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Liberty, Equality and Sisterhood

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" 'No female attendants will be allowed'," Danielle read, and then she looked at him.

Jacqueline coughed, which settled, definitively, that there was a Thing here. Jacqueline was helpful that way, and kind, and patient, and in possession of many more virtues that made Henry occasionally envy Laurent - in a completely not-serious sort of way, of course.

"Yes, well," he said. "It is a university, after all. We would not want there to be any misunderstandings."

"No," Danielle said. "We certainly would not want that, would we?"

Jacqueline sneezed.

"It's a - " Henry cast about for anything offensive about this particular line. He'd been quite pleased with the whole thing himself, really. It was all very progressive, very modern.

One might even call it ahead of its time. Seventeenth century thinking, nearly.

"A university for all men, regardless of their station in life," Danielle said.

"Exactly." Henry nodded, pleased that they were getting to the heart of the matter now.

"You are just so ... " Danielle shook her head.

"Wonderful?" Henry suggested hopefully. "Fair-minded? Liberal?"

"A hopeless idiot!" she snapped, and then she ran out of the room, which would have been fine, really; Henry was all for continuing this discussion elsewhere, get some fresh air, maybe, except that when he ran after her, his foot caught on something, and then Jacqueline insisted he got his ankle checked to make sure it wasn't sprained or anything - which was silly, obviously, only she had Laurent on her side, looking gravely concerned, so. Yeah.

 

"Why should women learn to read?" Henry asked.

"Perhaps it would be more to the point to ask: why should they not?" Gustave said, and he was a nice chap, and a pretty good painter, but for all that he'd been one of Signore Leonardo's favorite students, at moments like these, it was abundantly, painfully obvious to Henry that Gustave was not a genius. "Your majesty."

"Because they are - " Henry thought about it for a while. Well, for two seconds. " - women?"

"Ah." Gustave nodded wisely. Or rather, he nodded in a way that would have made him look wise if he'd had a long white beard and an extra thirty years of age or so.

"That is not an argument that will convince her, is it?"

"Probably not, no," Gustave said. He seemed rather cheerful about it.

He could afford to be, of course.

 

"Please tell me you did not beat up one of the Royal Tax Collectors. Again."

Henry told himself he was executing a flanking maneuver here. Coming at the problem from a different angle. Being very clever, in other words.

"You said that you did not wish for me to tell them I was the Queen," Danielle said.

Not, Henry noted, denying a thing. "The man was just doing his job."

Danielle sniffed. According to the report, she'd been masked. Armed with a sword and dagger, and quite handy with both.

Aided and abetted by two companions wearing horse's masks.

"Perhaps he might have done it with a bit more humanity and kindness."

"He is a tax collector," Henry said. "Nobody likes to pay taxes. That does not change the fact that they must."

"Why?" Danielle asked. "If doing so means people are driven from their homes, condemned to starve in the streets? How is that fair?"

"It is the law," Henry said and then, before he'd find himself waging a war on two fronts, "Not one of mine. Ours. It is just ... an old law. Very old. From seriously long ago. Been around forever. Ancient."

"Mmm," Danielle said. "Outdated, would you say?"

"I ... would not phrase it in quite such a manner?"

"Well, I would."

 

"Look at it this way, sire," Laurent said. "What is the worst - the very worst, that could happen?"

"She will stay mad at me for weeks?"

Laurent coughed. Something he'd picked up from Jacqueline, no doubt.

"Months?"

Laurent judiciously pursed his lips.

"Years?" Henry didn't think he'd be able to stand Danielle being mad at him for years. Or months. Or weeks. Or days, even.

"Rather, I was referring to the possible consequences if you were to, in fact, permit women attendants as well," Laurent said.

"Well." Henry thought about it. "They might actually attend?"

"Yes?"

"And that would be ... bad?"

"Jacqueline is quite keen on it, I believe," Laurent said.

Henry realized he was surrounded by people who were, if not traitors, then at least not primarily concerned with his well-being.

"Well, but what about the taxes?" he said, a little desperately. "We cannot simply reform a system that has been around for decades."

"Best time, I should say."

 

"France will become a laughing stock," Henry said. "They will hear what we have done in England, and they will laugh at us. To say nothing of Spain. Austria. Belgium, even."

Danielle turned to him and smiled. He hadn't seen her smile for close to a week; the effect was ... profound. Electrifying, like that machine Leonardo had demonstrated on his last visit - except that his hair still seemed fine. Not smoking.

He tried to remember what they had been going to be talking about here again.

"And since when do we care what they think of us in Spain, Austria or even Belgium?" Danielle asked. "Besides, you might be surprised. Even if their rulers - their kings and queens and princes and barons and counts might laugh, then, I assure you, the common people will not."

Henry opened his mouth to say he didn't care one whit about what the common people of Spain, Austria or Belgium thought of him.

Happily, Danielle chose that moment to kiss him and remind him why, in fact, he did care. Very much.