Philippe was nestled in his huge bed, quiet and content. A slight smile playing on his lips, as he dreamed. He moved in his sleep and an ebony ringlet slid down over his face, waking him as it rested on his cheek. The curl was dreamily swept away before he leant back in bed trying to find Chevalier. He shuffled back, nothing, shuffled a bit more, still nothing. In frustration he lazily flung an arm behind him only to find the bed empty. He sat up with a scowl. Where the fuck is he now? Thought Philippe as he ran his hand through his hair, ruffling his curls into a more presentable arrangement. He sighed and rubbed his face before getting out of bed and checking for any signs of where Chevalier may be – a note, a gift, anything. There was nothing.
“Fuck sake what is he up to now?” Hissed Philippe out loud.
“Monsieur? You called?” enquired one of the servants, rushing in from the ante room.
“No, I didn’t” he replied flatly. “Help me dress, I have places to be and nothing has been laid out for me this morning, again”.
“Yes Monsieur, I’m sorry but the Chevalier took over my duties regarding your attire. I had no idea that things weren’t as they should be; I won’t let it happen again”.
“Alright no need to ramble on, I haven’t fully woken up yet just put it right. I don’t suppose you know when the Chevalier left or where he has gone?”
The servant bit his lip and looked away, busying himself with Philippe’s clothing.
“Don’t try to hide things from me” Philippe whispered menacingly. “Where. Is. The. Chev-al-ier?” He grabbed the servant’s arm and spun him around to face him. “I’m waiting”.
“I..I…He..He.” Whimpered the young man.
“You, You he he what?” Echoed Philippe.
“He told me he would be back before you woke, and that I wasn’t to disturb you. He’s been gone two hours. He met someone at the foot of the stairs but he sent me back to you.”
“I see. Does this person have a name perhaps?”
“I don’t know monsieur, I didn’t see them but it sounded like another gentleman and they seemed to know each other, they seemed to be friends.”
“Friends. Well how very splendid.”
As soon as he was presentable, Philippe stormed out of his rooms and along to the lower salons. He tried to compose himself as people parted and bowed to him. His heart was racing and he had a knot in the pit of his stomach. He just knew Chevalier was up to no good, why else after a perfectly pleasurable evening would he leave without so much as a word.
Philippe discreetly searched the games room, the library, the ladies’ salon and the kings lounge, feigning interest in the occasional conversation or game of cards. Image is everything. He could not be seen to be anything other than dignified and graceful at this hour. He wouldn’t let Chevalier’s bad behaviour ruin his dignity, no matter how much his heart was starting to break. Just as he was about to give up and go back to his rooms, he saw a flash of blonde hair through a window looking out over the gardens. The Chevalier was standing with a young man just off the terrace. This was strange for two reasons; one, the Chevalier was never one for a stroll around the gardens and two, there had been a severe frost overnight, the likes of which had not been known in the last decade.
Philippe strode over to the external door, flinging it wide open, freezing everyone in the room.
“A word, Chevalier. If you don’t mind!” barked Philippe into the freezing terrace. He turned on his heels and marched back to his rooms. A startled Chevalier following as quickly as he could, closing the door behind him and his companion, much to everyone’s relief.
“Mignonette” Chevalier Soothed as he caught up with Philippe. “I was only gone a moment, you usually sleep so soundly I didn’t think you would be awake.
“What you are telling me is that you are in the habit of sneaking away from our bed while I sleep? From the warmth and comfort of my embrace to the bitter cold, more tempting company of some scruffy stable boy. You flatter me.”
“No. That’s not what happened and he’s not a stable boy. You know very well from his attire that he’s a wealthy merchant from Paris.”
“And that is preferable to the King’s brother, evidently. No matter. I’m obviously not going to get any kind of adequate explanation so I’m going hunting with my brother. I am told Pascal du Saint Martin arrived last night and he, unlike you, appreciates my company. Go on, back to your merchant, he’s waiting for you.”
Chevalier took two steps towards Philippe, his speechless mouth attempting to form the right words, his hand hopelessly reaching for Philippe’s.
“Go on, Go! Leave me.” Philippe shouted. “I’m weary of you”.
Tears pricked at Chevaliers eyes but he hid them with a flick of his hair and putting on a fake broad smile before turning back in the direction he came.
“Just one of Monsieur’s games” he laughed as he caught the elbow of the merchant and lead him to the games room.
Philippe was about to return to his rooms when Louis stopped him in his tracks.
“Ah there you are brother!” Louis greeted him warmly. “It is still early, I was surprised when they told me you were not in your rooms”.
“I had a pressing matter to attend to”.
“Well, seeing as the weather has been so harsh overnight, I’ve decided that we will stay closer to home today, as it would be too dangerous for the horses if we were to go hunting. Instead we shall go down to the frozen lake and skate. My men tell me that the ice is thick enough to stand it and it would be a shame to miss out on the clean healthy air.”
“Ice skate? Like peasants?”
“It is fashionable in colder climes and Versailles is the beating heart of fashion is it not? Your friend Pascal du Saint Martin has brought us a gift of the most stylish skates and you always spend your money on the latest fashion in footwear.”
“Oh, here we go, I was waiting for you to start with the criticisms.”
“No brother, you misunderstand me. I want us to be seen to be at the forefront of fashion and your friend has brought us gifts. This is the perfect opportunity to satisfy both our intent and obligations, plus it might even be fun and fun is what you do.”
“To the lake it is then” Philippe agreed reluctantly, although he was looking forward to spending time with Pascal, he was so witty and handsome. It might just be what he needed to forget Chevalier’s indiscretion and serve to teach him a lesson.
Pascal laughed as he skimmed across the ice, fast as lightening, spinning and turning, his beautiful coat fanning out as he changed direction. Louis was in the centre of the ice, the very picture of confidence, theatrically practicing his ballet spins. The ladies had declined to join in, preferring to watch from the edge of the ice, they giggled, gossiped and pointed at the gentlemen who were making a great show of the activity. Philippe was inclined to stay with the ladies and was quietly hoping to see the Chevalier. His absence was noted by many and it was beginning to smart.
“Your Highness, are you joining us?” called Pascal.
Philippe was torn. He wasn’t really feeling like being the centre of attention and he wasn’t sure if he would make a fool of himself. He was already feeling foolish enough.
“Take my hand until you find your balance” Pascal was now at the edge of the ice, offering a reassuring gloved hand. It was now or never, people were looking. Damn it. Thought Philippe.
“How could I refuse?” Philippe breathed, with a dazzling smile.
“Keep your knees soft and try to relax. Move onto the ice gently.” Soothed Pascal.
Philippe wobbled slightly and almost over balanced as he entered the ice. Pascal stood strong and provided the support Philippe needed.
“That’s it, gentle pushes and let the skates do the hard work”.
Philippe and Pascal did laps of the lake, each time Philippe’s confidence grew and grew. Soon he was able to get around unaided and started experimenting with turns and stops. The two men laughed together in a little world of their own. That was until Phillippe looked back towards the ladies and saw Chevalier had joined them with the merchant. Suddenly, Philippe’s concentration was broken and his legs slid out from under him, sending him crashing down onto the ice.
“Your Highness!” Cried Pascal, skating close to his stricken friend. “Let me help you up”.
“Thank you, I’m quite alright.” Philippe answered automatically. He was far from alright. He was cold, wet bruised and humiliated. “If you’ll please excuse me, it’s been wonderful but I’ve lost the inclination to continue.” He shakily got to his feet and brushed off the snow before heading back to the edge of the ice. With an increasing feeling of nausea, he looked to see if the Chevalier was watching him. He was. As was the merchant.
Philippe took off the skates as quickly as he could, slipping back into his long boots, all the while hiding his embarrassment behind the thick curtain of his hair. He didn’t know whether he wanted Chevalier to approach him or not. It hurt either way. Resigned to feeling awful, he still felt angry when he looked back and saw Chevalier and the merchant deep in conversation again. He gathered his skates and made back to the palace.
“Father! Father!” Cried Marie Louise. “We came to surprise you!”
Marie Louise was in the hallway when Philippe entered the palace. She was laughing and smiling holding her little sister Anne Marie, like a precious doll. Anne Marie stretched out eager arms towards Philippe, her tiny face wrinkling with joy.
“What’s this?” Grinned Philippe. “What a wonderful surprise! Look how big you both are.”
He took Anne Marie and crouched to hug Marie Louise. “My girls, my beautiful girls! You must tell me about all of your studies and what you have been up to in Saint Germain. Tell me everything, don’t leave anything out.”
Henriette appeared in the doorway, smiling with pride at the sight of her family. He may not be the greatest husband but he is the most perfect father. She thought to herself.
“Husband, you look cold. I have sent for refreshments. They will be here by the time you have changed into something dry. Let the girls come with me and we will wait for you in my day room.”
“Thank you, my darling. That was very thoughtful. I won’t be long.” He kissed both his daughters on the forehead before sending them to Henriette. He felt a wave of happiness that he didn’t expect to feel this day. He looked back and smiled. “I’ll be quick, I promise.” With that he turned and made for his rooms feeling a little better but there was still the soreness in his hip and in his heart.
“He’s not here and you are not welcome to wait. This is family time and you are not family. You are warned, sir.” Henriette stood between the Chevalier and the entrance to her day room. They had been arguing in hushed tones so not to upset the children.
“I only want to ask if he was hurt, that was quite a tumble he took on the lake.”
“My husband’s wellbeing is none of your business, it is mine. He is being taken care of and he doesn’t wish to see you.”
“Did he say that or are you putting words into his mouth again like you always do?”
“Go back to your new friend, the two of you are much better suited.”
“How delicious it is to be lectured on love matches by my lover’s wife; tell me, will the king be joining you in this tableau of family fondness or will that be tonight when Philippe is tucked up in his bed? Enjoy your… whatever it is…I’m sure it will be splendid”
Chevalier gave Henriette his brilliant sarcastic smile, turned and began walking back towards his apartments.
Marie Louise bolted out of the door after him, pushing past Henriette, face flushed and beaming.
“Uncle Philippe! Uncle Philippe!”
Chevalier stopped and turned towards the little voice. He could not hide his joy as he drew her close to him in a warm embrace.
“Ma Lutine! Marie Louise, I swear you grow more beautiful by the day.”
“Uncle Philippe, please come and tell me a story of your adventures. You tell the best stories and I have missed you so very much. Please Uncle Philippe, Please?”
“Oh Poppet, it would be heavenly but I’m afraid your mother would not like that and your father and I quarrelled today so I think I’d better not.”
“I thought Christmas was a time for forgiveness and spending time with the people we love. Father loves you, I love you and little Anne Marie loves you. “
Chevalier shook his head sadly and sighed.
“Maybe we could sit next to each other at Mass, if your Mother permitted it?” He looked hopefully at Henriette then back at the pretty little girl pouting up at him with her father’s mouth and twinkling eyes.
“Marie Louise, come back here at once!” Henriette ordered firmly.
Chevalier stood blinking back at her, his heart fit to break watching Marie Louise’s bottom lip tremble and her pretty eyes well up.
“Go on, be a good girl for you mother. You’ll get me into trouble if you don’t and I can find enough trouble on my own” He laughed softly and turned her around gently giving her a little push.
“Mama, please can Uncle Philippe come tell us a story, he looks awfully lonely; please?”
Henriette sighed and smiled bitterly, she loved to see her little girls happy and didn’t have the strength to face the monumental tantrum Marie Louise was able to muster in the blink of an eye, just like her father.
“One story then and then he must go, I’m sure he has lots of things to be busy with.”
“Thank you.” Chevalier replied quietly, Henriette couldn’t tell if he was being sincere but she followed Marie Louise into her day room with the Chevalier close behind her just in case she changed her mind. “Now then Ma Lutine, what kind of story would you like?” Chevalier sat himself in an armchair by the fire and pulled Marie Louise up onto his lap.
Anne Marie, keen not to be left out took wobbly steps towards them both, arms outstretched “Up! Up!” she shouted.
“But of course; Ma Petit Souris, you too.” He scooped her up onto his other knee and hugged them close.
“Can we hear a story about….” Marie Louise thought of all the possibilities but couldn’t decide.
The door to the dayroom clicked open and in walked Philippe. He was taken aback by the scene that greeted him and he couldn’t help but smile. My little family he thought to himself then remembered that he was angry with Chevalier, who was now watching him intently, taking in the whirl of emotions no doubt etched across his face. Philippe cleared his throat and walked over to a side table and poured himself some wine. His icy gaze falling once more on Chevalier.
“How about a story of two princes?” Chevalier ventured.
“Are the two princes Father and you?” Marie Louise replied.
“If you’d like them to be...?”
“Yeesss!” cried Marie Louise.
“Very well then” Chevalier thought for a moment and settled himself better in the chair. “Once there were two princes who were not brothers but they loved each other very much. They were the best of friends and they went on lots of adventures together, swimming in lakes, riding horses, building forts; all the sorts of things that young princes do….”
Philippe sat down, intrigued, sipping his wine. Henriette hoped that it wasn’t going to be a long story, or one which was unsuitable for princesses to hear. Chevalier looked to both to try to gage their mood before continuing.
“…. One day one of the princes decided that he would like to do something nice for the other prince, and arrange a surprise to show him how much their friendship meant to him.”
“I love surprises!” interrupted Marie Louise. Knowing it was bad manners to interrupt, she clapped both hands over her mouth, glancing an apology at her parents then Chevalier. This made Philippe giggle and brought a smile to Henriette’s face. Their daughter’s glee was infectious.
“In order for the surprise to work, the prince needed help as he couldn’t do everything himself, no matter how hard he tried.” He turned to Marie Louise, giving her a little squeeze “You know what it’s like trying to tie those beautiful bows in your hair, don’t you Poppet? You just can’t quite get them neat so Mademoiselle Lombard, your governess has to help.” Marie Louise nodded and smiled. “Now, where were we? Yes. The prince needed help surprising the other prince. Well this was where things started to go wrong, you see the other prince was very clever and inquisitive, not one thing was missed by him, if you were more than a minute late, he noticed, if you wore a nicer jacket than usual, he noticed, if you talked to people you wouldn’t normally talk to...”
“He noticed. My, my he was an awfully clever prince, wasn’t he?” Marie Louise burst in again.
“Yes, indeed he was. Now this surprise was extra special, and needed the first prince to go into the village to talk to someone who could make very pretty things, but it meant he had to be very sneaky. He crept about the palace, going through doors not meant for princes, he wore a long cloak with a hood to hide his golden hair, hiding behind trees, carts and walls but each time the other prince would see him.”
“Oh no! That’s unlucky, and the first prince was trying so hard to do something nice”
“Yes, he was Poppet, but the more he tried the more his friend thought he was up to no good, so he decided to send a message to the village to get the maker of pretty things to come to the palace. All was well and the meeting was arranged very early in the morning. Neither of the princes liked getting up early so this was hard for the golden-haired prince, but because he loved his friend very much, he was able to do it even though he was very tired and it was an icy cold morning with no fire in the grate to greet him as he dressed.”
“That must have been awful. He must really love the other prince.” Marie Louise was wide eyed in amazement.
“Yes, yes it was. I’m still cold…. I mean, the golden-haired prince was very cold indeed but he did it anyway. Everything was going well and the surprise was being arranged when the prince had a funny feeling in his tummy, he stopped talking and turned around. Guess who was watching?”
“The other prince!” Marie Louise gasped.
“Yes, he was so clever he knew that his friend wasn’t where he expected him to be so he tracked him down like one of your uncle’s hounds. He was very cross with the golden-haired prince as he thought he was planning on going on adventures with the other man instead of him. He did not want to be left out and was very, very cross. He had an argument with the golden-haired prince and told him to “go away” which was the very opposite of what he actually wanted but he did so nonetheless and then he went to find a different friend to play with, leaving the golden-haired prince all alone.”
“But that’s so sad, what about the surprise?”
“Well, yes it was sad but the golden-haired prince had gone off to build forts with other people in the past so the other prince couldn’t help being cross when he thought it had happened again, but it hadn’t….” Chevalier paused to look at Philippe to see if the story was being understood. Philippe was looking thoughtful, he sighed and nodded, the tiniest smile playing on his lips, so slight it would be missed by anyone who didn’t know him well.
“The two princes needed to make friends again because they meant more to each other than to let a silly misunderstanding come between them, but it was difficult as neither wanted to be the first to say sorry. Luckily there was a princess who could help and in the spirit of the season, she allowed the golden-haired prince to sit by the fire and get warm, this seems nothing at all but it meant that the two princes were able to talk and put right all that had gone wrong and they could make friends again.” Chevalier paused and looked at Henriette. “Thank you.”
“What about the surprise?” Marie Louise repeated.
“The surprise would have to wait for another day when the handsome prince was less suspicious… but don’t worry, he’ll still get the surprise.” He kissed both little girls on the top of their heads before picking them from his lap and placing them on the floor. “Now if you’ll all excuse me I’m very tired, and I’m sure your mother will want you both saying your prayers and tucked up in bed soon.”
“Yes, thank you I would.” Replied Henriette, her charity fading with the knowledge that Philippe would not be spending the evening with her and that she would be alone. “Girls, run along with Mademoiselle Lombard and get ready for bed. Kiss your father goodnight, he looks tired too.”
Philippe bent and kissed both his daughters before kissing Henriette on the cheek.
“Goodnight, it’s been a very long day; we will take some of the food up to my rooms, I’m starving.” Philippe smiled and he and Chevalier took a platter each.
“Goodnight Madame” Chevalier sang to Henriette, back to his former self. She answered politely as the pair made their exit. That didn’t last long she thought before following her daughters to help put them to bed.
“So alone at last” Crowed Chevalier.
“Stating the obvious again” Teased Philippe. “Do I get this surprise, or was that just one of your tall tales?”
“Must you be so impatient? That cold shoulder of yours has bruised me.”
“Let me see, I’ll kiss it better.”
The pair embraced, kissing softly and tenderly.
“What is that? It’s digging in me.” Complained Philippe.
“That, Mignonette is your surprise.”
“An awkward bulge in your breeches when we kiss isn’t a surprise.” Philippe laughed.
“Please, let’s have some decorum.”
“For a change.”
“For a change. Now close your eyes and hold out your hand.”
“I thought we were having decorum” giggled Philippe.
“Come on, behave or you’ll spoil it.” Chevalier purred.
Philippe closed his eyes and held out his hand. Chevalier reached into his pocket and brought out a small box, placing it in Philippe’s palm.
“You can open your eyes now”.
Cautiously Philippe opened the box, revealing two rings. One set with a bright pale emerald, the other with a deep coloured garnet.
“I had them made especially. Friendship rings. I chose the emerald as it makes me think of your eyes when you are happy, the garnet for you as it represents my blood going around my body and through my heart, without it and you, I could not live. The merchant was in fact a jeweller. I had to meet with him to ensure the surprise was kept a secret, you know how people talk. Do you like it?”
Philippe was stunned, he picked out his ring and tried it on.
“It fits perfectly, how did you…?”
“You’re not the only detective around here.” Chevalier took the box and put on his own ring, holding his hand close to Philippe’s to admire the rings together.
“Thank you, it’s beautiful.” Murmured Philippe.
“Shall we eat?” Said Chevalier, gesturing to the food they had brought.
“No, I’ve no appetite, I’ve other ideas.” Smirked Philippe, pulling Chevalier towards their bed.
“Food is overrated anyways” replied Chevalier, with a wicked smile.
“And the two princes lived happily ever after.” Whispered Philippe.