Chevalier returned from a short walk around the gardens to find Philippe arguing with his wife. He paused at the door to enjoy the spectacle. For all that Chevalier and the Princess Palatine had reached a state of uneasy truce some time ago, and his confidence in Philippe's affections for him were relatively secure, it never hurt to pass up an opportunity to feel a little smug.
Philippe and Liselotte rarely argued, probably because they knew they were both very good at it, and, Chevalier grudgingly admitted, they had some measure of affection for each other. Also, as he observed from his station in the doorway to Philippe's bedroom, they fought like savages. There was no wit to their discussion, simply a flinging of insults and unpleasant truths that struck deep, and, if left unmended, were likely to fester and poison them both.
This could work to Chevalier's favour, of course. They might fall into that state of mutual hatred upon which so many marriages at court thrived. But it would hurt Philippe and Chevalier could not have that. He wanted Philippe to be happy.
Chevalier entered the room and loudly cleared his throat. They both snapped their attention to him and barked, in unison, "What?"
Chevalier took a step back.
Philippe turned his attention back to his wife. "Don't think you can drag him into this!"
"Indeed," said Chevalier, "I would prefer not to be dragged into anything. It's unseemly in the extreme and plays havoc with the seams of one's coat."
"Exactly," said Philippe, and then, after a second's thought, turned to Chevalier with a vexed expression on his face, "What?"
"I'm going for a bath," Liselotte announced. "He's all yours, Chevalier. Maybe you can talk some sense into him!"
Philippe and Chevalier looked at each other. Liselotte left, muttering under her breath. "I can't believe I just said that."
The door slammed behind her.
Interesting. Chevalier had never had her down as a door-slammer before. Not like Henriette. Now, there was a woman who knew how to make an exit. God rest her soul.
"Well," he said to Philippe. "Somebody's feathers are ruffled."
"Apparently my role here is to finish, rather that to begin. Would you like to talk about it?"
"No." Philippe turned his back on Chevalier and strode to the window.
His voice was more broken than angry, Chevalier observed.
"Very well. I must say I'm relieved; matrimonial arguments are so tedious. Much as, it seems, anything matrimonial at all. Ghastly institution. Is there anything I can get you? Wine? Snacks? A divorce settlement?"
The servants had evidently been dismissed, so Chevalier sighed and took off his own coat. He poured two glasses of wine, gave one to Philippe and took his to the fireplace. There he slipped off his shoes. He wiggled his toes appreciatively on the thick fireside rug. It was chilly out.
Philippe followed him and they stood together on the rug, staring at the flames.
"She knows what he's like," said Philippe. "And yet she persists in seeking out his company. Against my express wishes."
Things became a little clearer. "The king?"
"He's taking her hunting again."
"He takes a lot of people hunting, but he doesn't sleep with all of them. Now, if she were to take up swimming…"
Philippe raised his hand; it would have been an impressive slap if it had met its mark. But Chevalier caught his wrist.
Philippe quivered in rage, eyes glistening.
"That's what this is really about, isn't it?" Chevalier said. "You fear he will seduce your second wife, as he seduced your first."
Philippe snatched his hand away and glared at the mantlepiece. There was a small box there, which contained a few of Henriette's things. Nobody ever mentioned it.
"You have nothing to worry about," Chevalier said. "For one thing, your brother would never have the opportunity. He is trapped forever between the gaze of the Queen, the Marquise de Maintenon and whichever lady in waiting or chambermaid has currently set her attentions on him. The man cannot move for the scrutiny of jealous women."
"That's never stopped him before."
"True. But a serious liaison? With Madame? Quite beside the fact that his standards of beauty are considerably higher—"
"All I ask is a modicum of obedience from my wife. Is that too much to ask?"
"And all she asks, I venture, is a modicum of trust."
"Oh. Is that so? Well, I must say I never expected you to take her side."
"Which surely makes her case all the more credible. Believe me, it is not a course of action I undertake lightly."
Philippe snorted, and smacked the mantle with the flat of his hand. It must have hurt, but he said nothing, just screwed his eyes shut for a moment, then shook his hand behind his back when he thought Chevalier wasn't looking.
"Philippe, use that incredibly sharp mind of yours," Chevalier said. "What evidence can you find for your fears?"
"I told you. The hunting. Every time he whistles, off she goes. She may as well be one of his fucking hounds."
"Forgive me for such an outlandish suggestion, my dear, but is it possible that she simply enjoys hunting? Bizarre, I know, all that mud and fresh air, but I do believe some people like it."
Philippe glared at him. Chevalier sipped his wine.
"I overheard a conversation in the salon yesterday," Philippe said. "They expressed surprise at her obsession with hunting, and one of the ladies suggested it could be because she was not being satisfied in… other regards."
"What nonsense! How rude! I think that's treason. Is it treason?"
Philippe fiddled with the stem of his goblet. His hair fell into his face, obscuring his expression, but Chevalier took all he needed to know from the slumped shoulders, the quiver to his voice.
"There's no smoke without fire," Philippe said.
"My darling. There's no smoke at all. Trust me. I can create a smog from a single pipe-puff. There is no smoke, no fire and absolutely no wavering of your wife's fidelity."
Philippe looked at him, at last. "But how can you be sure?"
Chevalier set his wine down on the mantlepiece and cupped Philippe's face in both hands. He rubbed his thumb over one, pale cheek. "Because the blasted woman is honourable, my darling. And loyal. Henriette was not. She never loved you. She loved your brother. Liselotte loves hunting. And you. I should know, it's the one single thing we have in common."
The fever of Philippe's temper broke: his expression softened and a single tear escaped to roll down the side of his nose. Chevalier kissed it away.
"You think she loves me?" Philippe asked, although the truth of it had already blossomed in him, bringing a smile to his lips.
"Not as much as I love you, of course," said Chevalier. "But the poor girl tries her best."
Philippe threw himself on Chevalier, peppering his face with kisses.
Chevalier's voice deepened as he spoke from his heart. "No-one could love you like I do, Mignonette. I love you with a fire that grows ever fiercer, and will never fade. Never forget that."
"Never," said Philippe, and they lost themselves in a kiss that tasted of sweet wine and lust and everything the Chevalier lived for.