A lot can happen in a month…. For one Castile spent the better part of several weeks hunting down his armor. The brothers were quite devious in splitting it up and hiding across the Western realm at the behest of Francesca. He’d punish her for this inconvenience later, once they were wed… But he and the armor were reunited.
And then an unspeakable tragedy, the entire Rossi clan was wiped out in a zombie outbreak. That is all save Francesca, who was out on one of her carnal, social forays to try and sate that void inside of her. Her mother had been eaten alive in the kitchen, while planning the wedding menu………. An irony, Fate had such cruel humor.
The undead creatures were eradicated, the castle cleaned out… and Philip insisted on a public display of respect and grief for the family. It was considered bad form to refuse the king anything, and James never could refuse his half brother.
The Rossi’s were already sealed in the family crypt, because they bodies (what was left of them) had to be burned. There was nothing to view… other than poor Francesca Rossi, sole survivor and representative. Castile stood off to the side of the line of respectful mourners, his mother….inconsolable over the loss of Gianna. The king, his half-brother so newly crowned, full of polite empty words.
He moved closer to his betrothed and lean in close to ask, “Do you want him...here...now? Your James...I am not so unkind as keep him during this time”. A gift, he could be generous.
Francesca could not have been lovelier in her grief. Her face was shrouded in a lace veil, but that was the only shred of modesty on her. The dress she wore was an appropriate black, the skirt long and trailing elegantly, but the fabric glittered like the sky on a clear western night, and featured a plunging neckline that would have been scandalous if anyone could be manage to be scandalized by a young woman who had lost everyone she loved.
Francesca clearly knew that this funeral was an audition for her role as Duchess, and she held her composure as if it were her very life, tears hidden behind her veil. The only time she struggled, visibly, was at the mention of her brother Roberto, who had been her closest friend in the world.
This horrible tragedy left her in the unique position where she could claim the role of Duchess in either the East, as James' wife, or in the West, where she would have to single-handedly rebuild in the wake of the attack, as even the household's scholars, guards, and servants had been lost. The king was there, and Francesca knew that if she showed weakness, it was possible that he would choose to appoint another to the seat in the West and never think twice about it, as there was no reason to suppose she would be less happy with one duchy than another…
No reason, except the one leaning over her shoulder. The monster wearing her once-beloved's face.
"You doubt your capacity for cruelty?" Francesca responded, her voice icy cold. "Because I certainly do not." Her jaw clenched and she spoke with more disinterest than she had ever been able to, with him. Now, they were on much more equal footing. "I know your games. If James needs to be with me, you can loose him for him. I will not ask you for anything."
Castile frowned because this was definitely not the tone he wished to hear, and his eyes gaze over toward the King. A throaty growl escaped him just audible enough for the blonde noble to hear. He straightened next to her and stood like a statue, he was her betrothed and it was rude not to be respectful of the dead Rossi’s. But this bored him, and like a snake he shed his skin silently…
A large cool hand moved stiffly to touch Francesca’s arm. “Frannie...sorry...so sorry” red rimmed blue eyes blinked down at her. Tears. The beast was cruel letting him see his love at last after so much sorrow.
"Don't touch me. I don't want anyone to see you touching me," Francesca snapped curtly. She wanted nothing more than to be wrapped in the arms of a man who loved her, who could cry with her, but there was too much at stake. Far too much…
And that was why she didn't look at James' face, especially when she heard emotion breaking through that told her, clearly, that it was her Jamie. She had missed him, desperately, and dreamed about what she would say if she could see him again.
But it was too difficult - she had earned him an undue punishment, banishment from the monster who infected him, and been unable to resist the heights of pleasure he forced her into… She couldn't, wouldn't face her Jamie, and so she dismissed him, grateful for the veil obscuring her face. "Your monster is just trying to make me emotional, Jamie. I can't afford that."
The hand slid away, unsure… and then rested on the hilt of the green sword at his hip. “Yes...he is...I will not be a weapon against you…” and James moved stiffly away from the dias where she sat to intercept a noble, and his half-brother.
Francesca's eyes flit up from her determined stare as James' half brother, newly crowned King Philip, approached. She rose to her feet, offered a polite curtsy, and took a deep breath. This was an incredible opportunity, and even though it wrenched her heart to do it again - to reject and betray Jamie again - it was a window she hadn't expected the monster to give her, and she needed to take it. So she stepped to Jamie's side and nodded her gratitude as the king offered condolences and assured her the full resources of the crown to assist during the transition…
"As it happens, James and I were just talking about this," Francesca spoke up, lying rather convincingly. The tightness in her voice was easily explained by grief, and the veil made her features hard to see.
"We've decided to - amicably," she tossed a glance to James, pleading with him to play along. "End our engagement, so I can assume duties as Duchess while the land recovers from this loss. You know the land risks civil war in a vacuum of power; if I marry, it would be best if I chose a lord of the West, from one of our powerful families - a Ferrari, or a Lopez, perhaps." This little speech had clearly been prepared and rehearsed, and it showed more political savvy than Francesca actually had. James would know immediately that she had a tactician behind the scenes, but Philip would only see an informed leader who knew her people.
But the way she leaned a bit forward, and managed to make an obviously flirtatious touch of Philip's arm seem harmless was all Francesca. It was awful, to flirt with his brother - the brother he had been passed over for his whole life - in front of Jamie, but she had to do it. "With your advisement, of course, your highness."
The King looked at his half-brother, and asked “Is it true, you wish to end things?” James shook his head, but stayed his brother before he could say anything. “I always wish to be with Francesca…. But it’s better this way. For our people, and realms…”
Philip nodded his head although he seemed far more interested in Francesca’s little touches and smile. James inhaled hard, an almost painful gasp. When it elicited an arching brow of curiosity from his brother James lied to him. “I was injured on a hunt recently. I fear I have over extended myself… if you would be so kind as to make an announcement Philip...I'd like to take my leave”. He could do this one last thing for his betrothed, just hold the beast at bay for a moment.
“It is done, brother. A noble sacrifice…”
James all but growled at the royal as he gritted out. “Indeed….. By your leave, my King…..Duchess”. He moved away even as Philip was raising his hands to make the proclamation and announce Eventyr’s newest ruler of the Western realm.
Francesca bristled, hearing James' gasp and knowing full well it was no accident causing him pain. It was her, using his sincere love to reject him forever. Even though she knew he would be alone, with the terrible creature that shared his skin…
But when Philip agreed to make her Duchess, relief and satisfaction and pride coursed through her. This power cost her every member of her family, but - strangely - she felt… what?
A confused look passed over her features all of the sudden, and she, irrationally, asked a servant, "What time is it...?" They answered, and she frowned, but the fact that it was still hours to sundown couldn't dampen her success, and she stood tall at Philip's side as he made the announcement.
Her hand even slipped into his.
No one blamed Francesca for taking her leave early, after only pretending to take a few bites of the feast that her guests would enjoy. She hadn't had an appetite since laying eyes on the way her family had been torn apart, as if they were only meat, but continued to be insatiably hungry even after death… she wondered if she would ever feel hungry again.
The twilight hours were beautiful, and if Jamie were still around - which she couldn't be sure of, except from her surety that the monster would allow him to stew in his grief and pain if at all possible - Francesca knew she would find him in her mother's extensive gardens. She was not alone, more than half a dozen guards with her as well as one handmaid whose whole job it was to maintain her beautiful and excessive gown.
The new Duchess approached cautiously - she had learned her lesson. "Jamie? Is it you?"
James was thoughtfully standing near a massive rose bush, its blooms a sharp contrast to the green of its leaves. His brow arched slightly, and he replied in a low tone so her entourage wouldn’t over hear. “Frannie… you’ve come to say goodbye?”
He dragged the back of his fingers across his face, and rubbed at his eyes. Straightened and made himself more presentable, smoothed down his tunic. “I...can’t come back here” he said a little more strongly, and touched one flower that had particularly sharp thorns
Hearing what was undeniably Jamie's voice, Francesca cast a glance backward and made a gesture to dismiss her attendants, giving them more privacy. They wouldn't go far, though - she had told Antonio, her lover she had put in charge of security, to bring an army if he heard her scream. "I've thought so much about what I would say to you, Jamie, if I had the opportunity…" She drew close, taking that hand from the thorn's edge and kissing it gently. Her eyes met his, and there was so much love and sadness and unrealized joy in their blue depths that when she spoke, her words were a stark contrast: "Hate me. I know you won't want to, you'll want to hang on to a romantic notion of me, but don't."
She wanted to tell him that she loved him, and that she longed for the life they could have had. That if he had never gotten lost, they could have been happy. But if she did, she would leave Jamie - her loving, wonderful, gallant fiance - with regrets that would be hard to process. A clean break was easier for them both, and the fact that she had just used him and betrayed him helped - even if it was out of necessity. "I was never the woman you wanted me to be."
“I can not hate you, Francesca…..” he stated, because it was true although the beast had enough hate for both of them. “.....but I understand now that I can not love you either….” James moved his hand into a much more formal hold on hers. “...It was folly to try to hold onto you as I am…” James patted her hand as if he were congratulating her to keep her men from gathering close.
“He won’t bother you… I’ve arranged things...and I will speak to mother” he tilted his head with a little smile. Cupped her chin and then stepped back, it was better to put distance between them.
Francesca smiled, and it was the most polite, political, fake smile she had ever worn, when James promised his monster wouldn't bother her, and it took all her willpower not to shudder at his touch of her face.
"I doubt that," the new duchess said, wearing diplomacy like a mask. Her people were backing off, giving them more privacy the more comfortable Francesca looked. "He has his retribution from me. We just need to wait for it. I just regret..." that it would affect Jamie, as well, she intended to say, but she didn't. Francesca let her words get ugly, because she had no grace in her, not that day. "That you wed him before me, Jamie." Literal or metaphorical, honestly, she had no idea how changeling magic worked, but it was all the same. Jamie had not been hers to win since he disappeared, and she couldn't blame herself for that.
“So cold…” he said seeming disappointed, and surprised at the same time. Castile gave a resolute nod of his head, was anything else to be expected. “...James… if you must, there is no Jamie. That boy is gone, and we are no longer betrothed to use such informal titles….” She was his sun… but even the sun was eclipsed by the moon.
His eyes grew dull and faded. “Goodbye Francesca” Castile said flatly and walked away, he never looked back. But reached out to crush the rose he had been admiring earlier before seeking out his half brother to take his leave. He had a realm to take...
(ooc: JP title is a line from Six Feet Under's Zombie Blood Curse)