Louis could hear the muffled chatter of his officials behind him as he stood, eye pressed against the glass of the telescope. Fools, every one of them; caught up in petty drama, never seeing beyond the end of their overly long noses. He shook them out of his mind as he refocused on the view from the Dutch-made instrument. Carefully, he panned it back and forth, noting the source of the infernal drumming from the Dutch line, the bustle of the cooks desperately trying to keep their fires lit in the damp morning air, but coming up short, again, on the object of his search.
Surely no leader would send their troops into battle unsupervised. And yet, no hint of the elusive ruler breathed from the camp. Just as Louis began to straighten, a flash of orange caught his eye. The flap of a tent was whipped open in a way that could only be described as regal. A tall figure strode into the light, every inch of his posture commanding attention. But then again, William of Orange had always commanded Louis’ attention.
Louis watched for a single moment more, observing the neatly coiffed golden hair and broad shoulders of his sworn enemy, before abandoning both the telescope and his advisors as he hastened towards his own tent. Tying the flaps securely behind him, Louis sat down hard on the cot in the corner of the tent, then stood back up and paced to the other side. The pounding of his own heart surprised him. Such a short glance shouldn’t have this effect, particularly on the King of France.
It had been years since they’d seen each other. Louis had been preparing himself for years, waiting for the opportunity to meet William on the battlefield and quash that Protestant upstart in the name of the One True Church. The fact that France would gain considerable wealth and lands, sufficient enough to claim the title of a true empire, was even more reason to pursue the attack. All of this to say, a not-insignificant portion of his time was spent learning, imagining, and analyzing everything about William of Orange.
Louis had no illusions that William could have forgotten him in the years since their single meeting. He was certain William had been studying and plotting against him in exactly the same ways he himself had been doing. But still, a small voice in the back of his mind wondered if William remembered all of the details of their previous interaction. Was it possible he had indeed forgotten? Or, conversely, was there any chance William still ran over the scenes in his mind, reveling in each image so as not to forget an instant? Louis sat back on the cot, head in his hands. This was no way for a King to be thinking, particularly on the cusp of battle. He had a duty to perform. There could be no question of showing William mercy, whatever past they may have shared.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
William breathed in the smells of dew and grass as he exited his tent, well aware that before long they would be wholly overpowered by the less pleasant smells of blood and death. He grabbed a hunk of bread off a table as he made his way into another tent, this one considerably larger than his own. Inside was a wooden table, laid out painstakingly with maps and figurines depicting the progresses of the war. William leaned over the table and silently examined the scene before him. A cluster of orange blocks marked his own camp, and directly across the valley, closer than they appeared on this map, were the tents that housed the French front. He faced the open entryway as his gaze sought the elaborate blue tents marked with gleaming royal seals.
The bread tumbled to the ground as William reached over to pick up the largest blue piece. Turning it over in his hands, he tried to imagine what the inside of that tent must look like at present. The warrior in him wished he could find Louis pacing fitfully, sleep deprived and scared of the coming battle. The tactician in him knew it would serve him far better for Louis to be lounging overconfidently in his royal lodgings, or perhaps indulging in some pretty distraction.
Overwhelmingly though, he wondered what Louis looked like now. Had the powers of regency invigorated his step, deepened his gaze, strengthened the line of his shoulders? Louis had always worn his birthright like a crown, even before one was placed on his head. Or had the strains of war left their mark on him instead? Were there bags under his eyes? Had his hair lost its luster? Battle would not have suited the Louis he once knew. On that much, the rumors were true: Italian predilections aside, Phillipe had always been the warrior of two brothers.
William grinned to himself at the thought. Phillipe may have paraded his interest in sweaty stable boys more publicly, but William knew with absolute certainty that it was an interest they shared. Or perhaps not exactly: his mind flashed back to another room, an eternity ago. A promise, whispered in the dark: “only you.” His stomach twisted, not entirely unpleasantly. In his weakest moments, William could admit to himself that a part of him still wanted that to be true. Was it possible, that after all these years, they alone held that distinction in each other’s lives?
“Goedemorgen, Stadtholder. The weather looks unfavorable for battle today.” The little blue figurine tumbled out of William’s grasp as he startled out of his reverie and wheeled around. He hadn’t even noticed Berend entering the tent.
“I see. And how do you recommend we proceed?” He desperately hoped he didn’t sound as out of sorts as he felt.
“It would be in our favor to postpone the attack another day. All intelligence suggests that the French will also hold out, so there is little danger in waiting.”
William nodded brusquely as he pushed his way out of the doorway. He thought he could just make out a regal-looking silhouette disappearing into a blue tent on the far side of the valley. He clenched his jaw and steeled himself against the coming day. If everything went well, Louis would be slinking home in defeat imminently. William might never be this close to him again. Even better, or worse, depending on your perspective, Louis could be killed in the coming battle. William conjured up a vision of himself, standing above Louis with a foot on his stomach and a sword resting against his pretty, pale throat, and tried to imagine running him through, extinguishing the light in his bright blue eyes. Even in his mind, it seemed inconceivable, and yet still he knew it was far more preferable than to see the situation reversed. In the back of his mind, he wondered if Louis would so much as pause.