Word Count: 3086
Summary: Percy and Marguerite collect themselves after escaping France.
The door creaked as Percy slowly pushed it open to reveal the small, squalid room where he and Marguerite would spend the night.
“Your quarters, Madame,” he said and smiled at his wife. “Not a very fancy establishment, I am afraid,” he added lightly as she entered the room, and he followed her and closed the door behind him. “But it will have to do.”
He knew very well that Marguerite did not need fancy quarters and servants to cater to her every need. It was just that he always wanted the best for her. And he wanted to be home. My home is with you, she had once told him, after she accepted his proposal and agreed to come with him to England. He smiled at the memory, thinking of how blessed they had been back then, not knowing anything of the hardships that lay ahead of them.
“We are safe here,” she said softly. “You are free now, and we are together. That is all that matters.”
His eyes wandered over the torn wallpaper, the naked floorboards, and the dusty furniture. Compared to the prison cell where he had spent the last two weeks, this was heaven. Here he would sleep his first night in freedom, together with Marguerite. And that was nothing less than a miracle.
“You are right,” he said, and smiled at her. “As always.”
He took a step towards her, looking straight into her eyes. Slowly, he reached out to caress her face with such infinite tenderness that she had to close her eyes and fight the tears.
“Great God, how I have missed you…” he murmured, and as their lips met he forced himself to forget everything else.
After all the brutality and humiliation he had suffered at the hands of his jailors, it was heaven to be touched with such tenderness, and he let himself surrender to her completely. As they parted, she reached out her hand to caress his cheek.
“I think you need a shave,” she said with a smile.
“Forgive me, my lady. It has been three days. I demanded to be shaved before we set out on our little expedition. They would not let me handle a razor myself. They might have feared that I would cut my own throat with it.”
He had said it lightly, but as he saw the look in Marguerite’s eyes he realized that this was certainly nothing to joke about.
“I am sorry,” he murmured. “What a brute I am!”
Marguerite shook her head, not looking at Percy as she tried to speak. “When I came to see you, in la Conciergerie…Andrew and I knew that there was very little that could be done. But I brought some money if there would be a possibility that a guard would be open to bribery. They took it, of course, when they searched me. And the dagger…a dagger with a poisoned blade. If there was no other way…and I told myself that God in his mercy would forgive.”
Her voice broke, and she finally raised her tearful gaze to look at Percy who took her into his arms, holding her close, as if he would be able to hide her from all that haunted her, as if the waves of her pain could break upon him and leave her unharmed.
Although he had never truly given in to despair during his imprisonment, the knowledge that death may very well have been his only way to freedom had held his heart in a firm grip. It pained him beyond words that even Marguerite had been forced to think like that, to even comprehend the possibility that death would be his only saviour. He could not imagine how she had suffered as she stood face to face with despair, how she had made the decision to bring him this deadly gift.
“Hey…” he whispered, taking her into his arms once more and gently stroking her hair.
She could feel his strength and the indomitable spirit that lived within him. When she had knelt on the floor in his cell and cradled him after he collapsed out of sheer fatigue, she had thought that she would never feel that strength again. Never in her life had she felt so helpless, so utterly despairing.
“It is over now. All over…” he whispered.
But was it really? Marguerite knew that Percy would return to France again. However absurd it seemed after he had so narrowly escaped death, she knew that he would never give up his cause. But she would not allow herself to dwell upon it. Not now, when she had at last been reunited with her husband against all odds.
He let her go at last, and he took her hands in his and kissed them.
“Your hands are cold, my love. I better get a fire started.”
“Yes…that would be wonderful,” she said, and smiled.
He went over to the fireplace, and Marguerite sat down on the shabby ottoman by the only window, crossing her arms over her chest. It was indeed cold, but it was nothing compared to the chill outside.
Her tired gaze was fixed on Percy. The dandy, the fashion dictator, the friend of the Prince of Wales – there he sat on the floor by the fire, dressed in rags, in this squalid inn where he had taken shelter after once again escaping the deadly net of his worst enemy. She wished that they could see him now, those members of the English aristocracy who laughed at him behind his back, and those who thought that his fortune and connections were the only reasons to admire him.
They knew nothing of his courage and his sacrifices! No one would know what he had been through these past weeks, how he had suffered at the hands of his enemies who had not allowed him a moment of rest. All this he had endured to keep his honour, but most of all for the sake of an innocent child. If he were ready to sacrifice so much for another’s child, royal or not, then how would he not love a child of his own? Marguerite had often wondered if Percy would abandon his adventurous life if she carried his child, but she feared that she would never find out. With each passing month, her fear of being childless grew stronger. She did not know if Percy worried, too. If so, he kept his fears secret, just as she did.
Percy stared into the fire, his eyelids heavy and his mind at peace. It was heaven to feel the warmth of a fire again after more than two weeks in a cold cell. And now it was time to go to bed, to lay down beside his wife and find much needed rest. He got up on his feet and shrugged out of the coat that he had taken from Heron, eager to be rid of it.
“I would throw this ghastly unfashionable thing on the fire, if only I had something else to put on for the journey home,” he said as he unceremoniously threw the coat over a chair and turned around to face Marguerite – but his smile died away as he met her gaze.
She had seen the blood on his shirt when she visited him in prison, but it was still a shock to see it once again. Now that they were both safe, she could allow herself to feel the pain that she had fought so hard to hold back before, trying to be strong for him.
“What did they do to you?” she whispered.
Slowly, he went over to the ottoman and sat down beside her, taking her hand in his.
“It was after I had written those letters,” he told her. “I tricked them into believing that I was willing to surrender, and they left me alone to write down orders to my followers. I had the time to write the letters that I gave to you, scribble down some plump verses and even get a couple of minutes of sleep. They were furious when they realized that I had fooled them… It was laughable, really!” he said and smiled faintly, but his smile soon died away. “Not that I felt like laughing when they put me in chains and had me flogged for what I had done. I held on to the thought that none of it mattered, because now there was hope. Not much, but hope nonetheless. I had taken my first step towards freedom, and if I would ever get out of that hole and hold you in my arms once more, nothing of what they had done to me would matter anymore.”
Her eyes had been fixed upon him the entire time he was talking, and now they were full of tears. She leaned in to kiss him, to seek freedom from the shadows that still clung to them. As they parted, she closed her eyes and leaned against his shoulder.
Hope… She had not harboured much of it before visiting Percy in his cell. To see him so broken down and tormented had filled her with despair, but the letters he entrusted to her had given her a ray of hope. She had sworn that she would do anything to make sure that Percy’s will was carried out. That promise was the only thing that had given her the strength to walk away, to tear her gaze away from his anguished face as he stood there surrounded by soldiers, his feverish eyes urging her to keep her word at all cost.
“I hate them for what they did to you,” she said, her voice drained of all emotion.
“My love… I cannot blame you, for I hate that man, too. It does not matter what insults he throws at me, for I will only laugh at them, but all he has to do is mention your name, and it is all I can do not to close my hands around his neck with the urge to end his miserable life.”
Just as he had done in Boulogne.
She will never be allowed solitude for one single instant of the day or night. It means the constant proximity of soldiers, drunk with cruelty and with hate…
He had never told his wife what Chauvelin had threatened her with. It was better that she did not know. The thought of Marguerite in the Temple prison, left at the mercy of drunk soldiers – God! Even now, the mere thought of it was enough to awaken the shadow of his fury – and above all, his fear.
That time in Boulogne, Chauvelin had come to understand just how precious Marguerite was to him, and that he would do anything to keep her from harm. What he feared above all else was that he would not be able to protect his wife, and that his enemies would once again be able to use her as a pawn in their cruel game.
“I wish…” She hesitated, not sure how to find the words for how she felt. “I wish that I could protect you. But instead, they have used me to get to you. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak…”
“You saved me this time,” he said softly. “They tried to use you to weaken me to the point of surrender, but instead you secured my freedom.”
“You know, if… I just could not bear…”
“I know…” he whispered, reaching out to caress her face, and then he took her into his arms and held her close, stroking her hair.
“We should go to bed,” he murmured. “You need to get some sleep before we continue our journey.”
“I think that you need it more than I,” she said softly.
She remembered all too well his empty, lifeless eyes, how he had seemed to gaze into nothingness, as if he did not possess enough strength to focus. He had been but a shadow, with a desperate flame of defiance still burning deep within. He had recovered greatly, but the marks of fatigue were still engraved upon his face.
“I must admit that I am still rather fatigued,” he said. “After I told them that I was willing to surrender, they let me sleep. I have slept well for the last three nights, although I believe that it will take more than that to restore my strength,” he said lightly, and he rose from the ottoman and offered his hand to his wife.
Silently they walked over to the bed, which was narrow but looked reasonably clean and comfortable. They left on as much clothes as they could to protect themselves from the winter cold that the walls could not entirely keep out. Percy would rather have rid himself of his blood stained, dirty shirt, despite the cold, but he did not want Marguerite to see the scars on his back. At least not tonight. He did not want to upset her again, not for anything in the world. He just wanted her to be able to sleep peacefully together with him, all through the night.
Marguerite shivered as she lay down between the sheets, and she nestled close to Percy to find comfort in his warmth.
“Rest now…” she whispered. “Forget all your worries.”
“I have none, now that you are with me,” he answered with perfect honesty. “In the morning, we will board the Daydream, and before you know it, we will once again look upon the white cliffs of Dover.”
“And then home…” she said wistfully.
He leaned over her and kissed her before lying down beside her, resting his head against her breast.
“Good night, my love,” he whispered as he closed his eyes.
The sorrow still lingered in her, but there was no fear or anguish, nothing that would keep her from drifting off to sleep. She felt perfectly secure resting beside Percy, feeling his warmth and his steady breathing under the palm of her hand.
She had just drifted off, her thoughts scattered and starting to form dreams, when suddenly she was torn back from the threshold of sleep as she felt her husband start beside her, letting out a pained moan. Her eyes flew open and instinctively she reached for Percy, finding his hand and clasping it tightly.
“Percy? What is it?”
He looked at her, straight into her eyes, wondering as so many times before if she could not see right through him. There was no use trying to hide his feelings. What he did not tell her, she could easily guess.
“Was it a dream?”
“No, not exactly… I was just about to fall asleep, and…you know, I have gotten so used to it, how they came bursting into my cell as soon as I was about to doze off. And it was as if I was there again, just now, and they came to force me to tell them where the boy was…”
He fell silent, not looking Marguerite in the eye. He was loath to admit that his time as a prisoner had left such an imprint on him, but could one really expect otherwise? He was only human, after all. Not only had it been torture to be broken down by fatigue, desperately longing for a moment of rest, but the worst had been to know that his mind was slipping, that his iron will simply would not be enough to keep his mind together – and that in the end he might even succumb to betrayal and be rewarded only with death.
Marguerite felt that familiar hatred finding its way back into her heart, an echo of the black hatred she had felt as the soldiers had rushed into her husband’s cell, torn her away from him, and forced him to return to consciousness. The realization that his enemies held power over him even now made her feel so utterly helpless. He was free now, but the shadow of memories still lingered.
“It is nothing,” he said reassuringly. “It is just that I have not quite gotten used to freedom yet.”
“Me neither,” she whispered. “It is nothing less than a miracle that you are alive.”
“Well, I do not know… Your love alone, which I see shining from your dear eyes, is enough to make a man cling to life with all his might! When I know that you are waiting for me, how could I ever fail?”
Your love, dear heart, will draw me back safely home as it hath so often done before. You believe that, do you not?
She was the reason he had to return. His own death he could come to terms with, but what he could not stand was the thought of what it would mean to his wife. Chauvelin had known that her tears would be the worst possible torture, that her kisses would be the greatest temptation that would make his defences shatter.
Little Capet, Sir Percy. Tell me where to find him, and you may yet live to savour the caresses of the most beautiful woman in England.
How those words had taunted him! It had made him furious that his enemy even dared to mention the wife he longed to hold in his arms once more. But he had never allowed himself to believe that they would ever let him live, whether he gave them the Dauphin or not. All they had offered him was death – either to rot away in a dark prison cell or to walk up the steps to the guillotine to die under God’s open sky.
Betrayal would never lead to freedom. He had forced himself to believe that. The only alternative had been to find a way to escape. And he had done what had to be done, against all odds.
“I have considered myself the most fortunate man alive ever since you agreed to be my wife,” he said with a smile as he leaned down to kiss her. “Good night,” he whispered, and he lay down beside her and took hold of her hand.
She lay awake with her eyes open, until she was sure that Percy had fallen asleep. Then she could finally relax and allow herself to close her eyes and surrender herself to the warm darkness, blessedly free from pain and fear.