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Le Jeu Des Alliances

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 Dear Prince Louis, the Heir of France

 I am writing delicately on the anniversary of our betrothal to encourage you to reconsider for I still want to be your beloved wife. I am here in Madrid, waiting in the palace for your arrival and declaration that you have changed your mind and that you are no longer living the sin you chose. The almighty God put you in your fortunate place and you have chosen to throw that back in his face with the atrocities you chose to take place in, but I shall not hold this against you. You have been raised by a family of conflicting religions and it is no wonder you are at a loss with the word of God. Even now in France there is uncertainty of the leading religion however I pray that when you rise to the throne you shall settle the matter and announce Catholicism over the Protestant threat. Queen Madeline is a beautiful peacemaker however I am fearful that her liberalism is running France into a depth of inescapable sin. Your father was a Protestant, your mother a Catholic and, although they received a papal grant for their marriage, I struggle to believe that the Great Lord was content. I must be wrong, however, because the Lord blessed France with you, my dear Prince Louis and you are a gift to all of the nations with your charming smile, your cheerful song and the extended hand of friendship you offer everyone. Since my childhood I have been excited for our marriage and I am growing tired of waiting so I pray you respond quickly with the positive response I search for.

 Yours always and with great kindness,

Princess Isabella of Spain

Louis finished the letter and let out a deep sigh. He had been expecting a letter like this for quite some time for it happened more than once a year that the beautiful Princess Isabella reminded Louis that for the greatest part of their lives they had been betrothed and that Louis had suddenly ended it when he became eighteen and announced he was not looking for a beautiful woman but instead a handsome man.

 The news had been greeted with any angry Spanish letters of Isabella’s heartbreak and her Grandfather Ferdinand’s anger however Louis had sent an apology and moved on with his life. He had been bought up by his kind and welcoming mother and had been taught of nothing but love and freedom. Although the betrothal had been part of a peace treaty between King Ferdinand and Queen Madeline upon Madeline’s coronation and while the ending of the betrothal and Louis’ announcement had broken down many of the great relations between France and Spain, the border was, for the most part, safe.

 Isabella’s letter was the third Louis had read that afternoon about marriage after an announcement from the Scottish King James on his engagement to Princess Victoria of England and a request from a faraway Lord of Brittany for Louis to marry his virgin daughter. Louis hated it sometimes: how so much rested on marriage and the games behind the rings. Louis was not going to marry ever, he was sure of it, because marrying meant finding a pretty, fertile princess, wedding her and taking her to bed. Louis was sure he would never put himself through that.

 Louis pulled out his letter writing equipment in order to reply to Isabella while awaiting the attendance of his closest advisor, Sir Liam. Liam had been orphaned at a young age and bought up in the French court by a kind Uncle. Liam was ten years Louis’ senior and since Louis was seven years old Liam had been there to guide the way like a kindly big brother. Liam was dear to Louis’ heart and Louis trusted Liam with his life – he would of course consult Liam on his reply to the Spanish Princess before sending it.

 Louis was clever – his mother had insisted he be educated and had ensured he spoke English, and Spanish along with his native French. He had been able to read earlier than any of his peers and was read verses of the bible in Latin every night until he was ten. Like Liam, he had been raised in the court and his mother had never once tried to censor what was happening from her one and only son. He had been born to her while she herself was still young and when his father had passed away leaving the Queen heartbroken, Louis had been the ray of light throughout France through their mourning. Despite Louis’ intelligence, however, he needed Liam’s confirmation before he sent off his response.

 My darling Isabella,

Just reading your letter brings me fond memories of our childhood and I remember many trips to Spain to visit you and your beautiful country and to improve my own speech. Sadly, alongside these happy memories are some sadder ones of being promised to a Princess I shall never love and knowing that one day I would inevitably have to break the heart of a friend as dear to me as my sisters. You know, I am sure, that I did not end the betrothal because I did not love you but because I could not pretend to love you as a wife once we were married because I know I could never love a woman in that way. You are dear to me, my precious Isabella, and one day I hope that you can understand that I do not choose to live in sin but it is a life our Lord has destined for me in the same way he destined my mother to fall for my father. I pray that once you understand that I cannot change the way my heart falls, you will educate your beloved country on the matter and that the relationship between France and Spain stays strong despite the absence of our royal marriage. In addition, I urge you to seek a marriage with a French lord instead to keep our friendship strong. I will happily play a key part in arranging a meeting between you and a French lord and wish you all of the best in your quest for a husband.

 I pray that we will be able to see her soon and I am sorry to confirm that I do not wish to have your hand in marriage.

 With love, Prince Louis

 As Louis signed off the letter Liam came into Louis’ office with a wide smile and a bow. Louis cocked his head, intrigued by Liam’s obvious joy.

 “You look particularly happy today.” Louis commented. “What is it?”

“Am I not allowed to smile, sir? I work for the precious French Prince and the sun is shining.” Liam was being evasive and Louis was suspicious. He narrowed his eyes and Liam buckled. “Queen Madeline would like to see you. She has received a letter from Mary, the Princess of Wales that concerns you and I think you will be very interested in what it says.”

 “Is my Mother in her office or the Great Hall?”

“Her Royal Highness is in her office. She would like to talk to you privately, Sir. I was told briefly what the letter entails and I think you will be very excited to hear the news.”

 Louis was indeed intrigued. He indicated to his own letter drafted to Princess Isabella and Liam understood to read it and report back to Louis on his own thoughts however now Louis was to se his mother in her office.

 Queen Madeline, Louis’ mother, was nicknamed ‘the mother of France’. She had four children, Louis and his younger sisters Marie, Madeline and Mathilda and upon being crowned Queen had made a vow to her country that she would let them come to no harm. She had been seventeen when Louis had been born after falling deeply in love with a French knight called Louis despite her own father’s wish for her to marry a foreign Prince. France had been a rocky country before Louis’ Grandfather’s death and Madeline’s coronation.

 Princess Mary was an English Princess, a few years older than Queen Madeline. Mary’s father was King Henry IX and she was his only daughter, much like how Madeline had been her father’s only daughter however Queen Madeline and Princess Mary’s fathers had never gotten on and there had been a bitter resentment between England and France ever since. Madeline was a skilled diplomat however a peaceful relationship with England had never been established since Madeline’s coronation despite her best efforts. King Henry was unhappy with the way France had treated England not only through Louis’ grandfather’s reign but throughout history and always reiterated that it would take more than one kindly Queen to fix a history of war.

 Louis had always thought that King Henry IX was being very unfair on his mother and was in no doubt that if it had been a warrior King negotiating a peace or even an alliance with England, King Henry would have been eager to listen. As it stood, Madeline was a kind French Queen who hoped to make peace with all of the nations her father upset but some Kings just would not give her the chance because she was a woman. That was often the reason Louis was sent to foreign countries to negotiate – he was the strong, handsome French heir who was loved by his nation and he was more than just a kind Queen. Louis had a sharp tongue and a quick wit; Louis made it hard for countries to say no to a peace treaty and along with his mother’s business mind, France had made many successful negotiations.

 Although Louis had never visited England due to tensions between the two countries, he spoke good English and was a good friend of the King of Scotland, James VIII and had negotiated with King Arthur of Ireland. The two kings were cousins and both had close relations with England. King James of Scotland was to marry Princess Victoria, second in line to the English throne after her mother and King Arthur’s younger brother was a close friend of the English King’s Grandson.

 England was a powerful country and Louis’ mother was determined to win them over – it was the last peace she needed to make and it frustrated her that they so flatly refused to even consider it. King Henry was open minded enough to change the rule of succession in England to the eldest child, not just the eldest son but he refused to negotiate with the French Queen.

 With all this on his mind, Louis navigated the great rooms of Versailles until he reached his mother’s grand office. Just two rooms away were his sister’s libraries where they were taught and Madeline had insisted on this so that her children were always close. All three of his sisters had inherited his mother’s long, wavy blonde hair but unlike their mother all had their father’s dark brown eyes – all of them striking in looks. Louis on the other hand had inherited his mother’s light blue eyes and his late father’s brown hair but all four of the princesses and prince had a strong family resemblance.

 Queen Madeline was sat at her writing desk, the view of the gardens of Versailles lying behind her and although Louis had grown up in Versailles and all of its grandeur, the views still took his breath away.

 “Louis, I have good news.”

“I am excited to hear it Mother.” Louis smiled and while his mother was rearranging the paper on her desk, Louis told her about his own news. “I received another letter from Princess Isabella today asking for a revival of our betrothal along with a dig about how I was choosing to live in sin.”

 “That poor girl is plagued by the miseducation given to her by her Grandfather. That King is living in the dissolution that his interpretation of the bible is the only way it can be and it is unhealthy.”

 Louis nodded in agreement and took a seat in front of his mother. “So please tell me Mother, what did the English Princess Mary say?”

At this, Madeline smiled widely in a similar way to how Liam had been earlier. Madeline straightened her back and pulled what was presumably the Princess’ letter in front of her.

 “Before I tell you what this letter reads you should understand that this has been a topic of our conversations for just under six months. This has not been to undermine you but these letters have been strictly confidential until now and that is why you have not been consulted. Not even King Henry knows that these letters have been exchanged.”

 Louis’ heart was quickening with nerves at his mother’s prewarning and tried to read upside down the contents of the letter but failed. Madeline had chosen her words carefully and was alluding to making some plans concerning Louis and England. Was he to go and live there as an ambassador? To make up a trade agreement? To pander to the King’s every need until the King decided that France was not so bad.

 “Do go on.”

Madeline nodded and took a cautionary tone. “Please understand that this is strictly confidential. Liam can know and only Liam.” Louis nodded and Madeline smiled again. “Throughout your childhood, it was always planned for you to be married to Princess Isabella as you know however I know you do not want to marry a Princess so I started looking for a different line for you.”

 “You have been arranging marriages?” Louis felt betrayed. His mother had evaded arranged marriages herself and married who she wanted to for love twice. She had promised her children that they would all have the same opportunity as she had once Louis had fought against his betrothal to Isabella. It would appear this would not be the case.

 “Maybe.” Madeline confirmed. “It is a brilliant opportunity if this works out the way Mary and I have planned it but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the marriage, if there is one, could happen.”

 Louis was outraged that his mother could do such a thing so casually and shook his head. “I will not do it.”

“You know nothing yet.” Madeline frowned.

 “You are about to tell me who I am supposed to fall in love with and have heirs with for the good of our country. I will not marry some English Princess or Lady as a last resort for a peace with England– I refuse to.”

 Madeline simply shrugged as if Louis’ decline of her proposal was not a big deal. “That is alright.”

Was that it? Was the discussion over? Louis straightened up to leave but for some reason his Mother kept talking.

 “I did not want you to marry an English Princess or Lady as it happened, it was the English Prince.”

There was a stony silence throughout the Queen’s office at that announcement, maybe even the whole of Versailles. Louis was sure everyone in France had heard the shocking words that had fallen out of the motherly Queen’s mouth and he was still processing it himself.

 “Mother-,” he gave it a moment, “are you trying to get me to marry a man?”

Madeline nodded, not affected by Louis’ shock. The Queen had obviously been planning this with Princess Mary for a while and now Louis understood why these letters had been happening in secret. France was the most liberal country in regards to two people of the same gender loving each other but even then, there was no way they could be married and although Louis did not know the finer details of English attitudes he could be sure that they would not be happy if a Frenchman married their English Prince. The King would be outraged, as would the rest of the nobility and everyone under them.

 And speaking of the English Prince, since when had he liked men?

Madeline however, seemed unaware of the problems this could cause. “Mary and I believe a marriage between you and her son Henry would lead to a great improvement between the English and French relations, we just have to be sure it would be a success and make the proposal to Henry the King.”

 Louis knew a few things about Prince Henry. Prince Henry was quiet and thoughtful, more prone to smiling and agreeing than to fight a war. Prince Henry was renown throughout Europe as being quite beautiful and if the portrait hanging in the halls of Versailles were anything to go by he had luscious, long, curly brown hair and striking green eyes. Louis was sure it was just the artist exaggerating features but Louis would really have to meet the English Prince in real life and judge for himself. Louis also knew that Prince Henry was more often than not referred to by his pet name, Harry.

“Do you think you would be prepared to travel to England next month to visit Prince Henry?”

It was a big ask. Usually when Louis was sent to another country it was to negotiate a trade deal or tell a King in person that Louis would not marry his daughter or granddaughter – Madeline wanted her son to travel to England, meet Prince Henry and discuss marriage. It was a daunting prospect but Louis did not want to let his mother down.

 Louis nodded slowly. “I would. I will travel to England and meet the Prince but how will you get this royal trip past the King?”

 Madeline smiled softly – of course she had already thought it out. “You will take with you some beautiful dresses for Princess Victoria as a present celebrating her engagement with King James who is a great friend of ours.”

 Of course Louis would. Flattery was a great skill and Louis and his mother were good at it. “So the King has agreed to my trip without knowing the real reason behind it?”

 “He has.” Queen Madeline nodded. “If you are questioned then you tell people you are in England to congratulate the Princess, to further discuss a peace with some of the Kings most celebrated advisors and to experience English culture to understand the true differences that are repeatedly driving our countries apart.”

 Louis nodded slowly.

“Also, Louis,” Madeline remembered, “you have received a letter from England yourself.”

The Queen extended her delicate hand and gave Louis a letter enclosed within the English seal.

 “Take it to your own rooms to read. I will only allow you to talk of this business with Liam, myself or Philippe. No one else can know, not even your sisters.”

Louis nodded. He could have guessed that his step-father knew about the Queens business and although he did feel slightly put out that Philippe had known of the plans regarding Louis before Louis had known himself, Philippe was a kind man who had looked after Madeline and her children ever since he had become one of the family. As much as Louis had tried to dislike his father’s replacement at the start, he could not.

 “But Mother,” Louis frowned, “two men are not allowed to marry each other in France nor England.”

A proud smile grew onto Madeline’s face now and she straightened her back and raised her head high. “Not yet.”

With excitement of what was to come, Louis pocketed his letter and excused himself from his mother’s office to make his way through the palace back to his own rooms where Liam would be waiting for him. Indeed, Liam was. He was looking out at Louis’ own view of the grand gardens of Versailles and when he heard Louis enter he turned and bowed his head in respect. Although Louis had told Liam that there was no need for the formalities Liam still bowed his head and called Louis ‘sir’ out of habit and respect and Louis had eventually stopped mentioning it.

 “You are a skilled writer, sir.” Liam nodded at the letter. “I think Princess Isabella was rather rude about you but you are wise to not bite back.”

 “Thank you, Liam.” Louis smiled and took a seat at his own desk to seal the letter. “Could you please have it sent to Spain tomorrow morning?”

“Of course, sir.” Liam nodded. “What did your mother tell you?”

 “I am to go to England next month, and you of course would be coming with me. The trip has been arranged for me to meet Prince Henry and discuss the possibility of a marriage between us. The English King is not to know before it is all finalised and this is strictly confidential between you, I, mother and Philippe.”

 “I understand, sir.” Liam nodded sincerely. “And the letter you have there?”

“It is for me from England. Could I be alone while I read it?” Louis requested and Liam nodded – of course he did. He then excused himself out of the room with Louis’ letter to Madeline clutched in his hand and left Louis to his own letter from England.

 The paper was crisp Louis’ royal title was written smartly on it – it was a neat handwriting that was easy to read and when Louis opened the letter he noticed that despite being from England, it was written in perfect French.

 Dear the Prince Royal, Louis of France,

 I write to you not only with great excitement but with confirmation of the proposition the great Queen Madeline will have told you about. Since being a child I was questioning if I would ever fall in love with a fair lady and despite being introduced to Princess after Princess as I grew up, when the news reached England that you were more inclined to men than women, I realised that I was too. I took your story as inspiration and have been living with the private knowledge that you and I are the same for some years – I did not tell anyone until I told my mother six months ago and the same day my mother wrote to Queen Madeline. Only my parents, sister and closest friends know about me but now you know too and I am eager that we meet and discuss the options. Of course, if this all too forward and you do not wish to discuss the possibilities then I will understand as this is overwhelming for me too but I am still eager to meet you so that maybe we could be friends despite my Grandfather’s wish for us to remain enemies. Unlike France, in England we are not as liberal in regards to two men loving each other so it has been lonely not having many people to talk to about the matter, especially not a fellow Prince. My sister Victoria also looks forward to meeting you as you are a close friend of her husband to be, James. He speaks very highly of you and we are excited that we will finally have you in our country. I am afraid that I have said too much in this letter for we have never spoken before but I hope I can be forgiven for the excitement that you are coming to England in a month – it is going to be a great honour.

 Yours graciously, Prince Harry of England.

Louis read the letter through twice before laying it down in front of him and taking it in. He noted how the English Prince referred to himself as Harry rather than Henry, how he referred to Louis’ mother as ‘the great Queen’, and how the Prince was looking forward to meeting Louis because more than anything, he was lonely.

 Louis had expected Harry to write with confidence, talking about the gains of a marriage and how England would show off to the French Prince but Harry was humble, eager and apologetic almost for how his Grandfather viewed France. Louis had heard the rumours that the English Prince was like this and had always thought of him as the quiet Prince but it was a different thing having this Prince write to Louis and prove it.

 And then a strange shiver washed down Louis’ spine and he realised what was happening. A foreign Prince was trying to impress Louis, trying to flatter him and not just for a successful trade deal but for marriage. This Prince was famously handsome and girls all over Europe were rumoured to swoon for him but he did not want the girls, he was writing to Louis. With marriage came a lot of other obligations and Louis was only just truly understanding what he had signed up for. With marriage came a romance with kisses and so much more. There was an expectation to have babies that came with marriage but Louis was not sure how that would work out in this case. A marriage between two men was not even legal so Louis did not know why he was letting his mind run away with all of these ideas but he was getting excited. Louis had been sure that by telling everyone he preferred men he had signed his life away to solitude but no, there was a handsome young Prince who could marry Louis and would want to touch and kiss Louis and take him to bed...

 Louis shook his head and looked back at the letter on his table. He was supposed to be working on a response to this letter not letting himself think of the most outrageous things. It was all new and exciting but Louis had let lust lead him blindly before and the English Prince would not have the same effect on Louis.

 The French Heir realised with annoyance that he had not written back to King James congratulating him on his engagement. He checked the clock and saw that there was now less than an hour until dinner and there was no way he would have written the two letters by then so one of them would have to wait until Monday.

 When Louis was called to dinner that evening his mother shot him an intrigued glance before saying grace and telling everyone to dig in. They were eating in the small dining room with just the family and Louis felt very conscious that his mother wanted to know what Harry’s letter had said. She had every right to know, of course, but Louis felt like keeping it just to himself for just a few hours more so he could be sure that this was really happening. Louis had spent his entire adult life working for his mother, learning the ropes for when he himself became King and now something different had come his way.

 His mother sat at the head of the dinner table, Phillippe at the other and Louis sat to his mother’s right opposite his eldest sister, Marie who was finally back from a trip to the South of France to visit the Duke Claude of Toulouse. The two of them had been courting for almost a year now and Madeline had been sure that this would be the trip where Claude would propose but Marie had looked downcast upon her arrival home and was not excited to tell them anything.

 “How was your trip?” Louis asked nervously when Marie finished a mouthful of beef. “You have not spoken much since you got home.”

 “Claude was very kind and attentive as always,” Marie started with a smile, “however his sister was there and she was not kind to me.”

 At this, Madeline frowned protectively and demanded to know more.

 “Well upon my arrival she was smiling and welcomed me warmly however, throughout my stay, she made less and less time for me and even when Claude asked her to stay with me on the days he was away she would leave me alone in the gardens or a drawing room with my ladies, claiming she just had to do something and never returning. I felt quite alone in the South and next time I am invited I think I shall take Maddie and Mathilda with me.”

 “Did you tell Claude about this?” Philippe then asked and Marie nodded.

“I did on my last day, for I did not want to make things awkward, and he promised he would speak to her so now I am awaiting his letter. He was very apologetic and begged me to understand it was not how he had planned the trip to go.”

 Madeline looked slightly comforted by that knowledge, Philippe too and then talk turned to Louis and his trip to England.

 “Is it true you are to sail to England, Louis?” Marie asked him and Louis nodded.

“I will go in a month to visit the royal family. I am to congratulate Victoria personally on her engagement to King James and to give her our gift of some of the finest dresses.”

 Marie did not look assured though. “Is it safe for you to travel to England? They have never wanted to seek any peace with us, why should they grant Louis access into their country. They did not a few years ago when Louis wanted to pass through to get to Scotland and he had to travel by boat all of the way to Edinburgh in the middle of Winter. What has changed?”

 “I have been writing to Princess Mary and the King’s blessing should arrive any day now. Louis will have some of our finest men with him, of course but I am sure he will come to no harm in England. Despite King Henry’s frostiness, the relationship between us has been improving. Slowly but steadily, I am sure history will be forgiven.”

 Marie nodded and turned to her youngest sister Mathilda. “Tilly, would it be okay if I invited Claude up to Versailles for your eighteenth birthday ball? I know there is still two months before it happens but I told him about the masquerade ball and feast and he was very excited to hear about it. I will not be inviting his sister, of course, but could I invite him?”

 Mathilda nodded. It seemed like they had been planning her eighteenth birthday celebrations since before she was even seventeen but Louis too looked forward to them. He had attended a masquerade ball many years ago and had found himself liberated behind the mask. Anonymity was addictive when everyone knew you and Louis had danced with man after man on the ballroom, not knowing nor caring who they were – just revelling in the freedom that a Prince could have fun sometimes.

 “Mother, who else is to be invited to my birthday? Will any Princes be coming?”

Queen Madeline nodded. “Prince Leonardo and Prince Albert will be coming as well as many Lords and Earls, or sons of.” Then she turned to her middle daughter, her namesake, Maddie and smiled. “There will also me a few Princesses coming; Isabella has been invited along with Princess Harriet and Princess Sophia.”

 Maddie smiled graciously then but then a sad smile took over her face. “None of those Princesses are like me.”

 Madeline shrugged her elegant shoulders but gave her daughter a sympathetic smile. “I know darling but maybe you just do not know they are yet.”

 Louis wondered if his mother knew of more royals that preferred those the same gender as them, aside from her own son and daughter, and then Louis realised that if any Prince or Princess did come out and tell their parents they were more inclined in that way, liberal Queen Madeline would be the first to know.

 “Maddie,” Philippe spoke up, not one to usually contribute much at the dinner table, “I was out training today when one of my men told me his daughter was like you. She is a year older than you and is one of our royal seamstresses – would you like me to find out her name?”

 Maddie’s face lit up and she nodded her head eagerly. Louis wondered what it would be like for him if Prince Henry was in fact a French Lord, in a country that had accepted people like Louis and Maddie into their society and it was no longer a taboo subject. They would be talking just as casually about Louis and Harry’s prospects as they were Marie, Maddie and Mathilda’s and it would be nice. How long would it be before Louis could tell his sisters?

 Dinner conversation then turned to more mundane topics such as Mathilda’s riding lessons and Maddie’s piano playing. Louis loved his mother and sisters dearly so listened with intent but also observed how hard Philippe was trying to fit in with the flow of conversation and offer a helping hand, just like he had done with Maddie. Philippe had been married to Queen Madeline for just over two years and the family were adjusting.

 Philippe was head of the French army, just as Louis’ father had been before his tragic death and while at first it had stung that his mother had fallen for his father’s replacement, Louis understood now that it had not been like that and that Madeline had fallen for a kind and genuine man who could help her look after her family and be a father figure for them.

 Louis was requested to stay with his mother and Philippe at the table after his sisters were dismissed and Liam came in and took one of the vacated chairs. It was clear to Louis what was to be discussed.

 “So, darling, what did it say?” Madeline asked eagerly. “Do you have it with you?”

Truthfully, the letter was folded up and in Louis’ pocket but he did not want it to be passed around and drooled over by the three of them so he shook his head and lied. “I am afraid I left it in my room but I can tell you what it said.”

 This seemed to satisfy the room because they all nodded eagerly and Louis launched into a rough telling of what the letter said.

 “Prince Henry was very polite and flattering, he told me how excited he was to meet me and how more than anything, he is lonely being a Prince who likes men in England, a country where it is faced with hostility.” Madeline, Philippe and Liam were still all listening intently so Louis carried on. “He mentioned that his sister is also excited to see me because she has heard a lot about me through King James and the Prince was very apologetic for his Grandfather.” Louis went quiet, unsure of what else to say and Madeline frowned.

 “Is that it?”

“What were you expecting?” Louis questioned. It had been more than enough to satisfy Louis so why not his mother?

 “No questions of the actual marriage, nothing about a possible peace treaty or anything to say he himself has spoken to his grandfather about a peace?”

 Philippe raised his hand to silence the Queen before she could say anymore – something only a brave man would do. “Madeline, the boy is not as close to the crown as our Louis is, he is going to be nervous about the whole situation. He will not be taught in the ways of politics like we are, the English are different. I am sure Prince Henry spends most of his time away from London in his own castle so it should not be expected that he can influence his grandfather and talk peace treaties.”

 Madeline’s steely glare turned soft at Philippe’s words because he was right. Whereas Louis felt he could challenge his Mother on laws and treaties, Prince Henry was not in that situation. The English King was a scary man and Louis doubted that he was a doting Grandfather – it was most likely to be Princess Mary or her husband Lord Robert that discussed how treaties and marriages would work out, not Prince Henry.

 Queen Madeline took a second to compose herself before beginning to question Louis again. “Have you drafted a reply to Prince Henry yet?”

 Louis shook his head. “I have not but I will do it first thing on Monday morning and have Liam check it over before it is sent off.”

 Madeline was satisfied by this answer and posed one last question towards Louis. “Do you want to go through with this?”

 Louis was not sure if he was allowed to say no but even if he was, he would not. The simple fact that Louis might be able to marry a handsome English Prince was an exciting prospect and Louis was not going to back away from it now.

 

 The next day was Sunday so Louis was not expected to do any work. Instead he attended the service in the chapel in the morning before wandering in the garden with his oldest sister, Marie, while she told him about her trip to the south in more detail.

 “Claude took me to the theatre and you would have loved it, Louis. It was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I know how you love Shakespeare.”

 Marie was right, Louis did love Shakespeare. He’d been introduced to Shakespeare’s sonnets while studying English and had grown to be fascinated with the English bard.  Louis had only ever seen three of Shakespeare’s plays. While in Scotland, the King had taken Louis to see Macbeth and once back in France Louis had seen Hamlet and Richard III.

 “Maybe I’ll have to see another one.” Louis nodded. “We should go together.”

Marie nodded and linked arms with her older brother as they walked throughout the gardens of Versailles. With a sigh, Marie then looked up to the Palace to where their Mother had taken herself into the office to work.

 “Mother should not be working on a Sunday – she will overwork herself.”

Louis agreed although a strange feeling in his stomach told him that it was something to do with his visit to England. After their lunch their mother had been called to her office and with a glance at Louis had agreed to go.

 “It will be important business.” Louis reassured his sister. “Mother can handle an extra day’s work, she is Queen after all.”

 “And a great one at that.” Marie sighed. “She is also our Mother though and I miss her. We seem to see her less and less and it confuses me as to what she can be working on. We have peace at all of our borders and the discontent in Northern Europe is distant enough from us that we can send a few men and be done with it.”

 “There is no peace with England yet.” Louis reminded Marie, his heart jumping a little at the country’s mention. “Mother is determined to get a peace treaty out of King Henry and is going to extreme lengths to get it.”

 “Extreme lengths?” Marie frowned and Louis realised he’d said too much. “What do you know that I don’t?”

 “Nothing.” Louis insisted. “But I am to go to England and meet King Henry – Mother does not usually send her children to nations there is no concrete peace with, she would usually send Philippe or before our father’s death she would send him. By sending me she is proving that she has utmost trust in England and is willing to send her one and only son to them and if they see we trust them it is more likely they will trust us and maybe send Prince Henry back in return.”

 Marie smiled at the mention of Prince Henry. “I have heard rumours the Prince is more beautiful every year. Claude’s cousin Philippa is married to an English Lord and she sometimes attends balls with Harry. She says he is not one to dance but he stands by the side watching everyone with a soft but charming smile.”

Louis raised his eyebrows. “Claude’s cousin is a married woman and should not be looking at the Prince that way.” At this comment, Marie giggled.

 “Oh, believe me Louis, Harry commands all of the eyes in the room, no matter what their orientation is. Even you would have to work hard to earn his attention over the hundreds of others attempting it.”

 Louis couldn’t help but smirk. “Is that a challenge, my dear sister?”

Anxious to know why his Mother was working on a Sunday, after his walk with Marie Louis made his way to his Mother’s office and smiled hopefully at the guard outside it. Queen Madeline did not always have a guard outside her office so she was obviously partaking in important work but the guard let Louis in with a polite bow and at Louis’ entrance his Mother smiled.

 “I have received another letter from Princess Mary!”

“Was that enough reason to come into your office on a Sunday?” Louis frowned and his Mother nodded, opening up the letter and reading an extract out to Louis.

 “It says, ‘my dearest friend – I have spoken to my Father and he has received your letter requesting permission for your son to visit and is in the process of drafting a permission letter to you now. The King of England is sure Prince Louis’ visit will make no change in the relations between our countries but is honoured that you would send your son to congratulate his granddaughter in person on her engagement. I am afraid the King is concerned about what impression Louis may give to the English people regarding his stance on not being attracted to women however I personally assured the King that your son is a delightful man who is not intent on stealing the hearts and minds of our own country but to experience our own culture and lend a friendly hand. I do believe the King’s permission will be with you by the end of the week.’” Madeline finished with a wide grin and Louis saw that she was halfway through writing a reply.

 “That is good news.” Louis nodded. “Marie was worried something serious had come up and I have to admit I was too. It is unlike you to come into your office so urgently.”

 “I am determined to make peace with England, my son.” Madeline told him. “If it means spending a few hours in my office on the day of rest then so be it.”

 “I understand. Tomorrow I shall write my reply to Prince Henry and have it sent to England and I will also finish my letter to King James congratulating him on his engagement. Do you think I should visit Scotland while I am in the British Isles?”

 “I think that would be a wonderful idea. Ask the King in your next letter – it will be very fitting.” Louis was glad his Mother approved of his idea to also visit Scotland however was unsure of what that would mean for how little time he would spending in France.

 “My trip would be sizably longer Mother, could you do without me in court for that long?”

It was with a pained look that his Mother nodded. “Philippe will help me out, as will your sisters.” Then Queen Madeline sighed. “I will miss your skill though, not even your Father was as skilled as negotiating with foreign powers as you are.”

 “And that is why you are sending me to England.” Louis reminded his Mother. “It will not be a holiday, I will be working Mother.”

Madeline nodded. “I know. Now go and enjoy the rest of your Sunday.”

With that dismissal, Louis rose and left his Mother’s office. He was hungry but dinner wasn’t until late – then again, Louis supposed if he went to the kitchens they couldn’t turn him away. He was a Prince, after all.

 Louis hadn’t been to the kitchens of Versailles often but he knew his way and when he rapped on the door the head chef, Hugo, let him in with a wide smile.

 “Your Highness, how can we serve you?”

Hugo had been head of Versailles’ kitchen since before Louis had been born. He was one the royal family’s most trusted servants and was consistently impressing them with new dishes but he also worked with a skilled team to create anything the palace wished.

 “I am hungry, do you have anything spare for me?”

“We will cook you a full meal if it was what you wished.” Hugo offered kindly but Louis shook his head.

 “I would like some bread and cheese because I don’t want to ruin my appetite.”

“Certainly.” Hugo nodded, then he clapped his hand and ordered his people to prepare a cheeseboard for the Prince and sent someone else to find the freshest stick of bread. Once the cheese and bread was prepared, Hugo himself insisted on carrying it to Louis’ rooms for him and as they walked together Hugo took the opportunity to catch up on Louis’ life.

 “Sir, rumour has it that the Spanish Princess Isabella is still pushing for a marriage.”

Louis was not surprised that the rumours were flying. There were a lot of Spanish ambassadors in court at the moment and Louis was sure Hugo had been asked to cook some Spanish meals for them, however, none of the ambassadors seemed to be reporting back to Spain that Louis was not joking when he’d told Princess Isabella the first time around that he did not wish to marry her.

 “Isabella is still pushing for a marriage, yes.” Louis confirmed, being tactile with not only what he said but how he said it. “The Princess speaks very kindly of me, has always charmed us here in France and they are very good hosts when I visit Spain but I do not wish to marry her. If it was possible, I would marry a man and there is nothing personal against Princess Isabella, she is just not my type.”

 “Of course.” Hugo nodded. “We all understand it here in France but you can only hope they will begin to learn across the border.”

 “They will understand it one day.” Louis assured Hugo. “How is your family?”

“I am a grandfather now!” Hugo exclaimed excitedly. “I have a grandson and we named him Louis after you, of course. You and your mother are the light in all of our lives and if it had been a baby girl she would have undoubtedly been called Madeline. My family will forever be your loyal servants.”

 “I am pleased to hear it.” Louis smiled as they reached his rooms. “I will carry my own bread and cheese from here Hugo, I am very grateful for your help and I hope that little Louis will grow up to be every bit the man you want him to.”

 “If he is one bit like you then we will be more than happy.” Hugo assured Louis and left Louis’ side with a very deep bow. It was staff like Hugo who had been by Louis’ family for decades, whose families had served with devotion for generations in the past that made Louis feel like he was surrounded by a large, buzzing, family.

 Once in the solitude of his own rooms, Louis set his food down on his desk and pulled out his letter from the English Prince yet again. It was Louis’ day of rest, yes, but he had been turning Harry’s words over in his head again and again, trying to figure out how to draft a response. When tomorrow’s dawn broke Liam would come to Louis and ask him how the reply was going. If Louis let Liam know he was struggling the task would be taken out of Louis’ hands and his mother would dictate a response, if Louis had written the letter but not sealed it then it would be read by Liam, Philippe and his mother and then Louis would undoubtedly be told to rewrite parts.

 If Louis didn’t want his business with Prince Henry becoming everyone’s business, then Louis would have to have a reply signed and sealed ready for Liam to deliver by ten o’clock tomorrow morning. That would mean that Louis would have to start writing now.

 Louis refreshed himself with Harry’s words then pulled out his writing set and got to work.

Dear Prince Henry of England, Duke of Cambridge,

 Louis stared at it. Should he have included Henry’s other titles? Should he have called the Prince Harry, for that was how the Prince’s letter had been signed. Mimicking was how Louis was to do this, he decided. Louis took a new piece of paper and started over.

 Dear Prince Harry of England,

It was with great surprise that I received the news that you are like me, however I am touched that I helped you understand your own feelings and that you feel like I am someone you can talk to. When I came out with the news that I was not going to marry a woman, I was sure I was retreating to a life of solitude - away from marriage - and that my work as my Mother’s heir would become my life and then eventually I would have my own reign. With your news, however, it would seem that there could be something more for me than a life of work, there could be more to it. I have never visited England despite wanting to my entire life but have heard many great stories of your palaces, castles and celebrations from my Irish and Scottish friends of King Arthur and King James. I have visited many countries on behalf of my mother for official business and whilst I will still be attending official business in England, it feels more like I am preparing for a holiday in an unknown part of the world and I am trembling with anticipation. I can only hope your people don’t reject me because of who I am and can see the person beyond my sexuality that my own French people see. Maybe if your people can see me the way I hope they do, you can be reassured they’ll also see you in that way – nothing more than their beloved Prince. Once your Grandfather’s permission crosses the channel, I can be reassured this dream trip is truly happening and I will be a step closer to finally meeting you. I have read and treasured your letter and I hope mine can hold the same sentiment.

 I will await your reply with the greatest of anticipation,

Prince Louis, heir to the French throne.

As Louis signed off the letter he considered summoning Liam to come and proof read it, for he never sent off anything without Liam’s approval, but then Louis didn’t. This wasn’t Liam’s life, this wasn’t the typical official business that Liam was needed for, this was Louis’ own life. Did Marie get every letter to her beloved Claude approved of, no. Louis was going to send this alone. He folded the letter and sealed it before placing it carefully aside, ready to be sent off in tomorrow’s post.

When Monday morning came around Louis sent his letter off early and when Liam knocked on his door and asked if Louis had begun to draft it, Louis told Liam it was gone with a large smile. Liam was not happy.

“Sir, what am I to tell your mother? She has been asking after the letter.”

 “I will speak to my Mother.” Louis told Liam calmly. “My Mother may have hatched the plan however she put it into my hands to execute so that’s the way it’ll be.” Liam shook his head, an annoyed tone still in his voice.

 “The Queen will not be happy.”

“The Queen promised I would not be part of an arrangement like this and yet here we are.” Louis countered, reminding Liam of his place. He may be a trusted member of the royal household but it was Louis who was the Queen’s son, not Liam. Louis’ advisor regained his composure and plastered another smile onto his face.

 “Sir, is there anything else you would like me to read through?”

“Yes.” Louis nodded. “I have drafted a reply to King James and included a request that I visit him after my trip to England. Could you please read through this?”

 “Certainly.” Liam nodded.

With the afternoon came a letter from the Netherlands regarding France’s taxations on exporting that Louis had to reply to and then came a meeting with his step-father on the plans for the French army.

 “There is unrest in Northern Europe.” Philippe reminded Louis when Louis told his mother’s husband there was no need for expanding the army.

 “And France is happy in its peace.” Louis insisted.

“More and more countries are being drawn in. The Hapsburgs and Romanovs have both requested French aid as you very well know and we cannot keep declining. What if war is declared with us? We’ll need allies!”

 Louis narrowed his eyes. “What has my mother said?”

“She refused to be involved. She has put the foreign affairs into your hands.”

 Louis sighed and tried to recall the details of the Northern war. “It would make sense to support the Hapsburgs. They are closer and distant cousins of Mother’s. We have trade deals with Austria, we have few ties to the Romanovs however give me a day to think about this properly. It is not a pressing issue, it can wait twenty-four hours if it must.”

 “Indeed.” Philippe nodded. “Now we must discuss how many of my men are to travel with you to England. Your mother would sleep easily if she knew you were accompanied by a thousand but if-,”

 “One thousand men for a friendly trip to England?” Louis asked in surprise. “I am sent with fifty when I visit Spain!”

 “It is a different matter.” Philippe shook his head. “The King has not yet given his permission yet we requested it weeks ago, although it is a friendly visit there are no treaties, nothing to prevent them from harming you.”

 “But where will the men stay? We will have to write again and ask them to house a small army, we will have to request that all of them are granted permission too and believe me, I am not sure King Henry will be pleased about giving his permission for France to come with armed men to England. Two hundred is the maximum I will take including my advisors and mother’s diplomats, although even that is too many.”

Philippe swallowed. “I will speak to your mother as the Queen has the final word on this matter.” Louis nodded, knowing this just too well.

 “My Mother also knows that I like to be consulted on decisions that affect my life – she seems to have let that slip her mind too often for my liking recently.”

 Philippe was in the same situation as Louis. Both second to the Queen, both deeply loved by her but business always came first.

 “I will tell her you are not happy,” Philippe promised Louis, “but she is our Queen.”

“I understand that but the Queen has not just a duty to her country but to her family.”

 “We are second to France’s security, Louis.” Philippe reminded him sternly. “May you never become too arrogant to remember that.”

 Louis nodded curtly and rose from his chair. “I will see you at dinner.”

“I will try and talk your Mother around.” Philippe nodded before pausing and cocking his head slightly. “Louis, did you know the menagerie is reopening today?”

Louis narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “I did not.”

“If you have time I suggest you pay it a visit. It is quite spectacular now.”

Louis thanked his step-father for telling him this and shook Philippe’s hand before exiting the room: Philippe heading to the Queen’s apartments and Louis to his sisters’.

 Mathilda and Maddie were both sat at their piano, playing out a sweet melody and Louis listened to their tune, allowing them to finish. Once they had finished, he applauded them and asked them what the tune was.

 “We are writing it for Mother.” Maddie announced with a modest smile. “We rode with her, a few weeks ago, along a small brook and she told us how much she enjoyed the bubbling music of water.”

 “It is a beautiful tune.” Louis congratulated his youngest two sisters on. “Mother will enjoy it. When will you play it to her?”

 “Once it is perfect.” Mathilda decided. “We should have it completed by her next birthday.”

At this Louis chuckled. The Queen’s birthday had only been a month ago so her next one was almost a year away. “Why not her jubilee? That is six months away.”

 “I’m not sure if it will be ready by then.” Mathilda shook her head. “I want it to be long and full of meaning.”

 Even Maddie shook her head at this, as if it was absurd that the Princess could imagine this. Then she turned to Louis with her innocent smile and asked him why he was there.

 “Do I need an excuse to come and see my darling sisters?”

The two girls shook their heads, because of course he didn’t, but then pestered for the true reason. After a few minutes of teasing and taunting his sisters, Louis gave in.

 “I wanted to ask you if you knew that the work on the Royal Menagerie was finished?”

At this both of his sisters jumped up in excitement and clapped their hands. “Is it really?” “Oh gosh, time has gone quickly!” “Why did no one tell us?”

 “Do you know where Marie is?” Louis asked and the two girls shook their heads. “I suppose we’ll have to pay the menagerie a visit without our dear sister.”

A few winters ago, a storm had damaged the menagerie of Versailles causing damage to the enclosures and the animals had had to be evacuated until their enclosures were fixed and updated. The menagerie had been a big part of their childhood and it was only right they visited now to see its new and restored beauty.

 “Do you think Mathieu the elephant will be back?” Maddie speculated as they made their way through the Versailles gardens with their entourage.

“I hope so for he was ever so gentle when we were young.” Mathilda remembered fondly.

 Louis indeed had vivid memories of his sisters cuddling Mathieu’s trunk and giggling when he sprayed water at them in their picturesque setting. Mathieu had been a gift to the children from their father after a voyage to North Africa and had become a firm favourite. Along with the elephant had been a family of lions, two zebras, a pack of monkeys, two tigers and a whole array of colourful birds.

 As the Prince and two Princesses approached the menagerie, their excitement heightened and Louis’ youngest two sisters began to speed up before outright running childishly to the entrance of their precious menagerie.

 As Louis reached the menagerie, he smelt the familiar smell of hay and heard the familiar calls of the rainbow of birds. He was taken back to happy days spent here as a child with his mother and father while all of the foreign worries seemed far away. Having gotten lost in the animals and their stories as a child, it felt alien to be stood surrounded by them again as an adult.

 Maddie and Mathilda had run up to Mathieu and were stroking his trunk, talking to him softly already but Louis looked around to try and find the old Head Keeper, Lucas. The Head Keeper’s office had always been in the same place so Louis wondered there now but when he spied it, it was empty. With a sigh, Louis looked around, lost, and wondering where on earth Lucas had gotten to. Had he joined another zoo, a rival menagerie or was he just feeding some animals and was due to return any minute now? As Louis’ mind wandered far from Versailles a familiar voice belonging to a youthful face with dark brown eyes and curly blond hair pulled Louis back to reality. Back to Louis’ royal scandal and the confirmation that he would only ever fall for men.

 “Are you looking for my father, Your Highness?” The man asked with a bow. Louis felt his heart stop in his chest as the man’s dark eyes came back up to his level.

 “Theo?” Louis asked, slightly breathlessly and the man nodded surely.

“It has been too long.”