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Burden of Duty

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The Palace Royal, March 1661. It was late morning and the King and Henriette were sitting in his private library. They sat un-chaperoned, having been childhood friends. The king looked up from his many maps and papers. Henriette was sat in the window pretending to read her book.

“Henriette, you are not yourself, what troubles you?” enquired Louis.

“I’m sorry Sire, I do not mean to be such poor company, forgive me. I am worried about the plans you have made for me. I am not yet ready to be a wife.”

Louis sighed and moved his papers across his desk, stood up and went to join Henriette in the window.

“It is for the best. I could not bear to send you away and you must marry. I cannot marry you and Philippe is the next best fit. He adores you. If you were to marry elsewhere you would have to leave everything and everyone you know behind and we cannot vouch for a stranger who may turn out later to be a cruel husband, I simply cannot have that. All three of us played together as children and you know him, he’d never hurt you.”

Henriette paused for a moment before speaking. “He loves me like a sister and you know I must bear children but the thought of…I’m so very afraid. My ladies tell me how painful it is. Sire I am beside myself.”

Louis smiled sympathetically. “My sweet, do not worry, the pain is brief but necessary. The anticipation is worse than the act, I’m sure he will be gentle. He must pleasure you or there can be no child. He knows this but I will speak with him….Henriette, you do realise that once you are married we will be able to enjoy one another’s company more fully? The more you lie with him the more we can enjoy life’s pleasures. If there were to be a child, our similarities would prevent scandal but you have to lie with him or we would be soon discovered.”

Henriette blushed, her breath quickening. She had never dared think of the possibility of congress with Louis. Their love for each other was clear only to them and they had stolen many kisses, enjoyed lingering gazes and when their hands brushed, sparks flew.

“Come with me” Louis murmured, holding out a hand to her.

“Where are we going?” she asked, both afraid and excited.

“You’ll see. But be very quiet.”

Hand in hand he led her through a concealed door and into the labyrinth of corridors that snaked around the palace. Hardly daring to breathe she followed obediently until they came around the final corner, stopping at what appeared to be a dead end. Louis blew out the candle that flickered in the wall sconce. He reached out and pressed a wall panel, it immediately clicked open slightly, enough for him to slide his fingers in and open it to reveal a viewing hole. He held up a finger warning her to be very quiet, he leaned forward to look through the hole. A satisfied smile spread across his face before he reached for her, indicating that she should look now. Curious but afraid, she stepped forward and peered in. She found herself staring into Philippe’s bedroom. Sprawled on the bed and looking like an angel, he was sleeping off last night’s raucous party.

“He could almost still be a child” she whispered “I cannot imagine him hurting me, he looks so delicate and peaceful.”

With that, the king seemed satisfied, moved her away and closed the panel.

“I will speak to him when he wakes” promised the king “All will be well.” And with that he lifted her chin and kissed her. “I promise that after the wedding I will know every inch of you, Henriette.” His hands roamed as far as he dared, kissing her deeper this time, pushing her against the wall, his knees parting her thighs causing welcome friction. “All in good time” he whispered, straightening her dress and gesturing to her that they should leave.