"These next moments of your life will either define you as a victim or as a powerful queen, untouched by a failed assassination attempt … Do not let them win. Trust me. Trust me and let me help you. Trust that I can get you through this because I swear to you that I can."
Catherine exhales slowly, and it's a breath shh doesn't even really notice that she's holding until she lets it out. When Mary puts her hand in hers, the fingers are icy cold, even though there is a roaring fire in the room. The touch, it is so insignificant to some, but it is so significant now, it is gentle and it is timid and it is unsure, but it damn sure unlocks memories of Catherine's own past that she has long since buried in the decades of Queenhood and motherhood. The torrents are unlocked, and she damns them to the hell they belong. It isn't easy, far from it, because those moments are and will forever be seared into her brain, branded into her very soul, as she knows that the moments before these will be for her daughter in law, a child she had raised for a time, but she managed it somehow.
"Come," her voice is soft, soft like it was when little five year old Mary had been delivered to the French Court after weeks on a ship and hours on a coach. Far from the power of the phoenix that she had inserted into her vocabulary during the moments before these, but gentle and calm and kind. "we should get you into a hot bath, yes? Get you clean-" Catherine hadn't noticed it before, she had been so blinded by the few words Mary had spoken, but her daughter-in-law was in one hell of a bloody state. Her lip was bloody, blood licking at her chin, a handprint on her throat, and when her nightgown rose up, there were purpling on her wrists, a faint indentation on her cheek.
Mary stares at her for a moment, her pupils dilating in a way that has nothing to do with the dim light of the chamber. She shakes her head slowly, swallowing gently. "I can't. I-I can't go back out there again. Please, don't make me, I-I-"
Catherine leans closer, slowly, cupping Mary's little hand into her own. "You can bathe here, I wasn't long out of the water before the bell was rung." she says. "Come," she pulls Mary slowly into the adorning chamber, where a bathtub of copper sits in the middle of the room. The bathtub is full, there are oils inside the tub, turning it a light white colour, and scented steam of eucalyptus and elderflower raise from the water, dancing a secret waltz in the air, before they disappear into nothingness. Where do they go?
Mary shivers at the memory of the last time she and Catherine were in a room with a bathtub. Surely, Catherine wouldn't try anything like that now, but if she did, Mary wasn't exactly sure it would be a bad thing.
The Queen Mother steps behind Mary, and it sends a shockwave through her skin.
"What are you doing?" her voice is quick, frantic, almost hysterical that her mother in law can barely understand what she said. "Do-don't leave me."
"I'm not, child." the motherly, gentle tone is back. The one she used when Francis was sick as a child. Which, let's be honest, was a lot.
"I won't, I won't." she says. "You must do this yourself, remove the nightgown. It's soiled-" she trails off, her eyes trailing down Mary's impressive figure that is the envy of court. But now is not the time to admire Mary's curves or waist, it's to notice the blood and the sweat and the stains of other sickening substances and the light rips at the hemline. "We'll burn it, take away one part of this night, at least."
The rest, they can deal with later, but for now, they must focus.
Mary's nods are quick, almost frantic again, and she slowly leans downwards, pulling the piece of fabric from her slim frame in a single, graceful sweep. She turns away, undoing the ties of her undergarment, although the satin is nothing but ripped tatters at this time, stained with blood and other substances that make her sick. She turns modestly, trying to hide herself, but Catherine sees. Oh, yes, she sees the physical evidence of what Mary endured, violence and violation made obvious by the scratches all up and down her front and back, the bruises and the welts and other bumps that mar the girls' once lily white skin.
The Queen angrily clenches her fists so tightly that her rings cut into her skin, to the point of pain. She bites her lip tightly, she's infuriated, furious, sickened. The men who did this to her will suffer as few have suffered, she knows it. She will use every poison in her adventory to make sure that purgatory seems like gentle heaven. That is, if her son leaves her any scraps when he's done with this.
Her voice, however, when she uses it, is gentle.
"In you get." for a moment, she feels like she's talking to little Claude before the incident that tore her from her forever, or like Margot before the young girl was sent away before Mary's return to court. It feels like she's talking to her own child, but as it turns out, she feels like she is. Blood and countries and alliances mean nothing in this moment. "Go under, it'll soothe."
Mary ignores her, but she follows her instructions, she goes into the hot bathtub, biting her lip as the hot water licks at her wounds, sucking at the bruises and kisses at the cuts, laving the blood away as if it had never left her at all. She slips under the water quickly, feeling her tense back forcee relax at the temperature of the water. She stays under for a concerning about of time, so long that Catherine begins to get concerned, but Mary slowly emerges just as her mother in law's hand touches the water. Her back slides up slowly against the walls of the tub, and she goes up and up and up until her knees and thighs cover her chest and breasts.
Her hair almost covers her face, raven locks soaking wet and clinging to her face and neck.
Her eyes, however, when she opens them, are blank.
Catherine shivers lightly, she recognises that blankness. It was the same blankness that she had in her eyes for years after years. Half of her, it so wants to wrap Mary up i her arms and give her a cocoon of love and reassurances and security, to do or say something -anything- that would take away that blankness, to fix the darkness in her eyes. To fix what had happened to her now and what had nearly in the past, what had happened to the Queen mother herself.
She does not.
Neither of them are ordinary women, she is no ordinary woman, and Mary is no ordinary girl. Years ago, so many years ago, but still so fresh, the heiress of the Medici fortune had to learn the lesson that there is no use in waiting for rescue. Now, Mary had to learn it to. The Queen of Scots must understand it with each and every fibre she has in her being. She must harden her heart and wrap it in a shell and go forth in the world, hiding the hurt and the bruises she holds behind a stony mask. It is the only way to survive as a woman, as a Queen, more in Mary's case. The one, singular way to overcome the weakness, weather it be literal or figurative, of the body she beholds.
Catherine unfolds a large towel with a thrusting shake. By now, Catherine has dumped jugfulls of water over Mary's head and down her back, and a collar of purpleish red has overtaken her neck, echoing the rough, dirty fingers lay there not long ago. Bracelets of the colour wrapped around her wrists, like cruel serpents biting and gnashing at their prey, squeezing the life out of her.
"Come." the elder Queen orders. "Court will be waiting on us, you are the Queen of France and Scotland. The panic the nobility feel will be laved if they see their Queen unharmed."
Mary makes an odd sound. "Unharmed?" she almost mocks, almost sobs, almost laughs, almost cries.
"Unharmed." the former Queen of France hisses lightly. "Or at least presented as so."
Mary begins shaking again, weather it be from shock, pain, fear, neither of them know. It doesn't really matter, but Mary is wrapped in a towel and diverted to a dressing table vanity made of dark oak and full of pretty glass bottles. Her hair is whipped up into another towel, the long black strands hidden from view as Catherine gestures to the table. "After you dry yourself, use some of these. The one in the pink bottle will soothe the pain on your neck and throat. The blue will clean your lip." her voice is dry, sharp, to the point, and it almost hurts Mary's feelings, but she just nods, and before long, she is left alone, staring into the oversized mirror at those big, dark eyes that now hold more than ever.
Catherine stumbles towards the chaise and all but falls onto it, her knees no longer supporting what little weight she has. Memories of the ripping of fabric, her voice screaming, begging, pleading, trying to buy her way out of it. The pain...the pain so great, like her eleven year old self could never have even imagined, and throughout it all, the sickening laughter of the soldiers with their perverse glee, so delighted to bring down a Medici bitch so damn easily.
But it's not all she remembers this night. She remembers the tears on Mary's face, which was bruised and mared with blood, the pain in her eyes, the shock, the desperation. Catherine cannot help but remember the times in the past that Mary has known the violent hand of a man. On the night she returned from convent, the screams echoing in the hallways as the mother of her son's bastard had attempted to violate her, to protect Francis from that raven haired enchantress that had her son under her spell when they were only five years old. God knows, Catherine didn't want her future daughter in law to suffer, but by God, she wanted her son to live.
And the second time, by the hand of Count Vincent. In a way, that could be described as Catherine's fault, also. Because she couldn't think of a way to get the men to wait for Frantic to get the people out of the castle before the men would realise they were tricked and would start to die by the gold. But in another, it was Olivia's for running away because she got scared of the damn dark. But the stupid little bitch was long gone now, and perhaps her dear friend and seer was with her, in a new life.
Catherine had tried to forget Mary's cries, the tears on her cheeks as she was shoved roughly into the stone wall, restrained by the very same wrists that were now mared and bruised and mangled by other bastards. But she couldn't, she couldn't forget the whimper that she let out as she was thrown roughly onto the hard table, restrained again as the Italian count crawled above her as desperately, the Queen tried to fight.
Catherine let out a breath, tasting the salt of her tears in her mouth as she remembers those cries, they ring in her mind like an echo, and forces herself to compose once Mary comes into the room, sheepishly holding the towel close enough to hide her modesty, but further away to not get her wet again.
"Right," Catherine sniffles. "come, let's get you into this." Mary doesn't ask about her tone, only follows as she's instructed to, and watches Catherine pluck an undergown from a trunk at the foot of her bed. "Backwards seamstress couldn't get the length or the width right, so it should fit you instead, even if it is a little loose." Catherine lurches a white camisole at Mary, and she takes it slowly, bluntly dropping the towel onto the chaise as she slips into the undergown. It's large around the waist, but the length reaches her ankles, so she is comfortable, even if she is a little cold.
She's oddly childlike in that moment, wearing no finery or jewels, just a simply white shift, and Catherine does acknowledge it, even if she doesn't outrightly say it. She nods to the dressing table. "Sit." she orders.
Mary obeys, biting back a soft whimper as she sits on the overstuffed pillow gingerly. Catherine has to harden herself against it, for it nearly brings one of her own. She unravels the towel and begins to roughly dry at the wet strands that Mary looks to be forcing herself not to snap at her mother in law, although she says nothing.
The Queen Mother disguises the slightly damp hair by twisting it into a bun at the top of her head. She leaves an inch of room around her scalp, for it is undoubtedly tender and uncomfortable for the young woman.
"The-the-" Mary gestured to her throat, she swallows thickly.
"I'll lend you a ruff, it'll be uncomfortable, but-"
"We have to, I know." Mary whispers sadly. Her mother in law fights the urge to kiss her head or whisper something soothing into her ear, but she knows she cannot. She must build up her daughter in law for the moment she has to be strong, she cannot be tender in this moment.
She guides Mary in where she must put on some powder, rouge and charcoal, before setting off to her wardrobe. "You may borrow this-" Catherine says, pulling out a thick, rich golden gown with a burgundy accent and a few slits in the skirt, giving way to black silk. "I always have to wear my tallest set of court shoes to pull it off, it'll be comfortable length for you. Perhaps you may keep it." She's aware she's babbling, she's aware she should probably stop, but it doesn't seem right to have silence at such a trying time. Catherine pulls out a pair of hose, slippers and a kirtle.
When Mary's ready, Catherine helps her dress herself, while quickly slipping into a gown of her own when Mary gets a moment of independence. She ties a pair of undercloth and hose to her hips and legs, and easily slips the slippers to her feet. They're a little tight, but it doesn't matter because they're flat, so the arch of her foot will not ache. The kirtle goes on next, and it's a struggle, due to the tenderness of her abdomen. Catherine leaves it as loose as possible, and Mary helps her with her own. The overcoats go on next, and Mary begins to get upset when she finishes tying on her mothers in law's.
Mary stares into her reflection when Catherine ties up her ruff. She's chosen a satin lined one, thankfully, but it's still rather uncomfortable given the circumstances. Her eyes fill with tears, and she swallows thickly, touching the rough material of the ruff.
"It looks-" she says softly. "it looks like nothing's happened."
"Nothing has," her mother in law insists, walking towards her daughter in law, staring at her eyes in the reflection, having to round Mary slightly to do so. "nothing—to the Queen. You must play the part of the Queen now, and to Queen Mary, nothing has happened. Remember what I told you, these-these utter villains attempted to burn down two Kingdoms, to ruin a Queen and diminish a King. You must show them, show the world, they have failed!"
"I wish it were that simple." Mary mumbles, looking down to her fingers that are loaded with Catherine's gems.
"All that matters, my child-" she walks away and comes back with the crown Mary had been anointed with months ago. "is that you are sure and strong when you wear this." she accentuates it by placing it on her head, pulling a few tendrils loose to hold the crown steady, as if Marie de Guise never taught her child to walk with her head straight by placing a heavy book on her little head.
"What happens when it comes off? When the eyes are away and the jewels are gone?"
Catherine holds Mary's hands. "Afterwards, I will wrap you in the softest blankets and furs we have in the castle, I'll send for coco to be piled high with honey to dispel the cold you feel inside and the shock inside your mind. Should you allow, I'll hold you for as long as you want to be held. I'll ensure my son treats you with the gentlest, softest of touches, make him understand the pain you're going through as much as a man can understand matters such as this. This-Mary-this is the price we pay for all we have. God and all the saints know that I never would have wished for you to learn this particular lesson like this, but it comes to all who are born to rule."
Mary exhales, leans back on her heels and leans her head up to the sky, closing her eyes. She swallows, and then meets Catherine's eyes again, lowering her face.
"So, what are you going to do? Would you choose to cower in the corner or will you prove to the King, the Court, the world, but most of all, to yourself, that you are no weak and feeble woman, but a Queen, a King?"
Her tone is mocking, taunting, as though she fully expects Mary to rip of the crown and pull off the clothes and run to the corner to cry, as if she talks to a disobedient child, a stupid disobedient. Perhaps, an older girl may have realised that it was to get her to rise to the challenge and prove herself strong. Mary, however, she is so young, barely sixteen years, and she takes the challenge as an insult, for the Queen raises her chin and lowers her head, literally looking down at Catherine, making full use of her extra near foot of height.
"You discredit me that much?" Mary asks, pulling her shoulders back and holding her head high, proud. "I am no child." she informs her, turning at the door, turning away again to walk out of the room.
The Queen Mother smirks openly at the doorway. The words Mary ment went unspoken, but they were so loud.
Anything you can do, I can do better.
And thus, the Queen Mother realises, France's Queen will live to fight another day.