catherine's heart skipped a beat. Fortunately, she saw a certain gleam in her husband's eyes: he was bluffing.
- Are you talking about my charming, mysterious and beautiful lover? - she asked ironically - I think he won't like it, but at least he knows it wasn't my choice.
Henry looked furious. With the weight of his body he crushed her to the side of the desk.
- I'm sure you have a lover- he growled in her ear- I just need to know who he is then I'll force him to watch me while I possess you before ripping him apart.
Catherine shuddered. He was serious. The king realized he had obtained the necessary effect.
- You are mine - he continued - And as long as it is so, no one must touch you but me!
- But you are more busy touching another woman - Catherine replied - Your whores are not enough for you?
Henry looked at her carefully.
- What are you confessing to me? - he asked.
- That I've always found you to be a slimy bastard-expressed the woman- An exploiter, a...-
She didn't have time to finish the sentence. The king's ringed hand hit her on the lip, splitting it. Some blood started to come out.
Catherine was stunned. She remained with her head bent to the side, her hand on the wound. He had hit her! Without restraint, without hesitation.
- Catherine, I...- tried to apologize to Henry but his wife ran out of the room.
The wind whipped through the queen's hair. Her horse galloped through the court woods at great speed. Alexander was behind her.
- Have you grown old, brother? Can you no longer keep up with me?- cried Catherine, taunting him. The Duke snorted and made his animal speed up. They arrived exhausted at the shore of the lake. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
- I don't know the last time I rode a horse like that- said the woman, panting.
Alexander smiled affectionately at her and stroked her chin. Catherine flinched, in pain. Her brother's face stiffened.
- Catherine? - he asked. Then he looked at his finger: it was dirty with cream.
His sister looked away.
- Catherine, turn around - the Duke ordered harshly. The queen did not obey.
Alexander removed another finger of makeup. A purple bruise covered the side of her lip and her chin.
- Did he hit you? - he asked.
The woman looked down, tears in her eyes.
- He never did that before - she murmured.
Her brother rode up to her and hugged her.
- My beloved - he whispered in her hair as Catherine buried herself in her jacket. Alexander's eyes glittered with rage.
The Duke of Florence was sharpening his sword with great ease. His face, however, was wrinkled. He was reflecting. It had been hours since he had discovered Catherine's ugly episode. He was irate. He had always believed Henry to be an unabashed bastard, but raping and then beating his wife seemed almost absurd! He thought back bitterly to when he had tried to convince his father, Clement VII, to annul the marriage between his sister and the son of Francis I, after discovering that the young man had a mistress. To say it had been futile seemed little.
- Do you like my weapons, Italian? - asked a mocking voice. Alexander turned around and saw Henry in front of him.
- I find them... graceful- replied the Duke, with irony. The king smiled sarcastically.
- I see that this continuous and unbearable challenge to enemies is in the Medici blood" he said.
Alexander calmly turned away and placed his sword in a compartment.
- I think my sister shines more than me in this art- he said with pride and affection. Henry inhaled sharply. Alexander smiled.
- I have been told of your fame and skill in dueling- said the king at one point- - Will you be good enough to beat the king of France?
The Florentine scrutinized him carefully then drew his sword.
Henry took his weapon and headed towards the center of the room. Alexander joined him. They stood on guard. The king attacked first. He soon realized that the rumors that Catherine's brother was the best swordsman in Tuscany were true. Alexander followed the three rules of Italian dueling to perfection: acrobatics, cunning, and agility. He parried and lunged as if he were dancing, his arm seemed to twirl with an indescribable delicacy. Tens of minutes passed and still neither of them had prevailed over the other. Or rather, Alexander played more lightly almost to hurt Henry's stubborn male pride. At a certain point they stopped. The king lowered his sword, panting. He was all sweaty and above all very, very angry. The Florentine gave another of his smirks. He made a short bow and turned to go and put his sword away. It was a moment: Henry hit him in the arm, opening a cut that was not very deep, but bleeding profusely.
The Duke of Florence fell to the ground with his hand on the wound to stop the blood. Enrico approached him triumphant.
- Did you think I would have my honor as king soiled by a filthy Florentine merchant?" he said sharply-"What have you learned about the Valois, Alexander?
The other looked at him with hatred.
- That they think the world belongs to them- he growled- That winning is a privilege only for those who wear a crown, that what doesn't submit must be brutally destroyed-.
Henry struck him with a look full of anger.
- I swear by all the power I have that if just one more of you Doctors insults me or my kingdom in any way, I will exterminate you so that there won't be a single one of you untitled merchants left - he threatened.
- And I swear to you- said Alexander without giving in to the king's gaze - that if you ever harm my sister again, the Italian Wars will seem like a walk in the gardens.
Henry squared him, his hand clasped dangerously around the hilt of his sword.
- So you were also fighting against my army- he said.
The duke looked at him in silence, while a flash of sadness flashed in his eyes.
- No- he answered- I was among my people, watching almost helplessly what your hand can do better-.
- Destroy- he completed.
Furious, the king raised his sword ready to chop off the head of the man who had dared to insult him so shamelessly.
- Henry - shouted Catherine putting herself between them.
Charlotte had warned her that her husband and brother had started a duel and worried she ran to assist. She would never have imagined that scene.
- You'd better get out of my way, or I swear on my crown that I'll kill you too!- shouted Henry, trying to get his wife out of the way.
- Death would be the best gift you could give me- said the queen, restraining the murderous rage of the other who looked at her shocked and hurt by those words.
Catherine bent over her brother who was losing a lot of blood.
- Run and call Nostradamus!- she ordered Charlotte.
Almost immediately the seer arrived and, helped by three servants, took the duke to the infirmary. Catherine looked at her husband with disappointment and bitterness and then followed the procession. Henry stood there, motionless, his sword lowered, his heart in his throat.
A.N. Henry was really bad in this part; apologies to all Cathry fans (including me)! But next time our king will surprise us...