?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

rook

Title: Gambit, Rook
Fandom: Reign
Pairings: Mary/Francis, Mary/Bash
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Angst/Drama
Words: 7307
Summary: spec fic based on small bits of spoilers, ep descriptions, the new promo, promo pics & BTS info for eps 1x09-1x13. What I think will happen on the show. If you're spoiler free, you've been warned.
Disclaimer: CBS owns Reign, chess metaphors belong to me!
Links: Prologue, Pawn, Knight, Bishop




Rook

"Have you really thought through the full repercussions of your actions?" Catherine asks me. I don't know why, but some of what she said to me whilst trying to kill me rang true. Her desperation and concern for her children. She wasn't just trying to kill me, she was trying to save them. Just like when she came to me about the prophecy, she was trying to save Francis. I might not approve of her methods, but I know her love for her children is deep, abiding and protective. My current situation is proof of that. "When the Vatican legitimizes Bash and Henry takes off my head those boys will be orphans."

"They will still have their father," I reply hesitantly, though I know this is not necessarily true.

"Ha," Catherine bitterly returns. "How much attention do you think they will really get as he cavorts with his new bride Diane? You know yourself he had no love for Francis, why would he treat any better the other children of the wife who betrayed him and he has killed?"

I look to the floor - I know she's speaking the truth. Henry always treated Francis with equal parts neglect and as if he were a rival, not his son. I feel my stomach clench. The only person who will be left at the chateau who cares for Charles and little Henry is me. They adore Francis and worship Bash as a hero, but he never makes time for them like Francis did. And as no one knows where Francis is, I'm all they have left.

I feel tears coming to my eyes. I know what it is to be motherless - to yearn for a mother's love and comfort, and not be able to reach out for it; to have no one to soothe my fears, night terrors or give me assurance when frightened; to bolster my confidence and teach me right from wrong.

It takes me a few minutes before I realize this is the one thing I can do, one thing to remain true and honor to the love I shared with Francis. I can make sure his beloved brothers are protected and well cared for. I can love them for both Catherine and him. If they don't have a mother anymore, then I will be their mother from now on.

"Catherine," I say softly, reaching for her hand; "you may not trust me in this, but I pledge to you on my honor as the Queen of Scotland and the love I still have for your eldest son, that I will not allow Charles and Henry to be motherless. I won't let anything happen to them if I have anything to do with it. I will be their mother and sister. I will love them. I will protect them. I promise you this."

She looks at me hard for several moments, taking my measure, the fire still flaming in her eyes even as she accepts her fate. This is her last concern, her true last request. She nods, squeezing my hand, "Thank you."

---


I find Bash in the stables. I want to tell him my plan before getting the boys hopes up. "Sebastian," I call out, getting his attention. He turns and smiles at me. "I want to let you know I plan to be away in the village today with Charles and Henry. There's a frost fair in the village this morning. I want to take them - just us three. Something special to take their minds off their troubles."

"That sounds nice," he nods. "I can go with you."

"No," I shake my head. "I'd like it to just be the three of us, if you will. We'll take guards, to be safe."

I want this to just be us. To begin to forge a new relationship between us. If I'm to be their mother and sister, I want them to know they can rely on me, trust me. It is my pledge to Catherine and my duty to Francis.

"Then I shall see you later today?" he asks.

I nod confirmation before turning to go find the boys.

---


They both have a million questions when I get to the nursery. Where is Francis? When will he be back? Why can't they see their mother? Questions I don't know the answer to. The ones about their mother I don't want to answer. I might be taking on the role of their mother, but it doesn't escape me that they will one day know that my hands are not clean when it comes to their mother's death, that her blood will forever stain my hands. Will they hate me someday because of it? Possibly. Probably. But that day is not today, and I will deal with it when the time comes.

Fortunately they are distracted by the idea of a fair, their excitement is cheers my mood. I ask one of the guards to fetch me some day-old bread and spelt water to help me with my queasy stomach and meet us at the carriage.

"Will there be ice skating?" Charles asks once we are on our way.

"I'm sure there will. It is a frost fair after all," I smile back at him. I remember ice skating with Francis when we were children. He always helped me up when I fell. The winter he taught me to skate is one of my fondest memories. Even though we are farther north, the area of Scotland where I was born and lived till coming to France was more temperate. We didn't get enough snow or ice for our ponds to freeze over enough to skate safely.

"Perhaps," I smile. "It wouldn't be a frost fair without skating, would it?"

"No," he grins back. "It wouldn't. Henry doesn't know how to skate very well."

"Then we shall hold his hands and let him skate between us," I smile back. It feels like the first genuine smile I've managed in a very long time.

Being with Charles, and especially Henry, brings back a flood of memories I've been trying to bury. To forget. Memories of a time when smiles and laughter were easy, love was freely given, hopes and dreams were whispered and shared. I push away the thought that Henry might be what a child of mine and Francis's might have looked like. It does me no good. The thought has already burrowed into my mind - my heart.

All I'd wanted was to love and be loved by Francis. Bash was wrong - I didn't fall in love with Francis just because he was my betrothed and the Dauphin. I fell in love with him because he was still the boy I once knew; because he was the one person who truly understood my burdens and sought to lighten them; because he let me go freely when he thought it was what was best for my people; because he loved me in spite of his fears; because he cared for me even when I'd betrayed his trust. I fell in love with him because he exceeded every girlish dream I'd ever had of him.

And now I'm here, taking into my care perhaps the last and only connection I will ever have with him. I'm stuck, with no way out - claiming a country I don't want, with a man who doesn't seem to want nor care to know my burdens or struggles; who cares not to understand what it is to be a ruler, though it is now his future to rule; who I suspect would not let me go even if it was what is best for me or my people. He says he will physically protect me from all who seek to harm me, but that's just one of my worries...

The carriage lurches. "The Medici princes...Queen Catherine and her lies...their time is numbered...whore..." I can hear the indistinct yelling outside.

"Get down!" I command the boys, pushing them to the floor of the carriage.

I cover them both in my cloak, seeking to shield them. I can feel the carriage slowing, the screams of protest from the horses. The doors rip open - we are pulled out. A loud muttering and chatter, hostile me shake and jar us - hands groping. There are too many of them, even with the guards. Our party is too small.

"What is the meaning of this?" I project my voice over them, keeping my tone firm. The boys are pulled from my arms. Both of their eyes wide with fright.

"These are the sons of that Medici whore," one of them sneers. "They'll get what's coming to them, what's coming to her!"

"They are but boys, innocent children!" I rebuke. "I am Mary, Queen of Scots. I command you to release them back to my care."

"I don't care who you is," he gets up in my face, so close I can smell his rancid breath. "They're ours now. Take them Claude. We'll hold these ones here till you're good and away."

The boys begin to cry as they are dragged away. I know I have to remain calm. We will get them back. I'll never forgive myself if anything else happens to them. They were in my care and I failed them. Minutes pass; it feels like an eternity. More of the ruffians begin to fade back into the brush. Then more. When it is only two the guards jump them, killing them so quickly I don't have time to tell them not to. We could have used them for information. Now it's too late.

"Hurry," I exclaim, quickly climbing back into the carriage. "We must make haste to the chateau to sound the alarm and organize search parties! We can't let them get far."

---


We're waiting for word on Charles and Henry. I came inside after feeling a bit nauseated, and Bash came to find me after a bit. I'd left him organizing search parties for the boys.

"When we find them, I think we should begin to look for a place where they can live permanently," he suggests, his tone firm.

"What do you mean?" I feel myself bristle, suspecting where he's going.

"We should find them a place that can care for them..."

"No!" I adamantly reply. "This is the only home they have ever known, the only people they know. You think they will be safer and better cared for by strangers?"

"Yes, I do," he says, trying to take my hand.

"That is not happening. Those boys need our protection," I shoot back, holding myself away from him. "And I promised Catherine I would keep them safe. We should keep them here with us."

"And teach them to be constantly afraid?" He tries to calm me. It's not working. "Always on the lookout for the next attack? I won't have them grow up to fear their own shadows. And we owe Catherine nothing."

"You think sending them away will prevent this?" I sharply return. "I was sent away from here, from everyone I knew, kept in secret. And I still wasn't safe."

"That is different," he tries to soothe.

"How?" I ask. "The only way Charles and Henry will ever be safe if sent away is for them to become someone other than who they are - be completely stripped of their identity - where there will be no one who loves or cares for them. Is that what you want for them? Are they not your brothers? Your family?

"Of course, but..."

"Your Grace," one of Henry's advisors hurries up to us.

"Yes?" I acknowledge with a tip of my head, hoping he will continue.

"There has been no news from the Vatican again," he says. I indicate he should continue, knowing can finish this discussion when the boys are brought safely home. "Our emissaries sent back word that they are receiving the same sort of reception as the king himself."

"Does the Pope know of Catherine's indiscretions?" I question sharply. "That her blood is scheduled to be spilled presently?"

"From the dates on his letters, we can't be certain, but my best guess is no or otherwise he would have included the information," he concedes. "Sooner or later blood is spilled, it's just a matter of whose. Will it be Catherine's? The English? Or…"

"My own," I finish under my breath. "Thank you for this information," I nod as a dismissal. It seems I must begin to think about coming up with a new plan, of leaving once again in search of a new alliance.

"Perhaps no news is better than you think," Bash interrupts my thoughts.

"How can no news be good in any manner?" I can hear a shrillness in my tone. "I am the queen who will give your father the legacy of conquering England. I am the queen who will give the Pope back the flocks of England to tend. And yet, he will not even grant an audience to anyone about this issue. This is not..."

"She has Charles and little Henry," Greer runs up to me dragging Kenna behind. It's mid-afternoon. The boys have been missing for hours now.

"Who?" I ask, though I fear I know.

"That girl, Catherine's monstrous daughter. She took Charles and little Henry!" she exclaims.

"She must have taken them somewhere to be safe. She rescued them," I quickly interject. This could get out of hand quickly, I need to keep everyone calm. "Charles is friends with Clarissa. She would never harm him. Or Henry for that matter."

We move quickly toward the stables, finding a search party gathering to seek out the young princes. I hear phrases like 'rabid dog that needs to be put down,' 'menace,' 'deranged,' 'not in her right mind,' thrown about.

"Would everyone please listen to me before you go," I call out above the growing din. "Clarissa is friends with Charles. She will never harm him. If she found them I am sure she will safely return them to the chateau. Please don't do anything you can't take back against a girl that means no harm."

But no one is really listening to me. They immediately return to making plans. Bash turns to me, grabbing my hand. "Perhaps you could spend this time planning our wedding," he smiles as if nothing is out of sorts.

"There is no wedding to plan. If my original plan falls through then I must seek another alliance, and find shelter and support for my people elsewhere," I reply. Who does he think I am? I'm not some girl sitting about making my trousseau, planning my wedding with nothing else on my mind.

"Don't say that," he responds urgently. "We are to marry."

"No," I say firmly. "I am to marry the next king of France. If that is not you then it is my duty to find an alliance that will serve as a substitute. If you are not legitimized we will not wed, and there has been no news from the Vatican."

"The Vatican will come around," he says, gently, holding my hands, but I can see the panic in his eyes. "And when they do, we can finally be married."

"And if they do not, we won't," I repeat, feeling I should emphasize the tenuousness of this betrothal. My first duty is to my people and country - it's time I remember that.

"Don't say that," he shakes his head. "But I must go help find Charles, Henry and Clarissa."

"Please," I grab his sleeve. "Be kind to her. I know she means no harm." He shakes off my hand and leaves.

---


"Your Grace," a guard hurries up to me. I get up from where I have been kneeling, praying for the safety of Clarissa, Charles and Henry. "We just received word that the girl and the young princes have been located, or that they have been located."

"Take me to them," I return, getting up quickly, heading to the door.

"Your Grace," his voice stops me. I can tell there's more he hasn't told me. "They have been tracked to what appears to be a cave in the Blood Wood. It's not safe for you to go there. It's darkening outside."

"I have been in the Blood Wood at night and survived its terrors," I say firmly, holding up my hand to stop him from speaking further. "Those boys need me. The Blood Wood will not keep me from them. Saddle me a horse and find some guards who will go with me to where the boys have been tracked."

He nods and leaves. I go to change into something appropriate for riding.

It is dark by the time we set off. I encourage as fast a pace as possible, though we're not really able to move very quickly once we get into the wood itself, picking around the trees and brush. There is once again a sense of foreboding in this place, the darkness thicker and harder to see through than anywhere else I've ever been - even though the guards carry torches to light the way. The slightest noise making me jump and startle, hairs raising on the back of my neck - is that just a forest creature or the blood thirsty creatures of a two-legged variety that also reside in this wood?

An hour later I hear the faint, but distinct sound of a child's wail. Every part of my body tenses. "We must go more quickly," I urge.

We try to pick up the pace, but it's too difficult with the horses in the dark, so we dismount. I move as quickly as possible in the direction of the cries, coming to a shallow valley lit with torches. In the center I see a crumpled body. Charles and Henry stand off to the side clinging to one another.

I break into a run, realizing the body is covered by a roughly spun dress -, stumbling, scraping my hands, I get up and pushing forward. As I get closer I can see a dark stain on the dress and my heart clenches further. My eyes dart to find the source of the stain, settling on an unsheathed sword - in Bash's hand.

I hurry to the boys, grabbing them, checking them for wounds and scrapes before pulling them into my arms and thanking God for their safety.

"Clarissa," Charles blubbers after several moments.

I look up - the body is hers. All that runs through my mind is how she'd helped and protected me since my return. The wine, Simon, Catherine, Francis and the boys. She's been my friend and protector, and now she's gone. I've been strong till now - finding the boys my single focus and priority - but focusing on her lifeless body, one deformed since birth, I feel tears begin to run down my face. I move to hold her with a choking sob.

Tears stream down my face as I cradle Clarissa's lifeless body, holding Charles's hand in mine as he joins my sobs. Blood covers me, still gurgling out of the horrible wound across her chest.

"Why would no one listen to me?" I finally get out through my constricted throat. "She was my friend, and Charles's, she would have never hurt either Charles or Henry. She loved and protected all of us. She wasn't some animal to be put down!"

"Mary," Bash puts a hand under my arm, trying to lift me up.

"No!" I exclaim sharply, shrugging him off, unable to see past his blood-soaked blade. He said he would protect me from anyone who sought to do me harm, but what of those that seek to protect me? Perhaps even from him? "Everyone wanted to play the hero, except no hero was needed. She was the hero. No one listened. No one cared. And now an innocent girl. My friend. Is dead. And for what? Because she found Henry and Charles? They were her friends. Please leave us, and send for a wain to take her body back to the chateau or make some sort of a sled. If nothing else, she deserves a proper burial."

---


"Prince Francis has returned," I hear servants murmur under their breath. I don't think they intended me to hear it, but my ears hear his name right away. I urge my maid to hasten. I want to see him. I need to see him. To know he's alright, thriving. That perhaps he's forgiven me.

Someone deserves some happiness out of this mess. It won't be me; I pray it is him.

I rush into the corridor just in time to see him walking down the corridor - with Lola. I stop abruptly, the breath rushing out of my body. Why is he with her? "Fran..." I breathe, my hand reaching out to him.

He doesn't stop; he barely even looks at me. He just keeps walking, turning to headaway from me. I feel tears spring up in my eyes. He's here, unkempt and haggard looking. Hair too long, beard unkempt, eyes shot red. Not at all himself. And he didn't even acknowledge me.

My forward momentum ends, right there. Immediately. I feel like a boat who suddenly lost the wind. Just bobbing in place, not knowing where to go or how to recover.

I'm there for several minutes, just looking at the empty space where he walked past me, never acknowledging I was even here. I startle when I feel a hand on my arm.

"I was told Francis has returned," Bash says, his hand curling around my arm.

"He has," I nod, struggling to keep my voice even.

"While it's a good thing he's turned up so everyone will know he's alright, he doesn't matter to us, Mary," he replies. "We are the ones betrothed now, who will marry."

"Whatever happens between us," I reply, shaking off his hand. "Whatever the future holds, he will always matter to me - he will always be important. We're betrothed because I loved him too much to let him die. That has not changed," I finish, turning to go back to my rooms. Bash does not seem to understand that I will not be marrying him if the legitimization falls through with the Pope - hat if I'm not marrying the future King of France then I must find another alliance and husband to defend my people. I shut the doors, my body falling backward, my head banging into the solid door. Tears spill out the sides of my eyes.

He looked through me. As if he didn't even see me. As if I didn't even matter.

Even in the days when he was trying not to love me, he was never indifferent. I'm not sure which hurts more, indifference or avoidance.

No, I know. Indifference hurts more. At least, before, I knew I mattered.

---


"How is he?" I ask Lola. "You returned with him, tell me true." Seeing her beside him was startling. And then the way he could barely even look at me, his gaze just flitting by me as if I didn't matter.

"Don't you know?" Lola replies.

"What do you mean?" I respond, my stomach clenching. I nibble bread, hoping to stave off the nausea that has plagued me the last few days.

"He's not fine; he's angry, a bit hopeless," she says. "It's not as if you just left him - you took away his crown and threw him over for his brother, all in a matter of hours."

"I didn't..." I begin.

"Don't, Mary," Lola holds up her hand. "I know your reasons. You asked about him. And he's devastated and feels betrayed. Even more so by the fact that it was done by the person he loves and trusted most."

I don't say anything - I can't. My heart clenches at Lola's mention of his love for me, but then my brain registers that it's now all wrapped up in his perception of my betrayal of him. My body collapses in on itself, my corset the only thing holding me up.

"What exactly did you expect Mary?" Greer questions after a few moments of silence.

"What do you mean?" I return.

"He has spent his entire life preparing for one thing - to be the king of France - and he dutifully followed all the rules," she ticks off. "When you came back here he even fell in love with you, against his own better judgement. And in one day the woman he loved took everything that gave his life meaning, purpose and happiness away from him, leaving him with nothing. Exactly how did you expect him to react? To thank you?"

"I did it to save his life!" I exclaim.

"Keep telling yourself that," Greer waves me off. "Because no one else believes that. You think leaving him a shell of a life is saving him? You're killing him, just in a different way."

"You did it because you can't face the idea of losing him," Lola interjects softly. "Never thinking what losing you and everything he cares about would do to him."

"But, I didn't have a choice..." I trail off.

"As I said, keep telling yourself that if it helps you," Greer continues, her tone sharp. "But eventually you're going to have to stop lying to yourself. You chose. You chose to not have a chance at an incredibly happy life, even if only for a short time. How many people in your position have what you and Francis had before you tossed it aside? Nobles even? The numbers are incredibly small. And he always took his duties seriously, unlike Bash. They drove him, gave him purpose. What is he supposed to do that now?"

"He has trained in smithery," I say, realizing how ridiculous that sounds to my own ears, how ridiculous it must sound to my friends.

"Francis de Valois? A blacksmith?" Lola laughs, sarcasm heavy in her voice and laugh. "You really think he will be happy as a smithy? Really?" she starts to cackle, whipping tears from her eyes. "Honestly, Mary, if you've convinced yourself of that, you've lost your mind.

"You're my friend, and my queen," she continues, her tone softening. "I'm still on your side in this, but you have to realize there's more to life than cheating death. People need reasons to live, to get up every morning. For Francis that was duty, honor, love - France, her people and you. You took all that from him. You took who he was from him. No, Mary, he's not great, he's not even good. I don't think he will be for a very long time, if ever. He's alive but he's not living."

---


"Your Grace," my guard addresses as he enters. I nod for him to continue. "The Vatican has sent an emissary. He will be in the throne room shortly."

"Thank you," I wave for him to leave. It is strange, to send an emissary now. Perhaps things have changed once more. Perhaps the Pope has finally changed his mind. The last time the Vatican sent an emissary was one of the happiest days of my life. Francis and I had everything in the world to look forward to: a life filled with love, laughter, friendship and family along with our pledges to one another to always share our burdens, duties and struggles. I don't have any of that now. Just a betrothal I have to make work, even if it isn't what I truly want. But then nothing that isn't Francis will ever be what I truly desire.

I get up, and check my hair and dress before leaving my rooms. It still feels a bit tight and uncomfortable, as if I have gained a bit of weight. Bash meets me as I gain the stairs, offering me his arm. I hesitate before threading my hand into his elbow. It's starting to feel familiar but still so wrong. The wrong arm, the wrong man. But I chose this path myself, I've finally had to accept that. The road that has brought me here, on the verge of marrying a man I am now certain will not be a good ruler and who I can't seem to bring myself to truly love - it was of my own choosing.

I left the right man - the one who would make an excellent ruler, the one I loved without hesitation - to not just spare his life, but to spare my grief. Greer and Lola are right. I must accept that. As I enter the throne room I'm just beginning to realize how much destruction I have left in my wake. I have denied France a great king; denied her people someone who cares about them - loves them; I have denied my home and people - Scotland - his wise counsel; I've denied myself the one man I know I will love deep in my soul for the rest of my life without hesitation.

Unlike the last Vatican visit, Henry summons Bash and me to the throne platform. Catherine sits at its foot, awaiting judgement. As the room fills, Henry calls everyone to attention.

"Today is a great day for Scotland, for the Church, and for France," he says. "Today we gather to stand judgement against those amongst us who have sinned and to raise up one who shall lead us into a brighter morrow. Today is a new beginning for the House of Valois, a new beginn..." He trails off as boot treads ring out in the quiet hall.

Everyone turns, trying to see who it is. My view is blocked by the crowd. Murmurs turn to indistinct chatter as the boot treads come closer. Henry's face has become a mask, giving nothing away. I can feel Bash tense next to me.

Then I see him - Francis. With him, Charles and little Henry. He looks magnificent, every inch the Dauphin of France he was born to be. His hair cut, his beard trimmed, posture erect, wearing an embroidered black coat, buttoned and belted with a buckle of gold, black breeches and knee-high boots - he's never needed to wear embellished clothing or rich jewels to command respect. Somehow he just embodies exactly who a king should be, making noble and peasant alike flock to his banner.

He walks to his mother, kissing her on the cheek, murmuring something in her ear. He takes her hand, escorting her to the queen's throne, settling his brothers at her feet.

"You were saying Father?" he finally speaks, returning to the chair Catherine had been sitting in, moving it off to the side.

"What are you doing Francis?" Henry questions sharply. "This is not the time for theatrics. The Vatican is here."

"Yes, the Vatican is here, as you requested. Were you not going to let your youngest sons know your plans for their mother? I felt the entire family should be on hand," Francis smiles, turning toward the platform. His smile is not warm, more like the smile of a hunter as it spots an easy prey - baring its teeth in warning. "I don't wish to waste anyone's time, so we should get on with it. We do have some very distinguished guests here today, Father. Yes, we do. His Excellency Jose-Miguel Jimenez e Cordoba, Ambassador of Spain is in attendance, I believe. Your Excellency?" he asks, looking around. "Ah, there you are," he smiles again. "Do you have something for me?"

"Of course, Your Grace," the ambassador bows before Francis, handing him several sealed sets of papers.

"Thank you," Francis nods. "Father, this is a letter from your good-son, the King of Spain, Philip II. He is very concerned about the possibility that his loving wife should be made a bastard by the specious charges against his good-mother. As such, he has pledged to make war on France if anything were to happen to make his wife anything less than legitimate in the eyes of the Church. He sent letters in triplicate - one for myself as a record, one for you Father, of course, and one for you, Mary, my love," he tells the room in a light conversational tone. As if he were requesting a beverage from a servant or asking for the time of day and not threatening war from the most powerful monarch in all of Europe. "Philip and I felt it only polite to include copies for each of his fellow rulers."

I'd dropped my arm from Bash's when I saw Francis, letting my arms hang at my sides. With his announcement that Spain would declare open war upon France if mine and Henry's plans went though, I clasp my hands tightly together in front of me. I fight to keep my roiling stomach from betraying me. My eyes follow Francis as a moth to a flame. He turns back to the audience. It's clear he's not done.

"Also in attendance is my uncle, Cosimo de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Uncle?" he asks, looking around once more. "Ah, there you are," he says to a tall man in an elaborate hat. "I believe you have something for me as well," he extends his hand and another batch of papers is given to him. "My uncle has the sworn support of fourteen Italian principalities..."

"My nephew," the Grand Duke interrupts, causing Francis to turn and acknowledge him once more. "I have the good fortune of offering the support of sixteen Italian principalities and duchies to defend the name and honor of my niece Catherine de Medici, the rightful and consecrated Queen of France. Should anything happen to her or her children, my nephews and nieces, we shall have no choice but to make war upon France in concert with Spain. The Medici name and honor are at stake, as well as our legacy."

Francis inclines his head, smiling, walking up to the platform, and hands a copy of the papers from King Philip and the Grand Duke to his mother asking her to keep them for him. Then he turns to Henry who looks strangely proud, and hands him his copies before coming to me and handing me mine. My hands are still clasped; he gently pries them apart, a long finger stroking the inside of my wrist; I feel a tightness and fluttering in my belly, something familiar - desire. For him. His scent takes over my senses, making me sway towards him. I forget the room filled with courtiers; everything in my being is focused on him, where his hand touches mine. As if someone has lit a tinder under parched kindling, my body flames at his nearness. My legs clench, my breasts flower. Seeing him again was enough to shake my perspective. Now I just feel the draw and pull to be near him, to bask in his radiance. I suppose I know what Henry is feeling. Francis is refusing to go quietly - he's making the price of his birthright extremely high. His fight makes me desire him more - differently - than I ever have before. He is a Phoenix rising from the ashes renewed, restored, and more glorious than ever. How is a mere woman - even is she is a queen - supposed to resist what he has become in this moment?

"You see, father, this is duty, as you have tried to teach it to me," he says, letting go of my hand, a small smile pulling at his mouth. His middle finger had rested on my pulse, where he can feel my heart racing. He leaves the platform to go back to the main floor. "Though you generally disregard it to suit your own desires. I know my half-brother has no sense of duty. But I do. It is my duty as the one born to the rank of Dauphin of France to ensure my people have the best leader when you die. Perhaps that is not me, perhaps it is Charles or Henry," he gestures to his brothers, but speaks directly to Henry. "But I know for certain it is not our half-brother, who has no loyalties outside of himself and his own desires," his eyes settle on me, his smile pulling slightly once more. "I have not been back a full day and my ears burn with tales of the King's Justice being applied capriciously. Peasants and common folk who have left their homes and meager existences and have traveled great distances to come before the king's regent only to be mocked. Is this how a king behaves toward his subjects? You and I might have differing outlooks, Father, but we do both agree as to the seriousness of the office to which our birth gave us rights.

"We both know that we serve in the name of the Holy Catholic Church and by right of God Himself," he continues. "We both know it is not for we earthly beings to question God, for those that do tend to have the fate of Icarus befall them. They fly too close to the sun, only to crash and die."

He paces back and forth, as if a radiant lion stalking his prey, holding the entire room in his thrall. In this moment, he is truly becoming the king he was born to be. That thing that always pulls me toward him, and holds me in his orbit - I feel it inside me. It grows. It feels as if no one else exists in the world. I know he's beating me. I know my plans are turning to ash before me. And yet, I also feel so incredibly proud of him - He is a king his country can rely upon, who his subjects can proudly call theirs. Who am I to deny them that? I am only a queen.

"As such, it is only fitting that God's own representative be present. I was told this morning that my cousin, His Eminance Giovanni Cardinal Medici is to be in attendance today," he looks around for the red cap, finding him next to his uncle. "My cousin is not from the Florentine branch of the family, as my mother and uncle are, but from further north, in Milan. But he also has news for us all. Cousin, if you will," he gestures for his cousin to speak.

"The Holy Roman Church has blessed the House of Valois," the cardinal begins. "And given it earthly dominion over France, but our blessed earthy Father, Pope Paul IV, Bishop of Rome, feels it is God's own will that this blessing be removed if its legitimate and consecrated heirs are removed. It is not the Will of a God, nor His Church. The Holy Father is also greatly concerned about the rumors of paganism being tolerated and allowed to flourish right here in this chateau. This cannot be overlooked, nor can it be tolerated. As such, the Papal States have pledged their support to the Grand Duke of Tuscany in his efforts to maintain the recognized line of the House of Valois. There shall be no removing my cousin Catherine de Medici from her place as the recognized and consecrated Queen of France. And young Francis is the recognized Dauphin of France, the only one blessed by the Holy Father. If something were to happen to him, that is what you have more sons for, Your Grace - you have three. There will be no legitimization of a bastard born without cause, for which there is none. And if the recognized sons of the House of Valois are to suddenly fall ill and die, papal support and recognition will be withdrawn from France."

"Thank you, Your Eminence," Francis steps forward again. They incline their heads toward one another in respect.

"As you see, Father, Mary, the news is no different from yesterday, the day prior, or when you went to Rome. If you want England - well Father, I know you do - you will have to make your claim with me as your heir," he elaborates, handing each of us the final set of papers with the elaborate Papal seal before returning to the main floor.

"How..." Bash begins before realizing he shouldn't have spoken.

"How did I what, brother?" he whips around, "How did I manage to deprive you of not only the things you don't want, and which I am duty-bound to defend, but the one thing of mine I knew you coveted?" Francis asks with a cold smile, turning his full attention toward Bash and letting out a harsh laugh before continuing. "I remembered a few things, that is how. First, a lesson I learned not long ago about how bastards take - a country, a life, a woman. I knew what you truly wanted, my love and my joy. That you would take the rest to have her, I also realized. The second was that while you have always been good at following orders - Father told you to take my place; Mary offered it to you; so you did - I have been raised and groomed to give them. I don't merely react; I set things in motion to my own will. The third was that you think me weak because I play by the rules, forgetting that I make those rules. You see, I never surrendered my seal of state. So while you were pretending to be me, I could write Rome, my uncle and my good brother with the full authority of the station to which I was born. As the true Dauphin of France.

"How did I do this?" he pauses, smiling widely with a cold arrogance, looking directly at Bash. "Because I was raised, groomed and taught to be the person I am - The next King of France."

He saunters to the platform, Henry having long ago sat on his throne, walking straight to me. He picks up my hand, kissing the back - his finger again finds my racing pulse, bringing another smile to his face.

"No one has yet asked the most pertinent question," he says, keeping hold of my hand, rubbing his thumb into the palm gently. "If I was able to send letters to Rome, Florence and Spain, where did I go? Where have I been? Does anyone venture a guess? Father? Mother? Mary?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure you will take great pleasure in sharing with all of us," Henry drawls, a strange smile on his face.

Francis laughs with a nod. "You are correct, Father; I will enjoy telling where I have been. I did enjoy one bit of my freedom - the ability to go places without question. I have seen sea-faring ships, of course, but had never been on one till now. Where I went is a beautiful place, of gently rolling hills, heather-covered moors, beautiful game, thistle, crystalline glacier lakes, a proud and generous people and soulful music. Your homeland, my love, is spectacular."

My heart beats faster as he ticks off the qualities of the places he had seen in his travels, the descriptions feeling familiar but distant. I feel the breath leave my body as he says 'your homeland;' I feel light-headed; my body sways a bit. I feel his arm come around my waist, holding me steady.

A woman enters the throne room, sweeping toward the platform - her frame erect, purposeful. She looks familiar, as if out of a dream or memory. "Mother?" I breathe.

"Check and mate, my darling," he whispers into my ear.

TBC

Endnotes:

1) First and foremost much thanks to my betas and helpmeets, justcallmesmitty & poligirl25. Justcallmesmitty in particular has been so amazing through the writing of this chapter, which at 7300+ words is more than twice the length of any of the other chapters. xoxoxoxo Love y'all to bits!
2) Unlike all the other chapters this one covers more than one episode. It is 12 and part of 13, which is part of the reason for the length. But I've known all along this is where I wanted this chapter to end, which made it necessary to push it into ep 13. The ep 13 stuff is pure spec on my part, not really spoilers.
3) The terms good-son, good-mother, etc., predate in-laws, but have the same meaning.
4) Thank you to the CW promotions department for releasing the 1x12 Producers Preview so early. I honestly didn't know what this episode was about outside of something to do with Clarissa having Charles and little Henry at some point. The PP made clear that this episode would be a continuation of the mother theme that has surrounded Mary all through the BoP, this time with "Francis' brothers" to quote Laurie McCarthy. It made me delete a lot of stuff, and redo the 12 parts. This is a girl deciding to step in and be a mother to motherless children of the man she loves, but can't be with - Francis, she herself being a motherless child. All of this solidified my belief that Francis is actually in Scotland and will be the instigator of Marie de Guise appearance in ep 13, because it completes that circle.
5) I was surprised last episode with how stark they took the Henry/Bash parallels last episode, something I'd picked up long ago. AvS is wonderful as Henry, but Henry is a fairly awful person. I tried to accommodate where I could, but I've also tried to stay true to what I had previously assumed. As for the rest, I was surprised how far they went to put Bash in what I perceive to be a negative light in the last ep. I assumed he would go darker after the BoP is over, but they seem to be putting him on that path now. And just general negativity, emotional blackmail, "claiming," etc. Strangely, I feel I've been too kind to him.
6) When I decided to tackle my BoP spec in fic form there were two scenes I wanted to write, you've now read both. The dungeon scene, I went more emotionally harsh than the show. And then the last one here. We'll see where I landed in a couple of weeks! *g*
7) Finally, thank you to my readers for letting me have a break and not complaining about it. I feel so refreshed and this chapter was definitely better for it.

Reviews & comments are always greatly appreciated.